Surprise Gap Snowshoe 


Weather predictions were promising for the weekend, though you’d never be able to guess by looking out of the rain spattered windshield as Nealbob and I drove by Skykomish.

In little time we were at the Surprise Creek trailhead, a few cars were parked near the kiosk. Wandering patches of rain and chilly spring temperatures persuaded me to throw on my rain gear.

Right off the bat I was wondering how long I’d be giving my snowshoes a piggyback ride up the hill, but before long the grade gave way to boot packed snow. I happily untethered the snowshoes from my bag and kept them on my feet the rest of the trip. They’d be totally indispensable later! 

Avalanche heaps bedecked the open slopes of the lower Surprise Creek Valley and a particularly large one reached down the eastern slope far enough that the footpath was forced to cross it’s undulating surface. 

Beyond the slide we passed two parts of a single party with about 15 mins in between them. Both had turned back at/or around the climb up the outlet stream. Another party we encountered along the way said they’d been to Surprise Lake and not much further beyond.

The climb up the hill was straightforward, but required crossing some decaying snow bridges and skirting a drop off or two which kept it fun. 

At Surprise Lake (4508′) we consistently started hitting deeper snow that made travel without snowshoes very difficult, which limited the further travels of Nealbob on this outing. 

Home is wherever you find it.


Adequately traveled for the day, we set up camp in a patch of trees near the outlet of the lake. 

After boiling up a bit of hot tea and some post hike conversing, I donned my snowshoes again to see if I couldn’t catch a break in the clouds up at Glacier Lake (4806′). Nealbob’s canine companion Dora decided to join me on the relatively short journey. 

In about a mile over crusty forest snow, the dog and I arrived at the north end of the lake. Conditions had improved to reveal views to Surprise Gap (5800′) but with a constant cloud cap right around the 6200′ level. 

 Jack London Calling


The night was cold, but after throwing on all my layers and wrapping tight in my 30°F bag, it wasn’t unpleasant. 

Above me, transient morning clouds were glowing with the promise of a sunny day as I fired some water for coffee to get the day caffeinated. 

Snores were coming from Nealbob’s tent as I ambled out of camp on my morning tour. Dora wasn’t far behind. 

Glacier Lake was the first destination and made for some stunning scenery as the clouds had now broken and let the blue of the sky tantalize us earthbound mortals.  

Trees are the view so saith the bumper sticker

Dora and I trammeled the untouched snow along the east shore of the lake, snapping pics and plodding along in the general direction of Surprise Gap. 

In a clearing we encountered a set of weathered ski tracks, the only tracks I’d seen since Surprise Lake, but opted not to follow.

Breaking out of the trees and into the vast avalanche bowl at the head of the valley, the change in contrast was blinding. 

I plopped my butt down near some squat trees right at the base of Surprise Mountain and took in the views and some nourishing trail sustenance. Dora tried to eyeball me out of my mixed nuts and granola. “I already gave you my jerky!”

Surprise Mountain slide


Refueled and rewatered, the two of us set off up the gap. The scenery grew wider with each crunchy step up the hard frozen snow. 

Along the east side of the bowl I again noticed the set of ski tracks, a small avalanche had covered a portion of the otherwise unbroken line. 

We headed for the shady side to make our ascent, crossing the ski tracks as they switchbacked to the top.  

At the top of the gap a light wind was blowing from the south, it felt good after the trudge. The ski tracks curiously continued on down towards the Deception Lakes. 

Wonder where they were headed…

Descending the gap


By the time Dora and I returned to camp, Nealbob had already broken down his kit and was snapping pics of the much improved scenery. 

I put on one last pot of coffee as I started packing my little home back into my bag. The light of the sun was now filling the entire Surprise Creek Valley, and turning the snow into mush. Glad I had my snowshoes! 

Just after descending the steeper section of the route, we passed a determined fellow headed up the hill in a pair of shorts and high tops. 

“How far is it to the lake?”, he asked. 

Oh, ya got maybe another mile or so and a bit of gain.” we answered “Good luck!”

