Wing Lake – September 25-28, 2018
Various circumstances prevented me, nicknamed Gnome, from joining Pasayten and Kid Fish (the young guy) on three summer backpacking trips. A combination of a gimpy knee, possible need to evacuate from a wildfire, and a major town-infrastructure project at our front door combined to keep me home. So, I could only read Pasayten’s glowing reports and view a multitude of images from the two participants sojourning in two places I’ve visited a number of times, and a third trip into an area of the Pasayten Wilderness that I have only visited the edges.
As the dust literally settled here at home, I began a campaign of convincing Pasayten that there was indeed time for another backpack in spite of oncoming colder weather and precipitation. We both had the desire to get up high, and to aid that desire decided it would be good to start at one of the trailheads located at higher elevations.
Rainy Pass beckoned due to the fact that one can hike either north or south from there. North on the Pacific Crest Trail – south on same down Bridge Creek or up the McAlester Pass Trail, or take the Maple Pass Trail. By turning left off the Maple Pass Trail at Heather Pass, a hiker can continue on to Lewis Lake, Wing Lake and even scramble up Black Peak.
Gnomish gimpy knee still being somewhat of a concern, and consideration of the number of days one can hope for a good weather window at elevation and on the wetside of the divide, two options were decided upon.
Number one option would be north on the PCT up Porcupine Creek, over Cutthroat Pass, over to Granite Pass and on to Snowy Lakes and back. Total miles for this trip about twenty to twenty-four. A possible overnight at or near Granite Pass on the way in was noted dependent upon weather window length and condition of said gimpy knee at that point. Longer than desired by the Gnome, and still more downhill, which is the primary knee nemesis, than wished for. But the PCT is a reasonably ‘civilized’ trail – which made it somewhat more attractive than the shorter distance of the second option — about 12 miles roundtrip, but with much more downhill hiking — after hiking all that downhill distance uphill first.
Option Two would be up the Maple Pass Loop Trail – which not only loops back down to Rainy Pass via the Rainy Lake valley, but also continues on into North Cascades National Park and on from there. At about 2.6 miles up Maple Pass Trail, there is a right turn onto Heather Pass. Crossing Heather Pass, a hiker is confronted with crossing a fairly immense steeply-sloped field of boulders, talus, rocks, and scree to get to Lewis Lake. About a mile across by sight-line, it is pretty well agreed upon that navigating the rocks from cairn to cairn, taking advantage of the sections of semi-trails created by hikers hiking, and choosing the easiest way through at least doubles the distance. Arriving at Lewis Lake, which is a really nice camping spot on its own merits, Wing Lake is now only 1600’ away. Uh, that’s actually 1600’ up in just over a mile of trail. Lots more up to be hiked back down later
Watching the weather forecast is assigned to Pasayten. He is good at it and selected September 25 through the 28th as looking like the best shot. He was right again. We had great weather! I think Pasayten has a calling in prognostication, but then maybe he’s just lucky.
On the morning of September 24, the decision to hike into, and up to, Wing Lake is made. Shorter, though steeper, swung the vote. Actually, I, the Gnome, decided — after all I am the possessor of the gimpy knee.
We hiked away from the Rainy Lake parking area, rest stop and trailhead Tuesday morning about 7:15 AM. Some vehicles parked around the loop, but not as many as my wife, Marjory, and I encountered Labor Day. We could not find a spot to park and had to drive across Hiway 20 to the PCT Trailhead on the north side to park there.
Pasayten and I pretty much cruised the first 1.6 miles to the Lake Anne trail junction, and made Heather Pass in really good OGHC time — though we don’t keep score. Well, we do, but we’re trying to get over it. Because our best times compared to what the young and crazy are doing these days are, well, longer. Such disparity exemplified itself as I watched the two women in Spandex flash past me over the top of Heather Pass, heading for the boulderfield mentioned earlier. Amusing that a few minutes later along comes a young man, who somewhat breathlessly, says, “I can’t believe I let them talk me into this,” as he jogs on down the trail to the rocks. Me? I was merely resting my feet for a few, while waiting for Pasayten to arrive.
Crossing this boulderfield is always an adventure and has been that since my first trip across in 1981. That trip was early in the spring, shortly after my arrival from Colorado, and almost totally on snowpack. I didn’t even know it was a boulderfield until later that month when i returned with different clients to climb Black Peak.
