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Lake Kelcema Snowshoe

by Amanda Phillips

Lake Kelcema is one of Mountain Loops loveliest snowshoes.  Though much of the route follows a forest road, when the forest opens up there are some spectacular views, as well as a rather stunning lake a the end of it all. The route has a fair bit of solitude making Lake Kelcema an excellent choice when you want to stretch your legs and explore the Mountain Loop area. 

Hiking information about the Lake Kelcema snowshoe

Lake Kelcema Snowshoe: the road walk

After several weekends stuck inside and the promise of a sunny Sunday, Michael and I went to Mountain Loop Highway to snowshoe to Lake Kelcema. A mostly uneventful drive (save a downed tree taking up one lane), the river bordering the highway was running high and set the mood for some outdoor beauty.  We were both thrilled at the prospect of getting outside and hiking, after our nearly two-month hiatus.

Lake Kelcema snowshoe on Mountain Loop Highway
Road walk on Lake Kelcema snowshoe

Unfortunately, the trailhead did not drum up excitement for the hike ahead.  After about a quarter of a mile, with snow so patchy it was impossible to wear microspikes, snowshoes or plain hiking boots, I attempted to pump myself up for the slog ahead. I falsely claimed that I would be happy even if it was just a soggy road walk, and training hikes are important in the spring and steeled myself for disappointment.  Luckily, after about 2 miles, the snow became consistent and deep, and we were able to strap on our snowshoes.  We also emerged out of the dense forest to some spectacular peaks, which greatly improved my mood.

Man snowshoeing to Kelcema Lake
Snowy stream near Lake Kelcema
Snowy stream near Lake Kelcema

As we made our way up the trail, there were three creek crossings with fairly swift water. I regretted the decision to leave my hiking poles in the car, as balancing on rocks while wearing snowshoes was rather precarious. The creek crossings were shockingly beautiful, and a nice change of pace from the roadwalk.  I left my snowshoes on for the first crossing, but took them off for subsequent crossings, as I had already proven to have a knack for falling.

Kelcema Lake

After 4.5 miles, we left the main road and followed the creek to the lake. After 0.5 miles, we reached the lake and it was sunny and beautiful.  With only one other group at the top, it was easy to find a comfy place to sit.  After our last snowshoe, which involved scarfing food under a tree as quickly as possible so we could make it back to the car before the impending storm, we took our time with lunch and spent a full hour sitting at the top, basking in the sunshine.

Snowy trees near Lake Kelcema
Snowy mountain peaks near the Mountain Loop Highway
Outfall creek of Lake Kelcema

Unfortunately, there are no pictures from the return trip, as it became rather miserable on our way down.  A number of people had attempted the trail without snowshoes and there were postholes everywhere.  With the warm sun we enjoyed at the top, the snow at lower elevations got really soft and there was some significant melt.  About every tenth step I rolled an ankle and slid into a posthole, which was a frustrating way to snowshoe.  One spectacular fall involved my right snowshoes flying into my left leg and splitting my running tights from the ankle to the knee.  This did not help my morale going down the mountain, as the hole quickly filled with snow and my calves were uncomfortably numb.

Eventually, we returned to the gravel sections of the road, of which there were more of on the way down, and I was quite happy to see the car.  Overall, portions of the snowshoe were really beautiful and it was so lovely to sit in the sunshine at the top, but it was unfortunately capped with difficult snow on the lower portions of the trail.  If I were to do this trail again, it will likely be earlier in the season with better snow. While my ideal snowshoeing season is wrapping up, it means that backpacking season is right around the corner!

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Visit Lake Kelcema in the winter for a delightful snowshoe experience in the North Cascades

Avalanche Safety

Our group did this route on a moderate avalanche risk day.  Avalanche terrain changes dramatically from day to day in Washington, and can change from slope to slope. If you are nervous about it, find routes that don’t have avalanche slopes and stick to those until you learn enough to venture further. The mountains will always be there when you are ready. 

If this is all new and scary, I have two posts on the blog to help. One on how to plan a snowshoeing trip, and another on how to understand avalanche danger for beginners

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