I’ve spent the past few years hiking a lot in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness near Snoqualmie Pass. For me it’s about a 2 hour drive and from where I live that’s about as short a drive as I can find to get to quality summits so I’ve been exploring the area thoroughly. However Alta Mountain never seemed all that appealing to me and I’m not sure why. So… it went to the bottom of the list. I was on my way to yet another summit of Red Mountain when I decided half way there, you know what… let’s do something different! So I decided to reroute and make Alta Mountain my destination, and I’m sure glad I did!
I had been up the Rocky Run backdoor trail up past Laura and Lillian Lakes towards Rampart Lakes last year with my 1 year old and it was pretty spectacular with fall colors. Since the Rocky Run approach takes about 1.5 miles off the trip each way compared to the Rachel Lake trailhead I decided to head back and take the back door approach to Alta Mountain. I arrived at the trailhead about 6:20 Sunday morning with a half dozen vehicles there, likely backpackers. I hit the trail and made my way up the fairly steep trail. About a half mile in I came across a couple deer prancing through the foliage. Rather than walking through the terrain they were basically jumping over one bush, then another, then another. They heard me and turned to look. I took some video and we stared at each other for a minute or two before I left them in peace. The trail up to Lake Lillian is pretty steep and gets straight to the point. Eventually I reached the lake where there were a couple groups of campers waking up for the morning. A layer of fog was swirling and lifting from the lake. It was a great morning to be in the mountains!
I made my way up past Lake Lillian up another steep section of trail to the top of the ridge. This is where things really got good. As I made my way towards Rampart Lakes the scenery was stunning! It was only August, but the conditions looked like they did when I was in the area last October. Such a strange year 2015 has been. Fall colors were out and they really made the trail gorgeous. It gave me a warm feeling strolling through all the colorful foliage towards Rampart Lakes. Eventually I reached the ridge crest and descended to the Rampart Lakes basin. It was my first time in the lakes basin and it was pretty spectacular. And crowded! There were tents and campers everywhere! In the 10-20 range if I had to guess, but rightly so. The Rampart lakes area is stunning! I chatted with a few campers who were having breakfast and picking out goats high above on Rampart Ridge as they ate. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning! I however, continued on towards Alta Mountain.
I had to use my GPS to find the right trail as there are a myriad of trails through the Rampart Lakes. Once I found the right one I made my way up the south ridge of Alta Mountain. Shortly before the first false summit I ran into a group of three young men and a dog. We chatted a bit before parting ways. A few minutes and a couple of easy scramble moves later, I reached the summit of Alta Mountain! I was blown away by the scenery! The summit views drop down over 3,000 feet to the valley below and expand in all directions to some pretty spectacular views. I spent a good 50 minutes up there watching fog and clouds clear from the surrounding peaks, listening to the wind and the silence, and appreciating being able to spend time is such an amazing place. I have to admit, I severely underestimated Alta Mountain and was grateful I decided to change my destination at the last minute earlier in the morning.
The descent was pretty straightforward. I was able to snap a few more pictures to the east as the sun had risen enough to lessen the glare in that direction. I made it back to the car around 12:45 pm for about 6 ½ hours car to car at a nice leisurely pace. 9.1 miles and 3500 ft gain according to my GPS which is always a little off. It was a wonderful trip and another beautiful day in the mountains!