Coronary Ridge, Oct 8th

So I thought a short hard hike would be a good thing after a full day of trail work in Bend. The part that I didn’t consider was that Bend is three hours away from home. Ok, let me back up a second here. Some of you may know that after the Eagle Creek fire I heard my calling and I’ve been volunteering with Trails Keepers of Oregon. It’s a great organization that does trail stewardship. For the most part they organize work parties in the Gorge and around Mt Hood but are trying to expand statewide. Following this effort, they participated in a trail maintenance summit organized by the Mountain Biking Community so they had this event which included a morning with interesting lectures and the afternoon working on a trail in a nearby park that will be opening later this year. It was a great experience but to participate, I had to leave my house at 5AM on Saturday and didn’t get back until about 7PM. I was super tired and needed some sleep so went to bed early to wake up early again on Sunday for this hike. Fortunately, the drive to Kings Mountain is short and the hike is not that long – it’s just steep. Weather was not perfect but at least it wasn’t raining still, it made the lower part of the trail very eerie as we were walking through clouds. Once we got to the junction where you veer off to Coronary Ridge – which I was amazed to be able to recognize as soon as we got there, the skies cleared up a bit. We huffed and puffed up that mountain and got to the sign pretty quick Views were still magnificent even though we could not see that far. As we continued thru the ridge, we walked thru overgrown sections of the foot path collecting all the water from the leaves. By the end, when we got to the Kings Mountain trail my pants were drenched. I guess I should have thought about grabbing the gaiters that morning. I was pretty warm from the exercise so decided to just keep pushing uphill towards the summit of Kings. As I climbed my pants dried up completely so when we got to the picnic table, just below the summit, I was completely dry.
We made our last push to the signpost and signed the logbook before retracing our steps to the open meadow for a quick bite to eat. Once we started getting cold, we packed our stuff and headed back down, this time taking the Kings Mountain trail all the way to the car. Once down, we celebrated the achievement of the day with a picture and then stopped for well-deserved lunch and the corresponding beer. As you might guess, I crashed as soon as I got home and didn’t open my eyes until Monday morning.

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Two hikes in one day part II: Bunker Hill, Sep 30th

Once we got back to the trailhead from Falls Creek Falls, we took a short break to eat before jumping back in the car to drive from that railhead to the starting point of this hike. That drive took about half an hour as we missed one turn and then overshot the trailhead. Bunker Hill doesn’t have a real trailhead as I’s a short hike up a butte that veers of the PCT, so you can start from anywhere you can get on the PCT, even from Mexico or Canada if you wanted to do a long hike. If you wanted a trailhead with a bathroom, you could start from Trout Creek which adds a couple of miles to the hike. The way I had chosen to go in was just off NF-417 on the Old Bunker Hill road as it was the closest entry point to reach the hill. The reason we overshoot when we drove by is because, as I mentioned, there’s no trailhead. The PCT just crosses this road and that’s it. Once we saw the crossing, we had to backup and find a parking spot on the side of the road to leave the car. Once we did, we walked back to where we saw the crossing and got on the trail. Right from there you get a full view of Bunker Hill and I must say, if any hike can give you an idea of what it is before you get there is this one. When you read “Bunker Hill” what comes to mind? Probably something like this

The first part of the hike is pretty much crossing that field as you approach the hill. Once you get in the forested area, a trail sign indicated where you need to veer of and leave the PCT to start climbing. The hike itself is not very interesting as it doesn’t have views along the way on the numerous switchbacks you go thru. The top also has limited views but there’s a spot that is a must if you are doing this hike. Towards the top (there’s no sign, but you’ll know you are getting there) there’s one last switchback to the left. At the corner, there’s a user path to an opening that stands on top of a rock formation. Even if you don’t continue to the top, it’s ok. This is the reward for this hike as you can stand on top of the rocks and see the Wind River Valley to the north. We had a cloudy and rainy day so we couldn’t see any further, but I believe that, on clear days, you get a view of Mt Adams from that point.

We did reach the top where the only thig to see is the remnants of an old fire lookout tower (only the concrete pillars are left). From there, it was just retracing our step back down which we had to do at double time to beat the incoming rain – ad we did it just in time

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Two hikes in one day part I: Fall Creek Falls, Sep 30th

There are hikes I’ve known of their existence for a while because every now and then, fellow hikers post comments or pictures. Some of those are in my list but I hesitate to do them mostly because they are short or too far or both. This is one of those is relatively short and far. At some point, it occurred to me that maybe combining this with another short hike close by or along the same route could solve that problem and in the case, I found such a hike in near Bunker Hill. I’ll tell you about it in my next post though. For now, let me tell you about Fall Creek Falls. If you are having trouble with the name, you’re not alone. I also thought that Falls was not a good name for a creek especially if there where falls on it. Anyway, this hike is almost like a walk in the park, especially if you only do, as most people do, the lower trail. It’s a very gentle walk in the woods without a lot of views (or any for that matter) until you start approaching the waterfall and see the top tier from the distance. Once you get there though is when you realize that pictures don’t do justice to this waterfall. The trail ends at an open spot that servers as the best viewpoint to see the entire waterfall. The top tier is an umbrella tie falls that reminded me of Ramona Falls Al that water lands in a pool you can’t see before plummeting down to the lower pool. It’s just an impressive sight.

