Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dutch Miller Gap Backpack


We spent the morning getting to Cle Elum and finding the perfect cup of espresso, hot chocolate and breakfast burrito plus playing a round of fetch with some dogs and then Brian, Teresa and I were ready to start our hike to Waptus Lake. We found a note on Irene's car that she and the rest of the group had already departed from the trailhead and we looked forward to meeting them on the trail (too bad they didn't leave breadcrumbs). This hike was to be my second to last in August and I only needed 13 more miles in the WTA hike-a-thon to make my goal of 100 miles for the month and, heading up the trail, my brain must have been making deals with my body. Brain: hey, body, I need you to hike 5 extra miles today so whaddya say we just skip that trail junction up ahead to Waptus and keep on going up Polallie Ridge? Body: ok, I'll keep my eyes on the boots in front of me and then you can help me come up with reasons to stay on the wrong trail. The deal was struck and it was one that would help me top out over my goal for the month but would also put our group of three hours behind in our meeting point with the rest of the party at the lake.

Six hours and 13 miles later, our welcoming committee of Irene met us at the Waptus River ford to guide us into camp. She had nearly given up on us but, at the last moment, heard our voices nearing. She led us into camp where dinner was already in full swing. A fire was burning, hot water was offered up and we were all welcomed by our leader, Kay (who had been doing trail work with WTA for the week) plus Don, Diana and Rick.

We could see Bears Breast Mountain from our breakfast spot at the lake and it looked like a good day to hike up to Lake Ivanhoe and Dutch Miller Gap to make camp. We set out at 9am and headed along the lake, stopping at the WTA camp so Teresa and Rick could wow us with their barbell-lifting techniques. 

Up higher and higher we climbed toward the clouds, getting sprinkled upon gently at first, more steadily later. Part of what kept us going were the views down to Lake Waptus and the promise of views to Mt Daniel and surrounding peaks. When we reached the ridge before Lake Ivanhoe, Irene noted that this was a place where it appeared to have rained for more than a few days as the trail was mucky
 and slick in places. She sounded like she had decided to descend, even before we saw the bridge conundrum. There was an old bridge across the creek that lead to the campsites that had long ago succumbed to the raging torrent (or age). It now formed a "V" into the water and, although it looked as though we could boulder-hop to the center of the creek, it looked as though we would be clawing, slipping and sliding our way up the other side up to the bank. At that moment, I was grateful that our trip was led by Kay, a well-traveled mountain woman but also a sensible one
 who looked out for the rest of her party. She decided to err on the side of caution and sent us all back down the mountain from where we'd come. Although she sensed we would be disappointed, I think I heard a collective sigh of relief as we realized we would be spared from the elements up at 5,000 feet which could have included snow and ice.
We headed back down with our full packs, retreating to Lake Waptus and to a campsite next to the one we'd been in the previous night. I think it was Rick who remarked that we had spent all day hiking with full packs and traveling 14 miles, just to move our camp 100 yards.
After yesterday's mega-hike, there was no rush to wake up or get organized to hike so we didn't make it out of camp until after 10am. Our destination was to be Spade Lake, on the ridge to the east of Waptus Lake. The map indicated that the trail would climb steeply without switchbacks to 5,200' and then traverse
 across, just below the ridge, to the lake. I imagined strolling along on the traverse, photographing the nearby mountains and the flowers at leisure. Maybe I would even be singing... Well, that wasn't exactly how it turned out. The trail was steep and climbed up and up, over logs, under logs, through brush and through boulder fields. After a period of serious climbing, it leveled out and we remarked how easy all that gain was. Don's altimeter reading of 4,400 must be wrong; we were so strong from having humped our full packs up and down a mountain yesterday.

Our optimism was broken by the fact that the trail suddenly descended, traversed, then climbed more (lather, rinse, repeat). We scrutinized the map for clues as to what exactly this trail had in store for us but the more we searched, the more it seemed like the trail was what the route should have been, not what it was in reality. There were some heart-breaking moments where we thought the lake was "just around the corner", only to find the steepest climb of the hike before us. The good news was that we were rising closer and closer to the mountains that had evaded our sight the day before. We could see Three Queens and Chikamin which loom above Spectacle Lake and the glacierless backside of Mts Daniel and Hinman. The lake finally came into view below us, meaning we would descend now and climb later when leaving, a mental game we would have to get past.
We entered a meadow of grasses, small ponds and granite and followed one of many trails toward a large rocky area where we could gaze up toward the mountains and down toward the lake. The lake reminded me of Spectacle Lake, with its inlets and carved rock that is so much fun to boulder on and explore around. We participated in a variety of activities while there: eating, napping, photographing, frolicking naked in the meadows and dreaming of warmer weather. Soon, it was time to depart. lest we get caught there in the cold, descending steep terrain with diminishing light.
We made it back to our camp without too much suffering and enough warmth for Diana and Rick to take a swim and with enough light for Don to start another one of his fabulous campfires.


We awoke to the coldest morning of the trip with the prospect of fording the creek before us. I thought I had a brilliant idea when I decided to keep on the previous day's socks to wear with my Tevas and to also wear my wool tights into the water. I shared my brilliance with the group but I could see they were either heartier than I or they had not spent the previous night trying not to freeze in their tents. Off everyone went, into the baptismal creek that would be the first step toward exiting the wilderness. 

We stopped a couple of times on the 8.5 mile hike out and it was nearly a contest to see who had budgeted their food to last until the parking lot. Some were coveting their bread and cheese while others seemed content to eat a couple of dried prunes or pieces of mango, convincing themselves that it was meeting their caloric needs for the day.

By the time we reached the parking lot, with the goal of lunching at The Brick in Roslyn, there was a lot of clothing changing, hair combing and pack rearranging to prepare us for our re-entry into civilization.

Thank you, Kay, for leading a great trip and for treating us all to a post-trip lunch.

For the complete photo album from this trip, please click here.

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