Hike to Melakwa Lake
Saturday September 30th 2006
We took this hike on a glorious fall day. Autumn is the ideal time for this hike. Melakwa is Indian for mosquito, but this late in the season we did not see a single mosquito. It was a bit cool at the start, with overcast fog and clouds, but that burned off later in the day. This is an extremely popular trail, but when we started at 9:00 AM, there were only 6 other cars in the parking lot, and it looked like they had all been there over night. We didn't see another soul on the trail until we got over the Hemlock Pass, and he was a backpacker heading out after a night of camping. Shortly thereafter, we were passed by two hardy trail runners. How do these guys do it? I can understand being in great shape, and running up the mountainside, but I can't understand how they keep their footing when running over roots and rocks - there are numerous avalanche scree zones to cross on this trail, why don't they turn an ankle? Impressive that they ran all the way up the mountainside. I don't mean to imply that the trail is in bad shape - in fact, it is in marvelous shape, but it doesn't look like a running surface to me.
Near the start of the trail, less than half a mile in, the trail passes beneath the westbound lane of I-90. This span of the freeway towers above the forest. It looks like a movie set from a science fiction epic in the future, in a post civilization world, when the plants have grown back to cover the works of man, and only the highest monuments remain standing above the wilderness. Of course, this highway span isn't a broken down ruin, but it does look out of place above the forest.
The trail follows Denny Creek most of the way up the valley, with uphill climbing much of the distance. It isn't as tough a hike as the unrelenting ascent at Granite Mountain or Blanca Lake, but it still can be tiring. Thank goodness we started early and it wasn't too hot. Our hiking guide book rates this hike as difficult, with 2700 total feet of elevation gain. There is a bunch of switchbacks to get up to Hemlock Pass, but once you are over the summit, it is only a few tenths of a mile through the forest to reach the lake.
Partway up the slope, just as you are leaving the last of the shady trees, you can see Keewulee Falls. There wasn't too much water flowing, but it still looked pretty. Apparently, when there is a large volume of water pouring over the cliff, it can generate a fine mist that creates beautiful rainbows on sunny days, but we did not see this. We may have to return to see this lake in the early summer conditions, when there is more water in the falls and snow on the peaks around Melakwa Lake.
On the last day in September, when we did this hike, the trees have changed color, especially at the higher elevations, so on a nice day like this we got some glorious views along along the trail and at the lake shore. Everything looks wonderfully nice. I am really pleased with how nice some of these photographs turned out - but it is easy to get nice looking results when the scenery is this good.
Up by the lake, wind gusts suddenly picked up while we were there (it took us about 2 hours to climb the 4.5 miles to the lake). They weren't bone chilling cold, but they were cool, and we wondered where the breeze was coming from, since Lake Melakwa seems to have mountains all around it. Later in the day, as we were descending back down the trail, we could see heavy fog spilling over the mountains.
Lake Melakwa is wonderful place to linger for lunch. We spent an hour sitting on a rock, and then walking around on the shore to catch the different views. We found Upper Lake Melakwa, separated from Lake Melakwa by only a few hundred yards. A rocky channel of water connects the two lakes, but there wasn't much water flowing on the late September day when we were there.
When we were looking at Upper Melakwa Lake, we met a guy who had just returned from climbing up Kaleetan Peak, which apparently can be summited just by scrambling over rocks and boulders, no climbing gear is necessary. I did a little web surfing, and found this website, which has some nice photos of the area we were in. This guy has some nice photos.
When we hiked back down to the parking lot, we passed many people making the ascent. It is a beautiful lake, and deserves its popularity. That's why I ended up with so many pictures - so many nice things to look at! We counted over 40 cars in the parking lot. We were too tired to take the 1 mile trail out to Franklin Falls, so we will have to return at some point to check that out.
Here is my panorama picture from the shore of Melakwa Lake - click on the picture below to see full size view. The second panorama is Upper Melakwa Lake.
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