BY RICHARD PORTER
All photos by Richard Porter
This summer you can take the path less traveled and find yourself in the backwoods of Snohomish County.
Included here are routes that have been vetted and explored, so you don’t have to bushwhack or go off the beaten path. Indeed, it’s highly recommended that you take great care to stick to the designated trails to lessen your impact on the local ecosystem and native environment.
Before you go, it’s also worth your while to read up and memorize hiking basics and essentials. Bring basic supplies and know your route. At a bare minimum, please bring proper clothing, food, water, and accessories. And never ever forget to pack an extra pair of socks!
Safety and backcountry responsibility are yours to embrace. Have fun out there and leave no trace.
This 6,214-foot mountain is for moderate to advanced hikers. It’s recommended that newbies sit this one out as it requires route reading, strenuous switchbacks, and bouldering basics.
If you’re ready for Vesper Peak, it’s ready for you!
Start at the trailhead, you go through a small patch of forest before zig-zagging up fields of heather. Traverse fields of loose scree, taking care to keep an eye peeled for “ducks.” Ducks, or cairns as they’re properly called, are the stacks of stones placed by hikers to mark the route for the next wayfinder who comes behind.
Steep switchbacks carry you over Headlee Pass to the shores of Vesper Lake. This alpine body of water maintains a nice ice raft well into summer, but don’t drink the water without filtering for pathogens.
From there, the trail gets fun. More switchbacks up heather slopes, then the bouldering and moderate alpine rock climbing begin. Follow the ducks carefully and keep an eye out for drop-offs. The views from the top of Vesper are incredible – bring your camera!
What’s so special about an alpine basin? Well, everything! The natural beauty here and flowing springs make this destination the ideal cool-off spot after a rigorous hike. And it is rigorous. Make sure you have worked up some strength in your calves and lungs before attempting Gothic Basin.
At Barlow Pass walk down the graded road to Monte Cristo. Follow the sign to the Gothic Basin Trail. Then get ready for switchback city as you ascend through alpine forests full of chattering squirrels and songbirds.
It’s a forest idyll on par with a Disney movie, but it may be hard to take in as you sweat and puff your way skyward.
At the top of the ridge, you’ll follow the path across several mountainside streams in front of beautiful waterfalls. Take care to carefully cross snow bridges, which linger well into summer. They can cave in abruptly, so watch your step.
After some rock scrambling, just when you think your legs are going to be dead forever, you rise above a crest and drop into a series of grassy basins intersected by streams. Take off your sweaty, dirty boots and ease your feet into glacial melt. Gaze into layers of peaks that fade into the horizon – the Cascade Mountains as far as the eye can see.
This is the place!
LAKE 22 AND HEATHER LAKE
Two relatively easy alpine lake experiences are within reach. Both are on the slopes of Mount Pilchuck and it’s possible to bag both lakes in one glorious summer day.
Take care when driving to the trailhead at Heather Lake – giant potholes can deter small vehicles. Likewise, the Lake 22 trailhead parking lot can fill up quickly during sunny days and spill out on the shoulder of the Mountain Loop. Please park legally and carefully walk into the trailhead, safely avoiding highway traffic.
What’s so special about an alpine basin? Well, everything! The natural beauty here and flowing springs make this destination the ideal cool-off spot after a rigorous hike.
Both hikes follow a similar trajectory, starting at a low elevation, the route zigzags up through forest and over mountainside streams near waterfalls. These are classic PNW trails, complete with some root scrambling and clear views of mountainsides.
The payoff? Delightful alpine lakes in mountainside basins. Easy trails encircle both lakes, offering 360-degree views of the sparkling blue water. Both of these lakes offer a perfectly delightful and refreshing way to end a summertime’s montane jaunt.
The peak of Mount Pilchuck rises to just over 5,000 feet. The hike to the peak comprises about a 2,000-foot gain, making this an intermediate hike, or at least a quite challenging hike for beginners.
Please check trail reports before leaving. The road to Pilchuck can remain closed well into hiking season due to snow. Be advised to bring microspikes if conditions are snowy or icy. The road is notoriously gnarly with ruts and potholes – please opt for a vehicle with good suspension and high clearance.
The fire lookout on the top of the mountain offers panoramic views, making this a popular route for locals, regional hikers, and even international visitors. It’s that good.