From that view point, you can walk down to the lower pool, or around and over some boulders for different angles so it’s easy to guess that this place would be crowded on hot summer days. WE did have it to ourselves but only because we were there early. On the way back, instead of just heading back like most do, we took a connector trail that climbs up to the ridge and reaching the upper trail. This trail doesn’t offer many views either with the exception of a couple of sports. One of them is just northeast of the waterfall but it doesn’t allow you to see it completely. It does open to the valley and some people have used this spot to camp out (judging from the fire ring). Further up the trail there’s another viewpoint that literally on top of the waterfall. Again, you can see it due to the steep angle. There’s a user path going down the ravine that reaches the creek right before t disappears down the canyon that we didn’t explore as it was slippery. The trail continues deep into the forest and as far as I know, it goes into some dirt roads which didn’t offer anything interesting so we turned around at this point and stayed on the upper trail as it came around the horse trailhead and back down to the parking lot forming a loop. It’s definitely worth going and I think even if you don’t combine with another hike.

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Spider Gap, Buck Creek loop, Aug 31st to Sep 4th

Another trip that had been in my list for some time as it’s regarded as probably the most beautiful place in the state of Washington. I would say its’s debatable as the Alpine Lake wilderness is still way up in my ranking list but even if this isn’t in the top, it does take a close second place. One of the caveats of this trip though is that it has a lot of ups and downs so, to get the magnificent views, you must endure the grueling uphills and downhills as you cross several passes. Originally I had planned this trip with the group and had a couple of friends coming with me but one had to bail due to an accident and the other due to work. For a day or two I thought about cancelling the trip and coming up with a plan b but then realized I’d still be out there backpacking, probably on my own, so there was no difference. Once passed the decision of going by myself, I had to plan the logistics. Even though this trip is considered a loop, it does not start and end in the same place. The road connecting the trailheads is just under 3 miles and about 1000’ of elevation again. Most people going in groups, leave one car at each end but that was not my case. Generally, when I have a section of road, I like to get it over with as soon as I can so I don’t have to worry about for the rest of the trip. Still, it was a bit complicated as I needed to hike about 6 miles to my first intended campsite on top of the five plus hour drive from Portland. Doing the math, I figured that, if I left early enough, I could be at the trailhead at a reasonable hour to hike the road and continue to my first campsite. My goal was then, to be at the exit point no later than noon. Any later than that, meant I would have to start from the trailhead and leave the road for last. In the end, Thursday morning came, I woke up at 4AM and was on the road by 5AM. That allowed me to be at the trailhead at 11:30 and get the road done firs. After walking that connecting road I can say that, if you ae thinking of doing this trip by yourself, consider that as a recommendation, get thee early and do the road first. Otherwise, you’ll finish a 10-mile hike that is already dusty with a three mile, uphill road that’s even more dusty (you could get lucky and catch a ride but that depends on your luck).

Day 1: Trinity trailhead to Phelps Basin

Less than a week ago, I changed my car for a Subaru Outback. I’m glad I did before the trip as the road to Trinity trailhead includes about 10 miles of a bumpy dirt road. That allowed me to shave of some driving time to the trailhead. Once there, I grab my pack and set off walking on the road to the Phelps trailhead. The first part of the road was compacted soil so nothing to bad but then, after I took the turn to start heading uphill, things got dusty. The road goes over 3 or 4 switchbacks as it climbs the side of the hill and in several sections, you walk on a 4 to 5-inch layer of fine dust. No matter how slow or careful you are, the dust just flies around you creating a huge cloud. In no time, you are covered with it and start coughing. I’m not sure if this is the normal condition of the road or something common this time of year when there’s minimal to no rain. Either way I even heard people commenting on the trail that they got stuck in the dust as they didn’t have AWD. Being fresh from the drive, I hiked fast to get it out of the way so I did the road in less than an hour and was then finally on the trail. The first couple of miles are like any other forest in the Pacific Northwest. You slowly gain elevation as you hike along a creek that you can hear but not see and, along the way, you cross smaller creeks that dump their waters into it. One thing is for certain, I was already in a canyon as, despite the lack of views, I could notice ridgelines on both sides. After passing Leroy Creek though, you start noticing the forest thing out a bit. That happens just minutes before you come out of the forest into a huge expanse. Even though there’s no sign, it’s clear you have reached Spider Meadows.

