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TR: Minotaur Lake and Labyrinth Mountain

Posted by gck Thursday, September 27, 2012

Distance: 3.5 miles to Minotaur, ~6.5 miles to Labyrinth
Elevation gain: 1850 feet to Minotaur, ~2700 feet to Labyrinth
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

In mid-August, I decided to do a lake/summit to take advantage of the views that the sunny weather would yield. I love Highway 2 hikes, but they have deceptively long drives to the trailhead. This one was a few miles past Stevens Pass, plus about 8 slow miles on forest roads of the “cliffy variety” – pretty disconcerting when you realize you’re on a one lane road with only a few feet between you and a cliff. The trailhead is at the end of a road off of Smithbrook Road (FR 6700) and surprisingly requires no special pass for parking.

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Left: the trail after it left the Forest of Pain
Right: Minotaur Lake

I suggested the Gold Creek trail for people who hate elevation gain but don’t mind distance. If there are people who feel the exact opposite, Minotaur Lake is the trail for you. It’s only 1.75 miles to the lake, but it starts out by gaining about 1200 feet in less than a mile. Super fun, let me tell you. Not only is the steepness terrible, this section is also extremely boring. The forest does at least keep you shaded, but it’s sparse and unscenic. As I made my way up, I was thinking to myself that there was absolutely no way I would recommend this hike to anyone.

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Left: looking down at Theseus Lake
Right: creeks, alpine meadow

I knew from reading trip reports and trail descriptions that after the grueling mile, there was a short reprieve as the trail left the forest, but then it would climb again. Here, it started looking more like a hike. There were some wildflowers, a small tarn, mountain views looking back, and fields of what look a lot like huckleberry plants. Could be a nice hike in berry season. I guess I’ve gotten pretty jaded because when the trail started going up again, I expected it to do so for way longer than it did, and I was completely surprised when I hit the lake. Suddenly, the hike felt a lot better – I hit the lake way earlier in the day than what I’m used to. Took some photos here and kept going, wanting to make the summit before lunchtime.

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Left: summit register with Theseus and Minotaur in the background
Right: USGS marker

Theseus Lake is right next to Minotaur but 500 feet down. There are numerous viewpoints down to the lake as you head up the east side of Minotaur, and the trail down to Theseus was also visible. It’s a steep fisherman’s trail like the ones I end up on when I go backpacking, and I made a mental note of this as a potential future destination. I saw a group of people planning to camp at Minotaur on my way out, but only one group went down to Theseus. Speaking of people, I’d expected a trail like this to be quite popular, but I think I saw about as many people as I do on trails in October! Saw no one on the way up to the lake, then two at a Theseus viewpoint and two more at the Labyrinth saddle. After that, saw no one until I went back down – the ridge walk and summit were all mine to enjoy in private.

Video of a plane flying through and the view from the summit

Once you get around Minotaur, there are lots of trails that lead up to the top of Labyrinth. When trying to do something like this, it’s good to 1) be able to follow a trail and 2) know where you were going. However, I proved that even if you meet none of the criteria, it’s still okay for this hike. The area is so open that it’s really not possible to get completely lost. If I’d realized which one was the real summit, I would have taken a quicker way up. Instead, I followed a trail towards the saddle, aiming for the false summit (it does look taller!). So I did a little more scrambling than I needed to, but it really wasn’t much. Most of this stuff is walkable. I got tired with all the ups and downs on the ridge that I almost decided to stop, but I found some energy after sitting for a few minutes and then made it to the true summit, signing my first ever summit register! I sat and stared at Glacier Peak as I ate my lunch. A few fighter jets were going through the valley so I got to see a nice airplane show, too. As with any summit, it’s 360 degree views. Mountains all around, Minotaur and Theseus below, and perhaps the Skykomish River in the distance.

View of Glacier Peak

I expected to be a lot quicker going back down because I took a more direct path from the summit (instead of heading back to the saddle) and because down is just easier. I ended up losing the trail and having to backtrack a number of times so I hit the lake later than I would have liked. Then the steepness of the Forest of Pain took some time, too. It was so steep in places that my feet would slip from underneath me and only my poles kept me from planting my butt onto the ground. As I was heading down, I saw a dog coming up. Moments later, a guy followed… with an artificial leg. And an overnight backpack. Kudos to him. I no longer felt like whining after seeing that.

Looking towards the summit from the saddle

I still don’t know if I’d recommend Minotaur Lake on its own as a day hike. It’s too long of a drive for a short and brutal hike. But combined with Labyrinth, it’s completely worth it for probably one of the easiest summits in the region with two lakes thrown in as a bonus. I’m certain I will repeat this hike in the fall one of these years.


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