The weather was just too beautiful to go to work, so I called in a day of vacation and headed out towards Snoqualmie Pass. Since I would be hiking solo, I wanted to make sure I wasn't pushing myself too hard, so I decided to head up to an area I'd been to before (Rampart Lakes) with the idea of continuing on to the top of Alta Mountain if time allowed.
I started out at the Rocky Run trailhead (not on any maps, but it allows for a direct and quick approach to Lake Lillian), and quickly crossed the waterfall and climbed up to the "real" trail. Shortly thereafter I arrived a pretty little Lake Lillian, perched on the edge of an alpine bowl, and had it all to myself!
After traversing around the lake, and checking out an ideal camp site with it's own rocky shelf beach (have to give that a try next summer!), I headed up to the ridge behind the lake. From there, I dropped down a short distance to the outflow of a small pond, and followed the shoreline of the pond around towards the north. Once again climbing, I headed up to the ridge overlooking Rampart Lakes. I took a quick glance up at Rampart Ridge, and decided to save that for the way back, if there was time. I had my first view here of Alta Mountain - I'd been warned that it had several false summits, and from my vantage point I scoped out and counted 6 - one less than reality, but at least I was somewhat prepared to deal with delayed gratification!
I dropped down the rocky slope to the lakes, and wandered along their east shoreline, still having the entire world to myself! After leaving the lakes, the trail meanders around through a beautiful little parkland, and finally starts working its way north again. From several spots along the trail I was able to look down on Rachel Lake, which is along the more traditional approach to Alta Mountain. The more prominent feature I kept looking at was Hibox Mountain - quite a stunning looking turret or rock. Additionally, there's a fabulous looking slab of rock SE from Hibox - the ground below didn't look littered with scree - maybe it's climbable? I don't see it in any of the guidebooks - maybe it's an adventure awaiting discovery!
Finishing the ridge that connects Rampart Lakes to the base of Alta Mountain, I found a convenient rock to sit on for a bite of lunch. Here, the trail forked, one branch heading straight up the south ridge of Alta, and the other circling out to the east, and little Lila Lakes. I chose the direct route, and started climbing to the first false summit. The trail is a bit steep here and there, but very pleasant to follow. It leads you up and over first one false summit, then another, mostly following the ridgeline, but occasionally straying to one side or the other. Now and then the trail disappears across some smooth slabs - great fun for jumping over!
The views of the surrounding peaks just keep becoming more and more fantastic - Denny, Chair, Snoqualmie, Lundin, Red, Kendal, Thomson, Alaska, Huckleberry, Chikamin, Lemah, Four Brothers, Three Queens, Hibox and more - a stupendous vista into the heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area.
After one too many false summits, I finally arrived on the north end of the ridge and the true summit. Lazing in the sun, I opened the summit register, signed in, and browsed the names. I recognized one of the names - a good friend of mine, Janet Oliver, had been up there just the weekend before. Still having the whole world to myself, and a warm sunny day with a wonderful rocky summit, I couldn't resist lingering to sun bathe on the summit for a half hour before heading for home. I knew I had overshot my turn around time by about a half hour, so it was time to hurry back. Down the south ridge I loped, checking out where the trail that passes through the Lila Lakes area intersects with the path I had chosen. Back along the ridge connecting my route to Rampart Lakes. Here I ran into the only two people I'd see all day - two guys setting up a fishing camp at a beautiful spot on the northernmost lake. Though rushed, I stopped to chat with them for 10 minutes, trading superlatives about the day. I envied them there relaxed mood in such a beautiful place, but if I were going to get back to the truck before dark I needed to hurry.
I moseyed along the shore of the lakes, then climbed up to the pass above them. Checking my watch, and looking at the summit of Rampart Ridge, I decided that if I hurried I could make this a double summit day, and still make it back to the trailhead just before dark. I quickly followed the boot path up towards the ridge, my thighs giving me the first few messages indicating I'd done a fair amount of elevation gain already this day. Still, it was a short distance along the ridge to the north, with great views of where I had been. After a fun little scramble to get to the high point on the ridge, I noticed that the Rampart Lakes were now all in shadow, and it was time to start losing some serious elevation!
I jogged along the trail, and at the point I had come up to the ridge, I spotted a faint boot path that continued along the ridge towards the pass I'd need to return to before dropping back to Lake Lillian. Always the sucker for a "short cut" I decided to forge ahead along the ridge, reasoning that I couldn't possibly miss my turnoff if the path kept going long enough, and that I could always drop back down into the bowl to my left if the going got tricky. Well, the going never got very tricky, although I did have to traverse some loose downsloping slabs that got my concentration levels very high. However, I did miss my turnoff! I can remember looking right at it, and thinking that it didn't look quite right - I must need to continue a bit further. Well, another 10 minutes further, and I was pretty sure I had come too far. Not wanting to compound my mistakes, I dropped down into the bowl I'd been trying to avoid, worked my way back north to the outlet of the small lakelets, and then climbed back up to the ridge overlooking Lake Lillian. It was now pretty obvious that I wouldn't make it back to the trailhead before sunset, but I was still hoping to make it before dark!
Dropping quickly down to the shores of Lake Lillian, I circled around to the SW corner of the lake and started my return along the trail. I'd left a small cairn to mark where the Rocky Run tread intersects with the Lake Lillian trail, and in the dusk I was glad that I had. The Rocky Run trail drops steeply, and therefore quickly, so I was still hopeful there'd be enough light for me to find my way through the final green maze of underbrush without having to resort to an "arms in front of the face" bushwhack. I had guessed correctly, and returned to my truck just as the last of the sunlight was fading in the west - a full and wonderful day!