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Pacific Northwest alpine hikes

Lake SereneLake Serene hike - Waterfalls
Having lived most of my life in Louisiana (highest elevation: Driskill "Mountain" - 535 ft, haha..) and Indiana (highest elevation: Hoosier Hill - 1257 ft), I found hikes to be rather daunting when I moved to Washington (highest elevation: Mt. Rainier - 14411 ft). After a very pathetic intern experience trying to hike up to Panorama Point at Mt. Rainier (1700 ft gain... if I'd made it all the way!) and an embarrassingly difficult hike up to Wallace Falls (1200 ft), I swore off difficult hiking for quite a few years, adamantly refusing to join friends and co-workers on hikes to Mount Si, Tiger Mountain, and Lake Serene.

But in more recent years, I've been making an attempt to incorporate more physical activity into my life, through torture classes at the gym, skiing, biking, and hot yoga. This things got me in reasonable enough shape so that after a family trip to Glacier National Park, where we did some long hikes with moderate elevation gain, I decided I was finally ready to see some alpine lakes. My co-worker Nitasha and her husband Praveen were totally onboard with the idea, and we've done a good percentage of the hikes since then as a group.

Lake Serene Hike - view from the trailLake Serene Hike - water color

Hike 1: Lake Serene - 7.2 miles, 2000 ft gain
Oh, what a way to start the hiking adventures! This year, the snow in the mountains melted really late, so we had to wait until the end of July for the trails to be reasonable without snow gear. This was a tough hike to begin with, since a good chunk of the elevation came at the end in the form of many switchbacks and stairs. But it was definitely a rewarding one, with two waterfalls at the beginning, nice valley views along the way, and a gorgeous lake at the end. The lake was still half-covered by snow, unfortunately, but we could still make out the pretty color. We did get to see some retarded people jump in the ice-cold water, swim to the snow cover, and sit on it. I believe they instantly regretted this decision. :)

Hike 2: Denny Creek - ~7 miles, ~1500 ft gain
The original plan was to do the Denny Creek/Melakwa Lake hike far enough to see the meadows for the wildflowers, eat lunch, and turn back. However, Hikers Bob (who came equipped with... an ice axe?!) and Praveen were feeling ambitious, so we pushed onwards until the rest of us, tired, weary, and with dinner plans that evening (well, that was me, anyway) insisted that we turn around. To this day, Praveen still is unhappy that we did not reach the lake. :)

"Hike" 3: Cougar Mountain - embarrassing
We were feeling lazy, so we decided to do something close to home. Cougar Mountain Park is cool about providing maps with hikes that look like they would be interesting, but they were really easy and the "viewpoints" often looked over someone's back yard. Ah well. That's where the 2008 hiking season ended for us.

Annette Lake hike
Hike 4: Annette Lake - 7.5 miles, 1700 ft gain
After coming back from India where we did two days of hiking in Himachal Pradesh, I was all excited to start hiking. We opted for something with a little less elevation than Serene, but still with a view payoff at the end. Flowers weren't as great as we would have liked, but there were nice mountain and boulder field views along the way. We got our turquoise-colored lake at the end, but it came with something else... mosquitoes. :(

Mason Lake hikeMason Lake hike
Hike 5: Mason Lake - 6 miles, 2500 ft gain
I think I'd thrown out the idea of hiking Bandera Mountain a few times before, so finally, with the promise of wildflowers and beargrass, we decided to do the Ira Spring Trail, taking the end fork to Mason Lake instead of Little Bandera, saving us about 1 mile and 300 ft. Hey, every bit counts. The flowers were as beautiful as promised, with lots of Indian paintbrush and clusters of pink flowers. Beargrass was probably a few weeks past its prime and was looking a lot less bushy, but it was still pretty. Mason Lake wasn't the best view lake, but it was a nice swimming lake and plenty of people were taking advantage of that. None of us had swimming clothes, but the boys started trying to be macho by balancing on a slimy log that dipped into the water, and you can guess the end result of that. :)

Mount Rainier - View from Sunrise viewpointMount Rainier - OhanapecoshMount Rainier - One of the Paradise hikes

Hike 6: Mount Rainier - varied
I wasn't satisfied with my intern experience being my only exposure to Mount Rainier, so I went back for a camping trip to get lots of hiking in. Didn't do anything terribly difficult, and I didn't even try to fully conquer the trail up to Panorama Point (did a good chunk of it up to the glacier vista, though) -- I just wanted great views. I unintentionally picked "Free Weekend," which saved $25 or so, but it also resulted in large crowds at Paradise on Saturday. But things were still gorgeous -- huge trees at Grove of the Patriarchs, turquoise colored lakes all over the place, mountain range views, wildflowers everywhere... This place was ridiculously gorgeous. My words don't do it justice. My pictures do a slightly better job.
Mount Rainier - wildflowersMount Rainier - wildflowersColchuck Lake

Hike 7: Colchuck Lake - 9 miles, 2200 ft gain
It was October, temperatures were dropping, and people were happy to settle into the intermediate lazy season -- when it gets too cold and rainy to do summer activities, and there isn't any snow to do winter activities. But not me! I found a weekend where it wasn't supposed to rain, and I decided that I was going to see some leaves of different colors. And in order to get this, we were heading east of the Cascades, the longest drive to a day hike we'd done to date. Jenny was the only one nuts enough to agree to be dragged along (this trip involved leaving quite early in the morning because it was a long drive, and it was starting to get dark pretty early).

The colors did not disappoint, and we started getting really excited once we crossed Stevens Pass and started seeing bright reds and oranges. We pulled over to take some pictures, and that's when we started noticing the temperatures. 30-something? Ooh, it was cold. When we got to the trailhead, I think the car was saying 31 degrees, and despite a forecast for 0% preciptation, there were bits of white dust falling from the sky. Once we started hiking, we warmed up, and there were lots of pretty colors along the way to keep us going. 9 miles definitely made for a long hike, though, especially on the way back. The lake was beautiful (though I hoped for more golden larch trees) - really big with that clear turquoise water. Colchuck Lake is the gateway to the Enchantments, probably the best backpacking trip in Washington, and we could see Aasgard Pass, the nutso climb you have to do in order to get into the Enchantments from this side. Maybe next time. :)

Colchuck Lake - fall colorsColchuck Lake

Hopefully next summer will be full of more beautiful hikes! For now, I am looking forward to hitting the ski slopes...


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