Sunday, July 03, 2005

Alpine Lakes Backpack Trip

For the second part of my week's vacation, I had a brilliant idea: having completely exhausted ourselves with 26 straight hours of driving, let's go backpacking in the Northern Cascades! Over Memorial Day, Dawn and I had camped just outside the boundaries of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, and I was itching to explore it more. We decided to hike in the Cle Elum watershed, on the south side of the Wilderness.

We arrived at the Tuaquala Meadows trailhead around 6PM on Thursday, having slowly bumped over 11 miles of horribly potholed gravel road to get there. Our plan was to make the short hike to Hyas Lake and camp there for the night. Friday, we'd make the strenuous hike (and 3000 ft climb) to Robin Lakes, 6200 feet high in the alpine zone.

The hike to Hyas Lake was an easy two miles, since it followed the valley floor. We didn't see anyone until the next morning; all the campsites around the lake were unoccupied. We pitched the tent, made supper, strung up the bear bag, and enjoyed a nice sunset over Cathedral Rock before going to bed.

The next morning, we had breakfast and broke camp fairly leisurely before setting out for Robin Lakes. Our hike was compised of three roughly equal sections totalling 6 miles. First, we followed the Deception Pass trail from our campsite to the Robin Lakes Trailhead, climbing about 800 vertical feet in the last mile. The Robin Lakes trail climbed another 1100 feet of steep terrain to Tuck Lake; this section was, at parts, little more than a deer path. Above Tuck Lake, it became part goat path, part granite-strewn scrambling route marked only by cairns; this final push to the top was around 1000 vertical feet. It's a tough climb, particularly for inexperienced backpackers. My pack was also grossly overweight, thanks to equipment that I had been purchased for car camping. Still, the views were quite rewarding. Here, I rest about halfway to Tuck Lake on the second section of trail:

From slightly below Tuck Lake, a view of Hyas Lake and Little Hyas Lake with Cathedral Rock towering overhead:

Dawn and I stopped at Tuck Lake for lunch. Above, fallen logs choke the outlet from Tuck Lake; Below, Dawn and I enjoy the expansive views of Cathedral Rock and Mt. Daniel.

Almost there! Having scrambled over numerous boulders and crags on the hike up from Tuck Lake, Dawn makes the final push up the granite face just below Robin Lakes.

As we were about to crest the rim, Dawn and I walked hand-in-hand, anticipating a gorgeous view. Instead, we found ourselves facing a mountain goat about 40 feet away. We were upwind of him; he may have smelled the food in my pack, because he started coming my way. I didn't feel like having to fight a mountain goat for my food; his horns and the terrain gave him a bit of an advantage! I tried to make myself look larger and growled "Go Away!" in my most threatening voice. The goat and I stared at each other for a few moments, then he turned and trotted away. I managed to get a nice snapshot of him.

Convinced that we didn't have a hostile goat stalking us anymore, Dawn and I enjoyed the views of the alpine lakes below. This is Lower Robin Lake.

We camped on a spit of land between Upper and Lower Robin Lakes, with our door facing west. This was the view out of our tent flap:

During the night, the wind howled and rain moved in. By the time we got up this morning, the lakes were enshrouded in clouds. There was enough visibility to keep the cairns in sight, and the trail wasn't too slippery, so Dawn and I broke camp and started trudging our soggy selves down the mountain.

As we got lower, it became apparent that the rain was going to continue throughout the day, so we decided to hike all the way to the car and head for home. Going down was mostly easier than going up; it took us about 6 hours to hike 8 miles with a 3000 ft descent. Still, we were exhausted by the time we got to the trailhead. Our respective emotions:

It was Dawn's first time backpacking, ever. She was impressive - trucking right along with hardly a complaint. She thought it was an insane amount of work, but said the views were worth it. In retrospect, this was a tough hike to take her out on for her first time. Most hikes we do now, though, should be easy in comparison! As always, you'll see the pictures.


Aviatrix said...

A mountain goat? What was in your backpack? A bale of hay? They're vegetarian. He was probably hoping you'd give him apple pieces, or whatever the last backpacker he met gave him.

That's pretty cool, actually. And I'm damned impressed by Dawn. She's a keeper.

Lost Av8r said...

Cool Photo's

If you're interested in some gorgeous hikes up here in Canada, take QX to YYC and head west into Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho National Parks. All reside in the Rockies and have some amazing hikes with lots of gorgeous scenery.

Sam said...

LoL, aviatrix...yeah, my pack mighta been a bit lighter without that bale of hay strapped on the back, no?

You're probably right, the goat wasn't about to gore me or push me off the mountain - I was just flashing back to all those nature programs featuring mountain goats fighting each other, and thinking "Yikes, they're mean!" My experince with goats "back on the farm" is that they'll eat darn near anything, so I assumed that mountain goats would be omnivores; however, googling "mountain goat diet" shows a completely herbivore diet of grasses, litchens, and tender parts of plants. They are, however, fairly territorial, and will defend their rut. But just as likely, he was being friendly (popular backpacking area, I'm certainly not the first person he's run into) and I was being overly cautious.

lost av8r, I've been to Banff before & definately want to go back for some hiking. On the other last experience was a kinda bad one. I rented a car on a layover and drove up to Banff, and back that night...I deposited the car at Enterprise after-hours, since I had an early am flight. The next day they call me to say that I'll be charged for the damage to the car's bumper...turns out some idiot rear-ended the car after I dropped it off in the enterprise lot (they share parking with a hotel in YYC). They originally wanted $1200, we ended up settling on $600. Guess it was kinda my fault for not buying the supplemental insurance. Still...grr...still has me steaming. If not for cool peeps like yourself & aviatrix, coulda be enough to turn me anti-canuck ;-).

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