(Note: the first few of these posts were written months ago when I conceived of this conceit, but have been living in my google drive until I worked up the balls to post them. Hence the back-dating.)
Where: Stevens Pass Area off Highway 2 in the Central Cascades
How to get there: a 1 hour 45min trip by car, some gravel road to get to the trailhead but in good condition. In the summer months the Trailhead Direct program takes hikers from the Capitol Hill Transit Station and the Mount Baker Transit Station to some trailheads in the Issaquah Alps and Central Cascades for the price of a standard bus fare ($2.75). This trail in particular is not a part of this program.
Season: Hiking without snow gear is usually accessible in this area beginning in April or May and Lasting until September-October. Check forecasts prior to leaving if you intend to visit in a spring or fall month without snow gear.
Price: A Northwest Forest Pass (annual pass for $30 honored at Forest Service sites in Washington and Oregon) or National Forest Service Day Pass available for $5/car.
It seems like I spend most of my summer hunting for friends and coworkers who are available and willing to go out on day hikes with me. Easy and diverse access to the outdoors is one of the best things about living in Seattle, and in the summer the best way to take advantage of this is to get out to one of the hundreds of trails in the Central Cascades. Because my work schedule allows for it, I prefer to do this on a weekday as the crowds are sparser, but the mountains and the lakes are just as majestic no matter how many other people are on the trail. If you are looking for a good introduction to the kinds of hikes you can find within 1–2 hours of Seattle, the WTA (Washington trails association) website has a great trip planner.
On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend my husband and I headed out of the house at 8am, drove up Highway 2 to the trailhead and got started on our hike up to Mt. McCausland a little before 10am. The parking lot at the trailhead was already full (about twenty cars) but there was plenty of room to park along the road and we found a spot easily. By the time we returned in the afternoon, there were probably twice as many cars parked in the area.
The weather was ideal, sitting around 70 degrees F, as we headed up the trailhead. This hike has a moderate amount of elevation gain and we climbed gradually through the first mile. After hiking through wooded switchbacks for about a mile and a half we merged onto the PCT heading south. We started seeing more through hikers at this point, and the terrain levelled out as we hiked along ridges for the next mile and a half. Wild blueberries and huckleberries grow along this trail and I spent some time dawdling and eating them as we went. There was a cairn at the turnoff to head up to Mt. McCausland, and from there the final half mile is a steep climb. The salve of this climb is that the stunning views of Lake Valhalla below begin immediately and only get prettier as you progress. The top offered a stunning 360 view of the cascades, with Mt Baker visible to the north and Rainier peaking out to the south with many smaller peaks in between. We stopped for lunch up here before carefully picking our way back down to the PCT. Lake Valhalla is just another half mile further down the PCT, and offers campsites and a small sandy beach that is a more popular lunch spot for day hikers. We found a spot not on the beach that was a little more quiet and I climbed out to sit on a log with my feet in the water and drink the beer I had stashed away for just this occasion. The water was cold and clear, as it is wont to be in the glacier lakes. Lichtenberg Mountain loomed overhead, and I had the thought I so often do when I’m out in the wilderness of Western Washington, which is that I never want to leave.