To myself and many other like-minded people, beer and hiking go together like peanut butter and chocolate. There’s something to me abut misty alpine lakes and tall mountain peaks that make me crave hops. Beers at the Bottom have been writing about hikes and the brews that come afterwards since 2013–and now literally wrote the book on beer hiking the PNW.
That book is called Beer Hiking the Pacific Northwest, and it details 50 hikes in Washington, Oregon, and Canada along with a beer pairing nearby. Once I got a copy, I eagerly began dog-earring pages to add to my wish list. One hike long on my wish list is Mason Lake on the Ira Spring trail. I have actually attempted Mason Lake once before for a snowshoe, but the snowy road to the trailhead was too difficult for the boyfriendo’s car, so we had to give up. With the smoky skies briefly reduced, my friend Casey and I booked it on an early Saturday morning. And I do mean early. Leaving Seattle at 6:30am had us arriving to a lot that was still half-full. The Ira Spring trail isn’t just to Mason Lake, but Bandera Mountain as well, and like most hikes along the I-90 corridor, this one is extremely popular, especially with the inexperienced hiking crowd.
The first 1.6 miles of the hike are fairly wide and gradual. We zipped right up at a fairly quick pace. Other than a large bridge crossing around a mile, this first part of the trail wasn’t super exciting. However, the real climbing starts at around 1.6 miles up. My bum hip, which hadn’t been an issue in months (other than sleeping), had reared its ugly head. For a week, long walks and the elliptical had both made it cranky, so this punishing 1000-ft gain in 1.4 miles pushed the pain dial UP. Occasional thrilling views did help distract from the pain.
Normally, there’s be a killer view of Mt. Rainier to the south, especially if we took the fork for Little Bandera. I’d be tempted, throbbing hip and all, if the smoke weren’t obscuring everything. Instead, we continued on the Mason Lake trail up to a giant talus field. For a split second I was worried we’d have to traverse the entire heap of boulders, until I saw the switchback. Phew! You continue up to the top of the ridge.
Thanks to my trusty Beer Hiking the Pacific Northwest book, I knew at the top of this ridge to look out for a plaque emblazoned on one boulder facing southward just off trail, dedicated to Ira Spring, the trail’s namesake. Ira co-wrote dozens of PNW trail guides, and actually co-founded the Washington Trails Association. He is an icon to those who love hiking in our beautiful state, and this memorial is a fitting tribute worth a few steps off from the trail.
After the peak, you actually descend rapidly to get to the lake, meandering a bit down switchbacks until you turn a corner and see it. We couldn’t believe our luck–we were the only ones at the lake that we could see. We quickly went a bit further up the trail and picked a secluded area to sit. There’s tons of options for sitting here, as well as campsites for backpackers.
Our luck would soon run out. We got to snacking and resting while admiring the view and snapping pictures. Not long after, a couple came off trail to set up shop not ten feet away from us. It was the equivalent of someone taking a stall directly next to you in a public bathroom when there are 12 other empty stalls. Um, hello? I think they picked up on our vibes and they moved onward. Casey and her 95-lb furry friend Hobbes decided to take an impromptu dip in the surprisingly warm water. As Casey was attempting to dry off, an off-leash dog came bounding up to us, making Hobbes bolt and Casey nearly fall over to hold on to his leash. To put the cherry on top, a loud group of birthday revelers came to the rocks across from us, loudly singing and smoking weed. Part of me wants to be all ‘get off my lawn’ about it, part of me feels I should have expected these things to happen on a Saturday on an I-90 hike, even at 9am. Sigh.
Casey and I were both pretty put off after this, and scurried back to the trail. I knew the downhills would be a merciful reprieve on for my hip, but first we had to get back over the ridge. Just a bit more pain and sweet relief would be mine! Once over the ridge, I heard the familiar laughing-like call of a pika, a sound I’ve been teased by on countless hikes with not one sight of the furry mountain rodent behind it. But perched on a rock, incredibly close to the trail, there one was! I geeked out, telling Casey how rare a pika sighting was (for me, at least), as I fumbled for my camera. My sour mood from the top mostly faded from this encounter, and my mood picked up.
Going down, we passed dozens of people trudging upward. The miles down felt far longer than the miles up, but maybe that was excitement that made them fly by earlier. By the time we made it down to the car, the lot was full, and the line of cars parked to the side must have been a good quarter-mile down. While I’m glad I finally got to see this hike (and a pika), the post-hike beer recommendation made in Beer Hiking the Pacific Northwest was calling–and I had to go.
Distance: 6.5-7.5 miles (WTA says 6.5 miles, Beer Hiking the PNW said 7.0 miles, Runkeeper said 7.5).
Elevation: 2420-2500 feet
Parking: NW Forest Pass/America the Beautiful Pass
Bathrooms: Pit toilet at trailhead and at the lake