After a long week of touring apartments and prepping our current place for a move, I was ready for a hike on Sunday. With a pumpkin party scheduled for that afternoon in Monroe, I decided to lump a dayhike with the party for the ultimate fall day. My cousin Andrea was excited to join me and we went to the internet to find the best fall colors Highway 2 had to offer. We landed on Mount McCausland and Lake Valhalla just past Steven’s Pass.
I was excited to revisit the region, as Valhalla and I have a bit of a cursed history. The first time we attempted the lake as a snowshoe, we missed the turn-off and wandered up Smithbrook road ultimately turning around without seeing the lake. The second time we made it to the lake but thought we were off-trail at Union Gap. A storm-front moved in earlier than predicted and the unfortunate white-out conditions made it impossible to see much of anything. It wasn’t until we were home analyzing our track that we realized we made it to Lake Valhalla. I was filled with excited anticipation to visit during the fall season with fewer snow-themed obstacles.
Of course, because Lake Valhalla and I seem to be doomed, we ultimately spent most of the trail in the snow, missing the majority of the fall colors. Snow dumped down our necks from trees, and the fiery red hillsides obscured by a blanket of white. But oh, the beauty. Simply phenomenal. I am fine remaining cursed if these are the views I am blessed with.
The parking lot was full when we arrived at 11:00 am, but there was plenty of room on the shoulder. We could see vibrant reds and oranges on our way up Smithbrook road. As our eyes traveled up the valley, there was a distinct snowline, and what looked to be a lot of snow. The temperature had dropped the past couple of days and it looked like our fall hike was perhaps going to become an early winter hike.
Luckily, I followed my choose a hike checklist and checked the weather twice, so we were well-prepared. We loaded our packs with layers and microspikes and started up the trail. Slightly muddy, the trail was well traveled and easily graded. Peek-a-boo views showed colors down the valley and my excitement grew as we climbed through the forest. The hike grew increasingly muddy, then slushy, then compacted, wet snow in a few areas.
After a few miles of forested switchbacks, the trail opened up into sunshine with views down Smithbrook. We stopped with several other hikers, all quickly removing layers now that the hot sun was upon us. After stripping down to our baselayers, we continued up the trail until we reached a fork in the road. We took the trail to the right heading up McCausland.
The route increased slightly, with larger, burlier steps. Lichtenberg loomed in the distance and we began to see Lake Valhalla peeking behind the trees. After driving through rain, walking up a trail that dumped so much melting snow off of trees that our hair was dripping wet, and a consistent layer of mist, I was not sure we would be able to see the lake from Mt. McCausland. But sure enough, when we climbed up the trail, the mist cloaking the lake pulled back and the sun pushed through, leaving us with one of the most spectacular views I have had the privilege to enjoy. Lake Valhalla and Lichtenberg Mountain are views I never tire of, and I could do this hike again and again.
We climbed to about a quarter-mile from the summit, when the trail became more steep and difficult to follow in the snow and decided to make that our turn around point. Though we brought microspikes and could have proceeded safely, we worried we may not have enough time to summit Mt. McCausland and make it to the Lake Valhalla shore and go pick out pumpkins. And I really wanted to look at Lichtenberg Mountain from the lake, as this was the spot I failed to get to twice in the past.
We snapped a few pictures as the snow and rain clouds receded and the sun pushed through. The mist stretched over the lake and retreated repeatedly. We hoped to see the red brush above Valhalla, but I think the dusting of snow may be even more beautiful. The azure water looked like a midsummer’s day while the evergreens at the top of Lichtenberg seemed to be in the depths of winter.
Various life things have kept me from hiking in October and November too often in the past, and I somehow completely missed this season where you have all the beauty of snow on the ground without frozen lakes. Plus fall colors.
I am having a complete renaissance with fall.
Granted, most October and November the past few years have been very soggy, while this year we have been extraordinarily lucky with sunny weekends. Still though, obsessed.
We turned down the path and headed towards the lake. Reaching our original fork in the trail, we took the trail to the left towards the lake. We dropped gradually and snow began to disappear. Slush and mud soaked our boots and things got very soggy. Gaiters would have been a good move, and though I had them in my bag, I was too stubborn to put them on.
There were many social trails as we got closer to the lake and we ended up missing the turnoff for the beach and continued up the PCT. Realizing we were moving away from the lake, we turned around and found our missing turn off. We reached a viewpoint and Lichtenberg looked huge and regal from the lakeshore. More fall colors beamed through the lake’s edge.
We found a dry rock to perch on and eat some lunch. The beach was fairly crowded, but there was enough room to spread out and grab a little solitude. We ate our lunch and contemplated how perfect of a swim spot it would be if there wasn’t quite so much snow. Just looking at the water, it was easy to believe that it was a summer day and not October with a chill in the air.
As we sat, the last of the rainclouds disappeared and we basked in the sunshine. The reflections on the water were lovely and it was great to see the bright blue sky.
Eventually, it was too cold to continue sitting, especially since the hot chocolate in our thermos was cold. We packed up and headed back up the trail.
The route back to the trailhead flew by and before we knew it we were back at the car. A quick change of clothes and we were off to a harvest party for the perfect fall day. We made it just in time for sunset and picked out the perfect pumpkin!