Lake Serene, Washington
Though I'm writing this trip report over 4 years later, I remember this experience quite well for a variety of reasons. To start with, it was my first hike into the mountains of Washington State... actually, it was really my first big hike into the mountains in my life (besides a few quick jaunts at the base of some Alberta Rockie Mountains at age 15, which is where the "Call" must have begun, now that I think about it). This hike was selected due to it's relative "short" day hike claim and closeness to the city of Everett where we were staying. I also loved the photos I saw of rising Mount Index at the base of Lake Serene. The size and jutting nature of the huge wall of rock looked incredible, and I knew standing near its base would be all the more spectacular.
Since it was my first real hike, the anticipation was incredibly high... as well as my ignorance of the challenge ahead! Alice and I had really not physically prepared that much for this hike, thinking naively that the short jaunts we'd occasionally made on the Luskville Falls trails would be sufficient preparation. Obviously a short 4 kilometer hike to 1050 feet compared to an 8 mile hike to 2500 feet is a bit of a difference (Damn metric vs standard confusion! Yeah! That's it!).
Looking back on it now compared to the hikes we've done since, I'm still a bit surprised that this hike felt like one of the hardest. Again, it must have been due to the lack of physical conditioning and inexperience.
Following the directions given in 100 Classic Hikes in Washington we found our way to the trailhead early one morning. The hike from the trailhead to the beginning of the switchbacks is a major length of the overall hike, with not much to see along the way besides Bridal Veil Falls and a lot of trees.
Warned in the guide about the "endless switchbacks", we probably started on these with a healthy sense of challenge. The sureness in our gait did not last past the umpteenth switchback, instead it was replaced with slow, painful progress with head awkwardly cranked upwards in search of an end or leveling out, or at least a glimpse of Mount Index to call us on. Eventually, of course, it did level off and we continued on a nice gradual climb towards the lake in the mountains.
Reaching the top was as satisfying and the view as beautiful as expected. The small lakes opposite shore was surrounded by a sheer mass of gray rock pinnacles reaching hundreds of feet above us. Thinking of how men have climbed Mount Index, one realizes how small a challenge it actually is just to reach Lake Serene in comparison, yet my sense of joy and accomplishement to be able to take in such view through my own physical efforts was still amazing.
The lake, of course, is not exactly the ideal type to swim in. It's cold and, from what I remember, the shores are a bit log jammed and scummy. I was interested in making my way to the base of the rock walls, but soon discovered it would have required some bush whacking, which, at that point, I wasn't too keen on doing knowing the descent that lay ahead of me. Instead I just let my eyes absord the views, my lungs absord the mountain air and my stomach absord lunch! And just so you know, like the cliffs of Mount Index, the box latrine is quite "exposed"... so if privacy is a concern, you might want someone standing guard for you!
Not sure at what point I realized my feet were planning a grave revenge on me for all the abuse I had served up, but by the end of the hike down the switchbacks the blisters were in full formation and ready to blow. So now with soar leg muscles, we continued the long, seemingly endless, trek through the forest towards the parking area. This, I must say, seemed to stretch on forever, but it probably had more to do with my aching feet and burning blisters than distance.
Finally reaching the car was a relief of course. Sitting on the cushy bucket seats and unlacing thosed damned Zamberlan leather boots felt like the removal of an ancient and especially cruel torture device. Those boots had survived their first big trek, unfortunately my feet hadn't... and yet I would go on to climb with those Blisterland boots for the next 4 years, never learning my lesson, blister after blister... until one fateful camping trip in Algonquin park in June 2006 when a huge blister was formed after only a few hundred meters of walking on relatively flat ground with a canoe on my head... how these evil devil boots could accomplish such a wound in such a short time was the breaking point for me. My divorce from them took place a couple of weeks ago. I now own a nice comfy pair of Vasque Breeze GORE-TEX XCR Day Hiking Boots which will be put to the test very soon on a fall camping trip (including, to be sure, a canoe on the head!). Yeah, they may not have the ankle support the hard Zamberlan's had, but at least I'll be able to come home unblistered!
Just as a side note, in case anyone would be as careless as me, if you ALREADY have a blister on your heel, it's really not a good idea to try Band-Aid's Blister Block as a healing method (despite what the box claims). These may be helpful to prevent the blister, but certainly not to heal one. Unless you enjoy ripping off the loose (and not so loose!) skin of giant blisters, I would suggest avoiding this product.
Distance: 8 miles roundtrip
Time: 8 hour trip
Elevation Gain: 2000 feet
Trailhead Elevation: 600 feet
Maximum Elevation: 2521 feet
GPS Coordinates: 47° 47' 06"N, 121° 34' 15"W (WGS84/NAD83) Topozone map.
Washington Trails Association information on Lake Serene (driving directions, trail conditions, stats, etc.).