Finding A Cradle Of Liberty
I had been wanting to go back to Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene, located near Index, Washington, for a long time. It had been over ten years since my last visit, prior to when the current (decent) trail was put in. As a side-trip, I wanted to go to underappreciated Philadelphia Mountain. Considering that yesterday the weather was great and I had the day off from work, I thought Philadelphia Mountain might be a good destination. Although technically the mountain can be climbed year-round, it is most recommended to summit during May or June while snow still covers the ground/brush and avalanche danger has passed. Knowing that fellow SPer "Gimpilator" also had the day off, we coordinated the trip together.
We arrived at the Lake Serene Trailhead shortly before 9:00 AM. With the summit route for Philadelphia Mountain being slightly over 5 miles, each way, I set a time-goal estimate of four hours for us. The first 1.6 miles of the Lake Serene Trail went very fast for us, to the point where we seriously questioned the length of that stretch of the route. Granted, the trail was still fairly level for most of that stretch, but I guess time flies when you are having fun socializing. During this stretch, we passed by a lower portion of Bridal Veil Falls as well as a steep waterfall adjacent to the trail.
Although the first 1.6 miles went by fast for us, the last 2.0 miles to Lake Serene did not. We encountered some snow still covering the trail at about 2200' elevation, which would ultimately stay present for us the rest of the summit route. We arrived at Lake Serene at 10:40 AM, after having taken multiple photos and several breaks (including one long break I had to take to make a call at my workplace, due to a mini-crisis at the company I work for). The lake is still very much frozen-over, except for the northern outlet and some gorgeous light blue-colored melt-holes in places along the side-rim of the lake. We took a lunch break and put on our gaiters before continuing.
The Mountain That Loves You Back
From this point on, the summit route for Philadelphia Mountain became an off-trail forest hike. From Lake Serene, it is another 1800' elevation gain and 1.5 miles to the summit of Philadelphia Mountain, although the first 800' elevation gain occurs within the first 1/2-mile from the lake. As we began our forest ascent at 11:10 AM, we could hear numerous avalanches occurring on neighboring Mount Index. Looking up at that mountain, we noticed one of the largest cornices we had ever seen... It probably overhung from the mountain by 50' or more. We headed southeast from the lake's outlet up the steep forested western slopes of Philadelphia Mountain. Shortly after this first forested section, we entered a snow-covered boulder field. We took our time crossing over snowbridges between the massive rocks, making certain not to fall through. It was at this point that Gimpilator took out his ice-axe and led, both of us carefully traversing so not to fall through any unseen rock-wells.
After crossing the boulder field, we re-entered thick evergreen forests that continued all the way to the summit. We crossed one fairly level open area at about 2900' elevation, which might be a potential good backcountry camping spot for some overnight travelers. We continued up the snowy western slopes of the mountain until we reached the upper ridgeline at approximately 3800' elevation. We took a lot of extra time to enjoy the views, take photos, and determine the best routes up the slopes and along the ridgetop. Gimpilator showed me a neat technique to help keep cool; we each put clean snow inside our hats. This helped us keep cool and eased any thirst we had from the climb. We then followed the ridgetop as it headed east, then slightly southeast, until arriving at the summit (4258' elevation) of Philadelphia Mountain at 1:00 PM. Even with multiple stops (mostly for photos), we had maintained our time-goal estimate.
Although the summit is forested and has a fairly low elevation when compared with other peaks in the area, Philadelphia Mountain is definitely at an ideal viewpoint location. From the summit, the views north were spectacular. We could see Mount Pilchuck and Mount Stickney to the far-northwest, Ragged Ridge and the Index Town Wall to the near-northwest, the peaks along the Mountain Loop Highway to the far-north, and some peaks (most notably Merchant Peak, Gunn Peak, Iron Mountain, Heybrook Ridge, Jumpoff Ridge) of the "Sky Peaks" region of Wild Sky Wilderness to the northeast. From this northern viewpoint the convergence area of the North Fork and South Fork Skykomish Rivers could be seen, including an amazing view angle for Sunset Falls. The views south were also amazing, albeit more difficult to recognize the peaks from that angle. Mount Daniel and Mount Hinman were the most recognizable to the far-southeast, but eventually we also saw Bare Mountain, Frozen Mountain, Mount Phelps (McClain Peaks), and most notably the long west-east ridgeline containing Red Mountain (5576'), from this unique viewing perspective. Also at the summit, we found several locations where we could see Mount Index and Mount Persis looming nearby west of Philadelphia Mountain. We left the summit at 1:40 PM and took advantage of multiple standing-glissades, and eventually arrived back at the parking area at 4:15 PM. We celebrated our successful summit with a salad bar buffet (yummy!) at Alfy's restaurant in Monroe. The trip was a lot of fun and I had a great hiking partner to share the experience with. This is a highly recommended summit hike.