WOW, what a fantastic day on a beautiful trail!
My friend, Ellen, is training for her first 50 miler (yay!), and both she and I needed some big mileage for training purposes. She heard of this runnable route up to Image Lake, boasting great views, and it was exactly what we needed. 31 miles and 4,400 feet of gain? Sign me up.
It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle (but totally worth the drive), so we started before 5:30am. The trail begins at the end of the Suiattle River Road.
The first 9.4 miles is shaded, lightly rolling, and very runnable. We ticked off the miles quickly, and saw some charming campsites that were perfect for backpackers. (I took note for a possible future trip.) The vegetation was classic PNW – ferns and moss galore. There were some manageable creek crossings, and a few bridges over the bigger river crossings. Despite the early hour and lack of people in the area, the only wildlife we saw was a frog by a creek. (However, there was substantial odorous evidence of equines on the trail. 😉 )
We saw about a dozen people in this section, and all of them appeared to be backpackers. One group was heading to Glacier Peak with climbing gear in tow, and said they were jealous of our small packs. Ah, well, it’s one of the perks of being a trailrunner! (Don’t worry, we still carried the Ten Essentials!) There are only a few turnoffs to other trails, so it was very easy to navigate. Before too long we were at the turnoff to head up to Image Lake.
Here the switchbacks up Miner’s Ridge began. They weren’t terribly steep, but it was a steady climb that didn’t really let up until the top. We joked that if we were in better shape we could have run up instead of powerhiking with occasional jogging, but hey, we can’t all be Kilian Jornet. Thankfully it was still mostly shaded, so we didn’t bake in the sun despite the increasing temperature. This area was even less populated than the Suiattle River Trail – we only saw a handful of people (who seemed shocked that we were running the whole thing in one day versus three-plus days of backpacking.) Our hard work on the ascent began to bear fruit of peek-a-boo views of Glacier Peak and the surrounding mountains. The flora began to change on this section as well, and we started to see Indian Paintbrush, Spreading Phlox, Tiger Lilies, Bunchberry, Lupine, and other wildflowers on the side of the trail.
Once we reached the top of the ridge, we decided to take the optional side trip (less than a mile, roundtrip) to the Miner’s Ridge Lookout.
For anyone else hiking this trail – GO THERE. Ellen and I were both squealing with excitement at the stunning 360 degree mountain views.
The lookout is a little rickety, but who cares when the view is this awesome?
We snacked while admiring the majesty of Glacier Peak, and then headed over to Image Lake.
It’s not very far, and you still see the mountains all around you on the way. The lake itself is in a little bowl, and quite small. It’s the beautiful turquoise of higher elevation lakes, with fragile-looking landscape surrounding it. There were still a few patches of snow around, but everything was mostly melted. The lake is fed by a few waterfalls, and here we filtered our water to refill our packs. It was wonderfully cold and refreshing! It was also a great test for my new MSR TrailShot which worked like a charm. We walked around the lake, and enjoyed the serenity. There were a few backpackers that were gloriously napping in the sun, but otherwise beautifully quiet at the lake.
We really wanted to just hang out and lounge, but the return trip awaited us! The hard uphill work was done, so I was hopeful the trip down wouldn’t be too bad. We were really able to cruise the 5.5 miles down the switchbacks, especially since it wasn’t too steep. Ellen in particular was rocking it on the downhill. At one point, maybe a mile down, I caught my toe on something, and totally biffed it. I slid down the trail on my hands and knees. (Not a recommended mode of transportation down a trail, by the way.) When I finally stopped sliding I just started laughing. Clearly I am perfect example of grace in motion. <eyeroll>
Luckily, I was not seriously injured, and just had abrasions on my knees, shins, and a little bit on my hands. I was doubly lucky that Ellen was prepared with a stellar first aid kit (prepped by her husband – thanks, Mike!), so we took some time to clean me up. A long cut on my shin wouldn’t stop bleeding, so we utilized some gauze and an ACE bandage to keep it in place. Trailside medical ministration complete, it was back to the switchbacks!
Once we finished the switchbacks, we kept moving on the Suiattle River Trail. Even though the trail is runnable and lovely, it felt like forever to finish the 9.4 miles to get back to the trailhead.
I didn’t take many photos of this section since we had already run it, and we just wanted to be DONE.
It was a perfect day. We had beautiful weather, a VERY shaded and runnable trail, with the perfect payoff mountain view at the top. What more could you ask for?
A note about safety in the backcountry: since we were out in the wilderness for the whole day, we borrowed a friend’s DeLorme InReach so our husbands could track us throughout the day, and we could send an SOS if need be. (Thanks, Jen!) Based on my experience with some concerned family during a similar adventure run a few years ago, we really wanted peace of mind just in case something happened. The InReach worked very well, and I felt much safer carrying it. Time to invest in one for myself, I think!
I feel incredibly lucky that I had the opportunity, health, and fitness to go explore a new area in the beautiful North Cascades. An unsupported run with a friend is a different challenge than the organized ultramarathons I typically run, but the things I absolutely love about them is the enjoyable company, lack of race-day stress, and beautiful views. These runs seem to renew my mind and spirit, and this trail was particularly inspiring. More of this, please!
Finishing time: ~9.5 hours
Elevation gain: ~4,400 feet
Calories consumed: ~1,300 (1 small pack of Tailwind, 1 small ham & cheese tortilla rollup, 1 small sweet potato/black bean/rice ‘burrito’, 1.5 very small potatoes, 1 sweet potato/apple baby food pouch, 1 Portable baked banana rice ball, 7 Glutino Oreos)