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Downhill
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Location: Leavenworth
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PostThu Sep 13, 2018 8:59 pm 
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Note:  I have intentionally left the name of my destination out of both the subject line and body of this post.  I've given ample clues to ascertain the location, especially if you're familiar with this region.  I ask that you respect this and, if you know the name of this lake, please don't use it in the body of this thread.  If you have specific questions, feel free to PM me with them.  Thanks!

My Adventure Through the Looking Glass.....

Time spent in the high alpine, a sunrise from a summit bivy or the solitude of fishing a remote lake, these have always been spiritual experiences for me, in a very real way my religion with the mountains as my church.   The experiences Iíve shared with my family and partners have stayed with me for life, relived over and over in my memory, and they bring me peace of mind and contentment.  Likewise, those opportunities Iíve missed, either because of conditions, injuries, work conflicts or bad decisions, they have also stayed with me Ė thoughts of ďwhat could have beenĒ.  It was this latter case that fueled my motivation for this outing.

Some time ago, probably around the mid-80s, my dad, brother and I made a loop trip through the ďLady LakesĒ.  We approached from the Icicle River, then up via Frosty Pass.  I recall that relatively cool temps made for pleasant hiking as we gained altitude and expanding territorial vistas across the Stuart and Chiwaukum ranges.  As was common in those days, we encountered many more trout than humans as made our way along the buffet of lakes:  Margaret, Mary, Florence, Brigham, Flora, and Edna.  We had also planned to visit another sister lake, a shyer and more aloof sibling.  Not accessible by any identifiable trail, this bashful sister rarely entertains suitors, hiding her charms except for the few who make the extra effort to meet her.  Although I did get a glimpse of her beauty, from a distance, the route to the lake on that day proved to be too challenging for this family outing so we turned and descended back to the Icicle valley via the Chatter Creek drainage.  Decades later, I could still remember the image of this demure beauty and I promised myself that Iíd go back and meet her.

A long time ago I swore off the Chatter Creek (CC) trail, vowing to never set foot on this path again.  Yet here I was, trudging along these wickedly sharp rocks for the second time in less than 60 days.  Chatter Creek is well-known as a steep route, gaining over 4100 feet from the trailhead to the first lake, Edna.  But itís not the continuous climb that I mind, I actually prefer steep, direct approaches - ďletís get up to the good stuff ASAPĒ.  My issue with the CC tail is how brutally rocky it is.  Usually, my legs can go on all day, accumulating large swaths of elevation.  But my feet give out on me first, more so with age, and Chatter Creek is the Idi Amin trail of foot torture.  But I was set on meeting this fair maid and I was going to take the most direct route, dismissing her more popular sisters and the more circuitous route from the north, and so here I was.  My memory of the CC trail had been clouded by the pain it inflicts on me, so over the years I had forgotten just how beautiful this hike really is.  Deep forests, clear streams, stunning flowers, sweet berries and incredible views of Grindstone Mountain.  Iíd also forgotten just how impressive Grindstone is up close.  On this day the miles and elevation clicked by almost unnoticed while I admired the dramatic features of Grindstone and nibbled on the most huckleberries Iíve encountered this year.  The views from the pass at the head of the basin are equally compelling - to the north the open meadows toward Lake Edna and Cape Horn, to the east the valleys of Index and Painter creeks.

Iíve done a fair amount of off-trail travel and route-finding throughout my backcountry ďcareerĒ (hiking, climbing and skiing) and while Iím confident in knowing both my abilities and limitations, I am always cautious and conservative, especially when traveling off-trail alone.  Using topos, satellite photos and the memory of my prior attempt, I plotted what I thought would be the most direct, yet reasonably safe route.  Minimizing the amount of bushwhacking was also a high priority.  I belive that other parties have approached this lake from the other side taking a route that loosely follows its drainage.  Instead, I targeted the ďLooking GlassĒ, a notch in the ridge separating her from her sisters at what looked like the lowest point while avoiding the obvious rock towers and cliff bands.   



