Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Lake Ann (Teanaway)

Summit Chief, Bears Breast, and Mount Daniel rise over Lake Ann
8.2 miles round trip, 2600 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Good gravel road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required

Want subalpine larches on a reasonable day hike within a reasonable drive from Seattle without the crowds? Lake Ann in the Teanaway is a good solution: while lacking the big views of Mount Stuart from the hike to Lake Ingalls on the other side of Ingalls Peak, this hike delivers great views of the Central Cascades, has a decent amount of larches, and gets a fraction of the traffic of its better known neighboring hike. While the tiny lake and the sweeping views of this hike can be enjoyed throughout the summer and fall, I highly recommend visiting around the first two weeks of October to catch the subalpine larches in the Fortune Creek Valley turn gold.

I hiked this trail on an autumn Sunday. From Seattle, I took I-90 east to Cle Elum. I followed Highway 903 through Cle Elum; the road turned into Highway 10 after leaving town. About three miles past the town, I stayed to the left to head onto Highway 970 in the direction of Wenatchee. Another four miles on, we turned left onto Teanaway Road and followed the paved but narrow road along the Teanaway River, with good views of both the Teanaway and Stuart Ranges. The paved road changed to a good gravel when the road entered Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest; I followed the gravel road for a little over a mile past a bridge over Stafford Creek to the junction with NF-9737. Here, we took the left fork and followed it to the Esmeralda Basin Trailhead at the end of the road. While the road was a bit washboarded, it was in pretty good shape- substantially better than the field of potholes that I had to navigate to get to the same trailhead four years earlier.

Lake Ingalls is very popular on nice October weekends and that day was no exception: I arrived a little after 9:30 and found cars parked alongside the road for a quarter mile out of the parking lot (at its worse, hikers arriving around 10:30 had to park as far as a mile away). Luckily, these crowds won't follow you as just about everyone is heading to Lake Ingalls and not Lake Ann. Come midweek if you want solitude at the trailhead as well as on the trail.

From the trailhead, I headed off on the Esmeralda Basin Trail, which immediately began to ascend as it followed an old road alongside the North Fork Teanaway River. In a third of a mile, I arrived at a junction where Ingalls Way (Trail 1390) broke off to the right and Esmeralda Basin Trail 1394 continued straight. The steep and sharp profile of Esmeralda Peak East rose precipitously above the clearing at this junction. I went straight at this junction, leaving behind the heavy foot traffic heading towards Lake Ingalls and spending most of the rest of the day on a fairly quiet trail.

Esmeralda Peak East at the Ingalls Way junction
The trail was fairly uneventful past the junction, continuing an uphill climb at a steady grade that it maintained all the way to the junction with the Lake Ann Trail near Fortune Pass. For the most part, the trail followed an old road trace that once led up to mines in the upper part of Esmeralda Basin. At times, small clearings along the trail allowed for nice views of the rocky Esmeralda Peaks that surrounded the basin.

Esmeralda Peaks
The steady ascent was maintained as the trail approached the western end of the basin; here, the trail began a series of broad and fairly gentle switchbacks as it ascended towards Fortune Pass. At no point did Esmeralda Basin Trail No. 1394 feel particularly steep. As I ascended through the switchbacks, I exited the forest and was greeted by sweeping views of the Esmeralda Peaks.

Esmeralda Peaks
At just over 3 miles from the trailhead, I came to the junction with the Lake Ann Trail, which broke off to the right and began a steeper climb. Looking further along Esmeralda Basin Trail 1394, I realized that I was almost at Fortune Pass, so I decided to take a brief detour to the pass before continuing on to Lake Ann. This added about a half of a mile round trip and somewhere around 100 feet of elevation gain to my hike; I arrived at the pass shortly after passing the junction. The bald pass gave a view to the west of the impressive north face of Hawkins Mountains and of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness peaks in the distance, as well as the Esmeralda Peaks to the east. While this was a nice short detour (adding about 20 minutes total to my hike), the view is not quite as impressive as that from the shoulder of Fortune Peak above Lake Ann further on the hike; I wouldn't recommend this detour for hikers who don't have the extra time to do it.

