Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

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RobinB
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Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

Post by RobinB » June 12th, 2022, 12:29 pm

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Opening picture: Mt. Daniel from the outlet of Lower Robin Lake

August 7-13, 2021

In early 2020, I planned a grand loop through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, starting and ending at Icicle Creek outside of Leavenworth with a resupply and hotel stay at Snoqualmie Pass. But then 2020 happened, and things got delayed a bit.

I finally got to do the trip last August, and, but for a bit of smoke on the southern end, it was even better than I imagined.

Because of the length of the trip (and my, uh… “expansive” writing style), I’m going to have to split the TR in two. Here’s the first, covering the trip from Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass via Jack Creek, Ingalls Pass, the Cle Elum River, Tuck and Robin Lakes, Waptus Pass, and a couple dozen miles of the PCT.


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August 7: Icicle Creek to Esmerelda Basin via Jack Creek, Stuart Pass, Lake Ingalls, and Headlight Basin

The day before my trip, my partner Krista drives me to Wenatchee and we stay at a big corporate hotel. I’m weirdly nervous the next day, and I stall for a while. I haven’t taken a trip this long in years.

But I can’t stall forever, and soon we’re speeding up to Leavenworth, then bumping up Icicle Creek. Soon—too soon—we’re at my trailhead, saying goodbye.

The Jack Creek trail climbs briefly as it leaves the Icicle Road, then settles into a steady soft up-and-down.

I look back where the trail crosses the Creek, up at Icicle Ridge. If I’m able to do the thing I’ve intended, the Ridge will be the end of my route, two weeks from now. I say hello to my future self.

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The forest is gorgeous here: thin eastern fir with an understory of huckleberry and fern. I spend several happy miles moving fast through the light warm rain, eating berries as I go.

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I meet the last folks I’ll see til Headlight Basin maybe five miles up the trail: a couple of women on horses, each with a Jack Russell Terrier and an old-fashioned canteen.

“Meadow creek?” the front one asks with an antique accent.

“Jack all the way to Stuart.”

“Oh!” She looks preemptively impressed. “You know the trail’s gone?”

“I’ve heard that.”

The trail does exist… for a while. From the Meadow Creek junction, it passes through the scars of two titular fires—Jack Creek 2008 and 17. The tread fades but persists to the outer edge of the burn, where an avalanche down from Van Epps Peak has destroyed the tread.

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I piece through the deadfall to the creek, then cross on easy rocks and follow toilet paper flagging up the opposite bank.

Halfway up, I run into a wall of trees, perpendicular to the “trail.”

“Well,” I say to myself. “Well. It’s going to be that kind of afternoon.”

I climb over and under and to the side. I remember something I learned last year, bushwhacking through the Muddy Fork on Mt. Hood: it’s fine so long as you go slow. So I go slow.

The only problem is that some of the deadfall is burned.

I’m standing on a log trying to shimmy onto another when suddenly both break. A moment of black, then I’m waist-deep in a tree-well I didn’t know I was on top of.

My leg hurts as badly as I can remember anything ever hurting, and my lower back feels almost like it’s been burned. I give myself a moment to think it through. Worst case scenario: I’ve broken my leg, maybe badly sprained my glute. I probably can’t walk out on a broken leg—I laugh at myself, at that “probably”—but I have the emergency beacon Krista made me take. I thank her silently. So worst case scenario: I have a broken leg and I’ll be sitting here for a while waiting for Search and Rescue, but I have food and warm clothes. This isn’t the kind of thing that’ll kill me.

If the leg is broken, it’ll probably be pretty shocking to see, and I think it’ll be best if I have my next steps laid out, so as to minimize the panic. So I get the emergency beacon ready, mentally go through where I’ve put all the warm clothes in my bag if it turns out I need to lay here for a while. I’ll press the emergency button, put on some warm clothes, then… maybe have some dinner?

With a bit of difficulty, I pull my leg from the ashy well. There’s a lot of blood—my leg is wet with it, my sock a little stained—but the leg seems to be working normally. I run my hands up and down, feeling for anything out of place. It’s punctured in several places and hurts like hell, but the bones and ligaments and muscles all seem fine—or, at least, they seem intact, and they’re where they should be.

