Friday, October 12, 2012

Eagle Creek and Tunnel Falls

There are a number of alternate trails on the PCT in Oregon and I took three of these because of the promised scenery.  As a south bound hiker I actually started off on one of the alternates, the Eagle Creek Trail.  This moderately difficult trail starts a couple of miles west of Cascade Locks on the Columbia and travels along the Eagle Creek for the first few miles before climbing up to join the PCT at Indian Springs, a distance of about 15 miles.  Eagle Creek flows through a fairly narrow, but deep, canyon that cuts through the basalt cliffs on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.  In the first 6.5 miles, heading south, this trail passes along shear cliffs, deep gorges and a lot of waterfalls.

If you are traveling the PCT, and willing to take alternates, this one is highly recommended.  If you are just looking for a day hike and are in the Portland area, it would be hard to beat the 13 mile round trip up to Twister Falls.  This trail was constructed in 1910, and is probably not reproducible today: using dynamite in wilderness areas is frowned upon.

Punchbowl Falls has about a 35 foot drop into a big bowl.  This area is very popular and can be crowded with people coming to enjoy the view, play in the water and jump off the cliffs into the deep pools.  It is a fairly step side trip down the the creek from the main trail, but is worth the extra few minutes, 

Loowit Falls drops about 90 feet into a pool just above Eagle Creek.  This fall  is on the far side of the creek  but is near the High Bridge that crosses the creek and there is a way trail to the base of the falls.

This is a sample of what portions of the trail are like.  The trail is blasted out of the cliff and is visible to the top left of the picture.  The creek is flowing over 100 feet below the trail, and nearly straight down.  

Tunnel Falls is easily the highlight of this trail and is almost 6 miles south of the trail head.  The fall has a 175 foot drop with the trail blasted out of the cliff wall behind the falls.  You can see the tunnel entrance and exit on either side of the fall about halfway up the cliff.  The trail, especially to the right, is also blasted out of the cliff and has a cable attached to the cliff to use as a hand rail for those who are acrophobic.

Twister Falls, or Eagle Creek Falls, is about a half mile south of Tunnel Falls.  This fall cascades and drops about 200 foot altogether although is is not possible to get a picture of the entire falls from any one place: this picture is just the upper portion.  You can see the trail running past at the top left of the falls and this is a good place to stop for a snack, or even lunch.  It also makes a good turnaround point for a 13 mile day hike.

A portion of the Vertigo Mile between Tunnel and Twister Falls.  The cliff falls up to 200 feet down to the creek and is pretty shear.  You can see the cliff wall above overhangs the trail.  You can also see the attached cable to the right of the trail.  This is a pretty cool section of the trail, but is not for those afraid of heights.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hanging Out in the Woods

It's 2:30 in the morning.  Will this night ever end.  I feel like the princess sleeping on a pea.  The difference being that she had a mountain of bedding between her and the pea, and I had only a thin pad between me and the ground.  My hips and back are hurting so bad that I can't bear laying in one position for more than about 15 minutes and am thrashing about so much that I feel like a noodle in a stir fry.

It's night 4 of a 6 night trip and the ground isn't getting any softer; if anything it had gotten harder over the years.  I was using a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core that year, and even its 2.5 inches could no longer cut it.  The combination of hard ground and bruised hips from a too heavy pack conspired to make my nights endless.

But the next day was life altering, at least as far as my backpacking was concerned.  One other guy was staying at the lake with us and he was in a hammock from a company called Hennessy.  He claimed to love it and that it was very comfortable to sleep in.  I had tried several cheap hammocks over the years, and had looked at ads for more expensive ones.  But the cheap ones were uncomfortable after a while, and I was not willing to spend the money on a more expensive one without some assurance it would work.

One of the first things I did after getting home was to do a bit of research.  I found the Hennessy web site and looked at their offerings.  I also found the Hammock Forums and spent a lot of time there, reading about hammocks and accessories, watching how-to videos, and trying to digest all the material I had found.  I would have never dreamed that there was so much to know; definitely had my head spinning for a while: hammocks, ridge lines, suspension systems, tarps & other weather protection, under quilts, top quilts, pads, etc.