Mount Hawkins at Fortune Pass
Returning to the junction, I started uphill on the steeper grade of the Lake Ann Trail. Views of Fortune Peak ahead faded in and out with the varying sparseness of forest. As I climbed higher, views of Mount Rainier began to occasionally peep through the forest to the south until I finally broke out into a broad, open slope higher on the slopes of Fortune Peak with clear views to the south of Rainier and Hawkins Mountain.

Rainier from the shoulder of Fortune Peak
At about 3.8 miles, I arrived on the shoulder of Fortune Peak, overlooking Lake Ann. Here, I spotted the first larch of the hike right next to the trail- as well as a few groves of larches scattered in the basin below. Fortune Peak rose to the east, at the end of the ridge leading up from where I stood and the summits of Ingalls Peak rose to the north over small and shallow but pretty Lake Ann. Glacier Peak made an appearance through a valley to the north.

Ingalls Peak rises above Lake Ann
From the trail, I followed a social path just briefly to the west to reach the local high point, where I had a sweeping view over not just Lake Ann but the entire Fortune Creek Valley and the high peaks of the Central Cascades to the west. The most impressive peaks of that range were on display here: Lemah, Chimney Rock, Overcoat, Summit Chief, Bears Breast, Hinman, and Daniel. Bright golden larches dotted the valley below.

Larches in the Fortune Creek Valley (late afternoon)
This was perhaps the most scenic viewpoint on the entire hike, with plenty of views of larches and rugged mountains. I spent time at this viewpoint both on my way in to and out from the lake, catching the scene with two very different lighting conditions.

Larches in Fortune Creek Valley (noon)
Lemah, Chimney Rock, Overcoat, and Summit Chief rise above Fortune Creek Valley larches
After enjoying the views, I followed the trail down to Lake Ann. The trail dropped about 350 feet from the ridge to the lake, descending through a scree slope with open views of Fortune Peak, Ingalls Peak, and the lake. The trail passed by a small grove of bright larches before dropping through rocky terrain to the lake itself.

Lake Ann
Lake Ann had a pretty turquoise color but was both small and shallow; in many ways, pond seemed a more apt descriptor than lake. The spectacular setting of mountains and larches made up for what the lake itself lacked in charisma.

Lake Ann
The larches around the lake were at peak color, displaying golden needles that emitted a fiery glow when backlit by the sun. These are subalpine larches, the more scraggly but more colorful of the two varieties of deciduous conifers in Washington state; their cousins, the western larch, is typically found at lower elevations in friendlier climes. Each October- typically between about the first and twentieth of the month- the subalpine larches in the Teanaway turn from green to yellow as these conifers shed their needles for the winter.

Larches at Lake Ann
The trail tracked the western edge of the lake, never coming to the lakeshore itself; I followed a social path to the shore of the lake to take in the contrast of the green water with the golden larches.

At the northern end of the lake, the trail crossed the outlet of the lake; here, there was a nice view to the west of some of the Alpine Lakes peaks paired with some larches.

Chimney Rock, Overcoat, and Summit Chief
After crossing the outlet stream, I decided to make a circumnavigation of the lake. Leaving the trail, I alternately followed social paths and scrambled my way across talus slopes to get around the lake. The eastern shore of the lake offered nice views of the lake with Mount Daniel and Summit Chief rising above larches as a backdrop.

Lake Ann
Lake Ann
Lake Ann
There was just one couple at the lake when I arrived and they left by the time I finished circling the lake. As it was still early in the afternoon and I had time to kill, I lounged by the lake alone for much of the rest of the afternoon, taking a nap in the warm autumn sunshine and embarking on an off-trail hunt for more larches. Leaving the trail at the southern end of the lake, I explored a few groves of larches that I had made note of while on the ridge above earlier. Larch density was quite a bit higher away from the lake and I enjoyed getting to spend more quality time with these soft and brilliant trees before returning to Seattle that evening.

Fortune Creek Valley larches (off-trail)
Fortune Creek Valley larches (off-trail)

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