I guess dinner will have to wait.

The end of the avalanche track is a blur, and soon I’m back in intact forest. There’s a stream a short ways later, where I stop to clean and bandage my leg. The cuts are deep, but don’t feel threatening to anything but morale. The bleeding stops as soon as I apply a bandage and a little pressure.

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That taken care of, I turn to the less pressing issue of whatever’s going on with my lower back. I can’t really see it, so I take a picture with my phone. The skin’s not broken, but there’s already a bright blue and purple bruise, blood pooling under the skin. The bruise is precisely where the bottom of my pack hits my butt, and it hurts horribly, but it doesn’t seem particularly dangerous either. “Well,” I say to myself. “Well you got fucking lucky.”

I put my pack back on, eat a couple gummy bears, and ease on up the way.

Jack Creek’s upper basin is a wonderful confusion of cracked white granite and thin fingers of forest stretched up from the creek.

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I huff and puff up the final steep switchbacks to Stuart Pass, limping a little on the uneven tread and feel an enormous sense of relief when I hit the pass proper—an unassuming break in the ridge that separates Jack from Ingalls Creek. I stop for a long time, eating some almonds and drinking the last of my water.

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From the pass, there are several routes to Ingalls Lake. I follow the uppermost one, staying as close as possible to the top of the ridge until I’m dumped more-or-less directly onto the lakeshore.

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I try to follow the south shore around, and it’s beautiful, but, after a steep gully and a smooth small outcrop on top, I realize there’s a cliff separating me from where I need to go. I could maybe climb down it, but I don’t want to test my luck a second time.

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So I backtrack and hurry along the much easier north shore.

It’s already almost seven, and I have another four or five miles until my planned camp for the night. So I hurry through Headlight Basin, waving sometimes at the hundred campers already headed for bed. I stop at a stream to filter some water, and am joined by an affable college kid in shorts almost as short as mine.

“My boyfriend went to sleep, but it’s seven!” She gestures wildly. “That’s not bedtime!” I laugh hard. “Have you been to the lake?” I tell her I have. “Don’t try to go around the south side. It, uh… doesn’t go.”

“Is that how you got those?” She points to the bandages on my legs.

“Oh, no. That was down in Jack Creek.”

She stops. “Wait, where did you start?” I start to tell her, but before I finish: “Where are you going?”

I try to work out how much detail she actually wants. “Tonight, Esmerelda Basin.” I point, just in case she hasn’t also spent the last year-and-a-half staring at the same map every night. “Eventually… back where I started?”

She does a little jump. “Are you a PCT hiker?”

I’m not at first sure what she means—we’re many miles from the PCT—but I guess that, for a lot of folks, “PCT hiker” is something like shorthand for “long-distance hiker,” in the same way that, out here, I sometimes use the word “Kleenex” to designate my hand.

“No no, I’m just an amateur, out for a couple weeks.”

“Two weeks backpacking!? Straight?”

Walking away, up to Ingalls Pass then down the short strip of steep tread before the easy switchbacks down to Esmerelda Basin, I think about that question. “Two weeks?” The first time I backpacked for more than a few days, it was with Krista on the JMT. She’d suggested it out of the blue that winter. “It’s just 220 miles and…” Just?

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But we went and it changed my life. Now, six years later—has it somehow already been six years?—I’m here, on a walk almost exactly the same length, and, though I’m nervous, it’s nothing like it was back then. It’s comfortable. Even if my leg hurts really, really bad.

The sun sets near the Longs Pass junction. As the last light goes, I think a little on that phrase, “I’m just an amateur.”

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I am, of course. As my leg attests, I’m not particularly good at hiking or whatever it is I do. But there’s something deeper there too.

That word, “amateur,” comes from the old French “ameour,” and further back from the Latin “amor”—love. To be an amateur in this sense is to do something for love, rather than duty.

I’m here because I want to be. Every step I take, I’m only taking because I want to take it.

