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Hike of the Month: Blanca Lake

Hike of the Month: Blanca Lake

Blanca Lake Hike

Blanca Lake is absolutely stunning. And the view is made all the more rewarding by the effort required to get here. The total round-trip distance to Blanca Lake and back is 7.5 miles. Climbing almost 3000 feet in just under three miles, the hike  is certainly a challenge, but one for which the payoff is well worth it. If you can go in the spring or early summer, when there is still some snow on the surrounding peaks, I would definitely suggest doing so. I went in late may during a year with very little snowpack, and the snow made the lake all the more beautiful.

The trail to the lake is enjoyable and very well maintained. The majority of the hike passes through second-growth forest, full of mature trees, which provide a lot of very welcome shade on hot days as you ascend the many switchbacks. Occasional breaks in the trees allow for great views of the surrounding peaks. Near the ridgeline, there were more views, and a few campsites along the trail.

The trail gets a little bit technical in a couple spots, but nothing serious. If you’re able to make the climb up the trail, the rocky areas shouldn’t be an issue. I thought I might have to carry Newton up a small rocky scramble area, but he hopped up just fine on his own.

The trail flattens out just before the 3 mile mark. There was still snow when I visited in May, but the summer bring wildflower fields, and a much easier-to-follow trail. There were foot trails through the snow, but it wasn’t immediately clear which

snowmelt turned part of the trail into a muddy stream
snowmelt turned part of the trail into a muddy stream

direction the trail followed, I started to go the wrong way at one point before finding the correct path. A map can be helpful here, but if you’re vigilant about following the most heavily-used path you shouldn’t have a problem.

The trail then drops a little to Virgin lake, which is fed entirely by snowmelt and rainwater. Blanca Lake isn’t too far past this, though the descent is a steep one. In 0.6 miles, you lose 600 feet of elevation on a very rocky and root-covered trail. The trail flattens out once again, and very soon you break out into an incredible view of Blanca Lake. The water is a remarkable blue color (thanks to the glacial till from the Columbia Glacier above), with a backdrop of Monte Cristo, Keys, and Columbia peaks. The sight is truly unbelievable. I still look at pictures from that day and can’t quite believe the spot really exists. There’s just something about the setting and the perfect framing that make the site seem unreal.

this place is unreal
this place is unreal

Newton and I hung out here for lunch and took in the views, then headed back down. I haven’t been to Blanca Lake for more than a day hike, but I know others who have spent the night at the top. Some hike around the footpaths skirting the lake, and one friend told me she and a group of her friends carried rafts up the trail and paddled across the lake to camp in an area unreachable by foot. I have no doubt that waking up next to Blanca Lake would make for an unbeatable backpacking experience.

The trip down was much faster, but required some care so as to avoid too much knee pounding. I passed three or four groups who were just heading up. Unsurprising for a sunny weekday hike. Clouds started rolling in when I was about halfway down, and I felt some sprinkles not long after. By the time I got back to the parking lot, it was pouring down rain, with seemingly constant lightning and thunder. I was definitely happy to be heading out rather than at the top of the trail. The storm was a good reminder to me to be aware of the speed with which storms can roll in, and to keep in mind the weather differences in the mountains compared to the lowlands. I had checked the forecast before leaving the city and expected sun for the entire day. However, the mountain weather was a bit different. Something I need to remember to check and to prepare for.

Unsurprisingly, I would absolutely recommend hiking up to Blanca Lake. It is a challenging climb, but in no way impossible. I am in relatively good shape and didn’t struggle with the elevation gain. If you aren’t regularly active, I wouldn’t discount the hike entirely. I would just suggest budgeting a bit more time and bringing plenty of water and snacks and allowing plenty of time for breaks along the trail. There were a couple streams on the way up, but plan to bring enough water for yourself (and any dog companions), in addition to a water filter if you have one. And finally, go on a weekday if you can. The trail is very popular on weekends, and I find the whole hiking experience to be much more enjoyable when I don’t have to battle for parking spots or wade through crowds.

Getting There

The trail to Blanca Lake  starts on FR 63. Take Highway 2 east toward Skykomish. Just past Skykomish, FR 65/Beckler River Road is on the left. Turn here and drive 12.5 miles. The road turns to gravel just after passing Beckler River Campground, at which point you will likely encounter a fair number of potholes. These, combined with the winding road and occasional steep dropoffs, can make for a lengthy drive, so make sure to budget some extra time into your trip. At 12.5 miles, you will reach a 5-way junction. Take the second left and drive another 2.3 miles, and take a right on FR 63. Another two miles, and the trail is on a small road to the left, at the top of a small hill. When I visited on a Thursday, there were only 5 other cars in the small parking lot, but spaces may be sparse on weekends and holidays.

Day Hiking Gear

These are some of my favorite gear items for day hiking:

  • Day Pack – My Osprey day pack is the perfect size to fit all my snacks and hiking accessories and  small enough to be light and unobtrusive, even for someone short like me
  • Water Filter – A little bulkier than some other options, my Katadyn filter is still by far my favorite of any that I’ve used
  • SunscreenBadger is free of toxic chemicals like oxybenzone, instead relying on zinc as a safe physical barrier to protect your skin from sunburn
  • Knife – A good knife is an absolute must-have on day hikes and longer backpacking trips
  • Whistle – One of the simplest and more important safety tools for hiking
  • Water Bottle – I like to have a traditional water bottle and a bladder hydration system to keep in my pack to drink while walking
  • Bug Repellent (non-toxic) – For particularly buggy hikes, it’s nice to have some repellent to prevent bites from mosquitos and flies

Hiking Snacks

In addition to being important for nourishment, tasty hiking snacks are so rewarding at the end of a tough hike. For summits, I prefer treats that include chocolate – these are some of my favorites:

  • Peanut Butter Cups – Theo makes delicious peanut butter cups that are free of palm oil.
  • Mint Coconut Butter Cups – Eating evolved coconut butter cups are a great alternative to peanut butter if you don’t tolerate or prefer not to eat peanuts. Mint is by far my favorite flavor.
  • Chocolate Covered Banana Bites – I recently learned that these are made with mis-shapen bananas that were slated for disposal, which makes my love for them even stronger.
  • Vegan Chocolate-Covered PeanutsThese candies are an awesome vegan alternative to M&M’s. They taste surprisingly similar and are free of dairy and artificial colors.

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