Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Granite Lakes, Thompson Lake

Granite Lake, Thompson Lake (June 16, 2010)

I’ve been doing more hiking than writing lately so in order to stay more up-to-date on this blogs most entries will be shorter than my recent Barclay, Eagle Lake description.

We’ve gazed at the guidebooks and maps often, drooling over the possibility of getting to Thompson Lake, a hard-to-get-to lake no matter how you approach it.

Basically there are two approaches – one starting at the Ira Spring trailhead (the Mason Lake trail), continuing to Mount Defiance then dropping down to Thompson Lake. A lot of mileage and elevation gain. The other approach – and ours, is from the Granite Lakes road off the Snoqualmie Middle Fork road near North Bend. This is also a long, strenuous route.

We’d only intended to visit Granite Lakes on this cool but rare sunny day in June. The hike starts out on the Granite Lakes road (just past the Mailbox Peak trailhead) on the Middle Fork road. The road is a gated DNR road – there is room to leave a car or two there if you prefer starting from there. No trailhead pass required.

The guidebooks say it is about 11 miles round trip to Granite Lakes and that’s probably pretty accurate (PDA). Most of that mileage is on the road but it’s not an unpleasant walk. We passed stumps from past logging eras, Granite Creek (with a bridge) and all along the roadside, wildflowers. This also makes a good snowshoe walk in winter as there is no avalanche danger along the road.

In about 4-1/2 miles we came to a junction on the road, now with trail signs for Granite Lakes and Thompson Lake. This was the first time I’ve seen signs at this junction; they are a definite advantage.

For Granite Lakes, you hike downhill (right) onto an old road to where it ends. It is – roughly – a half mile from the junction. We stopped to admire violets and our first marsh marigolds of the season on our way. At the road end – no sign - look for flagging or if that is gone find an opening in the vegetation - that’s the trail.

The “trail” is probably less than ¼ of a mile to Upper Granite Lake but it’s a bit of a challenge. Crossing the outlet stream took a little cunning to keep feet dry but we managed (rock hop and vegetation belay). Not far from the stream crossing is Upper Granite Lake and it is a beauty. Since adjectives fail to describe such a pretty lake we’ll leave it at that. It’s damned pretty and larger than you might expect. Explore dim paths – some lead to secret campsites and one eventually takes you to Lower Granite Lake (we didn’t look for Lower Granite today). The ground cover is a glory of marsh marigolds, false lily-of-the-valley and Canadian dogwood just coming into bloom. Hellebore is just beginning to appear and beargrass will also bloom soon.

Back at the junction we had enough energy to hike further. I’d always wanted to explore the left branch from the junction – call it an old road or cat track, it’s rocky and lined with alders at lower elevations. Someone’s been lopping the encroaching vegetation (thanks!).

At about a mile – eureka! Another trail sign, this one for Thompson Lake – this, too, is a handy sign. Having never been to Thompson before we found it useful. The Green Trails map indicated it being about a mile to the lake.

We started out and soon came to the original sign for Thompson Lake, so weathered you could almost mistake it for a tree. A short steep stretch followed a level stretch, a couple of tributaries are crossed (not a problem), then the trail climbs to a ridge where you might expect a view of Thompson Lake. It’s only a partial view – trees obscure most of the lake and the trail continues on.

Silverback decided to take a break at the ridge while I continued, still hoping to get down to the lake. The last bit of trail is steep – it’s about 450 feet down to the lake and it’s steep, seemingly not often traveled. I had hoped to get to a viewpoint above the lake (it was too chilly to keep Silverback waiting for long) and I finally did where the trail breaks out into a boulder field with a stunning view of the lake, much larger than I thought it would be. To my surprise the lake was almost completely snow free (the trail was too) and I took several photos before turning around.

I dreaded the climb back to the ridge but I took it slow and easy; soon we were back on the road and on our way home. We both felt pretty good until about the last couple of miles on the Granite Lakes road; then, the fatigue caught up with us.

The stats: according to the GPS I hiked 17.4 miles (round trip) and Silverback 16. The elevation gain was about 3,800 feet (for me). The map is Green Trails No. 206 Bandera. If you skip Granite Lakes it’s closer to 16 miles round trip with less elevation gain.

Getting there: From Seattle take I-90 east past North Bend to Exit 34, pass the convenience stores and turn right onto the SE Middle Fork Road (Dorothy Lake road), continue about 3 miles to the trailhead for Mailbox Peak (left), park. Hike the road about ¼ mile to the Granite Lakes Road (a gated DNR road).

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