Alta Mountain

Last year I hiked up Alta Mountain on a day when I had 50' of visibility on the ridge and summit. The first good blast of snow is coming in a few days and I wanted to get up high. It was time for a return trip to Alta. The trail to Rachel Lake is smooth and easy until the climbing begins. The trail is a real knee buster from there to the lake. I have seen better miners' trails. From Rachel Lake up to the summit is well worth the earlier pain. A long ridge walk with fall colors and lots of berries. I was not disappointed on those two counts.

Traffic was light on the drive over Snoqualmie Pass. Few folks were camping along Box Creek. The first row of the lot was mostly full at 8:40 am. Eight minutes later I was on the trail just ahead of a group of hikers. As I recalled the flat valley walk went very fast. I was down the valley to the unsigned turn off to Hibox Mountain in under 40 minutes. I slowed down dramatically when the climbing began. I passed a few groups coming out and a few heading in.

The climb was slow but it was still only 10:24 when I reached the lake. 1:36 minutes coming up. The temperature at Snoqualmie Pass was 32 degrees when I drove by. It was cold at the trailhead. I saw a little frost on some ferns. The climbing warmed me up and it was pleasant short sleeves weather at the lake. Nice enough to take a short break. Heading up to the ridge I met a couple who spent the night at Rampart Lakes. They had a great time. The colors in the valley were so so. In fact, fall color near the parking lot was better than on the trail. Above the lake it began to improve. At the ridge top the huckleberry bushes were mostly red.

Hiking along the ridge I met a group of more than half a dozen who camped at Lila Lakes. They too had a great time. Looks like a lot of backpackers did not put away their gear after Labor Day this year. I saw a lot of backpackers heading to Island/Rainbow Lakes the day before too. The unsigned junction of the trails to Alta and Lila Lakes was had to saw a half dozen years ago. Now it is very obvious. The steepest section of the Alta trail is likely the first 350 vertical feet. It just goes straight up. I was surprised to see that the berry crop has hardly been touched. Much good eating was done.

The grade finally lessens and the hiking is much easier. Climbing above Rachel Lake I could first hear then feel a strong cold wind. On the ridge to Alta it was stronger and colder. Cold enough to roll my sleeves back down and tighten up my hat to keep it from sailing down to Gold Creek. Almost cold enough to put on a jacket on a steep climb. Three quarters of the way up I spotted a lone hiker coming down just above me. It turned out to be Brewmaster. I hadn't hiked with him in some time and it was nice to say hello. Our conversation was short as it was just to cold and windy to stop for long on the top of the ridge.

The wind was biting but the sky was clear. unlike last year visibility was nearly perfect. Not even much haze. From the last false summit along the ridge I could see the real summit and the enormous summit cairn. It has grown since my visit a year earlier. It's probably visible from space now. One more drop, a short scramble and I was on top. My time of just about 3 hours was similar to last year. Rainier was clear and even half of Glacier Peak was visible. I ducked down out of the wind for a quick lunch. Even with a jacket on 15 minutes was long enough on top.

Another hiker reached the summit as I was preparing to head down. Hiking along the ridge I passed a solo hiker and then a group of women. The wind didn't seem to be bothering anyone. Coming up the colors were muted. Heading down I had the sun in front of my backlighting the leaves. Colors were very good and I took a lot of time scurrying from one side of the ridge to the other to get the sun to set the leaves afire.

At one point I noticed something nearby and a squirrel stood on a rock looking right at me. I took out my camera, zoomed in and he continued to pose. Didn't seem to be the least bit afraid of me. With all the photos I took longer coming down than going up. My fall color season may only be two days long this year so I made the most of it. I took one last break at Rachel Lake. Once of the ridge the wind completely disappeared for the day. Heading down I encountered the usual Rachel Lake crowds. I passed four or five groups on the steep section.

I was surprised at the number of folks heading up later in the day. I left the lake at 2:00 pm and continued to pass folks heading up until past 3:00. After Labor Day I'm not used to seeing so many casual afternoon hikers. I guess the good September weather has kept hikers on the trails. Once down the knee busting steep section the rest of the trail went by fast. I was back to the parking lot at 3:26. The trip down from the lake was 10 minutes faster than the hike up.

I could have done without the strong cold wind on the ridge but other than that it was an almost perfect day to be up high. A nice lake, sunshine all day long, great fall colors, and lots of ripe berries. Alta has long been a favorite and one I will visit again soon.

Hibox Mountain
Frosted Ferns
Sun On Rachel Lake
First Color
Rampart Lakes
Lower Ridge
Alta - Hibox Ridge
Color On Ridge
Another False Summit
Mt. Rainier
Three Queens & Stuart
Alta Summit & cairn
Lake Below Ridge
PCT & Mt. Thompson
Kendall Katwalk & Red
Chikamin Peak
Red & Rocks
Look Back To Summit
Red On Ridge
Posing Squirrel
Really Red
Red & Yellow
Folks Sitting In Meadow
As Red As It Gets
Grass & Hibox
Slope Afire
Hibox & Lila Lakes
Colors On Slope
Yellow Bush
Berries Along Trail
Low On Ridge
Red Patch
Bigger Patch
About To Turn
Best Color
Trail Border
A Line In The Red
Above Rachel Lake
Colors Of The Rainbow
Last Color
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2009