Monday, October 9, 2023

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

I usually associate the coming of fall with fiery orange and deep crimson leaves, but this October has been fully yellow. When the sun hits the trees just right, you find yourself standing under a canopy of molten gold, and the world around you feels hazy and magical.

That was my experience this weekend hiking in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, near North Bend. 

Home for the weekend

Like we did in August, Matt and I booked ourselves a cute little rental and spent a four-day weekend soaking in this gorgeous PNW-October.

Snow Lake Trail

6.7 miles, 1699ft elevation gain

On Saturday we took on the Snow Lake Trail, which I learned after the fact had been on Matt's to-do list since we first moved out here. I was not mentally prepared for the taluses we'd have to pass. 

But that view though

They were made much more challenging by Zoe, who really wanted to pull me along faster than I could find easy footing. Once Matt took over the leash, I found this trail much more doable, although I'd still rate it a moderately challenging hike.

The rock slides, man.
The first mile or so was through lush, colorful forest. As we climbed, though, the trail gave way to rock slides (taluses) and steep steps. It was in the high 70s and sunny, and we didn't have much shade along the ridge. The trail was pretty narrow in spots and very crowded. Zoe did so well passing other dogs on the trail, but I wouldn't say it was really the most immersive experience.

It's hard to lose yourself in the beauty of nature when you're constantly skirting around strangers.

Around mile 2 we stopped to eat. (We did something really smart this weekend –  packed real food. It can be hard to figure out a good gluten free lunch that packs easily on a hike, but North Bend has a Jersey Mike's and the #6 proved to be the perfect solution to this problem.)

The first glimpse of the lake from the switchbacks made it all worth it.

About 2.5 miles in I wanted to quit. By then, though, we'd basically reached the ridge. We followed about a mile of switchbacks downhill to the lake in question.

Mountain lakes are really something else
I finished my sandwich while Matt got his feet wet and Zoe unlocked a new instinct and showed us she could doggy paddle at the mere suggestion she may land in water.

The hike back down was a breeze. The sun was setting and we got lots of shade and cool air.

The views on this hike were absolutely gorgeous, but this isn't really my favorite type of hike. The one we did Sunday, though...that one checked all my boxes.

Pratt Balcony Trail

2.5 miles, 626ft elevation gain

My legs were toast after Snow Lake, so we opted for a short hike on Sunday. Matt found a few options and I chose Pratt Balcony. It was an excellent choice.

The green. The seclusion. The quiet. The green. The rock formations. Did I mention the green?

I loved everything about this trail –  my only complaint is that it was too short! We started along a narrow trail that felt almost...informal? Like enough people had just walked single-file through the grass to form this sort of unofficial mud-and-rock trail that eventually led to an actual trailhead.

At one point, I said it felt like walking along a dried up creek bed.

Is this path straight out of The Hobbit or what?!

Once we hit the more densely packed part of the forest, the trail widened. There were lots of cool stepping-stone paths, felled trees, and moss-covered rock walls. The moss was so vibrant, so jewel-toned. The whole hike was a celebration of eye-candy.

At the top, we had the most amazing payoff: the view of the Snoqualmie River below and the mountains ahead. 

A very good girl.

We actually ran into another group of hikers at the top, who had a dog with them that looked just like Zoe, but taller. They said hello, and then that group left us to enjoy the view on our own.

We had lunch and took our time at the balcony. When we hiked back down, we took a slightly different route to add some mileage and a change of scenery.

The road into the national forest is full of little turn-offs where you can stop to find a trail or go down to the river. Before heading home, we pulled into one of those spots and set up the hammock.

I took this from a rocking hammock, hence the angle

This weekend was a nice little getaway and I'm so happy we got a some hiking in while the weather was nice. North Bend isn't far from Seattle, but it feels good to book a stay somewhere and get away from home for a bit. Being somewhere else just makes the time feel more purposeful.

We probably won't get another vacation (or hike) in before the new year, so I'm glad this one was so perfect.


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