Trip Reports: Alpine Lakes Wilderness Trek, Washington - July 2016
In mid July after having done two backpack trips on the Olympic Peninsula, we were excited to do some more in the Cascades; however, most of the treks we had researched in the central and northern Cascades were still snowbound on the higher passes and lakes. We studied the maps looking for a trek we could do under 5,000 feet elevation and concluded that the Alpine Lakes Wilderness fit the bill. This area boasts many interesting lakes and rugged peaks, and is generally lower elevation than the more northerly ranges. Plus, I’d never visited here before and was eager to check it out!
I realized that we could probably connect two intriguing lakes with one long triangular loop circuit: Spectacle and Spade Lakes. We planned on five days: one day hiking up along the Cooper River to Spectacle Lake, a rest day there, a long day over Waptus Pass to Spade Lake, another rest day there, and a final long haul out the Waptus River back to where we started at the Salmon La Sac trailhead.
We started by dropping our packs off at the Cooper Lake trailhead, driving back to Salmon La Sac to park the truck, and hitchhiking back up to Cooper Lake to save a few miles. The hike to Spectacle turned out to be more challenging than we expected; after Pete’s Lake the trail seems to be in complete neglect, passing through a burned forest with seemingly hundreds of downed trees to negotiate. The trail was obviously well engineered at some point in history, but now appears to be non-maintained, perhaps on purpose? We wondered if the powers that be decided that Spectacle Lake had grown too popular, and that they’d let the trail be reclaimed by nature for only determined hikers to tackle. Or maybe it’s just too much of an uphill battle (no pun intended) to clear out all the fallen burnt trees. Anyhow, after much unexpected frustration crawling over logs and bashing through wet foliage we finally stumbled over the ridge into the Spectacle Lake basin late in the evening, grateful that we planned a whole day to relax and enjoy the scenery.
We lucked out and had beautiful sunny weather during our rest day at Spectacle, wandering around the lake shore and enjoying several dives into the frigid water.
Day 3 turned out to be a tedious 11-hour march: back down to Pete’s Lake, up and over Waptus Pass, down to Waptus Lake, and up to Spade Lake. We were both feeling pushed almost to our limits by the time we finally dropped our packs and set up our tent.
Spade Lake seems to be a fairly seldom visited lake, despite the close proximity to the hordes in Seattle — likely because it’s such a trudge to get there no matter which way you go. The lake is ringed with huge granite slabs, with snow-clad Mount Daniel rising beyond. Campsites here are few and far between; we managed to find one single spot flat enough to place the tent on, using sticks and rocks as anchors. But what a view!
Again we lucked out with a bluebird sunny day for our rest day at Spade Lake! In the evening we hiked up a nearby ridge to get a fantastic view of the ultra-rugged Bear’s Breast Mountain.
Finally on day 5 we endured the long haul all the way from Spade out along the Waptus River back to our truck at Salmon La Sac. Never before have I experienced a backpacking trip with such a dicotomy of grueling, boring hiking and beautiful relaxation. 3 days of tedium for 2 days of bliss. Was it worth it? Of course! Would I do it again? Ummm, maybe not!