People sometimes talk about hiking in almost heroic terms, as though it’s some noble quest to do what needs to be done. As though we’re all Hobbits, climbing Mt. Doom to save the world. But of course that’s nonsense. This is my vacation. I’m here because it makes me happy. I’m here because I love it. Even with a leg that for some reason’s started bleeding again, even in the setting sun, miles away from camp. I’m here because there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. I’m here because I’m an amateur.

It starts to rain as I reach the forest. I’m tired and hungry and sore, and stumble a bit on the rocks as the trail finally meets the Teanaway and turns up toward Esmerelda Basin. I turn my headlamp up as high as it will go, and scan the woods for fire rings—there’s a fire ban, and anyway I haven’t had a fire backpacking… ever, but I suspect they’ll be reliable indicators of possible places to camp. And soon enough I find a grand old spot at the side of a trickling stream. The rain’s even kind enough to stop for a bit—long enough for me to put up my tent and eat a quick dinner.

I re-bandage my leg in the tent, remembering too well the feeling of dried blood sticking to a sleeping bag. Then just a few minutes before sleep, listening to the nearby stream, thinking of what a wonder it is to be here. And to be whole here, leg unbroken, back only a little bruised. And I think of that woman up at Headlight Basin. “Two whole weeks!” Maybe, like Krista, she’ll convince her sleeping fella to come out on a long trip. And maybe, like us, it’ll change their lives.


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August 8: Esmerelda Basin to the Cle Elum River via Fortune Creek Pass, Lake Ann, Van Epps Pass, and Fortune Creek

I sleep uneasily in the seeping rain. Thin ribbons of water run through my headlamp light down the outside of my tent. Once or twice an hour, a deer wanders through my camp, and I worry a bit that I’ve taken its bed. I hope it has a place to keep dry.

It’s still raining as the sunrise turns the black sky grey. I try to wait it out, read for a while, write Krista a letter. But I can’t wait forever, so I put up my things wet and start my slow limp up the trail.

The trail here’s an old jeep track, wide and rocky and wet. The flats beside the Teanaway River are lightly wooded with scraggily fir, but further up the hillside’s bare, the soil made mostly of mineral-poor serpentine rock.

My leg’s killing me, but the scenery’s beautiful: sharp grey granite against a shifting sky, floods of forest in the valleys and basins. Sheets of rain come and go, interspersed with curtains of sun.

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I’m so happy to be here.

The trail fades as I pass into the Cle Elum drainage, then braids on the steep hillside that drops toward Lake Ann.

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I stop for a moment at the lake to collect some water and check on my leg – I think it’s fine? – then sidehill through the sodden flowers below Ingalls Peak. Here and there small streams drop through the hanging meadows. One deer, then another runs in front of me on the rainy tread.

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The trail ends unceremoniously at a tangle of jeep roads, which I follow uncertainly up to Van Epps Pass.

It’s a party up there.

Half a dozen jeeps are parked at unlikely angles in the clearing, and dozen people—all women, I realize—are gathered around a literal pyramid of beer. One of them shouts out at me: “Who wears short shorts!” Another whistles.

“Oh no!” The whistler stops as I get closer. “I didn’t realize you were a dude!” I look down at my legs. “You know, it always comes as a surprise to me too.” A second to think. “These…” I’m not sure if this is too much information, “these are my wife’s shorts.”

It showers on and off for the next few hours as I drip down the absolute maze of jeep roads that switchback circuitously to the Cle Elum River.

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Some roads are rocky—big stones that are difficult to walk on, to say nothing of driving—and some are smooth, but by late afternoon I find myself speeding easily on an obvious arterial toward the river. The morning rain’s given way to a bright afternoon, small pools and wet rock glinting in the gentle sun.

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I’d imagined a long day today, but my leg’s aching badly by the time I reach the river, and I scan the thin band of forest between road and river for possible places to pitch my little wet tent.

I don’t have to wait long: a mile or two after I reach the river there’s an ancient clump of cleared camps nestled along the water, just barely visible from the road.

I set up in the furthest one, stretch out my dripping rain fly, yard sale my stuff to dry in the dappled sun filtering through the old trees. The river here’s wide and shallow but fast, echoing through a wide bend up Goat Mountain’s shining granite.

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I wash off my leg in the river. I’m sure it must be the sun lightening my mood, but the cuts already look better.

