Chair Peak Lake

I go to the mountains to renew my spirit, to sing to the forest creatures, to make prayers for the waters to flow purely, and for healing to bless this world.

I left Seattle a little before 5am, arriving in the pitch black at the Snow Lake Trailhead/Alpental where I stashed my bicycle in the bushes, driving back down the old highway to Denny Creek trailhead. I began my hike with a headlamp at 6am, taking note of the slippery dew on rock and duff, planting my hiking sticks very deliberately to steady me.

The hike up the south side of Hemlock Pass (2 hours 20 minutes from the trailhead) was completely in the shade until just near the top. Cresting the top, I dove back into the shadows of Alpental and remained there for the next two hours until I had passed Chair Peak Lake.

Morning dew near Hemlock Pass (4700 feet)


The trail to Melakwa Pass skirts the left side (traveling north) of Melakwa Lake.  At the second, smaller lake, go counterclockwise (right side), then more or less up the middle of the valley.

Hike along the right side of this lake, then continue up the center of the valley towards the Pass.
Praying for no earthquakes as I travel beneath a vast field of talus!
As the trail-less boulder field steepened, I found easier hiking on an animal track where the rock bordered the forest (left side of image).
The last push to Melakwa Pass (5300 feet elevation) took me through an enchanted forest which felt like an elf garden (or an Ent field).
Chair Peak Lake from Melakwa Pass. Glacier Peak in the distance, with Gem Lake barely visible (hidden in the trees). I wasn’t sure whether there would be snow on the first (very steep) section heading down from the Pass, so I brought an ice axe and crampons. There was none – only a couple of small patches lower down.
Freshly fallen snow from a late summer storm. In the mountains, be prepared!
Snow Lake from Chair Peak Lake
Looking Back at Melakwa Pass. The “trail” is on the east side of the lake (go right as you descend from Melakwa).
Chair Peak Lake to Gem Lake. Do not follow the outflow of Chair Peak Lake as it leads to cliffy terrain. Instead hike up the gently sloping granite ridge until you are about 75 to 100 feet above the lake. From there, continue across level ground a bit further until you see the image above. There are a few different options to get over to the ridge leading to Gem Lake. I chose to traverse at a slight downward angle across this talus field (aiming towards the middle-left of this image), and then stay high, as close to the cliffs on my left as was comfortable – which worked quite well. Of course, one could descend much further down (and then climb that much further back up. Choose a route that is comfortable for your ability.
Once you gain the ridge, the trail is mainly on the left (northwest) side of the ridge. A hawk screeched from overhead as I passed through here.
Gem Lake
Gem Lake
Looking back across Gem lake at Melakwa Pass between Chair Peak (left) and Kaleetan Peak (right).
Snow Lake
Snow Lake – 5 lakes in one long loop hike. Sweet!

I reached the Alpental parking lot at 1:30 p.m. about 7 hours and 40 minutes from Denny Creek trailhead. From there, it was a 15 minute (screamer) bike ride down the old highway to the car at Denny Creek trailhead. Time for bed now!

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