This was a quick trip done on Friday-Saturday to avoid incoming rain. Rachel Lake is a very popular destination, about four miles one way. It’s a gentle walk along the outlet stream until the head of the valley then climbs quickly to the lake. High ROI the entire way.
Anda picked me up after work without ceremony. Our goal was to get to Rachel Lake before sunset and between the drive and the hike there was no daylight to waste. Late starts have forced us to shorten our trips in the past.
This was my first time to Rachel Lake and while I knew it was popular, it seemed like every turnout on the dirt road to the trailhead was occupied with a car. There was only one parking spot in the lot. Day hikers were milling around everywhere.
The first thing I noticed on the Rachel Lake Trail was how closely it follows the outlet stream from Rachel Lake. This means that you’re almost immediately rewarded with a picturesque, rushing water to reward you willingness to step onto a dirt path. No delayed gratification here.
While the trail is gentle at first, it climbs and eventually begins to switchback. This remains close to the stream.
Shortly after starting the climb, a hiker coming down hill stopped to mention that the trail would get hard to follow. There was a little ambiguity in what he was saying but it sounded like the problem was that the stream overran the trail and it was hard to pick which branch of stream to follow.
The trail seemed easy enough to follow, despite several stream crossing, diverging social trails, and a small waterfall.
There’d been a few places where you could make a wrong turn, but there were always clues. Usually the clues were obvious like branches across the social trail telling you not to go there. Eventually, the stream wound up flooding down the trail. The adventure came when we tried to divert onto a social trail to stay dry. We returned to the main trail at a point where several branches of the stream converged and it might not have been clear which one was the trail, if any where the trail at all. Ultimately, the scuff marks on the edge where hikers had tried to keep their feet dry gave a pretty clear indication of where to go.
Eventually the trail turned off the waterway. After nice viewpoint to look back down the valley, we started hitting patches of snow. I’d been expecting snow on the lake, but not on the edges and this was a little concerning. By the time we got to the lake, the trail was pretty well buried, only peaking out here and there to provide hints that the footprints we were following were not those of someone lost. When we came to the lake, however, the low ridge retaining the lake seemed largely dry of snow and devoid of people – our plan to avoid the crowds by coming in early season had worked.
It turns out that there were plenty of people, they were just occupying the campsites. We found them as soon as we started looking for a place to set up. Despite most campsites being occupied, people were polite. We actually had to lower our voices because everyone else was making so little noise. Such good manners in the outdoors community! The one exception to the general peace was a fellow whose dog would bark when people got too close. His dog looked like a slightly larger version of Anda’s dog (which she hadn’t brought) and so this potential disturber of the peace became a friend over a serendipitous and socially-distant supper conversation.
Anda sleeps late by my standards so I had a chance to explore a little and eat breakfast before finding the door of her tent open. The sun was up, though behind clouds. Since Rachel Lake sits above a valley and is retained by such a thin berm, there are nice views away from the lake as well.
Rachel Lake is longer than it first appears and while the outlet stream is small, it was a little tricky to cross without getting wet since snow covered the far bank and crossing required standing on a wet, narrow log. Rain, which had been corralled to the west by the mountains, finally came. It was haltingly at first but made the return trip a little wet.
Things had dried out by the time we were back to the car. A new set of day hikers and overnighters swarmed past us, making me glad we’d visited outside peak times. We were on the road home by noon, an oddly early time to be done with an adventure, but sometimes its good to enjoy the little things in life.