The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is nestled in Washington State's Central Cascades region, consisting of 394,000 acres of glacial scoured wonder. My daughter and I spent a week transiting and exploring some of this area, albeit during a period of unsettled weather. Damp skies didn't dampen our spirits and in fact, unsettled weather makes for uncrowded trails, even at the end of summer. The following 4 trips totaled 75 miles of hiking, barely scratching the surface of this pristine wilderness.
Icicle Ridge (8/27-28)
With iffy weather forecasts all over, my daughter and I were trying to work around possible weather, and we got really lucky on this one. We hiked from the Icicle Creek trailhead to Lake Grace on day 1, leaving us plenty of time to lounge before dark and scope out a possible foray to Upper Grace Lake, a nasty looking scramble from our vantage point. She had about 4 possible choices for day two and we agreed if the weather was good on the second day we would get up early and go for the upper lake. However, it started raining and continued through most of the night, so we stayed in for awhile and got up when it seemed to abate. We decided to continue on a shortish loop for day 2 and do as much as we could before the rains started, but the forecast rains never came and we enjoyed a dry day. We enjoyed solitude until the last part of day 2 when we ran into some hikers up around Lake Edna. We were somewhat baffled by one couple who were scantily clad with one small pack asking if the parking lot was up here (at the time we had just crested a pass at 6800 feet). They had climbed the Chatter Creek trail over 4000 feet...??? We showed them the map and pointed out that whatever the ranger told them about a 10 mile loop something was amiss, so they reluctantly turned around and descended the very steep and unrelenting trail back the way they came. We were wondering if they were still going to be a couple the next day. This trip was approximately 28 miles with some pretty good pulls both uphill and down. Overall we thought the scenery was spectacular and ever changing.
Kendall Katwalk (8/30)
Just up the road off I-90, this 12 mile round trip with 3000 feet of elevation gain and loss is a great trainer for keeping the legs loose, plus it takes one to one of the more unique spots in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness on the PCT, the Kendall Katwalk. This part of the trail is blasted into a sheer rock face with a thousand foot drop, pretty cool when you can see but very eerie when the clouds obscure the drop as was our case. It was cold and wet above 5000 feet and we didn't linger long, although staring into the white abyss was somewhat mesmerizing. We retreated around a corner and ate a quick snack before stoking the internal furnace and bringing feeling back into our fingertips on the way down. Before the relatively short drive home we stopped for hot chocolate and coffee, discussing how the summer seemed to come to an abrupt halt and give way immediately to winter like conditions, sans snow.
Our first trip to the Enchantments found them virtually empty, probably because of 65 MPH winds and forecasts of snow. Some rangers told us people were bailing left and right. However, we had our permits so we were bound to take a looksee. Starting at the Snow Lakes trailhead, we began our 5000 foot climb with cloudy skies but no rain, eventually passing said rangers and then a group of 7 older campers. Quite a delightful group indeed, with whom we would cross paths the next day. There were a few other groups leaving or camped at Nada Lake but after this we would only see a couple running the transit. When we reached Snow lake at 5400 feet we took a break and discussed our options with the iffy weather forecast, where we decided to pitch our camp amidst a sheltered spot. If we had continued on from here, the next available option would have been at Leprechaun Lake at 6700 feet. We settled in for the evening, digging into our extravagant food selection and hunkered down for the night.
On Day 2 we got up after a very windy night and decided to leave the tent where it was and go up to explore the upper Enchantments on an out and back. If the weather turned out to be decent our plan was to tag Aasgard pass and then come back. However, once above 6000 feet we were met with driving mist most of the day and much lower temperatures, although the forecast snow was absent. Photo ops were few as just taking the camera out had to be with my back to the wind, but we still enjoyed the breathtaking surroundings wrapped in our 3 layers. I packed two cameras, one with a good telephoto for all the goat shots I anticipated, but even the goats had abandoned the upper reaches and the few shots I took lower down were the only ones to be had. Once we reached Perfection it was close to 2 PM so we decided to turn back and get over the slippery granite well before dark. Much to our delight the weather lessened its onslaught, the rains abated and the winds calmed and the descent from over 7000 feet back to our camp was almost pleasant. This entire day we saw 4 people, a couple of couples who were transiting from one trailhead to the other....not one occupied campsite was to be seen, possibly a rare event for this time of year. Once we reached Snow Lake we ran into our relocated group of 7 and chatted with them again, lamenting that we had no hot chocolate so two cups were produced for us...it's nice to have a daughter around with big eyes just glowing with hot chocolate neediness.
Back in our camp we pondered the next day but my wife was texting the weather forecasts (via DeLorme) and high winds, snow and even thunder quelled our ambitions to ascend for a second day. In fact, most of the night the gusts were loud and strong enough to keep me awake at first, assessing the tent's ability to withstand what made it through the trees as my daughter snored beside me. I was quite glad we were not camped at 7000 feet that evening for sure. We awoke to sunny skies, lingered in the chill for awhile and met lots of people coming up the trail with the sun beating down. I hope the weather treats them well despite the forecasts. Our plan is to return next year and endure hot weather or perhaps at least transit from Aasgard across in one shot, it really is a special place that lives up to the hype...especially when it is uncrowded.
Rachel Lake, Alta Mountain (9/05)
Labor Day weekend had a forecast for one decent day and we tried to take advantage of it by climbing Alta Mountain (6150'). A short 3.5 mile hike took us past Rachel Lake, then a 2.5 mile steepish pull put us on the Alta summit. However, the weather didn't cooperate with any views so we enjoyed white out conditions and biting winds, descending after tagging the summit to a nice sheltered area for lunch. Considering the thunderstorm that greeted us when we arrived home, I have to say the weather cooperated nicely with no rain and about 6 ten second periods of sun. Expansive views would have been a bonus, but we thoroughly enjoyed this outing of perfect length and difficulty (12 miles/3300'), close access (just over an hour's drive) and crisp fall air. It seems we have only touched the surface of possibilities in this gem of wilderness that lies so close to the Seattle area.