One of many hikes up to the turquoise blue Blanca Lake

Getting there:

Drive Hiway 2 until you reach Beckler River Road (FS #65) and head north. Take FR 65 past the Beckler River Campground and all the way to the intersection of FR 63. Go right on FS 63 and stay left to the trailhead.

NW Forest Pass required

After waking up late Saturday morning, making a couple PB&J sammiches, loading up the daypack and tossing it in the Jeep, I scooted out of Seattle at about 10am. Destination? A hike to Blanca Lake. For those in the know, Blanca is near Index, Washington (where a lot of Harry and the Hendersons was filmed). Unfortunately, due to the past couple of uncharacteristically brutal winters, the roads to the trailhead are a bit distressed. And by distressed, I mean missing large portions of roadbed. Crap. Looks like a bit of a detour.

Fast forward. It’s now been an hour and a half since I left Seattle and I’m at the trailhead. Well, almost. The road to the trailhead is closed about 1.5 miles from the beginning of the trail due to blowdown and washouts. Hmm.

*Note: The road to the trailhead has since been repaired

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No problem. I begin the trek at about noon wondering why exactly the road is closed. So far I’ve seen nothing a few volunteers, some chainsaws, and an afternoon can’t take care of. Then I come upon this:

3It’s actually not as bad as it looks. You could easily squeeze a car around on the left. No reason to close the road!

I skip across and continue on my way.

Ah, I see. One washout isn’t bad. Two? That can pose a problem.

4Looking back, I could still drive my Jeep through there!

5About a quarter mile from the trail head, I come to the reason they probably will never fix the road [update: I was totally wrong]:

6Yeah, that’s about 4 feet from the roadbed down to the creek and about 20 feet across. Oh well, the extra distance helps keep the crowds away.

Which way do I go?!
Which way do I go?!

I finally reach the trailhead and see a sight I’ve seldom seen.

A trailhead with an empty parking lot!
A trailhead with an empty parking lot!

I laughed to myself on the rarity of this find and then head into the woods. Blanca Lake is a scant 3.5 miles from the trailhead – nothing a weekend warrior like myself can’t handle! The trail lures you into a false sense of relaxation as the first ¼ mile meanders through the forest before it turns into a brutal bitch. The next 2 miles is spent on switchback after switchback, climbing 2700 feet in elevation up the mountainside.

Besides dealing with my complaining lungs, aching thighs, and sweating like a pig on a spit, I had to navigate a bunch of blowdown. Trees crisscrossed the trail with wild abandon and posed some problems. I did, however, welcome the short rests as I figured the best way around each of the trailblocks.

One of the many blowdowns
One of the many blowdowns

I continued to slowly pad my way up the trail.

This is much, much steeper than it looks.
This is much, much steeper than it looks.
No really, it is!
No really, it is!

Finally, I crested the ridge and the trail leveled out a bit. I was also awarded some pretty sweet views.

Columbia Peak
Columbia Peak
Keyes Peak
Keyes Peak
Storm Ridge (with Glacier Peak obscured by the clouds in the background)
Storm Ridge (with Glacier Peak obscured by the clouds in the background)

A little further and I run into some white stuff.

Snow!
Snow!

Ha, nothing to deter this intrepid hiker!

More snow
More snow
Here the trail skirted the hillside before turning left up a rock face.
Here the trail skirted the hillside before turning left up a rock face.

Around the corner from the rock face, I was presented with this.

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I let a couple of other hikers go before me so I could take a pic of them crossing the snow pack. It was about a 45 degree angle and slid down to the right around 40 feet into a soft pile of twigs and rocks. Luckily, the snow was soft and I was able to dig foot holds quite easily.

Another patch of snow
Another patch of snow
Uh-oh
Uh-oh

Well, at the top of the ridge, the trail finally disappeared under a field of snow. I followed the other hikers a bit until it was clear they didn’t know where they were going either. After about 10 minutes, I happened upon the path again and slid down to Virgin Lake.

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Virgin Lake is really just a pond. It has no inlet nor spring so it usually turns into a bog by fall (or so I’ve read). Here you can see it’s still frozen.

Virgin Lake
Virgin Lake

From Virgin Lake, I began my decent into hell. The next ½ mile to Blanca Lake drops 600 feet in elevation via a rock and root strewn path only a sadist could have cut.

This is looking uphill – again, much steeper than it looks.
This is looking uphill – again, much steeper than it looks.

Finally at the bottom, I get a glimpse of my destination

Blanca Lake
Blanca Lake

Why, it’s covered in ice! It’s near the end of July, 72 degrees out, and it’s still covered in ice.

Blanca or blanket?
Blanca or blanket?

26It is a glacier fed lake. The little Columbia Glacier sits in the valley at the far end of the lake.

27I slid down the snow to the shore and started searching for a site to sit and have lunch. There was a nice rock on the opposite side of the outlet, so I threw on my river-runners and stepped in.

The water was cold! Painfully cold. So cold that I got half-way across the outlet and had to jump on a log to let my feet stop throbbing.

Log jam at the outlet
Log jam at the outlet
I sat on this rock and had lunch
I sat on this rock and had lunch

The outlet stream is Troublesome Creek and flows all the way down to the North Fork Skykomish River.

Troublesome Creek
Troublesome Creek

After eating my fill and relaxing a bit, I walked further down the lakeshore to explore.

Around the corner was an avalanche field:

Crappy mash-up - hadn't intended a pano when I took these
Crappy mash-up – hadn’t intended a pano when I took these

I had to be careful skirting the lake since I couldn’t tell where the lakeshore ended and the lake began.

I really wanted to hike up to the glacier but it was already late afternoon at this point. I knew it’d be a few hours back to the Jeep so I decided not to push it. I’ll have to come back earlier so I can explore the glacier.

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I crossed back over the logjam (stopping twice this time to ease the pain) and began the trek back to the Jeep. It took about 3 hours hiking to the lake and only 2 to get back out. For some reason, downhill is soooo much faster!

I stopped long enough to snap a pick of this huge douglas fir that lay across my path:

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And a blurry pic with my size nine for size comparison:
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This is definitely a hike I will do again. It’s a candidate for an overnighter. I need to explore the glacier and bag the surrounding peaks.

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