Hidden Lake LO (Aug 2, 2015)

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hidden_lk_lo_coverConditions: Day hike
Gear: nothing special
Map: USGS Eldorado Peak, USGS Sonny Boy Lakes
Area: Marblemount, Cascade River Road
Reference: Day Hiking North Cascades
Stats: 8.66mi, 3525' gain (round trip)

I have really been wanting to get back to this lookout. I've done it several time, mostly when there is at least a bit of snow, sometimes more than a bit, but all previous trips were years ago. I tried 5 years ago but it was only 7 months after the knee surgery and I just couldn't do it. This time, I was determined. I'd seen a friends trip report from a couple of weeks ago and the flowers looked at peak.

Dani and I wanted an early start. It has been an incredibly warm...no now warm...HOT...summer. We wanted the climb out of the way before it got really hot. So we met at our usual P&R at 6am and then quickly headed north. It is about a 3 hour drive from that P&R to the trailhead.

Note: The road...yes the road... It's actually not in bad shape. There are only a few potholes and none are big enough to eat a car. However, the road to the HLLO trailhead is pretty steep with lots of loose gravel. Add the occasional tight turn, lots of large rocks poking up in the middle of the road, and some general unevenness in the road and it all means...you are better off bringing a car that has extra clearance (truck, Subaru, etc.) I've heard of recent reports of people taking regular clearance cars and regretting it (as in you will need a new oil pan). There is no way I would take my Jetta up this road.

Taking into account the reports of the road condition Dani drove the truck. I'm glad she did. My Jetta's oil pan would never survive the trip no matter how slow or how careful I was. We arrived sometime just before 9am and we were both AMAZED how full the parking area was for early in the morning. The parking are is small and narrow. There were lots...and I mean LOTS...of cars filling the parking area and spilling out well down the road. Some parked in areas where they looked like they'd get hit or nudged into a tumble downhill.

The trail starts out in the trees for a short section on old overgrown road. Thankfully there was a slight bit of a breeze. I was hoping that wouldn't disappear as they day progressed. The trail switches back in the trees and after about a mile pops out into the open meadows of the drainage, crosses a creek (still running but low) and then slowly heads uphill in deep, colorful meadows. The trail is steep, a bit overgrown and narrow in some sections, out slopping in just a few sections. It does look like a trail crew has been out working on the trail (brushing, clearing and widening the tread, etc.) which was really nice. There are a few more sections that could use some TLC.

Higher up the meadows, in most years the trail does cross the creek again (about 2 1/4 mi from the trailhead). Higher up though the creek is dry. We both wondered about the snow patches that do tend to linger late in the season for most years. It wasn't looking good that there would be any snow left. After leaving the meadow basin area the trail moves into a long traverse, above the cliffs, in a rocky alpine zone. This is my favorite part of the trail. The views in all directions are amazing! The few springs in the area were leaking a bit, but it looked like it would be a long patient wait to use it as a water source.

The trail then takes a turn south and heads on a ridge along a "bench". This is where I've seen snow late in the year...but not today. Most of it was gone. There was one very small patch up it way up high, but overall the trail is pretty dry. We got our first view of the lookout from this "bench". Dani commented that the lookout atop the rocky summit looked like Sauron's Tower in The Lord of the Rings. She was right. With the lookout in sight we headed left, up a rocky ramp to the top of the ridge. Here the trail heads to the east side of the lookout. We make a mistake and dropped a bit after leaving the ridge. We should have instead stayed on the ridge. Coming down it was easy to see the trail alternating between boulder hopping and dirt tread. The last 100' or so was fun boulder scrambling.

We reached the top sometime around noon and poked out heads inside the lookout. Temps inside were like a sauna. Not comfortable. Three hikers had staked out the lookout for the night. I doubt temps dropped enough to make sleeping inside the lookout comfortable. I snapped a few photos and then headed outside over to a nice flat boulder to join Dani for lunch.

We stayed longer than we expected but eventually we figured it was time to head down. Coming down it was easy to see the trail alternating between boulder hopping and dirt tread. The last 100' or so was fun boulder scrambling. Please be careful on the descent. Someone behind us (as in above us) kicked a rock loose that I could see out of the corner of my eye as it went over our heads. If you knock something loose...PLEASE YELL "ROCK" AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE to give others in harm's way a chance to take cover (if possible). The meadows in the basin area felt like an oven. I know I just wanted to get back to the cover of the trees. Back at the trailhead the parking lot was still full. We counted at least 30 cars. This trail has definitely become very popular. Much more so than 15-20 years ago when we often saw only a few cars in the parking area no matter what time of year it was.
Hidden Lake LO Slideshow


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