They say that only with great risk comes great reward…or something like that. The hike to Lake Serene, while not without risk, is not the riskiest hike ever. It isn’t as though you are summitting Everest. But it does require great effort. Like climbing on the stairmaster for two and a half straight hours effort. That said, for us, this great effort provided great reward – as in BEST HIKE WE’VE DONE YET reward.
But let me start at the beginning. The trailhead to Lake Serene starts at the same place as the trailhead to Bridal Veil Falls (one of our favorite waterfalls in the Pacwest).
We’ve hiked to Bridal Veil Falls twice in the past and it is a hike we highly recommend.
Both trails start on a singular dirt road which then becomes a smaller trail in a very verdant forest. To say moss is prevalent here is an understatement – it is literally everywhere and it is stunning.
The trail shows signs of former lumbering activity – with old spikes in forgotten tree trunks and notched areas where climbing planks were used by lumberjacks to cut down monstrous trees. As we’ve encountered on other hikes in the area, the smell of coal/sulphur is prevalent – mostly being emitted near the creeks that wander through the forest.
After about 1.7 miles on the trail, there is a fork with the right fork trail leading to Bridal Veil Falls one-half mile further. To the left, in two miles is Lake Serene. As I mentioned, Chad and I had never taken this path before, as we had always opted to go to the falls. But on this cold, icy January day, we decided to head towards the lake. Two miles…the longest, steepest two miles I could ever imagine…
Upon taking this route, first you descend a little in a denser forest arriving at the basin of the waterfall. Not the roaring Maid of the Mist-like experience at the upper part of the falls (especially in the winter when much of the water was frozen), but glorious nonetheless.
It was cool to see the partially frozen falls and the icicles that abounded. It was a such a nice surprise to have such a great photo opp so early in the hike.
We continued onward and upward, upward, upward – going through a series of switchbacks with lots and lots of stairs (did I mention the great effort involved in this hike?).
It was a foggy day, so our views were not spectacular on the way up, but we could imagine what the views would be in clearer weather and on occasion we got a glimpse of such views.
Eventually we came to snow on the trail. We had read trip reports from WTA, so we knew to bring our microspikes. But it was misleading at first – because just as we put them on and hiked a bit further, the trail resumed to rocks, tree roots, and dirt, so we took them off again. We were careful when we encountered snow again, but kept the microspikes off until it was absolutely necessary. A hiker returning down the trail told us that the spikes would indeed be needed as, she told us “It is a winter wonderland up there”. We continued on, happy at the thought of what we might encounter.
Did I mention this was the longest two miles ever? Chad even joked that he didn’t think Lake Serene really existed because we just kept climbing up and up and never seemed to get to a lake…But soon after the hiker told us about the winter wonderland, and just after we officially donned the microspikes amidst the snow, we descended through some pine trees to the lake basin and gasped at the sight of the most beautiful frozen Alpine lake with Mount Index towering some 3,000 feet above our heads at the edge of the lake.
Amazing and breathtaking and so very, very frozen this time of year. We noticed other hikers walking the length of the lake on the frozen lake itself (as there didn’t appear to be any path along the side of the lake). We, too, wanted to walk on the frozen lake and so we did – another mile or so.
At the end of the lake were these magnificent ice caves. We walked up closer. The caves were so large, you could drive a semi-truck into them without hitting the top or sides of the caves. People were inside the caves taking photos, but Chad and I decided to cautiously remain outside the caves to enjoy the sight.
It was such a great experience to walk the length of the lake, because in the summer, I don’t know if you can get to that side of lake (since we didn’t see any lakeside paths). So we felt as though we were seeing parts of the lake that could only be seen by walking on the frozen lake (or boating on the lake in summer).
It had taken us about 2.5 hours to get up to the lake and our lake exploration took another half-hour, so we decided we needed to start our descent in order to avoid hiking in the dark. What goes up must come down and the stairs were not much easier going down. But we were still beaming from the awesome lake and mountain views. The views…and the thought of a cheeseburger and beer post-hike, kept us going.
Once in our car, our legs already aching from the climb, we drove through the towns of Gold Bar and Start Up in search of a good burger joint. Being out in the mountains, the options were few and far between. We finally passed by a place in Sultan, which advertised Fish & Chips in its window – a bonus for pescetarian, Chad. We pulled into the crowded parking lot and walked towards the restaurant. Outside the restaurant, a marquee gave us a sense of what we might encounter:
Even though it was around 4:45 pm and the advertised event would likely be over, the bar/restaurant was hopping and music was playing loudly. So I said to Chad, “We are either about to encounter a funeral or a live band, I’m not sure.” Passing through the crowded bar in to the restaurant, we saw lots of intoxicated people singing karaoke in the restaurant area. The tables looked to be reserved, so we asked a woman who was watching the karaoke what was going on. She informed us that it was, indeed, a Celebration of Life for a man who we’ll call John.
John, she told us, lived a good life and his photo was right over in the corner if we wanted to take a look. We felt rude not taking a glimpse, so we ventured over to the photo table. John did look like a very nice guy and he seemed to have lots of people in his life who loved him. The woman came up to us, pointed to the buffet tables filled with potluck food the attendants had brought, and encouraged us to eat something because “Whatever we didn’t eat would be thrown away.” There was enough food on the tables to feed a few armies. Chad and I weren’t sure what to do – since we felt awkward crashing this funeral. But the woman ran to the kitchen and quickly returned with some plates for us. Too late to turn back now…we loaded our plates with beans and coleslaw and pasta and went over to a table in the corner to eat and watch the attendants singing 80s songs to ease their mourning.
Once we had eaten, we felt rude just crashing, eating and dashing, so we went over to the woman to thank her for the food and give our condolences for her loss. She was talking to a rather intoxicated man, who did not want to see us go. “No,” he said boisterously, “You must stay and drink!” We demurred, “No thank you, we must be going.” “No!” he retorted, “You must stay and drink!” We had thought perhaps he had had enough to drink on behalf of all of us, but he insisted. At that point, a bartender handed out a greenish-yellow shot called a “Touchdown”. We were handed ours and were told by our drunk friend that we must shoot the drink, not sip it, as it supposedly tastes awful. Oh yay, we thought…as we wondered if we would make it out of this place alive. A woman got up to give an emotional toast to John. Once she finally finished, we all raised our glasses and the shot was shot. At that point, we were finally able to get past our drunk friend and we told him we were going to the bar. Once in the bar area, we made our escape.
So, long story short, Lake Serene is a magnificent winter hike, but not without effort. And if you are looking to reward yourself with a cheeseburger, beer or fish & chips, perhaps drive past any place mentioning a Celebration of Life on their marquee…
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