I saw very few wild flowers but just looking at the fields I can tell this must be a blanket of color in the spring or early summer (and probably a mosquito heaven as well). The entire meadow is on a basin at the end of the canyon with steep mountains surrounding it. In the back of my mind I was thinking “this is a loop so where does the trail go?” as I could not see a clear path or pass, but since that was my route for the following day, I opted for not thinking about it and just enjoying the incredible opening views of this loop. AS I hikes across the meadow, I saw one or two other hikers and a handful of campsites hiding in the bushes. Originally I had thought about staying somewhere along the meadow but a friend had recommended me to continue on to Phelps Basin which, for some reason, not too many people go to even though it’s a short detour from the main trail. Towards the northern end of the meadow, you see trees approaching and the trail getting steeper. And it does quite a bit. Suddenly you’re back in a forested area that every now and then opens to let a stream cross and then closes again. A couple of guys passed me at that point hiking fast to get up somewhere on the way to Spider Gap which I took as a sign of relief as I wanted to find a spot in Phelps Basin.
I then got to a trail junction indicating the detour to Phelps so I left the main trail and hiked towards the creek. That’s where I learned why most people probably just turn around. The trail goes quickly to a viewpoint of the creek which is very rewarding and distracting. If you don’t pay attention, you miss a brushy and almost invisible trail to the left that takes you on a short bushwhack over a boulder. Once on the other side though, the basin opens in front of you and the trail ends at one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve stayed in. It did help that I had the entire basin to myself – plus some fat marmots and picas. But just imagine setting up your tent just steps away from a creek with direct views of the surrounding peaks. It was breathtaking

After setting up camp, I headed upstream to explore the snow field and a hidden waterfall to the side. As I walked in the basin, I saw the shadow line grow higher on the east and illuminate the peaks while the moon was setting on its way across the sky. It was a postcard moment. Later that night, right after midnight, I woke up and got out of the tent to take a peek and some photos of the stars. This was already looking like a great trip.

Day 2: Phelps Basin to Cloudy Pass

On Friday, I woke up to a fantastic clear blue sky day. After a good breakfast and packing my gear, I retraced my steps back to the junction and veered right towards Spider Gap. I still was a bit puzzled on where was I going as the trail seemed to be heading straight into a rock wall. Along a couple of switchbacks, I got the last couple of views I would get of Spider Meadows. Really an amazing place. Then I discovered why you can’t see a trail or even the pass. Looking from above (think of a satellite or a plane) the pass is a short valley shaped like a comma. You never see the end until you are there. That makes it more interesting as you never get to see the destination until the very last minute. That said, the marked trail ends up at a small plateau where snow runoff accumulates into a small pond and then drops hundreds of feet down to the valley. From that point you see just the bottom of the snow field and nothing more and, as I found out, you can pick your venom on how to get to the pass. One option is to follow some small cairns on the right side ridge over the rocks and stay clear of the snow and the second, more direct, is just climb the snow field. Knowing that there was a chance of crossing some snow, I had packed my microspikes so it was time to put them to good use. Soon after I started climbing on the snow, I got a better visual of the route ahead.
Straight up on what looked like a snow river. AS I climbed I lost time how many times I turned back to look at the scenery as it was slowly disappearing under the ridge. Then, out in the distance and looking at what looked to be an almost impossible pass, I saw a small saddle and a big cairn right in the middle. Finally, I knew where the pass was. Further up, the terrain finally leveled into a small basin that I’m guessing can melt at some point leaving a small pond behind. From that basin, there were no views but I could see the ridgeline on my right so I headed that way to investigate. A short scrambling got me to the top of a rocky butte with good views but not what I was expecting, yet. I had to walk a bit further towards the edge to finally get the complete view that at first I wasn’t able to recognize but then realized it was Phelps basin, where I had spent the previous night. Looking at the valley from this perspective was incredible as you got a real perspective on the size and steepness of the surrounding peaks.

After a short break with those views, I grabbed my pack and headed for pass. Little did I know the scenery would get so much better. Once there, I found myself on top of Lyman Glacier looking down to a glacier carver valley and upper Lyman Lakes with their turquoise color. Further in the distance I could see the forest where lower Lyman Lakes is but couldn’t see the lake itself.

