Annette Lake Hike

June 7, 2015

Enjoying June in the PNW

History and tradition will tell you that June in the Pacific Northwest is awful.  We even have a sad little name for it, "June Gloom." This is the time of year when everywhere else in the US seems to be enjoying spring weather. We see pictures of people in shorts, sniffing flowers in the sunshine, frolicking in fountains and lakes, and warming up the beaches.  Here in June we typically see clouds, temperatures in the 50's and at best low 60's Fahrenheit , and plenty of rain.

Not this year, at least not so far. We're having a streak of gorgeous sunny, clear days with temperatures pushing their way up into the mid 80's . This, in case you didn't realize it, is the freak-out zone for the PNW.  If it gets above 80 here in June, we're so hot we can't stand it.  It's outrageous, I tell you.  We're melting, we're melting!

Be that as it may (which was another freakishly great month in the PNW this year), we are determined to enjoy it despite our fears of heat exhaustion from doing anything other than lying in a hammock in the shade with a cold beer and a bucket of ice. Given the heat, we decided to reach for altitude. At the suggestion of our good friend we piled into the car and headed east into the Cascades on I-90, climbing almost to the summit at Snoqualmie before turning off at Exit 47 in search of the Annette Lake trail head.

Parking at the Trailhead

It's worth noting that trail-heads along I-90 are insanely popular, especially on weekends. The parking lots are relatively small, and with the entire population of Seattle seeking an outing worthy of the name, those lots fill quickly. This particular trail head is in the Mount Baker / Snoqualmie National Forest and requires a Northwest Forest pass. We have an America The Beautiful pass, which is a superset of the other and thus the requirement was no problem for us.

We got off to a relatively early start for a Sunday, arriving at the trail head by 10:00.  Even so, the lot was quite full and we had to get creative to park our truck.  Nevertheless, having unlocked a parking achievement, we hit the trail.

Keeping it cool

Despite the promise of a particularly warm day, conditions at the trail head were absolutely perfect.  Clear blue skies and breezy, with temperatures in the low 70's.  It just doesn't get any better.  The trail head actually hosts two different hikes.  The Annette Lake trail and the Asahel Curtis nature trail.  The latter is a short, pleasant loop, 0.5 miles long.  Annette Lake trail is a bit more involved. It is a 7.5 mile hike, round trip, with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet.  Much of that gain is accomplished via roughly 1.5 miles of particularly steep going. It also crosses the John Wayne / Iron Horse trail.  This was to be our route for the day.

Who was Asahel Curtis?

As it happens, we're just now reading a book, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Eagan, about Asahel's older brother, Edward Curtis.  It's a fascinating story, and much more than a historical document.  We're enjoying the book immensely, and recommend it highly.  Edward accomplished something incredible via his series of photographs and books on the North American Indian.  Meanwhile, his brother Asahel, from whom he became estranged, remained in the Pacific Northwest, where he produced his own impressive photographic works.

The tale of the trail

The trail starts out with an early and very pleasant bridge crossing of Humpback Creek, and provided us with an early reminder of the mountains' air conditioning system.  Cool refreshing air followed the water as it plunged energetically toward the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River. Despite the lack of snow this year, rainfall levels on the West face of the Cascades has been sufficient to maintain stream flows and keep our reservoirs at comfortable far.

As we climbed up toward a crossing of the Iron Horse Trail (also referred to as the John Wayne trail), we continued to hike through a pleasant forest accompanied by gradually increasing elevations. The Iron Horse is, as you may have guessed, an old rail bed converted to a trail. The steepest part of the Annette Lake trail comes after it crosses the old rail bed, which occurs  1.6 miles east of where the rail bed comes out of a tunnel. If you have flashlights and plenty of extra energy, you might enjoy a stroll up to and inside the tunnel. While it would add 3.2 miles to your overall hike, the rail bed is so gradual that it is literally a walk in the park.  If you decide to check out the tunnel, be prepared to meet plenty of bicycle traffic, especially on the weekend.

We met a family on our hike up to the rail bed who had decided to bring their mountain bikes up there and then ride back down the Iron Horse trail to another location. While the Annette Lake Trail is pretty reasonable for hikers up to that point, it is definitely a vigorous exercise for those who wish to do the same with a bike. It's too steep to ride for most of the way, which means you'd be pushing, carrying and hauling your bike up to that point. That is more than enough exercise to make up for the easy downhill ride afterward, assuming they planned to ride East.

Meanwhile, as the Annette Lake trail climbs up from the rail bed crossing, it becomes significantly more challenging. Most of the 1,300 feet of elevation is achieved in little more than 1.5 miles.  So very soon we found ourselves hiking steeply upward.

From here on, as the trail begins to climb quickly toward the lake, it crosses several mountain streams.  There are a couple of small bridges, and a nifty fallen tree with steps carved into it, providing a fairly unique experience along the way.  As the trail climbs further it crosses under some big power lines, providing a quick reality check on just how warm it would be if we weren't able to hike under the cover of the forest.  Later, the trail also crosses several scree slopes.  The rocks there are stationary for the moment, though it is clear that their current stability is no guarantee of the same in the future.

The trail was quite busy this day.  We met plenty of hikers coming down, some of whom had clearly spent the previous night camping at the lake, as they were carrying genuine backpacks with bedrolls, etc.  Given the busy lot below, others had most likely hit the trail ahead of us and were making their way back to their cars. Many hikers had their dogs with them.  The hiking pets ranged widely in size, all the way from retrievers to chihuahuas.

After a long and moderately challenging climb, the trail began heading down again.  At this point we were a bit concerned, wondering whether we'd have to regain the lost elevation before reaching the lake.  Fortunately for us, that was not the case.  We found that once the trail begins to head downhill in earnest, the lake lies not too far ahead, pleasantly situated in a cirque.  The water is crystalline and clear, and the shore has plenty of coves, nooks and crannies where hikers can stop for a picnic and at least briefly enjoy the illusion of having the lake all to themselves. Meanwhile, those who brought their dogs usually begin a lively game of fetch, which helps cool the animals off after a long upward climb.  There are also a number of campsites around the lake, though there are no restrooms.  We saw a sign at one point near the lake that pointed up the mountainside, saying "toilet", though we did not explore it.

Overall, it was a terrific hike, and we highly recommend it.  It's probably best to get an early start to help ensure a parking spot. Also, if you can do the hike on a weekday, that should reduce the volume of hikers for your own visit.

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