It’s January, so it’s time to renew my hiking exploits. A couple of weeks ago some friends and I decided to head to Big Four Ice Caves off the Mountain Loop Highway in Western Washington.
In my usual way, I didn’t read much about the hike before going. I hate to spoil the adventure too much, so I only read the bare minimum to know where the trail is and any safety issues we might encounter.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the remnants of an old lodge (just the fireplace in an open field near the parking lot). Apparently this was quite a booming location when mining was a hot industry in the area. A big problem though…avalanches plague the area. Eventually the lodge was destroyed and closed.
The trail is a very easy hike if you use snow tracks (also known as ice tracks, cleats, cramp-ons). We could have went in just our waterproof hiking boots (lots of people did), but I’m so glad we had snow tracks…no slipping and no frustration with the trail conditions. At the bridge, to cross the Stillaguamish river, there was a chain across the bridge with a “road closed” sign. We just stepped over it as did many other people we saw as we were leaving.
I suspect that trail got closed a few weeks prior due to an avalanche. Since then there has been rain and warm weather, so the mountain contained hardly any snow at all. We deemed it safe (but I don’t recommend ever crossing/entering a closed trail…what’s the saying…”do as I say…not as I do”).
Once we arrived at the ice caves we paid close attention safety. We stayed at a distance while we watched others get quite close to the ice cave. Luckily no body went inside it the day we were there, but there have been injuries and even death there in the past. It’s absolutely never a good idea to go inside a ice or snow cave…NEVER.
I’ll admit, I was a bit disappointed in both the size and quantity of ice caves. First of all, it’s called Big Four Ice Caves and there was only one ice cave. Second, the ice cave was quite small. Even though I didn’t read the reviews, I supposed I still had expectations.
Note: I’m told it’s a bit unusual to see the ice cave during the winter (because the snow is usually too deep). Most people visit in the summer.
We hung out a bit chatting, exploring, and taking photos before heading back down to the parking lot.
Stuff to Know:
- Go early. We had planned on starting at 9am (early for a winter hike), but due to a navigation error on my part we didn’t start until 930am. We saw few people until we were headed back to the parking lot.
- A Northwest Forest Pass is required. Oops…mine was expired and luckily I didn’t get a ticket. Since then I’ve purchased the “America The Beautiful” pass which fulfills the NW Forest Pass and several other national park passes.
- Remember to wear layers, waterproof hiking shoes, and snow tracks. In additional to the other hiking essentials.
- Make sure the Mountain Loop Highway is open.
- Check the most recent trail conditions.
- For more information check out Hiking with my Brother’s post or WTA for recent trail reports.
- HAVE FUN and HIKE ON!!!