Mileage: 4.1 miles RT
Elevation Gain/Highest: 1000/2400ft
Map: Green Trails Granite Falls No. 109, my GAIA
Favorite Eats After Hike: LJs Bistro
3/19/2017 I think it has been at least 3 years since I have been up to Heather Lake, a hike I have done many times with my mom and siblings growing up here in the Pacific Northwest and just down from the Mountain Loop Highway. We had a hiking social event today but there was the phenomenon of rare blue sky, so we headed up to get some trail time in beforehand.
The road to the TH was bare, as well as the parking lot. It was also nice to see that the privy was back open for the season. The road is still closed here for Pilchuck and they don’t mess around. Boulders and snow berm were built up in front of the gate leaving no room for yahoos to skirt it in their 4x4s. There were about 15 cars in the lot; a mix of folks going to Heather Lake and skiers headed towards Pilchuck. I bet they had an amazing day!
We started on the trail shortly before 10am, the sky was clear and the temperature was still chilly telling us that bringing spikes and snowshoes (for those without spikes) was wise. The trail starts out in old growth forest with nurse logs atop moss covered springboard etched stumps and water cascading over stones and ferns and across our path.
Within the first 1/4 mile I could see the evidence of the slide from last year that brought down a pile of trees onto the trail and it was no surprise considering the water that comes down off the slope here.
With the lack of drainage, it was not surprising to see how the water does damage to the trail with upturned tree roots and newly disturbed soil.
The established trail was a river for most of the hike over roots and rock that became icy at about 1500ft before snow overcame the trail at 1800ft and continued the rest of the way to the lake.
Last night’s rain must have to turned to snow as the temperature dropped overnight because there was a dusting on the trail and trees above us.
Winter still has something left in her, I guess, and it made my recent thoughts of being SO over the snow fade as we wandered on the compact snow trail and caught glimpses of sun through the frosted boughs. Like many trails right now, it’s better to stay in the middle of the trail because stepping off to the side can mean postholing up to your knees (or deeper!).
If you are on trail early enough in the day you don’t have to worrying too much about punching through where water runs under the trail but later in the day and as we head in to spring I can see that the sections closer to the lake will see more of this.
We arrived at the lake in about an hour and 2.1 miles, there are several tracks through the snow to get to the shoreline as folks have avoided where runoff on the actual trail has created gullies in the snow.
There is just something about stepping out from the forest to the open expanse of a snow covered lake enclosed by steep slopes of a cirque.
There would be no circumventing the lake today, not only because the snow is still deep here but because there is severe avalanche risk as you make your way to the over side of the lake. We could see evidence of slides in the chutes as we SAT IN THE SUN (did I just write that?!?) and enjoyed a snack.
We had managed to get here early enough to only have 5-6 other folks present but by the time we turned to head back down the crowds had emerged from the trees and it was a line of folks (most with dogs) back to the car. I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as I-90 though so I can’t complain too much!
The hike down saw more water on the trail as the temperature had risen and little snow bombs were dropping from limbs as the sun rebelled against last night’s dusting. I had my spikes on to get through the slick section between snow covered trail and bare and watching those folks coming up with little traction made me even more thankful.
We were back down to the car by 1pm and my observation that the parking lot had been full when we headed up was corrected as there more than twice as many cars now, including folks lining the forest road out. But who can blame them, it’s been a long time since we have had such a beautiful day.
Directions: Take Hwy 92 to Granite Falls and at the first of three roundabouts, follow the signs for Quarry Rd. Continue on Quarry until it comes to a T with N. Alder St. Turn left towards the Mountain Loop HWY. In 11 miles, cross the bridge and turn right on Pilchuck Access Rd, FR 42. The TH is up 1.4 miles at a large parking lot with privy. This is a very popular trail, you can expect cars lining both soides of the forest road on the weekends after 11am. You will need a US Forest Pass. This is also the same TH for Mt. Pilchuck, so expect plenty of traffic and high crime area.
Before you go, check out my page on hikes on the Mountain Loop Highway. That way, if you arrive to a crowded trailhead, you will have other options down the road to visit!