Distance: 13 km
Elevation gain: 920 m View map Download GPS track
After a work week of sunshine, the cloud, showers, and eventual snow arrived for the weekend. I still wanted to get out, however, but needed to be back to the truck by midafternoon when the precipitation was forecast to start. And with the larches still in their full golden glory, I wanted to hike somewhere with them. Enter Running Rain Lake. This tiny and overlooked lake to the southwest of Mist Mountain has been on my radar for years, especially after seeing its surrounding ridges covered in larches from a trip along Odlum ridge a few years back. The plan for today was to hike to the lake, then explore the ridges to its north and south for as long as I wanted. I’d be alone today too, so I’d be hiking where and when I wanted and didn’t really have an end goal in mind; I just wanted to explore and wander among the larches.
To avoid the rumored crowds of larch season (which I have yet to encounter) I was on the road by 5:30 am, and after successfully avoiding a rabbit, a coyote, and multiple deer on the road, I arrived at the trailhead at 7:20, about 20 minutes before sunrise. A couple of moose hunters were just starting out too, and after confirming that I wouldn’t be messing up their plans too much, I set out hiking in front of them.
Almost immediately I crossed a channel of Storm Creek on a good log bridge, then after a short walk on good trail through forest I reached the next channel. This one, however, was dammed by a beaver and what should’ve been an easy crossing on rocks was now a pond! I headed upstream and with a bit of bushwhacking found an easy way across two shallow channels, then made my way back to the trail.
The trail to Running Rain Lake was in excellent shape and, with the exception of one short section, was very gently graded. In just 45 minutes I reached the lake, at which time it started to rain! I wasn’t too worried – all six weather models had indicated the main weather event wouldn’t be arriving until mid-afternoon – so I holed up under a large spruce tree and had a snack to wait it out. Twenty minutes later it ended and I made my way up the ridge to the south of the lake. I aimed for the point right up against the cliffs of the Elk Range, and while the ascent was steep it wasn’t difficult at all.
The larches were wonderful here and I spent a bit of time photographing them before descending northeast along the ridge. The forest was thin and travel was easy, and when I reached the first low point on the ridge I intersected a good trail that led all the way to its northern summit. Long sections of mixed larch forest and multiple openings in the forest along the ridge made the hike along its length quite nice.
After taking in the view from the tiny summit, I turned and followed the trail back to where I’d intersected it at the southern low point of the ridge, then angled down towards my ascent route. I’d seen a well-defined animal trail that contoured above the lake to the ridge north of the lake as I’d ascended earlier, and managed to pick it up as soon as I exited the forest. This trail was in very good shape for an animal trail and it allowed for quick and easy travel all the way to the ridge north of the lake, saving me about 125 m of descent and quite a bit of bushwhacking.
At the western highpoint of the northern ridge I stopped for lunch, then headed down through a wonderful larch forest to a meadow dotted with more larches. An easy ascent then brought me to an upper plateau with yet more larches, and a steep 75 m ascent then deposited me atop a more northern and higher ridge. I could’ve continued even further and exited via the valley to the north, but instead retreated to the larch plateau to make my way back to the lake.
I’d been worried about the bushwhack back to the lake and/or trail, nearly 1 km away at this point, but thankfully I found a gully that I could follow nearly all the way back to the trail below the lake with only very minimal bushwhacking.
As I hiked out I encountered another couple heading to the lake. We chatted for a bit while their dog – a retired Alaskan Husky who had run the Iditarod – explored the forest immediately around us. After doing this for 20 minutes or so he came right up to us, staring into the forest and whimpering. Apparently he NEVER does this, so this was quite alarming! With little choice, however, I set off down the trail yelling as loud as I could and alert as heck! I’d seen cougar tracks on the way up, wolves wouldn’t be out of place here, and old bear diggings everywhere above the lake suggested pretty much every large predator could be lurking in the woods.
Thankfully I made it back to the truck without anything more than a spruce grouse scaring me, and then enjoyed a very colorful drive back along highways 40, 540, and 22 as the aspen glowed yellow as brilliantly as the larches. A very nice hike to end September and the surprising four weeks of golden larches this year.