Ultimately I pulled the trigger and bought a Blackbird, a hammock from a small company called Warbonnet. This seemed to be the most popular hammock on the forums and, more importantly, promised that I would be able to sleep on my side.  I am not much of a back sleeper and was apprehensive about being able to lay flat of my back all night.

My Blackbird finally showed up in the mail (at the time they were individually made when ordered) and I set it up out on the back deck to give it a try.  The Blackbird is indeed a very nice hammock.  It has a double bottom (at least mine does) for inserting an insulating pad, along with a fully enclosed bug net.  The sides can be staked out to expand the living space and create a storage shelf on one side.  It was indeed a fairly comfortable hammock and I could lay on my side without much issue.  One thing I did note right away is that turning over is a bit more complicated than when laying on the ground.  A hammock moves along with you when you move, so you have to grab hold of it so that you can kind of hold it still while you flip.

It took a lot of reading and experimentation over that winter, and to some extent over the following couple of years.  But I now have what I consider to be a good setup that will keep me warm down to freezing (I am seldom out colder than that), dry in inclement weather, and is fairly simple to setup and tear down.  In addition to my hammock, reconfigured to use whoopie slings, I have a Phoenix under quilt and a foot pad to keep me warm on the bottom, a now discontinued No-Sniveller top quilt from Jacks R Better to keep me warm on top, and a MacCat Deluxe tarp to keep the weather off of me.

This setup is about comparable weight wise to my solo tent/20 degree bag/Big Agnes pad setup, but it offers a much more enjoyable camp experience, assuming you are below tree level: hammocks are not of much use if there are no trees to hang from.  I find that I no longer dread the nights and anxiously await first light.  Instead, snuggled down into a warm hammock can make it difficult to face a cold morning.

A hammock also makes a nice camp chair.  If I have much camp time I find that I spend a lot of it sitting it my hammock, sometimes snuggled up in the quilts and sometimes not.  I can even pull the bug screen over me to have a bug free environment.  It definitely beats any other camp chair I have tried for comfort, although it is not really movable.

The covering tarp gives me a nice work area as well if the weather is wet, which is not uncommon here in western Washington.  The tarp is generally strung about 4-5 feet high at the ridge line in order to be higher than the hammock.  While that is not high enough to walk under, it does offer plenty of room.  I generally have the back side staked down fairly close to the hammock, but will frequently stake the front further out and then prop up the two tie-out points in front with my trekking poles.  This gives me a nice porch to work under.  At bedtime, if it is windy, I can drop the poles, re-tighten the guy lines and cut the amount of wind blowing across me.

Site selection can be the biggest problem when using a hammock.  I need to find of pair of trees with diameters between 5 inches and 3 feet, spaced 13 to 20 feet apart and with a minimal amount of low branches and brush between them.  Most established camp sites are configured for tents or tarps and many of them do not have the needed trees.  Sometimes trying to put a hammock into the established site can take a bit of creativity; other times it is just not possible.

But, if you are willing to venture away from the established site, I have found it easier to find spots to hang than to sleep on the ground.  With the hammock I don't care about rock, roots, level ground, where water might pool:  find two trees with a clearing between them and hang in comfort.

I have traveled throughout the Olympic National Park and on the PCT through all of Oregon and 1/3 of Washington with a hammock.  I have yet to find a place I could not hang.  I realize that there will be some place I will eventually go that will require sleeping on the ground, but for every other place I will continue to enjoy the luxury of swinging between two trees in my bear burrito.

This picture shows the hammock set up but with the front side of the tarp thrown back out of the way.    The  bug screen staked out in front can also be thrown back to allow for easy access to the hammock or for use as a chair.  At night everything, other than the food bag, either goes into the hammock with me or under the hammock to keep it out of the weather and close at hand.

