Rachel Lake — Saturday, Mar. 7, 2015
I am going to make an educated guess that the trail to Rachel Lake is never NOT a beast-it's wild and untamed, with exposed roots and rocks and none of the shiny smooth prettiness that make up some of the trails you'll find in National Parks (and isn't that a beautiful thing??). But right now, with snow that has melted and frozen and re-melted and re-frozen accompanying you the entire way up, up, and up some more, that beast is ready to reach out and take you down every third step or so. And that's after you've spent some considerable time and energy attempting to differentiate between what you suspect might maybe be the trail and what is just a frozen-over old boot track that could lead you heaven knows where. While the road from Kachess Lake Campground to the Rachel Lake trailhead is technically open, you're not going to make it there without a high clearance, 4x4 vehicle and chains. In fact, no one attempting it this weekend did make it there. We spent the first part of our morning shoveling and pushing out a Toyota Camry that was (inevitably) stuck (rueful shake of head) and were passed by a big beefy truck with very capable looking tires that had also just been freed from the grip of the deep, soft snow and was giving up on the idea of making another attempt. We only made it to within about a mile and half of the trailhead before deciding to simply park and hoof it the extra mileage along the road. To give you an idea of the current trail conditions, we think we spent roughly 8.5 hours getting from our car to Rachel Lake (now, that does include some snack and stretching breaks, lunch, and two fairly epic meltdowns by Muse when the "trail" seemed to once again mysteriously disappear or we were faced with yet another "last" push to the top). The snow alternated between soft and mushy (step, step, posthole...step, step, posthole) and slip-and-slide icy, and it was present in its' varying states the entire way up. There was one magnificent blowdown early on that will have you performing some incredible acrobatic feats in order to maneuver through it (or over it, or under it) and several stream crossings that will test the waterproofness of your boots as well as your balancing skills. That being said...The woods are old and lovely, especially with beautiful dappled sunlight streaming through and highlighting all of the moss and undergrowth...the water, which accompanies you almost the entire length of the trail in one form or another, is crystal clear and running strong...the peek-a-boo glimpses of vistas along the way are more than enough to spur you on...and Rachel Lake is nestled within a stunning bowl of craggy rock that is right now covered with untouched billowy snow and surrounded by breathtaking views of the hills and peaks and spires that make up this part of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This is a place well worth returning to when the snow has lost some of its' icy grip and route-finding becomes less of a necessity. This would be an awesome winter adventure for those who are properly equipped (trekking poles and some sort of traction devices are, in our humble opinion, required for a more safe and therefore enjoyable hiking experience), have experience with route-finding and know your way around a map and compass (we only had to pull them out once, but once is enough), and have some sense of what you're getting in to-be mentally prepared to huff and puff your way to the top and allow extra time for all of the unstable footing you'll find yourself enduring. You'll be richly rewarded by Rachel once you've reached her...but the toll is pretty hefty.