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A serendipitous fall hike into Lake Valhalla

By on October 25, 2017 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments

Sky-piercing Lichtenberg Mountain towers above Lake Valhalla, first lake north of Stevens Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail. Adjacent Mount McCausland is famous for autumn’s blazing red and orange huckleberry leaves that stitch a patchwork quilt of beauty; now blanketed under fresh snow.

By Brad Brisbine

We cherish our annual fall hike.

The colors can enrich our souls until spring (boosted mid-winter with uncut powder on Wenatchee Mountain). Yellow-green, gold, orange and red. All there for our enjoyment; if we “get out.”

My favorite dayhikes are in the Stevens Pass area. Ample precipitation supports huckleberry ground cover, bearing nature’s candy and providing the deepest reds in the sub-alpine and alpine zones.

One of the unique challenges of the fall hike compared to our beloved summer trips is trying to get the team together on the favorable weekend. Some years we postpone to the following weekend for better weather, but lose out completely with an early major snow. I’ve learned not to bank on the 10-day extended forecast.

On the first Saturday of October, five of us were packed and ready to head out to a remote alpine gem at 6 a.m. At 5:30 Neal phoned to say it’s raining in Leavenworth, and a snowstorm was blowing in at Stevens Pass. Reluctantly, we agreed to postpone until the following weekend. Roll the dice.

However, Sunday weather was much improved. Remembering years of being totally aced-out by kicking the can farther into October until too late, I spontaneously jumped in the car at 1 p.m. By 2:15 I was hiking solo up the Smith Brook trail.

The forest was immediately resplendent, with rich, healthy aroma and the sound of trickling creeklets from the day’s snowmelt. Hiking much faster without my standard 50-pound overnight pack, I reached 5,100-foot Lichtenberg Pass at 3:15. Looking down at Lake Valhalla was like visiting an old friend.

Without stopping, I headed half way up Mount McCausland for a good view of the Valhalla lake basin, and hung out for a couple hours taking in the view. I never tire of this place.

Pulling out of the now-empty parking lot at dusk, I reflected on what a blessed, good life we enjoy in north central Washington. A wilderness paradise just an hour’s drive and an hour’s hike away.

A forest clearing provides ample light for the other king of red, vine maple.

The Henry M. Jackson Wilderness straddles 30 miles of Cascade Crest in three counties, sporting 60 lakes.

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