Where the Lakes Have No Name

As with any art, once you learn fundamentals then you can fully improvise.

Wilderness travel has been my obsession and practice for nearly 20 years. There’s really nothing that has offered the freedom, reward, and awe as exploring the steep and wild gardens of the alpine. So saturated have I been, at times, that I’ve completed long loops while in REM state; holding unreal maps and reaching places that have left me aching to find upon waking.

One such place that has recurred, I will clumsily describe as a dark blue body of almost oily water surrounded by sheer granite walls. As stark as stark can be. No vegetation, just pre-mordial liquid and stone.

I know of a few alpine lakes that would fit this bill, but they are above 7,000 feet in elevation where trees just don’t grow. But, none have quite matched the feeling.

Last summer, while pouring over maps, I stumbled upon three intriguingly nameless blue ovals all neatly aligned. Wha??? NO NAMES? Isn’t everywhere nowadays labeled, categorized, and charted to the minute and degree? No name, no trail, no trip reports found even on the most intrepid of sites. Hmm…could be just what the doctor ordered!unnamed lakes pic

After printing a more detailed map where cliffs actually show up due to sharp top0 lines, it looked pretty plausible to make it there without event. (Uneventful hikes don’t end up in expensive helicopter rides).

So, with a favorable forecast and a couple of four legged companions, off I went.

There’s a trail to settle into for a while, but soon enough, the route I was to find with each step took off in another direction. Up, through, over and between; reading and responding to the landscape. At times wondering about what was over that next rise, fearing whether this was such a good idea after all…then, I’d come across a “spot” and know there’s nowhere else on the planet I’d rather be. For example –>il36

I ended up on a ridge and was able to spy the lakes for the first time. Glittering jewelry and hydrating sustainance all at once. Only trouble was how to get down to these charms. Following water is SOMETIMES a good idea as it seeks the lowest route. Of course, there are these things called waterfalls. As these places are where stuff naturally likes to fall, I find it best to avoid them. unnamed2

The best routes are forged by game. Deer, sheep, goats, cats, bear, etc. Deer and goat tend to leave the deepest gouges in the surface and so are easiest to track. Animal intelligence/instinct tends to follow the path of least resistance. Saw these on the hike:Unnamed Lakes 7:3-7:4:15 - 10

Finally, after not so much a fall as a controlled-slide-with-sudden-handplant, I made it to the first, largest lake. It was blue of course, but an unusually dark shade of blue. And totally surrounded by light to dark gray rock. No trees. No vegetation whatsoever. And it only sits at 4,000 something something feet. Here’s the kicker, in my mind: there was one sheer wall at the edge of the water toward the outlet. Do, do, do, do, Do, do, do, do.Unnamed Lakes32

unnamed4

Kinda spooky.

The next lower lakes began to show signs of life at the shores as they likely melt out sooner. Still, zero trees throughout this chain of lakes. unnamed1Unnamed Lakes 7:3-7:4:15 - 44

I was not able to completely relax, however, as the loop-hike meant still more explorations in order to connect once again back to the trail. One steep and grassy sidehill proved to be the toughest stretch. Here (on a later trip) Gwen makes it look easy.Unnamed Lakes 7:3-7:4:15 - 61And the warm weather meant snow patches and swims were welcome reliefs for myself and the pups.Unnamed Lakes03All in all, a successful creation. Or, RE-creation. And possibly, a dream-come-true! I hope these beauties remain unnamed for the rest of time.

Lake Byrne via Lost Creek Ridge; a 4-Nighter and Midlife Welcoming.

Gallery

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Is 40-trips-around-the-sun the half-way point? The statistics would say so. Forty seems like prime time for reflection, assessment, and projection. A trail-cairn of sorts marking an unclear route where past, present, and future can be measured.So how does midlife feel? Personally, … Continue reading

Not All Jewels Found in Necklace Valley

“Alpine” is typically used synonymously with at and above treeline. Or, where the trees begin to thin out due to the shortened growing season. “Subalpine” refers to that ecosystem just below where trees still rule.P1090466The Necklace Valley holds several lakes, many of which are subalpine. The lower elevation melts out earlier, a perfect option for early season wilderness overnighting. P1090400The trail begins with 5 miles of gentle up and down (only 600 feet gain) through old growth forest with a deliciously biodiverse understory. Then, the climb begins in earnest with as rooty and rocky a tread as you will find anywhere. Here is yet another root staircase.P1090467

