Updated: Nov 22, 2022
An overnight backpacking trip to an alpine lake in North Cascades National Park.
Lake Name: Monogram Lake Lake Coordinates: 48.5568, -121.2805 Lake Elevation: 4879′ Access: Trail Distance: 10 miles Elevation Range: 1259′ to 5362′ Ascent/Descent: +4819 ft / -4820 ft Trail Type: In and out Trails: Lookout/Monogram Trail & Monogram Lake Trail Note: I did this as a one-night backpacking trip with my cousin. This is an intense hike. The last 1.5 – 2 miles to the lake were all in snow. Permits: A Backcountry Permit is required for overnight camping in North Cascades National Park. There are two campsites at Monogram Lake. Date hike was done: 7/11/20 – 7/12/20
My cousin and I woke up at 6 am and drove to Marblemount Ranger Station from Olympia, WA. It was a 3 hour drive. We were planning on getting backcountry permits to backpack into Thornton Lake and Trappers Peak. When we got there, they didn’t have any permits left for that area. The ranger gave my cousin a permit for a different lake called Monogram Lake. We had the option of day hiking into Thornton Lake and Trappers Peak and then just car camping or backpacking into Monogram Lake instead. My cousin really wanted to backpack and I was game so we switched our plans just like that. I was able to download the maps, but we weren’t able to let anyone know of our change in plans beforehand.
The ranger told my cousin it was similar in intensity to the other hike we’d originally planned on and that there might be a few small snow patches that we should easily be able to walk around (haha that’s cute).
We started at 10:45am. From what we could tell it was pretty much an all uphill hike and we estimated it would be around 5 miles one way. It started with steep switchbacks which ended up just being the whole freaking trail. I had to stop frequently and my body was constantly fighting my backpack. The backpack I had to use didn’t fit me properly. It definitely highlighted the fact I was needing to get a different one.
We ended up stopping and eating twice. Our orignal plan had been to hike into the lake and have lunch there. Haha, yeah, that didn’t happen. It was switchbacks through forest, then we broke out into a moss covered area that was incredible. The trail went along some huge rocks randomly in the side of the huge hill. Then we came across a very densely bushed trail section that was very overgrown. It had huge 4 ft steps we had to climb up scattered throughout. We both got some stinging nettle on our legs.
After the dense section, we had a creek crossing with a beautiful cascading waterfall upstream. We continued up the trail until the trail took a split. The trail we had been on continued to Lookout Mountain and the other trail took off steeply to the right and went to Monogram Lake. We had overestimated how quickly we could go and how easy the trail was. It took us way longer to get to the lake than either of us expected. I cried a few times when my cousin couldn’t see me. It was a lot for me physically due to my chronic illness and it’s the first time I’d pushed my body this hard in a long time.
After the split in the trail I was really worn out and having a hard time continuing forward. The hike was literally all uphill with steep switchbacks. The trail continued to get steeper and steeper.
We weren’t so sure how far it was to the lake. We met some day hikers on the trail that were college students. A guy and a girl. They were really nice. Once we broke out of the forest we came to a huge meadow and another creek crossing. Remember when I said the ranger told my cousin there were some “small snow patches,” hahaha, yeah right! It was all snow from that point onward. We ended up seeing the college students frequently because there was a huge snowfield and then multiple more we had to cross after that. The last 1.5 – 2 miles were pretty much all in the snow. We saw a black bear way up on the side of the hill above the snow covered meadow. There were some elk also. It was so cool! They were too far away to get any good pictures though.
We climbed uphill in the snow following the map I had and directing the people in front of us where to go. Once we got to the top of the hill we had an incredible panoramic view of the North Cascades. It was so incredible! We stopped, took pictures and just took the view in!
It looked like a weather system was moving in and we were probably going to get rained on. We came around the corner and met up with the college students again. We ended up hiking together the remainder of the trail (more like lack thereof.) There was steep downhill sections and large lengths of snow cover.
We all felt rather accomplished once we got to the lake (around 6:30pm – 7 hr 45 m). My cousin and I scouted out the two campsites. There was no one else camping there. The lake was still pretty much frozen over except for near where a stream came from the lake.
One campsite nearer to the lake was covered in 2 ft of snow and the other campsite that was farther away was snow free. So we decided to camp in the snow free one. It started to sprinkle and then turned into a very heavy downpour. We quickly set up our tents and changed into dry clothes.
We ate in my cousins tent and once we were done went out in the rain and thick fog to hang the bear bag. My cousin ended up having cell phone service at our campsite so we were able to tell people about our change in plans and where we were at.
My journal notes from in the evening:
It’s 8:30pm now and I’m laying in my tent. Hopefully I’ll be able to fall asleep here soon. I cried today. I hurt, thought I was going to pass out and just seriously pushed myself. I felt embarrassed and like giving up. We made it, I can’t believe it! I’m so proud of myself. We only have the ascent from the lake tomorrow which is uphill and then the rest is downhill. We have a ways to go in the snow and then a lot of sets of switchbacks all steeply downhill. The backpack is terrible and I feel really scared about doing the Wonderland Trail. Like maybe I shouldn’t even try to. I need to get a backpack that fits so it doesn’t hurt me. I’m laying in my sleeping bag. The top part of my body is warm, but my legs are icicles and won’t warm up. They always get so cold after hiking all day and I can never get them to warm up. I hope I can fall asleep soon and that I sleep well so I don’t feel exhausted tomorrow. The sun hasn’t even set yet and it’s still light out.
We got up around 7ish the following morning. We ate and then packed up our gear. It fogged in last night and rained most of the night. I actually slept decently. It was still foggy and rainy in the morning. We started our climb at 8:30am and it took us until 9:20am to get to the top of the hill above the lake, then the rest of the trail was downhill from there.
The snowfields were really cool and I videoed parts with my GoPro. It started to rain at the top of the hill and rained until we reached the waterfall area after the split in the trail. We carefully made our way down the snow covered hill. We didn’t fall too many times lol. The trail was really muddy and slippery. We had to slide down most of the trail before the split. It was definitely steep.
We had to climb over some huge trees that had fallen across the trail. It had been easier the day before when it was dry, but with all the mud we got pretty dirty. It stopped raining heavily after the waterfall and we descended down the switchbacks as quickly as we possibly could. We made it to the trailhead by noon. 3.5 hours out. Wayyyyyy faster than the hike in!
It definitely was quite the unexpected adventure. It was very challenging and definitely was type II fun. It was such a wild experience. Once we got home we looked up how long the trail was along with ascent/descent in feet.
Trailhead: 48.53714, -121.29426 Waterfall/Stream crossing: 48.55394, -121.30601 Split in trail: 48.55495, -121.31024 Start of snow section: 48.55991, -121.30076 Incredible view from top of hill: 48.55637, -121.29586 Start of downhill to lake: 48.55621, -121.29709 Campsite we stated at: 48.55589, -121.28509
How to get there (from Marblemount, WA)
Take Hwy 20 east (from Ranger Station Rd) for 0.8 miles. Turn right on to Cascade River Road and proceed for 7.6 miles. The trailhead is on the left side of the road and the parking is directly opposite on the right side of the road.
The map above only marks the trail route. The tracking of the trail wasn’t accurate due to how forested it was so this doesn’t show the exact route I took. It also doesn’t account for the mileage added on for not being able to follow the exact trail for the last mile.
Lookout Mountain Trailhead is the trailhead for Lookout Mountain and Monogram Lake. It is in the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the first part of the trail is as well. Monogram Lake is on the edge of North Cascades National Park and that is why a permit is required to camp there overnight.
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