Well, the snow was terrible and the trail was crowded but we managed to find some quiet moments and spent some much-needed time in unexpected sunshine. Despite its modest stats, it’s still a workout with all the ups and downs in each direction, and the view is great. The biggest downside is the long walk from the car to even start the hike.
We wanted to avoid the chaos of the changeover time around 12 noon for the day passes that we’d experienced last week so we turned up around 1 pm instead. Big mistake: there were no parking spots left along the road which meant we ended up in the bottom parking lot. (Plus the traffic getting over the Second Narrows bridge was awful at this time of day.) Phooey. Parking in the lower lot puts you 1.6 km (1 mile) from the trailhead with about 100 m of elevation gain, which makes the hike 60% longer than expected based on guide books.
Our route took us along the First Lake trail that met up with the path to Dog Mountain at the lake, then out to the viewpoint before returning on the Dog Mountain trail. The route was marked with poles which were mostly unnecessary given the numbers of hikers who have trod this route. The snow was hard packed but with a loose sugary layer on top. Microspikes were kind of useful, especially on uphills and downhills, but weren’t strictly necessary. Off-trail the snow was dense but not supportive and snowshoes would be a good idea to prevent postholing. Alas we only brought microspikes so we were forced to stay on the trail. Even so, on the First Lake trail was not as well trod as the Dog Mountain route and, at one time or another, all four of us postholed – up to our knees or further – on or at the edge of the trail. Fortunately we all avoided injury.
The First Lake trail was nice and quiet. By comparison, the Dog Mountain trail was exceptionally busy. Added to the fact that the trail was narrow, it meant that there were numerous hold-ups as we got stuck behind slower groups or had to try and play a game of chicken with oncoming hikers to see who would actually yield. (Hint: let uphill hikers go first!) Most dogs were leashed though there were the usual landmines on and off the trail. Please pick up after your dog, especially if it goes on the trail!
Wildlife: ravens in the parking lot and at Dog Mountain, whisky jacks and chestnut-backed chickadees at Dog Mountain. Of course, all three species were being fed. Sigh.
Distance: 8.5 km
Elevation gain: 310 m
Route on AllTrails
- 🙂 Unexpected blue skies and sunshine
- 🙂 Seeing a cloud inversion and watching the mist drift through the trees
- 🙂 Watching a pair of ravens allopreening in the top of a tree
- 🙂 Getting out with friends is always good!
- ☹️ Very busy, the narrow trail felt quite claustrophobic at times and trail etiquette was often lacking
- ☹️ Parking at the bottom adds a lot of distance!
I was actually quite looking forward to a misty, atmospheric hike through the trees to a viewless overlook. The rain would have stopped, and I was sure there would be birds to photograph at the end too. We’d been invited to join our friends Ashra and Keith on today’s adventure, an invitation we happily accepted. We met in the lower parking lot, as far from the trailhead as you can get and began plodding up the road under unexpectedly blue skies.
Yes, the clouds had parted, the mist had drifted away, and now we had a sunny hike to look forward to. For a moment I was actually a little disappointed as I was looking forward to seeing the trees in the mist, but then I remembered that we would have a nice view to make up for that. Plus, there would undoubtedly still be birds hanging out at the viewpoint and I was looking forward to getting some raven or whisky jack photos.
It took us over twenty minutes to reach the trailhead and we stopped to pull on our microspikes. Well, everyone except me. For some reason I decided I’d forego them today – as it turned out, we were all wrong. We chatted briefly with one of the parks ambassadors who advised us of the snow conditions and had us thinking that perhaps we should have brought our snowshoes after all. Well, not much we could do about it now so off we went, bypassing the turn to Dog Mountain and climbing the hill up past the Tim Jones memorial to reach the turnoff to First Lake.
The snow was – shall we say – not great. Sure it was hard-packed on the trail but with a loose sugary layer churned up by the passage of so many hikers. Even microspikes couldn’t prevent slipping at times. Turning onto the First Lake trail we soon saw the wisdom in the words of the park ambassador: this trail was nowhere near as hard-packed and we all took turns postholing, usually at the edge of the trail but sometimes right in the middle when you least expected it. I wouldn’t describe it as fun, and in fact it added a little trepidation to our steps, but we persisted, slipping and sliding our way on the meandering trail towards the lake.
The recent deluge had caused the snowpack to shrink considerably since our previous visit of only a week ago and quite a few of the creeks were running clear of snow, thankfully well off the trail for the most part. It’s always a bit disconcerting to hear running water when you’re on snow, just in case it’s flowing beneath your feet under a snow bridge of unknown integrity. We did have to cross one creek and were soon at the lake. Rather than take the trail around, I forged ahead over the lake, tentatively at first to test the snow but it was clear that the snow was solid, more so than on the trail. An icy crust had melted in the sun and was reforming over the snow and we felt some very cold air sinking towards this low point which kept us moving.
