Image Lake Hike
Distance: 36 miles (round trip).
Difficulty: Moderate. The trails are well-maintained for the most part, but there is quite a bit of elevation change. The distance would be challenging to someone not in shape for it, especially with the additional weight of a backpack and camping gear.
Note: This doesn’t accurately reflect distance; I drew out a GPS track hastily and mapped the elevation profile that way. So this is straight-line distance across many areas, including the switchbacks. The distance to Image Lake from Holden is 18 miles, not 13. There is about 3,300 feet of elevation change, but it’s more gradual than this graph indicates.
I went with a group on August 1 and we split the hike into 3 days, camping at Cloudy Pass on both nights. On day 1, we hiked from Holden Village to Cloudy Pass (10 miles). On day 2, we hiked from Cloudy Pass to Image Lake and back (16 miles). On day 3, we hiked back to the village.
Day 1: Holden Village to Cloudy Pass (10 miles)
We left by 6 am, aiming to beat the heat and be at Cloudy to set up camp by 1 pm. The 4.5-mile trek from Holden to Hart Lake is mostly in the forest, but near the lake there is a hill that provides an excellent view of Railroad Creek Valley. Smoke from forest fires combined with morning mist created this image as we looked back.
As we made our descent to the lake, a deer and fawn emerged from the trees and walked along the shore.
After Hart Lake, there’s a river crossing. You can leapfrog from rock to rock, but Murphy’s Law dictates that you’ll likely get your feet wet. Wearing wool socks is recommended. As the adage goes, “Cotton kills.”
After some brief time in a serene meadow, we began the switchbacks to Lyman Lake. It was a slog; It was hot, muggy, the bugs were feasting on us despite the DEET we had bathed ourselves in, my neck was killing me because my pack straps had been too loose, and the plants along the trail were overgrown which resulted in some stumbling over rocks that we couldn’t see. A tree with several sharp branches had fallen across the trail, scratching us as we climbed over it.
Finally, we arrived at Lyman Lake and stopped to eat. The bugs were even worse here, though, so we didn’t stay long. I had been at Lyman only a few weeks earlier and the area around the lake had been covered in a few feet snow. There was no sign of snow now, making for an easy last 1.5 miles up the switchbacks to Cloudy Pass.
I had visited Cloudy only once before. My sister and I had done a day hike there and back when we were guests at Holden in 2012. It’s one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous areas I’ve ever been hiked through. The vivid colors of the mountain flowers combined with the miles and miles of mountains make you feel like you’re in the Swiss Alps.
There is a designated campsite, and that’s where we set up. There was a 50% chance of rain for that evening, so we picked a spot under a large grove of trees to provide cover. As soon as we’d set up and eaten, I grabbed a walkie talkie and my camera and went exploring on one of the ridges. I ran into a man who was on a solo hike from Phelps Creek with his dog and en route to Image Lake.
As I was ascending the ridge, I noticed dark clouds starting to move in. Soon after I arrived back at camp, the lightning started. It was a spectacular show; the lightning would illuminate the ridge and the thunder would reverberate through the valley. The lightning was striking within a few miles of us at one point, which was nerve-racking. But the probability of a strike is exceedingly low, and we weren’t the tallest things around (the ridge towered over us and our camp spot was in a large grove of trees).
Soon, the storm passed, and we hiked up to the ridge to watch the sun set. The view was incredible.
Back at camp, the mosquitos and horse flies were horrendous. We had prepared for this with mosquito nets, copious amounts of bug spray, and long-sleeved everything, but we had underestimated their numbers and persistence. They would bite right through clothing. If you stood in one place for more than a few seconds, dozens of them would land on you. Apparently (according to a trusted source), Skin so Soft lotion is highly effective at repelling black flies. I have yet to verify this information, however. I’ll get back to you on that. My recommendation: wear a mosquito net, bring rain gear (it’s harder for them to bite through), be liberal with the bug spray, and eat in your tent if they’re bad.
Day 2: Cloudy Pass to Image Lake and Back (16 miles)
We got an early start and made our way through Suiattle Pass. There’s a shortcut here that can be treacherous if there is snow because of the steep slope and rocks. To be safe, some of us took the long way at first. We all took the shortcut back once we knew it was easily passable. I recommend taking the shortcut if the snow has melted; It’s vertigo-inducing in places but much shorter and more scenic than the other route. The longer path does take you by Agnes Creek, which was pretty.
The final few miles to Image Lake provide a jaw-droppingly incredible view of the Glacier Peak area. You realize how enormous this area is, and how small you are. You feel as if, even after hiking dozens of miles, that you’ve barely scratched the surface of all that is here.
As we traversed Miner’s Ridge, another lightning storm began to form before our eyes. Just our luck (The forecast was for a 20% chance of lightning). We hiked around the lake, took several photos, and then hunkered down in the trees until the storm passed.
Image Lake is apparently named such because of the mirror image of Glacier Peak that is produced when viewed from the Northeast bank.
After the storm passed, we hiked back. We all took the shortcut at Suiattle Pass.
We made it back with plenty of time to cook dinner and catch another beautiful sunset at Cloudy Pass.
Day 3: Cloudy Pass back to Holden Village (10 miles)
This was the easiest day because it was all downhill over familiar terrain. The sun was shining and it was beautiful hiking through the meadows just west of Hart Lake.
We had packed up camp and left Cloudy around 7, so we easily made it back to the village by lunchtime.