Snow Lake-Gem Lake-Wright Mountain-Sep 9, 2011

Posted on Saturday, September 10th, 2011 at 11:31 pm

The Snow Lake trail is arguably the most popular destination for city slickers with a penchant for nature.  It was 2 o’clock, and I hadn’t left Seattle yet, but wanted to sneak in a nice wilderness experience.   This year, the snow held on relentlessly into August.  I did a quick jaunt up to Snow Lake 3 weeks ago, and the basin around Snow Lake was still filled with 3 feet of snow in places.

I had never been to Wright Mtn, so this was the perfect opportunity since time was limited.  The quickest way is via the Snow Lake trail, which starts right out of a crowded Alpental ski area parking lot.  If it weren’t for the 85 deg temperatures, it could be confused with a bustling scene from February, when hot-shots, city slickers, and suburbanites mingle to show off their command of the slopes.  It was 330p now, so most of the people I encountered were on their way down.  I saw at least 20 different breeds of dogs, 10 poop bags left in view along the side of the trail, and some giggling middle-aged women watching a young, shirtless man saunter by.

Enough people-watching, it was time to move.  I was at the Jct to Source Lake (1.67 mi) in less than 20 minutes.  The trail up to this point, is a mix of cool forest with enormous hemlocks to open talus, filled with wildflowers usually by mid-summer.  This year, the flowers are not as prolific due to the record-late melt-out and lack of sun until the latter part of August.  It is interesting to note that tiny Source lake is the beginning of the mighty south fork of the Snoqualmie river.  Turning right at the jct instead of heading toward Source Lake,  I made quick work of the remaining 2/3 mile trip to the ridge at 4400 ft, arriving in under 30 minutes.  The total elevation gain is about 1300 ft and 2.35 miles.   I must have encountered 50 people or more, but I didn’t mind.  It’s still an amazing place so close to a major highway.

I stopped at my usual perch for only a couple of minutes to snap a few pictures and take in some fluids (it was still 80 degrees even up here).  There are some nice views NNW over Snow Lake, and I could see my final destination rising in the distance.  I scampered down the north side of the ridge along the trail another .55 miles, dropping 350 ft to a Snow Lake access jct at a beautiful, glass-like tarn with a stream crossing.  The flow was silent now and the 3 feet of snow that was here less than a month ago was gone.  There were berry bushes everywhere, but the pickings limited.  I could hear the faint voices coming from the numerous camp sites, but I barely noticed as I was taking in freshness of the mountain air.  I stuck to the main trail 1012, which contours around the northeast side of Snow Lake through a mix of wildflowers and berry bushes.  In another 3/4 mile (3.65 mi total), the trail drops to a log crossing at the outlet to Rock Creek.  There is a nice view SW across Snow Lake to 6238-ft Chair Peak dominating the entire southern shore of the lake.

From the log, I left the shore of Snow Lake for good along the main trail 1012 that leads another 1.35 miles and 850 feet of elevation gain to Gem Lake.  You’ll wind through several sections of alpine meadows and flower-filled tarns.  The trail itself is extremely well-maintained.  There are a couple of sections where granite slabs are arranged to form a perfect walkway, yet, don’t detract from natural landscape.  The last 1/4 mile of this section traverses a steep talus field and around the left of a cliffy knoll before heading straight to a jct for lake access and camp sites.   There were only 2 other parties, both staying overnight.  The distance (5 miles) and the bugs were keeping the crowds down.

The main trail continues to the right and goes around the east and north sides of Gem Lake.  There are numerous lakeside spots to relax, but I took a boot path on east side and headed up to the summit of Wright Mtn.  After climbing another 200 feet mainly NE, the path meanders through another set of flat meadows and lingering snow before heading NW to WNW up the east shoulder of Wright Mtn.  There are some camping spots here, and some bootpaths to throw you off, but the main way up is well-marked and obvious.  It only took 15 minutes to get to the summit (5430 ft) from lake. The total distance is 5.56 miles.  It was around 5:15p and I had the entire 360 degree panorama to myself.


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