As I left the trail and began ascending steeply up open heather slopes toward the notch, two goats grazed above me, curious of this new intruder.  The larger of the two, the White King began rolling rocks down on me so I traversed to the side before contouring back to the notch as I got higher.  Iím not naÔve so I didnít expect my route to be as easy as the topo and photos had suggested and these concerns were realized when I reached the notch.  Looking over the other side, with an incredible view of the lake, I realized that the slope below me to the lake was much steeper thank Iíd expected.  Immediately I had second thoughts about being up here alone.  The tedious climb down to the gentler slopes below, while not technical, posed nontrivial consequences for a slip and tumble.  For a moment I considered turning back but I'd turned back once before.  Now I was so close and looking straight at this rare gem, so I proceeded slowly, focusing on just the next 10 feet below me, utilizing grass hummock and alpine fir belays.  In less time than Iíd expected I was walking though the flower-filled, low angle slopes just above the lake.  As I approached the lake, I looked back up the slope above me to see the White King standing in the Looking Glass notch where Iíd passed just moments before.  Iím sure he followed me mostly out of curiosity, but at that moment I imagined he was casting his vote of approval of my passage.

For personal reasons, Iím going to leave out most of the details of my experiences while at the lake.  I will just say that this shy sister did not disappoint in terms of beauty or spiritual experience.  It was, and I imagine will be for a long time, one of the very best experiences Iíve had in the mountains.   

In the morning I did a little recon near and below the outlet to see if I could locate the path I believe other parties have taken to the lake.  I found only a few very faint treads and each disappeared after just a few feet, becoming brushy and steep.  So, I returned the way I had come, though the Looking Glass, and I was very glad I did.

Descending back down the Chatter Creek trail, the elation from my experience was almost enough that I didnít notice the searing pain in my feet inflicted by the rocks, almost.  Once again, I renewed my vow to never set foot on this ever trail again!

The White King guarding the Looking Glass
The White King guarding the Looking Glass
The lower slopes approaching the lake.
The lower slopes approaching the lake.
Looking Glass,  right of center on the ridge crest
Looking Glass,  right of center on the ridge crest
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Bootpathguy
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PostFri Sep 14, 2018 5:37 pm 
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Now... That's a trip report! Could care less about the destination. Much prefer a well written adventure regardless of the location.

Had a very curious goat as a partner on my Coney Lake adventure. He wouldn't get too far ahead of me before he'd stop and wait for me to catch up. Early October & full winter coat had already grown in. Big burly beautiful goat.

Thanks for sharing

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Experience is what'cha get, when you get what'cha don't want
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Downhill
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PostTue Sep 18, 2018 4:10 pm 
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Thanks BPG.

One of my best-in-a-lifetime trips!
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General ****
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Location: Clark County, SW WA
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PostSat Jan 12, 2019 10:37 pm 
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Wilderness Is Therapy

At least it is for me.

Thank you for a very nice trip report.

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The General

The General primarily backpack solo, I may be interested in hiking with a partner.
I am retired and am in good physical condition.  I mostly backpack WA State, however, I am open to other States as well.
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MLHSN
What goes here?????



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What goes here?????
PostSun Jan 13, 2019 8:22 am 
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I have fond memories of that Lake as well. I visited by traversing the head of the drainage from a main trail. I did not see a trail to the lake either. The meadow in the drainage below piqued my curiosity and I would like to go back and explore it. I have found some interesting stuff in those drainages where they once ran sheep.
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Anne Elk
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Joined: 07 Sep 2018
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PostSun Jan 13, 2019 4:16 pm 
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Lovely post, Downhill.  Reminds me of a passage in my "quotation files" from John Monnett's "Cutthroat and Campfire Tales".   I may have posted it somewhere on NWH in the past, but repeat it here as I know you can relate:

John Monnett wrote:
There is no other place quite so mysterious as a high lake. . .I guess the long grinding hike required to get there has something to do with the mystery.  You have a lot of time to think on the trail - to anticipate.  Usually, you can't even see the lake you are hiking to until you are right on top of it.  The last quarter mile is inevitably the steepest, requiring a scramble up a rocky slope to the shoreline.  And then you see it, the sun reflected on the ripples, mystical and serene, almost tranquilizing.  I know of few other rewards in the mountains quite so thrilling as finally laying down a heavy pack beside the clear waters of one of these remote alpine gems. . . [and] there are few other places on this planet where I can sense such a feeling of deep wilderness, as if it were an emotion.


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"There are yahoos out there.  Itís why we canít have nice things."  - Tom Mahood
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General ****
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PostWed Jan 23, 2019 11:14 am 
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Downhill,

I sent you a PM

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The General

The General primarily backpack solo, I may be interested in hiking with a partner.
I am retired and am in good physical condition.  I mostly backpack WA State, however, I am open to other States as well.
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