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Thomas Lake Trail - Cascade Crest / PCT Loop, WA
mini location map2018-11-15
13 by photographer avatarkeepmoving
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Thomas Lake Trail - Cascade Crest / PCT Loop, WA 
Thomas Lake Trail - Cascade Crest / PCT Loop, WA
Hiking avatar Nov 15 2018
Hiking10.70 Miles 1,465 AEG
Hiking10.70 Miles   5 Hrs   1 Min   2.13 mph
1,465 ft AEG16 LBS Pack
1st trip
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We have had a couple of nice cold sunny weeks in the PNW and the winter snow that usually makes some of the more remote areas inaccessible this time of year has held off a bit longer than usual. I took advantage of the nice weather window to head up and explore an unmaintained trail through one of my favorite sections of the Indian Heaven Wilderness.

I started from the Thomas Lake Trailhead at 12:30. A bit later than I would have liked now that the sun sets so early, but I am lazy and couldn't bring myself to wake up any earlier. There was only 1 other car in the lot, but I quickly passed that hiker on their was out just a couple minutes up trail.

The trail was mostly snow free up to Naha Lake, although it was covered in small sheets of ice and most of the lakes were frozen over. Passed Naha Lake I turned north onto the abandoned Cascade Crest Trail and headed towards Acker Lake. The trail was easy enough to follow, but it was 95% covered in ice. I regretted not bringing my micro spikes and full winter boots. It looks like most of the Indian Heaven Plateau above 4700' feet has only received 6" of snow at the most, but there are so many lakes, ponds, streams, and springs that the whole area is covered in very slick ice that made for very slow going.

At the Cascade Crest/Elk Lake trail I briefly considered heading west to check out Elk Lake, but I already knew I would be finishing after dark and decided to start heading back. The PCT was marginally faster than the Cascade Crest Trail as it had more snow and less ice. I made decent time to Blue Lake, 1 of only 2 lakes I would see all day that was not frozen over. I assume its large size helps retain heat longer. Lake Sahalee-Tyee was also mostly ice free, although the creek that drains the lake was icing over and starting to encroach on the lake shore.

As I crossed the plateau towards Naha Lake the sun set and it started to get a bit windy. Numerous streams and ponds cover this area and it was all frozen solid, making for very slow going. Finally past Naha Lake I started dropping in elevation and quickly returned to mostly snow/ice free trail. There seems to be a bit of a microclimate at the 4700' elevation level, although the trail below here was covered in needle ice, it was much easier to follow and super fast. I finished by flashlight about 30 minutes after dark, temperature on my truck was showing right around 40 degrees.
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