Going across from Heather Pass to Lewis Lake is harder and more time-consuming than the reverse trip because it involves a lot more stepping down from rock to rock, boulder to boulder through talus and onto scree. Although Lewis Lake is pretty much level with the boulderfield’s beginning at Heather Pass, one has to do quite a bit of of down-stepping to navigate across and avoid the nearly vertical gullies encountered if the hiker insists on maintaining elevation all the way across. I do know this. I also know it’s not fun scrambling across and out of scree-filled vertical gullies with crumbling sidewalls. A pursuit that is not recommended — especially if one is a member of OGHC, and also the senior member.
Pasayten and I enjoyed a nice rest and replenishment break at Lewis Lake, just as we had at Heather Pass before heading around the lake and heading up that 1600 vertical feet to Wing Lake.
About halfway up the final hill, I found myself in a nice little meadow that I decided to convince Pasayten to camp in. Beautiful little flat meadow next to the streamlet from the almost defunct Lewis Glacier, a balcony suite with great views of Lewis Lake, Heather Pass and the ranges of peaks beyond.
While I waited for his appearance, I had visitors. Uh, well, actually the two young gals that passed me on Heather Pass just flashed by headed back downhill — laughing, chattering, and moving at a pace that I don’t think I ever achieved even back in the day(BITD, acronymically speaking) I was their ages. They were followed after a few minutes by that huffing and puffing young man – in his defense, I will note he had a daypack on and was not wearing Spandex. Wind drag must have been affecting his progress.
I couldn’t convince Pasayten to park it “just 800’ below Wing Lake,” so on we went. Arriving at our campsite at the lake nine hours after departing Rainy Pass — that’s Pasayten’s time — mine is somewhat less. “Just saying,” as the young folks say these days. What does that mean anyway? Of course, I was just saying – – – I mean, go figure?
“Is this OK,” I asked Pasayten. “There’s a pretty nice spot for your tent. I’ll set up here on this less favorable spot. Or we could camp up over the brow of rise above – probably will get earlier sun.”
“Looks fine,“ Pasayten said. “I’m tired.”. (Reader – please note this true and unvarnished conversation regarding campsite selection) because ensuing events seem to have colored Pasayten’s memory of acceptance.
After putting on some warm layers because the sun dropped behind the ridge, and setting up tents, it is definitely dinnertime. I am looking forward to some hot & steaming Creamy Chicken Ramen soup to help rehydrate my senior bod.
Pasayten is using his new stove — a Jetboil Zip — for the first time. It does boil water quickly and seems very efficient (our afterhike fuel consumption comparison shows that in 8 uses on this trip his new stove used less fuel than my ebay-bought bargain-basement burner – which consumed slightly over an ounce more)
During dinner, Pasayten and I both discover again that the feet on our UL chairs are extremely prone to aerating the soft ground beneath. Both chairs, each from a different maker, need feet with more area. This propensity of one leg sinking under weight can not only cause tipping and a tumble, but also complicates rising from the chair. Turns out the unequal weight distribution (love tech talk) also can overload parts of the chair frame. We know this to be a scientific — well evident, anyway — fact as Pasayten’s chair dumps him on his tush with a snap, crackle and pop!
This was one of those instances when a certain companion wishes they had their camera in hand. Some expressions of surprise are priceless, indeed. And the classic understatement that, “My chair just broke!” almost caused a reply of “Really? You mean you didn’t just fall on your – – uh, tush?” Kindness takes many forms.
A primary duty of the senior OGHCer on each trip is to instruct and entertain the younger adventurers. Sometimes, this teller of tales has to dig deep and occasionally spice certain aspects of the reminiscing and instruction to hold the audience’s attention. At Wing Lake however, I found it extremely difficult to regale my companion with tales of bravado both real and imagined while he lay in the sun snoring so loudly. The only real instruction managed was how to relocate a floorless pyramid shelter to access a more suitable sleeping position. This was accomplished with the senior camper’s usual deftness, skill, and aplomb — and so quickly it limited picture-taking opportunities, of which the audience, of course, loves to take advantage.
