West Fork Foss River Lakes, 08/23/08-08/24/08

So far this summer Nicole and I have gone on six hikes together; the first three were all either one- or two-night backpacks; hikes four, five, and six were all day hikes.  So as the weekend approached and trip-planning began, like, for real, we knew we wanted to spend a night [tossing and turning within our sleeping bags].  Backpacking it would be, but since we only had Saturday night available, and I had to work Saturday morning, it couldn’t be a long drive or that long of a hike.  We also had to keep in mind that we’d probably be pitching our tent somewhere early Saturday evening, crux of the weekend populous.   I had my hands wrapped around a pair of Green Trails Maps (#175 & #176) and prior reports and pictures in my head.  Elimination claimed trails we hypothesized as too long, too difficult, too buggy, and too busy; those trips requiring off-trail travel were sadly stricken from the slate.

In the end, we decided to try our luck up the West Fork of the Foss River, along Trail #1064.  With four lakes sitting around the 4000’ mark, and all seemingly within reach from the 1600’ trailhead–the farthest being ~6.8 miles in–we were confident we’d find a place so settle down before the sun set.  This trail sits entirely within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and is easily reached off of US-2 via the Foss River Road (Road 68/6835).  Don’t ask me how–actually, I think it’s because I already had map in hand and read a recent report and therefore felt like I knew what to expect–but I neglected to check the USFS site until just now.  It calls the trail “severely flood damaged,” characterizes the difficulty as “Easiest/Most Difficult,” and states that visitor use is “Extra Heavy.”  I’ll try to elaborate on all that throughout the rest of this trip report, but let me preemptively say it isn’t quite so bad as that.

Back to the past: our minds made up, a bit o’ new gear purchased, and my last massage of the week given, we left Seattle at 11:15 en route to the Skykomish area.  Almost exactly two hours later, at ~13:15, we opened the doors of the Explorer in the semi-crowded parking lot (~two dozen cars) and were greeted by some hungry bugs.  With boots on and DEET applied, we walked past the trailhead sign at 13:30.  The sign kindly reminded us that a bridge was out 0.5 miles in, informed us that the trail is no longer maintained, and invited us to hike at our own risk.  When aren’t we hiking at our own risk?

They were right about that no-longer-maintained thing.  The blow-downs begin almost immediately, with the trail underneath the trees composed of crushed gravel–if gravel was the size of softballs.  It isn’t long before the trail deviates from the rocky road, somewhat confusingly.  From there you’ll find yourself along the left side of the West Fork of the Foss River.  With the knowledge that the bridge is out, and logs down everywhere, one may be tempted to cross in many spots, but be patient and work your way down to where the trail ends and the cairns begin.  Unfortunately, there are cairns everywhere.  But some should lead you to the nice, big log pictured below, about ~20 minutes into the hike.  Crossing here puts you right back on the trail; if you crossed somewhere else, you’d have to work upriver or downriver to pick it up again.

Nicole crosses Log-Over-Foss.

Nicole crosses Log-Over-Foss.

After crossing the river, the trail pulls itself together a bit as it climbs ~500’ in the next mile, much of it along the west side of the river.  There’s a nice big tree, and a bit of washout along the edge of the river, and then the trail arrives at Trout Lake, 2100’ and 1.5 miles from the trailhead.  We took a breath and a picture or two; the time was 14:35.  Already we’d seen more than a few people on the trail, most on their way out.  The going was slow, what with the poor trail conditions and full packs.  I was hoping that the lower and upper portions of the trail would be easy going, since they were relatively level.  The middle portion of the trail is where most of the elevation gain occurs, and that’s what we were about to start.

One big tree.  Regular-sized Nicole.

One big tree. Regular-sized Nicole.

One of many, many blow-downs.

One of many, many blow-downs.

After passing Trout Lake, which didn’t impress us all that much–aside from the inlet end, as viewed from slightly above–the trail works its way westward, eventually within earshot of the rushing waters from above.  At 15:20 we stopped at a space with easy access to the water; we needed to filter some before the trail turned away from the water steeply.  It was such a nice spot that we stopped there on the way back down, too.

Water so nice, we stopped to filter it twice.

Water so nice, we stopped to filter it twice.

The middle portion of the trail gains ~1800’ in 2 miles–honestly, it didn’t even feel that steep to me.  Maybe it’s because we were moving so slowly.  More blow-downs, heavy packs, a stop for food.  Even if it didn’t feel steep, and Nicole may disagree with me there, it felt pretty exhausting.  After leaving our watering hole, the trail climbs through forest for a while before eventually breaking out into some brushy sections with beautiful views of Malachite Falls:

Malachite Falls.

Malachite Falls.

Another shot of Malachite Falls.

Another shot of Malachite Falls.

