Mason Lake in Early Winter

Ira Spring was a revered photographer, mountaineer, and conservationist who founded the Washington Trails Association, supplied photos for the 100 Hikes guide books, and helped establish North Cascades National Park, protected as a wilderness. Here is a trip report from an early winter hike on the Ira Spring trail to Mason Lake.

Snoqualmie Valley has the nearest mountain wilderness for Seattle residents. It sits on the west side of the Cascade Crest, meaning it’s wet and lush; timbered slopes rise up on either side of the river. The Mason Lake trail starts following an old logging road which quickly peters out into a narrow trail, ascends through the forest passing a waterfall (the last source for two miles!), then switchbacks through a broad, steep meadow. The views down the valley, and of Rainier towering over the surrounding peaks, are fantastic on a clear day. Through the spring and summer the meadow fills with lupine and Indian paintbrush, but this was a winter hike, the wildflowers were long gone, their remains covered with a dusting of snow.

The trail ascends the north wall of the Snoqualmie Valley, eventually reaching the crest of the ridge and entering the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.

Ira Spring Trail, talus section

Talus slope under a dusting of snow

A side trail leads to the summit of nearby Bandera Mountain, but this hike instead goes to Mason Lake, which involves a short descent down the north side of the ridge, back into the forest.

Snowy boulders and Douglas fir trees

Dense west-side forest and snowy boulders

Eventually the trail crosses a small and slightly braided stream – water once again! – and comes out to an opening in the forest, Mason Lake.

Peninsula on Mason Lake

Peninsula on Mason Lake

Snowy Logs in Mason Lake

Snowy Logs rising out of Mason Lake

The trail meanders along the north shore of the lake, then splits once again, one branch heading east, and the other, which we followed, heading north toward Mount Defiance’s peak. Our branch rises up above Lake Kullakulla, which is not visible from the trail. The forest is just too thick.

We sat on a fallen tree, had lunch, and turned back. Winter means short days, and none of us wanted to hike through the woods in the dark on a cold night. So we found our way back to the lake, paused for a few more photos, then headed back up over the ridge and down the far side.

Final view of Mason Lake

Still waters and snowy trees

The Ira Spring trail is a popular one, and in the summer it’s hard to find solitude here. As winter descends on the northwest, most hiking trails thin out, especially ones, like this, that are served by long dirt roads which may or may not be open. We only saw a few other people on the trail.

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