2018 Hit List: Gems of the PNW

I don’t subscribe to #NewYearNewMe resolutions but I do enjoy reflecting around the turn of the year. And something about the dark, relentlessly rainy weather we’ve been having has made me nostalgic for longer, sunnier days spent on the trail. Friends and coworkers often ask me about my favorite trails so here it is: my reviews of the top 10 PNW hikes I did in 2018, in chronological order.

Ancient Lakes (April)

Attempting to escape the drudgery of oversold I-90 hikes, we decided to venture past the pass. The solitude and change of scenery were well worth the extra drive time. The deserty gorge landscape of Ancient Lakes was a welcome departure from classic evergreen forests that I’ve become accustomed to. There are multiple trail options available to explore Ancient Lakes Basin, including a 12 mile loop descending into, around and out of the basin. We were short on time so we opted to descend in, spend some time at the lakes and climb back out the way we came. The descent into the basin requires care as it is steep and covered in a fair amount of loose rock and sand. We saw a few folks camping at the lake which I took note of as a challenging but doable option for camping after a concert at the Gorge Amphitheater.

Artist Point (May)

After receiving many rave recommendation, I did Artist Point as a snowshoe on a bright, sunny day in early May. Despite the low temperatures, the warmth of the sun’s rays had us sweating. Although I’ve previously had difficulty wayfinding on snowy trails, this trail is fairly well trafficked so staying the course wasn’t too challenging. Even late in the snow season, the trail had deep snow coverage and we enjoyed views of snow-capped mountains in every direction. We capped off the summery snow day with dinner and a pretty sunset in Bellingham.

Cascade Head (May)

I’ve done Cascade Head twice and love recommending it as an easy stop with high rewards for folks exploring the Oregon Coast/PCH. Its just past Dundee and McMinville and would also make for a nice little excursion while exploring Oregon Wine Country. Two thirds of the hike winds through lush coastal foliage. The final third of the hike opens up to provide sparkling views of the Pacific contrasting against brilliantly green rolling hills. *Cue: The Hills Are Aliiiiiiive* A coastal traverse followed by switchbacks up the grassy hills culminates in expansive views of Cascade Head and the coastline. At only 4.2 miles and 1,200 ft elevation gain, this hike is a worthwhile stop on any Oregon coast roadtrip. The next time I do this hike, I’d like to watch the sunset here.

Marmot Pass (July)

Since hiking Marmot in 2017, Isaac has lauded Marmot Pass as one of his favorite hikes in Washington. Nestled out on the Olympic Peninsula, on a clear day, hikers can actually see the Seattle Skyline across the water from Buckhorn Peak (an additional mile up from Marmot). One of the best things aspects of this hike is that there is something to enjoy at every point along the trail – from the occasional clearings with wildflowers and mystical looking tree moss to the spacious and spectacular peak offering views of the Olympics and into the city in the distance. I went on a foggy day which hindered my views of the city but added a fun, mysterious element to my photos. Next time, I plan to camp at Marmot, as there are many connecting trails that could be explored on subsequent days.

Royal Basin (July)

This experience was truly epic. I can’t imagine a more patriotic way to spend Independence Day than basking in the glory of a national park. This was a long, grueling hike – 16 miles round trip with about 2,650 ft elevation gain and a heavy pack. But it was all worth it for the solitude and majesty we experienced at the upper basin – or at least, almost solitude. We had a very nosy goat visitor.

The lower basin features a big green lake with up-close views of a snow-capped mountain as the backdrop. As picturesque as this was, it was no match for the views from the last mile and upper basin. The final push was tough, as we climbed about 1000 feet. We ascended to a valley with marmots, streams and lush greenery before hitting snow. From there, the trail became ambiguous but we eventually found our way to the small but stunningly turquoise upper lake. Waking up to the basin fully lit, enjoying breakfast with a sense of serenity and accomplishment is an experience I won’t soon forget.

Tip: The ranger station near Forks opens an hour earlier than the visitor center in Port Angeles, giving you a better shot at beating the crowds to obtain a day-of backcountry permit.

Tuck & Robin Lakes (July)

Another challenging backpacking trip (16 mi RT/2900 ft) with massive payoff was the trip to Tuck & Robin Lakes in the Teenaways. Also known as “The Mini-Enchantments”, this un-permitted hike is in the same region as the highly sought-after Enchantments area and it shows. Early in the hike, Hyas Lake is a scenic spot for a “packs off” break and snacks. The section right before arriving at Tuck Lake has a few steep scrambles but the vertical push from Tuck to Robin is even more challenging – a seemingly endless ascent engaging all 4 limbs. For this reason, we set up camp at Tuck and climbed up to Robin (the real star of the show) with our day packs to enjoy the sunset – which was absolutely majestic.

Cascade Pass (August)

We hiked Cascade Pass on a cloudy, drizzly day which added a sublime mystique to the overall aura of the North Cascades. Across the valleys of rising fog, we enjoyed expansive views of lush, green mountains with residual snow patches. Though the area is notorious for bear encounters, the only wild life we encountered were marmots. This trail’s ridgeline views of surrounding mountains were a pleasant shift from the Northwest’s traditional fully wooded ascents.

Maple Pass Loop (August)

If you’re looking for a high effort-to-reward ratio hike, look no further than Maple Pass in the North Cascades. Weighing in at 7.2 mi round trip with just 2000 ft of elevation gain, this hike punches out of weigh class with a mostly exposed trail showing off mind-blowingly expansive views of the Cascades and several turquoise lakes. We went on a hazy day due to surrounding forest fires but even so, we were spoiled by mountain views as far as we could see. Bonus points are awarded for the loop format of the trail, giving new and interesting views at every turn. Everything about the experience – from the lack of crowds to the ease of incline – was leisurely. This hike might be a contender for my most enjoyable hike in Washington.  

Spade Lake (September)

As one of the most remote hikes I did this year, Spade Lake was out of this world. Off the beaten path in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Spade Lake is a hefty 25.6 mile commitment. We did the trip as a 3-day journey, setting up camp at Waptus Lake on day 1, hiking up to Spade and back on day 2 and hiking out from Waptus on day 3. While the mileage is high, the long trek into Waptus is fairly flat. Right before reaching Waptus is a barefoot river crossing – the chilly water was a numbing relief to my aching feet after 11 miles with my pack on. We took our time setting up camp, ate dinner and took in the stars – could have sworn we saw a UFO! The next day, we made the ascent up to Spade Lake. Words cannot describe the brilliance of Spade Lake – a massive, pristine blue lake with a granite frame and a turquoise halo created by the shallow shores. I hung out by the lake and read while others did the additional 1 mile climb to Venus Lake which was reported to be equally exuberant. We descended back to Waptus around sunset and enjoyed golden hour at the lake for our last night.

Yellow Aster Butte (October)

Oh my autumn! The punchy contrast of firey fall colors against a crisp blue autumn day delivered just the hiking fix I needed in mid-October. In the foreground, Yellow Aster Butte presents picturesque rolling hills carpeted in auburn, ruby, sienna, mustard and every color in-between. In the distance, we were treated to visuals of the Cascades and Mt Baker with early-season snow. It was a fun change to pay more attention to the details in nearby shrubs and foliage instead of just macroscopically looking out to views in the distance. While the elusive #larches were trending on the ‘gram in Fall 2018, I’d assess that #autumnshrubs are da real MVP.

Cheers to the miles ahead in 2019!
Amber

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