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On a whim, with the weather looking perfect, I decided it was time to knock off a hike that’d been on my list for nearly as long as I’ve had a hiking/backpacking list: Hidden Lake Overlook. This 9-mile round-trip hike embodies everything the North Cascades stand for — gnarly roots, aggressive elevation gains, rugged peaks, panoramic views… and mosquitoes. Coincidentally, this was my first ever solo overnight backpacking trip. I’m not sure how I’ve come this far without doing a solo trip, but this was the first.

I hit the road at 1330 hrs with an expected 2-hour travel time to the trailhead. No hiccups encountered and I was on the trail by 1545 hrs. It was hot and humid so with my unusually heavy pack (normally, I’m traveling pretty light with just my photo gear, water and some snacks), I was working almost immediately. Fortunately, this trail only gains 3,000′ over the course of it’s 4.5 miles /sarcasm.

I’d break this hike into four “zones”. First: Roots. Covering roughly the first mile of the hike, Zone One is classic North Cascades forest — old growth trees with gnarled and exposed roots. No taking in the sights here, it’s heads-down, planning every footfall. After a considerable 1/8th-mile wooden boardwalk to keep hikers out of the chute drainage from above, I broke out into Zone Two: The Chute.

The chute reminds me of a grassy Aasgard Pass. You can see where you need to go, but it’s just a long ways up. The trail switchbacks through the shrubs and wildflowers and with a consistent pace, it actually goes pretty quick. Unfortunately for my timing, I was baking in full afternoon sun the whole way up the chute and paid dearly.

Zone Two melts into Zone Three (Southern Traverse) almost seamlessly, but soon I realized I was no longer switching back and was now traversing south below the ridge at more or less a consistent elevation. The terrain began to change to boulder fields as I crossed rockfall sections. At a decent elevation now, the views to the west were spectacular: mountains for days.

After a mile or so, a couple of short, quick switchbacks signaled the my arrival into Zone Four: High Ridge. Still below the true ridgeline, I gained a second-level ridge that meandered up and down, still traversing south. Ahead and up (waaaaay up), I could see the Hidden Lake Lookout, so at least I knew where I stood in relation to my goal. Zone Four goes fairly quickly, especially being able to view the end. Zone Four ends at a small saddle in the highest ridge that put me into the Hidden Lake basin.

From there, it’s a veritable choose-your-own-adventure, with options of descending 500′ to the surface of Hidden Lake or ascending 300′ to the lookout on the promontory or hiking to any number of peaks along the ridge. I opted to go up, dropping my backpack gear below the saddle and continuing upward with only my photo bag. It was a good decision. The trail to the lookout is at times more of a scramble, and the last 30′ vertical is a boulder-hop.

From the lookout, it’s a true 360-degree view into the Cascades. It felt like Mt Pilchuck on steroids. And the photos are no joke. With sunset fast approaching, I snapped off a few more photos and descended to my camp below and west of the saddle.

Dinner accomplished (Mountain House meal), I ensconced myself in my mummy bag and bivy and fell asleep. Nope. Wanted to. Mosquitoes had other plans for me. Those little buggers were humming in my ears until I pulled the plug at 0300 and packed up. I headed back over the saddle to the Hidden Lake basin and camped out on a large granite boulder, awaiting sunrise. I did fall asleep for another 2 hours and awoke to the sky on fire with a near-sunrise. Perfect timing. I had breakfast and fired off a few more photos. It was great to be there to see the sun start a new day in the Cascades.

The hike down was quick and largely uneventful, only passing one ascending hiker along the way.