Same location as before but now the tarp is fully deployed.  The ground here is not too bad, but would be pretty challenging for a ground sleeper.  It is not flat and has quite a few roots at the surface.  But it works well for me.  The river side is the front.  Throw back the tarp and bug net and the hammock becomes an easy chair with a view.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Grand Valley and Lillian Lake

With the weather looking promising for the weekend, I took off for the Grand Valley in the Olympics with a buddy.  We got reservations for a couple of nights at Gladys Lake and planned to hike over to Lillian Lake on the day between those two nights.  I have seen Lillian from a distance a couple of times and knew that it was reachable, but had never headed that way before.  I was hopeful that we would be up to the challenge and be able to check off another location from my bucket list.

My buddy still has a real job and had to put in a few hours on Friday so we were late getting started, hitting the trail head at Obstruction Point about 3:30.  We discovered at the trail head that the two guys prepping next to us were heading for the same lake, and since it only had 4 spots and we needed suitable trees to hang from, the race was on.  Fortunately the old legs of our crew had more than enough life to win the race this time and had our pick of spots at Gladys Lake.

If you have never hiked Lillian Ridge from Obstruction Point I would highly recommend it.  The first couple of miles are pretty mellow and offer fantastic views of the Olympics, assuming the skies are clear.  Unfortunately on both the trip in and coming back out the sky was pretty hazy with smoke from the eastern Washington fires and visibility was limited.  At the end of the ridge walk the tail takes the express elevator down to the floor of the Grand Valley, dropping about 1400 feet in about a mile, so you need to be prepared for a serious return climb once you leave the ridge.

We scored a nice spot on Gladys overlooking the lake and the upper valley, including a great view of Low Pass, our entry point into the Lillian drainage.  We quickly setup camp, ate and cleaned up just in time for dark and bed.  Apart from a pesky deer and a visit from the ranger, the evening was quiet.  The night was a bit cold and breezy, but nestled in our down cocoons we was nice and toasty.

Saturday morning was in the low 40's with some wind, but it soon died down and the sun warmed us up.  We headed up the climb to Low Pass and took a look across the drainage to the Lillian Lake bowl, plus the long traverse over to it.  For the first half of the trip there was an intermittent trail with a few cairns over the talus fields.  But the last couple of miles were pretty much without any indication of a trail that we could see, other than a few game trails.

Apart from getting around the toe of a ridge about a mile into the journey, the going was fairly straightforward until crossing the runoff stream from Lillian Glacier, the low point of the trail.  The trail was steep and hard to find in places, but we generally felt like we knew where we were.

But about a half mile from the stream crossing we lost any semblance of a trail and were on our own.  The old trail description that I had found indicated that the valley floor was a big meadow and all we had to do was go down it until we found the outlet from Lillian Lake and then pick up the trail to the lake.  Unfortunately we did not find anything resembling a big meadow and ended up wandering through the trees along the valley wall for a while before dropping a bit and finding easier passage.  At some point we found muddy boot prints heading up for the lake and followed them until they disappeared.  We then just charged up hill and managed to come out into the bowl below the lake, hiked across it and then up to the lake itself.

Lillian Lake is a beautiful little lake nestled down in a shallow bowl with steep walls around about 1/3 of it, and snow right up to its edge in places.  It was well worth the 3.5 hour journey.  We took the opportunity to eat lunch and rest for a while before the time came to head back out.  As we were leaving we meet a trio who had crossed over after us and were planning to spend the night.

On the way out we followed the outlet creek down for a while, along an intermittent trail and then struck off along a traverse that brought us back to our original stream crossing.  One more shortcut put us back on our trail in and we followed it back to Low Pass and on to Gladys in about 2.5 hours, a big improvement from the outbound trip.

Once back to camp we took advantage of the sun and took a spit bath by the lake, because it was too cold to swim, and then lounged in the sun for the remainder of the day.  To bed at dark for another restful night hanging in the trees and then up this morning to 35 degrees and a return of the hazy conditions.  The trip out was uneventful and another wonderful weekend out in the creation was over.

This yearling and mom took a break half way up the hill to Lillian Ridge.  I knew the trip up was hard for people, but apparently we are not the only ones.

Moose Lake from the north end.

This guy had sentry duty on the trail by Gladys Lake.  

Lillian Lake

A smaller lake near Lillian.  This one still has quite a bit of snow on it.

Looking down from the Lillian Lake bowl, across to Low Pass.

