The beautiful days in Washington just keep coming. It’s now early October and I’m still making regular trips up to the mountains to run in mild, sunny weather! Today was a new one: Jeff, Kelly, and I headed out to run to Rachel Lake and Alta Mountain. After my PCT run last weekend, my friend Greg was telling me he headed up to Alta Mountain and could get an amazing view of miles of the PCT across the valley; it was time for me to see for myself!
The Route – Rachel Lake Trailhead to Alta Mountain
We arrived at the Rachel Lake Trailhead relatively early (8 AM). It’s almost an hour and a half drive from Seattle and includes a lot of dirt roads with potholes. Northwest Forest Pass required (don’t forget)!
From the trailhead, the first mile or two is relatively flat, muddy, and forested. The trail quickly enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (always a good sign, in my book). It’s a relatively straightforward route; there are a few places to turn off the main trail, but they tend to be marked off with sticks and end pretty quickly. After a small opening from the tall trees, the trail make a change for the vertical. If you’re looking to move fast, this isn’t the trail for you. The mud increases, there are rocks and roots everywhere, and it’s extremely steep. The trail follows a creek (kinda), so there are some nice spots to check out.
After about three and a half miles, the trail gets to Rachel Lake. We enjoyed the view for a few minutes and then took the trail around the north side of the lake to climb up the ridge behind it. At the top of the ridge there is a T junction for the trail that runs along Rampart Ridge. You can turn left to the Rampart Lakes and right to Lake Lila. While the sign doesn’t mention Alta Mountain, right (towards Lake Like) is the way to go. After turning right, there is another fork (signless) about a half mile up the trail – left is the way to go for Alta here. There were no more turns (thankfully)!
The climb up to Alta was amazing. The trees disappear and it’s wide open. This might be tough on a windy day, but it was perfect for us today. The ground cover was turning all kinds of fall colors. There are places where the ground is all rocks and the trail disappears, but it was obvious where to go the whole time. Along the climb there were four false summits, but we were thankfully prepared (mentally) for them. The view from the top of Alta is amazing. You can see Rainier (of course), Adams, and Glacier Peak. The cairn at the summit has a map buried in a baggie that points out all the mountains you can see.
This is a SLOW run. There is a lot of climbing and is super technical (outside the mile closest to the trailhead). The reward is spectacular. One a nice day, go early and enjoy the reward!