Before moving to Washington, there was nothing I looked forward to seeing on a hike more than water. I was a sucker for the splash of a waterfall, the soothing flow of a river or the tranquility of a still lake. But when you see a subalpine lake on an almost weekly basis, you begin to take them a bit for granted. This hike offered me water and view - an unbeatable combo that only cost me eight miles.
I ventured out toward Lake Helen, which was hidden in a forest apparently popular with hunters willing to brave the potholed backroads of Ashford. It was nine miles on a maze of dirt roads that would have been nerve-racking if a snow-capped Mount Rainier wasn’t making a grand appearance from behind the clouds.
Anticipating the rain would pick back up at any time, I moved swiftly along the narrow trail and navigated the ups and downs of the path. It didn’t take long to reach a junction with a sign pointing me toward Lake West. In a hop, skip and jump over a creek, I found myself peeking through the trees at an unbelievably calm blue lake.
The color of the water alternated between a deep green and brilliant blue depending on how the sunlight streamed through the high-arching branches. Large shadows covered the edges of the lake but tufts of clouds were reflected in the clear water. It was one of those places where you could happily sit for hours and think about the meaning of life or nothing at all.
Unfortunately for me, the thinness of the path meant I had spent hours being thwacked by dripping shrubs and bushes and my pants were soaking wet. I walked the rim of the lake and closed my eyes for a few moments but couldn’t keep the shivers from ruining the serenity. And so, I traded my pants for my thermals (which I’d shoved in my pack – just in case) and turned back for the trailhead.
With two miles or so left on the return, I spotted a side trail with the word “summit” in it and I couldn’t help but veer up the hill. Lakes are a treat but I’ve found that my preference tends toward sprawling views of the mountains and valleys below. After a bit of huffing and puffing and a startling encounter with a huge bird, I found myself on the edge of a cliff with an incredible view of white clouds dancing atop rolling hills.