Peak 14: Summit Lake Peak

Elevation: 5800’

Total Mileage: 6.9

Total Elevation Gain: 1505’

Date: 13 June 2019

Summit Lake, and its namesake peak, was my first real hiking adventure after moving to Washington, so it was fun to revisit it after having made the acquaintance of so many other peaks and alpine lakes. On that first hike, in my first spring living in the Pacific Northwest, I marveled at the wild beauty just beyond my doorstep. I’d never taken a hike quite like that before, and when the summit view revealed a jaw-dropping mountain panorama complete with Tahoma as a backdrop, it just floored me. It felt like you could just reach out and touch the glaciers that flank the volcano. The constant smile plastered on my face made my cheeks begin to ache. In that moment, I decided that I wanted to bring every out-of-town visitor here so that I could share this wonderful place with my flatlander family and friends.

It took a while, but I finally made it back to Summit Lake Peak, with a friend and colleague in tow. The forest road to the trailhead was as potholed as remembered, but the trail did not disappoint. We lucked into another gorgeous June day as we started up through the forest into the Clearwater Wilderness. The trail winds its way steadily uphill, then forks at a juncture with the trail to Bearhead Mountain. Time didn’t allow for the tagging of two peaks, but I have grand plans to come back for a wild Bearhead Bushwhack Loop that entails a ramble through the Clearwater Wilderness and a scramble up something called The Rooster Comb. Stay tuned for that report!

Two out of the million glacier lilies we saw.

The glacier lilies were out in full splendor as we neared the snow line. We brought spikes for the occasion but held off for a while. The snow made it tough to follow the trail at times, so I was glad to have the GPX tracks. It’s funny to think back to my first excursion here, which turned into an off-trail adventure. Coming down from the summit in the snow, we lost the trail and just tried to head toward the lake. A friend had a Map My Hike app, so she left breadcrumbs on that to help us try to get back on trail. It was all a little thrilling and a little scary to feel like we were wandering around off trail in heavy spring snow. Looking back, I shake my head at that less experienced self, with no map, no compass, nor GPX route downloaded along with the digital map. This time around, Ingrid and I did wander a bit, but I was able to get us back on route quickly.

Peek-a-boo!

The lake itself is of that alpine lake blue, dark and deep in the center, ringed by aquamarine. A worthy destination in itself, but we were there for the summit views. About this time we opted for the spikes, as the snow was a bit more tricky as we ascended. The trail wraps around the lake and offers glimpses of mountains in all directions along the way.

Summit Lake, so pretty.
Looking down at Summit Lake on the way to the summit. Bearhead Mountain and Tahoma in the distance.

The final push was quite steep and snowy; one of those things you’re much happier going up and kinda dread coming back down. Happily, the summit was the showstopper of memory. It’s wonderful that, even after summitting so many gorgeous peaks, Summit Lake Peak wasn’t diminished; it stands up to memory and holds its own in the Cascades. Like the geek that I am, I pointed out all the big peaks in sight. All the mountains were out. We could see the Olympics Range to the west, Mount Baker and Glacier Peak to the north, as well as The Stewart Range to the east. Of course, to the south, was the great Tahoma, with Little Tahoma at its side. From what we could tell, Bearhead seemed to have an even more enviable vantage point.

In my happy place, on the summit.
Photo credit: Ingrid W.

We lingered for some time on the summit, eating lunch, making plans for more outdoor adventures, and basking in the warm rays of sun like two lazy cats. It was tough to pull ourselves away, but eventually we meandered back down the mountain.

Don’t worry; I was very careful when climbing down to get this shot.

Things went awry on the drive out. Despite my cautious speed and great care, I ended up with a flat tire. Fortunately, I had some Fix-a-Flat in the trunk, and we limped back to Tacoma.

Three cheers for Fix-a-Flat! Man, that tire looks very sad.
Photo credit: Ingrid W.

I’ll spare you the details here, but suffice it to say that the rest of the day turned into a nightmare when the garage that I have loyally touted and referred others to for years, Titus Will Service and Tire, blamed me for the flat and said I would need to buy 4 new tires. I had never had such a despicable interaction with any customer-service business; it was so bad that Ingrid had me go sit in the car while she gave the staff a stern talking to. If you want the details, I’m happy to explain everything that happened and why I will never go there again. I hate to taint my blog post with this, and I’m not typically vindictive or critical; it just goes to show how awful they were.