It’s been a while now since I’ve been camping. A while as in I haven’t been since sometime back in 2010…?
Well I decided to go hop back into it and spend some time outdoors. One of the awesome rangers at REI suggested Pete Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness east of Seattle in the Cascades as a beautiful place to go hike with only a few miles in. Since it’d been a while since I hiked, I didn’t want to push myself too hard the first time out. Looking at the map and seeing some gorgeous pictures online of lakes beyond Pete Lake, including Spectacle Lake and Glacier Lake, I decide to go for a longer haul and go scout further in.
After spending some time looking over routes, trail conditions, the weather, any tips about things I’d need for this area this time of year (bug spray!), and so on, I woke up nice and early, stopped back into REI last minute gear, and started heading east into the mountains. 🙂
People in Seattle complain about the rain. I absolutely love it. Everything feels so nourished and refreshed and alive. Also, it almost never rains hard here. I mean just the other day was the first time I’d heard thunder here, and I’ve been here some 8 months or so! It rains, but it doesn’t storm. Rarely does it even pour.
In any event, once you start getting into the mountains, you find this beautiful fog that dances through the treetops and mountain peaks. It’s like a foggy heaven to witness and experience.
Easily one of my favorite things about the Pacific Northwest.
When you turn off the highway and start heading up towards the trailhead (and away from cell phone reception), you pass this big beautiful lake named Cle Elum Lake.
I’m a sucker for getting scenic shots with my Subie. 🙂
When I finally get to the trailhead, I switch into my hiking boots, cover any exposed skin in 100% DEET, sign in at the self-register trailhead, notice a sign mentioning something about a downed bridge and a detour on the way to Spectacle Lake, figure I’ll figure it out as I go, and start hiking on in.
The hike in was primarily flat with some small elevation changes, but a very easy trail. Something I’ve noticed is that I rarely take pictures of what I see the majority of the time. When the trail is just plain dirt, it’s not particularly photogenic. Yet when I come home, I have pictures of just a few particularly interesting things I saw, rather than what I saw the majority of the time. So here’s what I saw most of the time. Dirt. And trees. And plants.
I actually love these types of trails. National Forests are easily some of my favorite types of places. National Parks are typically epic, spectacular, and full of tourists. National Forests are more untouched, natural, and intimate. I love it. 🙂
There were also a number of creek crossings. Typically there were some downed logs you could walk over that acted as natural bridges.
Bridges are nice. So is romping through shallow enough water. 🙂
Every now and then you’d hike through a patch of really leafy plants. It literally felt like the oxygen was thicker here and you could feel the sunlight happily bouncing off the leaves and warming your skin. 🙂
About 5 miles in was Pete Lake, and on the northeast side where the trail meets it you find a large shaded camping area with a view over the lake that looks like this. 🙂
Dropping my pack here, I did a quick tour of the lake, snapped some pics, nom nom nom’ed a bit, then donned my pack again and kept hiking. Passing a few more campsites along the side of the lake, I eventually hit a fairly fast moving river crossing that looked like it’d be about knee-deep to thigh-deep in frigid waters. Now as much as I love river crossings, I didn’t want to go into super cold water, especially being solo. So I instead opted for a detour that was about 2 miles longer.
Hiking around to take another direction, I found out that the bridge upstream that crossed this same river was completely and totally annihilated.
Bridge? What bridge?
I looked for other possible routes, including hiking down towards the water or following the make-shift goat trail up and to the right a bit towards a waterfall, but there weren’t any other routes.
Well now what? My feet are both starting to ache like a mofo at this point, to the point where if I keep pressing on hardcore, I’ll probably wind up with a foot injury due to overexertion.
Doing something I almost never do, I decided to turn around and head back to Pete Lake to camp for the night. It would mean a 5 mile hike back to the car tomorrow rather than a ~11-13 mile hike.
Long story short, I turned around and headed back to Pete Lake for the night. I hiked some 15 miles or so the first day, which is a bit more than I’d initially wanted to hike…
As I returned to Pete Lake, I passed one really nice looking campsite and felt an inner pointing to camp there. “Screw that, intuition,” I thought to myself, “I wanna camp at the other campsite with a nice view of the glaciers to the west for a good sunrise shot.”
