The Secret to Finding Spectacular Alpine Wonderlands

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Goat Rocks Wilderness

A few years ago I hiked to Warm Lake and the surrounding area in the headbasin of the South Fork of the Tieton River. This is the alpine area below Mt. Gilbert in the Goat Rocks Wilderness of Central Washington. As difficult as it is to imagine, the peaks of Goat Rocks are all remnants of an ancient and very large volcano.

The Trail began in Conrad Meadows, the largest subalpine valley-bottom meadow in the Cascades.

Conrad Meadows

I followed the meadows for over four miles before beginning a series of switchbacks to Surprise Lake. After admiring some mountain goats in the cliffs high above the Lake, I continued around the headwall through wildflower gardens and waterfalls for 1 1/2 miles.

Surprise Lake

At that point a small rock cairn was seen. Now, here comes a secret of how to find the most spectacular alpine environments in the Cascades. The cairn marked the beginning of a rough, scramble trail made by mountain climbers. Peggy’s Pond (below Mount Daniel) and many other “secret” alpine wonderlands can be found by looking for cairns marking the beginnings of rough climbing trails. Or, join a mountaineering club and ask fellow members where the best spots are. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a long-time member of the Mazamas.

Rock cairn marking the beginning of the climbers’ trail

The hard-to-follow trail scrambled up the headwall, passed over a 5,600-foot saddle and entered the headbasin which is wide open for exploration. Meade and Conrad Glaciers were directly in front of me, as was 8,184-foot Gilbert Peak.

Alpine area below Goat Rocks

After taking many photographs, I hiked over to Warm Lake, a popular camping spot for climbers. The name “Warm Lake” is an inside joke – – the lake usually has floating icebergs from the Conrad Glacier for the entire summer.

Warm Lake

I continued to explore the area around the lake and below the glaciers, enjoying the spectacular scenery and wildflowers.

Soon it was time to head back to the trailhead.

For good reason this is considered one of the premier hikes in the Central Cascades, but there is a price: 19 miles and 3,000-feet of elevation gain.

Paintbrush, Lupine, White Rhododendron and Penstemon

Reflections in Warm Lake



Categories: Washington Cascades HikesTags: , ,

1 comment

  1. The photos are gorgeous. I really like the layout of this post, also. Very nice.

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