The “very steep” sign at the Wagonwheel Lake trailhead intrigued me last time I was at the Staircase ranger station in the Olympics. I heard the lake isn’t very impressive. I didn’t need to be impressed, but I did want to see some views of Sawtooth Ridge’s east side. Copper Mountain, beyond the lake and 1,300 feet higher, seemed like it would be a good vantage.
The trail to Wagonwheel Lake is very steep, as the sign promised. It switchbacks up a uniform slope for 2.9 miles and 3,200 feet to the lake. I bushwhacked around the south side of the lake on the way to Copper Mountain, and the north side on the way back. The south side was more open but steeper and slippery. The gentler north side features more slide alder and bountiful devil’s club in all the wrong places. Which is better? I think it’s a toss up.
The only other tracks in the snow beneath Copper Mountain were made by a bear glissading from the peak’s north ridge.
This trip down from the summit is the longest descent I’ve done without skis this year. I wasn’t too tired from the way up, but my legs sure got pounded on the way down.