Length: ~12 miles, roundtrip
Elevation: 3300 feet
Summit: 6151 feet
NW Forest Pass required
Since it had been a while since I bagged a summit, I figured it was time to rectify that. After some quick research, I decided on Alta Mountain. It had been about 15 years since I had visited Rachel Lake so revisiting the area would be a bonus. Little did I know I’d be visiting one of the coolest hiking spots in Washington.
I pulled into parking lot around 9 am and quickly found a spot. The lower lot was completely empty and there were only about 6 cars in the upper lot where I parked. Jumping out of the Jeep into the chilly 42° morning, I quickly got my gear together and at 9:15, I started up the trail.
The first 3 miles of the trail follows Box Creek and, after a short initial climb from the trailhead, is fairly level. Trail conditions the entire way were muddy and rooty, with lots of water. Minor creek crossings were abundant but easy to navigate. I quickly put those miles behind me and started the final mile climb up to Rachel Lake at 10 am. From here, the trail gets rough as it ascends the 1200 feet to the lake. Roots and rocks create rough steps up the hillside and can be challenging to navigate.
I reached Rachel Lake at around 10:45 and found the trail to Rampart Ridge/Lila Lakes. As I made the climb, I paused to take pictures and just take in the scenery.
At the top of the ridge, the trail splits and the intersection is marked with a standing log. Lila Lakes and Alta Mountain are reached via the right-hand trail.
Heading down the the trail to Lila Lakes, I missed the cut off trail to Alta and ended up in the meadow above Lila Lakes. Noting the error of my ways, I found a small boot path heading up the ridge and took it until I connected with the Alta Mountain trail. From here it’s a fairly short way to the summit (after navigating over a couple of false summits).
The views along the ridge were spectacular, even as a frigid wind blew over the top. At 12:15, I reached the summit.
There were two small groups present when I arrived but they soon left and I had the whole place to myself. It was so great to look across the way and see the Pacific Crest Trail wrapped around the Chickamins, Huckleberry and Alaska Mountains and then the Kendall Katwalk. Seeing another perspective on that trail was pretty cool and I was reminded of my experience on the PCT just a month before.
After finishing my lunch and customary PBR, I decided to head down to Lila Lakes via the backway. By backway, I mean off the saddle near Alta’s summit and down a rock face to the scree below. It wasn’t that bad, although the squeamish need not follow. I picked my way down the loose rocks, slipping and sliding a bit, until I reached solid ground and a trail. Working my way through the basin, I got great views of Lila Lakes. I could only see evidence of one camper down by the lakes, but I knew more would be rolling in. I eventually met up with the boot path I had found earlier, thus completing my summit loop.
I was back at Rachel Lake at 2:15 pm and headed out. Kicking it into high gear, I hopped, skipped, jumped, and juked down the steep and rooty upper section and then jogged the rest of the way out, passing about 400 people on their way in. It was 3:15 when I finally reached the now overflowing parking lot. I was recruited to take a “trip-start” pic for three young gentlemen who were planning on camping at Lila Lakes. I was a little jealous.