This was one hike which looked a fairly easy 9 mile out and back to Fisher Lake, yet ended up with a couple of interesting circumstances extending it to a 12 mile, 6+ hour jaunt. The trailhead of Tonga Ridge puts you high enough that any incline is moderate after the first 1/4 mile and is a pleasing stroll in partial shade, with some consistently beautiful views up to the Mount Sawyer turnoff.
We opted to head up to the peak of Sawyer first because the forecast was for cloud and potential rain later in the day, which would have likely masked the viewing distance at the top. The steep winding trail affords little shade and I would imagine that on a very hot day, one would have the concern of exposure to the burning Sun. I had commented at the time that this stretch is very similar to the hike up Bandera Mountain; equally unforgiving on a hot day. Even in mid-June there was still some large areas of snow to traverse but despite carrying them, I didn’t have to use my micro spikes.
The peak gives tremendous views including Rainier, Glacier Peak, and Baker to name the most famous. A few bugs are prevalent but nothing to stop me from having lunch with a divine view and apart from the light drone of said insects, it’s an utterly peaceful summit.
We made it halfway back to the trail junction when I realized I was missing my GoPro. I had hung it on a tree branch while having lunch and had stupidly spaced on picking it back up. I ran back up most of the trail before the previous nights alcohol took its toll and reduced to a gasping crawl, I got back to the top, just as a couple of day hikers were walking off with my gear. As it turns out, this was not as nefarious as it sounds; they saw the camera and knew we were on the trail so had assumed I’d either come back for it or just hang around the trailhead carpark at the end to ask about it. Anyway, I’m externally grateful to have caught up with them!
Back on Tonga Ridge, it was less than a mile when we started to try and find the entrance to the unmaintained Fisher Lake trail. You could easily miss the turning as it’s more like a small parting in the trees, than a marked opening. Even though we had a physical map for this route, it was the first real chance I’d had to test out the Garmin for guidance. I would say that on reflection, it’s best use is to give you an approximation of direction, rather than an absolute position. Several times we were off course from multiple factors but mostly snow, water runoff and too much faith in the Garmin. To be fair though, I only plotted a rough estimation so perhaps if I had been able to plot exact points, then it would have been the only reference I needed (I’ll have a chance to test this theory, next month).
After several adjustments, we finally reached the shore of the lake. It still always surprises me that the scale of something is so much different than how you envisage it on a map and this was no exception. Fisher Lake stretches out of view to either side with stunningly clear waters and the occasional ripple of fish. I’d like to come back here in the height of summer, to float the day away and see what’s worth catching for dinner. As with Mount Sawyer, the silence here is tremendous; all ambient noise is removed to leave you with nothing but thoughts and dreams.
Amusingly, the return hike was incredibly easy as we were able to find the majority of the original path by following the footprints of people wiser than us. I couldn’t help but laugh when almost back to the trailhead, we intersected our own footprints and realized we could have cut off a large amount of time if we’d only headed in a slightly different direction. There had been mention of bears on the trail but none were encountered and from the stripped berry bushes around, I would have thought they’ve already moved on to pastures new.
In summary, this is an absolutely divine hike for peace, soul and solitude but bring a map and plenty of water on a hot day!