From there, I was presented again with two choices, take a faint trail on the right side and traverse loose rocks and dirt or stay on the snow and hike down on the glacier. I opted for option two as it was a more direct route and was going to put me in the upper lake which I wanted to explore a bit. The first part of the descend was quick, easy and fun as I was mostly skiing down, but then, things got a bit more complicated.
Towards the bottom, since I wanted to head to the lake, I made a left turn and didn’t notice a creek that would keep me on that side. The faint trail disappeared and I ended up scrambling a rock field to the lake. I’m not a geologist to understand rock composition given its color but I would say iron if I had to guess. All the rocks had this orange/black tint that reminded me of rusted iron. Progress was slow but I was getting closer to the lake. At some point, I noticed the lower lip of the glacier where it was disintegrating into the lake. It looked really cool from the distance so I made a b-line to get closer. As expected, that only made my path even a bit harder but eventually I got to the edge of the lake and found a flat rock where I dropped my pack and had lunch with view.

From there I continued on the edge of the lake and already looking for potential campsites as that was my original plan. The upper valley is open so it’s just a matter of finding a flat spot but being still a bit early, I continued down passing by numerous small lakelets. Along the way, I met another hiker that was heading to Cloudy Pass and told met here were nice campsites up there. We also talked about Image Lake which, I had originally thought about visiting but then a friend told me I would be disappointed a bit – we’ll get back to this. Towards the north end of the upper valley, the trail slowly climbed over a ridge that opened the views of spectacular Lower Lyman Lake and the forested basin it sits in. It was quite a dramatic change in scenery even though the color of the lakes is roughly the same. Behind me was an open valley with rocks and shallow lakes, ahead of me was a big colorful lake and forests. From the ridge, I spotted a spur trail to a magnificent viewpoint that put everything into perspective.

Once down by the lake I made a quick stop to fill my water and then continued around. On one side, I was looking for campsite and on the other wanted to check Lyman Falls on the south end of the lake. The waterfall is not very impressive as it’s not a vertical drop but an angled one. While walking back I saw a handful of campsites within the trees. They looked doable but it was still early and I wanted a more open view. I guess I was biased after my first night up in Phelps Basin. Since I didn’t like any of the sites, I opted for continuing on to cloudy pass and check the sites there. My idea was that, if I didn’t find anything, I could come back down to the lake.
As I started heading up, that idea vanished, not because I found a site but because it was a steep climb and I didn’t want to do it twice. The trail took me thru several switchbacks in a deep forest with no views until I got to the pass where I found an open meadow but not many signs of campsites. Far in the distance I noticed a small mound next to a trail sign. What peeked my interest was not the mound itself but the Marmot standing on top of it. It was whistling at the top of it lungs. As I got closer I noticed the sign was pointing to the toilet across a small creek so there had to be campsites nearby. The Marmot stayed where it was looking at me and still whistling. It looked like it was directing traffic. I took the little detour and found a campsite that was a bit dusty. It was also taken so I started looking for options. At first I didn’t find any so I got back on the trail but being already later in the afternoon, I decided to make do and just pitch my tent somewhere. I was done for the day and I needed the rest. So back at the dusty camp, I took the path towards the toilet and saw a small meadow with a flat spot that looked very promising. And it was.

I was not completely by myself as I could clearly hear the girls giggling in the next campsite but the views made up for it. That night, after dinner, I went exploring a but farther east in search for an open view of the valley. I wanted to take a picture of the Orange mountains in front of me as the sun was going down. That exploration ended when a deer popped out of nowhere and scared the living daylights out of me. It was time to go to bed.

Day 3: Cloudy Pass to PCT junction – with a 15-mile detour to Image Lake and Miners Ridge Lookout

On Saturday, I woke up to another beautiful day and without a clear plan. The original idea was to head over to Buck Creek Pass and stay there but after the conversation and recommendation about heading to Image Lake and the lookout tower, I wasn’t sure. Not being in a hurry, I decided to get on the trail and make the call as I went. The first part of day was going over Cloudy Pass and then over Suiattle Pass. The section between these two passes was beautiful as you get an impressive view of the South Fork Agnes Creek Valley to the north. There are a couple of options for this section as you can hike down to the creek and a small meadow and then climb back up to the pass or stay up high traversing across on the shortcut trail. I took the later as I still didn’t have an idea for the day.