Up and up we went, with the waterfall visible for much of the late afternoon.  By ~17:00 we were up near the top of the falls, and crossed over a damaged, but sturdy footbridge.  In fifteen minutes more we reached the junction of the main trail and the spur trail (#1064.1) to Lake Malachite.  Tired as we were, and with time elapsing more quickly than we’d anticipated, I ran up the trail solo to check out the lake and see if it was worth camping at.  The spur was short, steep, muddy, and hardly recognizable; I knew unless the lake was beautiful with a pleasant campsite, I wasn’t going to make Nicole climb up to it.  The trail dead-ends at the mucky end of the lake, with no discernable trails along either edge.  I admit: I only looked briefly, so there may be something there.  But I knew we weren’t going to be the ones to try to find it.  From what I’d heard from folks on the trail, Copper Lake seemed like the place to camp, and Copper Lake wasn’t far away.  (Before the hike, I’d held hopes to make it all the way up to Big Heart Lake to camp–but those hopes had been abandoned by this point.)

Nicole crosses the damaged bridge with care.

Nicole crosses the damaged bridge with care.

Small Falls near the top of the trail.

Small Falls near the top of the trail.

View at the end of the Lake Malachite spur.

View at the end of the Lake Malachite spur.

I met Nicole back at the junction–it really only takes a few minutes to get up to Lake Malachite and take a look at it–and we returned to the main trail.  In fifteen minutes, we were crossing the outlet of Copper Lake via rock-hop, and in a few minutes more (17:45) we saw Copper Lake proper.

Crossing the Copper Lake outlet.

Crossing the Copper Lake outlet.

Copper Lake panorama, from the trail at its edge.

Copper Lake panorama, from the trail at its edge.

With sunlight settling below the cliffs to the west, all thoughts were now on finding a place to set up our tent.  A beautiful spot across the outlet was taken, another space that looked like it could hold a tent sat nearby, as did the toilet.  We marched onward, since I was certain there had to be something along the east side of the lake, between it and the trail.  Halfway down the lake there was a site, but on the uphill side of the trail with a bit of snow.  It would’ve done, but I wanted to keep looking.  At this point Nicole sat down, and I went off ahead of her, hoping to find us something.  I told her I’d blow my whistle three times if I found a site, and she should blow hers three times if she heard me.  At 18:15, just as I was about to turn around, and well past the end of Copper Lake, I found a site just off the trail, next to running water and among blooming beargrass.  I dropped my pack and gave three whistles, though I held back breath.  I thought I heard a reply, and moved down the trail to meet her.  Three more whistles, and I called her name.  Maybe I heard a reply?  Eventually I met her on the trail, she hadn’t heard me, but since I was gone so long she assumed I’d found something.  Back at camp, we set up, filtered water, cooked potatoes and couscous, swatted at merciless mosquitoes, and retreated to our tent well before 21:00.  I swear, one of these nights I’m going to stay up for the stars!

Beargrass between Copper Lake & Little Heart Lake.

Beargrass between Copper Lake & Little Heart Lake.

We slept as well as we tend to, and were up to walk to Little Heart Lake by 07:00.  It was really only minutes away, which meant we’d hiked in ~5 miles to camp on Saturday.  Little Heart Lake was pretty, but I actually thought Copper Lake was more beautiful.  That said, I’m sure if we made it up to Big Heart Lake (or beyond) the terrain would’ve been even better.  Ah, well.

At 08:50 we broke camp, and we were back at the Explorer at 13:00 exactly.  Downhill wasn’t much different from uphill, just a bit harder on the knees.

A friendly reminder to remove the lens cap.

A friendly reminder to remove the lens cap.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this trip.  At times, I was disappointed: the trail conditions were the worst we’ve seen this year, we didn’t cover a lot of distance, we didn’t score a lakeside campsite, the bugs drove us into our tent as we finished our dinner, and I didn’t take any outstanding photographs.  Still: we did manage over 10 miles round-trip of rough trails, river crossings, and blow-downs with an afternoon start; the scenery was more than adequate; and the exercise was first-rate, as our muscles and blisters testify.  It was an experience that satisfies.  I’d like to get up into the area and explore further, because I know there’s a lot more up there.  I think this hike would be a lot easier if you were heading up with a daypack.  If you leave with enough time, and plan on spending more than one night, with time to explore, it’s a decent backpacking trip, too.  We did see a fair number of people on both days, about half of whom seemed to be backpackers.  It wasn’t an overwhelming crowd, though.

Distance: ~10+ miles round-trip from the parking lot to Little Heart Lake and back.  We topped out at ~4200’ of elevation, gaining ~2600’+ along the way.  It took us ~4:15 to reach Copper Lake, with our full packs and a few stops along the way for water and food, and a similar amount of time going out the next day for around ~8 hours of total hiking time.

As always, there might be an extra picture or two at Flickr.

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3 Responses to West Fork Foss River Lakes, 08/23/08-08/24/08

  1. Gregg Pohll says:

    I have got to say that you did take some fairly nice photos and when you return, you will have etched another great experience into you data base. How many people have never been to the place you have? I always take pride in that.

  2. jeremy says:

    Thanks, Gregg. You’re right of course–and that’s part of why I go out there.

    You’ve got a pretty interesting blog yourself; I’ll have to make sure to visit regularly and scan through the archives…

  3. Pingback: The Year in Review « Don’t Look Down

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