About This Blog

This is yet another incarnation of my personal blog. Here's where you can read about what I do when I'm not at work: hiking, seeing plays and other shows, eating, traveling, etc.

Popular Posts

TR: Alta Mountain

Posted by gck Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Distance: ~10 miles
Elevation gain: ~3800 feet
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

This trip report is from mid-September, another trip up the Rachel Lake trail and up from there. The goal was to reach the Alta Mountain summit, but I didn’t get exact enough directions because I assumed the trail would be pretty obvious. This is a mistake I seem to keep repeating, but it always ends up okay in the end because I see something different, and I can always go back and see what I missed. It’s the I-90 corridor after all… not too far of a drive.

IMG_7750  IMG_7769
Left: what I’m told is “Chicken of the Woods” fungi
Right: fall colors

So much for an early start – rock blasting completely closed I-90 Eastbound near the pass until 8:30am, so anyone who woke up really early was probably angry. We hit it around 8:45, so the lingering traffic still slowed us down for a few miles. There were already quite a few cars at the trailhead when we arrived, including a loud group of teenaged boys that I dubbed “the Boy Scouts” that I was really afraid we were going to hear the whole way up. But we left before them and never saw them again. On our way back, we heard a loud group that we thought were “the Boy Scouts,” which was confusing because it seemed like they were going to spend the night. But it was actually a group of middle-aged Asian people, hah.

waterfall  IMG_8150
Left: same waterfall, different years/seasons
Right: small falls on Box Canyon Creek

I hiked to Rachel Lake in July of 2010. Last year in October, I did Rachel Lake and continued on to the Rampart lakes. So this trip marks the third year in a row that I’ve done the Rachel Lake trail. It’s a strong love-hate relationship – there’s a lot to love, a lot to hate. One of the things I love is how Box Canyon Creek follows the trail for a ways, giving pretty glimpses of waterfalls here and there. One of the things I hate? Mile 2.5-3.5 of the trail. The first few miles are pretty much flat, and you gain a lot in the next mile. Listen to the book description: “...at about 2.5 miles, the trail starts upward, climbing steeply as it gains more than 1300 feet in the next mile. That cruel pace is made all the more difficult because of the trail's poor condition.” From the lake, a trail climbs upwards, giving nice views down at Rachel Lake the whole way. Though it’s pretty steep as well, the elevation gain goes quicker and more easily than the creek trail up to Rachel Lake. Soon, we were at the top, and we took a right turn to head towards Lila Lakes and Alta Mountain.

IMG_7859  IMG_7958_stitch
Left: fall colors, looking down at Rachel Lake
Right: Lila Lakes, Hibox Mountain

For this hike, I figured that Alta Mountain was a popular enough destination that the trail up would be very obvious. For the most part, it probably is, but there is a crucial junction after the initial split that I didn’t know about. One way climbs the ridge of Alta Mountain, and the other goes towards Lila Lake and tarns. There are so many social trails on this hike that I’m not even sure where we missed this turn, and I’ve only deduced it by reading other people’s trip reports. I don’t think taking this route was necessarily a bad thing, though. We got some nice, closer looks at the beautiful Lila Lakes and a few tarns, and the mountain views were still quite good. Lots of great campsites in this area, all empty, but we met a number of backpackers heading up on our way out.


We weren’t the only people who ended up this way by accident. We met a guy heading back who said he’d been trying to reach Alta but couldn’t find a trail up and then ran out of time. The trail lead up to a saddle between two peaks, and we weren’t sure which one was Alta. (I clearly did not learn my lesson with Labyrinth) The trail quickly died in one direction, so we headed for the other peak (which was also the one that we could see people on). I believe this was a legitimate way up the side of Alta Mountain, but it seems more difficult and dangerous than the real way. The trail got spotty pretty quickly, then we ended up climbing up a talus field and found the trail again. I was leading the way, and I got to a point where I realized that it would be really easy to slip, and if I slipped, I would die. It was just a short segment, but it was enough to make me pause. The others were unenthusiastically lagging behind, and it was close enough to the turnaround time that we all agreed to head back. The summit will have to wait for another year. We lucked out with the views anyhow – with all the fires going on in Eastern Washington, people have had hazy views pretty far west, but I guess the winds were blowing the right way for us that day.


Hunting season has begun, and that weekend apparently marked the start of high hunt, when deer hunters are allowed up in some of the wilderness areas. I was a bit surprised to see people coming up in camouflage, carrying rifles. Not exactly sure where the deer were hiding up there. Maybe it’s time to get a neon orange hat. The hike down from Rachel Lake was brutal. The steep downhill part wore down my knees and the last 2.5 miles of flat, boring hiking wore down my patience. Overall, this trail is completely worth hiking, though, for some of the best views I’ve seen on the I-90 corridor. However, I think the next time I try to summit Alta, I will take the backdoor route and avoid Rachel Lake for a change.



  1. Brian Says:
  2. Yeah, the trail split on the ridge was trouble for me when I did this climb several years ago. We followed the route into the talus field for some time and were forced to scramble up a class 4+ path to attain the actual ridge and summit. I'm glad you didn't have this trouble.

  3. gck Says:
  4. Great info! This justifies my insistence that "this IS a way to the summit" and also my decision to turn back. :)


Post a Comment