Then a long, lovely afternoon spent moving my things from sun patch to sun patch as they slowly approach something almost like dry. Cars come and go, mostly big rigs roaring in the distance.

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August 9: Cle Elum River to Robin Lakes via Cle Elum Valley Road, Hyas Lake, and Tuck Lake

I wake in the dappled sun to the sound of laughing water, eat on an ancient log in the shifting light, watch cautiously driven cars stir morning dust on the distant road.

Tiny trout tumble through the river’s gentle waves and I wonder about just staying here, just living here. Just watching the cars come in the morning and go in the evening. Having every night to myself here. Reading my little book, eating my little dinners and breakfasts on the sagging old logs.

The road’s bright and hot by the time I break camp. Shirtless dudes shout hellos from their Subarus as they pass. A third of the folks offer me a ride, one—a former thru hiker—so insistent that I have to promise her twice I’m not just being polite.

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Someone’s placed signs on the empty culverts that sometimes bisect the road, memorializing the creeks that flow less and less these days. “In Memory of Fish Creek.” “In Memory of Skeeter Creek.”

I reach the overflowing trailhead by early afternoon and start up the broad single-track toward Hyas Lake. The trail’s more crowded than the road, full mostly of families with pillows and fishing poles and Dora the Explorer backpacks.

I stop for lunch at Hyas Lake, filter some water and put on some bug stuff. Across the way, three shirtless kids are splashing at each other, laughing so loud it echoes through the whole basin.

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The trail stays almost completely flat until Upper Hyas Lake, where it suddenly turns uphill into steep switchbacks. Also, there are hundreds of flies. I spend a disconsolate mile trying to outrun them, then a couple more resigned to my fate, climbing the increasingly steep and eroded trail to Tuck Lake.

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The trail braids brutally at the lake, and I wander for a quarter hour before finding a strand that goes the way I want, up toward Robin Lakes. Campers sunbathe on the bright white granite, their tents tucked into little bits of loamy dirt between boulders.

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From Tuck, the trail’s a thin band of worn rock, marked mostly by cairns and arrows made of fallen wood. It reminds me a little of the old way up Ruckle Ridge in the Gorge: hard, but so beautiful that you hardly notice its difficulty.

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After a short mile (and a long thousand feet up), I arrive at the rocky shores of Lower Robin Lake. Three or four groups are camped in the distance, but the place is mostly deserted, and I easily find a perfect spot with trees to shelter from the wind and enough dirt to stake in my tent.

It’s absolutely beautiful.

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The rest of the afternoon is a pleasant, bumbling blur of chores and a short walk around the Robin Lakes. Bugs come and go, fading out with the wind, which, by early evening, consistently gusts at 20 or 30 miles an hour.

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Dinner’s rehydrated whatever on a tortilla, my stove and I perched on a small ridge overlooking Hyas Lake and Mt. Daniel beyond. Halfway through, I’m joined by a tiny woman in Walmart raingear and badly torn Converse carrying a little food and an armful of maps. She sits down next to me. “I haven’t talked to anyone all day. Do you mind if I join you?” Of course I don’t.

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As she eats her snack food dinner, she studies the map, asking if I know the names of various minor peaks. I almost never do. But she names them with aplomb, along with the small streams and shaded glaciers I can barely see.

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A storm starts over Mt. Daniel, rain and thunder in the distance, but Cathedral Ridge—as I now know to call it—keeps it at bay, and we sit for half an hour or more, naming the mountains. When my friend—Kelsey—runs out of things she can see, she starts naming the peaks we can’t, the ones just behind Mt. Daniel or on the other side the ridge—Granite Ridge, she tells me—that towers behind us.

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Eventually even the unknown is exhausted, and Kelsey stops, a little shy for the first time since we met. “I know it’s stupid.” A long pause. “But I’ve been wanting to come up here for a really long time. And I want to remember the names of all the things.”

“Oh no,” I laugh, “I do exactly the same thing. Something like a third of my memory is taken up with topo maps for places I’ve never even been.”

She laughs too. “I just want to know what to call the places I love.”

