A Gnome favorite… Squad Car Lake – September, 2017
Pasayten and I were messaging back and forth about possible short hikes to do before our planned trip into Williams Lake. We were attempting to schedule that particular trip so that the youngest member of OGHC would be able to join us. We both realized that Williams could possibly be the final trip of this backpacking season — unless we opted to do some winter camping.
Chatting about winter camping, I said I enjoyed camping on snow, but not in snow. Pasayten mentioned his igloo-building tool. I said that sounds like camping in snow to me. I also mentioned that I had enough experience living in snow and ice caves, quinzees (or quinzhees, if you prefer) to know that I would rather camp on top of firmly-packed snow. I have enjoyed several trips where we pitched one of my pyramid tarp-tents over a seven-foot-square pit dug into a glacier – we left a perimeter of benches to sit and sleep on — it’s a bit warmer up off the floor. One of the first things I learned about snow and ice caves is that one wants to tunnel in uphill some so the cold air flows down and out. Anyway, somehow, I found myself chatting about us possibly heading up into the hills on snowshoes, building an igloo, and camping in it. Pasayten either has somewhat insidious and potent persuasive powers – or, I just didn’t want to wait till next spring to continue camping. Floating around in the back of my mind was the fact that my kids have snowmobiles, that we could probably get hauled to a camping spot – maybe Blackpine Lake – and then ski out. Well, I could ski out. Pasayten would more than likely either snowshoe out or lobby for exit by snowmobile.
Meanwhile, looking at possible trips to fill the interim before the scheduled Williams trip, I suggested Squad Car Lake. Pasayten is always eager to go someplace he’s never been and although I have hiked into Squad Car many times with various companions since 1998, I had not visited there since 2009 – eight years back. That last trip was in September, too.
Squad Car entered my hiking life when I noticed a round blue dot on a topo map. No name, no trail shown. Pretty high in elevation, not too far off the highway — actually just a couple of miles as the proverbial bird flies, but with a healthy bit of elevation gain from the parking spot. That first trip in was an epic deserving its own space and I will post that tale separately.
Anyway, a hike into SQ seemed a good choice for the fill-in trip, and so it developed that on the morning of the thirteenth of September, 2017, Pasayten and I loaded on our packs after driving to the parking spot along the highway. Usually, finding the beginning of the trail is somewhat of an adventure as it seemed that most of the folks hiking into SQ preferred to not advertise its start point – first time up, I found a tiny piece of survey tape and looked up the hill through some brush — saw another small ‘flag’ and so that’s where we went that trip.
This trip the trail was quite evident from the start and became more pronounced the further we hiked. It was apparent that SQ was being visited more often than in the past and I wondered who told who about it and how many times. And how often had this off-USDA-trail lake, and the great fishing there, been shared with just that “one trustworthy buddy?” I know I only told two trustworthy buddies about it.
When we encountered the first clump of deadfall, I was surprised that it was so extensive and that the trees were so big. Most of the trips into Squad Car Lake had been relatively free of such obstacles, and none of the trees down had been so huge. Some of these patches of deadfall had very-evident trails worked out around them – another indicator of more folks hiking here, but we found ourselves climbing up and over some pretty big downed timber. Hiking up to the base of such big obstacles, it is not possible sometimes to see up and over them – nor to scope out the areas up and down hills from them. Especially not for a gnome, and not even for my buddy, whose eyes are a bit farther from the ground than mine. Hiking out, it was easier to see where others had gone before. In a couple of instances, there was mud and other evidence that hikers had simply used the bigger downed tree trunks as bridges. Hiking out was much easier.
We finally got out of the timber and into the old burn area where the trail leads through brush and deciduous trees. As it happened, we got rained on, the brush got wet, and the lead hiker found himself clearing the hanging droplets along both sides of the trail for his companion following along – said companion, instead of appreciating the leader’s efforts, was instead complaining that the leader wasn’t, and maybe should, also knock the hanging droplets from the overhanging brush above his head for the normal-sized hiker following. His terminology – “normal-sized.” I mentioned that if I were really clearing the way for my companion following, I would need a machete to widen the path – – considerably.
