Saturday was a surprise bluebird day in the mountains: fluffy snow, picturesque peaks, and so much sunshine! At least, that is what I have been able to gather from everyone else’s social media posts. I had many chores and activities on Saturday and couldn’t get out to the mountains. By the time I made it to Steven’s Pass for a trip to Lanham Lake, a heavy fog and lightly falling snow descended. But time spent in the mountains is time well-spent, even bluebirds are nowhere to be seen.
My cousin Jessica expressed that she was eager to try snowshoeing, so we searched for an easy route to introduce her to all of the wonder winter snowshoeing holds. I was hoping for a trip to Mt. Rainier, but conditions didn’t quite line up. While Source Lake, Commonwealth Basin and Gold Creek Pond are all wonderful first time snowshoeing experiences, I selfishly was not ready for a repeat trip this year.
In the end I chose Lanham Lake, one of our standard Christmas Eve quick snowshoes. After a week of networking and talking for work, this introvert was seeking a trail with the minimum number of social encounters and Lanham Lake delivered. It turned out to be a bit longer than I anticipated, and a bit steeper than I remembered, but we made it to the lake and enjoyed walking through the hushed forest.
Finding the route
Lanham Lake leaves from the Nordic Ski Center at Steven’s Pass. This was my third time snowshoeing to Lanham Lake, as we usually end up sneaking it in during busy days in the winter. I read the recent trip reports, pre-loaded the GAIA map, packed a paper map and planned to use my previous expertise to confidently guide Jessica to the lake, impressing her with my navigation skills. After all, it was only 3.2 miles and I have successfully maneuvered this trail in my past. However, when we arrived, I realized this was the first time I would be hiking to Lanham Lake when the Nordic Center is officially open. We often do Lanham Lake as a Christmas Eve snowshoe, or early-season trip to test our gear. Cross-country skiers filled the groomed trails and I quickly realized that things looked a little different in March after a fresh, powdery snow.
Lanham Lake cuts through the Nordic Center’s groomed cross country ski trails, but they do not maintain the trail. In the past, we walked on the very edge of the groomed trail to reach the trailhead, a short distance from the parking lot. A small sign covered in sap was the only thing that let you know you were on-route about a half mile into the trail. When we arrived at the base of the hill, we found a new trailhead that parallels Lanham Creek.
There were signs, flagging and ropes keeping the snowshoers contained to a specific route. We began climbing the trail that aligned with the route on the GPS, but began to see more and more signs with arrows. I saw no snowshoe tracks, only the long, smooth marks of skis. I became convinced that we missed a winter re-route and found ourselves on the ski-only run, as I was expecting no maintenance on the trail. After re-tracing our steps, followed the flagging and rope-guided path next to the summer trailhead, only to find ourselves traversing west, away from the lake. So we re-traced our steps again, found ourselves back where we started at the new trailhead and asked a kind gentleman if we were allowed on the original route with snowshoes. He confirmed that it was the snowshoe route, and they had done additional flagging because so many snowshoers got lost. After ensuring him that I had a GPS, and had made it to the route before, he seemed satisfied that we weren’t about to get lost, and I was reassured that I was not ruining any trails for the cross-country skiers while I traversed through their “turf”.
Following our original trail, we quickly warmed up as it steeply climbed for about half a mile. We shortly made it to the power lines and crossed the groomed trail. Rather than the switchbacks I have usually seen at this point, there was simply a steep, narrow climb up the embankment and to the trailhead. At this point, we could continue forward without worrying about marring the groomed ski tracks.
Once we passed the steep embankment and found the start of the Lanham Lake trail, it was smooth sailing. Alternating between flat, meandering trails and short uphill pushes, we took our time and moved towards the lake. The snow was falling softly without a trace of wind, making the entire trip peaceful and relaxing.
Before too long we reached the edges of Lanham Lake. As we were the only ones there, we took a prime seat in the front. The mountain was mostly obscured by clouds but we still got a few glimpses of the craggy peak. We finished our lunch and tea, took a few silly photos and headed back down the trail.
Given the incline going up, we made quick time on the way down. Plunge stepping through powdery snow felt lovely and we were back to the car in half of the time it took us to get to the top. We unpacked our soggy layers and got in line on highway 2. We sat through the long, tedious wait from Goldbar to Monroe, but thanked our lucky stars that Stevens Pass didn’t close like Snoqualmie Pass. After a lovely sing-along 1990’s hits, we made it back to Seattle.
While I love an epic as much as the next person, there is something great about going out for a quick jaunt and bringing some new folks into the world of winter hiking. Thanks for being flexible, happy hiking partners Jessica and Julie!