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Dayhiking To Sheep Lake On The PCT

Hikermama had asked if I had Saturday free for a kidling hike and between that and cleaning out our gutters? Hiking won. Duh!

Being Mid-October it gets tricky finding that last alpine hike of the season before the snow comes, mostly due to the ice that starts forming – where the soil never warms up during the day or well, even gets any sunlight. So I wanted to avoid that as much as possible with the kids. I hadn’t gotten up to Sheep Lake on the Pacific Crest Trail (from Chinook Pass going North) this year and HM had never been there. It is a shy 2 miles each way and overall quite flat (what gain there is very spread out). Her children are 4 and 8, this was the youngest ones longest hike.

On the drive up with Walker (Ford elected to stay home not quite realizing that cleaning gutters is way more work than hiking!) it was quite chilly, with valley fog and then into blinding blue skies. The lowest was 34° but it was 10 am by that point. Once the sun got over the peaks it did warm up to a balmy mid 40’s. No wind so it was quite nice.

For a section that parallels a highway it rarely feels that way – Highway 410 has long been my favorite mountain road here in Washington State due to there being no commercial ventures. From the entrance of Rainier NP down below to Naches on the other side it is just NP and NF – miles and miles of forest and views. So walking the PCT here is scenic, with the views stretching far East.

Once the trail turns in away from the highway it did get chilly and ice crystals in the dirt started showing up. This section often holds snow quite long in early summer. The trail was nicely busy (and by that….there wasn’t a ton of people but you never felt lonely). It seems lots of us said “Hey, last chance! Take advantage!”.

Walker was happily snoozing in his front carrier and I helped HM’s daughter by encouraging her to keep going and before she knew it I told her to look up and we were there. This silver snag has always been the marker for me, it seems so long ago the first time I hiked to this lake.

Sheep Lake (the low notch in the ridge above is Sourdough Gap where the PCT crosses over)

Walker and I:

The ridge that separates Sheep from Crystal Lake basin:

Silver logs floating:

Walker was quite happy and snug in his fleece bunting. I scored a deal on it, $3.50! at the local baby consignment store. With a heavier sleep n’ play outfit under it he was warm even in the shaded areas along the trail. Especially as we hiked out quite late, not getting back to the truck till 5 pm. The temps had dropped back into the 30’s by then and he was never cold. The only thing was he drools so much on his carrier that the drool froze. Hah!

On the way back the peaks across the way:

Looking at Chinook Pass as we hiked back. Naches Peak is on the left. Its chilly North side (of which the PCT runs below) never melted out and looked quite chilly the whole day!

Much of the hike back we listened to squirrels chattering and a hawk flying over us.

The fall colors were very pretty:

As I started the drive home the Eastern Crest was dipping into early night, the sun already behind the peaks. As I mentioned it was dropping fast and getting chilly. A minute later as I drove up and over Chinook Pass back to Western Washington the sun was blazing, temps went up 5 or more and Rainier was shining with new silvery snow. The road was lined with photographers waiting for alpenglow. Walker was exhausted and played contently in his seat while I kept an eye out for elk due to the time of day.