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August 10: Robin Lakes to Peggy’s Pond via Trico Mountain, Granite Mountain, Tuck Lake, Deception Pass, and the PCT

The wind wails all night. White-capped waves crash against Robin Lake’s hard stone shore and echo up 300 feet of granite to my little sheltered camp. My tent feels like a tiny ship at sea, a small speck surrounded by the squalls of an infinite ocean.

I wake to a dream of soft gauzy skies on glinting granite and the more pedestrian problem of breakfast.

The wind’s blowing so hard that I can’t get my stove to stay lit. I try shielding it with various improbable windscreens until eventually making myself into the windscreen, lying down in an awkward semicircle around the stove. It works. Mostly.

The rest of the morning’s a pleasant, meandering stroll around the lakes and surrounding peaks: up Trico Mountain and past the Granite Potholes, up Granite Mountain’s surprisingly easy north summit, and finally down the ridge that separates upper from lower Robin Lake.

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Apart from some loose talus at the end, the whole thing’s mellow and open. I put some old Pavement on my headphones and just lose myself in the hills.

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It’s early afternoon by the time I make it back to the tent, and I rush a bit, wrestling against the wind to break things down, weighting my things with rocks to make sure they won’t fly away.

The way down’s fast and fun, butt-scooting down steep roots and sandy rocks, holding onto tree trunks to keep myself stable. I stop for a while at Tuck Lake to eat and filter water, then continue down the dusty trail.

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The day’s gotten hot—over 100—and I pass half a dozen folks sweating their ways up. A boy in combat boots swears under his breath as I pass, punching two flies off his leg in a single shot. A woman in a bra and jeans looks plaintive. “It’s just… so… hot.”

From the Robin Lakes Way Trail, I climb slightly up to Deception Pass, then cut south on the PCT toward Cathedral Pass.

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Immediately, the PCT acts like the PCT. A dozen folks are packed into a single tent spot below the trail, smiling and laughing with their legs stretched out all over each other. Two girls—section hiking sisters—stop me to ask about available campsites, and weather, and water, and… whether they’ll be okay.

They remind me of me, here almost exactly five years ago, asking everyone I met in one way or another if I’d be okay.

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The trail drops a bit to cross the fast-flowing whitewater at the head of the Cle Elum River, then climbs steeply through huckleberries and avalanche tracks to Cathedral Pass.

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Halfway up, I meet a rail-thin couple of thru-hikers, a guy in girl, both in their late-20s. They’re lying in a small clearing next to the trail, lackadaisically picking berries, staring at the sky. We talk for a while. They’re at the end of their hike, or near it anyway. It’s been four months and two-thousand miles. The guy tells me, “every step is precious now.” Then a second later. “Every step’s always been precious.” He laughs. “It took us a while to realize that.”

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I reach Cathedral Pass near sunset. It’s a broad series of ponds and huckleberry meadows, tucked on Cathedral Peak’s southern shoulder, and I wander through in the cooling dusk as if, again, in a dream. But this time a dream of calm seas and a settled sky.

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The light’s fading fast as I reach the way trail to Peggy’s Pond, but there’s enough light to make it to camp and setup without a headlamp.

The bugs are bad, and I eat in the tent, watching the world go dark. Then stars through the thin cracks in the tree cover, a plane blinking red and blue.


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August 11: Peggy’s Pond to Waptus Lake via the PCT and Spinola Creek

The day breaks warm, and I wander up through the glacial streams that braid down Mt. Daniel’s east side.

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I remember this from years ago: a floodplain of flowers and scree, towers of granite and the punched-through ghost of an unnamed glacier, now mostly gone.

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The bugs are bad down by Peggy’s Pond, but here the wind’s too stout for their little wings, and I sit for a while, watching rocks fall. I take some water from the melting snow, eat a little peanut butter on a tortilla.

Then down the kicked-in path across Cathedral Rock’s west shoulder to the PCT, and down further, through the familiar switchbacks to Deep Lake.

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An older couple limps slowly up the other way, walking from Snoqualmie to Stevens. Sweating. It’s well over a hundred, and they’re out of water. I offer them some of mine, but no. “Covid.”

