|Glacier Peak rises above Image Lake|
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous (this is a long, multi-night backpacking trip)
Access: Long, pothole-ridden gravel road to trailhead; Northwest Forest Pass required
Few Washington vistas are as iconic and memorable as that of Glacier Peak rising above the calm waters of Image Lake. Glacier Peak Wilderness is one of the largest roadless tracts in Washington State; this hike enters deep into this vast wilderness, visiting a remote lake perched high on the side of a meadow-filled alpine ridge. The hike to Image Lake is long and requires a multi-night backpacking commitment, but the rewards are ample enough to warrant the time investment demanded. The trail also visits Miners Ridge Lookout, a remote fire lookout with a stunning view of the North Cascades; I'll also discuss an option for visiting another nearby summit with even wider views. Even on a holiday weekend, I saw less than 50 people in 3 days while hiking to a spot renowned in Washington hiking circles.
I have had multiple negative experiences with mice in the Suiattle River area; I advise that you not leave food in the car to prevent mice incursions into your vehicle.
I hiked to Image Lake with three friends over a long holiday weekend at the end of summer. We chose to approach the hike as a three-day, two-night backpacking trip, using the first and third days to tackle the fairly flat 10-mile approach to the Miners Ridge Trail along the Suiattle River and visiting the lake and the lookout as a day hike from our camp on the second day. To reach the trailhead, we followed I-5 north to Arlington, then took Highway 530 east past Darrington to the Sauk River bridge; after crossing the bridge, we turned onto the Suiattle River Road and followed it to the end of the road at the Suiattle River Trailhead. The second half of the Suiattle River Road was unpaved, with many potholes and severe washboarding, which made for an unpleasant drive; however, the road is wide enough for pothole avoidance that any car should be able to reach the trailhead.
On our first day, we hiked 10 miles with 1200 feet of elevation gain, starting from the Suiattle River Trailhead and ending at a campsite right next to the junction between the Pacific Crest and Miners Ridge trails.
From the trailhead, we set off on the Suiattle River Trailhead, quickly passing the turnoff for the Sulphur Mountain Trail and the sign indicating our entrance into Glacier Peak Wilderness. The next three and a half miles of trail followed the milky Suiattle River, which drains the north side of Glacier Peak. Views of the river itself were just okay from the trail; the forest near the trail was typically fairly dense, prohibiting unobstructed views of the river. The old growth forest was quite impressive, with Douglas Fir and cedar trees measuring up to five feet in diameter standing tall near the river. The weather was blazing hot on the day of our hike, tempered only by occasional cool breezes when we crossed streams tumbling down the sides of the mountain towards the Suiattle River.
|Waterfall on a creek along the Suiattle River Trail|
|Canyon Creek Bridge|
We found about four small campsites near the junction of the PCT and the Miners Ridge Trail; two were occupied on the holiday weekend by the time we arrived at dusk. We set up camp, ate dinner, and then rested to prepare for the next day's ascent to Image Lake. We noticed that mice were a big problem in the area: we heard the constant patter of their feet at the edges of the campsite as we ate dinner.
On our second day, we hiked 11 miles round trip with 3600 feet of elevation gain as we ascended to the Miners Ridge Lookout and Image Lake and then returned to camp.
We started the second day by hiking up the Miners Ridge Trail, which was marked by a wooden sign indicating "Image Lake" just off of the PCT. The trail made a steady ascent uphill, crossing a stream and then climbing steadily via a series of long switchbacks. The switchbacks ended after about 2 miles of uphill trail from the PCT junction; shortly afterwards, we began catching our first views of Glacier Peak. Glacier Peak is the most remote of Washington's five volcanoes; unlike the other volcanoes, Glacier Peak is embedded deep within a range of other high peaks, making it stand out less from the surrounding landscape than Baker, Rainier, St. Helens, or Adams. Thus, Glacier was not initially named by George Vancouver during his reconaissance of the Northwest. Despite its name, the southern and western aspects of the mountain have fairly scant glacier cover; however, the northern face of Glacier Peak, which we saw from Miners Ridge, is heavily coated in flowing ice, making this one of the most beautiful faces of the mountain.
|First view of Glacier Peak|
Another two miles of constant climbing up switchbacks and through thickets of ripe huckleberries brought us out into the open meadows near the top of Miners Ridge. The long, 3000-foot climb we had endured was suddenly worth it as we broke out into open slopes with a commanding view of the Suiattle River Valley and lordly Glacier Peak. The twisting Suiattle River flowed below down a forested valley that appeared to have never seen the mark of man, complemented by a backdrop of imposing glaciated mountains.
|View over the Suiattle River and Glacier Peak|
|Miners Ridge Lookout|
|Trail along Miners Ridge with Mount Plummer, Chiwawa, and Fortress Mountain|
|Inside the lookout|
|Glacier Peak towers above the Suiattle River when viewed from Miners Ridge Lookout|
|Fortress and Tenpeak hold court over the Suiattle River Valley|
|Tenpeak Mountain and the Suiattle River|
To reach Peak 6758, I headed east along the trail from Image Lake to a junction with a high trail at a ridge; I took this trail northwest, following the slopes of the basin high above Image Lake. Western anemone seed heads lined the slope as I ascended gently along this trail with great views of Image Lake below.
|Western anemone-covered slopes of Miners Ridge|
|View north from the saddle|
The views atop Peak 6758 were similar to those from the Miners Ridge Lookout, except better. The summit provided an overhead view of Image Lake and Glacier Peak, but also brought in views of a whole set of new mountains. Glaciers were visible on jagged Dome and Sinister to the north, while Canyon Lake was visible at the base of Bannock Mountain. To the west, I spotted the summits of Sloan, Pugh, and White Chuck- the Mountain Loop giants- poking above the ridgelines above the Suiattle Valley. Three Fingers was also visible, as was the Miners Ridge Lookout itself, which now seemed far below. To the northwest, the very tops of both Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan were visible. To the east, the panorama of Plummer, Dumbell, Chiwawa, and Fortress was now joined by Bonanza, the tallest non-volcanic peak in Washington State and one of the most difficult of Washington's highest peaks to spot.
|Bonanza, Plummer, Dumbell, Chiwawa, Fortress: 4 of these are among Washington's 100 tallest|
|Dome Peak, Sinister Peak, Bannock Mountain, and Canyon Lake|
|Mount Pugh rises in the back with Miners Ridge Lookout in the foreground|
|View of Image Lake from Peak 6758|
|Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan were barely visible from Peak 6758|
On our third and last day, we hiked 10 miles and climbed 200 feet on our way back to the trailhead. While the return trip was mostly downhill, we ran into a few short uphill segments. We hiked back at a quick pace under hazy skies filled with smoke coming from the Chetco Bar fire in Oregon and the just-initiated Eagle Creek fire that had begun ravaging the Columbia River Gorge. We made just one long stop to observe the work of carpenter ants carving a home into a tree. The work of ants chewing away at the tree and scurrying out with bits of sawdust was audible, which was an extraordinary experience. We spotted ants with varying amounts of work ethic: a few conscientious ants carried their sawdust from the entrance of the nest down to the base of the tree, dropped off their load, and returned to work further; other ants would simply chuck their sawdust particules out of small windows further up the tree.
|Carpenter ants and the sawdust they deposit|