Ancient Lakes Solo
My trip to Ancient Lakes in April presented a series of "firsts": my first solo overnight trip, first solo road trip, and the first time I'd been to the other side of the Cascade range. I packed and repacked my bag with "essential" distractions for any nighttime fears and way too many layers of clothing. My last trip out had been to see Blue Glacier and the memory of shivering at night was still fresh, plus nighttime temperatures had still been hovering in the low 30s. I boasted two sleeping pads (yeah, seriously), thick pants, a down puffy, and three pairs of socks nestled in the depths of my pack (naturally, I received my first sunburn of the year on this weekend).
I drove out early on a Friday morning, in awe of the clear skies and snow still settled in Snoqualmie Pass and the surrounding peaks. I stopped for some fresh food provisions I would later regret in Ellensburg, and a peek at the Columbia River just outside of Quincy. Apprehension started to fill me when I came upon the trailhead indicated on the WTA and the distinct lack of other cars. I assumed I was just lucky and early, heaved my overstuffed pack out of the trunk, and headed towards the admittedly cute trailhead sign.
There's a distinct smell of agriculture in the air, and the sound of streams and waterfalls is very welcome. I begin to feel at ease and happily bounce downward until I recognize that my chosen starting trailhead had been somewhat of a mistake. Without trekking poles, I began clutching at larger rocks and sliding/scrambling downwards towards the first significant lake. The awkward trek down did not go unnoticed by the men fishing around the edge of the "trail," and my face flushed with anxiety at the prospect of breaking my ankle and embarrassment.
The climb on the other side of the lake was uncomfortably in line with the sun's rays, and I shed layers as I turtled my way up. The first sight of campsites was very welcome, but it took some wandering to come upon where I would set up for the night. The benefit to Ancient Lakes is that the trail is sprawling and it's possible to achieve a level of solitude. My campsite was pretty cute and included a luxurious flat rock perfect for sitting and cooking. I set up my tent and took a brief nap in the early afternoon warmth.
I woke up in the early afternoon, nibbled on a handful of mostly-candy-laden trail mix, and decided to explore. I made a large loop towards the other trailhead (the much flatter, less rocky route) and was sure I'd walked in an imaginary landscape. The sky was bluer than blue, dotted by crisp and bright white fluffy clouds. I mused on my podcasts, waved at passing hikers and horses, and spotted lizards darting away from moving feet and into the shady brush.
My excursion went on for almost three hours. I passed some fantastic campsites and almost regretted my tent placement. It's too bad that these lakes are unsuitable for drinking or swimming because I imagine it would have been amazing to jump right in.
Feeling drained from waking up so early, an atypical nap, and the sunshine, I settled in and got started on my secondary mission to read the entirety of The Last Season by Eric Blehm. When I was younger, I could and would devour books at this kind of pace. Now, it feels like a significant accomplishment to say I've read a book that year. Backpacking seems to be an excellent excuse to spend my afternoons and evenings soaking in stories. The Last Season details the events surrounding the disappearance of Randy Morgenson (a prolific backcountry ranger) in the Sierras. In retrospect, probably not the best tale to pour over on my first night out alone.
My dinner break was not the best. I'd packed in some a Knorr noodle side and sliced cooked pork to mix into it, thinking this could be like a "deluxe" soup option to keep me warm and asleep. My stomach started turning a few minutes into the meal, and I ended up tossing most of it into my trash bag to pack out. Lesson learned: stick to basic food until I'm sick of it.
After brushing my teeth to erase the taste of my failed dinner and a change into clean socks, I settled in to read. The sun sank low, casting a red/pink hue over my tent. As it got dark, what seemed like dozens of owls made their presence known and the wind picked up. The temperature dropped, and my nerves rose. I huddled around my phone and tried to busy myself with distraction to ease myself into sleep.
At 3 AM I thought there was someone with a flashlight outside of the tent. I needed to pee, and lied there still listening hard for sounds of whoever was out there. Tentatively unzipping the door, I was surprised with a full, bright moon and countless stars. The sky illuminated the lakes, and I could see clearly around me. Kicking myself for not having a tripod with me, I nestled back in and tried to get more sleep.
Dawn arrived, and after a quick bar breakfast, I packed up and braced myself for the scramble back up to the car. The areas where I butt-scooted down were challenging to navigate on the way up, and more than once my feet slid, and I panicked thinking I was about to fall back down on some rocks and bounce into the lakes. My stomach was rumbling angrily in protest of last night's dinner, and somehow I was overheating. Never again without trekking poles, I tell myself.
Yards from the end of the trail, I froze. An animal was up and around, and I could hear it. I stepped carefully and caught a glimpse of a coyote trotting across the gravel road. It paused and looked back and me, and my breath caught. Then it moved on.
Back at the car, I smiled while I unbuckled my pack and changed my shoes. I could get used to this kind of adventure.