Blanca Lake, 07/26/09

We hadn’t yet combined car camping and day hiking this summer, and Cousin Bobby’s number of free weekends before his internship ends can be counted on one finger, so it was decided that we’d head out and camp somewhere Saturday and then hike on Sunday. Blanca Lake has been high on my to-do list for several years—basically since I picked up my first 100 Hikes… book. While researching the hike, I found out that the shorter approach to the trailhead via FS63 (Index-Galena Rd) was inaccessible due to a road closure, but the trailhead was still reachable via FS65 (AKA Beckler River Rd). I thought this might deter some people and keep the trail slightly less busy. So it was decided that we’d head up FS65 seeking a suitable and free camping site and hike up to Blanca Lake the next day.

North Fork Skykomish River near our campsite.

North Fork Skykomish River near our campsite.

Roommate David loaded up the cooler, the back of the Forester was full, and we stopped off in Mill Creek to pick up Cousin Bobby around 09:45 on Saturday morning. After an easy cruise on US-2 through Skykomish, we turned left on Beckler River Rd, which is also a pretty smooth ride, until it first turned to gravel and then intersected with FS63. Along the way there were several choice campsites along the water, but all were taken. Once we turned up FS63, the road became smaller and we were slightly worried we wouldn’t find a nice place to camp. We passed by the trailhead to Blanca lake and came a little closer to the North Fork Skykomish River, eventually finding a decent little grassy campsite with a fire pit and easy access to the water. By noon we were setting up our tents and settling in.

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The weather was initially perfect, and three of us dunked ourselves in the cold, clear water of the river. We walked up and down the road and found that we were camped just several minutes before the end of the road and trailheads to Quartz Creek and West Cady Ridge. Clouds were rolling in and the sky was darkening, so we headed back to camp and prepped the area for imminent rainfall. Once it began, we retreated into our guest tent, a $20 ten-year-old Walmart special that David and Bobby would be sleeping in. It’s far from the most waterproof of tents, but it kept us dry enough to play UNO, The Dice Game, and drink a few beers while listening to the thunder. After perhaps an hour, the rain let up and we went to gather a bit of firewood to supplement the stuff we had. Bugs, flies in particular, were an annoyance. We wanted to smoke them out. After the storm the river was swollen and turned from clear to brown. We put off filtering water until the morning and spent the rest of the evening around the fire…

North Fork Skykomish, after the afternoon thunderstorm.

North Fork Skykomish, after the afternoon thunderstorm.

The next morning we broke camp a bit later than we would’ve liked to, but were still at the trailhead and hiking by 08:15. There were several cars in the lot, but we only saw a few people on the way up. Speaking of the way up: it goes up—constantly. The trail starts off and enters the newly established Wild Sky Wilderness, then starts switchbacking for nearly three miles as it gains ~2700′ of elevation. Though we weren’t hiking in the heat of the day and the trail was shaded by giant cedars and firs, it was still quite warm and our progress was slow and sweaty. Aside from the trees, there isn’t much to look at for a while.

Trees along the Blanca Lake trail.

Trees along the Blanca Lake trail.

At 09:45 I could make out some snow-topped mountains way off in the south; I speculated it was Mt. Daniel and friends down the Beckler River drainage and up the Foss River way. Around 10:05 the trees started to thin and the underbrush became berry bushes. At this point you get your first view of Glacier Peak to the northeast. If the views of Glacier Peak aren’t reward enough, now the switchbacks stop and the trail climbs a ridgeline until you break into several small meadows.

Glacier Peak.

Glacier Peak.

It’s here that the trail reaches its high point (~4600′) and enters the second Wilderness Area of the hike, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. Columbia Peak is visible in the distance. We stood—stooped—stopped—to catch our breath once again at 10:25. Now the trail descends, passing by a small pond someone named Virgin Lake. No, this is not Blanca Lake, and even I couldn’t find the energy to lie and say it was. Once past the pond the trail turns into a steep, muddy, rocky route down toward the still-hidden lake. Take your time here, or you’ll end up on your rear, like a couple of members of our party did.

No, Nicole was not one of those that fell.  Maybe I was.

No, Nicole was not one of those that fell. Maybe I was.

And then it appeared! That beautiful turquoise body of water, cliffs, peaks, and waterfalls on all sides: Blanca Lake.

Blanca Lake.

Blanca Lake.

We sat down above the lake at 11:00. I’ve been saying we, but our party would separate and coalesce with the terrain. Cousin Bobby, of course, had been sitting at the lake for more than several minutes when Nicole and I arrived, and David pulled in several minutes after that. Bobby said it was one of the most beautiful places he’d ever seen. I agreed. David said it was nice. We snacked and relaxed. I took photos and admired Columbia Peak, Monte Cristo Peak, and Kyes Peak. Several people were visible along the edges of the lake. A naked man jumped off of a log; so did his poodle.

Bobby scrambled down the rocks to test the water, but the rest of us were content to experience it visually. Had we reached the lake in the heat and exertion of our climb, we would’ve jumped in immediately. But the slow descent had cooled us off comfortably already.

At 11:45, we left the lake and began the climb up to Virgin Lake, which we reached at 12:15. It was [almost] all downhill from there, which was easier than the ascent but a little harder on our now-tired knees. There were the same number of switchbacks on the way down, believe it or not. We stepped off of the trail and onto the parking lot at 13:50.

Blanca Lake must be earned. It’s a beautiful destination that takes a bit of work to get to. It’s not the hardest hike we’ve done, but it’s far from the easiest. Cooler temperatures could’ve made the way up a little easier. Maybe. It was worth it! A great morning in the mountains.

Stats: ~8 miles round-trip from the trailhead (1900′) to Blanca Lake (3972′) and back—Green Trails Map #143 thinks it’s 7 miles, 100 Hikes… says 8 miles, and I have to say it feels like the latter. We gained and lost a total of ~3300′ of elevation, topping out at around 4600′ above Virgin Lake. It took us 2:45 to get to Blanca Lake and 2:05 to get back to the Forester. Hike time: 5:35. Active time: 4:50. Flies successfully swatted: ~100 among the four of us.

As always, a few more photos at Flickr.

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3 Responses to Blanca Lake, 07/26/09

  1. Maggie says:

    Absolutely amazing! I wish I could have been there, but thank you for sharing! 🙂

  2. Pingback: The Year in Review, 2009 Edition « Don’t Look Down

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