I don't know what it is with Seattle, but I can't set foot in that town without immediately finding myself in an adventure. Last time around, I wound up on a boat with friends of friends of friends. Not that I'm complaining, you know. When I see people flinging themselves into fun, and they extend a hand back my way, I'm quick to grab it. So I found myself in the back of a work truck of Uriah, a friend of my mountaineering friend Sarah, heading into the mountains. My train had brought me into Seattle in the afternoon, and we left the city after sunset. They had a plan, I had a camera, and at nightfall we threw packs on and marched into the woods on a trail none of us had hiked before, searching for a lake none of us could see, on a trail that would split, turn back on itself, and finally completely disappear into the remaining high-altitude snow here in the shoulder season of the Cascades.
The hike would be short and steep. Three and a half miles anywhere else and I wouldn't bat an eye, but I'm out here keeping pace with two very strong hikers who are making small talk by telling me about recent vertical ascents in snow and glaciers they've spent time getting to know. Everything is soaked, too. Going higher brings as to muddy climbs where roots are our lifelines. We pass through rock gardens that make me proud of how well my ankles are doing considering I'm only wearing trail runners. But I don't find myself envious of their boots until we finally hit the snow, which the recent warmth and rain is really accentuating my post-holing form. Not wanting to show off, I take breaks from driving my bare ankles a foot down into the snow but slipping and falling on my ass for a few feet at a time.
I'd be lying if I said we weren't all smiling the entire time, pausing occasionally to be in awe of the noble pines that grow here. The reward for this silly hike though comes two-fold in an easy descent back down from the snow line to this lake that we've been worried we already passed for half an hour, and finding only one other tent on its shore. But we're suddenly realizing its after midnight and we still need to make dinner. A fire is in order, and the next hour and a half becomes a comedy sketch as we try desperately to get something bigger than hot coals going with nothing but soaking wet wood all around us. Still, we make due and eat well. I've even managed to bring chocolate along for desert.
My excitement's too high though, and I only get four or maybe five hours of sleep before first light has me out of my hammock and blown away by a white wall of fog the surrounds ourselves and the other still-unknown tent occupants. My phone's dead, of course, but luckily my Fuji is squirreled away in a dry sack and I wander into the chill and mist. Lake Blanca has a waterfall which made for wonderful ambient noise the night before, and I'm keen on bumbling down the side of it with no apparent trail and no one knowing where I am. This is not a smart thing to do.
But halfway down I realize that and turn back finding our neighbors are now awake. They and I exchange pleasantries, and I apologize profusely for any noise my friends and I made coming down to camp last night. They're quick to head out, though, and suddenly this amazing place has been left to my slowly-waking group.
Rock-crossings and log-crossings make up the morning, and I manage to dunk both my feet at least once into the icy lake, but it actually feels right to connect with its turquoise water. And really, it is vibrantly turquoise to a point that doesn't make sense. It makes for a great backdrop to eat a trailmix breakfast while Sarah and Uriah have Fancy Coffee.
But by 11am, day hikers start arriving in large groups and we figure we've hogged this place quite enough and make our way back down.
This trail, while hilariously challenging in the dark, is of course breathtaking in the daylight. The snow crossings which seamed impossible the night before have a clear line through them, but as we make our way down we're passing larger and larger numbers of people heading up. Blanca Lake, it seems, is a really popular destination and a warm Saturday has filled up the trail's parking lot. I feel like my friends are geniuses for heading out Friday night, as our solitude in the beautiful place would have never happened a day later as we pass by nearly fifty people heading up. They all want to know if how much longer it is to the lake, and if it's too foggy.
We're not totally sure how to answer. Our clothes are covered in mud from the night before, but our responses remain positive and we stay vague in assurance that it's worth the hike up.