Trail No. 314
September 29, 2007 - A storm system brought snow to the higher elevations the night before I hiked this trail, and the tips of the North Cascades were dusted in snow as I drove through. The snow level had dropped to about 4800', the elevation of Rainy Pass. The Blue Lake trailhead, elevation 5200', is just a few miles up the road from there. It was 10:30 a.m. and a chilly 34º when I left the trailhead. Within minutes, the tube to my water hydration system had frozen solid. This trail is a real joy to hike, gaining an easy 1100' on long, gentle switchbacks up to tiny Blue Lake, elevation 6300'. The lower forest is very pretty, but as you gain elevation, you also gain sweeping views of rugged mountains. There are few sights as beautiful as Liberty Bell Mountain, Early Winter Spires, Cutthroat Peak, and Whistler Mountain, and they are all seen on this easy hike. You reach the first of the larches around 5800', which were just about but not quite at peak color when I hiked it. Very few other trails require such little effort to reach the high elevations where larches thrive.
After completing this hike, I drove east on Hwy 20 a short distance to the Washington Pass Overlook area, which was closed and gated for the season. I parked with other cars by the gate and hiked up the road about 1/4 mile to walk the short, paved loop that overlooks spectacular Washington Pass. I had been in this area last year to hike to Cutthroat Pass, but I had forgotten how colorful and rugged these mountains are.