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Lake 22—December 2003

The two features that best characterize the natural history of western Washington would have to be the ancient coniferous forests our climate fosters and the effects on the land of water in its various forms. Both can be experienced on the Lake Twenty-Two trail in winter. This 790 acre Research Natural Area on the north flank of Mt. Pilchuck was set aside in 1947 to compare ecosystem processes in a virgin forest with those in logged forests. Camping, camp fires, and travel off trail are all prohibited.

The hike begins at 1000’ in forest mature enough to be dominated by its climax species. Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) of all ages are growing and regenerating in the shade of centuries old members of their own species. Dull Oregon-grape (Berberis nervosa) and deer fern (Blechnum spicant) rise out of luxuriant carpets of mosses.

Winter is moss time in the lowlands. Bring a hand lens and your favorite bryologist and you may spend the whole day happily exploring the first ¼ mile of trail. Mosses cover nearly every surface, filling the boundary layer with a fantastic array of textures ideally suited to channel moisture. Anyone can learn to recognize feathery stair step moss (Hylocomium splendens), spiky haircap mosses (Polytrichum sp.), and wavy-leaved cotton moss (Plagiothecium undulatum).

Water drips and roars. Every needle, leaf, frond, and blade tip holds a drop of water. Water streams through every rock crevice. Torrents of water cascade over rock ledges at every bend in the trail as Twenty-Two Creek carries bits of Mt. Pilchuck on their way to the Stillaguamish estuary.

The biggest trunks in the forest belong to western redcedar (Thuja plicata), living and dead, abundant in this area of super high precipitation. If decomposers make noise, listen for the munching of millions of saprophytes recycling tons of organic matter to feed the forest.

At about 1700’ enter an earlier stage in the life of a forest. Avalanche slopes, frequently disturbed, remain in a shrub dominated state. Vine maple (Acer circinatum), devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus), salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), and deciduous members of the Ericaceae such as Alaskan blueberry (Vaccinium alaskaense) and fool’s huckleberry (Menziesia ferruginea) line the slopes. If snow covered, turn around here.

If not, switchback up the avalanche slopes until the forest is re-entered at 2150’, this time in the Pacific Silver Fir Zone. Note the increasing abundance of Pacific Silver Fir (Abies amabilis) and Alaska –cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis). Expect deep snow here, an explanation for the change in forest zone.

The trail levels as the lake is neared. Nestled in a forbidding glacial cirque a half-mile deep is Lake Twenty-Two. Though only 2413’, the basin is full of ice and snow. The lake is ringed by mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) and copperbush (Elliottia pyroliflorus), a plant association common to more northern latitudes. Bare patches of water near the outlet may have an American dipper dipping. Waterfalls spill off of snowy ledges high on the cirque wall, rocks large and small tumble down to join the talus at its base, and avalanches thunder.

The Lake Twenty-Two trail is a trip through time. Travel from the forest before the arrival of European settlers, to the early seral shrubby avalanche slope, back to the glacial forces that carved new landforms and set the stage for the march of primary productivity that followed.

To take this trip, drive the Mountain Loop Highway from Granite Falls to MP 13 and the trailhead on your right. Expect rain and snow, regardless of the weather elsewhere. Bring warm clothes, rain gear, the 10 essentials, a thermos, good boots, and perhaps a ski pole to help negotiate snow and ice on this moderate 5.4 mile round trip hike.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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