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HIDDEN LAKE

Story by Jesse Morrow February 18th, 2015

For the past few days in Seattle, the weather has been overcast and raining on and off. Temperatures have been fluctuating around high 30’s and low 40’s. This is the norm for the last week of September, which makes planning a backpacking trip a bit risky, as far as weather conditions are concerned. Despite the drab skies, my friends, Elliot and Jared, and I have been aching to hit the trails.

We have our eyes set on Hidden Lake, a little spot buried deep in the North Cascades. After talking to a few friends, the hike sounds irresistible and worth the effort. One cool thing about this hike is the fire lookout at the top. Since being decommissioned in the ‘50s it’s been used as a first-come, first-served overnight lodge for daring backpackers. We know our chances of snagging a spot in the shelter may be slim, but we’re determined to try anyway.

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Driving an hour east of Burlington, WA, we find our last stretch of road before the trailhead. The road is full of potholes and we have just lost visibility after driving into some thick fog. By the time we reach the parking lot, 6 cars have already beaten us! We know this instantly limits our chances of reserving a spot in the lookout but we’re moving quickly to get geared up and start the hike. I notice that a couple who reached the lot shortly before us are also hustling quickly to put on boots and backpacks and hit the trail - the race is on.

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The hike is 8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 3300ft. The trail begins in thick forest and it’s not long before giant pines surround us. Looking up, the fog has enveloped the treetops and is showering a mystical fairytale vibe on the area. This fairytale only lasts a mile or so, though, before it comes to a halt with the start of rainfall. Continuing on, the trail leaves the forest and opens up to cliffs and ridges standing high above us. We are now completely exposed to the elements and I feel water making a stealthy yet noticeable entrance past my outer layer of clothing! With the rain falling harder each minute and the sky looking completely overcast, I’m starting to wonder if we’ll make it to the top, and if so, how miserable we may be. My thought is that, most likely, the rain won’t let up and we will reach the top with our heavy, wet packs, and not want to camp over night. After a bit of deliberation, the three of us decide to drop the packs. We found good cover in some brush to the side of the trail and marked the spot with a few tall sticks. Covering our bags with a rain fly, we made sure they were completely hidden from any passerby. Although, I’m not sure who would want to steal our bags at this point and have to haul the soaking lumps all the way back to their car. Taking a bit of food and rain gear with us we move forward inevitably turning the trip into a day hike. There’s relief and disappointment in leaving our packs behind. On one hand, it’s much nicer to hike with out them, but on the other, it feels like we’ve failed our mission!
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Continuing our onward march, I notice the wind picking up and the rain stopping. I can tell we’ve been climbing in elevation as the air begins to thin and I start to warm up from all the movement. Suddenly, what seems like out of nowhere, the clouds that were looming above us, drop down into the valley below and the sun starts shining. I can hardly believe it and instantly think about the decision to leave our packs behind. My awe grows as I start to see peaks of mountains poking up above the clouds.

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Soon, we are completely stunned by our surroundings and the weather! The atmosphere has shifted from the wet, damp forest we began in, to the sunny warm weather we’re currently basking in. Large, granite rock piles now replace the tall evergreens and the visibility extends for miles now that we’re above the timberline. Each bend we come around brings different scenery and gives us the extra boost of energy we need to keep moving.

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Our latest stretch of incline brings us to a little reflecting pond and we can see the fire lookout for the first time. Far in the distance, the silhouette looks tiny as it sits perched on top of a jagged rock face that looks unclimbable without proper mountaineering gear. The view is intimidating and has us questioning how we’ll reach the top.

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We find our sight of snow after stopping at the pond for a break. The path moves through a small snowfield and is marked periodically by cairns. We stay close, hoping not to lose our way. A quarter mile later, we finally see Hidden Lake, and how well hidden it truly is. The lake, sitting high above the clouds, seems to be a hundreds of feet below us. Huge rocks starting at our feet, sweep downward creating a grey bowl in which icy waters lie. The pure, white clouds gently floating behind the dark blue water create a stark contrasting background to the scenic view.

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From the saddle at the lake, we can now see our path that ascends the daunting peek. Far less intimidating than we originally thought, we slowly make our way to the top. As we pull ourselves over the last remaining boulders we can finally see the view we’ve waited for.

Like giddy children who can’t help themselves but to smile from excitement, we ran around the top of the peak trying to absorb our surroundings. Sitting dangerously, far out on a rock cliff, we felt the energy of clouds rushing below our feet. If the surrounding peaks and trees and valleys weren’t enough to make us swoon, the lovely little white cabin sitting ever so slightly on giant boulders certainly was.

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We met a few of its patrons for the night (including that couple that beat us to the top) as we checked out the inside. Little handwritten notes about house keeping and sanitation lined a small bulletin board and a makeshift library had been constructed below it making a resting spot for a number of books and games. In the library we found a journal where past visitors told about their climb to the top. The place was such a delight, and while we are jealous of the ones who will be sleeping there, I felt privileged having made it to the summit to see it for myself.

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Although we don’t get to camp overnight and we won’t experience seeing miles and miles of starry skies, or waking up in the morning and drinking coffee in the little white cabin, we still made it. We’ll enjoy this view, knowing there will be a return trip in the future—one that will bring even more excitement and determination with it. For now, we’ll just sit above the clouds, and look, and be humbled by the beauty that surrounds us.

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Footnote: Huge thanks to Rachel Meter for the edit. Cheers, Elliott & Jared, let's do this again.
LICENSE PHOTOS FROM THIS TRIP