With that, he postholed through the slush and off into the trees…


  • Trail is snow covered for most of its length. 
  • Snowshoes were helpful, and necessary for travel beyond Surprise Lake. (Unless you love to posthole)
  • Beware decaying snow bridges. 
  • Be mindful of ever changing snow conditions.
  • Avalanche is a very real danger in the mountains, educate yourself before traveling in avalanche terrain.
El lobo y el lago


      A camp site conversation touched on the possibility of adding instant apple cider mix to some oatmeal. Nealbob and I agreed it could be a winner.

      Happy Trails…

      Mirror Lake 4195′

      “Ok, you were right, it was worth the walk”

      An alpine blue beauty along a short, fairly easy trail and only a stone’s throw from Snoqualmie Pass!? 

      You know that is going to draw a crowd on a sunny weekend!


      • Grade: maintained trail 
      • Distance: 1 mile-ish
      • Elevation gain: 650′ + –

      The Mirror Lake trail #1302 is short but sweet, packing two lakes and a fair share of views in under two miles.

      The hiking trail begins where the forest road turns Jeep trail. A sign bearing the trails name marks the spot.

      Follow the Jeep trail up, watching for a boot path (usually marked) leading off to your left (west).

      The trail traverses forest and shrub, gradually ascending to Cottonwood Lake. Rough paths break off the main trail down to it’s waters. 

      When you’ve had your fill of whatever one does at Cottonwood Lake, continue west, gaining slighty more strenuous elevation towards Mirror Lake.

      At roughly the site of a small meadow the trail intersects with the PCT, a few steps further and you’re looking at the lake.

      Guess it lives up to it’s name


      There are quite a few camping sites around Mirror Lake but they can and do fill up.

      No backcountry bathroom facilities seem to exist at the lake and it gets a lot of visitors. Do the math.

      Consider WAG bagging!

      Further travels…

      If you still got some time and energy to burn, look around the south western end of the lake for a rugged path up Tinkham Peak, there are some nice views from up top for those that earn em’.

      Also at the south end of the lake; poke around along the PCT to find the delightful Mirror Lake Falls as it descends toward Yakima Pass. Tea stained and marshy Twilight Lake lies beyond.

      North on the PCT will take you into a whole other microcosm of hikes in Cold Creek basin.


      While I can’t personally vouch for catching fish here, I understand that there are cutthroats swimming around.

      You didn’t hear this from me, but an old timer told me they used to plant Golden Trout here back in the day.

      Shore access is ample but tree lined. Perhaps if ye could float…

      I’m not sure about the name but I’m going with it.


      From whichever direction you are coming from on the I-90 make your way to the exit#62 Stampede Pass/Kachess Lake.

      Head south on Forest Road 54, keeping an eye out for a “Lost Lake” sign. Around a mile or so from the exit you’ll wanna take a right onto Forest Road 5480. 

      Continue down this road for another 4 miles before passing Lost Lake.

      Another couple miles beyond the lake and you’re there. If it’s a busy weekend you’ll know you’re close when you see cars parked along the road.


      You’ll need a NW Forest Pass for parking.

      The available parking at the trailhead is primitive to say the least. During peak usage you’ll have to park along the road.


      USGS Lost Lake

      Happy Trails!

      Wilderness Navigation

      I’m going to try something a little different today and do this all on my phone!

      Heybrook Lookout

      FRIDAY 12FEB2016

      At some point in the very recent past I lost track of my compass. At this point I’ve concluded it’s either becoming one with nature or in the dark recesses of a forgotten pocket or stuff sack.

      Whatever, it’s gone. Life is about change and how we deal with it, so I bought a new compass.

      I was in a rush. I slipped in the door minutes before REI closed. It’s Friday, “Hey, I work for a living too!”

      I’m courteous, these people wanna go home. I’m moving my ass.

      Turns out in the mad flurry of all my ass moving, I left with a fixed declination compass, a Suunto A-10. Fantastic. Not an approved compass.

      OK, OK no problem. I’ll just draw the declination in with a marker, good, done!

      Happy campers

      SATURDAY 13FEB2016

      After an early, lethargic drive we arrived at the Mountaineer’s Heybrook Lookout parking lot. I guess there has been a problem with break-ins at the regular trailhead so they use their own instead.

