Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost Lake, South Cascades, May 16, 2010

Lost Lake, South Cascades (May 16, 2010)

It’s always fun to “get away with something” by hiking a trail earlier in the season than guidebooks suggest. Such an experience was our recent hike to Lost Lake from Greenwater Lakes in the South Cascades. Generally considered a summer/fall hike this less-seldom-hiked trail can sometimes be hiked earlier for those wishing to push the envelope a bit. Well, that’s us for sure!

The trail to upper Greenwater Lake is in good condition - bridges are in and with beefy railings. It’s only about 2 miles to Greenwater Lakes with 200 feet or so of elevation gain. Since I’ve blogged about Greenwater Lakes already this year I don’t have much to add except that I always enjoy this trail, especially the green, green, green lakes.

The Greenwater Lakes trail is popular so Lost Lake is a good hike to consider either in the spring or in the fall when there’s room to park at the popular trailhead. On this spring-like day in May, there were a few other cars at the trailhead.

Our hike to Greenwater Lakes, the first “leg” of the trail was without difficulty and not that busy despite it being a sunny day. We hiked at a moderate and steady pace – not too fast to miss out on the beauty of Greenwater Lakes but fast enough that we’d be able to get to Lost Lake without feeling hurried.

After crossing the Greenwater River for the last time (on a double bridge) the trail begins its gradual climb through old-growth forest with occasional views down to the Greenwater River the first mile or so. At about 3 miles from the trailhead we reached the junction for Echo/Lost Lake (elevation about 3,028 feet). For Echo Lake, take the left fork – otherwise stay straight for Echo Lake.

As is so often the case in spring we mostly had the trail to ourselves – past the junction we crossed several small tributaries (none of the crossings warranted a bridge) and noted that Devil’s club is beginning to leaf out as well as nettles. The spring flowers are out – stream violets, trilliums, flowering currant, vanilla leaf (not yet in bloom). Everything looks brand new!

As the trail pulled further away from the river we began to encounter snow. At first it wasn’t a problem; a few hikers had beaten a path into the snow and it was chilly enough in the forest that the snow hadn’t melted. A few stretches were a little on the icy side but we managed to get through that without an ignominious pratfall. You might want to take trekking poles in case you run into an icy, stubborn patch. Fortunately for us the icy stretches were layered with pine needles; we did OK without Yak Trax.

About a half mile from Lost Lake we heard voices and met a group of youngsters who had made it to the lake with their dogs. They said the snow was “worse” above the lake but that we should be able to follow their tracks the rest of the way. About ½ mile from the lake we passed lovely Quinn Lake (left), notorious for its turquoise-colored water and sense of solitude. A short spur leads down to the lakeshore – we don’t know whether or not there is a campsite there, we didn’t hike around the lake (we were on a mission to get to Lost Lake).

What the hikers meant by “worse” was that within ¼ mile or so from the lake the snow was deep, soft and we began to post-hole. This is exhausting and exasperating after a while – not enough snow to warrant snowshoes but just enough to make a hiker crabby. Well, I should only speak for myself.

I recognized the semi-open terrain from a previous hike to the lake (about the same time of year) so we carried on and am glad we did because I knew we were close. Where snow has melted beargrass is beginning to appear, a good sign of warmer days to come.

After a bit more of wallowing in soft snow we reached the lakeshore (4,007 feet). The lakeshore was snow-free and there was a good selection of logs to sit upon for lunch. The light was not good for photography (white sky) but we simply delighted in being there and having a whole lake to ourselves. There are some dandy campsites near the lakeshore but alas, we were only out for the day.

Noble Knob (and Lost Lake) can be reached from Corral Pass but getting to that trailhead is no easy task for passenger cars. Most hikers will be content with the view of Noble Knob from Lost Lake, Noble Knob is further away than it looks through a strong hiker with route-finding skills could probably get up to the knob and back down before darkness on a long, summer day. You can also get to Noble Knob from the Ranger Creek trail or the Deep Creek trail (two long, steep trails accessed from SR 410).

The snow had softened up some on our way out; that made walking easier on the icy sections but a little more challenging on the snow (more post-holing). We made good time heading back to Greenwater Lakes; where only a few hikers remained, like us, reluctant to end the pleasant, spring day.

The hike to Lost Lake is 12 miles round trip with 1,800 feet of elevation gain. The maps are Green Trails No. 238 Greenwater and No. 239 Lester.

From Greenwater continue east on SR 410 to Forest Service Road No. 70, turn left and continue about 9 miles to the trailhead (right). A Northwest Forest Pass is required. You will need a wilderness permit if you are camping at Echo or Lost Lake.

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