Well when I got there, the campsite was already taken and I’d rather spend time by myself, so I turned around and went to the other campsite.
This was a nice area as well. More open to the sun, more green, a slightly less epic backdrop, and just more open in general.
Plus the view is pretty good here too. 🙂
I was pretty tired by this point so after enjoying a nice hot dinner of rehydrated lasagna, I crashed around 5:30 pm, about 3 hours before sunset. The photographer in me figured I’d take a nap… or something… and maybe shoot sunset. There were mountains all around in every direction so I wouldn’t see the sun as it approached the horizon, but maybe I’d see the peaks light up. Either way, I decided to just go to sleep and figure it out later.
With the window of my tent pointing out towards the water so I could see the landscape, water, and sky, I woke up every few hours to check on the lighting conditions, but wound up sleeping for the next 14 hours!!
Yeah, someone needed sleep… 🙂
Like the sunset hours the night before, sunrise was filled with lots and lots of birds here! Like not an annoying amount or anything, but like a musical treat for the ears. They’d fly within feet, sometimes what felt like inches away from my tent.
Next to my campsite was this downed tree. They really like to perch on the uprooted roots at the base of this tree:
When I was in my tent or simply laying down in the grass, they would come really close-by. (When I sat up, they’d fly away.) Although they were backlit in the morning with the sun coming up from the east, I tried laying down on my back and sneakily snapping a few shots of them. 🙂
How many birds do you count in this image? 🙂
They also liked to get within a matter of feet of me, on the rocks of the firepit.
After maybe 10-15 seconds of this one bird eyeing me, another one came to join him:
From this angle, it almost looks like a nest, doesn’t it? 🙂
I took a quick hike over back to the other campsite to get a shot of the glaciers over the lake in morning light.
The sun hadn’t risen high enough yet to clear the mountaintops behind me so the foreground is still silhouetted out. However, just above the blackness you can see the little yellow dot of a tent a half-mile hike away. 🙂
Back at this campsite, the friendly folks here and I traded some stories of the hike in and they mentioned that a bear had actually come through their camp the night before. Maybe it was for the best that I wound up at the campsite I did afterall. 😉
These folks had ridden in on horses. The three horses were a bit skittish and a “walk up to a horse and click a picture” pictures were all a bit boring, so I snapped one through some tree branches as I looked back when starting to hike back to my camp.
Back at camp, I had some oatmeal (a classic) and tea for breakfast. It was interesting to note the differences in clarity of water depending on what part of the lake you got water from, even if it was just 20 feet away or so.
It’s not that the water was particularly dirty or anything. (You can see it’s cleaner in the distance.) For some reason at this time of day, the waves were kicking up the dirt a few inches below in the lakebed.
Walking over to the right just a bit, the water was much cleaner.
Notice how you can actually see through the water here. 🙂
(It’s surprisingly tricky blindly shooting a heavy right-handed SLR with your left hand just an inch above the water.) 😉
With what little battery life I had left in my phone, I spent a few minutes shooting a few minutes of video at camp:
It was nice to only have a 5 mile hike out. My feet were definitely appreciating it, even though I did wind up with blisters after the first day, which grew by the end of the second.
On the hike back, I heard what sounded like an emergency whistle blast from a downed hiker. (The international distress signal is 3 blasts of anything: 3 gunshots, 3 whistle blasts, etc.) At first when I heard that sound and didn’t hear two more follow-up blasts, I figured I might have missed the first two so I fired a blast back. (It’s how you confirm that you hear them and that you’re on your way. Typically they’ll continue going so you can follow the sound to them.)
With my ears up and adrenaline pumping through my body, I felt on high alert as I started tearing down the trail, until I realized it was actually pretty noisy and I’d have to be quieter to make sure I heard the follow-up whistle blasts. About 20-30 seconds later I heard it again. Slowly it dawned on me that it wasn’t a person in distress, but actually a bird whose call sounds just like an emergency whistle… 🙂
huh, well whatda ya know… 🙂