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I drink two liters in the two miles to the Lake, then nearly six more in the long five down Spinola Creek to Waptus Lake.

Everyone’s going the other way. I remember going that way too, five years ago—almost exactly five years ago. I’d been walking for weeks, but I was still so scared: scared of… I don’t know exactly. Scared of the weather, of loneliness, of not being able to do it.

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The trail twists down through buggy thick brush, then old growth—stately old trees and a carpet of deep green moss, strangely out of place the sweltering sun.

I leave the PCT for Spinola Creek, now more a river than a stream, then tumble down the easy tread to the tangle of trails on the southeast shore of Waptus Lake.

I cross the outflow at an easy deep ford, then amble upstream on unused trails to an ancient assortment of old camp clearings at Quick Creek. Fire rings filled with grass.

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I set up on an old tent pad covered in branches. Then the most wonderful evening. I swim out to the center of the lake, watch campers on the opposite shore setting up their tents. Above, at the head of the lake, Bear’s Breast Mountain catches the day’s last light. A tiny trout jumps not a foot from my left shoulder.

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Back at camp, I hang my wet clothes to dry and watch across the way as headlights appear, glittering on the barely broken water. Laughter echoes across the lake.


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August 12: Waptus Lake to Park Lakes via Waptus Pass and the PCT

At sunrise, light and smoke funnel up the Waptus River, up the canyons that stretch from here to Cle Elum and down to Yakima.

There’s a fire there, a couple dozen miles west of town, burning dry grass and tinder into the eastern Cascade foothills.

I’m weirdly sore—maybe yesterday’s heat and dehydration followed me through the night—and I bumble through morning chores.

The smoke follows me up Quick Creek to the broad buggy meadows of Waptus Pass, then through miles of marsh and huckleberry and blooming heather. It’s absolutely silent up here, but for the occasional footfalls of deer running twisted paths through the wet grass and mossy trees.

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I stop for a snack at a rocky overlook above the Cooper Rive Valley. It’s full of thick smoke.

The trail drops fast into the valley, a thousand feet in a little less than a mile. At the bottom is Pete Lake, a deep grey pool filled with tiny islands, each just big enough for a small fern or stunted tree. The Cascade Crest—Chikamin, the Lemahs, Chimney Rock—is a blurry reflection in the still, misty surface.

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I stop to filter a few liters of water, and watch a pair of birds skim from one side of the lake to the other. Their songs sound like laughing.

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A mile above the lake, I ford Lemah Creek—here a deep, quick, braided river that flows above my waist. The birds from earlier—or similar ones singing the same song—are here too, flying back and forth.

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The smoke thickens in the early afternoon heat as I stumble through the old fire-scarred forest up to Spectacle Lake.

On the switchbacks below the Lake I meet a struggling PCT hiker, limping hard with a mostly empty water bottle hanging strangely from his shoulder strap. He started south from the Canadian border a month ago, but screwed up his ankle in Glacier Peak, and spent two weeks in Winthrop, on crutches. He tells me it still bothers him, like clockwork after eight miles. He’s at nine, with another to go before his planned camp at Spectacle.

“It’s strange,” he leans deeply on his pole. “I meant to make it to Mexico, but I’ll be lucky…” He takes a long pause, looks in the distance, then smiles, as if changing directions. “It’d be great if I could make it to California.”

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Spectacle Lake’s different than I remembered. In the strange smokey light, it feels almost as though I’m seeing it for the first time. But in that strangeness, I really do get, in some sense, to relive the feeling I felt that first time, to relive the awe.

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I spend a long time on the far eastern shore, swimming out to the center, watching the sky get dark and light and dark again.

A group of heavyset men in new camo and heavy packs set up shop across the way, shouting and laughing too loud. I start packing up, but am interrupted by a clattering splash, then another, then a third. They’re in the water now, camo bathing suits, riding blow-up swans. One waves a can of Coors as they pass by, and shouts “hello” in a fake Australian accent that sounds exactly like a drunk Crocodile Dundee.

The hike up from Spectacle Lake up to Chikamin Ridge is hot and sticky. The smoke’s thickened. My stomach and lungs feel weird.

