John Guilford's Hikes
Mt. Pilchuck / Bathtub Lakes Region on 1994-05-30
Location: Mt. Pilchuck / Bathtub Lakes Region
People: (including myself): Rick Kline, Gene Obie, Rusty Ames
My Alt. Real Alt. Mileage
Lv Granite Fall 9:15
Start: 10:55 2560 0
Bear Lake: 11:00 0.25
Pinnacle Lake: 12:00 3700 3800 2
Iodine Gulch: 12:20 " " 2.15
Top Iodine G: 1:30 4640 4640 2.6
Lunch: 3:00 5000 5074 3.5
End Lunch: 3:35
Head Down: 5:20 4920 ~4900 4.1
Down: 6:30 3220 3160 6
End car shuffle 7:45
We met at Granite Falls and took two cars up to the Mt. Pilchuck trailhead.
Leaving one of the cars there, we went to the Bear Lake trailhead.
Shuffling cars around like this killed almost an hour. The weather was
supposed to start off cloudy, getting better as the day progressed. It
ended up being perfect weather - the clearest I've ever seen in the
Cascades. The day before was rainy and the following day clouded up and
rained, so we lucked out and ended up with the best day around which turned
Although we expected snow, only two of us had ice axes, Gene and
myself. Rick had a ski pole and Rusty just had gloves and his hands.
Due to the recent rain and the number of hikers, the trail started off
exceedingly muddy. It stays that way all the way to the lake, gaining
about a thousand feet. A short distance from the trailhead, a side trail
branches off to go to Bear Lake. Continuing on the main trail, we ascended
and soon got the first of several views looking down on Bear Lake. Soon
after that we hit patches of snow which became almost continual snow
Pinnacle lake was mostly ice covered, though the were patches melted
through, especially down near the outlet (where the trail meets the lake).
We skirted the lake on left side (the snow making this somewhat easier than
it would be in later season). Most of the way around the lake is the
bottom of Iodine Gulch. Though some of the bottom of the gulch was snow
free the middle and upper parts of the gulch were full of snow which made
the ascent easier. Without the snow, the ascent is made scrambling over
rocks around the creek that flows down the gulch.
The weather was warm, so that a t-shirt was sufficient to keep warm while
hiking. The clouds came and went so that we were in sun about half the
time. While the sun was behind the clouds it occasionally got a bit chilly
when a breeze came up, but the air was mostly warm and still.
We steadily climbed the gulch which occasionally gets steep near the top,
emerging onto the relatively flat top. Here we stopped to put on sunscreen
(though we should have done so earlier). This is the start of the Bathtub
lakes region - a series of numerous small lakes set among rock, heather,
and berry bushes. The sky was clearing now, and we were rewarded with the
best view of Rainier I've seen from the Cascades. This time of year, we
found the entire area to be snow covered with the lakes visible as pretty
blue water on top of snow depressions.
We traversed across part of the lakes area and then ascended to the ridge
to see if we could get a view of Lake 22. We were pretty cautious
approaching any edges in case of cornices. We got a good look at Lake 22,
which was snow free. Descending a short distance from the ridge line we
continued west until we got to a little local high spot where we stopped
for lunch. From here we could see some of Heather Lake and also had an
unobstructed view of the summit of Mt. Pilchuck (as well as great views of
Three Fingers, Glacier Peak, etc.) including the normal trail approach from
the ridge. This didn't look encouraging. In fact, it didn't look doable.
The trail is normally very steep (in excess of 60 degrees) with multitude
of switchbacks. This whole slope was mostly snow covered, particularly
near the top. We thought we'd look at it when we got closer, but the
prevailing feeling was that we would be able to do it. Checking out the
topo map, however, it appeared that it would be straight forward to
traverse around the north side of the summit and join the normal trail up
to the summit. By this time the sky had cleared so that except for a few
high clouds, everything was clear.
After lunch we continued traversing the ridge, sometimes on snow, and
sometimes on the trail (marked by yellow blazes). Nearer to the summit,
the way descends to a saddle. Along this part of the ridge, the trail
sometimes passes close to cliff tops. While the trail isn't at all
dangerous, it is enough to cause adrenaline for people who are scared of
heights. After reaching the saddle, instead of continuing left and up to
the summit, we descended right onto a broad shelf below the summit cliffs.
Part way along the shelf we decided to ascend the snow field and see if we
could climb to the ridge line and reach the summit that way. After
ascending some steep snow, we reached another flatter area. From here we
surveyed the ridge and thought that one area might be climbable. We
ascended further, again going up steep snow. It would have been better if
we all had axes, but we did okay with Gene kicking steps and those w/out
axes following. We aborted our initial attempt when it became clear that
we didn't think that we wanted to climb the rocks that we ended up at. We
made a further attempt after traversing left 50 feet or so. The biggest
challenge hear was the initial snow climb. At this point due to the lower
portion of snow falling away, there was vertical chest high bank of snow,
with steep snow above. After clearing away some of the surface snow, I
found this to be climbable by driving the ice axe deeply into the snow to
use as a handhold and kicking steps. I got up far enough to get
comfortable, but I didn't know how those without axes would be able to make
it up. It still wasn't clear that we'd be able to make it all the way up.
While I continued ascending steep snow, Gene and the others started up.
They ended up doing it by sharing the ice axe. The first person would
ascend the vertical part and get settled on the merely steep part and pass
the axe down. This continued until all three were up the vertical part. I
continued up the snow, climbed part way up the moat between the rock and
the snow, and finally made it to the ridge top. There the news wasn't
good. We had traverse far enough east so that we were still east of the
regular trail approach to the summit. The other side of the ridge dropped
down cliffs. It may have been possible to traverse the ridge top, but it
didn't look real easy and I couldn't see beyond about 20 feet and it wasn't
obvious that it would be passable beyond that. After discussing it, we
decided to just head back down. This was accomplished without incident,
though descending the steep snow was somewhat slow in order to assure not
slipping. We descended down to the shelf where we had started up a while
before. We continued along the shelf below the lookout (clearly visible).
At the west end of the shelf we found a steep but very do-able climb up to
the normal trail. However, it was getting late and we decided to skip the
ascent to the lookout and just head down.
For a while we were on snow (a couple glissades, but nothing special). Of
course, along here there were many more people (being a fine Memorial day,
many people came up Mt. Pilchuck, some in t-shirts and tennis shoes). A
couple glissades later, we picked up the trail. The rest of the hike was
just a slog down mud hole city. About 80% of the trail was mud puddle. I
don't know how people with tennis shoes made it. Near the base of the
trail, the trail crosses a stream which provided a good place to wash some
of the mud off of our boots. At the parking lot, we spent some time
changing shoes and muddy pants. This was the only place the bugs were
At this point we really wanted to head home, but we still had to spend an
hour to again shuffle cars, driving back to the Bear lake trailhead.
Ideally, this hike should be done by two groups going in opposite
directions so that car shuffling could be avoided.
The road up to the Mt. Pilchuck trailhead starts and ends as pavement, but
the middle stretch (comprising the vast majority of the road) is dirt. It
was rather full of potholes, but wasn't too bad for the amount of traffic
that uses it.
Gene Obie with Rusty Ames and John reflected in his glasses.
Bathtub Lakes, Rick in foreground, Rusty and Gene in back.
Lake 22 from ridge.
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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015