The up seemed interminable with our 34 pounds of food and gear each. (Ursula the young dog nimbly and graciously carried 4 pounds of kibble including Dusky the old dog’s share).  But, finally we made it to the first gem appropriately called Jade Lake. P1090414

The clouds were low for the majority of the three days. So low and thick in fact, Gwen coined the phrase: to be clouded upon. Not unlike the rolling fog that saturates the Redwoods of Northern California, it dampened our tent and outer layer from time to time, but also kept hungry bugs at bay.P1090442This low visibility made route finding very tricky by hiding ridges and summits. Made worse by a lack of signage and our two unmatching maps. It was like one of them was painted in an impressionist manner; someone’s interpretation of how this area felt. P1090455

Detoured by an authoritative trail voice and disoriented, we headed up valley and finally figured out we were not where we had planned to be. Fortuitous then, that we ended up with the perfect campsite and a brief parting of the ceiling.

nv5Two nights out and long hours of daylight meant we could travel one leg of the spider like valley in the morning, and another in the afternoon. P1090450

Still socked in, we opted for the more forested route toward Al (really?), Locket, and Jewel (that’s more like it!). Half way around Locket the trail petered out at some unclimbable walls and wet, clouded on brush kept us from going any further. P1090457Returning to camp for hot food and rest, the opening skies energized us to explore up valley. The way began with much boulder hopping across fields of granite; extremely fun with “approach shoes” that must have the stickiest rubber known to mankind. If you look close, you will see my liberating hot-tea-only packing method. nv3Up and up we went until views were not going to improve anytime soon. Atop the waterfall below, is more of the Necklace that will have to be explored at a later date.

nv2And on the way back to camp, we used the expediency of an actual trail.

nv1

Many, many, stream crossings in this valley.P1090475Wouldn’t go here without a map…or three!

nv4

This area is bound to shine when the sun is out, but has the potential for crowds later in the year. Now, that’s my idea of jewelry!!!

Anderson Lakes Snow-venture

The day began with a hazy pall. The type not promising the views one might hope for when giving such an output. No matter, when the clouds gather, it begs micro rather than macro.

The dogs were not bummed as infinite wild smells awaited exploration. Then when bored just exhibited a little sibling sparring.

After enjoying an extremely refreshing dip, pockets of blue drew me onward and upward. Termed “sucker holes” in climber-jargon, they elicit hope and frequently disappoint by narrowing their aperture.

This time the gamble paid off…and conditions were perfect for glissading on the descent: dry powder atop a consolidated, anchored and surprisingly smooth base.

And by all means, get up and shake it to Adham Shaikh’s super sonic fusion!

Why choose? at Anderson & Watson Lakes

November and the high country is still accessible? I’ll take it! It has been a supremely soggy fall, but the temps have not fallen enough to lay down the typical dozens of feet of snow that can make alpine travel so difficult.P1080099 At the last minute I packed a map, and on that map were several 4,000ft jewels. Continue reading

Never NOT been frozen at Ice Lakes.

Once a year Gwen and I get out for an extended trip. This year it worked out to only be the long weekend over labor day; easily the single most popular weekend for backpackers and campers alike.il1The forecast was for showers the first day, some wind, 40 degree nights, and clearing by the third day. Not bad really if you have moderate protection and breaks in the storms. Continue reading

Truly a “mountain” bike…at Cutthroat Pass

I learned to ride singletrack on the sweeping bluffs of NE Iowa. While the network of trails around Decorah, IA were varied, fast, and full of solitude, they rarely offered views thanks to a dense deciduous cover. And until now, foothills in this mountainous West have been where my 2001 mtn bike has primarily traveled. P1070803P1070797

For the past 7 weeks, Ive been interning at a Physical Therapy clinic where panoramic views of the Cascades and poster-size maps of nearby mtn bike trails hang on treatment room walls. My kind of place! The therapists spend their downtime reliving their last adventure or scheming their next one via Google Maps.  Continue reading

“ReWilding” on Hannegan Peak

Having just listened to a couple of interviews of Daniel Vitalis about how to bring some wildness back into our overly domesticated lives, I was primed for a little adventure. In the mountains, that generally means either going someplace new, someplace old in a different season, or choosing a new route to an old destination.

I formulated the latter yesterday and in transcending the healthy discomfort of the unknown, was handsomely rewarded with WILDlife, world-class views, and the type of satisfaction one only finds from DIY (Do It Yourself)!P1020949Goats at left snowfield: Continue reading