      Oh, get this. I found my compass, it was in my backpack. Don’t judge me, we’ve all been there.

      The wilderness navigation class is a requirement for Mountaineers trips, as well as just a good idea before you try your hand at jumping off the beaten path.

      As you might expect, the students represent a wildly mixed bag of experience and physical fitness.

      The slowest person sets the pace.

      El bosque oscuro


      We all assembled at Heybrook Lookout to take a break and to split into groups.

      Get this! Some meth head stole the copper lightning rod from the Lookout!

      What a world.

      Anyway, we marched beyond Heybrook Lookout to the vast, neo-ecosystem that is the high tension transmission wire easement.

      Humbly dwelling below a pair of the stoic, steel giants are number of rotting stumps, many with a letter or number placarded atop.

      The idea is to take nine sightings from three different vantages and compare your findings to the master key held by the instructors.

      A two degree discrepancy or less is desired.

      Some of us thought the wires were having an effect on our compasses.

      Maybe a sort of electromagnetic interference or something else reasonably sciencey sounding.

      One of the instructors said they had brought out science equipment in the past and detected no such sciencey sounding disturbance.

      I believe him, I think it was too much or too little caffeine.

      This sort of thing could have gotten you burned as a witch some years ago…


      After our lesson in stump location we were told we’d be leapfrogging.

      We split into teams of two and were given a bearing and a starting location.

      Your team member follows a bearing for a dozen yards or so, then you take their bearing, and they take a back bearing on you. If your findings are in agreement you move to them after which the process is repeated.

      It was fun, and it works. 

      It worked so well it led us all to the lunching spot; an abundant, but heavily clouded panorama spanning eastward to Baring Mountain and westward to Mt.Persis.

      After lunch we were told we’d be heading to the final exercise…

      A giant long fallen


      “We were specifically told this wouldn’t be a death march!” 

      … And it wasn’t. Rather an easy mile or so up a snaggy, old logging grade. 

      The rain had been constant, but mostly light up to this point. Now it was really starting to come down.

      “Pick a difficulty ranging from mellow to challenging. You will then be assigned a bearing to follow for approximately one kilometer. You will travel as a pair, but work as individuals. If you complete this exercise without your partner, you will be failed.”

      Up to this point the only other way you could fail was by walking on the highway during the quarter mile or so from the parking area to the trailhead. 

       Things were about to get serious.

      Teams were launched about five minutes apart on their mission downhill and through the woods.

      The forest was mostly free of annoying shrubs, but there were a lot of windfalls and dead snags.

      There were also some monsters left over from the tree mining era just rotting away on the forest floor.

      I thought the “Kill-ometer” (btw that’s NOT what they called it) was a pretty good exercise to top off the day.

      If for some reason you doubt the utility of a map and compass, the “Kill-ometer” will easily put those thoughts in check.

      Gritty action shot

      THEN WHAT?

      Logically, the goal was also the assembly point and so there we all waited.

      Steadily our numbers grew until there was only one pair left descending the hill.

      The rain was coming down, and we’d been out in it for eight hours. Looking around you could see it in some people’s eyes. (Remember: all skill and fitness levels)

      Some folks were obviously a little under prepared to spend a full day under the faucet.

      However spirits remained high with laughter and conversation heating the body by warming the soul.

      The last two finally arrived and after a congratulatory speech we all marched out. Like an army at first, then dwindling into groups, pairs and loners.

      Our little group met a young family on their way up. Mother, father and the little one enjoying a walk in the February rain.

      On the way to the Mountaineer’s parking lot we had to walk through the Heybrook parking area.

      There was only one car there, probably belonging to the young family.

      One window was smashed in, glass was all over the ground. Their car was robbed.

      I can’t help but wonder if it was the same crackheads who stole the lighting rod.

      Tree mining


      Whether you are old hat or still drenched behind the ears, developing your outdoor navigation skills isn’t a bad idea.

      Taking a class isn’t necessary. If you are so motivated, these are all skills you could learn on your own or with a friend.

      Get yourself a copy of “Wilderness Navigation” (The Mountaineers),  a proper compass and a USGS map.

      You oughta do OK.

