Click here for more pictures.
The trip started out Friday evening at 8:00 p.m. when we picked up Ben. Next stop was Longview to pick up Laurel. There were five of us on this trip: Charlie, Matthew, Christina, Ben, and Laurel.
After a one-hour quick stop to pick up some worms (and a watermelon, cooking oil, peanuts, and more) we finally arrived at the trailhead at about 12:30 a.m. We quickly spread out the tarp next to the car and crashed after noticing millions of stars overhead.
At 7:00 a.m. the first truck came driving up the road, passed us, stopped, backed up and asked, “Are you guys camping there?”
“Yes,” Dad answered. Dad and Ben had been up a couple minutes, and the rest of us were just getting up.
“Well lookout, I’m backing in there.”
“Boy howdy!” says Ben.
There was space for him to back in beside our tarp. This actually isn’t an official trailhead, but an abandoned road up a canyon between STEEP mountains. There are several lakes up the mountains on the sides and lots of mines in the area.
Anyway, we talked to this guy and his buddy a while and found out they were headed to a mine way up the river. I had gotten directions to a closer mine which we were planning to visit from 2drx (a handle in an online forum, nwhikers.net), and it turned out this guy was one of his friends. I asked him if he used nwhikers.net forum, and he said he did. “I’m Jimbo,” he said. I couldn’t really place that name, but told him I was “McFarnell.” It was kind of neat meeting someone from the forum. After a few minutes they took off in a big hurry.
Dad had bought the watermelon as a post-hike treat, so I carried it down the road and hid it in the river under the bridge. We packed up all our stuff, ate breakfast, and headed up the “trail” about a half hour later. The road was pretty nice for a little ways, but we soon reached “Bowling Ball Alley” where a stream has run down the road and you have to walk on bowling-ball-sized rocks. It is a nice area with some BIG trees, a river beside the road, and all kinds of plants.
After about an hour of hiking, we reached the big cedar tree and memorial that is the landmark for the turnoff to the mine we were going to try and find. The memorial was for a guy who died at this spot while hiking with his son and a friend a few years back. I think he was only 55 or some odd years old.
We dropped our packs and began climbing the side of the canyon, following the vague directions I had printed online. 20 minutes later I saw the first boards from the old power house. We were amazed that we could walk right to it. There was all kinds of old pipe, boards, an engine, a trolley that used to run up and down from the valley, an ore cart, and – most interesting – the adit itself!
As described on the internet, the entrance doesn’t make one feel “warm and fuzzy.” Quite a few rocks have fallen from the ceiling at the entrance, but about 10 feet back it gets more stable with no breakdown. There was some weird contraption just inside and ore cart tracks trailing off into the distance under about 3 inches of water. I decided to go wading and Laurel soon followed. Other mine explorers have been in here, so I wasn’t too worried. We went about 200 feet straight back and then the tunnel curved left and we turned around. We got some good pictures and video of the whole place.
Back outside, Dad had found the ore cart down the hillside about 50 feet. After a few more pictures, we started heading back down to the valley.
With our packs on again, we made short work of the next mile up the valley to our turnoff. This is where it gets rough. So far we had hiked two miles, and we only had one mile to go. The problem is that this last mile is almost straight up on an old trail that is very hard to follow.
We waded across the creek and entered the brush – devil’s club, salmon berries, huckleberries, and more. Soon we were in gradual sloping forest, easy walking….it didn’t last long. Now we were really climbing, with the creek from the lake going over waterfalls on our right. This last mile took us about four hours to complete.
When we were close to exhaustion, we crested the top of a rise and were walking flat again. Soon the lake appeared – so beautiful, clear, and welcoming in the afternoon sunlight with majestic mountain peaks in the distance. No sign of anyone. There were TONS of big, black, sweet, juicy huckleberries on the hillsides near the lake. Yum!
The last (and only) time we were here, we camped at the outlet, right where the trail reaches the lake, but this time we decided to camp on a peninsula out in the middle of the lake. The access route to this peninsula proved harder than we expected (lots of brush), but it was worth it. A great campsite with views of the lake on both sides and a nice fire pit. There was a great swimming rock nearby.
We quickly unpacked and got ready to go fishing. Ben, Dad, and I were the only ones with fishing licenses, so our goal was to catch dinner before dark. We were soon out in our rafts fishing. Christina and Laurel soon followed, both in one raft, just visiting and rowing around the lake.
I was using a z-ray lure and soon had several bites, but I just couldn’t keep them on! They’d jump out of the water and throw the lure. Dad was using a flasher with a worm, and that was working great. He soon caught four and gave his rig to Ben, who also caught a bunch. I was able to catch two, finally, on the z-ray. Ben caught the biggest fish of the day at about 14 inches. They were all nice, fat rainbows – there are freshwater shrimp in this lake which provide constant fish food.
We had a great meal of fish and home-dried stew, but missed having a campfire. Fires aren’t allowed at this elevation in this wilderness area. We sang a few songs and then headed for bed.
The next morning dawned bright and clear with fluffy white clouds floating overhead – a beautiful day! We had blackberry cobbler and more fish for breakfast. After breakfast we had a short church service where each of us shared a verse or passage of scripture and then we sang a few hymns.
