Surprise Lake

Trail No. 1060

AUGUST 7, 2010  It had been over 2 months since my last solo hike, so I turned to my "wish list" of hikes and planned to hike to the summit of Surprise Mountain.  My body must have caught wind of my plans for another 15 mile hike, because the minute I stepped out of my car at the trailhead, my left knee ached and my feet screamed abuse (citing the toe-slamming steep Black and White Lakes trail I hiked last month).  A 15 mile hike was obviously out of the question, but I was determined to hike at least to Surprise Lake.  

The Surprise Creek trail starts under humming power lines and immediately disappears into a deep old-growth forest.  After hiking only a few minutes I realized that I had forgotten much about my last hike here in 2006.  There were stairs here.  Lots of stairs.  I groaned but kept hiking and took comfort in the fact that the stairs are shallow and not at all like the knee-grinding stairs on the Lake Serene trail.  Before long I reached the log crossing of Surprise Creek and the beginning of the many sections choked with avalanche brush.  The brush I remembered, but not the creek, possibly because my last hike here was with a goal-oriented group.  Whatever the reason, I found the creek a delightful diversion on this hike.  Eventually the trail reaches the end of the narrow valley it travels through and begins to switchback up the headwall to Surprise Lake.  The trail is rocky and crisscrossed with roots, strewn with the white granite rocks typical of an Alpine Lakes Wilderness trail.   Not long after I reached Surprise Lake, a clear blue-green lake below Sparkplug Mountain, clouds began to move in the and the rain began.  Had I not already downgraded my hiking plans, I probably would have at this point, since the views from the summit of Surprise Mountain are the main attraction of that destination. 

I enjoy a bluebird day as much as anyone else, but I love the drama that low clouds and fog lend to alpine lakes.  Surprise Lake seemed to take on a new personality with light rain falling on it, and I was enchanted by the beauty and solitude.  After eating lunch in the day-use area, I hiked along the lakeshore trail to the end of the lake and was surprised to find 2 groups camped there.  It was raining lightly when I started my return hike, but it didn't occur to me to put on my rain pants--until after I got soaked in the first brushy section. 

  9 miles, including the lakeshore trail

2300/ gain