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Talapus Lake provides a lesson in winter hiking

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

My little dog Benji and I ventured an hour outside Seattle to explore another famed alpine lagoon, Talapus Lake. The drive there was just as gorgeous as the hike itself and took us through Preston and past North Bend, where the colors of fall have held on just a little longer than the rest of the state. My anticipation for our trek grew as we drove past groves of golden trees, but at the turnoff point, the colors seemed to fade into a menagerie of greens.

The hardest part of the terrain was the mile and a half of unpaved road leading to the parking lot and trailhead. I had to take the final leg of the drive in my ancient Honda Civic as slowly as possible. At one point, we bounced over a pothole and made eye contact with Jesus before the car landed back on the ground with a thud. I'm sure the Subaru Lesbians wouldn't have the same experience.

When we finally made it to the trail, I was immediately struck by how green everything was. The air was thinner that far up the mountain, and whatever autumn beauty may have befallen Talapus Lake had since faded away. Still, the greenery was breathtaking. Moss grew on everything. The trail was framed by ferns and a smattering of mushrooms.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

This hike was a forager's paradise: mushrooms of all sizes and colors dotted logs, rocks, and shady spots under the tall trees. Having skipped lunch, I considered snacking on a few myself, but the lack of Wi-Fi on the trail, combined with my terrible foraging skills, led me to abandon this idea. My grumbling stomach did, however, keep the bears away.

Though we made it to the trail on a rare sunny day, it was still dark and damp. The thick tree canopy blocked most of the sunshine from hitting the path, making it feel much murkier than it was. I noted the eerie darkness and made sure not to delay, as I would not recommend getting stuck on the path at night.

Despite not encountering rain on our hike, the trail was still muddy and slick. I was careful to watch my footing, especially when getting close to the rushing river and magnificent falls just off the path. We encountered a small footbridge as we neared the lake, which Benji crossed with much more confidence than I could muster. Unless hiking Talapus Lake Trail in the summertime, good traction hiking shoes are a must.

Aside from the lake, the best part of this hike was the breathtaking views of the mountain peaks in the distance. For the first time this season, we were surprised to see snow coating them like a fresh sprinkling of powdered sugar. (Did I mention I skipped lunch to do this hike? I would not recommend doing that.)

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

After a mile and a half, we finally reached Talapus Lake. The clear water reflected the light blue sky and snow-capped hills above and provided a calm serenity even my hunger couldn't dissipate. There's something uniquely peaceful about a lake in the wintertime — no fish or bugs jumped about, and even the birds seemed to take a moment of silence.

Ever the swimmer, Benji took one step in the water and decided it was far too cold. The whole hike was a bit chilly in fact. Though I layered, I hadn't prepared for the temperature drop from the increased elevation. Benji was warm in his sweatshirt, but I would have preferred thicker pants and socks.

The cold didn't really get to me until the trek back, though. As the sun set, the temperatures plummeted. Even though we picked a sunny day to head to the mountains, the trail was still soggy, and cold mud seeped through my socks. There were a few instances where we could not avoid stepping into a shallow patch of water or two, and the dry air combined with an alpine breeze only seemed to exaggerate the frigidity.

Despite the cold, this hike was a great introduction to the winter hiking season. Snow-capped peaks in the distance, a smattering of toadstools, and one gorgeous reflective lake made this mossy wonderland feel enchanted. The chilly mountain air was a great reminder that winter is just around the corner.