Backpacking to Jade Lake via East Fork Foss River/Necklace Valley Trail
16.5 miles round trip, 3000′ elevation gain
June 6-7, 2015
Hwy 2/Skykomish, WA Area
Since we have been up the West Fork of the Foss River a couple of times now, we figured we would try the less visited and more rugged East Fork. Our good friend Dave joined us and provided plenty of entertainment along the way. We headed out of Seattle Saturday morning and hit the trail around 10 am – seems to be our usual hike start time for this year so far. Although Dave had spent a lot of time as a rafting and backpacking guide in CO, this was his first backpack in WA. Maggie and I figured we would pick a tough one to see what he was made of 🙂 We were nice enough to empty all of the unnecessary items out of his pack before we got started (but we did replace them with adult beverages 😉
The first ~5-1/4 miles of the trail are pretty easy going and only gain about 600′ of elevation. The highlights of the first half of this hike were Dave’s alter-ego, Thumper, making an appearance and also watching Dave occasionally picking up a small log to throw it while screaming. We cruised through this portion in about two hours – but not without obstacles. The trail was very overgrown in places, and we even had to fight our way through stinging nettles. Kind of started feeling like we were in the Hunger Games, but we made it to the river crossing for lunch and were able to rinse off. We highly recommend pants for this portion regardless of how hot it might be.
Now that the “easy” part was over, we began the final 3 miles which climb 2400′ to Jade Lake. We had a bit of a hard time finding the trail just after the river crossing. Just past the river crossing you’ll see a firepit with a few campsites. At this point you want to be looking for a log that crosses a creek. From that log, you’ll follow cairns through up through a boulder field. We began climbing out of the shade at this point. Although the views were nice, it was hot! We caught our first glimpse of Mount Hinman during this part of the hike. After climbing for a LONG time, you will cross a nice bridge over a cascading creek. There is still about a mile of rugged hiking to go after this point. We were all pretty drained before we made it to Jade Lake. It took us over three hours to cover those last three miles and we are all fairly strong hikers.
I had set my expectations low for the lakes as I had read trip reports reporting many of them were quite swampy, but upon reaching Jade Lake we were not let down! It was a pristine alpine lake that we could see far down into since it was so clear. Adding to the dramatic effect was Mount Hinman towering over the valley to the South. We found a spectacular campsite at the opposite end of the lake and decided we had enough at that point and that’s where we would stay. The site was right next to the trail, perfectly level, and had logs placed around it making nice seats. The stream feeding the lake was about 30′ away and providing a perfect place to cool the beer and wine Dave had carried up for us.
Feeling renewed by the gorgeous setting, we dropped our packs, and decided to head up the trail a little to see what lay ahead. Apparently we weren’t on the main trail and headed up towards Emerald Lake. We talked to a couple camped on the other side who said they walked around for a while and didn’t find many camps at the other lakes which reinforced our decision to camp where we did. Emerald Lake was swampy and didn’t seem nearly as nice as Jade so we decided to head back and set up camp and enjoy Jade Lake. While we were setting up camp and beginning to relax only two groups of two and a solo hiker/skier passed by. The skier was headed up to La Bohn gap and one of the groups was headed to Tank Lakes. Once we got camp set up and our beers had cooled we headed over to some nice rocks on the lakeshore to take a dip. We had the whole lake to ourselves!
Although the water seemed like a nice temp to the touch, it was actually as cold as alpine lakes usually are. We all got in and Dave even took a swim! Even though it was light out til late, the sun set behind a ridge a little after six and we were glad we had got our swim in. Once we made it back to camp, the mosquitoes had come out in full force. We all bundles up in our hooded jackets and pants, but I still managed to get 50+ bites throughout the trip (I’m not exaggerating – I actually had Maggie count!). After dinner, Maggie retired to the tent to read and escape the bugs, Dave curled up in his hammock by the lake, and I took some pictures around the lake. After doing the usual pre-bedtime routines like brushing and bear-bag hanging I retired to the bug-free tent as well, while Dave continued to make friends with the mosquitoes in his Bivy. It was a no-tent-fly kind of night and Dave told some of his camp stories as we all lay around waiting for the stars to come out.
The stars finally became visible around 10:30. We could see the big dipper fairly clearly and we even all saw an incredible shooting star at the same time! – definitely one of the highlights of the trip! The rest of the night was uneventful besides the supposed bear that came by and pawed Dave – apparently he was quiet enough not to wake Maggie and I though 😉
We got started on the hike out around 9 am. The mosquitoes never really went away the whole time we were at camp. The rugged three miles down still took us a while and we got to the river crossing around 11:30. We panted up there to prepare ourselves for the stinging nettles.
We made it through the nettles without a problem, although we could see them all over our pants. We were pretty beat the rest of the hike out and eventually made it to the car at 2 pm. We passed a National Forest Ranger on the way out who highly recommended heading further up to the Tank Lakes basin next time we come out this way. We hope to take this advice in the future, but we will certainly stay for longer than one night if we make the long slog up this valley again.
Overall, this was a great trip and the three of us had a blast hiking, laughing, and suffering with each other! It was nice to wear Dave out too since he kicked my butt every time we backcountry skied this last spring. This is definitely a difficult hike, but as a result you will get away from the crowds and have a true wilderness experience.