Lower Ice Lake, 08/27/09-08/29/09

Somehow, I found myself with an extended weekend at the very end of August; Nicole didn’t.  Thus, the table was set for my Second Annual Solo Backpacking Trip, a trip set to coincide with my twenty-ninth birthday.  Certain conditions were to be met.  The hike couldn’t be too high on our must-do list, because Nicole wouldn’t be along to enjoy it.  I also wanted something that would challenge me.  And why not make something that’s a little further away than our normal weekend overnighter?

In the end, I decided on Ice Lakes, via the Entiat River.  100 Hikes… put the round-trip mileage at ~28 and recommended allowing 3-5 days.  Ice Lakes were on my list, and the criterion fit.  I’d be carrying a heavy backpack (~45lbs) but reasoned that the elevation gain would be spread over so much mileage that it’d be no problem.  More training for the Canadian Rockies!  My itinerary was flexible: I’d leave Thursday, make the lakes Friday, spend Saturday exploring or summiting Mt. Maude, and return Sunday. Or, if the forecasted thunderstorms came to fruition, I might return Saturday instead.  Whatevs.

I left straight from work on Thursday around 12:30, and pulled into the trailhead parking lot at the end of Entiat River Road at 16:00.  The drive was nice, taking me past Leavenworth for the first time through Wenatchee and north along the Columbia River through an interesting landscape.  Though there were signs warning of big horn sheep crossings, I saw none.

I booted up and hit the trail at 16:20, setting a comfortably quick pace in order to put as many easy miles behind me as possible on the first day.  The trail starts off wide and dry, mixed-use as it is (hikers, horses, motorcycles).  The trees turn from somewhat unhealthy-looking to fully fire-scarred and destroyed as one makes progress down the Entiat River trail.

Evidence of a burn.

Evidence of a burn.

At 17:55, I entered Glacier Peak Wilderness, ~4.2 miles from the trailhead.  The trail narrowed.  Deer met me head-on on the trail.  The sun lowered behind the ridge to the west.  Every snap, crackle, and pop in the forest had me looking over my shoulder; I attributed each one to another deer, fearing a bear or cougar as the sounds stalked me along the trail.  I realized only later that the heat of the day had gone from the naked, burned trees.  And now they contracted in the shade like an old house in night’s silence.

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I pressed on, coming to the intersection with the Ice Creek trail at 19:30, and crossing over Entiat River via logjam minutes later.  The crossing was fairly simple, and there were unoccupied campsites on either side of the river.  After crossing, I set up camp, ate banana chips and a pepperoni stick for dinner to avoid cooking, and went to bed an hour or so later.  The sky was clear and a beautiful half-moon hung visible through the trees.

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I woke up Friday at 06:00 and stepped out of the tent.  My birthday!  I busied myself with breakfast and breaking down camp, which took nearly two hours without Nicole’s help.

Once again, the trail works through burn, gaining slightly more elevation than it had earlier.  Views improve, either across Ice Creek to the Entiat Mountains (including unnamed 8000’+ peaks I’d mistaken for Mt. Maude) or uphill through avalanche chutes toward the Spectacle Buttes.

Through more burn...

Through more burn...

At the base of the Buttes.

...to the base of the Buttes.

I crossed Ice Creek, high-stepping straight through it the first time and using a well-placed and well-cairned log the second time, working my way up through healthier forest and patchy meadows toward the head of the valley.  In one large meadow, the real Mt. Maude revealed herself.  At 09:50, I reached the end of the Ice Creek trail at a campsite below cliffs and waterfalls.  From here, the trail to Ice Lakes is unmaintained, but obviously well-travelled and easy to follow.  After resting and eating, I took off at 10:20 to climb the final mile to Lower Ice Lake.

A waterfall at the beginnings of Ice Creek.

A waterfall at the beginnings of Ice Creek.

And a climb it was.  Gaining some ~1500′, in such a short distance, without a single switchback, with a 45lb backpack, was quite difficult.  I had to watch every step, avoiding loose rock that sat on dry slopes ready to slide away beneath me.  I stopped every several steps, sat down dozens of times, sometimes right on the path.  Marmot’s whistles and pika squeals kept me company.  A weasel ran right behind me, startling me up from a spot I might still be sitting today otherwise.  Larch trees appeared sporadically amongst the others.  I could guess at the distance remaining above me.  On my final approach, my quadriceps nearly burst into spasm.

Down the Ice Creek valley.

Down the Ice Creek valley.

Flowers before steepness.

Flowers before steepness.

A pika's perch.

A pika's perch.

