larch of the woods | lake mountain overnight

25 miles . 7500 ft gain . 8370 ft high

Pasayten Wilderness

I feel like all trips this year has been a result of plan A falling through. While I was looking to explore a new area of the Glacier Peak Wilderness, I ended up at the Monument Creek Trailhead after a brief stop at the Mazama store for morning pastries. At the trailhead, we self registered, similar to that for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, designating a group leader and a writing down the trip plan. The Monument Creek Trail actually follows the Lost River and towards Monument Peak before dropping down to the the true Monument Creek. For this trip, we were not interested in Monument Creek itself, but getting up and over the pass that the trail climbs up to. And to make it more confusing, we did not plan on summiting Monument Peak, only Lake Mountain and camping at Lake of the Woods. And with such generic names, it was hard to find information on this scramble.

Miles on river-side trails run quick for their mellow elevation gain and in under 2 hours, we were done with the first 4 miles. The bridge crossing is the last place to get water until camp, so plan accordingly. We were quite low by the end of the day. Maybe it was the easy first couple miles or maybe we truly were tired, but the uphill got to be very slow for all of us. Every switch back felt like 30 minutes, but bit by bit we scaled the ridge until we got to the less steep bits. We probably took at least 10-15 minutes for each break, but it was all worth it. Once the trail follows the ridge, it doesn’t feel like as much work and stays that way when you traverse under Pistol Peaks. The last 600 feet of uphill also goes by relatively quick as you count through the 6 main switchbacks to the pass. The whole way, you get start to get more and more peeps of larches.

Setting Sun Mountain
Camp by Lake of the Woods

But the main highlight is entering to the Lake of the Woods basin. I’m sure I let out an audible gasp when I saw all the larches to  be seen. Unlike any of you reading this blog, I surely did not look up where we were headed, only a small handful of pictures here and there and finding old gpx tracks to Lake Mountain. So I was extremely surprised even though we were given warning by friends who passed us on their way out of the hike.

Until then, I had serious doubts that this 10 mile trek was worth it. When you’re tired and grumpy and hangry, nothing seems as nice as it really is. But the sea of larches was enough to satisfy my eagerness to be amongst larches. As you descend the trail, you immerse yourself in a golden haze and perhaps find a small skip in your step. At this point, the sun was starting to set and we were hurrying to get to camp before it really got dark. The wind was howling, we were on the move, wearing our long sleeves and thick layers.

There doesn’t seem to be an official trail to the lake, so we took a higher route to traverse across to the lake. The terrain is fairly simple to follow and downed trees easy to navigate. Just look ahead to know where the path of least resistance is and avoid the thick bushes. As we neared the lake we found two other tents and walked around until we found a suitable spot, not too muddy and not too vegetated. We quickly got to filtering water, setting up camp and by dinner time the sun had set completely. It had been a while since I’ve eaten dinner in the dark. But since it’s fall, the sun sets earlier and even after dinner, it was still a bit early for bed time. We all took our own version of quiet, alone the in our cozy sleeping bags.

Lake of the Woods
Boulder field
Scree field
Pistol Peaks

Just as the sun rose, we awoke to our alarm clocks. We were eager to get a head start on the scramble so we could make it home at a reasonable hour before the work week. Budgeting about 3 hours for the 1600 ft scramble, we left camp shortly after 7am. At least we got a proper breakfast! The next few hours were my favorite of the trip. We followed the larches up to the east ridge of Lake Mountain. In and out of larches, boulder hopping and scree climbing never felt better! There’s no counting how many times I’d stop for pictures, I let the two go on ahead of me.

There’s several ways up Lake Mountain, different gullies of similar difficulty to scramble. We ended taking a slightly different way up and down, but it did not matter. Overall, we considered this a class 2 scramble with route finding since no single move was hard and required hands. At times, it felt like a stair case and other times, there were some loose rock but nothing that would send you rolling down the mountain. The last 500 feet or so of the scramble was fairly snowy but we were able to follow old footprints to minimize getting snow in our shoes. So thanks to them!

The divide between warm larches and snowy northern slopes
Robinson Mountain
Mt Baker in the distance
Monument Peak
Descending from the summit
Class 2 to the larches
Taking on the boulders
Robinson Mountain

Looking to the north face of Lake Mountain, you could see a clear distinction between fall and winter and how much a difference aspect makes for melting snow. All the south and east facing slopes looked relatively snow-free compared to the several inches deep of snow to the north. At the summit we were elated, although the views were socked in at first. Our patience paid off as the clouds quickly passed through and we got great views of the surrounding mountains, all the way to Mt Baker and Glacier Peak. Monument Peak laid behind clouds the whole time with some peek-a-boo views here and there. All around us you could see golden larches dotting the upper half of the nearby mountains.

Heading back down, we retraced our steps, savoring the time within larches, knowing that it would soon come to an end. We packed up camp quickly and the trail back to the car felt longer than necessary but with a speedy river trail, we finished at 5pm on the dot, making much better time than we had going up. We were tired to say the least but I’ll leave with a haiku:

Searching for larches

Golden sea dusted with snow

Dead legs and full heart

  • There is minimal water source along the trail. Only the rives and the lake provide water source (likely through most of the year too).
  • Lake of the Woods is a little lake between Lake and Pistol Peaks. There’s plenty of established campsites.
  • Lake Mountain is a short scramble from Lake of the Woods. About 1600 ft gain from the lake with most of it boulder hopping and going through meadows
  • Not sponsored, but definitely stop by the Mazama store for some yummy baked goods and coffee before your hike!

Photos shot on Canon 5D Mark IV

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