Looking back to Lillian Lake from near Low Pass.  The lake is behind the clump of trees in the center of the bowl.

Gladys Lake from Low Pass.  We were camped in the trees just back of the bare spot above the  left half of the lake.

Low Pass as seen from our camp site on Gladys Lake as the sun is rising.  Beautiful setting.

The trail running along the top of Lillian Ridge back toward the trail head.  A hazy day obscures much of the distant  mountains

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sawyer Squeeze Filter: a Review

Over the years I have mostly used either iodine or Aquamira to treat water in the back country, mostly because they were lightweight and fairly easy to use.  But I was intrigued by the Sawyer Squeeze filter, mostly because of its weight, but also because  it appeared to be fairly simple to use.  So I bought one and have used it for over 500 miles this year.  The following is a review of the filter, along with some tips for using it.

The filter itself is fairly small, weighing in at 3 3/8 oz or 96 grams, is just a shade under 6" long (with the optional cap included) and a bit under 2" in diameter at its widest.  Sawyer claims that the filter removes anything larger than .1 micron, including 99.99999% of bacteria, including Salmonella, Cholera and E. Coli, and 99.9999% of protozoa, including Cryptosporidium and Giardia.  The filter does not remove viruses however.

Unfiltered water goes into one end of the filter, through the side walls of a bunch of micro-fibrous tubes into their center, and then out the other end of the filter as clean water.  A certain amount of pressure is required to do this, provided either by gravity, or by squeezing an attached bag of untreated water.  Either way will work, although the squeezing method will generally be faster.

The filter comes out of the box with 3 squeeze bags, one each of 16, 32 and 64 oz.  You can also use a regular soda bottle or other water bottles with compatible threads.  My Platypus bottle has the correct thread size, although apparently some do not, so you would want to check that before going out on the trail with one.  The Mylar bags that come with the filter are probably the lightest option and can be bought separately, so that is probably the best option.

The most general way to use the Squeeze is to fill a bag, attach it to the filter, aim the discharge into your water bottle, and then squeeze the bag; out comes clean water.  This operation is generally fairly simple and within a couple minutes of stopping you can be drinking fresh filtered water.  The biggest challenge I have encountered with this is getting the bag filled.  It you have dripping, or cascading, water this is not a problem.  But it can be difficult from a lake or smoothly flowing river or stream.  When you put the bag into the water to fill it, the water pressure outside the bag keeps it collapsed and very little water will go into the bag.  I resolved this by cutting the top off of a soda bottle and use it as a scoop to pour water into the bag.  This works especially well when the water source is shallow, especially with a lot of sediment.  It is easy to skim water from the surface without disturbing the stuff on the bottom.

I would caution against squeezing the bag too hard.  I have heard from lots of folks who manage to bust the seams of the bag, I suspect because they clamp down too hard.  I apply gentle pressure to the bag, neatly rolling it up as it empties.  This keeps the seams laying flat all the time, reducing the chance of them popping open.  It also makes it easier to get all of the water squeezed out of the bag.  With a filled 2 liter bag, I can fill both of my quart Gatorade bottles in just a couple of minutes.

But what happens if you do manage to bust open your squeeze bag?  You could always carry a spare bag.  But if you have a soda bottle top for a scoop like I do, you can screw the top onto the input side of the filter and then use it as a gravity filter.  My scoop is about 4 inches long and, so long as I keep it nearly full, will allow me to fill a quart Gatorade bottle in about 7 1/2 minutes.  That is slow, but easy, and does give you a fall back without having to carry an extra bag.

I have also, for long dry stretches, carried the squeeze bag full of water, and then filtered it as needed when my Gatorade bottles ran dry.  You need to be a bit careful when doing this, ensuring you have the cap on good and you don't unduly stress the bag, otherwise you might have a mess.  I carry the full bag in the outside mesh pocket of my ULA pack, cap up, and have had no problems with doing so.