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Camp tonight’s a deserted flat on the southern shore of the lowest Park Lake. The upper lakes were a madhouse, full of Boy Scouts and bickering couples, but it’s completely quiet here, but for an elk thrashing in the far side shallows and a couple of big birds floating in the middle, squawking at each other.

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The usual camp things: I hang my food, try to hide from the flies while filtering water, watch the grey sky go gold then burgundy then high bright violet. The smoke recedes down Mineral Creek and out come the stars—just a few at first, then a full sky of constellations and comets. The universe.


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August 13: Park Lakes to Snoqualmie Pass via the PCT and Commonwealth Basin

The birds are back at sunrise, singing softly to the hazy hills. Their songs echo off the water and rock into a gauzy wall of sound.

The trail’s wet with smokey dew as I climb through fields of talus and lupine to the minor pass between Gold and Mineral Creeks, then turn sharply to traverse below the Four Brothers and Chikamin Ridge.

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I remember this bit from years ago: rocky eroded tread through avalanche tracks and blooming meadows, steep steps around boulders and braided streams.

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At a small cleft in the ridge I pass a couple old guys with enormous external frame packs, parked precariously on trailside rocks drinking coffee from ceramic mugs. They hold up their mugs in unison. “Morning!”

“Morning!” I instinctively hold up my mostly empty water bottle in a sort of cheers. “Where are you headed.”

“Oh,” a long pause, as though this is the first time they’ve ever thought about it. I love them both instantly. “A ways north. We’re hoping to make Stehekin before the snow.”

It’s mid-August. Stehekin’s less than 200 miles away. They could hike 5 miles a day and still make it with time to spare.

“Ah, I doubt that that’ll be a problem for a couple strapping guys like yourselves.”

They laugh, again in unison. One—Bill, he’ll later tell me—spills his coffee. “What about you? Mexico?”

Now it’s my turn to be flattered. “No no! Just Snoqualmie today, then a weird route back up to Stevens and over to Icicle Creek next week.”

Bill slaps his knee. “Well damn! Snoqualmie today? You better get moving!”

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The crowds thicken as the trail drops to Ridge Lake, then the “Kendall Katwalk,” a mile-long walkway blasted into Red Mountain’s white granite shoulder. Dayhikers and dogs pass the other way, as do weekenders with pans tied to their packs.

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From the Katwalk, it’s just a long drop to Snoqualmie Pass. I sneak a quick lunch on the ridge beneath Kendall Peak, then drop through the deep afternoon heat off the PCT to the old, now-unofficial path along Commonwealth Creek.

I stop for a long time along the water, soak my face then feet, drink a liter of water, then another. It’s something like 98 F down here, but along the water, drinking something cold, it feels perfect.

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The creek leads down to the crowded trailhead, then a hot black road under the freeway to the sweltering huddle of buildings at Snoqualmie.

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The hotel lobby’s full of PCT hikers, young kids whining aggressively at the elderly Vietnamese woman at the counter about prices and policies. Someone’s air conditioning doesn’t work. An angry boy in his early 20s calls the hotel’s policy against room stacking “fascist.” The wifi’s slow. Why is the laundry so much?

I’ve been feeling this thing for a while: that the PCT’s turned into something that no longer interests me. The trail itself is of course not the problem—it’s just exquisite, just today it almost brought me to tears—but there’s something ugly creeping into the culture that surrounds it, like somewhere folks forgot how lucky we all are to be here.

When it’s my turn, I try hard to be kind, tip $30 on a $90 room.

I shower with all my clothes on, then limp out in flip flops, suddenly sore, through the heat to find some dinner. Fried food and a very large, very cold, very weak beer.

Back in the room Krista and I talk for hours. The usual thing: it’s been years for me, just a week for her. It’s hot in Portland, hot everywhere. She’s been worried about me. I tell her I’m fine: the air conditioning doesn’t work in my room, but there’s a fan and as much cold water as I want and an ice machine just down the hall.

It’s paradise.

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retired jerry
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Re: Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

Post by retired jerry » June 12th, 2022, 5:59 pm

wow! amazing trip. Nice report. Hopefully the trip back to Icicle Creek will be just as good

Good you didn't seriously hurt yourself. My wife likes that I take an Inreach Mini for emergency reporting.