      Taking a class however has the benefit of instructors who can help you, novel exercises that you might not ever do on your own, and who knows you might even meet a friend.

      Classes probably exist in your area

      If you live anywhere near Seattleopolis, the Mountaineers offer their navigation course year round.

      REI offers a navigation course as well, so if you live within driving distance of one of those, that could be an option.

      The point is, there is probably something near you if you look.

      I developed many of these skills on my own over the years, and after finally taking a class I can honestly say that maybe classes aren’t such a bad idea after all…

      I’m not sure “Teenage Harry”, hiking the hills in ripped up jeans, a T-shirt and a duct taped pair of Chuck Taylor’s would still quite get it though, he was always learning the hard way.

      Anyway, however you learn, with knowledge and experience we can develop the foresight to keep the odds stacked in our favor in our adventures.

      So why sell yourself short?

      A blurry, hairy biped

      Happy trails!







      AIARE 1

      Upward and onward!

      A couple of weeks ago I took an AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) course via The Mountaineers, and taught by the good people at BC Adventure Guides.

      We spent a couple lecture days in Tacoma going over the materials, watching videos and getting a handle on avalanches in general.

      Questions were asked and answered, coffee was consumed and one guy had the wrong classroom.

      The following weekend we met for the field portion at Snoqualmie Pass.

      Witchcraft, clearly.


      Checked NWAC before leaving the house.

      We marched up around Silver Fir Lodge to become acquainted with our avalanche beacons and to delve into companion rescue.

      It didn’t take long to realize just how screwed you are if you are buried without a beacon.

      In very little time at all we went from barely knowing how to turn the things on to locating buried beacons in the snow as a team.

      If we had to find the same beacons using only probes….we’d still be looking.

      Life and death right there. Seriously.

      “And on the first day he dugeth a test pit and saw that it was good”


      Checked NWAC before leaving (there is a theme here)

      Today was about putting everything we learned together into a mini tour of Mt.Hyak.

      We dug a couple pits and made many field observations along the way.

      Whichwaysthewinda’blowin’? Howhardisshea’howlin’? Howmuchsnosa’snowin’?

      With the NW slope of Mt.Catherine as our backdrop we focused on snowpack observations and field tests.

      Our Rutschblock Test was particularly amusing and insightful.

      Skiers curiously eyeballed us as they occasioned by, some even asked about our findings

      Oh that reminds me, our “avalanche victims” deserve a round of applause as well…Daytime Emmys for everybody!

      Through the woods

      As we traveled back to the parking lot some ideas started congealing in my brain:

      Reluctant to part with the money for a beacon…?

      Experiencing firsthand the difference an avalanche beacon makes when trying to locate an avalanche victim is stunning.

      If you don’t want to buy one, you could always rent one instead. BCAdventures offered rentals, as well as a list of retailers that rented beacons as well.

      Remember: Money… you can’t take it with you!

      “This is some serious s#!t buddy!”

      Winter time travel in the mountains is inherently dangerous and many of our familiar summer routes bear grave avalanche risk in the winter months.

      Sadly, some kill year after year.

      Any loaded slope of sufficient grade can slide and various terrain features can exacerbate that risk.

      Knowing how to choose terrain is probably the single greatest thing you can do to save your life.

      I probably could have learned this stuff on my own…

      Yeah I suppose you could, in theory.

      I knew a lot of things going into this class, but I left it with more than I probably would have ever learned by myself.

      Also, there is no substitute for learning from an experienced guide that can answer all of your questions… well, about avalanches anyway.

      Would you take this course again in hindsight?


      Der Rutschblock

      Do you know avalanche terrain?

      Maybe you are missing out on deeper backcountry because you are too cautious?

      Maybe you’ve had one foot in the grave for years without ever even knowing it?

      Do you know?

      I highly suggest taking an AIARE 1 course in your area if you ever intend to travel in avalanche terrain. (aka teh intir mowntens)

      If you don’t, you’ll be happy the person who digs you out did.

      If you get dug out…

      Happy Trails!




      Bitter Creek: The Finale

      A lot nicer without those pesky clouds

      Ok yeah, I’m starting to sound a little like a broken record.

