John Guilford's Hikes
Blanca Lake on 2003-09-01
People: (including myself): Pam
Start: 12:30 1900 0
Virgin Lake: 3:00 4580 3
Blanca Lake: 3:40 3972 4
Leave Blanca: 4:00
Virgin Lake: 4:45
Out: 6:10 8
What a difference 10 years (and four days) makes. The last time we
were here it was rainy and wet; this time it was hot and sunny. In fact,
we've just come off of the driest summer in many years. But I digress. . .
To get to the trail head, take the Index exit off of S.R. 2. In a mile
you'll pass the bridge to Index town center. Continue on another 14 miles
(15 miles from Rt. 2). The road is paved and in excellent condition. In
fact, it is in such good shape, I wonder why it is maintained so well. At
about 13 1/2 miles, you pass a fork in the road. The right hand fork leads
to Garland Mineral Springs. The left fork climbs over a hill and down the
far side before coming to a four way intersection. The straight path turns
from pavement to dirt almost immediately. Instead, take the left turn onto
F.S. road 63. After another 2 or 2-1/2 miles find the well marked
trail head on the left.
We were without a Forest Service trail pass as we headed off from
home. After checking a couple places we found that the grocery store
in Gold Bar sells them.
With this being Labor Day and the weather being so nice, it wasn't
surprising that we found more vehicles at the trail head than on our
previous visit. Still, there were plenty of places left to park. We found
a place, backed in (as is our want), and got ready to set off.
I had forgotten how this trail immediately starts grinding out
elevation gain - something that it never neglects until you reach the pass
just before Virgin Lake. The trail, which is still in very nice shape,
relentlessly switchbacks up the hill side, eventually attaining a gain of
2700' from the trail head.
Pam, who had traditionally had trouble with her boots, tried using a
new lubricant, BodyGlide.
It turns out that the lube didn't really help. About an
hour into the hike, she traded her boots for sneakers. We hung the boots
in a tree next to the trail, made mental notes so that we could find it on
the way back down, and continued on.
The day was warm (hot even), but the trail was mostly in the shade,
which helped. After about 2 hours, we started breaking into some
intermittent views of the valleys and surrounding peaks.
A bit later we passed a rocky hillside that was home to some large
pikas, one of whom sat on a rock and warned about us with his high pitched
By then, we had stopped for a couple snack breaks to replenish our
blood sugar levels.
After two and a half hours, we finally reached the saddle, the high
point of the trip. Here one saw a number of very pleasant looking meadows
of grass. These were very flat and looked like the ideal place to camp
overnight. Continuing on, we descended a bit to reach Virgin Lake.
Here the trail started descending more rapidly, and the quality of
the trail dropped. It still wasn't bad going, but it wasn't as nice of
trail as before Virgin Lake. At least this time the trail wasn't muddy as
it was ten year previous. Soon views of Blanca Lake start appearing
through the trees, and before you know it, you've descended 600 feet and
reached the lake.
We debated descending the talus slope at the near end of the lake, but
instead followed the trail down. This reaches the lake at the outflow to
Troublesome Creek. It turned out to be an easy walk over some logs to the
base of the talus slope. Here we found a shady log and had lunch.
The views were great. Above Blanca Lake stands Columbia Glacier
underneath the col between Kyes and Monte Cristo peaks (on the right) and
Columbia Peak (on the left).
We stayed about three quarters of an hour, eating, taking pictures,
and watching signs of fish in the lake. Then we headed back.
The slog up from Blanca to Virgin Lake was a slog, but once we passed
the saddle and started down, our pace improved dramatically. We kept up a
good pace for quite a while, but the steady downhill started hurting Pam's
toes. When we finally reached her boots, she was very happy to change back
into them. The downhill didn't bother her heal, and her toes were much
happier. I tightened the laces in my boots at the start of the down hill
and that kept my feet happy.
In a surprisingly large number of places on the way down, we found
stashes of leaves that some local animal had sequestered away, presumably
for forage in the coming winter months. It is strange that we saw so many
on this trip yet had never noticed it before.
Half way up we found blueberry/huckleberry plants that either hadn't
had berries yet, or were picked clean (we did see a flock of finches
enjoying the berries). Higher up, we saw plants with berries.
The trip down the hillside was in the shade, the sun having set behind
the hill already. Thus is was pleasantly cool. It was a really nice hike
with great weather. It was a bit warm while hiking up (with the
appropriate sweating), but it was very pleasant while resting or eating.
It was a hike that Pam and I enjoyed more than most of our more recent
Silhouetted trees near the saddle.
Grassy spot near the saddle.
Blanca Lake with Columbia Glacier above.
Blanca Lake with reflection. Columbia Peak is on the left, Keyes and
Monte Cristo peaks are on the right.
Tree silhouetted in front of Blanca Lake.
View of Glacier Peak on way down trail.
Please send comments or corrections to
Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015