I always weave into the conversation something about my wife whenever I encounter strange women

I've done some trips in that area. I now have some ideas for more, thanks

Aimless
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Re: Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

Post by Aimless » June 12th, 2022, 6:14 pm

Even though it's just Part One, I gotta salute you. That's one helluva trip report. Much admiration to you!

AlpenGlowHiker
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Re: Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

Post by AlpenGlowHiker » June 12th, 2022, 7:18 pm

This is exactly what I needed. Thank you so much for the detail, pictures and great writing!

I only wish I could be half as descriptive with my own reports.
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Chasing the Alpenglow - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpmFGJ ... vODn1G2f4Q

greenjello85
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Re: Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

Post by greenjello85 » June 12th, 2022, 8:37 pm

That was really entertaining. Thanks :)

Glad you weren't seriously hurt from your fall. Always kind of sketchy in those heavily burned areas.

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lordgares
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Re: Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

Post by lordgares » June 13th, 2022, 7:51 am

Beautiful trip report. Thank you so much for sharing.

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Bosterson
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Re: Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

Post by Bosterson » June 13th, 2022, 10:23 am

RobinB wrote:
June 12th, 2022, 12:29 pm
I tell her I’m fine: the air conditioning doesn’t work in my room, but there’s a fan and as much cold water as I want and an ice machine just down the hall.

It’s paradise.
Good to see a long TR from you, Robin! :) I like your philosophical musings and look forward to part 2. Hopefully you go back past the Tank Lakes etc!

So did you walk the road out to Salmon la Sac TH?? Looks like from there you did a similar trip to Tuck/Robins/Trico/Peggy's as Ben and I did in 2014. Did you think about going up Daniel from there? It's pretty great. But that's also pretty great you got the Robins without crowds - we had to camp up on the ridge cause the lake was swarmed, and I think it's exponentially worse nowadays. Any run-ins with killer mountain goats? :D
#pnw #bestlife #bitingflies #favoriteyellowcap #neverdispleased

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Charley
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Re: Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

Post by Charley » June 13th, 2022, 4:54 pm

Wow! An epic trip report for the ages.

Thank you so much!
Believe it or not, I barely ever ride a mountain bike.

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RobinB
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Re: Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

Post by RobinB » June 14th, 2022, 11:11 am

Thanks so much for reading everyone! I really appreciate it, especially as I haven't had as much time as I'd like to hang out here for the last while.
Bosterson wrote:
June 13th, 2022, 10:23 am
Hopefully you go back past the Tank Lakes etc!
I'd planned to, but I was weirdly tired the day I went through there, and ended up just doing the shortest possible route from Williams Lake through Chain Lakes and down La Bohn Gap to Necklace Valley.
Bosterson wrote:
June 13th, 2022, 10:23 am
So did you walk the road out to Salmon la Sac TH?? Looks like from there you did a similar trip to Tuck/Robins/Trico/Peggy's as Ben and I did in 2014.
Oh man, that would've been a long road walk! No: I dropped down to the Cle Elum seven or eight miles up the road from there, on NF-170. (There's a really confusing maze of jeep roads between Van Epps Pass and the Cle Elum, but I basically just always took the one that looked more used and came out fine.)
Bosterson wrote:
June 13th, 2022, 10:23 am
Did you think about going up Daniel from there? It's pretty great. But that's also pretty great you got the Robins without crowds - we had to camp up on the ridge cause the lake was swarmed, and I think it's exponentially worse nowadays. Any run-ins with killer mountain goats? :D
I'd wanted to! I'd actually kinda built it into my schedule, but (like with the Tank Lakes) the heat or whatever had me feeling terrible that day. Guess I'll have to make Daniel its own trip soon :)

wnshall
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Re: Across the Alpine Lakes: Icicle Creek to Snoqualmie Pass

Post by wnshall » June 14th, 2022, 12:21 pm

What a great trip report! Thanks for sharing your wonderful writing. Just one more place to put on my list. (Although, really, the message I take away from your writing, is to find joy on whatever trail you happen to be on.)

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