Blanca Lake (Jul 7, 2014)

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blanca_lk_coverConditions: day hike
Gear: nothing special
Map: USGS Blanca Lake
Area: Skykomish
Reference: Day Hiking Central Cascades
Stats: 8.52mi, 3419' gain (round trip)

Deb is responsible for organizing this trip. She gets all the credit and all the kudos! I'd always wanted to do this trip but just never really got around to doing it. Wow. About all I can say is...why did I wait so long.

I had a long weekend lined up...5 days. Deb had mentioned about a week prior that it had been a long time since we'd done a trip together. We penciled in Monday the 7th. I knew Dani wasn't working so I asked if she was interested in joining. She was game and she asked along her friend Lynne. Everyone but me had been to Blanca before.

We met at the smokestack in Monroe at 8am. Then, transferring gear and bodies to Deb's Explorer...we were off. We drove to Beckler River Rd (normal access vie Skykomish River Rd isn't doable due to the washouts). It was up Beckler River Rd then at the 'T' we went left onto FR 65 which then took us to the intersection of FR 63 where we made a right. It was uphill about 2 miles and then left up a short (very short) spur road to the Blanca Lake trailhead (1965'). We were the third car in the lot. The bad news...it was going to be a hot day. The good news...the trail starts out in the forest which continues a good way up the ridge and more importantly...there were no bugs. We packed our gear up and we were headed up the trail by 9:30am.

The trail starts out easy/flat as a nice warm-up but that doesn't last long, only about 1/2 mile. Then...it's a relentless climb uphill through a long string of switchbacks. I don't mind switchbacks too much, as long as it's the first time I've done them. This trail does zig and zag quite a bit while going uphill but none of the switchbacks are very too steep, too sort, or too long. Kind of like the Goldilocks trail of switchbacks...just right.

At about 2.45mi (4134') the grade of the trail eases up just a bit. It's still climbing but I finally felt like we were on a ridge but sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. The trail continues uphill another .5+mi (3mi, 4662') to a highpoint on the ridge just before dropping to Virgin Lake (3.25mi, 4565'). It was right before this highpoint that we started to see patchy snow. Nothing serious. Nothing that we couldn't either cross or make our way around.  Snow became fairly consistent right before Virgin Lake (starting to melt out) and for a short time afterwards. There was one small slope covered in snow that have us a nice chance for a butt glissade. Not long after this the snow was gone and we were back to snow free dirt trail.

The trail dropped to the west side of the ridge and started a drop towards Blanca Lake. Again, steepish trail but not bad.

We did hit some snow right before the lake but nothing bad. One rotten snow bridge but it was really easy to just divert around it. Then somewhat consistent snow the last little bit to the lake (watch up for voids in the snow next to rocks). Again...the snow was easy to travel over. I'd seen reports of holes 4-5' deep but we either didn't see them or found our way round them. The snow, at least for our seasoned group, was of no concern.

The crazy thing about this trip is it's a forest hike for 95% of the trip. It's not until you are literally right at the lake that you see the lake and the views off to the Monte Cristo Range (Kyes..Monte Cristo...Columbia). There are views off toward Glacier Peak, Benchmark Mtn, and others tat you see about the time you get to Virgin Lake. So my advice it start early and spend plenty of time at the lake. We had the advantage of hiking to the lake on a Monday. We had the lake to ourselves. I can imagine that on a weekend, this place becomes a zoo.

We reached the lake about 12:40pm (4.03mi, 3990') and went done a minor patch of steep snow and found a melted out spot at the lake outlet. We dropped our packs and settled in for a nice visit.

I have to say...the views from this lake are spectacular. I've been to my share of mountain lakes but this one...it's at or near the top in terms of views.

There is still a lot of snow up high and the water at the outlet was moving at a good clip. The lake is still partially frozen over but I'm going to guess that by the weekend, it will be nearly completely snow free. The part that was snow free near the outset gave nice reflections of the peaks above.

We stayed at the lake a full 1hr 40min...crazy! But at about 2:30pm we figured it was about time to head out.

The lake quickly disappears from view so we lingered at the flat spot right above the lake and soaked in the views before continuing the hike back out to the car. We were back at the trailhead by about 4:50pm.

Deb...thanks for organizing this trip and picking the absolute perfect destination.

Dani and Lynne...thanks for great company!
 
Blanca Lake Slideshow

blanca_lk_map
(click on map to view a larger version)

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