We all know the old saying, “All work and no play… ” in which Jack becomes a dull boy for keeping his nose to the grindstone. Well, Jack and I have had too much in common lately, and it has prompted me to reminisce on summers past, when I’ve had the luxury of exploring some of our areas scenic escapes. As I’ve spent a little time reviewing, I’ve realized with some surprise, that I’ve amassed a pretty fair travelogue, and since I’m not likely to get back to many of them any time soon, the decent thing to do would be to spread the wealth to those enterprising folks with a little more time on their hands. Most of my favorite trips have involved a few days in the woods with a backpack, and a flyrod, so that’s going to be the slant of this post.
The majority of my travels have been in the North and Central Cascades- starting in college with short weekend trips around the Bellingham area to Pine & Cedar Lakes- small, twin lakes packed with brown and rainbow trout, and populated by clouds of voracious mosquitoes. The hike in is, while not overly long at 2.5 miles, punishing with it’s unrelenting grade. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the group I hiked it with were treated to fresh berry pies by one of our fellow dorm dwellers, who grunted up the trail after dusk with 2 warm pies cradled in his arms- now that’s what I call service!
A favorite destination for many years was the Jordan Lakes located off the Sauk river road, just south of hwy 20, near Rockport. A 20 mile logging road (FS Road 16) takes off from Hwy 530 (Sauk valley Rd.), and winds its dusty, ravine-traversing way through some beautiful country, eventually ending at a gate. Opposite the only available parking space is an overgrown trail that leads almost immediately into a stunning alpine meadow. I’ve made this trek in a variety of weather conditions, and can state with some authority, that I don’t recommend making the trip before the end of June, or you will likely find yourself camping in the snow, with only frozen lakes to greet you. One of my favorite memories of this hike is the small fairy ring nestled at the top of the abruptly descending trail, which drops quickly through a field of house-sized boulders populated with whistle-pigs (marmots) and jays whose warning calls spread ahead of our advance.
Further to the east, outside of Marblemount, is Trapper Lake, which retains the crown as the most brutal hike in my experience. This is probably due to the route we chose, rather than the actual trail, but nonetheless, my shins still bear the scars, and the photo at the head of this article, taken from the craggy saddle above the North end of the lake, is a painful reminder that this is one destination I won’t likely visit again- in spite of rumored monster trout.
In recent years, my travels have tended toward the central Cascades, in particular around the Cle Elum area. This part of the Wenatchee National Forest is a hiking anglers dream, with access to numerous alpine lakes- enough potential destinations to spread out the pressure, and provide solitude to please most everyone. For many years, Waptus Lake was our primary destination- an 18 mile round trip, with good trails. If you’re willing to hike another 2 miles around the side of the lake, a private island campsite puts you in the middle of the lake, with nothing but fish, water, and silence. Pure heaven. Be warned, this lake is snow fed, as are most in the Alpine Lake Wilderness, which means the risk of hypothermia to swimmers is very real! But boy is it refreshing on those 90+ degree days! If you’re up for a day hike from Waptus, I highly recommend making the effort to see Spade Lake, which is a true High Alpine Lake, nestled placidly below rugged Cascade peaks. The primary hazards of the Waptus lake trail are the black flies that accompany the many horse pack trains visiting the area. Well, that and the horse apples littering the trail- watch your step.
I have a dream of hiking from Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and have covered many sections of it in my various ramblings, but by far the most ambitious trip to date was one taken in 1997, starting at the Cooper Lake/ Owhi Trailhead, and covering roughly 40 miles to Hyak. The 1st section, to Pete Lake, is a great hike for kids- I took my 6 year old daughter on a 2 night trip there last year- and it’s truly ideal in length and difficulty. It’s also a nice, easy warmup to the rest of the trek. From Pete Lake, the trail begins climbing to Spectacle lake. Approximately 1/2 mile off the PCT, Spectacle is a stunning, deep and chilly lake surrounded by peaks and alpine meadows. A great day hike from Spectacle is Glacier Lake, which takes its name from the large chunks of ice that drift around the surface most of the year- the water temperature is the definition of ‘bone chilling’. Surrounded by granite tables and the clink of ice floes grinding together, Glacier Lake is a spectacular setting for lunch before heading back to base at Spectacle.
Next stop is the Park Lakes, a set of smallish twin lakes divided by the PCT and nestled together below Chikamin Ridge, and the base of Alta Pass. We reached the lakes just as a squall blew in, and were treated to a distant electrical storm tickling the peaks of the Three Queens, while dark clouds threatened to make our rain fly a decided necessity. Did I mention that Gore-Tex is a backpackers best friend? There’s nothing like hunkering in a tent, sipping a warm cup of tea while thunder rolls overhead.
Without question, the highlight of our trip was the next section. We had been told about Edd’s Lake
by my hiking buddy’s father-in-law, a member of one of nearby Roslyn’s founding families. The lake was rumored to have huge trout, but access was also rated as ‘difficult’. Both statements are true. This is a destination for the hardy and trout-obsessed only. Approximately 800 vertical feet below the PCT, Pete Lake is not visible from the trail, and could easily be missed if you weren’t looking for it. The trail to Joe Lake, on the other hand, is well-marked on the South side of the PCT, and draws lots of visitors. The drop in to Edd’s is precipitous, and with a full pack, can be considered treacherous.
As dedicated anglers, we had brought along our float tubes (we’re not lightweight, toothbrush-sawing, bare- necessities-type backpackers). They’d been pressed into use at every stop, but they really came in handy at Edd’s. After making the hairball descent, we were pretty wiped out. Resting lakeside, we contemplated the boulder field of house-sized rocks that litters the shore, and blocked our easy access to the one campsite near the lake’s log strewn outfall. It was time. The rest of our recovery time was spent inflating float tubes and donning waders and fins. Carefully balancing the remainder of our still bulging packs (this was a 10-day trip) across the tops of the float tubes, we paddled our way across the mirrored surface of the lake to our new home. Nirvana!
Large Mayflies were dropping from the surrounding spruce trees as we set up camp. Hungry trout swirled and slurped as we frantically rigged flyrods, and pushed off in pursuit. We fished until well after dusk, and the last couple ‘hogs’ were carefully wrapped in foil, given a dash of pepper and lemon, and gently roasted over a small campfire. This is living!
Last stop on our adventure was Alaska Lake, at the base of Alaska Mountain. We have visited this lake numerous times, and it has become a favorite, in spite of the strenuous nature of the 1100′ climb in. On this particular trip, we had come in the back door to the lake, coming down from the PCT, and were treated to a drop in, rather than the usual climb up. The drop was no picnic, but it beat the usual option. Especially welcome was the stash of food we had lugged in the previous weekend, as we knew our supplies would be running low by this stage. Best of all, we had the foresight to cache 2 oilcans of Foster’s Lager! Nothing beats a cold brew at the end of a long hike and not coincidentally, it’s also the perfect complement to a lakeside snack of Chick’n in a Biskit & Sardines in mustard sauce- Nectar of the Gods!
After 3 days of fishing at Alaska Lake, we made the final push out the Gold Creek Trail, where our wives picked up 2 very grizzled, thinner, and tanned husbands. This trip is still fodder for daydreams of ‘Glory Days’, but it seems that in my current life, responsibilities override calendars on a regular basis, and health concerns trump adventures. My fishing buddy had valve-replacement surgery a few years ago, and between blood-thinners, children, and work, there’s just not the time and wherewithal to embark on major outings. But I still dream. In fact, I’m leaving this afternoon to take my nephew to Waptus for 3 days; there’s hope! If I can inspire the next generation…