Wow!! It has been a while since we’ve discovered a hike that wowed us like this, especially in the Snoqualmie region. Don’t get me wrong, I love Snoqualmie hikes. They are beautiful and only a short drive from where we live. Granite Mountain, Bandera, and Mailbox peak used to be my go to hikes after an overnight call. But Alta Mountain with the fall colors in full force is something else.
Tricia has been working a lot lately and I have not been sleeping well since a long call two weeks ago. The rhythm in our lives had been messed up. We attempted a hike in the central Cascades last weekend and failed to even find the trail. It was sad and we needed a good hike to make things right again.
We set our alarm to wake up at 7 am for this hike because we wanted to get to friends’ party that evening. When the alarm went off, we just couldn’t get out of bed. In the end, we left the apartment around 9:15. It wasn’t the greatest start, but we were both super thankful for that extra hour of sleep. We arrived to the trailhead around 10:45 am. And it was packed! Cars lined up miles out of the trailhead parking lot. It was a sunny fall day in the PNW: people were out!
We knew that most of these hikers were only getting to Rachel Lake (~4 miles), so we hustled through the first part. The first two miles were a pretty flat. It was mossy and verdant like most of PNW hikes. By the third mile, the trail headed up, gaining 2000 feet of elevation in 2 miles. The fall colors became more and more prominent. Patches of yellow and red vegetations started to appear on the slopes alongside verdant shrubs. Parts of the trail were surprisingly muddy for the fall.
We arrived to Rachel Lake by 12:30 pm. Following a small sign that simply said “trail,” we kept gaining elevation towards Alta Mountain. After a few switchbacks, we found ourselves at a T intersection where the left turn led towards Rampart Lakes and the right turn led towards Alta Mountain and Lila Lake.
The trail splits again soon with one branch heading up towards Alta Mountain and one branch taking a fairly flat trail towards Lila Lake. We followed the wrong trail for 10 minutes before I checked my GPS. The meadow towards Lake Lila was full of fall colors. I snapped a few pictures of Tricia walking the tiny trail in the middle of large patches of red shrubs. We almost didn’t want to turn around, but, alas, Lila Lake wasn’t our destination.
By the time we found the correct trail, it was close to 1:30pm. We found a giant boulder with a good view of Rachel Lake below us and Rampart Lakes in the distance and had a few bites of Clif Bar to recharge our batteries. The trail upward was steep, but it brought us above the treeline very quickly. At that point, we were walking on a ridge.
The view was simply spectacular, or stupidly beautiful in Tricia’s words. The fall colors covered large swath of the hillside; jagged peaks protruding up from the earth like granite shark fins; turquoise lakes dotted the plateau. In the distance, Rainier’s silhouette appeared in and out of the moving clouds. It was surreal.
By 2:30 pm, we made it to the top of Alta Mountain, which provided a 360 view of peaks and valleys in the region. I had a few more bites of trail mix and Clif Bars, and we lingered for 20 minutes in the chilly fall breeze on the top of the world. The hike wasn’t over yet. We still had to get back to the car. Hiking down from Alta Mountain was even more pleasant because not only it required less exertion but it also provided a breathtaking view looking down the valley. By 530 pm, we were back to our car still enjoying the lingering memory of this gorgeous hike.
Thank you, Alta Mountain, for this wonderful fall outdoor adventure. I feel recharged for the coming week of challenging work and perhaps another fall hike next weekend.