More adventure than I expected.
The plan was to hike in on Saturday via the Lillian Ridge Way Trail (via Moose Peak, CalTopo shows it, but not all maps do) to Gladys Lake, set up camp, and then head up to Grand Pass and Grand Pass Peak. On Sunday we'd hike out via either of the more established trails: Grand Pass Trail or Badger Valley Trail. I checked the weather a few days before the trip, and read that it would be partly cloudy on Saturday, and sunny on Sunday.
I don't know if I misread the forecast or if it changed at the last minute. Either way, on Saturday I found thick fog. The point of doing the Lillian Ridge trail was to get nice views, so we opted to hike in via the Grand Pass trail. The hike in was pleasant, with the fog adding a cool ambience and directing our focus to the nearby meadows and trees. It made us slightly damp, but never really wet.
After setting up camp, we headed up to the pass, hoping that the fog might clear or drop, and that maybe we'd find ourselves above it. It didn't, but the first half of the hike was pretty interesting anyway, with more meadows and streams, and a view of the valley. We decided against going all the way to the peak, opting instead to get back to camp in time to have dinner and put the kids to bed before it got too dark and cold.
After putting the kids to bed, my wife and I were able to sit outside and talk about the plan for Sunday. While we were talking, the fog cleared and the stars come out. This probably lasted for 30 minutes, and then it clouded back up again. Over night it rained pretty hard and then in the early morning it was pretty windy.
To my delight, I awoke to the next morning to find blue skies and a sunny day. (I also found more water in the tent than I wanted - I have vents that are fine in a vertical rain, but apparently it was windy enough that the rain came in sideways.) We packed up camp, had a small breakfast, and saved the larger one for a higher elevation spot with more views.
We headed back up the valley, observing that Grand Lake and perhaps Moose Lake were still surrounded by clouds. Someone who camped at one of those lakes and never ventured up the valley probably had a very different weather experience than us, maybe missing the sun entirely.
From Grand Valley, the Lillian Ridge Way Trail is naturally broken up into 3 sections, each with a different personality and a good stopping point in between. The elevation gain is approximately evenly distributed between them
The first segment switchbacks up a somewhat steep slope without any shade for a couple hundred feet. The lower sections of that slope are a brilliant mix of reds and oranges right now. The upper section is a little steeper, with little vegetation. At the top of the slope, there is a nice shady resting place, and trails to the left and right. The trail to the left heads to some viewpoints back into Grand Valley, and also in the other direction. It was pretty windy up there, but the trees provided good shelter.
The second segment climbs another few hundred feet up a ridge to another good stopping point with some shelter from the wind. This is where we enjoyed our second breakfast - homemade granola with rehydrated milk and strawberries, and some coffee. While my wife was pulling that together, I scouted around a little bit to find the trail. With a map and good visibility, I was able to find the trail pretty quickly, and there were a couple cairns to reassure me.
The third segment is more barren and less interesting. It looked really steep, and it was, but not in a 'fall to your death' kind of way.
The summit of Moose Peak is broad and barren, and offers a view of the trail beyond. When I arrived, the view was clear, so I dropped my pack, grabbed my binoculars, and ran over to the side of the peak for a closer view. What I saw made me sick. The hillside looked more exposed than I expected, and the trail looked fainter than I expected. There were a bunch of spots where it looked like there might be slipping hazards. And then the trail appeared to disappear. I studied the hillside with my binoculars and consulted my map, and saw where the trail should be. Maybe it's better in person - distant perspective tends to flatten things and make them look steeper. I didn't feel comfortable heading over that way - it seemed too risky. I consulted with my wife, and we decided to go back the way we came. It was hard to give up all that distance and elevation we'd just achieved, but we knew that we could hike safely from our current position back the way we came. It would be longer than expected, but not longer than hikes we'd done before. It was early afternoon, but the prospect of hiking by headlamp seemed better than taking a chance on a questionable trail.
I'm happy with the decision to turn around, but also happy with the decision to go up in the first place. The trip up Moose Peak was awesome - very interesting and varied hike, with great views and great spots to take a break.
We made good time back down Moose Peak and past the lakes, and then we hit the uphill section. This was slower, as expected, but not too bad. We were back in the fog again, so that helped keep us cool. It wasn't too long before we were up out of the valley and above the clouds again. Before I knew it, the kids were skipping down the trail toward the parking lot. We made it back in time to drive out in daylight, enjoying a nice sunset as we drove through Port Angeles.