When not in use, I carry the bag rolled up and tucked into the soda bottle scoop along with the filter.  I have taken the remainder of the soda bottle and notched it.  It then fits over the other side of the bag and filter with the bag cap sticking out the notch, offering additional protection for the bag while tucked into the outer mesh pocket of my pack.  And then the whole thing is stuffed into a gallon Ziploc bag, holding it all together.  The filter, a 2 liter bag, the cut-up 20 oz soda bottle and the gallon Ziploc bag weigh a total of 167 grams, or 5 7/8 ozs.

I really like this filter, especially once I figured out how to use it effectively.  I have had no problems with it this year and look forward to using it for years to come.  Keep it periodically back flushed, be gentle with it, and you should be happy with it as well.
For emergency use, the soda bottle scoop can be attached to the filter  input.  If the scoop is kept filled it will take about 7.5 minutes to fill the quart Gatorade bottle.

This is my filter kit: the filter, a 2 liter bag, a cut up soda bottle and a gallon zip lock bag.

The filter and bag go into the soda bottle with the bag cap sticking out of the  notch in the bottom of the soda bottle.

And then the whole thing nestles down into a gallon Ziploc.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Trail Names

Names.  We all have several.  A first name, a last name, and usually a middle name or two.  Names are useful in providing identification, distinguishing us from other people.  I have only known one other person who has the same set of names that I do, and that was my dad.  But a problem with the names given us at birth is that they are not very descriptive.  The name Edwin says nothing about me.  Nor is it really all that unique.

Many people also have nicknames.  A nickname is an alternative name that a person might use, either because they don't care for their given name, because it is easier to say, or simply because they just like it.  It is also possible that you might have a nickname hung on you by others, usually because of something you have done or what you look like. In my life I have had two nicknames, one given me by the nurses in the maternity ward when I was born, because I was very chubby, and the other just a shortened version of my first name.

In the culture of the long distance hiker the idea of a nickname has evolved into the trail name; a name usually given by others, but sometime self adopted: SkinnyD, Love Bird, Ironman, Two Hats, Wired, Half Fast, Drop & Roll, Day Breaker, Silent Joe, Tequila Jack, Butter Cup, Calf, Birdie, Moon Shine, Stride, Barracuda, Sunshine, Trail Bait.  Many of these names trigger an image of something about the person with the name.  But other times the name is just a whimsical handle that a person uses when out on the trail.

Trail names have the added advantage of generally being unique, although you might occasionally run across the same name used by multiple people: Hawkeye being an example this year.  And they also provide a bit of anonymity, which may be important to some folks.  But best of all, at least to me, is that they are fun.  I have known about trail names for a few years now, but had no real experience with them until last year, my first to hike more than a single section of the PCT.  That year I hiked the northern 160 miles of Oregon, south bound.  I met a lot of north bound thru hikers and began asking many of them for their names, something that most seemed quite happy to provide.  It became a game for me during that 8 days to collect and record these names, and was one of my favorite parts of life on the trail.

But it was always a bit of a downer when they in turn would ask for mine and the only reply I could provide was Ed.  I wanted a cool trail name.  But no one is going to give a solo south bounder a trail name (we just don't spend enough time together), and I could not come up with one on my own that I liked.

The 400+ miles on the trail in 2012 were much the same.  I enjoyed talking to the north bounders I would meet, and collected many names.  But until midway through the trip I was just Ed.  And then it hit me.

When my kids were small we all fell in love with Winnie the Pooh.  We watched the adventured of Pooh Bear by the hour, never having to worry about the message that was being passed on to the little ones.  Over time we collected quite a number of VHS tapes of the adventures of Pooh Bear, that we did our best to wear out, as well as all the stuffed characters.  Everyone had their favorite character, and mine was Eeyore.  I do not know just why I related so closely to him (and maybe I am afraid to know), but I did.  And over the years I have been given at least a dozen Eeyore's, from Christmas ornaments to windup toys.  Most of the Pooh stuff is long put away, but there are still Eeyore's hanging around, with at least 4 of them watching as I write this.