      Initially I wasn’t planning on heading back up to Bitter Creek so soon, but I gave the Greek a call and it just so happened he was looking to take some friends on a moderate snowshoe.

      “You don’t say. Hmm, you know I might have just the place”…

      Plus, with the weather on Friday, the views were sure to be there.

      La pared de hielo

      01JAN2016 New Years Day

      I got to Index half hour early or so, the wind was just screaming up the US-2 corridor.

      Fortunately Heybrook Ridge and the Gunn Peak Massif blocked pretty much all of the wind in the North Fork Sky valley.

      The Greek and his friends showed up a little after nine and we were off.

      There were fresh footprints along the track, but they fell off at the shooting range.

      Really, there isn’t too much to report. The track is solid all the way up with heaping portions of peace, quiet and solitude.

      By the time we got up into the cirque some of the party was running out of steam and they stopped for lunch.

      The Greek and I continued up towards the ice wall, but the pull of cheese and sausage was too much for him and he fell off and descended back to the feast.

      Sausage eaters

      Wind slab from high above was a slight concern and we’d seen a couple small releases on the way up, mostly powder rivulets. In the cirque itself, surface hoar was abundant. (Always check NWAC)

      Alongside Bitter Creek, a gully had run out, and high on Jump-Off Ridge the crisp lines of recently released slabs were visibly glinting in the sunlight.

      Views were fantastic. The wall and other ice features seemed to glow dimly in the shade of the cirque. High above, the ridge lines were laced with golden light.

      The North Fork Sky valley was framed perfectly by the walls of the cirque, and approximately in the middle were three human shapes, bonding over sausage.

      The trip down rewarded us with warming sun and rapidly evolving views of the jagged visage of the Index-Persis complex across the way.

      I placed a quarter near the bottom for a size comparison.


      All in all I think it took our group 3 hours up and 1.5 or so down.

      Now that the route has been brushed and a trail well stomped in, it’s golden, just waiting there for you.

      Lots of animal sign, but I think our group of four probably scared off anything within earshot because we didn’t see any critters this time.

      Oh, and just my two cents:

      Shooters, I like to shoot a gun as much as the next guy. I am not “anti-gun” or “anti-shooting”. What I am “anti” is you people leaving a giant f&%#ing mess wherever you go.

      Clean up your $#!t and maybe the Forest Service and outdoor enthusiasts will be a little more sympathetic to your outdoor usage needs.

      Frankly, you should be your brother’s keeper out there and pack out the crap your less considerate fellows left behind.

      I do it, I’m always picking up candy wrappers and water bottles that jackass hikers left behind.

      Love it or leave it, bruh… and I don’t mean leave your $#!t.

      Happy Trails!



      Bitter Creek

      Index-Galena washout…again.

      Took a trip up to the Bitter Creek cirque via the abandoned forest service road (NF-6310 on google maps)

      Not really looking for anything particular this time, but there are mines in the area.


      I’d say this is a moderate, albeit brushy hike for most people in reasonable shape. If you are a vigilante trail worker you might wanna bring a saw or loppers.

      There are a couple of gully/creek crossings that may be difficult or impossible to pass in high water.

      Wildlife was abundant. Grouse on every other switchback, lots of bobcat “sign”, and even surprised some mountain goats at one of the gully crossings!

      Las cabras monteses

      There is also a great deal of old growth to see at the higher elevations of the road.

      Entering the cirque was like hiking in a whole new land.

      A light but heavily crystallized snow coated the grade and a steady cold air flowing from the mountain kept the cirque in a perpetually frosted state.

      This effect was more pronounced near the creek and in low troughs.

      The road splits near it’s end, the left route is said to take you to a gully in which are a couple of mines (I have not yet visited)

      The cirque head

      The right route heads toward the cirque head but terminates not long after the fork.

      I found flagging and evidence of a bootpath that may continue into the cirque, a climber’s route perhaps, but due to time constraints, this for me was the end of the line.

      Bitter Creek

      I’d definitely recommend this to the more adventurous hiker seeking to explore some new ground, but it’s difficulty is low enough that most reasonably healthy people could make the trip.

      That being said, it is overgrown and has enough deadfalls that it could pose problems to less experienced hikers.


