Eagle & Symphony Lakes (June 8-9, 2022)


Our friends Matt and Hannah were visiting from out of town and wanted to “see mountains”. There are mountains just to the east and unlike the Pacific Northwest where I previously roamed, the bottoms of glacial valleys here aren’t covered with view-blocking trees. After picking them up from the airport and a stop at home to repack and resupply (camp fuel can’t be brought on airplanes), we set out for Eagle and Symphony Lakes from the South Fork Valley Trailhead.

The way starts on the south side of the valley with a view of expensive houses built on the slopes farther down the valley. A few side trails departed straight up the hillside along which our trail, well packed and initially wide enough to be a forest service road, traveled before it crossed the valley’s central river at a well maintained bridge.

Hannah & Matt at our first bridge of the day. The valley behind them is “Hanging Valley” which looks pretty well grounded.

After crossing to the north side of the valley, the trail there was a painted rock at the base of a tree. Later in the week, we saw one on another hike several hours away. Maybe it’s a thing someone is doing?

Clown? Pig? Other ideas?

After about three miles, the trail started having muddy sections, usually from water seeping or flowing down from the ridge to the north. There were boards in some places but in most, the trail was significantly braided with most braids still relatively muddy.

Which level of the waterfall would you like to cross?

The mud ended just before a giant rock field. A large cairn marked the start of the rock field, though a bridge across Eagle Lake’s outlet stream provided access to its main body. We explored the nearest reaches of the rock field and didn’t find good camping so went back to the cairn.

Cool optical illusion: The lake seems below its outlet steam.

We set up tents and because my tent is degrading (a pole recently broke) and I want to replace it, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to use the tarp I’d brought as a “group tarp” for making dinner instead of a ground cloth under the tent. Rain was forecast. What came was large drops, slowly at first, then rapidly. These transitioned to hail. The cacophony of hail on the tarp drowned out any attempt at conversation. Water and hailstones pooled in sagging areas of the tarp. When we cleared them every couple minutes, the quantity of accumulated precipitation was always surprisingly large. Eventually there was a break in the clouds and we escaped to our tents for the night. The storm then continued.

After the storm. The white stuff (most noticeable where it ran off the tarp’s long side) is hail. The storm was less than an hour.


In the morning, Matt and Hannah set off across the rock field, now slippery with the night’s rain, to find Symphony Lake. They found a small shelter which was missing its roof and reported that Symphony Lake was the lesser body of water in both size and beauty. I tried climbing the slope above our campsite to get an overview of the area but didn’t quite gain enough altitude to see over the ridge of the boulder field.

Eagle Lake and it’s outlet stream. Symphony Lake is in the center of the picture, but behind a ridge of rocks.

The muddy section was easier to navigate on the way out. Each mud pit had been something of a puzzle on the way in, requiring multiple scouting attempts. Now we knew the secret ways of minimal muddiness and also didn’t care if our shoes got wet as we could change out of them in the car.

Even though this was an out-and-back, there was cloud cover today which changed the light and the recent rain made the valley’s vegetation appear lusher. While I don’t usually enjoy retracing my steps as much as walking a trail for the first time, experiencing the same path in different conditions adds a new perspective which builds on the previous passage, enriching the whole.

All pics

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