Wagonwheel Lake Trail
I've been a summer/fall hiker most of my life, but the last couple years I've been branching out into trips that include more snow travel to increase the length of my hiking season. This spring I've spent a lot of time in the Olympic Mountains trying out familiar trails, but in snowy conditions. After hiking up the Brothers trail, Valhalla Peak, and Mount Ellinor, a friend and I decided to try something familiar and yet unfamiliar at the same time. It has been well over five years since I've done the Wagonwheel Lake trail leading out of the Staircase area of the Olympic National Park, and while that portion of the trail is familiar to me I have never continued on to the summit above the lake. After reading a recent trip report I felt confident about the conditions I could expect and headed out to the trailhead early Saturday morning.
Wagonwheel Lake Trail
After picking up my friend in Olympia, we arrived at the trailhead at about 8:20 am and started heading up. I remember this trail as being very steep from previous trips but it didn't seem too bad this time around. It was a little chilly when we started but after a few switchbacks it got hot enough that I stopped to remove my coat. A couple switchbacks later we passed a couple hikers who were on their way to a Copper Mountain attempt. We continued on up the trail and had to navigate around a couple downed trees which weren't too challenging. After a little over an hour we reached the clearing at about 4000 ft where there was still quite a bit of snow. We stopped to put on microspikes and pulled out our axes for the traverse across the slope. The snow was very firm. I was glad to have my spikes and axe and they were relied heavily upon. I was fine in my spikes and boots, but the slope was steep enough that my friend's spikes kept slipping around his shoes which made crossing a little tricky but we took our time and made it across just fine. After traversing across the snow covered clearing, the trail was patchy snow and dirt for another tenth of a mile or so until the lake. Wagonwheel Lake was still under snow but was beginning to show a ring of water around the perimeter of the lake as it melted. We crossed the outlet stream and headed uphill towards Cub Peak. The slope heading up to the summit was beginning to melt and we were even able to find the trail in between patches of snow. A short while later the summit was within sight!
Olympics Come Into View
Silver Snag - Cub Peak False Summit
Well, the false summit that is. I've heard of this location referred to as Silver Snag in reference to the dead timber on the summit plateau. While this is not the true summit of Cub Peak, this is where we stopped today. I started the scramble over to the true summit but snow conditions on the ridge over to the summit block deterred me and I decided it wasn't worth it. I headed back to a melted out area and we sat, had lunch and tea, and admired the scenery. It was a gorgeous day, accentuated by the spring snow cover on the surrounding peaks. Unlike a lot of other summits around the Lake Cushman area, this one is much more of a wilderness experience. We had the whole place to ourselves and couldn't see any signs of civilization. No cities or buildings, no clear cut, just pristine Olympic Mountain views. I gazed longingly over toward Copper Peak which looked fabulous from this view point. I had considered going over to Copper to make for two peaks in one day, but with the snow cover we decided it would be too much effort for today. After lunch we packed up and headed back.
Copper Mountain from Silver Snag
Silver Snag Panorama
Lunch at Silver Snag
Cub and Pershing
As we were descending we saw a couple parties part way across the icy traverse section who promptly turned around due to the conditions. We made it back to the lake and part way across the traverse before we ran into anyone else. A solo hiker with summer attire was attempting to cross the traverse with only his shoes. The snow was softening up a little and he thought he could make it. Everyone else we came across had to turn back because they were not prepared for the snow. On the way down I started to appreciate the steepness of this trail. I was really feeling it in my quads! We made it back to the car around 1:50, so about 6 1/2 hours car to car. We didn't keep track, but we spent well over an hour on the summit. All in all it was a great trip and an area I'll likely go back to. I just loved the solitude for an otherwise very busy area, and plus... I'll need to summit Copper Mountain next!
Hiker Departing Silver Snag
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