Despite getting rained on twice and being surrounded by clouds nearly the entire trip, this was one of my favorite hikes. The dogs and I visited dozens of alpine lakes, saw tons of marmots and hawks, and experienced a unique climate created by converging cloud fronts of precipitation and smoke. We were even lucky enough to spend an hour or two above the clouds on the summit.
We started off under thick clouds from the unofficial trailhead at Rocky Run Creek off NF road 136. I glimpsed a tent through the fog on the way past Lake Lillian and encountered a lone hunter clad in blaze orange on the trail above the lakes. On the way up Rampart Ridge the cloud front from the west poured over the ridge and into the valley below and I could smell occasional pockets of warm smoky air rising up from the east. From the summit we scrambled down the boot path to the east and back into the clouds, continuing along the steep trail to the Rampart Lakes.
Lake Lillian Alta Mountain in the clouds above Rampart Lakes
A web of paths weave among the Rampart Lakes on the way to the Rachel Lake, becoming Rachel Lake Trail 1313. From here we headed toward Lake Lila and Alta Mountain. At about 5400' the distinct north-to-south ridge of Alta Mountain became visible and shortly after that a trail appeared leading towards it.
Alta Mountain trail and the first of many false summits
I was well prepared for the many false summits from the trip reports I had read. Even so, I was fooled at least once. At about 5800' we emerged above the clouds and it quickly became t-shirt and shorts weather. There is one spot just after the true summit comes into view where I had to assist the dogs down a 6 foot drop with some serious exposure on all sides, but other than that the trail was easy to travel.
An impressive cairn adorns the summit. Box Ridge, Chikamin Ridge, Huckleberry Mountain, Alaska Mountain, and Mount Thomson were all visible allthough heavily shrouded in smoke from the wildfires to the east. We enjoyed the summit for well over an hour, basking in the sunshine, and were joined for a while by two gentlemen who had camped a Lake Lila the night before. We watched the sea of clouds from Gold Creek Valley slowly rise up and over Alta Pass, spilling into Box Canyon like a waterfall.
Here is a video of the cloud movement,
and one taken on the summit
This was an unforgettable trip, made all the better by relatively small crowds along the trail. Rainy day hiking in Washington occasionally has its perks!
A WORD OF WARNING:
There is a maze of trails in this area making it very easy to get lost. I highly recommend that anyone attempting this hike or anything through the Rampart Lakes bring with them a reliable contour map and compass, and the knowledge and experience required to use them.
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