Mount Margaret Lakes Loop

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Mount Margaret Lakes Loop

Post by mrblisterdundee » July 31st, 2017, 11:52 am

I had never been around the lakes in the Mount Margaret Backcountry north of Mount St. Helens. Trying to remedy the situation, I planned an overnight trip but noticed all the designated campsites were reserved on Fridays and Saturdays for the foreseeable future. Not wanting to wait or take days off of work in the middle of the week, I decided to day hike out on the Boundary Trail and back on the Lakes Trail. And what a very long day it would be.
I started Saturday morning at the South Coldwater Lake trailhead and climbed up Coldwater Ridge. After about 3.5 miles of gradual climbing, a connector trail cuts off east to the Boundary Trail. Shortly thereafter, the trail passes above St. Helens Lake and below Coldwater Peak.
Lakes Loop 2.jpg
The views on the Boundary Trail are always epic, with Spirit Lake, Mount St. Helens, Mt. Adams and other peaks/lakes off in the distance.
Lakes Loop 1.jpg
There was a sea of lupine near Dome Camp, which looks like an awesome place to spend the night.
Lakes Loop 3.jpg
While crossing a snow drift, I spotted a mountain goat for the first time. It saw me and took off jogging up and over a ridge before I could get across and take my camera out. Closer to Margaret Camp, there were periodic snow drifts, albeit nothing impassable.
Lakes Loop 4.jpg
After 6 miles on the Boundary Trail, I cut off north onto the Lakes Trail. This was the first time in a while I hadn't worn hiking pants and a long-sleeve hiking shirt, and of course there ended up being probably a cumulative mile worth of serious bushwacking with a lot of thorns.
Lakes Loop 7.jpg
By the time I was done with the first section, my legs were torn up and bleeding in about eight different spots.
Lakes Loop 8.jpg
Grizzly Lake was the first I passed in the lakes country.
Lakes Loop 9.jpg
The trail cleared up a bit by Obscurity Lake, near which I came across a fairly sizeable mound of what appeared to be black bear pooh.
Lakes Loop 10 .jpg
There were some very picturesque streams and small waterfalls running through lake country.
Lakes Loop 11.jpg
After more bushwhacking comes a climb up a ridge to the north of the lakes. There were some nice views looking east, such as Panhandle Lake below Mt. Adams.
Lakes Loop 12.jpg
Above Panhandle Lake is Shovel Lake, which was probably my favorite.
Lakes Loop 13.jpg
By this point, I was chasing the sun, trying to reach Coldwater Lake before it got too dark. I was slowed down by a really steep snow drift I had to bushwack my way around. Below Snow Lake, which I hurried right past without stopping for a photo, the light from the setting sun was up to the tips of the ridges, leaving a very ominous-looking valley around Coldwater Creek.
Lakes Loop 14.jpg
I crossed some washouts and zigzagged down a ridge along Coldwater Creek in the dusk. It was dark by the time I reached the junction at Coldwater Lake. Luckily, considering how beat up I felt by that point, the last 6 or so miles was a fairly gentle up-and-down.
Lakes Loop 15.jpg
My headlamp guiding the way, I got into a zone and busted out the last 4.5 miles ot trail along the dark lakefront. I stopped at the Coldwater Lake visitors area, where mercifully, the bathroom was still open. After washing my face off, sitting and eating some ranch Fritos, I hobbled my way down Highway 504 the last 1.2 miles to my car at the South Coldwater trailhead. My head hit my pillow at around 3:15 a.m., and I didn't get up until noon Sunday, running about a half day behind everyone else.
The hike came out at around 26 miles. I recommend starting by 6 a.m. (a few hours earlier than me) and bringing long-sleeve clothing unless you like getting cut up a bit.
Lakes Loop map.jpg
Lakes Loop 14.jpg

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Re: Mount Margaret Lakes Loop

Post by Bosterson » July 31st, 2017, 12:44 pm

Nice one! That area is a really fabulous place for a big loop. If you're looking to do a similar loop in the future, I highly recommend doing a version that utilizes Whittier Ridge (rather than the Lakes area) to connect from the top of Coldwater Canyon over to the Mt. Margaret ridge. Whittier itself is always a blast, and then you get to loop around from Whittier, looking across at Margaret, to Margaret, looking back at Whittier. (You already did the second part: the southern ridge running from Margaret to Coldwater Peak.) If you want to shave a little distance off it and don't mind retracing your steps, you can start at the S. Coldwater TH and do it as a lollipop loop. (I recommend going down the connector trail from S. Coldwater Ridge to the bottom of Coldwater Canyon, as that happens at the beginning - rather than having to go up it at the end.) This is a really killer hike to do in September, as the huckleberries in the upper part of Coldwater Canyon and up by Snow Lake are super plump! I've done variants on that big loop three times, and I'd say it's solidly the best dayhike within a few hours of Portland in any direction. :)
Will hike off trail for fun.

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Re: Mount Margaret Lakes Loop

Post by Peder » August 1st, 2017, 7:57 am

Great loop! I did a similar one with my daughter last year: We parked at the Coldwater Lake (those road miles are not noticed in the morning!) - Hummocks TH - Boundary Trail - Mt Whittier - Lakes Trail. We added in an attempt on the Dome and the summits of Mt Margaret and Mt Tomroy. Obviously reversing the direction is another way of getting some variation! It is my favorite area.
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Re: Mount Margaret Lakes Loop

Post by johnspeth » August 5th, 2017, 7:37 am

Bosterson wrote:Nice one! That area is a really fabulous place for a big loop. If you're looking to do a similar loop in the future, I highly recommend doing a version that utilizes Whittier Ridge (rather than the Lakes area) to connect from the top of Coldwater Canyon over to the Mt. Margaret ridge.
I will wholeheartedly second this advice. I've lived in the area for 25 years and Whittier is my most favorite hike ever. Any long loop that includes Whittier will be journey that will be remembered for the rest of your life.

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Re: Mount Margaret Lakes Loop

Post by saskia » April 24th, 2019, 5:20 pm

I am heading there in early August. Can I expect water at the Dome and Ridge Camp sites or is the Boundary Trail from Bear Pass through to the Ridge Camp on the Coldwater Trail dry?

Thanks in advance,

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Re: Mount Margaret Lakes Loop

Post by mrblisterdundee » April 29th, 2019, 1:53 pm

I would say it's most likely dry, unless you're willing to make a side trip and work your way down to St. Helens Lake below Coldwater Lake.

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