Soon after Suiattle Pass I got to the junction with the PCT and Miners Ridge where I had to make a call. Being still fresh and early in the morning, I opted to go explore a bit. I thought that I could turn around at any point and head south on the PCT towards the Buck Creek trail which was my original intention but I should know me better by know. Later in the day I would come to realize this was the point I started a 15-mile detour. The trail towards Miners Ridge started with few views opening to the valley below. I crossed a really nice waterfall where I found other hikers replenishing their water. I was full already so I kept on going. For the most part I didn’t get a lot of views for at least a couple of miles until I got to the junction that leads to Image Lake. At that point the trail makes a quick turn and starts climbing steeply towards the ridge in a series of switchbacks that reminded me of the Heartbreak Trail. The day was already hot but I wasn’t in the mood to turn around and give up, at least not until I got a view or some sort of reward for my efforts. And then I got those.
Once you reach the ridge, the trail makes one more turn and heads east just below the ridgeline. At this point, not only you get a fantastic view of the ridge itself but you also get a full view of Glacier Peak on the other side of the Suiattle River valley. The trail goes for quite a ways towards the lake which makes the views better every step you take. One last ridge that the trail traverses finally makes a turn towards the lake and it appears below you. From there you can see several trails, one right around the lake and another, not as clear a bit higher. As I descended into the valley I started thinking that I could stay there with that view. I wasn’t sure why my friend had told me I would be disappointed. Then I got to a 4-way junction with the upper trail and a marked path towards the campsites. Since I was still thinking in the possibility of staying there, I took the later which goes downhill away from the lake. That was puzzling but hell, I needed to check it out. I did find the campsites which indeed are below the lake and in the trees so they offer absolutely no views. Not only that, they are super dusty. I didn’t want to be in dust so I kept moving hiking back up towards the lake. Around it I explored several spur trails with no luck until I got to a sign that clearly said no camping within several hundred feet from the lake. That really sucked. I continued around the lake and back to the four-way junction where I made the turn on the upper trail. I recalled at that point a picture I had seen which seemed to be the postcard view from here. I was hopeful I would find a place to pitch the tent and stay there. No such luck. The terrain is at an incline and there are no flat spots. There’s a point where the views are nice but there’s not even space to sit down. I did take the famous picture before continuing towards the lookout tower.

A bit over a mile later with some uphills and downhills I got to the Miners Ridge Lookout tower where I met Russ, the Forest Service volunteer that mans the tower from Early July to Labor Day.
The tower itself was built in 1938 and it’s still actively used n spotting fires (not like a lot of other towers that have gone “out of business”). Russ share part of his history with the Forest Service and how it has changed vert e years starting from their mandate when it comes to a fire to how they communicate. It was quite an educational experience. After that, I sat down in the shadow of the tower to get some lunch and think about the rest of the day. Russ had recommended me checking the “Lady’s camp” as a potential place for the night and an alternate camp for the following night at Buck Creek Basin. Then I grabbed my gear and just before heading back, I got a very angry bee that literally took a bite out of my hand. From the tower, I retraced my steps back to the upper trail over the lake, the four-way junction and the ridge trail. It went fast as I had already seen the views, but once I got closer to the trees, I took the detour to check Lady’s camp.
That camp is a horse camp so there ae some posts to tie horses with the corresponding shit all around it. Certainly, not a place to setup a tent. A bit further up a found a flat spot covered by trees with ample space for one or two tents but after looking at it, I decided to head back down and move on. I don’t know if it was the old cot left there, the bed frame down the hill or the carved woman on the tree. It was very deliverance style. Since it was already getting late and I was tired, I started to look for potential campsites along the trail which I found none until I was back at the PCT. Just steps from the junction, there are a couple of sites out in the open and next to the trail (no privacy) that were very dusty. If all else failed, that was going to be my only choice even though I don’t like setting up in fine dust as you end up breathing it all night long. While checking that site, I noticed the remains of one of the mining shacks on the other side so I went to explore it. The shack had fallen on itself long time ago and was used to leave some trash but there was a large opening in front of it that was looking promising. A side user trail went off towards he trees which, at first, I thought went to the designated bathroom but then found a couple of hunter sites. One of them was big enough for my tent with plenty of trees surrounding it. I dropped my pack and set up camp there.
I hiked back to the creek to fill water for the night and the following morning which ended up being enough to take a cowboy shower. With the private campsite came the advantage of drying naked in the air before putting on some dry stuff. I did manage to get a couple of late pictures before going in and as soon as I did I heard a couple of stomping step very close. I took a peak out my tent just to find a deer coming from the trees to check me out. I guess it didn’t like me very much as it kind of snorted before taking off and disappearing in the opposite direction.

