Sunshine! In Seattle! On a weekend! After weeks of desperately watching the forecast to see if conditions would materialize in a way that made being outdoors seem appealing, it finally happened last Saturday, and we hurried to Kendall Peak Lakes. The last time I had seen the sun was for snow camping on Mt. Rainier (thanks again, weather gods!), but weather, combined with avalanche forecasts made staying inside the past few weekends seem like the better option. We made the best of our rainy days, but it was never quite the same as getting out in the mountains.
Kendall Peak Lakes in the sunshine reinvigorated me and I feel ready to face another few weeks of rain. Thank goodness, as rain is in the forecast, and I just got off a soggy boat. February, I am ready for you!
We arrived at the Gold Creek Sno-Park at 7:30 am, just as the sun crested the peaks. Though we had dinner plans that evening, it was the first sunny day in Seattle after weeks of miserable rain and we weren’t going to miss it. Our route needed to be close enough to Seattle that we could spend more time on the trail than on the road. We also wanted a route that was mostly snow covered, and not the soggy, muddy mess that many of the nearby trails currently are. Some epic views would certainly be a bonus. After scouring the normal resources, we landed on Kendall Peak Lakes.
We snowshoed Kendall Peak Lakes 2 years ago, and highly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, that day blanketed the trail in mist and we only glimpsed views at the end, so were looking forward to the trail when we were able to see all of the way down the valley. Luckily for us, our friend Ty wanted to join, and bring his adorable pup Hugo, and the goldendoodle he was dogsitting, Argot. As we arrived just after sunrise, the trail was filled with a hushed silence as we walked through the morning’s glow.
The dogs kept us entertained with their antics as Argot raced back and forth up the trail and Hugo dutifully plodded along. The route climbs a forest road, so the route is gradual and the elevation gain felt minimal. We barely noticed the miles fly by as we reveled in the sunshine. Cold, consolidated snow meant that we were able to keep snowshoes and spikes on our backs, and made it in simply our boots.
The sun crested the nearby peaks bathing us in sunlight about an hour into our hike.
After about three miles, the trail opened up to views of the Snoqualmie Pass ski area and the surrounding peaks and valleys. Hugo was starting to get a little tired, so Ty and the pups decided to head back to the trailhead. Michael and I decided to push onward and try to make it to the lakes.
Shortly after, the route opened up and we could see the cirque surrounding the lake basin. Now that we could see our objective, we hurried up the switchbacks. There was a turn-off shortcut to the lake, but we decided to continue on the switchbacks, as we knew that route from our previous trip. Shortly after deciding to continue on the road, we came across a steep area with a wash out. Luckily, the snow was very stable and we were able to easily navigate past.
We reached an old parking lot and appreciated a new set of peaks to marvel at before continuing on. And really, in the winter parking lots sometimes look like beautiful meadows or lakes. Flat, snow-covered and surrounded by trees? Check.
Soon after we reached the turn-off to the lake. I remembered from our last time to the lake that it was heavily forested and we would likely be in the shade. Given the lack of sunshine we had seen in the past month, I wanted to eat lunch in full sunshine with a bounty of views, so we paused just before the turn off for lunch. Immediately, we were swarmed by gray jays, clamoring for bites of food and we had to aggressively guard our sandwiches. One bird came quite close and left a wing pattern in the snow.
We finished up our tea and continued on to the lake basin. We were the first hikers of the morning and we had fresh snow to plow through. It was cascade crud under the 3″ of fluffy snow, but the fluffy snow felt wonderful underfoot.
Soon we arrived at the lower lake. It was crossed with deep openings in the snow where the stream cut through. We wandered through the lake and continued on through the forest to the second lake.
Without an obvious trail to follow, we pulled out our GPS to find a route to the middle lake. We were trying not to jump across the various creeks, in case the snow was not as stable as it looked. With an avalanche forecast of low, we skirted under a steep avalanche slope rather than cutting through the forest, but would not have picked this route if the snow pack were any less stable. It was gorgeous to get a closer view of the rock face, however.
After skirting the slopes, we ducked back into the trees for a bit, until it opened on the lake. The shape was much more characteristically lake shaped, but lacked the lovely views of the first lake. We stuck to the edges of the lake, though a few people wandered to the center. I took a few shots to celebrate hike #5 for 2018.
We made our way back to the lower lake, this time through the forest. The incline was rather steep, and we were still in our boots. Rather than pull out spikes or snowshoes, we decided to take a sit and take a controlled slide to the base of the lake. Think glissade, but less graceful and slightly less intentional…
I jumped for joy and took delight in being alone in the fluffy snow before we set back on down the trail.
As soon as we left the lake, the crowds appeared. As predicted, the trail was very popular and we were reassuring hikers constantly that they were almost there! Until they were nearly there, halfway there, and still got a ways to go. Eventually, maneuvering around the large crowds became frustrating after our solitude that morning and we decided to go off-trail. Again, with low avalanche danger and a gps, this felt like a reasonable move. The route was much more difficult, as the snow had softened significantly and we were no longer on the compacted trail. Still only wearing our snowshoes, we postholed mid-thigh for about half a mile before coming back out on the trail, directly behind the same person we were behind before we took the short-cut. Still, postholing in the woods is always preferable to me than walking down a crowded corridor.
Back on the main trail, we dodged eager sledders and families overjoyed to be out playing in the sun. We made it back to the car by 2:00 and home with plenty of time to spare. Then we showered, put on some fancy clothes and watched my dear Great Aunt Junie play the piano at El Gaucho. The perfect end to a wonderful day!