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John is an avid hiker, spending a goodly portion of his time up in the hills, or sitting in front of a computer.
Trail Notes: Finding the trail head from the parking lot can be a little difficult. What you need to do is leave the parking lot back to the main road and travel further down it about 1/4 of a mile and watch for the trail on the North side of the road (right hand side). The trail starts off mellow gaining some elevation but is essentially undulating in nature. On this day the weather was quite hot and I was glad to have my sun hat!. For the first hour or hour and a half depending on pace the trail is quite pleasant mostly under the cover of trees though passing through occasional clearing made up mostly of brambles and the like you would expect in clearings.
Eventually the well beaten trail changes demeanor turning into a rough trail/scramble in places. This section leading from the Canyon up towards Rachel Lake is quite steep and tiring. Often hands will need to be be used to climb up the trail and over the rocks and roots crossing it. As you gain elevation views get better and better and Hibox comes into view to the North. Along the way you will pass under what must be a gushing waterfall when under melt. When I crossed here it was not much more than a trickle but still a nice place for a head dunk on this hot day. One thing to note about the section of trail leading up from the canyon to Rachel lake is that there is a yellow jacket nest right off the trail. When I was hiking along here someone was nice enough to have places a note to that effect and a work around trail had been formed. Anyway I missed the note on the way up and found myself busting quite the move as I noticed the nest passing within inches of it. Fortunately this was uneventful in that I wasn't stung :-).
After about 30-45 minutes of this steep tangled trail you reach Rachel Lake. It was simply beautiful. The water has that certain Mediterranean look that is just so inviting. However after a short rest and conversation with this woman of German descent I continued on towards Alta Mountain. Still I wasn’t exactly sure which mountain was Alta mountain. The woman had pointed out this what actually was a mountain Northwest of Hibox proper. I took that at face value.
From Rachel Lake the trail continues quite steeply towards the ridge between Alta Mountain and the Rampart Lakes. The climb is exposed to the sun and on this day quite hot. Fortunately along with the steep climb came awesome views back down to Rachel Lake. The climb to gain the ridge from Rachel Lake takes about 30-45 minutes depending on pace.
Once the ridge it gained the trail splits with one trail going towards the Rampart Lakes and the other trail traveling North towards Alta Mountain and Lila Lakes. I chose the Lila Lakes route as I was interested in Alta mountain. The trail from the junction is quite nice and doesn't gain a whole lot of elevation as you travel for the first 15 minutes or so. During this time, unbeknownst to me at the time is the spur which leads up to Alta Mountain. The spur is the first real trail to the North (left side of the trail) but is not signed and is partially obstructed by several fir trees. At any rate I wasn't even thinking Alta Mountain was Alta Mountain at this point so I continued along the path. Retrospectively one way to tell if you have passed the spur to Alta Mountain is if you get to an exposed boulder field about 500-700 feet across. If you have traveled this far, you have missed the spur to Alta Mountain. However there are alternate ways to Alta Mountain form Lila Lake as you will soon learn.
The trail crosses the boulder field described above and then reaches a level area as the trees begin to recede in favor of alpine meadows. This area is a very nice resting spot offering views of the whole Hibox ridge. It is also quite likely that one could refill rapidly emptying water bottles here in one of the runoff pools. If they are dried up or otherwise unappealing don't worry Lila Lake isn't far off.
The level meadows go on for a short while 10 minutes or so and as you round some rocky slopes Lila lake is exposed a couple hundred feet below every bit as beautiful as Rachel lake without the people. The trail down to the lake is steep though not requiring hands. As the trail nears the lake it becomes a bit broken up as people with varying degrees of interests went to the lake proper. The actual trail itself holds the elevation it is at and rounds the lake to the north. To the North the lake is a very nice place for lunch and some time to enjoy the surroundings. This is what I did.
During lunch I took stock of my thought about going over to what I had up to that point thought was Alta Mountain, but was in fact Hibox ridge. It was getting somewhat late and I knew I had some more miles yet to cover so I decided not to continue along the trail further as it was getting less and less traveled. Instead I turned around and retraced my steps toward the level meadow overlooking Alta lake.
Once I had regained the meadow I noticed an in descript trail leading to the Southwest gaining elevation as it was headed towards the ridge line of the peak overlooking Lela Lake. I followed the trail, it wasn't very difficult. Shortly thereafter this trail gained the ridge and hit a more developed trail leading up towards the peak of what actually is Alta Mountain.
Following this trail is fairly tiring as the slope is pretty steep and one has already traveled quite a bit of distance leading up to it. Still the trail doesn't require the use of hands but in a few spots. What is believed to be the summit from below is actually a false summit but from gaining that point is mostly a traverse. Things keep getting steeper approaching the false summit. The last couple hundred feet are best done with hands just to be sure there are no accidents. Once gaining the false summit you can see the true one off about another 20-30 minutes. The trail here is primitive and the drop offs in places precipitous but not really a significant risk. The feeling you have traveling this section of the trail is that of walking in the clouds. You feel just like you are on top of the world. Also worth mention is that around this area the views are just excellent. You can see Rainier in the distance and you can see the Rampart Lakes across the way.
After traveling the trail a little further you gain the true summit and there is a good place to rest and take in the view. Quite outstanding! It really is very, very beautiful and your chances of having to share it with anyone pretty low. From here it was just a matter of returning to the trailhead. The trick with that and there really is only one is that when you arrive at the junction of the trail I took up from Lila Lake follow the main trail (which is the one obscured by the fir trees and the actual trail to Alta Mountain) and work your way down. I highly recommend this hike. Remember to leave early, bring enough water, and/or water filter and a sun hat!
|Best Time to Hike|
|June through October|
|Hike Time||Difficulty||Rating||Distance||Elevation Gained||Max Elevation|
|8 Hours||12.0 Miles Round Trip||3,800 Feet||6,250 Feet|
|Miles Away||User Rating|
|Alta Mtn. Rampart Ridge||0.0|
|Iron Horse and Annette Lake||5.3|
|Wright Mtn. & Gem Lake||7.3|
|Wright Mtn. & Gem Lake||7.3|
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|Lat: 47.400300000, Long: -121.282000000|
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