Fall has definitely arrived in the Pacific Northwest, almost turning to winter overnight in the mountains. We have been working hard on our school work and needed a break last week – we were happy to see the forecast for a few days of October sunshine. None of our friends were available to come for a hike with us, so we picked a trail off the Mountain Loop Highway that I knew would have a good amount of traffic. We were surprised to see the outhouse was unlocked despite the government shutdown – there was even TP inside (though I’m sure it won’t be restocked, so bring your own if you go!) The last time I came here was when Gabe was just crawling (no surprise that he didn’t remember it). My, how time passes!
The Heather Lake Trail is delightful in many ways. It travels through some mature second-growth, then through a dark and thick forest with no undergrowth. The kids called this section the Mirkwood, and indeed it seemed that their energy sunk during this section, though the proximity to lunch time might have had something to do with that. There is so much water on this trail – streams flowing next to, over, under and on the trail. Only one crossing caused us any consternation, and I think Annika’s boots got overtopped on the way down that one.
The trail climbs 1100 feet in 2 miles, and most of that elevation gain comes in the second mile. Giant steps of rocks and tree roots present a challenge to the quads and knees, and slowed Annika down both up and down the trail. Thankfully, even with all the water, the mud pits were limited to the flatter sections closer to the lake basin. This trail is known for its huge old-growth trees in some sections, and its giant stumps big enough to make a house for yourself.
We took a lunch break after the first half hour, a few snack breaks on the rest of the climb, and sat at the lake for an hour for our main meal of the afternoon. We met several folks out on the trail.
We really enjoyed sitting in the sunshine on the lake shore, soaking in the fall colors, marveling at the clarity of the water, watching some small fish swim by, and giggling at the spiders floating in the light breeze across the lake.
Waterfalls crashed down the cliffs above the basin, and there was one stubborn patch of last winter’s snow in a protected spot up high. Light snow dusted the highest crags from the storm that had come through the weekend before.
After we were refreshed from our food, we continued the loop around the lake. It’s so pretty on the back side, and we enjoyed the boulder fields, the boardwalk, the mosses and lichens, and the fall colors on the sunny slopes. There is a toilet on the left/east side of the lake, and there are several camp sites if you want to stay overnight.
We heard a few pikas sounding their alarms in the rocks. Gabe spotted a red-breasted sapsucker on a tree near the lake. Otherwise we saw and heard very little wildlife. There were many different types of interesting fungi.
The way down took almost as long as it did coming up. The kids were pretty tired at the bottom. But we really enjoyed this hike. No bugs except for a few spiders, moths, inchworms, and a wooly bear caterpillar. Not too many birds, either. We saw several other people out, but all in all, it was a nice quiet day on the trail.