Day 4: PCT Junction to Buck Creek

Since day three was different from what I had planned, my fourth day was thrown out of whack. My original plan was that I was going to wake up at Buck Creek Pass and stay the day there to explore with an empty pack Flower Dome and Liberty Cap before heading out on the last day. Things were not that bad as I had an alternate plan to check the site Russ had recommended me so off I went.
Soon after I met a strange character on the PCT. He calls himself the hiking gnome and it seems he does the PCT in sections taking time to talk to people and do some mushroom hunting. We walked together and had a good conversation until we got to a junction where I left the PCT behind. From the looks of this wasn’t going to be a difficult going but I was wrong. It was a long climb to go around a ridge to hen descend deeply into a canyon and cross a creek to then climb back up to Buck Creek Pass. Most of the route was inside the forest which offered a nice change in scenery but towards the last portion of the climb the canyon opened a bit. I met another hike that was taking a break and expecting a bear at any time. Neither of us saw one even though the scenery and the berries were inviting. Finally I was able to see what seemed to be the top of the hill, way up there. The last couple hundred feet where a grueling march that finally got me to the saddle. Up there I dropped my pack and had a bite while enjoying the scenery.

To my left was the trail to Flower Dome but a hiker coming from there told it was not worth it. The trees on at the top had grown tall enough to block all views so it’s not interesting. I still had no idea of what kind of views I would be able to get because I hadn’t got to that part yet even though I had an idea I would get some impressive views of Glacier Peak. After my break, I continued on the other side on an open trail traversing the hillside. It looked a lot like Miners Ridge with more vegetation/ And then, boom, there was the view. Glacier Peak was standing tall in the distance visible in the middle of the canyon.

I finally got to the junction in Buck Creek Pass that lead to the campsites but could see that most, if not all, were probably already taken. I could hear people and see tents all over the place. Being still early I opted for going further and check the site that Russ had recommended. Not sure if that was a mistake or not as I never knew if these sites available. If there were, I should have stayed there but hindsight is 20/20, right? So, I continued knowing that it wasn’t going to be too long until I found the creek and the faint trail going uphill after it. The sun was beating on the trail and I did notice a bit of haze and thought about the fires in Idaho. From the junction, I had to descend quite a bit before I got to the spur trail I had to take and that trail, or foot path, went straight uphill. It was clear to me not many people went that way as the trail started to disappear quickly when I got to the meadow up above. I found a grassy spot that would’ve been great to camp that night but there was no shade.
To the side there was a big site with ties for horses and one or two items left behind (people…). That site had shade but it was dusty, smelly and full of flies. That posed a problem for me that I didn’t know how to solve at first. It was still early in the afternoon so setting up in the grassy spot meant I was going to be under the sun for several hours. The alternative seemed to be staying in the shady side swatting at the flies for hours until I could move. Neither of the options were looking good. To let time pass, I took my shoes off and had lunch while refreshing my tired feet and quickly realized that, if I got that hot in about 20 minutes, the rest of the afternoon would hard to pass without a shade. I explored a bit more with no luck so my options became clear. Either hike back to Buck Creek Pass (which meant going uphill) with the caveat that there was a chance of not finding a site or continue down and shorten the 10 or so miles I still had for the following day. I studied the map and thought about the 5-hour drive home which made me conclude that the better option was to head down and shorten the last day’s hike. From the map, I knew I would start going downhill pretty fast while traversing he hills and then take a couple of big switchbacks before getting all the way down to Buck Creek where there was a campsite marked. So, that’s what I did. Scenery changed as quickly as I descended into the valley and the Chiwawa Ridge raised in front of me. The ample open views were already behind me and I was entering the burnt zone.

I pedaled down lifting dust as went sneezing and coughing every now and then. When I got to the second switchback I started to look for the campsite and I found it pretty quick. It was another horse camp with lots of space right next to the trail, dusty and no access to water. That was definitely not going to work for me. I was sweaty and tired but not enough to deal with that. I had thought you would have access to the creek but you can’t even see it as it runs in a deep ravine covered with vegetation. Further down the trail I found another site that looked a bit better but still no access to water. I was getting frustrated but continued and shortly after the second site, I crossed a small creek and from the corner of my eye saw what looked like a hunter’s camp down the ravine. I went back and forth several times trying to see a path but couldn’t so I made my own. A short bushwhack after that I was finally by the creek on a small site big enough for two tents and a fire ring. I was set. At first it made me a bit nervous as I was, literally, in the middle of the forest where anything could walk my way but then I thought it if anything, it would be a deer. So, after setting up my tent I washed off in the cold creek, had dinner and went to bed.