      The road less traveled…


      Distance: 8 miles RT ± (13km RT±) from roadblock

      Gain: 1,640ft ± (500m ±)

      Difficulty: YDS 1-2


      Take the US-2 to Index-Galena Rd. continue along Index-Galena Rd. until roadblock at Lewis Creek. Hike approx 1 mile to NF-6310.

      RED TAPE

      I think you might need a NW Forest Pass. The Index-Galena Road is currently (DEC2015) closed at the Lewis Creek parking area, so you’ll have to hoof it from there.








      Copper Lake 3961′

      Heaven ain't got nothin' on this place!
      Heaven ain’t got nothin’ on this place!

      Copper Lake is typically the second lake one will reach on the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail #1064, the first being Trout Lake.

      Comparing the two though is like night and day.


      As previously mentioned, you can get there by way of the Foss Lakes trail. You could feasibly get there all kinds of ways, but the trail is by far the easiest.


      Copper Lake is one of the more popular destinations along the Foss trail, and being more or less the middle point, provides a decent base to explore the surrounding peaks, lakes and “whathaveyas”.

      A lake in the sky

      There is a collapsed adit at the south end of the lake, in fact the trail utilizes the tailings pile as it heads to Little Heart Lake.

      According to DWHM#1 there may exist a claim “1 mile south of Malachite Lake on a ridge west of Copper Lake”.  It is described as a “Caved pit and caved adit”.

      I’ve heard speculation that these may be the same claim.


      I’ve caught both Cutthroats and Brook Trout out of Copper Lake. The most convenient fishing access is at the north end of the lake, but the intrepid may be able to find access to less accessible shoreline.

      If you are so inclined, you could hike up an inflatable raft and ply the azure waters until your heart is content.

      “Point 5890”


      Copper Lake is pretty big, and the trail ambles along it’s eastern shore for it’s entirety. This affords many campsites to choose from.

      The north end of the lake hold the lion’s share of campsites, but others exist along the trail, and between Copper and Little Heart Lakes.

      There is a backcountry toilet available for use here, so please, if nature calls, use it rather than a cathole.

      Campfires are prohibited at Copper Lake and any point over 4000’ft in the Alpine Lakes wilderness (west).

      Other regulations may apply.

      Malachite Peak

      Little Heart Lake 4204′

      Little Heart Lake
      Little Heart Lake

      To get to Little Heart Lake you’ve most likely passed Copper Lake, and while extremely diminutive by those standards, Little Heart is nonetheless an alpine gem and a destination unto itself.


      Little Heart Lake can be reached by taking the West Fork Foss River Lakes Trail #1064


      There is a gap high above the south end of the lake which could be used to reach the remote north west arm of Big Heart Lake.

      from the NE
      from the NE

      Camp Robber Peak is also attainable via this route.

      Note: You may have to get wet…


      I can personally vouch that there are Cutthroat Trout in this lake.

      Wide open and reasonably accessible boulder shores in the north-east corner of the lake provide ample room for fly-casting.


      There are a few established campsites at Little Heart Lake and along the trail that connects it to Copper Lake.

      There is little opportunity to camp between Little Heart and Big Heart.

      Campfires are prohibited at Little Heart Lake and at any point over 4000′ along the trail.

      Other regulations may apply.

      All kinds of talus!
      All kinds of talus!

      West Fork Foss Lakes Trail #1064

      Sunrise at Copper Lake
      Sunrise at Copper Lake

      The West Fork Foss Lakes trail has long been one of my favorites.

      I remember coming to Trout Lake with my “Uncle Bones” when I was just a kid, and then as now, the trail still wows me with every step.


      Trout Lake
      Trout Lake

      Elevation gain: 3300’±

      Mileage: 14.6mi RT±

      Difficulty: YDS 2 , be in reasonable shape

      Free loading birds in your backpack the minute you turn around: n=n1 x n2/m2 x f(t²)


      Your journey starts out easily enough, gradually gaining elevation along the Foss River and it’s mostly dry flood channels.

      Keep an eye out to your right for Shoestring Falls, descending into the Foss on it’s west bank.

