I spend a lot of time perusing the millions of trails in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness through the Washington Trails website. I've never looked up the actual total number of alpine lakes in Washington but the count is so high that opening a map is like staring at a speckled sea of hidden lakes. And once you've seen one... you have not seen em all. I find a unique skip of emotion to each lake.
Justin and I camped at the Beckler River Campground the night before so it was nice to roll out of our tent and drive 15 minutes up the road to the trail. An early start is worth it because this is one of the more popular Hwy 2 hikes, even on a week day. The trail is gorgeous from the get go and felt particularly green. I love it when the trees grow in such an arrangement that I can peer through the foliage and see more than 50 ft in front of me. The trail wrapped around the mountain and gave us multiple views of different valleys framed by granite peaks. The climbing is comparable to Mt. Si with a short flat section and downhill to Blanca Lake at the very end.
The trail reaches a steep incline almost immediately. I actually wish I had jogged for a mile on the flats beforehand since we held a swift clip on the trail. The total climbing was around 3500ft and I felt every step of it since the lake was only 4 miles away. The last mile before cresting to the flats had me in a power hike guzzling at my camelback.
We hung out at the lake briefly and snacked on beef jerky, speculating if we could blaze a trail to the glacier on the other side of the lake, but eventually decided against it since there was no trail. The way down was very run-able and I was glad to be wearing my Hokas for extra cushioning.
The Blanca Lake trail wasn't enough mileage for Justin so we hopped in the car and went to the Benchmark Mountain trail head where Justin tacked on another couple hours of running. I was happy to sit by the Beckler River and soak up the serenity of the Cascades.
Blanca Lake Trail (#1052), Access via FR 65 from Hwy 2
Distance: 8 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 3500 ft
This is a great trail snack, post-run snack, or anytime snack. Most of the batter from these "cookies" was gone before I could even shape them and put them in the oven, if that denotes how satisfying they were. This is definitely a recipe that should be pinned to the bulletin board.
I'm headed up to Crystal Mountain for the Sky Marathon with Justin this weekend and I won't be running but I will be packing these and munching through a dozen of them while I crew as he hauls through 26 miles of mountains. The beauty of these cookies is how digestible they are, which makes them a great trail snack for long runs. I previously posted about bars, but real food always wins. Skip the soy protein isolate and go for these nuggets if you have the time.
Golden Trail Nuggets
Adapted slightly from Heidi Swanson's 101 cookbooks
3 large ripe bananas, mashed to a puree
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup almond meal, or any other nut meal
1/3 cup coconut, shredded & unsweetened
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
3 oz dark chocolate chopped
3 oz cacao nibs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mash the banana, vanilla bean seeds and coconut oil. Set aside.
Combine all other ingredients.
Add the wet ingredients with the dry. Place in fridge for 1-3 hrs.
You can skip the chilling step, but it well help you shape the nuggets.
Make small 1-inch balls and place on lined baking sheet.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
These are really good right out of the oven, they just fall apart easily if they don't cool completely. Out of the three dozen nuggets I made, about 4 made it to the cooling stage, but they all stayed together really well. Enjoy your nuggets up to one week in a sealed container.
On Sunday Justin and I headed up to Crystal Mountain to preview the course for his next race: The Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon. I'm glad I'm not running this race since I won't be ready for this beastly course that climbs over 9,000ft in 26 miles. I'm happy to act as Justin's main crew to make sure he's fueled through the race. Justin met with another runner who will be racing as well. They both set out to navigate the climbs, while I scouted my own route with my trail buddy, Foxy (the Aussie we are dog sitting).
We parked in the Crystal Mountain base lot. Crystal Mountain is a ski resort, so the only option is up. I browsed the map and saw we weren't far from the Pacific Crest Trail. I picked my route and took off on an instant uphill on the Buillon Basin trail (#1156). The trail crossed a service road and then meandered its way up to the Buillon Basin Horse Camp. I knew I could continue straight for a gradual mile to the PCT or I could hang a sharp left on a shorter steeper route that had me scrambling in a power hike, but popped me right onto the trail. I power hiked up and took the more gradual option on the way down.
When I reached the PCT the views were absolutely epic. It was a bluebird day so I was able to see the trail along the ridge as I looked across the range of rolling peaks. The terrain was perfectly run-able with mellow undulations. You can see from the pictures above how inviting (and empty) the ridge line was.
I lost track of time and was on the trail for around 3 hours. My pace was inconsistent because I kept stopping to stare at my surroundings. All things considered, I think this has been one of my favorite trail runs of the summer.
Meanwhile, Justin was on a 4+ hour run with Max, battling the uphills. I stretched for a bit at the car, drank a couple liters of water, ate lunch and was on my way to refill my water bottles when I saw Justin and Max getting out of one of the gondolas. They said they thought about running the last downhill, but the gondola won them over. I don't blame them...
We packed up the car and headed down to the White River for a post-run ice bath before heading back home to Seattle.
If you decide to run these trails, go soon! The weather is changing in Seattle and it won't be long until the Cascades are covered in snow. I usually recommend going on a weekday, but I ran here on a Sunday and the trail was practically empty. If you wanted to make a weekend out of the trails there are a few large campgrounds along hwy 410 not far from Crystal Mtn Blvd.
Crystal Mountain Lodge: 33914 Crystal Mountain Blvd
Buillon Basin Trail (#1156) & Pacific Crest Trail
Elevation Gain: ~2500ft to the PCT from the base lot
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.