Wallace Lake

The inversion in the Puget Sound lowlands was getting to me. The day before it was 69 degrees at 5500' Paradise on Mt. Rainier and 37 degrees in Seattle at sea level. I needed to get above it. I also needed to get back to town in time for the first annual nwhikers calendar social. I had two photos in the finals (one won). I would be alone and did not want to spend all day breaking trail. I wanted some mileage and not many people. The answer to these criteria was Wallace Lake. The trailhead is at 300' and the lake is at 1844'. Much of a typical winter the trail will be mostly snow free. With the low level snow we had a few weeks ago I knew there would be some snow. I hoped not too much. I chose not to bring snowshoes.

I reached the trailhead just out of Gold Bar at 9:15 and was on my way soon after. Since my visit last January the state park has added a number of rental cabins. They are right next to the parking lot. It was seriously cold when I got started. It felt sub 20 not just sub freezing. I drove all the way in the smoggy haze and it began to break right at Gold Bar. There was haze all around still but beautiful blue sky above. I had not seen that in awhile.

My fingers were going numb in a matter of minutes as I tried going without bulky gloves to make photography easier. I couldn't find liner gloves. Bad idea. There was ice on trees built up over a week of sub freezing temperatures. As I rose on the old railroad grade the temperature began to climb. Within 400 vertical feet it felt 20 degrees warmer. Back before the logging road to the lake was rebuilt it had narrowed to a grass lined trail. It was among my favorite snow free hikes in the winter. It was some 14 miles round trip providing a great workout. It was also nearly unknown. I seldom ever saw another person. I tried it once after the wide gravel road was imposed on the old road/trail. It was awful. I did not come back until the Greg Ball Trail was built. This is a shorter route to the lake. It is just about 10 miles round trip via the railroad grade and a little less via the Woody Trail. It' back on my winter list again.

I did manage some photo stops but for the most part I just kept moving to stay warm. It's just under 2 1/2 miles to the start of the Greg Ball Trail. This is almost half way to the lake but with only a small part of the elevation gain. Overall, the trail is still pretty gentle. I made it nearly a mile up the trail before the snow began. It came and went a few times before the snow cover became complete.There were footprints to follow so I had no trouble staying on route. Being on state park land with a live in ranger the trail is kept in excellent shape. Lots of freshly fallen green needles on the trail but no logs to get over or around.

The snow on the trail was not above my high top boots though I had on gaiters as well. I came out of the woods onto the logging road and into sunshine. The road was solid packed icy snow and I had to problem with post holing. It's a short 1/10th of mile to the old dirt road to the lake. At that intersection I met the first person I had seen all morning. He was going to stay on the road and loop around to the falls. I headed up the old road to the lake. Snow was a bit deeper here though there were a few spots that were completely bare. I reached the lake in exactly two hours. Not bad for five miles with the last 1 1/2 on snow.

The picnic table was buried under a few feet of snow. Snow in the trees was only about half that depth. I went out onto the outlet bridge to get a look down the lake then I was on the move again. I hoped to make it down to Pebble Beach at the head of the lake. Last year Kim and I post holed in several feet of snow to get there. I had a time limit this time and hoped it would be easier. The snow was still mostly hard though it was dramatically warmer at the lake. It was at least 20 degrees warmer than the trailhead. The road/trail around the lake was easy enough to walk with the snow so hard.

In places I was able to find small and large sections of bare ground. Sometimes just a sliver along the road and sometimes whole sections of bare road. I was able to keep up a reasonable pace on the half mile walk down the lake. The shore is all forested but I did have one spot which allowed views out to the lake. It was 3/4 frozen and snow covered. The end at the inlet does get some sun and it was open water. The road itself near the inlet was a series of small lakes. I had to go into the brush to get around. The inlet creek is dry about 10 months of the year by my estimate. Thick stickers and brush guard the lake shore and the dry inlet creek is the usual way to reach the gravel beach.

When I reached the creek I found it a 15' wide torrent. I rock hopped across but still had to dunk my boots several times. I fought through the devils club to reach the shore and found the water was all the way up to the brushy edge. Hmm... now what to do? I crept out on a log to get a view down the lake. I then fought more brush and mucky ground to climb over to the edge of the inlet creek where it reached the lake. Low and behold there was a little bit of dirt showing. No beach but a viewpoint. There was more dirt on the other side of the creek. so I rock hopped again and again dunked my boots a few times. I reached the only mostly dry spot on the lake shore.

It was sunny and warm. I did not want to have to go back to the cold dark city this day. As a compromise I spent over 1 1/2 hours sitting in the sun. It must have been about 50 degrees with no wind. It felt even warmer with the sun. By 1:45 it was time to go. First I had to find a way through seven foot tall devils club and assorted sticker bushes to get back to the road/trail. Much cursing and a little time later I made it, not too much worse for the wear.

That was it for the sun. The rest of the way around the lake and down the Greg Ball Trail was in forest. I passed two groups between the lake and the newer road. Still not bad for such a close to the city hike. In fact I only met one additional group coming out. A far cry from the zoo of people that go to Wallace Falls every weekend day. As I reached the railroad grade I entered the gray zone. Sun shone through the trees and lit up the hazy fog. I spent a lot of time photographing it. The temperature dropped precipitously in the fog. I went from short sleeves to long and jacket and gloves before long. Back at the trailhead it was around freezing. No more blue sky to be seen.

I felt fortunate to escape the cold and gray at least for most of one day. The lake was beautiful with a coating of snow and the blue sky. Much of the trail was snow free and the snow was never very deep nor soft. Best of all, I only saw eight people on four groups over the whole day. Most of this winter I will be out snowshoeing or cross country skiing. Sometimes it's nice to get out without either.

Still Foggy/Smoggy
Frozen Bushes
Start Of Greg Ball Trail
Trail Is Logged Out
Snow Covered Trail
Snowy Logging Road
Long Shadow
Back On Dirt
Snow Depth At Lake
 View From Outlet
Snow Covered Lake
Crossing Inlet Creek
Looking Down Lake
Inlet Crossing
Pebble Beach Submerged
Route Out
Frozen Trail
A Little Bare Trail
Back At Lake View
Still On Snow
Sun On Moss
Gleaming Moss
Into the Haze
Spotlight On Trail
Rays Of Sun
Blue Sky & Haze
One More Shot
Sun Burst
Thicker Haze Down Low
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2009