Wing Lake

Fall is the time for a larch hike. There is nothing like their golden needles. Most years that time is about mid October. It is often rainy or snowy or freezing cold or all three. This year we planned to check out the North Cascades a little earlier. Suzanne was working on the Skagit River on Friday. Bob, Kolleen, and I chose to be off work. We couldn't decide on a destination that would work for all four of us. I needed to be be back Saturday by early evening. At the last minute we chose Wing Lake, near Rainy Pass on Highway 20. I met Kolleen and Bob in south Everett at 6:30. We were at the 4850' trailhead by 9:40 and on the trail by 9:50.

The weather was beautiful but was forecast to be deteriorating the next day. For that reason we chose to do the loop via Maple Pass on the way up to Wing Lake. That would make for a shorter return route. We wanted to have the best weather at Maple Pass. The route begins on the trail to Rainy Lake. It is paved. In a short distance we left that trail for the dirt trail to Maple Pass. The route is in forest and ascends at a steady rate. The climb is steady but never overly steep.

At one point we had a view down to part of Rainy Lake. A little fall color showed in the forest. The only negative is the sound and occasional sight of the highway below. The growing views of peaks overcome that drawback. The trail comes out of the forest and trends around the backside of the ridge. This is where the good stuff began. Larch trees began to appear. Some were still green but some were already golden.

I kept expecting to reach the pass and the route just kept going higher. In fact, we crested a ridge at 6900'. That is 300' higher than Maple Pass. We stopped at the high point for food and water. With all the photos we were hiking at a slug like pace. We had plenty of time to reach Wing Lake and these colors are available for such a short time that we continued our slow pace. Bright red leaves were added to the views from the high point down to Heather Pass. They were dull on one side and ablaze on the other with the bright backlighting from the sun.

Old boot paths pre dating the existing trail were obvious. They went straight up and the current trail is always built to a very moderate grade. Our view south included Glacier Peak and the glaciers of Dome Peak. Travel became even slower as the reds, oranges, and yellows grew in intensity between Maple and Heather Passes. At long last we reached Heather Pass and then the turn off to Lewis Lake.

The route to Lewis began with a regular trail. Larch here were quite nice. The really good views were still ahead. The trail reached the edge of the boulder field. Lewis Lake was visible well ahead. I decided to make a mostly level traverse while Bob and Kolleen dropped lower. My way was all on rock while theirs was partly along the edge of the rock lower down and across rock.

I really enjoy bouldering and made very good time. I came to one snow finger. I could easily have dropped below it but decided to head right across. One step and I realized the snow was rock hard ice. I had zero traction. Only the sun cupped divots gave me any purchase. By some miracle I made it across without falling and sliding to the bottom. I reached the Lewis outlet creek and the end of the rock ahead of the others. They soon caught up and we hiked a short distance up to Lewis Lake. There was one nice campsite just above the lake and along the trail. The lake is a very nice green color.

Most of the way across the rocks had been in shade. It was a warm enough day that the shade was welcomed. From Lewis up we were back in the sun. The route up to Wing Lake is mostly a very obvious trail. There is one place it ends in some rocks but a short climb to the ridge at left and it picks right back up again. It's fairly steep but not hard going. We had some nice red and orange colors at the lake but a short way up the larch began to show up. The lower ones are still a little green but higher up they are golden.

It's 1200' from Lewis at 5700' to Wing at 6900'. We were very slow again as the colors were magnificent. At long last we reached the basin of Wing Lake. The campsite at the outlet was not taken so we dropped our packs and went looking for something better. There are several other sites higher above the lake. They were nice but we liked our first choice. We went back and set up camp. It was a little surprising to see that there were no other campers at the lake.

The sun was lower but nice for some more larch photos. We headed around the lake looking to see if we could get the whole lake in a photo. There is a good sized waterfall still flowing from high on Black Peak. The peak rises almost 2100' directly above the lake. We had decided that photos took precedent over a climb of Black and arrived far too late to give it a try. We did hike around the back of the lake and part way up to the col. Where the sree slope flattened we stopped. Nice views back down. We headed back to camp for dinner.

It cooled rapidly but we stayed out talking and looking at starts until 9:30. The long light of summer is definitely gone. It was down to 40 degrees when we went to bed. It was still cool in the morning and we did not stir until about 7:30. By then the sun was touching our tents. We ate and took more photos. Two climbers arrived just before dark the previous night. Another arrived early in the morning. Soon after another hiker arrived. This one had a dog. It was Suzanne! She was not sure what hike we settled on but chose this one and found us. Sadie seemed happy to see old friends as well.

We all went for one more larch stroll then Suzanne headed back down to Lewis where she had camped. We broke camp and headed down. It was another slow descent as it took us an hour to drop the 1+ miles. Our group then headed back to Heather Pass. The others took the lower route and I stayed high. It was great fun scrambling across the rocks. I made it back to near dirt trail well ahead of the others. When they arrived it took only a few minutes to reach the main trail. Suzanne wanted to complete the loop so she headed uphill and we went down. First we took her tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. She had a nice lighter hike out.

The last two miles went very fast. We passes a long string of hikers coming in. We reached the trailhead at 1:15. It took about 2:15 from Lewis Lake to the end. This was a terrific fall hike. We had sun and golden larch and much more solitude than I expected. I can see why the loop is such a favorite hike. It is not difficult and offers some spectacular scenery, especially this time of year. This was one of the slowest hikes I have done but one of the best. I'll have many more larch hikes in the future. Most will be cold and damp. This one was almost perfect.

First Color
Peak View
More Peaks
Color On Trail
Black Peak
Closer Look
Heather Pass
Red Leaves
Green & Gold Larch
Better Colors
More Larch
Lone Larch
Rock & Larch
Bob & Kolleen
Lots To See
Highway Below
Blue Sky
Gentle Switchbacks
Dome Peak
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2006