Chain Lakes Trail – Mt. Baker Wilderness

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I finally have to say good-bye to summer. I dragged summer through September because I wasn’t ready to move on. Our summer was pretty lame around here. It rained a lot and never got very hot. At the end of September I visited my brother and went for the best hike I’ve ever done. Even better than the ones I took last spring, here, here, and here. First, I had a hiking buddy this time. My sister-in-law chose the hike for the two of us. A long 8 mile hike up and down through the mountains in the wilderness in black bear country. Second, the views were amazing. Something from the movies. Or a postcard. Indescribably gorgeous. And serene. And quiet. If you stopped and listened, you heard nothing! Not a car, not a TV, not a voice, not a phone. Nothing. Third, I was in much better shape. I even got adventurous and tried some running. Walking on the trails is hard enough not to twist an ankle. Running was a little scary! But fun.

Most of the trail was single person wide. Quite a bit of it was slippery mud. The rest was rocks, ranging from gravel all the way up to boulder climbing. Being in the mountains, there were plenty of stream crossings. Most were about 1-2 ft across with 1-3 inches of flowing water. Most of the trail was decorated with wild blueberries, a little past their prime, but still very edible.

We started at about 4700 ft elevation. The air was thin and took some getting used to. We went up and down a lot. Our first peak height reached was about 5200 ft. Then back down to about 4700 ft around the lakes. Our second peak height was about 5500 ft, then down to about 4200 ft around another lake. Then back up to the car.

Enjoy the views with me:

Looking back on the trail that came straight across that steep slope.

Looking back on the trail that came straight across that steep slope.

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I ran alongside this rushing, babbling waterfalling mountain stream-river. How cool is that?

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Uhoh, which way does the trail go?

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Piestewa Peak

Pie-ESS-tuh-wuh.

Start elevation: 1410 feet
End elevation: 2618 feet
Trail distance: 2.4 miles round trip
Formerly known as: Squaw Peak

I climbed this peak about ten years ago and enjoyed it so much I put it on my bucket list to climb it again. I got the opportunity to do so last week. I didn’t remember it being so difficult! It was more difficult than my two previous hikes, Bishop Peak and Rocky Peak. It was a higher elevation change over a shorter distance as you can see from this simple graph.

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There were some other notable differences with this hike than the other two. The day I hiked was much warmer than before because of the location. It was also much more crowded. I think this was due to it being spring break time, but I do know this trail is very popular in the area. The crowded trail took away some of the serenity of the scenery.

The trail was much narrower than the fire road on Rocky Peak and narrower also than most of Bishop Peak. I had to keep stopping to let faster hikers past because I was one of the slowest on the trail.

This trail was similar to Bishop having rock “steps”, although there were more and most were a very high step. Unfortunately trail-makers don’t adhere to building code requirements for steps having a maximum rise of 7 3/4 inches. This is a great workout, but also hard on the knees, especially on the descent. My knees felt a lot of pain and by the end were very weak. Funny, how I think I can’t go any more. When you’re on a trail on a peak, you don’t have much choice but to keep going and, of course, I make it all the way in one piece without dying. I may have been slow and huffing and puffing, but everyone, even the athletic types were breathing very hard through the hike, it was that strenuous.

Another difference here on this trail is that a lot of the rocks were very ragged and sharp. The views were again gorgeous.

The rocky trail steps

The rocky trail steps

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Looking back down

Looking back down

I stopped frequently just off the path like this woman did. Sometimes it was just so crowded on the trail! But the reason I took the picture was to capture the beautiful Ocotillo in bloom:

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Ocotillo

Resting place early in hike

Resting place early in hike (see the sharp rocks)

Up, up, up

Up, up, up

Nice view of the saguaro cacti dotting the hillside. If you look closely, you can see the tiny parking lot where I parked (far right, middle):

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Saguaros

Nearing the summit. The trail is getting much steeper and much rockier. We need to go up to the left peak yet:

Nearing the summit. The trail is getting much steeper and much rockier

Near the top, looking down.

Near the top, looking down.

The very top, at the summit. The top is all rocks. From this point you can see around 360 degrees. I was standing to take this picture, but I sat down for awhile in this spot. While I was sitting there I spied a squirrel scrambling in the rocks to the left of that woman sitting there. I was amazed a squirrel would be so high up in such a barren, rocky area. Maybe people leave crumbs from snacks that he was looking for?

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The summit

Rocky Peak

Last week, while on vacation, I was able to get in another great hike up a hill/mountain, Rocky Peak. My husband had a full day of work, so I took off on my adventure while he worked. Using outdated directions, I endured a drive along a mountainside with a steep drop off to the left. This time there was no downhill, just a scary drop off. But it was not necessary as I found out the freeway I had taken actually had an exit right at the trailhead. The five parking spots at the trailhead were taken so I parked in the alternate parking on the other side of the highway. It was a bit rough for me walking across the freeway overpass back to the trailhead with my fear of heights, but it was a short walk.

Difficulty: Strenuous
Start elevation: 1,571 feet
End elevation: 2,657 feet
Distance: 5 miles round trip
Time: 2 hours 45 minutes

I read a comment on the internet to watch out for rattlesnakes. I knew this, but didn’t like being reminded. And then as I started the hike, I was greeted with this notice:

Mountain Lion Country

Mountain Lion Country

I could see I was in for an adventure. Not only did I need to watch out for rattlesnakes but also mountain lions! I really find it a lot of fun to push myself into uncomfortable territory. It’s where I can see knew things, learn new things and have awesome experiences.

The Rocky Peak trail is a fire road. I’m not sure what that means, but I would guess it’s somehow referring to the many wildfires they have. Shortly after starting out there were already great views as the internet promised. Here is a picture early on in the hike that is looking down on the freeway that I came on:

View early in the hike

View early in the hike

This path was quite a bit different than the one at Bishop Peak. There were no “steps” but a continuous, gradual incline. The ground was very uneven and rocky. But the path was wide. I did not encounter many people, so the whole hike was pretty peaceful and serene. Here are some photos of the path:

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^^ Up! Way up! ^^

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^^ Looking back down ^^

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Here’s the view about halfway up. Breathtaking:

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The rocks were intriguing. Each one was different and they came in all different sizes and shapes. Here’s a cool-looking bunch:

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Many times the view included a look back at the fire road you had hiked to get where you were. It looked so far away:

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And here’s the amazing view from the top. At this point the fire road keeps going down the other side and along other peaks. About halfway on my way back down the trail, a woman passed me. She told me she had started out about 5 hours before me and had taken the trail “way back in”. Wow, that’s a hike!

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