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Eagle Lake 1

Hiked 2021-07-16

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Eagle Lake is a beautiful high Alpine Lake in the Wild Sky Wilderness. There was a nice forest service road (FS65) up to just east of it in the past, making it a popular fishing destination where locals had built a rustic cabin along the shore. Today, the road is washed out and impassable. And the trailhead for "the Eagle Lake Fisherman's Trail" is therefore unreachable.

Nowadays, the only way up to Eagle Lake is via a rugged scramble up the side of the mountain to the south, starting from the east / far end of Barclay Lake. This strenuous scramble requires an elevation gain of nearly 1,500 feet over 2.2 miles, with a grade in some places of over 50%. It also requires strong navigation skills because there is no trail and the way is unmarked, except for the occasional rock cairn. Storms in the area have also littered blown-down trees across the face of the mountain. Anyone wanting to visit Eagle Lake and its famous cabin will have to be an experienced outdoorsperson and have some tolerance for pain to make the trek.


Terence found the cabin on a backwoods map and with a bit of internet sleuthing determined that the hike to Eagle Lake wasn't going to be simple. Thankfully, a few hikers had documented their approach with some old-fashioned directions like "cut across the face of the Talus scope below the big rock." With this information in hand, a Green Trails map of the area, and offline data downloaded to OnX, we set out toward the Barclay Lake trailhead.

Barclay Lake is a gentle, family-friendly hike in Snohomish County near Baring, WA. If you have kids, this is an under-appreciated gem, considering that more popular trails like Denny Falls and Little Si are more highly-trafficked but arguably of less value.

At any rate, Terence and I hiked into Barclay Lake and proceeded to the east end. We found the second "toilet" here, but were baffled as to how to proceed. We wandered in the woods there awhile and decided to hike up what looked like an animal trail.

That was the right move, as we soon came across the "Wild Sky Wilderness" sign that some of our sources had mentioned. It marks a trail that is no longer really there. There were already a number of blow-downs that we had to scramble under or over, and I was immediately thankful that Terence had recommended I come with strong gloves and two trekking poles. The only thing I was missing was knee pads. It was too late for that, though.

With forty pounds of gear on my back, it was a workout crawling under large Douglas Firs that littered the way. We made our way slowly. Sometimes we backtracked from dead ends. Other times, we split up at forks while keeping each other in ear shot. Through consistent trial and error, we found the way, often based on an old ribbon tied to a branch or a lonely cairn marking the path.

Eventually, we came out of the dense woods and into an open rock scree. We followed what cairns we could find across this slope as well, hopeful that beyond this point the unforgiving climb would level out. Our hopes were dashed, though. Once past the talus slope, the trail takes off again up a steep ravine between two ridges. We had to periodically stop and rest.

After three hours, we were eventually rewarded by the sight of pristine Stone Lake!

From here, a visible trail takes off to the north through a marshy area. You have to cross a stream that zig-zags through the marsh several times. Other trails intersect and lead off in various directions, as well, so stay on course as it is easy to accidentally route away from the area.

If you're successful, you will eventually emerge from the trees and stumble across Eagle Lake!

Above: the southern shore of Eagle Lake with Merchant Peak rising in the background.

Below: a view in the other direction, toward the east half of Eagle Lake.

After you come upon the lake, cut through trees toward the west, and you'll find a footpath leading parallel to Eagle Lake's southern shore. It is along this footpath that you'll find the fabled fishing cabin.

When we stayed here, the cabin was in poor shape. The wood stove had been removed, leaving a short length of stovepipe hanging through the ceiling. A battered bookshelf had collapsed in the northwestern corner. The bed was intact, but not level. There were a few items left by past cabin residents in the one remaining cabinet in the southeast corner, but nothing useful. (e.g. An old spoon, a dilapidated and full "guest book," etc.)

Still, it was nice to not have to pitch a tent and to instead have a roof over your head and four walls! And to top that off, we found a patch of frozen snow behind the cabin to store our drinks. Score! Terence and I ate freeze-dried meals while telling old stories and watching a mist descend on the lake. About 9pm, when the last ray of sunlight fell behind Merchant Peak, we watched the surface of the water percolate with fish feeding on nighttime insects.

The next morning we cleaned up some trash we had found in and around the cabin, and packed it out. I find that packing a second garbage bag is always a good idea. And leaving a place better than you found it is an even better one. By the way, if you have a couple dollars to spare consider supporting Leave No Trace to keep places like Eagle Lake the way they are supposed to be. If you don't, you can also help by simply learning and practicing the 7 principles.

And if you're interested in more about Eagle Lake, check out the second trip I took there.

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