Sat 19 Sep 09

Last Saturday broke blue skied and sunny, a perfect day to go scampering around the woods. My first thought was a long day hike with the dogs, maybe bag a peak and be home by dark. I asked the dogs; they agreed, affirming with cocked heads, raised ears, and guttural awwooos. As I scrolled around a Google terrain map of central Washington though, the minutes ticked by and shrank my day with each indecision. Finally I realized that what I really wanted was to explore at leisure, not to be pushed by a destination and a darkness deadline, to wake up in the mountains. I unloaded my daypack and tossed a tent and sleeping bag into my weekend pack. I picked a trailhead I was familiar with the idea in mind that I’d hike into the mountains, find a place to sleep, and explore more the following day and hike out.

After quick stops to print out a topo map and purchase food, we were on our way, two of us hanging our heads out the window ears a-flapping, and the other one grinning and giddy with the day. In about an hour forty five we reached the world’s worst dirt road and slowly jostled our way thirteen miles to trailhead 1345 in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. My rough plan was to hike up toward Cathedral Rock (a trek I knew to be dog-friendly from an ’08 rendezvous) and once on the ridge spy out a route to the upper tarns to the west, possibly crossing over near Mt Daniel.

The last time I had been on this trail with the dogs they burst onto the trail, huffing and clamoring for the first half hour. This time they were more restrained, tempered by a year of hiking experience I suppose, happily trotting along next to me. We only met one couple on the way up to the ridge, a friendly husband and wife staring up at Cathedral Rock through binoculars and posing for pictures. They asked if my boxers were English or German. I didn’t know.

At the top of the ridge, just to the south of Cathedral Rock, I sat on a boulder, scanned the horizon, and weighed my options: two I knew about and one that would be revealed later. Option one, drop down to Deep Lake then climb back up to Circle Lake via a trail indicated on my map. At home looking at Google maps, I thought that from Circle Lake I might be able to scramble up and over the ridge to reach Spade and Venus Lakes. Looking across the valley now though, I could see that this would be a horribly unpleasant task for the dogs (and probably me as well). My map also showed a trail leading away from Deep Lake, then wrapping circuitously around the ridge, before climbing back up to the lakes on the far side. Looking down though at Deep Lake a thousand feet below I just wasn’t quite ready to give back all the elevation I had just earned.

So I sipped some water, ruffled the dogs’ skulls, and considered option two: follow the trail along the steep western slopes of Cathedral Rock toward Peggy’s Pond and Mt Daniel beyond. Ah the familiar. I knew the dogs could be sipping from the pond in twenty minutes. Well, I’ve been there before, but I guess I could try a different route once past Peggy’s Pond, maybe head high on the east ridge of Mt Daniel. Good enough. Secret option three would have to wait for the moment.

We followed the slightly sketchy trail around the rocky slopes of Cathedral Rock, then climbed up through evergreen to reach the pebbly banks of Peggy’s Pond. The dogs guzzled water and seemed happy to be back on flat ground again.

When the dogs and I had come up the previous year, we’d gone charging up the valley below Mt Daniel (pictured below left), playing on the glaciers before steep rocky slopes blocked our way. Out of curiosity, I wanted to climb the ridge above that valley this time. So we did. We continued past Peggy’s Pond and picked our way up the ridge, sometimes following a river bed, sometimes crunching through vegetation, but mostly scrambling up rock slabs. Pictured below right is the view looking back toward Cathedral Rock and Peggy’s Pond.

I tried to trick my brain into believing that I was just checking out the ridge to see the views beyond, but my brain saw right through that plan and kept hoping the ridge would be friendly enough on the dogs’ paws to allow a summit run. No dice. At about 7,000 feet elevation, as we approached the spire to the right of the summit in the picture above, we ran into incessant scree and the end of our climb.

As a backup option to a summit push, I had been considering dropping into the valley on the far side, but as you can see in the picture above of Trammel standing near the snow, the going that direction seemed a bit precipitous. So I soaked in the views and the cooling breeze for a few minutes and considered my backtrack choices: either go back the way we came or scramble straight down the nearby rocky slopes toward the glacial pools below. Ah, look how close that water is, we’ll just go straight down to it.

Very unpleasant downclimb. Tentative dog steps and many mini rockslides. We were duly rewarded though with rocks for sitting, water for sipping, and absurd glacier blues.

I considering setting up camp on the spot as the shadows crept toward us, but knew that the next day I would be backtracking toward Cathedral Rock one way or another, so in the interest of day two mileage I decided to keep hiking. When we reached Peggy’s Pond though, we now found it dotted with tents. Some people like the security of having other folks within shouting distance; I’d rather have my space. Hmm, well I guess I could camp back on the ridge east of Cathedral Rock (the sunrise views of Mt Stuart would be spectacular). So we kept backtracking.

Reaching the ridge though I stumbled onto another option (secret option number three). While canvassing for a campsite, I noticed a trail leading off to the north. Consulting my map, it looked like the trail wrapped around Hyas Lake to the north (looping back to our original trailhead) and connected to another side trail leading up to Tuck and Robin lakes on the far side. Sounds good for day two. Cool.

I started down the trail and immediately started looking for campsites in the dwindling daylight. About ten minutes down the trail (still looking up at Cathedral Rock), on a hunch, I wandered off trail and into a hidden clearing punctuated with gigantic boulders and bordered by a running stream. Perfect.

Tent up, water filtered, couscous Jetboiled. Great day.