Day 5: Buck Creek to Trinity Trailhead

I woke up rested but a bit sore. The last couple of days had been intense and I still had about 7 or so miles to go. After emptying my food bag and almost eating everything I had left, I took off and a steady march downhill. Views were very limited but still there was stuff to see. The first part included navigating thru some of the burnt areas from the fire a couple of years ago. Sides of the hill where completely obliterated and the only remains are orange and black sticks. That opened views to the ridges at the end of the canyon Looking at it, I tried to identify where I had come from but was not able to identify the pass. It was like I was in a complete different place and all that magic was just a dream. The day got hot quick which made hiking a bit uncomfortable. From all the days in the trail, this was also when I saw the most people. Most going down at a fast pace talking about work and social media – I guess not everyone is able to disconnect from the day to day. Farther down the trail joins the Chiwawa river trail and from that point on it becomes flat. Luckily that made it go fast as there was nothing to see other than a couple of humming buildings towards the end. The map has those marked as an active mine but who knows. Because some of that line is private property the end of the trail is a rather stupid loop that goes around but it gets you there. Seeing my car parked at the exit point was a huge relief, not because it was there but because I didn’t have to hike up the road. After dumping my gear, I went back to the river, got naked and jumped in. I nearly froze my nuts off but at least got all the dust off me. No dress in fresh clean clothes, I was ready for the five-hour drive back home which were not very nice. That was the day that the southern part of the state of Washington was completely cover in an orange cloud of smoke coming from the Eagle Creek fire. I didn’t know anything about it until I got to Yakima and by then, I knew I was going to drive by it. It was a horrendous site (see my post about the fire) and it got me sad. But the memories of this memorable trip are still fresh.

You can see the rest of the pictures here

Interactive map

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Circle Lake, Aug 18th to Aug 20th

Not long after I found out about Tuck and Robin Lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, I learned about Circle, Venus and Spade lakes. These three, especially Venus, are considered the most remote lakes in the wilderness. The original plan was to do a loop and add some exploration but we quickly found out that things were not that easy. Multiple sources showed different routes but we didn’t know which one would be the easier or better one so in the end, we only made Circle Lake plus some exploration around it. That certainly leaves space to go again and explore the rest, but that will come at another time.

Day 1: Tucquala Meadows to Circle Lake

Rather than drive and hike the same day, we drove to the trailhead the night before and cowboy camped at the trailhead (just got our pads and sleeping bags out and set on the floor next to a tree). We woke up early Friday morning and got breakfast as we pack and changed. We had a crisp morning with a forecast promising warm temperatures for the afternoon with clouds coming in. The first part of the hike, up to Peggys Pond, was already known to me as I had done it on the way down when I did the Tuck and Robin lakes loop. So, after crossing the Cle Elum River we started on a series of switchbacks ascending to Squaw Lake. With a bit over 1400’ of elevation gain, the start of our day got our heart pumping quickly. Towards the ridge, we started noticing an abundance of huckleberries and blueberries along the trail so when we got to the lake, we dropped our packs to rest a bit and it these delicious offerings. The lake looked placid and beautiful as I remembered but looking east, we noticed heavy clouds moving in from Granite Mountains across the valley. 

After the short break, we continued on a less steep trail towards Cathedral Rock which suddenly appears from within the trees. When we got there, the sky above us was already a mix of violet and gray. Not menacing with rain but certainly overcast. We went around the saddle leaving the Granite Mountains views and changing them for the Deep Lake below us and the craggy mountains around it including Mt Daniel and The Citadel. We got to the junction with the Deep Lake trail which is on the PCT and left that behind on our path to Peggys Pond. That section traverses the west slope of Cathedral Rock passing by some pretty steep spots. One in particular makes you literally hug a rock so you can continue and not fall several hundred feet down towards Deep Lake. Aside from the ups and downs, we had an almost clear view towards The Citadel and a good idea where our destination was. What was not visible and would slow us then was several ravines and small creeks. Finally, we reached the small detour that climbs steeply to Peggys Pond which sits in a close cirque behind Cathedral Rock. We took another break for lunch and studied the map trying to choose the path to Circle Lake. 
After continuing thought, we took a short walk around the lake and up and over a small ridge that gives access to a small run off from MT Daniel and some spectacular views (actually the spot where I took one of the best pictures I have taken). When we got back to our lunch spot, I spotted a little lake to the west with a small trail going to it. My thought was tit would give us a good starting point for our traverse towards Circle Lake. At first it looked like it would be easy but that didn’t last long enough. Soon after we started, we were navigating off trail and I knew we had to gain some elevation. As we did that and traveled west, we started finding obstacles in the form of small ravines and creeks we had to negotiate. Some of them required us to scramble straight up will others to take our packs off to swing them to the other side. Needless to say, it was a slow and arduous process. At several points, we thought we had found a foot path only to lose it after several steps and realize it was just another animal track. In one spot, we had to cross a creek that had a steep drop of and a huge boulder blocking the progress.
The only choices were to hug the rock and traverse below it or, once again, scramble up and swing our packs to the other side. At some point, after we had climbed considerably, we saw the final valley that seemed would take us to our destination and a path traversing it. Contrary to the other paths we had seen, this one did look like a trail so we aimed for it and certainly enough, it was a trail straight to the ridge on the east side of Circle Lake. Finally, after several hours of bushwhacking we got to a view point over the lake. By then it was already midafternoon but the sky had turned into a deep gray. It still didn’t look like rain but wind was howling. From that point we could also see a couple of tents on a small clearing on the south end of the lake. When we got there, we met a small family group that had been camping there for a week and was leaving the following day. We told them about our intent to continue to Venus and they said it didn’t seem like a good idea given the time and how the sky looked. Since I was still thinking about the loop I knew that staying there meant rethinking our itinerary or changing the trip altogether. After a short talk we decided to look for a camp spot and stay the night there. Along the eastern ridge we found several flat spots suitable for setting up a tent but the wind was howling by then so we had to be careful to pick a sheltered space. After several backs and forwards, we finally got a space with views of the lake so we set up camp and called it a day.
Later in the afternoon, Mark went to chat with the group at the other campsite and learned that we had missed he trail altogether. Rather than go around on the lower side as we did, the route headed east from Peggys Pond going straight up and coming back down on the other side. They mentioned that, even though it was not a trail, it was well marked and easy to navigate requiring no more than an hour to traverse, certainly much better than the 3 hours it took us. Later I took my camera and went down to the lake where I took a lot more pictures. Even with the grey skies, the scenery was breathtaking with the grey and brown hills surrounding the blue lake.

