Melakwa, which means mosquito in the Chinook language, rests at 4,505 in the narrow between two peaks, Chair Peak on the eastern shore and Kaleetan Peak on the west. Nearby the smaller Upper Melakwa Lake serves as the source of the Pratt River. Waters from the upper lake feed down into the larger Melakwa before exiting to the north to connect with the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River a few miles downstream. All of this excitement is largely contained within the massive 394,000 acre Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area the trail leads into.
The 4 1/2 mile trek to the lake started off fairly easily, with an icy crust on the snow that made it easy to navigate. Thankfully, the trail had been marked with bright orange spray paint on available trees and stumps, guiding us on our way. The first real challenge took the form of a bridge filled to the brim with snow that had reduced it to an icy three-foot wide log twenty feet above Denny Creek. Either the weight of the snow or a falling tree had shattered a portion of the railing, further limiting the area where we could use hiking poles to stabilize ourselves. After a delicate crossing we forged on, growing ever closer to the din of I-90 until we could make out the elevated freeway in the distance. We followed the path under the bridge and deeper into the valley, each step taking us a little bit further from the freeway roar and a little closer to the solace of the wilderness.
At a little over a mile into the trail, our expected encounter with the Denny Creek Waterslide
offered a surprise, as the area was not as we remembered it. Mudslides had washed out the bridge and altered the landscape such that we had to backtrack a bit to find a safe path down to the water. Carefully picking our way over snow-covered rocks, we took in the famed slippery slab and an unexpected waterfall before locating the trail and heading further toward our goal. Here the trail became more difficult, forcing us to traverse snowy talus fields without the aid of a level trail. However, we were then rewarded with stunning views of the half-frozen Keekwulee Falls, its misty waters continuing to build and shape the blue-tinted ice formations at its base 85 below.
Continuing beyond Keekwulee, the trail switchbacked up for a 1/2 mile before leveling out and crossing back over Denny Creek by way of a sturdy log. At other times of year you may hear or catch a glimpse of Snowshoe Falls, the highest Denny Creek has to offer, as you climb the switchbacks, but note that these 150 falls are difficult to get a good look at from the trail itself, and may require some off-trail effort to fully appreciate. After our crossing, we were greeted by wide talus fields and quickly lost our trail makings somewhere in the middle of those white expanses. Forced to blaze our own trail, we slogged up to the top of Hemlock Pass by way of faded snowshoe tracks and paths of least resistance.
From Hemlock Pass we again found the trail makers though they now took the form of blue plastic diamonds and followed them to our destination, a scant 1/2 mile further. In doing some research we found that many hikers, ourselves included, can get a little turned around in this area. The trail intersects with another trail here, one leading down to Lower Tuscohatchie. So use caution in the snowy months: because Melakwa Lake is only 200 lower than the Pass, its easy to take a wrong turn or descend too far. While the lake was snowed over, in warmer months the grassy shore is a great spot for a picnic and a rest. The more adventurous can push on to the base of Kaleetan Peak and follow the rough scramble up to the top. Alternatively, if some relief from the summer crowds is what youre looking for, simply push on to Upper Melakwa Lake and eventually Melakwa Pass.
While this moderate trail was made much more difficult and challenging by the unbroken snow, what we discovered on the route made it well worth the trip. Between the waterfalls, the surrounding snowy crags, and the hushed, varied landscape of older forest and open talus fields, there was a great deal to take in and enjoy.