“WHAT? I stare in stunned disbelief…How could I have missed that on the website???”
11.4 miles, 4964ft gain/3792ft loss Shaking off the effects of a good nights slumber, we pack our gear, have our cup of joe, and head for the trailhead, so close that the truck never even has a chance to get warm. Donning our packs and boots (one of the first things that Dan was sure to pack this time), We approach the trail head sign post to self register, and see the sign that says to camp in upper Lena Lake, requires a reservation. WHAT? I stare in stunned disbelief…How could I have missed that on the website??? (turns out, I didn’t really…http://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/wilderness-reservations.htm. There is no mention of Lena Lake here, until you pull up the wilderness map. Evidently, the red “tent” symbol indicates a permit limited site, and the ranger we met at the lake said this was a quota area. Very confusing… ) I read and re-read about trail conditions, etc., and
must have completely missed that it was reservation only…There at the bottom of the placard was a phone # to call the ranger station for reservations.
“… Sure enough, our fears are realized. There are no available spots!”
We pile back in the rig, and head off down the road, Dan watching his cell phone intently for the first sign of a signal. Not too far down the road, his phone gets reception, so we stop and call. Sure enough, our fears are realized. There are no available spots! Dang! Well, we’ve come this far, so we decide to hike in to the lower lake, camp there, and then day hike to Upper Lena.
“…Sunglasses are merely a decoration here…”
The trail here at the beginning is wide, and well maintained, and its easy hiking up a slight incline all the way to the lake, the switchbacks are long and sweeping, keeping the grade at a minimum. The entire way to the lake is through a mixed forest of fir, cedar and hemlock, the high canopy keeping the suns rays at bay. Sunglasses are merely a decoration here.
In short order we reach lower Lena Lake, and start looking for a site. There are many here to choose from, and we find a nice one near the shore, shaded, complete with a fire pit, and a large log section turned up on its end that we use for a table.
We have camp set up quickly, and dump our meager possessions into the tent, lightening the load for the trek uphill to Upper Lena Lake. It feels good to hike with a light pack, and the disappointment of not being able to camp at the upper lake begins to fade…
It’s obvious that this trail isn’t as widely used, as it is narrow and not as well maintained. Still in deep forest, it undulates along Lena creek, allowing an occasional glimpse of water rushing over boulders as the trail winds near for a moment before veering away. You know you’re still close, though, as the sound of cascading water never really fades away. At 5.3 miles, you cross the river on a large log bridge, steps hewn into either end of the fallen tree to aid you. Once across the river, the way begins to get steep, and doesn’t relent until you’re close to the lake. The trail becomes rugged, and many times, it feels as if you’re clambering up a dry creek bed, jumbled boulders and roots do their best to trip you up. Several sections go over large rock outcroppings, and from these vantage points, you can look down into the valley filled with trees that you just came up from.
Along the way, we meet Laura from Minnesota, and the three of us hike together the rest of the way to the lake. As the path nears the lake, the trees thin and meadows filled with a variety of flowers hug the hills, creating a patchwork of colors to hide the rocky ground. Across the valley we can see the peak of Mount Bretherton, the most prominent feature in the area, and large white patches of snow fill the shaded ravines that crease its flanks. We (our legs), are glad to have reached the shores of Upper Lena Lake, and we all decide to take a break at the point of a small wedge of land and rock sticking out from the shoreline.
The lake is scenic, sitting here at the base of Mount Lena behind us, and Mount Bretherton in front, towering over the southern shoreline. You can see the occasional flop of a trout chasing insects breaking the surface of the lake, and hear the slight breeze ruffling the branches of the trees and brush nearby. It all makes for a peaceful moment before the headlong scramble back down the trail. If we hadn’t been so limited on time, having to still hoof it back down to camp, we might have attempted scaling the gradual sloping incline of Mount Lena behind us.
Break over, and Laura leaves first, as she still needs to make the parking lot. It was nice to meet her, seems we always run into the nicest people on the trail.
Sitting here, soaking in the sun, we’re not alone, as there is a group of 3 women nearby, having a conversation with the ranger that is checking peoples reservations. Seems strange, as the whole time we’ve been backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, I’ve never seen a ranger! Pretty soon, he’s over to check on us, and we have a short conversation with him.
“…“What was that?”, and as I look down, there is my new GPS unit, slowly sinking to the bottom of the lake!”
Time to go ourselves, and as I swing my pack up to my shoulders, I hear a “bloop!” sound, as something hits the water. “What was that?”, and as I look down, there is my new GPS unit, slowly sinking to the bottom of the lake! Dan quickly deploys his trekking pole, which thankfully has large bails on the ends, and pulls it close to the edge where I can reach down and grab it! It’s a good thing that the shore here slopes away gradually, otherwise, I would have been soaked from diving in after it…Relieved, I can see that the screen is still on, the unit faithfully recording it’s whereabouts, as it set on the bottom…I cannot believe my luck, it still works fine! If that had been my cell phone, well…Game over. Looking at the pouch that holds it in place, I can see that the Velcro tab is sealed! How in the world did that thing exit stage left, and manage to shut the front door when it exited??? I can only shake my head…
Everything now properly stowed, we leave the lake, and as I take one last glimpse around, I think to myself, “Pretty…But was it really worth the effort to get here?” I believe that I will not be back to this place again.
But, before leaving the lake basin, we notice the ranger filling a pot of water, and Dan asks him if he filters his water, and he quips, “Nope! The solution to pollution is dilution!” Really? Even after someone has just washed their tired feet off right there, after the hike up? I don’t care if it was Cinderella’s glass slipper you just filled with water, I ain’t drinkin’ the water where Joe Hiker just washed his smelly feet without my filter, thank you very much…
“…Foiled, I stored the failed experiment…”
There’s nothing like a constant decline to test your knees, and by the time we reached camp, I felt sorely tested, as did Dan, for the first 45 minutes or so, we just kind of sat at camp, staring into space…Once our stupor had passed, we headed to the banks of lower Lena Lake to FILTER our water, and I was looking forward to trying out my new filter, a Sawyer water filtration system. It was very light, and small, and I was curious to see how it would perform in the field. It seemed simple enough, all you had to do was fill the 32oz collapsible bag with water, and squeeze it through the attached water filter, and you’re done! But, I couldn’t get past the step of filling the bag with water…You see, just dunking it in a still lake, doesn’t come close to filling it with water, you only get a ¼ bag of water at the most. No amount of swirling it around, trying to force water into the bag was going to work. By the time I got done futzing around with it, Dan had already filtered a bottle of water, and was working on a second. In order to fill the blasted bag, you need to force water into it, and I had no way of doing that, so…Thank goodness he brought his water filter…Foiled, I stored the failed experiment, and thanked Dan as he handed over his filter…
A complete meal later, we set around camp, full and satisfied, as it gets dark. By 10, we turn in, hoping we’ve gotten enough pictures and video to make a short movie of this hike.