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

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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.

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

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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

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!

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

Ptarmigan Ridge; impromptu reconnaissance

A crystal clear blue sky presented itself yesterday, begging a vantage from some high point. Forgoing my original plan of an easy lakeside stroll, I headed up to the nearest and highest trailhead around – Artist’s Point. This remarkable spot is typically plowed open by early summer, though some years it remains completely buried. P1020496For many folks, this is a destination in and of itself and understandably so. You clearly don’t have to go far to enjoy spectacular views. Summer sledding on consolidated sun-cupped snow is just not my thing, however. Perhaps it is an inherent lack of cushioning to my tailbone. Continue reading

Spring break at the beach (sort of)

Lake Chelan is a 55 mile long natural finger lake surrounded by foothills on one end and towering peaks at the other. At a depth of 1000 feet in places, the water is cold, clear, and seems the ideal home for a cousin of Nessy. I have yet to spot Chelanny, though.lc27There are a couple of resort towns at the southern arid end and a couple of super remote tiny mountain towns at the other along with a smattering of summer cabins. Continue reading

Polar Plunge at Gothic Basin

Today, I had to pass up the opportunity to take a “Polar Plunge.” Seeing the post-plunge video of friends jumping into a body of water during winter reminded me of a sublime day a few years back. Continue reading

Chikamin Lake: one of my top five hikes of all time.

This time of year with its 33˚ and steady drizzle, snow piling up on top of the high trails, I absolutely ache for summer. It becomes palpable and I find myself pouring through photos of past trips or flipping through guide books and maps planning this year’s escapades.chik5One trip, now two and a half years past, still gives me a glow upon remembering. The trip began with a drive through the town where one of my favorite TV shows was filmed. Roslyn, WA, adorable home of the set for Northern Exposure. I can totally see Gwen and I fixing up an old farmhouse there and letting the dogs go wild. chik1The trailhead to Chikamin Lake is at a mere 700 ft of elevation. That means there’s a LOOONG way to go before treeline. Much of this approach, though extremely brushy, at times, was quite pleasant thanks to the unspoiled nature of the forest. Still, the camera didn’t come out much until a glimpse of a view showed itself, hours later.chik2There is something sublimely rewarding about walking through a dense Cascade forest and feeling the woods open into a clearing here and a meadow there until all that’s left are the occasional sentinel beside the trail. chik3The trail crested here, as we soaked in the expanse, then made its way down to a lake where we were met a slope of house size boulders and no clear way through.chik4If you look close, you can see me beginning to navigate and get a sense of the scale.chik14And here are Gwen and Dusky in two shots next to the impossibly upright monolith.chik13We passed a crystal-clear triangle-shaped tarn at the top of the boulder field and were heartened to find a semblance of trail soon after. chik12And it wasn’t long until we were very happy campers! chik7The following day we set out on a loop that was, as Gwen would say, “Josh-style.” It is a hunt and peck method of wilderness travel, admittedly. Exploratory, as in, let’s just go a little further to see how doable it is. It certainly got exciting at times!chik8And we were blessed with views from Mt. Baker (back home) to Mt. Rainier and beyond.chik6Then, rewarded with fall color and a chain of lakes to rival the Enchantments.chik11chik10We simply couldn’t have planned it any better!

I think I’m going to go waterproof my boots now…

Pan-o-RAMA! Using the groomers to climb high.

Days like this in January are rare like a wolverine sighting. I’ve talked before about input & output in the context of wilderness experience…yesterday was 95% output.

  • Elevation gain: 3400 ft
  • Mileage: 12 mi
  • Time: 6 hours

aw2On a hike to Baker Lake a few weeks ago, I was struck by the relative lack of snowpack and wondered how far a low-clearance all wheel drive could make it up the Forest Service road above the lake. Turns out, all the way to the berm created to keep monster trucks off the groomed snowmobile paths. aw5A couple of years ago, Gwen and I snowshoed a similar approach to some high snowy meadows and were passed by about 3 dozen sleds all leaving behind a two-cycle induced petrol-plasma that our working lungs had no choice but to inhale. Yuck! Yesterday, Dusky the-ever-loyal-dog and I saw only two!aw26I foolishly assumed there was only one road that lead to the destination of a summer trailhead. Nay, there were forks and branches of FS roads that I somehow managed to navigate, even with zero signage.aw27It was my first time trying out micro-traction devices. WOW! They proved incredibly efficient at traveling the hard pack snow and sections of ice and not nearly as cumbersome as crampons.aw7I had been eyeing this butte from a distance and was heartened to find it getting nearer and nearer as we climbed. After a late start (got out of the car at noon) the winter sun was already starting to dip quickly. But, I knew that there would be jaw-dropping views up there and so, changed out foot tools to snowshoes and headed up. Straight up.aw16Once we gained the ridge the way was as clear as the sky. And thus began the creation of many, many panoramas.aw21aw12And some close-ups:aw24

The Pickets!

The Pickets!

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Mt. Shuksan

aw17And one last pano’ on the way back down:aw25Still five miles from the car sans headlamp (“bad, bad hiker”) it was a starry walk back!