6 Reasons to Backpack to Rachel Lake
Back packing in the Cascades will leave you breathless, not just because the lakes capture every variation in the spectrum of the color blue (at first glance, you’ll think you’re in the Caribbean), but also because the last mile is straight up! So rest assured, don’t worry about losing your breath, you’re going to lose it one way or another.
Even when pea-size pellets of solid ice are ricocheting off your head having just pelted from the sky at full speed and the thunder reverberates throughout your entire, rain-drenched body, while you stumble over tree roots, pass dripping branches and wade through, what once was a damp trail, is now an ankle-deep (sometimes deeper) stream, soaking through your boots, your hefty socks – all the way to your slowly pruning toes – there will be no doubt in your mind that it was all worth it.
We climbed a mountain. We reached the top. We had to come down at some point. But believe me, you will wish you could stay longer, hail or no hail. So let’s delve into the six reasons you’ll love the trek to Rachel Lake in the beautiful region of Snoqualmie, Washington.
1. You’ll build new muscles you didn’t know existed
This is seriously the most difficult hike I’ve ever endured. Actually, it’s one of the most physically straining exercises I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve taken some pretty tough body sculpting classes). Believe it or not the elevation is only 2,300 feet. Even so, days after you probably won’t be able to walk. Scott could flex new muscles in his legs three days after. He was pretty proud.
You’ll hate stairs and you’ll wish you stretched more (hint hint). The hike starts out smooth. Te first 3 miles are a piece of cake – less so if you’re carrying a backpack full of your belongings (we kind of over did it on the snacks). But still, pretty much a breeze. Especially compared to the last 0.8 miles – which is straight up hill.
During this relatively short beginning part, you’ll gain about 1,300 feet in elevation. While your thighs are throbbing and you’re using tree roots as stairs and hanging onto branches for dear life, take in the spectacular views along the way. They’re your reward for your sweaty and leg-buckling excursion.
2. Eat along the trail – and I don’t mean the jerky you packed
If you’re a plant/berry/tree/shrubbery expert like Scott, you’ll adore this trail, snacking all the while. Depending on the time of year, the wild blueberries may be pretty small and tangy, almost mouth-puckering sour, like they were for us, or they may be plump and sweet. Take note, we hiked here at the end of August.
Same goes for the salmon berries, but they’re still gorgeous. If you’re like me and you’re afraid of poisoning yourself, here’s a tip: steer clear of the Devil’s Club (the reason is in the name). It has ruby red berries and is absolutely covered in tiny stickers and thorns. When you reach the top enjoy more food from the lake – fish galore!
3. Pocahontas’ river has nothing on this lake
We finally reached the top and guess what? We nearly fall over upon seeing the view. It’s clear why Pocahontas wrote a whole song about her river – because I imagine this lake and her river have a lot in common. I could write a song about THIS lake. Rachel Lake is pure and still – and instead of otters there are chipmunks the size of squirrels. Scott named ours Gordo. He was a fat little munchkin. More love.
The lake, as with most mountain lakes, is freezing cold but that’s what makes it perfect for a quick mountain bath. Naturally, I had to get in there, freezing or no freezing. I’ve never felt so clean in 60 seconds and so strapped for oxygen at the same time. It’ll wake you up!
And when night sweeps across the sky and the stars are reflecting on Rachel Lake, just as the mountains and trees did during the day, you’ll gaze at the lake in an unfocused, dreamy kind of way. It’s hard to tell where the lake ends and the mountain begins….it’s that calm and clear.
4. You’ll liken yourself to Henry the Navigator upon staking out your camp ground
But hold on! You’ve reached the top of the mountain but the trek ain’t over, navigator. Take time to walk around the lake and choose what you deem to be the perfect camping spot. We took our time and found a secluded, nearly private lake-front piece of gorgeous land to stake our claim. But we were exhausted. Scott fished. I read. We cooked. We ate. We star-gazed. We slept hard.
5. It’s like the Garden of Eden over here…sans seductive snakes
Don’t dilly dally when you rise and shine, get out there and be somebody! For example, you can hike to the Rampart Lakes. Along the way, we ate more berries, saw brightly colored wildflowers, like Heather. I took a potty break. When you come across an awe-inspiring lake, look to the right and head up the rocky path. There’s a surprise.
I’ve come to compare this place to the Garden of Eden – but have no fear, there will be no smiting here. This one isn’t off-limits either – although it does appear untouched (which is the golden rule of hiking. Well done, Washington!)
You will, however, meet temptation face to face in another way. If you’re anything like me, there is no doubt you will have the urge to strip and frolic in the waters. And therefore, almost quite literally, lose your breath (it’s freezing! Ahem. It is mountain water after all).
After sunbathing on a rock, make your way back (or camp here, too), just don’t get lost on the way back…the trails tend to wind and dip all over the place. We got a lost for a bit, which cut the time we had to trek back. Don’t make yourself feel rushed hiking back to your car. It may be down hill, but mother nature can still throw you off.
6. Mother Nature is fickle! We were hit by a hail thunder storm.
The part about hail at the beginning of this post – all true. Mother nature didn’t take care in warning us. Even a smidgen. She can be such a bitch sometimes. At first we thought the sprinkling we felt on our faces was an over zealous waterfall — a common hiker’s assumption. Turns out it was the beginnings of a hail/thunder-storm that didn’t let up. The hail was so intense that 20 minutes into it the ground resembled a snow-topped mountain. By the end, we were drenched from head to toe, cold, exhausted, sore and in some ways exhilarated. It was an experience that Scott likes to say “builds character.”
He’s right. I would go back again rain or shine. Even though I threw out my knee and cried with relief when we reached the road to our car. I was in such pain, but I made it through (that’s the important part), with the help of Scott carrying my back pack for the last leg of the hike.
In high season it’s tough to get a camping spot. We were afraid of this since we were passing so many hikers and it was so late in the day as we made our way up. Nevertheless, we found several places. Just keep this in mind when planning your trek.
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