In an effort to beat the heat, clear my head, and generally get out of Dodge, Max and I headed up to Trap Lake in the Alpine Lake Wilderness of Washington State this last weekend. We also threw in a side of Thunder Mountain Lakes. I had been through Trap back in the last century as part of a Pacific Crest Trail section hike (Stevens Pass south) and remembered it as a nice spot. We left right after work on Friday. I had misplaced Max's harness and thinking that the route into Thunder Mountain most probably would have snow this year, I had to make a side trip to the big city to pick up a new one. This was the only hitch in getting out of town. Even so, it was 8:30 before we were heading up Tunnel Creek. The evening hike was cool and pleasant. The mosquitoes thought so too.
We burned the Tunnel Creek grade with intentions of a nice stop at Hope Lake to recharge but buzzing hordes pushed us on. Finally, with the sun setting and a bright moon rising, we lost the bugs at the little pass prior to turning up Trapper Creek and had a nice trail dinner of flatbread, cream cheese and pepperoni. Max preferred the beef jerky. He has good taste for a shi-tzu. Mostly.
By the turnoff to Trap Lake itself, the light was in between sunset and moonlight so I was on red headlamp mode. I like hiking with that red light to preserve my night vision away from the headlamp. Unfortunately, we missed the turn. I discovered my mistake once we hit the open hillside above the lake as I could see the ripples of the lake water in the moonlight by then. A short backtrack and some stumbling over stubborn (and messy) snow patches brought us to the lakeshore. By now we were both pretty shot after a full week of work, a two hour plus drive, and a burn up Tunnel Creek so I took the first hammock friendly spot I could find. We were both sawing logs by midnight, Max curled up beside me in the swaying hammock.
We awoke late Saturday morning with mosquitoes buzzing outside the hammock netting. Full daylight was burning the rock slide beside the lake. After a breakfast of cereal and bug spray, we explored the lakeside a bit. Some nice campsites can be found across the outlet creek but access to the lake from them seems a bit dicey. There is a meadowy area right at the access trail which seems to be the preferred camping spot. Saturday morning there were no other campers but Max and I. Our site was just off the meadow in the trees. I picked it for several reasons, one being shade. As the weekend progressed, it became clear that the bugs liked it also for the same reason. We grabbed some basics and headed for Trap Pass and Thunder Mountain.
The trail to the pass was pleasant and shaded in places. By mid-morning the sun was up and blazing away so the shady oasis spots were welcome, especially for Max as he has not yet got his summer doo. He made every effort to lay in the snow whenever possible all weekend. We made the pass quickly, enjoying the views down Trapper Creek and also towards Thunder Mountain. There was still large patches of snow visible up there, and I was glad I had packed my ice axe and Yaktrax. We left the PCT at the pass on the obvious climber's trail and wound through the trees and under the boulders along the sometimes rather exposed cliff top route. I am not sure a fall would be fatal, but really didn't want to find out. We hit snow just short of the high basin that starts under a huge tower of rock on the ridge line that leads to Thunder Mountain. Here I put Max's harness on and put him on belay. I also strapped on my Yaktrax and put the axe to work on the steep and still mostly hard snow. We moved quickly up and away from the cliff area and were soon strolling through the snow covered basins at the base of the ridge line. Fangs of black rock rose menacingly beside us along the ridge line. The sky was deep blue, the snow blindingly white. Glacier Peak, Baker, Sloan and others beckoned from the horizon. I went to put on sunscreen and discovered that I had left it at Trap Lake. At least I had my boonie on...
We met a lone hiker coming from Upper Thunder Mountain Lake. After a brief friendly chat, he informed me that the lake was populated by his group, and included several tents. Max and I topped out at the little pass and looked down on a half frozen Upper Thunder Mountain Lake. Several tents of orange and yellow stood out on the flat rocks that ring the lake, Enchantments style. We made our way over to the rocks, wanting to get a look down towards Square Lake. I have plans to do a loop hike this way into Square, Wolverine, and the rest, then out the Icicle back to Stevens Pass. We wandered over the rocks and snow and tried not to track through the campsites, but it was tough. There were lots of bivy's and tents and it was not possible to avoid them all. Everyone was gone scrambling, so at least we did not disturb anyone, but it still made me feel uneasy. It's one of my little strange peeves. I don't like walking through other's camps. Sorry about that.
We found a reasonable spot to overview the area and have a little break. The drop to Square looks doable, at least from this vantage spot. Max and I had lunch and enjoyed the view. It was hot, calm and buggy. Stuart, Daniel and Hinman stared down at us from this side. I could just see the shimmering waters of Square Lake down below and the turquoise of Milk Lake under Mac Peak. With no shade and the bugs getting more annoying, Max and I finally retreated.
The descent was rapid and uneventful. I got a couple of little standing glissades in the now-sloppy snow, but the boulder field was full of melt out spots so it was not wise to get too close to the sides. Max loved the cool snow, being closer to it than me. For me it was more like walking on a big mirror. I cooked. The cool waters of Trap beckoned to me from the PCT as we descended.
Trap Lake was overrun when we returned. Lots of daytripers. Everyone was pleasant, don't get me wrong, but I didn't go up there to be in a crowd. Max and I cooled our heels in the water for a bit, then retreated to the hammock. It was hot in the trees. I stripped down to my shorts and read for a bit as people came and went in the afternoon sun. Someone splashed in the lake, swimming and gasping for air in the freezing water. Max would growl or bark if someone came too close to our camp. He has a sharp, deep little bark. Not really annoying, not really scary, just something in between, and he only does it once or twice. A good little watchdog, truly all bark and no bite.
I fell asleep and woke later in the afternoon. Everyone was gone. We braved the bugs and had dinner by the lake. It was still hot, but a small intermittent breeze was blowing. By five o'clock dinner was done. I felt suddenly like packing up and heading home. Perhaps it was the heat, or the bugs, but for some reason I wanted to go home. Backpacking is normally like a drug for me. I can't get enough. But at that moment I was not enjoying myself. I debated with Max for a while, but he was noncommittal. I decided that maybe I just needed more rest before hiking out anyway, so we retreated once again to the bug-free hammock and I read for an hour or so. Soon enough I was asleep again.
I woke after midnight to a moonlit, bug free world. Max and I had a quick potty break under the stars. The moon blasted most of the stars out of the sky, but it was still peaceful and wonderful. I relaxed and enjoyed the feeling. More water, a little bite of food and back to bed. Morning came soon enough and we wasted no time in clearing out before the bugs were too bad. A ranger and a group of three had come in late last night. The three were on their way south to Snoqualmie Pass. Max and i wished them well and headed home.