As we reached the other side I made a move against my better judgement, following a shallow trench in the snow which I suspected was the edge of the lake, perhaps even a creek. After all, many people had walked it before me so why shouldn’t it hold us too? Well I was okay, postholing only slightly, but Keith went through with both feet, right into the water below. Crap. Unfortunately that left him with wet feet and we stopped for a few minutes to discuss the best thing to do. In the end we were sorry to see him make his way back to the trailhead where he could find somewhere warmer to sit, while the three of us continued on towards Dog Mountain. I felt really guilty about that and wished I had taken the safer and more direct route to rejoin the trail. Next time…
Now on the main trail to Dog Mountain we found two things: the first was that the trail was now much easier to walk on, and the second was that there were so many people. So. Many. People! At times we were held up behind slower hikers who were struggling on the less-than-ideal snow and it took some effort to get past. To be honest, I was feeling a little claustrophobic and was on the verge of losing it and trying to run past everyone. Alas, that would have got me nowhere today as stepping off the trail meant sinking to my knees or beyond. Instead we relaxed a little, taking advantage of stopped groups to pass whenever possible, and just enjoyed the ups and downs of the trail.
It wasn’t too long before we reached Dog Mountain, passing that fantastic enormous hemlock just before clearing the trees. We stepped out into hazy sunshine and a view over a sea of fog blanketing the city. Now that was unexpected! We picked our way through the throng of hikers to find a spot to ourselves and took in the view. A gap in the trees gave us a direct view over to the parking lot and beyond to Mounts Shuksan and Baker. Below us, the fog drifted among the trees and I was reminded of a similar sight on one of our last visits to Dog Mountain (way back when we had just got permanent residency in Canada). It was stunning! I switched to the telephoto lens and spent a few minutes taking pictures of the trees in the fog, bathed in warm afternoon light. I found myself wishing I’d brought a tripod so I could make a time-lapse video to see the fog ebb and flow among the trees. Next time…!
Despite the crowds, we managed to tune them out and just enjoyed where we were, soaking up the welcome warmth of the sun. Ravens and whisky jacks flew from tree to tree, occasionally swooping in to accept some misguided offerings from hikers. To my surprise, a small flock of chestnut-backed chickadees was also getting in on the act – that’s a first for me, and a sign of just how much these birds get fed. Sigh. If only people understood why it’s a bad thing. The trouble is, it’s just too good of a photo-op, or people have a misplaced sense of wanting to feed them. I dunno. I vowed to ignore it so it wouldn’t bother me too much.
Over to the west lay the jagged peaks of Crown Mountain while mist hung below, filling Lynn Valley and spilling through the dips in the Lynn Peak ridge into the Seymour Valley. Further west, a few wisps of cloud tried to hide Brunswick Mountain and Mount Harvey. Around to the north, soft light played on Coliseum and Burwell. As I sized up a photo, I could see where the recent rains had carved lines into the snow, highlighting all the features in the landscape. Quite different from the soft snow-flecked trees of last week!
A pair of ravens came to visit, first eyeing us up from the top of a nearby little cedar, then dropping down onto the bare rocks in search of tidbits. I followed them with the camera, snapping away as they wandered about. The two then flew up and alighted in a nearby treetop and began preening one another – allopreening – all the while making soft croaks and coos to one another. Wonderful!
I could have spent the rest of the afternoon here watching the light change and photographing the ravens, trees, mountains, and fog but it was time for us to head back. One last look and, as we scanned the horizon, we spotted Mount Rainier again, faint but distinctive. We ducked back into the forest and wandered our way back towards First Lake, shivering in the chill air as we passed by. Then over the bridge and onto the trail back to the trailhead, passing more groups still on their way out. A nearby cliff below Dinkey Peak still had the remnants of some impressive icicles hanging from an outcrop though they were melting fast.
A short time later we reached the ski run and walked back to the trailhead in the last of the light. As we walked back across the parking lot we caught a glimpse of Mount Baker lit up with pink sunset light, highlighting all the features on its western flanks. It was a lovely way to end a fun little hike. Then it was back down the road to the car, and we met Keith again down at Parkgate Mall, where we discussed ideas for the next time out in the snow before saying our farewells. Despite the mishaps and the crowds, it was an enjoyable hike and it’s always nice to spend time with friends. And who can ever complain about sunshine in winter?