At 12:40, over two hours since I’d left the valley floor, I took a few more ascending steps and Lower Ice Lake lay before me.  I gave thanks and dropped down along the lake, setting up camp on a picturesque peninsula after only a moment’s hesitation but several minutes of rest.

Lower Ice Lake, at last.

Lower Ice Lake, at last.

I napped, filtered water, ate, put on my tent’s rainfly.  Another person arrived at the lake—the first I’d seen, though he’d be joined by others in his party later.  I set aside any ideas I’d had for further exploration: exhausted as I was, I could only walk around Lower Ice Lake in my flip-flops, taking photographs.

Larch, lake, campsite, and Mt. Maude.

Larch, lake, campsite, and Mt. Maude.

Larch along Lower Ice Lake.

Larch along Lower Ice Lake.

It ain't October yet.

It ain't October yet.

North Spectacle Butte.

North Spectacle Butte.

The Spectacle Buttes from above Lower Ice Lake.

The Spectacle Buttes from above Lower Ice Lake.

A moment of calm on Lower Ice Lake.

A moment of calm on Lower Ice Lake.

Clouds rolled in, the wind picked up.  I ate a homemade cinnamon roll for my birthday dinner and retreated into the tent to drink Glenrothers whisky and read Anna Karenina, which I’d insisted on carrying with me.  I wrestled with my plans: stay tomorrow night as well, or head out if the weather doesn’t cooperate?

The wind continued to strengthen as night fell.  I’d set up my tent to view Mt. Maude out my window, which ended up being broadside to the wind.  Gusts were strong enough to collapse the tent into me; I stuck my arm out of my sleeping bag to brace one of the poles several times.

Eventually I was able to sleep, only to wake up with a full bladder around 22:30 to an eerie calm.  I walked out into the night and came back relieved.  Not a few minutes later, the wind began again, this time accompanied by rain.

I decided that if it wasn’t sunny and clear the next morning, I’d hike all the way back out to the car, stop at McDonald’s for my yearly McNugget allotment, and be home Saturday evening.  I fell asleep sometime later.

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Saturday morning I woke up again at 06:00.  It was quite cold and cloudy.  I looked up at Mt. Maude, her summit hidden in clouds, and set myself to breaking down camp.  I’d be heading all the way out today after all.

Mt. Maude in clouds.

Mt. Maude in clouds.

At 08:00 I was on my way down through The Rockfield of 10,000 Pika.  I nearly hyperextended my knee, but made better time going down than up.  Though each step had to be watched, I wasn’t exhausted as I was while gaining the elevation.

By 09:30 I was back on the Ice Creek trail, and I crossed the Entiat River at 11:15.  I had ~8 miles to go.  Just keep moving, I told myself.  My feet were starting to bother me.  My shoulders were beginning to ache.

I kept moving, feeling blisters blossoming in strange places on the bottom of my feet.  I stopped to address them—unsuccessfully, as it turns out.  If I stopped moving, the pain upon re-starting would intensify.  I began to limp.

The last ~five miles were pretty terrible.  When I made it within ~two miles of the trailhead, I rolled my left ankle.  I sang songs over and over in my mind to pass the time, looking at my watch regularly, figuring out just when I would arrive at the parking lot.

14:44.  My backpack was off, and my boots weren’t far behind.  I ate some Advil with a shot of whisky.  My water bladder was empty.  It was my longest day on trail.  But I was heading home…

The way to Ice Lakes.

The way to Ice Lakes.

This trip was a challenge.  And it was a success.  My only disappointment is that the weather kept me from staying another day, making it to Upper Ice Lake and perhaps the summit of Mt. Maude.  Then again, that most likely would’ve made for an even more difficult day on the way out.

I guess I’m saving Upper Ice Lake and Mt. Maude for a later date.  I’ll definitely look in to taking the shorter approach, though.  One trip up to Ice Lakes via Entiat River and Ice Creek is enough for me!

Stats: ~26 miles round-trip from the Entiat River trailhead to Lower Ice Lake and back, spread over 3 days, with ~3800’+ of gain (and loss).  Also, some big blisters.

Day 1: ~8.1 miles to the Entiat River crossing, ~3:10 hiking time, ~1200′ gain.

Day 2: ~4.7 miles to Lower Ice Lake, ~4:50 hiking time, ~2600′ gain.

Day 3: ~12.8 miles to the trailhead, ~6:40 hiking time, 3800′ loss.

As always, more photos at Flickr.

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One Response to Lower Ice Lake, 08/27/09-08/29/09

  1. Pingback: The Year in Review, 2009 Edition « Don’t Look Down

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