11.8 miles, 2635ft gain. The trailhead is close, so we rise early to get a good start, and we’re on the trail to Pete Lake, #1323, by 8:30am. The trail to begin is a bomber trail, very easy, well marked, and mostly flat, so we arrive at Pete Lake in short order, 1.5 hours to be exact. That was easy, if only the rest of the hike would go so well!!! From Pete Lake, it’s a short jaunt to another trail junction, this one, (according to the trail signage) is a “primitive” trail crossing that leads to Spectacle Lake, and the PCT, more a stock route for animals, than for those on foot. Later, within another .6 mile, is the junction to the PCT for hikers, where a foot bridge crosses Lemah Creek. I guess primitive means you’re gonna get your tootsies wet, or if you are a more refined hiker, with tastes that lean more to a “defined trail with engineered spans”, you can go another 1.2 miles out of your way to make sure you don’t have to remove your boots…Go figure….
The trail follows Lemah Creek upstream to join the PCT, and then through a section on the map named Lemah meadows. Funny, all I really remember along this stretch was trees, and where there were no trees, the open areas were filled with low lying scrub brush, and vine maples, not really my idea of a meadow, and certainly nothing I would want to languish in, with my boots off to feel the meadow grasses…Still, it’s possible there was a meadow nearby, that was not within view of the trail.
“…an impressive wall of parapet topped black granite ramparts, looking every bit like the Black Gate at Mordor, challenging all who would think to pass…”
As the trail neared the end of this creek drainage, before starting it’s switchback up hill, there is a large clearing at the beginning of Lemah Creek, and we can see across the valley to impressive Lemah Mt, and Chimney Rock, an impressive wall of parapet topped black granite ramparts, looking every bit like the Black Gate at Mordor, challenging all who would think to pass. As the snow from the upper reaches melts, it feeds an impressive roaring waterfall that cascades over the lower rock walls at their base, finding a cleft in the rock to flow through and over, which meets the encroaching tree line head on, an incredible sight. According to one map that I’ve seen, (for it’s marked simply as “falls” on others) the name of this cascade is called Whinnimic Falls. Those with cameras will find it impossible to pass this area by snapping only one picture…Like the old jingle from Lays, “Betcha can’t eat just one!” Well, I betcha can’t snap just one!!!
Stowing camera gear, and hitting the trail once again, it begins its upward climb in true PCT fashion, for the constant switch backs we will now endure are well planned , taking much of the steep out of the ridge that we now must clamber up to get to our camp for the night. Most trails in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, (at least to this hiker), seem to be planned, thought out, and executed by the local band of Mountain Goats, as they are interested in getting to the top as quickly as possible, going straight up the side of a mountain or ridgeline, and if that means grabbing rock, root, and tree limb to pull yourself up and over, then so be it. So, it is with welcome relief that we carry full backpacks up the ridge in full sun.
“Oh, sure”, they mumble…”Heard that one before”, and “That’s what you said last time” were just a few of the repeatable phrases I got in reply…”
Did I mention that it’s getting hot? This is east of the mountains, and by now, it’s starting to get warm, which only adds to ones discomfort as you’re heading uphill with a full load. We stop about the halfway mark, to rest, and take more pictures, and as I look at the GPS route that I’ve traced, I see that there are only about 8 switchbacks left! There doesn’t seem to be any jumping for joy at the news…Nonplussed, as I reach the first switchback, and make the turn, I shout out as joyously as I can, (for I’m bringing up the rear), “One!”…Dan is nearest to me, so he turns around, and replies, “What???” Again, as happily as I can, “You know, “one!”, ‘cause that’s the first switchback!” He turns back around and continues on, leaving me to guess as to the nature of his reply. I’m sure that it includes head shaking and eye rolling….”Two!!!” Now I get some chuckles, but by the time I wearily chant out “Eleven!” I’m getting more of a retort that sounds something like…”Hey, I thought you said it was only 8 to the top!” Remember, gotta keep that positive attitude, so, “Yep! It should be right after the next one, we’re almost there!” “Oh, sure”, they mumble…”Heard that one before”, and “That’s what you said last time” were just a few of the repeatable phrases I got in reply…After the words “Thirteen” left my lips, it was clear that indeed, this would be the last one, and we reached the spot we would camp by 2:30pm. “See?” It was just around the next bend!”
