Views From the Top: Mason Lake
Contributed by Jill Johns
“Let’s go for a hike!” is a declaration my kids usually don’t want to hear. They’ve been drug out on hikes and marched down trails since our twins were 10 weeks old (Washington’s Lake Lillian hike was their first ascent, although they hitched a ride up the mountain snuggled firmly in a baby carrier). You’d think that eight years of hiking expeditions would have taught them the lesson that though these trips initially sound like a lot of work for little legs, they will enjoy themselves thoroughly. They may have hundreds of trail miles under their belt, but pre-hike griping seems to come naturally.
Thankfully, food motivation helps! We had gotten a late start and it was long after breakfast when we left Seattle, so we stopped at the grocery store in North Bend to grab some lunch to take along. We grabbed the kids’ current favorite, a pre-packaged hummus and pretzel combo, and I also broke down and got a bag of Hi-chews. They have been our kids’ hiking motivation for a few years now, so we duped them “happy charger bites”.
Our destination was Mason Lake, a pretty little hike just off the I-90 corridor that switches back and forth up and away from the valley and over the ridge to a little mountain lake that gets just enough sun all summer to make it tolerable for a swim on a hot day after the ascent. The round trip is 6.5 miles in total.
Once above the treeline, this hike provides wide-open views of the Alpine Wilderness area, with I-90 winding its way through the valley below, bisecting a region dotted with alpine lakes and trails that point in every direction. As we crossed the hillside, we encountered a heavily bouldered area and weaved our way up and through the path. Our trekking poles made contact with the ground just before each step, helping to propel us upward and keep the momentum. A few thousand steps like that, coupled with some beautiful views and good trail conversation, and we were at the saddle atop the ridge! We had gained over 2,400 feet in elevation in little over 3 miles!
Energized by the excitement of reaching the top of the climbing section of the trail, the kids now set their sites on a rock wall they wanted to grapple with for an extra challenge. The endorphins were kicking in.
Getting to the lake from here was all downhill. It didn’t take much effort and even provided more distractions: we quickly discovered bountiful bushes of ripe huckleberries right along the trail. There’s always time for berry-hunting!
Making it to the lake was easy, but we still wanted to find the perfect lunch spot. We each picked our favorite boulder and settled in, arranging lunch snacks around us, balanced carefully on any flat spot we could find on the rocks.
Since we had skipped the normal lunch hour in order to get our hike started on time, we were famished and downed our snacks quickly. We wanted to take advantage of the last of the warm, late-afternoon sun to take a swim. We stripped down to our swimsuits and found a way we could breach the surface of the cold water. I chose to dive, but my kids went with the oh-so-torturous wade-in method!
While we were drying off, we used the time to wander around and pick more huckleberries along the lake. Since this was mid-week, the trail wasn’t heavily populated – we only saw a few other people dotting the perimeter of the lake. Once it was time to pack up and head for home, we started our descent with our sights set on a late dinner. One thing I have instilled heavily into my kids is the Leave No Trace principle. We pack out everything we bring onto the trail, including our bio-waste like nutshells and orange or banana peelings. I prefer to leave a place better than we found it by picking up trash we see along trails and picnic areas. I always get back to the car with the side pockets of my backpack filled with plastic bottles and wrappers.
While I knew we needed to get a move on, I seriously couldn’t resist huckleberries… can you blame me??? We skirted along the lake’s boulders & bushes that were laden with hucks as we made our way to the head of the lake and back to the trail – at that point I had even started to fill my empty Nalgene with berries for later!
Throughout the rest of the hike, we descended easily, and dare I even say, joyously! I gave my kids the camera to capture some memories from their point of view – another tactic I use to keep them engaged while hiking. As we made our way to the saddle, ready to break into the open face of the mountain, we were suddenly wrapped up in beautiful magic hour light! This is typically the part of the hike when I get to point out that, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad was it?” As we were driving away, my oldest daughter spoke up – “Thanks for taking us, Mom.”