Ben and I were planning to do a dayhike over to another lake, about two miles away, so we began getting all our stuff ready. Laurel, not one to sit idle, began weaving a basket from huckleberry bushes. Ben and I were soon ready and pushed off in our rafts for our commute across the lake. This lake has steep brushy shorelines, so rafting is the quickest and easiest way to the opposite side. Our plan was to get out on the opposite shore and give Dad our rafts to bring back to camp for him and the girls to use throughout the day – we would holler when we were ready to come back across the lake that evening.
As soon as we started across the lake we noticed it was an unusually warm day. This was fine, except that our route would take us over a couple STEEP ridges and rough, brushy, mountain-goat country. We were going to be hot. I had a GPS-tracked map from a guy on the internet who had made this hike before, so I knew it was possible, but hard. I had attempted it once before, but turned back at the first ridge.
We soon were across the lake and started up the hillside. Let me tell you, this country is STEEP. After climbing for an hour or so, eating lot of huckleberries along the way, and crossing some scary-steep sections, we made the first ridge above the lake. We could see dad’s raft as a small dot down on the lake far below. We took some pictures, video, and yelled back and forth with those back at the lake. It was already close to noon, so we also stopped here for lunch.
I was getting a little worried now, as the day was half over and we weren’t even close to our destination. We decided to press on anyway. A short ways down the ridge we happened upon some very cool quartz crystals and an unknown piece of wire. We side-hilled along the back of the ridge, skirting a couple peaks before dropping down to another intersecting ridge. There were lots of huckleberries, which were really slowing Ben down (they were too good to pass up!). Lots of bear sign, too.
We dropped clear down into the valley where there was a small stream and Ben decided he needed to soak his feet which were hurting from all the side-hilling. I looked back up at the ridge we had just come from and could hardly believe we had been up there because there were so many cliffs. We still had another couple ridges to go and the afternoon was passing. I was beginning to believe that we probably should just fill our water bottles here and head back – Ben agreed that was the wisest idea at this point. We were both disappointed, but this hike was just rougher than we had anticipated. We agreed that next time we should get up at the crack of dawn and get moving.
Once back up on the ridge above the lake, we noticed some dark rain clouds heading our way. “Great,” I said. “Dad’s going to be worried about that – he might even want to start hiking out tonight.” Rain is miserable on backpacking trips. It is so hard to stay dry and warm, especially without a campfire.
We found some mountain goat fur stuck in some bushes along the ridge – this is definitely their kind of territory. A little further along we found a shorter route back to the lake, but weren’t sure if it would take us all the way to the lake or if it would dead-end at some cliffs. It looked ok from our vantage point, so we decided to take a chance and headed down. The first part just below the ridge was the scariest – super steep, pine needles, and almost nothing to hold on to. Down a ways we found a cairn so that encouraged us that this must be a passable route.
Sure enough, we did find a nice way down to the lake after walking through some snow from last year (this is Sept!!!) and skirting around a big cliff. We had hollered from up above for boats, but they were nowhere to be seen. We yelled some more and cleaned ourselves up a bit in the cool lake water – hiking through brush on a hot day sure can get you dirty. Dad finally showed up with our rafts….half deflated! Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I had asked them to make sure they were pumped up before bringing them so we could float high and dry.
I proceeded to hop into my raft and splash a bunch of water in as well. Nice. I don’t know if you’ve used a raft before, but all the water goes straight to the lowest point which is usually right where you’re sitting. Ben tried getting into his and did the same thing.
Ben high-tailed it straight for camp to dry off while I looked for a good place to get out on this side of the lake. I wanted to do some fishing before heading back, but wanted to dry out first. I finally found a place to get out to dry off a bit. I got all my stuff out of the raft, and started to pick it up to empty the water when….splash….my video camera had fallen off my belt into the lake! Nice. Luckily it was in a case and was kind of floating. I grabbed it, dried it off, put it in a zip-lock I had and back into the case. I finished emptying the water out of the boat and launched again without getting wet. I did a little bit of fishing but it was already dinner time so I headed for camp. I did lose my bait twice while going across the lake, but missed the fish both times.
For dinner we had fish and another pot of stew along with leftover cobbler. Laurel had packed in some dinner rolls and homemade huckleberry jam, so that was a nice addition. Half way through dinner Dad decided it looked like rain and wanted to head for the valley – he didn’t want to have to try to walk through all those huckleberry bushes and steep slopes after they were soaking wet. It was already getting close to sunset, so we put it in high gear and got everything packed up. We left the lake right at sunset.
We didn’t get very far before it was too dark to see. We finally found a flat spot on the side of the mountain and made a quick lean-to for the night. It was still really warm and never dropped below about 62 all night. It did sprinkle a bit, but not much.
The next morning we had a quick breakfast of dried fruit and continued on down the mountain. After losing and re-finding the trail a few times, we finally arrived at the valley floor, crossed the river, and took a long break. After filtering water, we headed back down the abandoned road towards the car. The hike down the road seemed longer than it had two days before. We arrived back at the car at 12:30 p.m. where we enjoyed crisp, cold watermelon fresh from the river.
We spent the rest of the day fighting traffic to get back home. We entertained ourselves by looking at digital pictures and video of the trip and visiting. It was a really fun trip and a great success. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is awesome country and I’m looking forward to next time!
Click here for more pictures.