Sure that they are plotting my demise, we drop packs, and set to putting up tents and establishing our campsites. I use the word “establishing”, for we mark our spots by pretty much dumping everything out of our packs, and spreading it around, making it look as if a bomb went off in our packs. Establish as in a hurricane defines the area it touches by the debris field….
It’s been a hot and dusty trek, so it’s not long before we’re all down at the water’s edge, looking to cool off, and before long, everyone has had a chance to jump in, and get rid of the trail grime and sweat we’ve accumulated. Very refreshing, I might add, and I take my time getting back out.
”What the heck are you wearing??? What, are you an idiot???”
The sun is still hot, so wet clothes dry quickly in its rays, the only problem is of course, bugs…They are horrible this hike, and swarm us without mercy. The only way to get away from them is to stay in the water, in the shelter of the tent, or to look like a Goony Bird trying to take off, as your arms are busy constantly wind milling, swatting at the tormentors. Three of us brought bug nets to drape over our heads, and it’s not long before we’re sitting in drying skivvies, wearing little else but a bug net over our head. It only looked slightly ridiculous, and since there are no fashion or food critics present, we feel relatively safe in our current attire. It’s only when cameras get broken out, does one get nervous, for fear of ridicule once back in the confines of culture and family…”What the heck are you wearing??? What, are you an idiot???” Yes, that’s me…The village fool…Dressed in undies and hair net, looking quite ready for the rubber romper room…It all seemed like a good idea at the time, until camera’s were surreptitiously broken out, now…Not so much…
The lake that we’ve camped at for the night is quite beautiful, a small tarn at the base of a large talus field, complete with a complement of Pikas, for we hear them communicating with each other, with their trademark, “Eek!”…Or, perhaps it’s just in response to their current neighbors, who seem to have no fashion sense at all…All of the maps at our disposal do not name these lakes, they simply show up as small tarns, but in Jeff Smoot’s book, “Climbing Washington’s Mountains”, he names them Vista Lakes, and the name is fitting, for the vista from these lakes is inspiring. What once was viewed from below now seems a view that looks straight across to the jagged and pointed peaks along the top of Lemah Mt, and iconic Chimney Rock seems as bold and sheer as before, only just a lot closer now. Truly incredible views and I take several pictures and video, hoping that at least one captures the magnificence of this spectacle. Since the sun is now above and behind the rock ramparts, they seem darker than before, lots of the detail of the rock is lost in the shadows, making them seem more menacing and foreboding than before. The black rock seems a portal to a land beyond, like palisades belonging to a warlord from the shadows. The rounded granite that surrounds us looks as if some ancient battle had been waged here, scarred and barren, mingled with the dead forest that stands as a mute testimonial to some ravaging force that once visited here, it seems as if we have been transported to another land.
“…the first thing out of his mouth was, “Someone almost lost their blue Powerade!” Startled, I turned and said, “Oh? Did it start to drift away from the rocks?” “No, “he replied, “I almost drank it!”
I had planted a blue Powerade in the cooling waters of the lake for dinner, and had almost forgotten it, when a PCTer wandered into camp, then down to the lake to get some water. On his return, he stopped to chat, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “Someone almost lost their blue Powerade!” Startled, I turned and said, “Oh? Did it start to drift away from the rocks?” “No, “he replied, “I almost drank it!” Seemed an odd way to start a conversation, but…Guess it was still there, so no harm. He told us he was hiking the PCT from Snoqualmie, and headed to Canada, and originally, he was from Tennessee. Was he alone? Nope. Appears that the guy that he was hiking with was slower, so he was here to wait a while to see if he showed up. We never saw the guy; so, hope they were able to meet up later…
The nice thing about this lake, and the thing we hoped it had, was a nice snow bank to use as a reefer. Indeed, it had a couple, so the dinners were put on ice, burying them in the snow. Perfect!
The first nights dinner, Greg made, and it was another delicious entry, Cheesy Bacospuds, with Buttery noodles and chicken, with cheese. Yum! Also, there was bread with butter, and dessert even! All made for a great meal, filling and satisfying. After cleanup, we sat and watched the sun go down behind the ridge, and topped off our meal as the stars began to show with our newest learned recipe, Whiskey Sours, from the last hike! Needless to say, they were the perfect topper for a great evening. We turned in and since our tents were without the rain fly, we were able to watch falling stars while falling asleep.