      The West Fork Foss River
      The West Fork Foss River

      About a mile in you’ll come to a very well built bridge which, if it’s secretly anthropomorphic, is likely counting the days until the next major flooding event, the likes of which destroyed it’s predecessor.

      Counting the days...
      Counting the days…

      Standing on the bridge, you are a little less than a mile down trail from Trout Lake.

      Along the remainder of the way there are a couple of points of interest;

      One is an absolutely monstrous tree (can’t miss it). If you hike this trail with friends I can guarantee we’ll have one thing in common; a picture of someone standing in front of this tree.

      Standard tree photo
      Standard tree photo

      The other is marked by a rusted 2-½in pipe crossing the trail. Without going into too much detail; above this pipe, blasted into the flanks of Malachite Peak is the 772′ long Imperial #2 tunnel, and the 112′ Vine Maple Prospect.

      Below the pipe, along the banks of the Foss River, is the site of the old Imperial Power Plant. Not much remains, but the occasional rusted metal relic can sometimes be found.

      Leavin' the lake
      Leavin’ the lake

      At Trout Lake take a breather, cast a line or stay the night at one of it’s campsites.

      The trail begins to climb significantly after passing the west shore of the lake, almost 2000′ in less than two miles!

      Silver Eagle Peak dominates the eastern horizon as you switchback up through mixed forest and shrub. At one point you’ll pass a corner with easy access to a slabby watercourse, great for dipping your head into and refilling empty water bottles.

      Get used to seeing this guy
      Get used to seeing this guy

      Malachite Falls becomes visible as you gain elevation, it’ll be filling your ears with it’s 618′ of waterfally-ness before you can see it.

      You’ll continue to gain elevation, eventually surpassing the waterfall and coming to an intersection with the Lake Malachite trail.

      NOTE: You may also notice a sign near here that says “Campfires prohibited beyond this point” This means ALL points along this trail beyond this sign (Specifically any point above 4000′)

      You can't "unsee" it
      You can’t “unsee” it

      Lake Malachite is only a short, sorta steep hike from here, offering great views, a few campsites, and fishing.

      Lake Malachite

      Less than half a mile from the intersection you’ll cross a fairytale-esque bridge of perfectly placed boulders before setting eyes upon beautiful Copper Lake.

      The popular campsites fill up quick, but the lake is spacious enough to allow some breathing room if that’s what you are looking for.

      Like Alice and the beanstalk or somethin'
      Straight outta Alice and the Beanstalk

      If Copper Lake isn’t your thing, the trail continues along it’s eastern shore towards Little Heart Lake.


      Not a whole lot jumps out at you on this section of trail, but you will pass over the tailings pile of a mining prospect at the south end of the lake, and there are a couple of established campsites along the way.

      Little Heart Lake seems a little less hospitable by comparison, it’s smaller, and seems crammed into the surrounding rock. Upon first glance, shoreline access also seems extremely limited.

      Exploring around however reveals some established campsites, and ample talus shoreline if you are a little more adventurous.


      Leaving Little Heart Lake, the trail again begins to climb, gaining a little under 1000ft in a mile, then losing a few hundred feet on the way to Big Heart Lake.

      Little Heart Lake
      Little Heart Lake

      The views through here become more dramatic.

      Looking back you’ll see Trout Lake (perhaps bringing back memories of when your legs were not on fire) Delta Lake is down below, Otter Lake peeks at you from across the valley, and then finally Big Heart Lake, shimmering at you through the trees.


      The first time you approach Big Heart Lake is likely to stick with you for the rest of your life…

      You walk in on top of a little ridge that parallels a small arm of the lake. The water is deep, and bluer than anything you’ve yet seen, not unlike that mysterious fluid barber’s put their combs in.

      Morning mist on Big Heart
      Morning mist on Big Heart

      Here the official trail ends, there are a few campsites available in the immediate area, and a couple more hidden about.


      For the ambitious hiker, this may only be the base camp, for there are numerous boot paths leading to many destinations: Angeline and Azurite Lakes, Camp Robber Peak, Chetwoot Lake, you could even make it a loop back down the Necklace Valley.

      Beyond the official trail...
      Beyond the official trail…

      The West Fork Foss river trail is your oyster.