And so, I became Eeyore on the trail, a name that my wife thought was perfect.  So, in the years to come, when you see an old, tall, lanky guy moseying down the trail toward you, with Eeyore perched high on a shoulder strap, you'll know who it is.  And if you're not in too big a hurry, take a quick break and give us a howdy.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

2012 Pacific Crest Trail: Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

A couple days after getting home from finishing up Oregon, I packed the stuff up again, picked up a friend, and our wives dropped us off at Stevens Pass for a southbound journey to Snoqualmie Pass.  We planned on taking 5 days for the 74 mile trip, a leisurely 15 miles per day average.  The forecast ws for clear weather, with the possible exception of day 5, so we left most of the inclement weather gear in the car and hit the trail.

Day 1

The first day was pretty much a roller coaster journey through some pretty country.  The trail starts off with a 1000 rise to a ridge south of the pass, snaking its way under the ski lifts, and then back down under more lifts and a set of power lines, crossing a couple of roads along the way.  Within about 5 miles all of that is left behind and the trail begins to wind its way past a number of beautiful lakes.  We passed by Lake Susan Jane, Josephine Lake in a bowl just below us, Mig Lake, Hope Lake and Trap Lake, also in a bowl below.  These lakes were all inviting and the first 4 had their share of folks either camped on the shore or visiting them.

The final climb of the day was into Trap Pass, up above the beautiful lake with the same name.  From there the trail descended rapidly down to an intersection with the Surprise Lake trail, which continued to drop rapidly until it hit the lake.  This was our destination for the night, and it was well named.  We knew nothing about this lake other than its location on the map 13 miles from the trail head.  What we were to discover was that the lake was accessible from another trail head only 4-5 miles from Highway 2, and that it was apparently a pretty popular lake.  As we walked along the east side of the lake we found that it was crowded with people, including one party on the other side who had a big fire going, in spite of the no fires sign, that was spewing smoke over the south end of the lake.  This group also started to party loudly at dusk; not very good neighbors for a lake full of campers.  We were indeed surprised, but not in a good way.

We ended up hanging our hammocks in the trees a 100 yards up from the lake, over some fairly rough ground.  But that is an advantage of having a hammock.  Since I am not sleeping on the ground, I don't really care all that much if it is level and cleared.  I can swing over rocks, branches and uneven terrain just as easy as I can over a level tent site.

Apart from the disappointment over the crowd at Surprise Lake, the day had been pleasant, the mountain and lake views very nice and the flowers were bright and colorful.
At the Stevens Pass trail head, ready to head out.

View south from the first ridge.

Josephine Lake

One of many colorful meadows along the way.

The view south during the climb up to Trap Pass.

There was a lot of Paintbrush growing along the trail.

Don't know what these 'teeth' are called, but the area is full of similar spires.

Looking down into Trap Lake

Day 2

We decided on day 2 to head for Deep Lake, about 17 miles down the trail.  We started with a 1400 foot climb over Pieper Pass, a 2000 foot drop down to near Hyas Lake, a 1800 foot climb to Cathedral Rock, and finally a 1200 foot drop down to the lake.  Under many conditions this would have made for a grueling day, but the beauty of the country more than made up for it.

On the climb up to Pieper Pass we could see Glacier Lake, just a mile up from Surprise Lake, and likely a better spot to have stopped the first night.  We also were able to view Glacier Peak for a while, rising up above the surrounding peaks.  On the other side of the pass we found a rock slide with a view of points south and dropped the packs to snack and stare at the ridge, and more distant mountains, to the south of us. I don't know all of the peaks we were looking at, but the view did include the glaciers on Mount Daniel.  It was pretty impressive and made the climb worthwhile.

The trail dropped down past the Deception Lakes, rose slightly over Deception Pass and then down some more to the flat lands around Hyas Lake.  Near the bottom we passed over what the maps and signs called a dangerous ford.  I have no doubt that earlier in the season this ford would be very treacherous, on a mild late August day I barely got one foot wet making the crossing.

After the ford we made the long steady climb up to Cathedral Pass, passing underneath Cathedral Rock.  I am sure that this massive 'rock' would have a commanding view of the surrounding area, and I have no doubt that there is some kind of way trail to the top, but we did not see it, nor feel any inclination to attempt to scramble to its top.