Meanwhile, down at ground level, it was becoming evident to the leader that his major-brand Goretex boots were not repelling the droplets of water he was so obligingly clearing for his less-than-appreciative companion. I knew my toes were very wet when water began exiting said boots via supposedly waterproof textile inserts with a squish at every step. While watching the water fountaining out of my boots, I noticed a hole in the trail and to prevent my companion from having an accident, I obligingly pointed it out to him. His version is that I fell into the hole because I failed to see it – how unappreciative can one companion be? What must a leader do to get the gratitude and trust and all that other stuff leaders are supposed to get?
At the lake, which sits in a bowl with wonderful flats to camp on, we each selected our spot and set up our shelters. Pasayten has gone with his usual, boring, repetitious dome tent, while I, the Gnome, have opted for one of my old standbys, my Megamid pyramid tarp-tent. But being adventurous, thrill-seeking, and inventive, I have left it’s pole at home, opting to use my extended trekking poles with a connector concocted out of PVC & ABS plumbing parts and some duct tape.
After the connector failed, and despite the derision and laughter being piled upon me by my companion, I reset my shelter with a cinderblock-sized rock and a single extended trekking pole standing atop it. Worked perfectly, and simply proved again that those with inventive minds can made do without all the techno, single-use, specially designed and manufactured backpacking gear that overwhelms the marketplace these days.
The scope, depth, and variety of what is available – and considered indispensable (if one believes the promos) today reminds me if the first time I went with my grandfather to buy a fishing lure or two with some money I earned. Standing before an immense – to an eight-year-old – display of lures, I asked grandpa which lure would catch to most fish? He said whichever one I used the most. I didn’t get that at the time, nor the import of his saying that most of the lures were meant to catch anglers’ dollars rather than fish. As I have become an Old Guy, my basic backpacking mantra is to keep my pack as lightweight as possible. That need dictates avoiding many, many seemingly really neat single-use items designed to catch hikers dollars that one can fill a backpack with.
Having solved the shelter issue and checking to see how dry my socks and boots were – sitting in the warm sunshine on a nice available rock, I unpacked and set up my ultra-lightweight backpacking chair, which is not to be confused with a single-use modern high-tech piece of equipment. I use the chair for more than just sitting in, therefore qualifying it as a multi-purpose item and justifying carrying it into the wilderness. I could write a lengthy list of the uses I’ve found for said UL chair, but this tale is getting lengthy enough with all the information I have already passed on, and certain claimed uses might be subject to cynical disbelief.
Squad Car Lake water level is lower than I have ever seen it on previous trips even later in the fall than this one. It is also quite full of algae, which I have never experienced here before. It has been a warm, dry autumn which is probably why these conditions a present. The algae affects even the filtered water we are drinking. It is not undrinkable but definitely not the cold , clear, delicious water usually available here.
The conditions affect the fishing too. I tossed a bubble & fly combo that has worked very well here in the past. Pasayten used his tried and true spinner. Neither provided any action except for one fingerling that made a lunge at my fly as I dragged it up out of he greenish film on the surface. So much for angling. Very disappointing trying to convince Pasayten that back in the day(BITD), we used to release all Cutthroat Trout less than 14” long. Oh well, let’s go hiking – – –
Which we did – up the ridge above the lake until it merged into the steeper rocky shoulder> Instead of indulging in some Class 4 & 5 scrambling, we settled down to have lunch and checked out the views to the north. The Pacific Crest Trail contours across the far mountainside to the north as it passes by the foot of the Snowy Lakes cwm and up onto Methow Pass.
Wandering back down the ridge to camp provided views of the approach from the highway and a glimpse or two of vehicles traveling along that roadway. Tomorrow morning we will be packing up and heading out. Back to the so-called real world. In the meantime, maybe a game or two of Cribbage on the high-tech UL folding Cribbage Board in the warm sunshine while reclining in our UL chairs? Wonder why they don’t make UL playing cards?
PS: Thought me and mine know that the true name of this once off-trail lake to be Squad Car – I have photographic evidence of a USDA sign that used to be there, I have learned that many of the newbie visitors call it Swamp Lake. Perhaps a more fitting name as we found it on this visit, and considering the name of the creek that flows from it down to and under the highway . I have never been able to find out why it was named Squad Car, though several real oldtimers I chat with have visited it and one asked me if it still contained three-pound trout like he used to catch, “BITD.”