Homecoming: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Windy Pass to Mirror Lake

9.6 Miles
1840 feet elevation gain

Last year I called the Pacific Crest Trail home for six glorious months. I’ve wanted to return to the trail many times since then but, alas, circumstances have prevented it. After laying low for the past few weeks to recover from some inflammation in my knees (thanks arthritis!), this weekend I finally got my chance.

I’m finally back on the PCT! Yay!

On Saturday I planned a trip to Mirror Lake along the PCT starting from the Windy Pass Trailhead, which is a relatively easy 6-mile jaunt roundtrip with only 1000 feet of elevation gain. I first hiked this trail 3 years ago when I was only dreaming of hiking the PCT. It seemed like a fitting way to make my homecoming.

Windy Pass is accessed via a long windy Forest Service Road which I recalled being a little sketchy from my last visit here. (Note that this is not the Windy Pass which is located in the Pasayten Wilderness in the North Cascades – this one is located 6 miles south of Snoqualmie Pass). I was right to be concerned – I only made it a couple of miles before I had to turn around as my Toyota Corolla could not handle a particularly rough patch of road. Trucks and SUVs seemed to handle the road ok though. Sigh. One of these days I’m going get a car that is better suited for outdoor adventuring.

Willy and Carol at the Cold Creek Trailhead

So I turned around and parked at the Cold Creek Trailhead. I met some other hikers there, Carol and Willy, who were similarly deterred by the rough road. We decided to hike together and hit the trail after consulting my Green Trails Map. We started off by following the Cold Creek Trail to Twin Lakes, and then headed up the Mt. Catherine Trail until we reached Windy Pass. This pleasant detour added 2 miles and 850 feet elevation gain to our trip, with the added bonus of passing the much-overlooked Twin Lakes.

Hiking the Cold Creek Trail to Twin Lakes

Crossing a blowdown on the Mt. Catherine Trail

After reaching Windy Pass, we began hiking south along the PCT. The trail here is more well-used than the Cold Creek Trail and is in excellent shape. We passed a few other hikers, but encountered only a fraction of the crowds that flock to other popular nearby trails. We also passed a PCTA crew doing trail maintenance which is always nice to see. One of these days I am going to join a trail crew and do some maintenance myself.

Views from the PCT

Kachess Lake beckons in the distance

It’s good to be back on the PCT!

Only small patches of snow remain along the trail

Tinkham Peak with beargrass in the foreground

We arrived at Mirror Lake around noon. The PCT travels directly next to the lake and we encountered lots of other hikers and campers dispersed around the lake’s edge. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we found a nice secluded spot for lunch. After watching some other hikers frolicking in the lake, I decided to go for it as well and hopped in. Brr! Refreshing!

Mirror Lake with Tinkham Peak in the background

Time for a swim!

We elected to take the Cold Creek Trail all the way back to the trailhead which was a bit of an adventure. It’s a steep trail that hasn’t seen maintenance in recent years. I was grateful to have hiking poles with me as we ended up slipping and sliding in sections of trail that were washed out. I wouldn’t recommend this section for children or beginner hikers.

Carol bushwhacks along the Cold Creek Trail

Bridge crossing the runoff from Twin Lakes

What a great hike. While I had originally planned a less difficult route as I’m trying to ease back into hiking after taking a couple of weeks off, we took our time and managed just fine. Plus I got to discover a some new trails and also make some new friends.

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