Shortly after making it through the pass we started to catch glimpses of Deep Lake far down below us.  The trail quickly dropped down to the lake and we found a nice spot where two hammocks could hang.  As an added bonus the spot had a large rock that extended out into the lake.  This large flat rock become our home for the evening as we cleaned up, ate and sat admiring the views.  Deep Lake was easily out best camp of the trip, spoiled only by a few pesky mosquitoes.

At the end of the day we both felt like this had been some of the prettiest country we had ever seen.  There had been a lot of ups and downs, but it had truly been worth it.  Little did we know that the best was yet to come.
Glacier Lake with Glacier Peak in the background.

A lovely patch of Lupine along the trail on the ascent to Pieper Pass.

A glacier on Mt. Hinman

There was still quite a bit of Columbine blooming in places.

This was the 'dangerous ford' near Hyas Lake.  The barely submerged rocks provided a convenient way across.

Cathedral Rock from the pass below.

Looking down at Deep Lake.  The camps are along the far side of the lake.

Hanging at Deep Lake

Day 3

We had decided to push on to the Lemah Meadows area, about 22 miles away, on this third day, leaving us with a couple of relatively shorter days at the end.  To get there we had to drop another 1400 feet to the Waptus River, climb about 2600 foot to the top of the Escondido Ridge and then drop back down about 2400 foot to Lemah Meadows.

The drop down to the Waptus River was a fairly pleasant walk, although a bit long.  We stopped at the river crossing for a bite and then headed up to the ridge.  This climb was long, and a bit warm in the mid morning. But the worst part of this stretch of trail was the brush.  We had had some brushy trails earlier, but on this ascent there were places were the young trees growing out into the trail threatened to push us off the trail and down the hill.  Pushing through the brush while trying to maintain balance and headway was not a lot of fun.

Eventually the trail hit the ridge top and followed it for about three miles.  The views from atop the ridge were spectacular, especially the last mile before beginning the descent.  We found a big rock to sit on for lunch and stared out at the mountains around us until we had to go on.  And it was not long after that we rounded the final bend and found ourselves facing Chimney Rock and Summit Chief Mountain across the valley.  While they may not be the biggest mountains in the area, they were pretty up close and personal and quite impressive.

There was only a single water source up on the ridge, a little creek flowing out of some small tarns and snow melt and then falling down to Escondido Lake.  The stream braided across a flat spot and was filled with frogs, with mosquitoes swarming the area.  We tanked up there, opting to filter out whatever the frogs had left behind, and headed on to a windier and dryer place for lunch.

The trail descended through alternately burned and forested areas, becoming steadily more covered the further down we went.  This side of the ridge did not have nearly the issue with brush and was a pleasant walk.  Our map showed two campgrounds on creeks about half a mile apart.  The first spot looked good but did not have ready access to water so we went on to the second.  Here the bridge across the creek was out, leaving either a ford or a log crossing to get to the other side.  People passing through told us the the near side camp site was much better than on the other side so we opted not to cross until morning.

Unfortunately the camp site on our side only had a single tree, and it takes at least three to hang two hammocks.  So I ended up following game trails in the area until I found a spot were we could hang for the night.  We went back out to the creek side camp to eat, clean up and get water and then retreated back to the hammocks for the night.

Every day seems to just get better.  The Alpine Lakes Wilderness we are traveling through is quite a wonderful place.  The only fly in the ointment at this time was my lower back which had decided to start acting up.  Carrying the pack was no issue.  Bending over was.
A colorful meadow just below Deep Lake.

Waptus Lake

Looking north from the Escondido Ridge

The Escondido Lake

Looking south from the Escondido Ridge

A wildflower patch atop the ridge.

Chimney Rock

Yet another lovely trail side patch of flowers.

A panoramic view to the west from the south end of the Escondido Ridge.

Day 4

We had planned on heading for Ridge Lake today, but a north bound hiker had told us last night that the lake was posted for no camping.  So with that uncertainty hanging over us we again left early in order to have time for whatever might come.

The trail starts off pretty mellow, passing through a small recently partially burned area, probably from the fire 3 years ago.  After a couple of miles the trail started up.  And up and up.  The trail quickly gained 2000 feet in a couple of miles, and 74 switchbacks (yes, I counted them). On the way up the trail crossed a bridge over the Delate Creek, just below a pretty waterfall, and gave a quick look at the eastern of the Spectacle Lakes.

