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TR: Mirror Lake

Posted by gck Saturday, October 20, 2012

Distance: 3 miles to Mirror Lake, ~5 miles to the tarns
Elevation gain: 800 feet to Mirror Lake, ~1200 feet to the tarns
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

This was from a trip back in August. Definitely behind on posting these trip reports!

I was pretty time constrained on this hike, so I decided to stick to the I-90 corridor in order to use my time to do more hiking and less driving. Since school hadn’t started for most people yet, I wasn’t terribly excited about dealing with crowds at Talapus and Olallie. Instead, I decided to hike to Tinkham Peak via Mirror Lake. I didn’t pay enough attention to the directions for where the boot path to the peak split from the main trail (big surprise) so I did not end up climbing Tinkham. Instead, I accidentally stumbled upon the trail to my backup plan and spent a lazy hour or so lounging around some beautiful tarns.

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Left: Cottonwood Lake
Right: Mirror Lake

The “not paying attention to directions” thing started well before I began the hike. The directions seemed pretty simple: Take FR-54 (Kachess Lake Rd) from I-90, turn right after a mile onto FR-5480 and go ~7 miles until it turns into a road that is no longer drivable, then park. Simple, right? Well, a few miles in, 5480 intersects with FR 112 and you have to unintuitively take a slight right to stay on 5480. I went straight. The road seemed kind of rough at first, but it did “continue up a hill above Lost Lake” as the book described, so I kept driving… If your normal life is too tame for you and you’ve been seeking thrills through skydiving or Craigslist dates, let me save you some money and suggest an alternative: take an average sedan up FR 112 until your tires start spinning and you can’t drive up any further. Then you’ll realize that you’re on a steep and narrow, cliff-adjacent, barely-one-lane road with no cellphone reception. True story. After pulling out my GPS, swearing about being on the wrong road, imagining my car plunging 500 feet down into Lost Lake, and freaking out a little, I managed to coax my car past the tricky spot to a turnaround point. Going down was just as nerve wracking. I think my next car is going to be a Jeep.

View of Silver Peak and other mountains

Mirror Lake is a fantastic hike/backpacking trip for families. It’s only 3 miles round trip with 800 feet of elevation gain (2 miles if you have a high clearance vehicle and can drive up to the true trailhead… but only two giant trucks managed to make it). I think hiking the forest road up to the trailhead might have been the most difficult part of the hike. Then it’s only half a mile before you get your first treat: the average-looking Cottonwood Lake. There were two fishermen with rafts when I got there but no one else around. It remained quiet as I walked up the remaining half mile to Mirror Lake. It’s not the most scenic hike I’ve done, but there were some flowers on the trail that kept it from being too boring.

Glittering turquoise tarn (lunch spot)

There were people at Mirror Lake, but at this time of day, they were dispersed enough around the lake that it still seemed very quiet. There are a lot of nice-looking campsites scattered around the lake. Since this lake is on the PCT, at this time of year there are a lot of thru-hikers passing through the area and would probably have some great stories to tell. It was too windy for Mirror Lake to live up to its name, but it’s quite scenic with dark turquoise water and Tinkham Peak in the background. Definitely as pretty as Melakwa Lake or Mason Lake, which are far more difficult to reach. On my way back, around 2pm, there were definitely more people on the trail and I didn’t bother swinging by the lake. Lots of people hauling their toddlers up. Not sure there were enough sites to accommodate them all.

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Pretty colored tarns

After walking around half of Mirror Lake, I kept moving, thinking I was going towards Tinkham Peak, but I ended up on a trail to a magical place with little teal-colored tarns. One or two parties were there, but no one was at my tarn, so I got to eat lunch and relax in the sun by myself. There were a bunch of fish jumping in that tarn. A nice way to finish off an easy lake day!


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