Thie weekend, I did something I don’t usually do–I repeated a hike. But this time, there was snow!
There are plenty of hikes I want to do again, either due to an obscured view, or just wanting to see them in a different light. Oyster Dome, Heather Lake, and Wallace Falls I’ve done several times each. However, plenty of hikes I do are one-offs. Maybe I wasn’t totally thrilled by the hike, or maybe conditions were perfect the first time. I first did Lake Twentytwo (sometimes spelled Lake 22) with Mama Boots in 2012. However, in planning for a low-risk hike above the snow level this weekend, my friend suggested we do this hike, and I was keen.
Summer and winter can be polar opposites for many trails in the area in terms of safety and accessibility. In summer, this hike is a popular option as it is relatively short and easy, thus good for those of all ages (although trailhead break-ins are extremely common here, especially summer weekends). In winter, there is significantly more risk, not just of exposure to slippery and snowy conditions, but of avalanches too. If doing this trail in winter, research the snow level and avalanche conditions at NWAC.us and do not attempt to circle the lake in avalanche conditions.
On a rainy Sunday, we arrived at 7:45 to only one other car at the trailhead. NWAC had anticipated snow around 1500-2000 feet, so we knew we’d hit snow at some point, but the trailhead was clear, making it perfect for those who don’t like driving in the snow. With all of the precipitation, the nearby Twentytwo Creek was rushing beside us for much of the first mile. While there are some bridges, there are many crossings without. Even in summer, expect to get your boots wet or muddy!
There are tons of stairs here, and as the rain increased, so did the water on the trail. With gaining elevation, we started seeing snow, first in patches, then clumps, depending on tree cover and shade. Around 1.5 miles, you leave the treeline for an open exposed area, which got very snowy and slushy in places. On a clear day, this exposed area offers great views of surrounding peaks.
The more we climbed, the more snowy the trail got. We shed our rain jackets to cool off and kept on climbing as flakes fell, eager for our impending snowy view and snacks. In parts there was slush, mud, or creek crossings under the snow, and we both made a mental note to put on our gaiters at the top. We opted to not put on our microspikes just yet, as the snow kept getting fluffier. In some spots we had to steady ourselves, with bare hands touching the snow for balance. Once you leave the exposed area and are back in the trees, if hiking in winter, watch out for falling snow! The heavy, wet snow on trees was too much weight for them, and all around us snow was dropping off branches in clumps, startling me every time.
At this point, we both realized that 1) we were very wet, and 2) that going down, especially in the exposed area, would be tricky. We both made an agreement to not go around the lake (originally to be a decision when we saw conditions) and to turn around if needed, but we knew we were so close. I was regretting taking off my rain jacket, but I had been overheating in it! We then reached a particularly slushy looking crossing, where I stepped ankle-deep into mud. We were so close to the end though, and we eagerly pushed onward, with one other hiker catching up to us right at the final push.
The lake was the snowy picturesque alpine lake of our dreams. In summer, you are at the base of Mt. Pilchuck, with the lake fed by runoff. You can circumnavigate the lake, but other times of year, the end of the lake is right at the base of an avalanche chute, and best avoided. We started getting pictures and donning jackets and gaiters. As soon as we stopped moving, we quickly became aware of the icy temps around us. With our shirts wet from rain and snow, this turned to misery fairly quickly. We then heard, but didn’t see, a distinct rumble. That was all the sign we needed. I literally shoved a fistful of jerky into my mouth, some dried fruit in my pockets, and we set off, with me forcing my cold wet hands into cold wet gloves.
We both were a little sad to not spend more time at the top, and kicking ourselves for not having more layers or waterproof gloves. However, not three minutes after leaving, we heard a far longer rumble. We almost headed back to the lake to see if it was an avalanche, although it could have been a plane. I admit it would be cool to see an avalanche from a safe distance, but at that point, a hot shower was at the forefront of my mind. We skirted the deep mud from before and made our way down the trail. We were shocked at how much more snow had fallen, and we started seeing groups of people coming up the trail, in varying stages of preparedness. As we approached the exposed area, we both donned our traction (with me grateful to have both spikes, and my butt pad to sit on for easier set-up).
The change in grip with traction made all the difference. Despite some parts of the switchbacks here being rocky, I’d highly recommend using traction devices here depending on snow conditions. We even saw some people who brought snowshoes, although that might only be needed for particularly snowy days. The snow, falling hard and fast, turned to a downpour of rain around where we re-entered the woods and left the snowline. We couldn’t believe how wet and muddy the trail had gotten compared to that morning! We were grateful to have started exactly when we did, as hiking up in the rain before the dumping snow would have been miserable.
In summer, it offers beautiful views, but you might fight crowds for it. Even in winter, solitude might not be likely, and there is risk of danger. Despite those caveats, it was a beautiful hike both times I’ve done it, and I’d recommend it in winter for those prepared for snow and with proper gear, and in summer (but maybe on a weekday only)–and who knows, maybe spring and fall are great, too!
Distance: 5.0 miles RT to the lake according to WTA; 5.4 miles if circling the lake
Elevation: 1200 feet of gain (1350 if circling the lake)
Parking: NW Forest Pass or America the Beautiful required.
Bathrooms: Pit toilets in parking lot
Best Beer Bet: Lake Stevens Brewing Company is right along your way home.