That night the wind did not stop, it only changed directions several times and at times it did wake me up only to realize my tent bending to the wind. Luckily nothing broke and I managed to stay warm and cozy until the next day

Day 2: Exploring around Circle Lake

On Saturday, we woke up to an almost clear blue sky day. Faint clouds were moving fast along the ridge line but the lake itself was clear so we were able to enjoy the sun slowly uncovering the mountains while we had breakfast. From our campsite, we noticed that the other group had already packed and left so we made the quick decision to breakout camp and move to their location which had better views and was more protected from the wind. Once we setup camp at our new spot, we grab what we needed for the day and started navigating our way towards The Citadel and trying to find the path to Venus Lake. There wasn’t particularly a trail but you could see cairns all over the place. Being all exposed it was easy to gauge the best route to take but even with that we managed to take a questionable path the we quickly corrected. As we gained elevation the views only got better as we saw Circle Lake in its basin and all the ridges around. I believe this tri is when I’ve taken the most panoramic shots. The path took us just below The Citadel where we found patches of snow. From that point we could see the notch were our path was taking us. Slowly, not because of difficulty but because of the amazing views, we made our way to a small tarn just below the pass.
We made a short stop there to take even more pictures of the contrast between the snow, blue water and brown rocks. We had just one more push to get to the pass which we took quickly and got to a knife edge ridge that opened the views to the other side. Aside from Venus Lake in the basin below, we had the towering wall of Mt Daniel with an amazing waterfall and views extending towards Mount Hinman and beyond. With those view we decided to stop there for lunch as we contemplated the path going down to Venus and realized how difficult and sketchy it was.

After a while we started our return retracing our steps but avoiding the questionable sections back to the lake. Later that day we went exploring the small waterfalls below our campsite which ended up being a lot of fun as we discovered some tight notches, caves and even a hole with a waterfall inside it. That evening we were able to have dinner while enjoying the sunset with little wind.

Day 3: Circle Lake to Tucquala Meadows

We woke up still feeling a bit skeptical about our return. Even thought we had been told about the correct route to take we didn’t know if it was going to be easy and short get to Peggy Pond so we packed early and hit the trail leaving Circle Lake behind. Certainly enough, there were cairns marking the path most of the way. We lost the trail only on one or two occasions just to regain it again shortly thereafter. We realized what a difference it was when we saw Peggys Pond below us just about half an hour after we left Circle Lake. On the way, we found a spur trail going up a canyon towards Mt Daniel that we took to check out the views. We imagined it was an approach to climb it perhaps. Then it was a quick series of switchbacks right back to Peggys Pond where we found almost all the campsites taken. That’s when we realized a lot of people were staying there for the eclipse on Monday. Around the lake we also found a deer that didn’t seem to mind us or anybody else as it roamed around at ease. 
Since we were looking at a long drive back home, we didn’t stop at Peggys Pond and continued our path retracing our steps via Cathedral Rock and down to Squaw Lake where we stop for lunch. Then it was a quick jaunt down the switchbacks were a second deer came to check us out. In the end, we didn’t complete the loop but I’m happy with that. We got some splendid views and now I know where the right path is. I’m not sure if I will attempt it again the same way though. Since I’ve pass by Peggys pond twice already, maybe next time I’ll find a different route to finally get to Venus Lake. 

You can see the rest of the pictures here

Interactive map

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