      Bearing that in mind, leave your oyster better than you found it; pack it in, pack it out, leave no trace, take only pictures, leave only footprints, I’m sure you know them all.

      Basically; Don’t be “that guy”.

      Happy trails!


      Firstly, I’d suggest driving to Skykomish to procure a pre-hike sandwich, or some campin’ booze at the ever friendly and delicious Sky Deli.

      After filling up at Skykomish, head east on the “2” and you’ll pass the Skykomish Ranger Station, keep your eyes peeled for the Foss River Road branching south (right) from the highway. Take it.

      Might be wantin' one of these...
      Might be wantin’ one of these…

      A little over a mile in you’ll pass beneath a gargantuan railroad trestle, and then hit a fork. Stay right.

      You’ll pass the Necklace Valley trailhead on your left in another half mile, and a half mile past that is your left turn for the West Fork Foss River Trail#1064. The turn is signed, but can be missed.


      Two miles from the intersection and you’ll be there.

      The trailhead has ample parking and a pit toilet, but on summer weekends, try and come early because this is a popular trail, and is steadily gaining in popularity with every new Ballard condo.


      Currently a NW trailpass or other qualifying document (America the beautiful interagency pass) is required at the trailhead.

      Big Heart Lake
      Big Heart Lake


      In addition to provided links,

      Woodhouse, Phil; Jacobson, Daryl; Petersen, Bill; Cady,Greg; Pisoni, Victor, Discovering Washington’s Historic Mines Vol.1: The West Central Cascade Mountains. Oso Publishing Company, 1997





      Looking for one thing, finding another…

      Now only carries foot traffic
      Now only carries foot traffic

      Had the day off today so I decided to head off into the hills in search of an old mine site I’ve been interested in locating known as “The Devil’s Canyon Claims”.

      I’ve poked and prodded a little around the area before, in search of the same thing, however that time my search was seriously hampered by snow on the ground and even more coming from the sky.

      Conveniently melted...
      Conveniently melted…

      This time there was only traces of snow where before there was a solid foot, at least near the valley floor.

      I headed up an abandoned road toward the Cougar Creek drainage which is where Devil’s Canyon lies.

      The main road/trail hits a distinct fork not too far in, at this time it is marked by the remains of a campfire. The logical way is to continue along the more clear path, which is what I did. The other path, or abandoned road I should say, is very overgrown by scrub alder, and according to old maps, terminates some distance away, around the headwaters of Lennox Creek.

      Might be worth a bushwhack someday….


      The road-less-overgrown steadily devolves into a trail the higher you get. I imagine there would be some views opening up around here, if today wasn’t socked in with clouds and a now light, but steady stream of snowflakes.

      I just happened to notice the remnants of a Forest Service “Entering Wilderness” sign as I made my way up, interestingly it’s old enough that is says “Snoqualmie National Forest” rather than “Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest”.

      Seeing this I got excited, I love finding abandoned trails!

      I followed it up and up, the snow steadily getting deeper, obscuring the already decaying trail.

      Aside from the sheer curiosity of wondering where in the hell this trail was going, I oughta mention that there is a surprising abundance of old growth here that kept me heading up, kinda like a rabbit chasing a carrot on a string.

      Big honkin' Cedar
      Big honkin’ Cedar

      Eventually the snow became deep enough to completely eradicate any semblance of trail, and compounded with the lack of visibility and not quite knowing exactly where I was, I decided to turn around.

      Getting home and consulting the internet, DWHM#1 and the USGS Lake Philippa 7.5, all the pieces came together.

      So the trail turned out to be the abandoned Dog Mountain Trail, which passes near Devil’s Canyon, and down below most certainly was the Cougar Creek drainage.

      Considering today’s conditions, it would have been a pretty tall order to find my quarry, however it was a day well spent nonetheless.

      Multiple trips make an area far more familiar, and also I find, sort of help “gel” the spatial relationships in a set area together in the navigation/homing center of my brain.

      I’ll be back later, when the snows have melted as there are far more mining sites to locate in and around this drainage.

      Happy Trails

      Snow in the big trees
      Snow in the big trees