Big Snow Mountain & Gold Lake: Alpine Lakes Wilderness

“Cause if you want to step outside this body and this world,

You’re gonna have to go through a different kind of door,
And this train only runs in summertime”

– Jason Webley, Train Tracks, from the 2002 album Counterpoint

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Coming down from Big Snow Mountain Summit

We got a very late start on Friday evening as we set off down the old, blocked service road that would lead us to the feint trail markings up to Hardscrabble Lake – our destination for the evening. As fall is approaching, the sun is setting sooner, so during daylight hours we usually have to find a reasonable campsite before darkness dwindles down as we get closer to winter. Thus, we ended up climbing over a boulder field on the edge of Hardscrabble Lake around 9pm as we wandered in via the lights of our headlamps and the reflective moon above to what would be our campsite for the night: a sandy plot at the north end of Hardscrabble Lake, among some freshwater streams carrying crystal clear mountain water.

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Gold Lake

We woke in the morning to the sun shining brightly on Big Snow Mountain towering above us. We made our way toward the climb that would lead us up to a rocky gap that would be the dividing line between our two campsites. On the other side of the gap we would find huge slabs of open rock, ready for our wandering. Gold Lake was below us, also looking inviting. We dried out our tents from the condensation that had accumulated overnight, then we dropped our stuff and made our way to the top of Big Snow Mountain (6,680 feet/2,036 meters). It stood dominating over our previous campsite, and the lakes and peaks below.

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Approaching Gold Lake

We didn’t stay at the top for long. We made our way down and stopped at a very inviting-looking little lake that was absolutely frigid. We stripped down and jumped in and tried to dry and warm ourselves on the rocks, but the wind was a little too strong, so we put on shoes and headed back to where we’d left our tents to dry. After packing up, we headed down a streamy, meadowy type area down to what would be our campsite for the evening, right on the banks of Gold Lake. It was a fantastic campsite – perhaps one of the best I’ve ever been to.

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Gold Lake

We pitched our tents, Alex went swimming again, I put the beers in the lake to cool, and we watched the evening begin to pass us by. We’d heard reports of possible rain, so we commented to each other as we watched what were darker and darker clouds begin to slowly roll our way as the sun descended. It didn’t rain until after we had gotten into our tents, but that wasn’t long; Alex was in bed by 7:30pm and I by 8. We’d had a long day and had hiked a lot. In the morning I woke up early to a completely fogged-out Gold Lake. I couldn’t see the tops of the peaks in the foggy morning like I could last night in the clear evening. I grew discouraged as I went back to bed for another hour. The sky had cleared up a little bit later, but not completely. We cooked breakfast from our tents, packed up, then headed out.

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More Gold Lake

Sunday was much rougher going than Saturday. First of all, the weather was not as in our favor as it had been, though it still wasn’t bad. Plus we were now off-trail, careening down a pretty steep slope alongside a river which was cascading nearby. We only got cliffed-out a time or two, and each time wasn’t too bad. We made our way down the slopes by often belaying ourselves with tree branches as the terrain was so steep. In the valley below us we saw the remnants of an airplane crash. I had never seen such a sight before, and neither had Alex. Who knew how long that crushed plane had been there?

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We continued on, following the river for a while. And then it began to rain, but only a little bit. We dove off into the bushes and slopes to our left to cut off a little time. Like Alex said, “bushwhacking is bushwhacking”. He was right. We bushwhacked up wet, steep slopes to get us over to Little Myrtle lake, which is where we had lunch. After lunch we had to climb one more gnarly peak, one which involved some careful footing and some attention paying. Afterwards, we found the trail and walked it back to the car. It was an amazing adventure – one of the greatest I’ve had since last year up to Box Mountain Lakes. Dare I say, I’m looking forward to more off-trail fun. And we didn’t see a soul.

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Little Myrtle Lake

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