We did expect to have the lake pretty much to ourselves, but its proximity and beauty is a constant draw. We had dayhikers and climbers back and forth several times. In the three nights we spent at the lake, we had two other pairs of campers move in. Since there are many campsites around the lake basin – including some balcony sites just up and over the rise above our campsite that get earlier sunshine – there is plenty of room. After the first morning waking and listening to Pasayten groan about to walk a few yards to catch some early rays, and then mumble and grouch about being camped in “Shady Camp,” the senior OGHCer suggested moving up the hill and over the rise. Of course, that was too much work and too far from the water source, and truthfully, I think my companion found that the slope of our site was great for afternoon sunbathing naps – emphasis on the naps, the sunbathing was, and gratefully so, limited to unbuttonling the shirt.
I brought along some fishing gear and so put it to use when a few rises were noticed. Caught the first Rainbow Trout I have ever caught out of Wing Lake! I say it was huge, Pasayten says it was nice. Since it flipped off the hook and fell back into the water before I could hold it up for a picture to be taken, it’s academic, however to size of the head in the one shot managed, does indicate it was a nice size.. On all my previous visits, and there have been quite a few, as Wing is one of the favorite spots for my wife and I, all the trout caught were Cutthroats. There have been years when we managed to visit this gorgeous spot a couple of times,
It is evident that many folks have discovered this lovely basin as there are now trails wandering all over and many more established camp spots than I remember. I did quite a bit of exploring, wandering up and down the Larch and heather covered ridges and over the rock domes. As I spent a bit of time at each of the campsites I found thinking, “Maybe next trip I’ll camp here.’ only to wander over into another meadow and decide that this spot was nicer.
I returned to Shady Camp which was actually sunny most of the days to see how Pasayten was doing, I offered him the use of my chair when I was not using it, but he chose to be a martyr and stretch out on the heathery slopes – which is where I found him each time I returned to camp. I woke him a couple of times to make sure he was OK. We did manage to get in one game of Cribbage while he was awake.
We chatted about hiking up the gully to the southwest saddle of Black Peak as most of our visitors were doing, but somehow managed to convince ourselves that our job was to make sure they all returned safely. Which they did.
The hike out was much easier than the grind up. Even crossing the rocks was easier. We both did fine across the sloping talus and boulders. It wasn’t until we were almost on top of Heather Pass again that I managed to take a tumble – did it uphill, too. As I was stepping up into the sunshine, I asked Pasayten who was close behind me if he felt like a short sitdown before topping off. He said something that I didn’t get – a common occurrence with my hearing – anyway as I turned to ask him what he said, I also stepped up to a flat rock that looked big enough for both of us to sit on, and I missed a step, or a rock moved underfoot, or whatever. As Pasayten turned the corner and caught up, he said, “What are you doing upside down?” Then I heard, “Are you OK?” I remember calmly stating that I was not OK. He claims that I hysterically screamed, “No, I’m not OK!!!! I’m BLEEDING!!!”
Funny how we each remember events somewhat differently. After I managed to right myself – 30-pound pack was on top of my head – I turned around and asked Pasayten how bad it was. Head wounds are bleeders – that’s for sure. He took a look and said that I had a gash from near the corner of my eye all the way down to my mustache. After I daubed the blood away, he amended his assessment to, “Oh, it’s only about a half-inch long. The rest was a bloody wrinkle.”
My companion decide to take a picture so I could see for myself how bad it was – or maybe to record what I had managed to inflict upon myself for posterity? Anyway, we moved on up to the top of Heather Pass. Found a comfortable place to sit down and I proceeded to wash the gouge and cover it with a Bandaid for the walk out. We passed about 50 people headed up while we headed down – not one mentioned my wound. The only real notice taken of my bloody condition was the dog that seems to want to eat my blood-spattered trousers.
Pasayten dropped me and my pack at the Red Barn in Winthrop to wait for my wife – whom I had called as soon as I had service near Mazama. Marjory took one look and said, “What happened to you?” I thought about telling her that I had gotten wounded during some heroic selfless act, but fessed up. After showering at home, I thought about just applying a couple of butterflies or Steri-Strips and a Bandaid, but agreed to getting the gash stitched up as it was pretty open. Luckily the local clinic was still open and they took great care of me quickly and painlessly.
So I have another minor battle-scar, left a tiny bit of me in the high country, and chalked up a really beautiful trip to end the season with a great companion – who needs a new chair.