As the trail came out on top, the views of the Spectacle Lakes with, I believe, Chimney Rock in the background were stunning.  I followed one way trail a bit to a bluff overlooking the lakes and decided that was a place I wanted to return to and spend some time.

The trail dropped into the vicinity of Parks Lakes and then rose up and over the Chikamin Ridge and into the Gold Creek drainage.  On the way up to the ridge was a sign warning pack trains that there were no pull outs for the next 4 miles, making me wonder how you go about backing up a pack train if two of them were to meet.  It was also hard to imagine a 4 mile stretch of trail without any wide spots, although the reason for the warning soon became clear.

The hike around the Gold Creek drainage is about 6-7 mile long and sticks fairly high to the ridge top, moving up and down to avoid shear bluffs.  Much of the trail is on talus, or scree, which makes for slow walking.  But it is truly an amazing walk.  You can see the trail clinging to the hill sides as much as three miles away, on the far side of the bowl.  And it is clear that this is not a place where two pack trains would want to meet, or even two horses.  In places it would not be fun to even meet another hiker.  But it was truly magical.  Seems like all the way around I would walk a few steps and then look up and gawk a bit as the view would change.  The views of Joe Lake across the bowl were pretty appealing as well.

The trail hits a couple of passes along the northern edge of the traverse but the clouds that had started coming in obscured the views to the north and west.  As the trail moves west it skirts high above Joe Lake and Alaska Lake, although there was no obvious sign of a trail down to them.  Both lakes looked like gems set into their deep bowls, and I was thankful for a digital camera so I didn't have to worry about how many pictures I was taking.

Near the end of the traverse around the larger Gold Creek valley the trail passed between Gravel and Ridge Lakes.  Contrary to what we had been told there appeared to be no restrictions on camping here.  But because of the changing weather and my increasingly sore back we decided to go on past the lakes and out to Snoqualmie Pass that afternoon.

So on we went, past the Catwalk, a trail blasted out of the cliff side and ridge top, and finally passed to the outside of the valley.  From here the trail continued to traverse the outside wall of the drainage before starting to drop down to Snoqualmie Pass and the long trip home.

This was very much a magical trip that just seemed to get better each day.  While this trail is easily doable in 4 days by a strong hiker, there are so many viewpoints to sit and gawk at and lakes to visit that it could also take a week or longer.  I have previously traveled the PCT through all of Oregon and from Rainy Pass north, and nothing I had seen earlier comes close to the awesomeness of this stretch, although the area around Harts Pass comes close.
A waterfall along on the Delate Creek during the ascent to the Chickamin Ridge.

The ruggedness of these mountains never ceased to amaze me.

Looking back at Spectacle Lakes

The Four Brothers

Looking across the Gold Creek drainage toward Joe Lake.

The view to the north through a pass in the Chikamin Ridge.  The clouds were coming.

Looking back east along the Chickamin Ridge.  The trail comes in over the low pass to the right and then traverses left across the upper face of the ridge.

Alaska Lake

Ridge Lake.  

The Kendall Katwalk, a trail blasted out of the shear cliff and ridge top.

A panoramic view east from just south of Joe Lake.


Since I had traveled southbound through much of Oregon earlier in the month I was expecting to encounter a few of the same hikers again, and was not disappointed.  Along the way I again met Scott, Stride, Iron, Hawkeye, Clay, Birdie, Calf and Moonshine.  I also encountered the 7 year old Barracuda and his mother Sparrow.  Barracuda is attempting to become the youngest PCT thru hiker and appears to be well on his way to accomplishing that feat.

Overall we encountered close to 100 people on the trail or in camp.  And, apart from a few day hikers near the trail ends and around Surprise Lake, they were all friendly and a pleasure to talk with along the way.  This appears to be a popular trail and is not one to take if you are looking for solitude.  But if you don't mind a few others sharing your joy at discovering this magical place, then by all means take the 4 days, up to however much food you can carry, and go explore.