Thursday, July 15, 2010

Big Heart Lake

This weekend Stew and I made it out for a quick over-nighter. Hiking is something that both of us love a lot and, for a few various reasons, have not done very much of the past couple of seasons.  This year we've made promises to each other that we would both push for as many backpacking excursions as we could do, even if we are only able to spend one night in the woods. Our only regret for this trip was that we forgot to bring a camera. All I can offer is a good description.

Big heart lake is located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, out past Skykomish. There are five lakes along the trail varying in size, each one higher in elevation and all beautiful. The plan was to leave Friday afternoon but a busy week had left us ill prepared so we decided it was best to leave in the morning. We made it out to the ranger station at 10:30, used the bathroom and forgot to pay the back country fee required for camping in that area, woops.

The beginning of the trail was all roughed up, like a new trail would look and we guessed that we might run into a trail crew doing some work. When Stew was working with Earthcorps some years ago, he had done some work on the upper portion of the trail. It was one of his first backpacking trips and the crew had carried all their tools up with their regular gear making their packs around 75lbs each. To put this in prospective, I generally hike with somewhere between 30 and 50lbs. We ran into the trail crew within the first mile, they were volunteers varying in age and looked like they were having a good time.

The first lake along the trail is called Trout Lake, the trail wound along the edge sheltered by lush cedars and firs. The sun coming through the canopy heats up the trees and gives off an earthy sweet aroma. Our late start that morning had put us at this point at about noon so we stopped at Trout lake to eat and try to take a dip. Unfortunately the water was extremely cold and I only made it up to my thighs. I suspect that the late summer has caused a late melt off the mountains making these lakes about 45-50 degrees despite it being July.

From this point on the trail began to gain elevation, it had been well built though and the switchbacks were calm making the gain much more bearable. This being my first steep climb of the season I was feeling a little slow, we intended to do about five miles to Little Heart Lake which would gain us 3000 ft total. We wound up through the forest past Malichite Lake, which was off along a short detour, and headed towards Copper. Stews memories of this trail were in keeping with the weight he had been carrying. He recalled a long portion of exposed meadow, which turned out to be maybe 200ft. Most of the trail had decent cover, giving us shade from the 80 degree sun. We hiked along an amazing waterfall, gushing down an almost shear cliff channel. We would pass over it's head waters shortly. Just before Copper lake, the tail leveled out and then braided through and stream. Large rocks had been laid to pass over the wider portions. We ran into a couple of hikers taking a rest and then another set that had passed us up a couple miles back. I was glad that we had chosen a steady, slower pace. The views along the way had been too beautiful to rush pass with your eyes on your feet.

Copper Lake is where most of the overnight campers were staying and I don't blame them. The lake is small enough to see across but big enough to fill your visual frame. In the sunshine it was glistening, it looked so crisp you just wanted to plunge into it. At 4500ft, however, this lake was not as plungable as it appeared. The snow level is still somewhere between 5000 and 6000ft, so you can imagine how cold it may have been. We only lingered a bit, looking to reach Little Heart Lake before we ran out of steam. Just a mile and a half to go.

On approaching each of these lakes there is a point that you see the split in the canopy above before you see the lake itself. Your excitement grows and you begin scanning in front of you, waiting for the first peek of water. As we were approaching Little Heart, I thought of the first people to explore this area. To come upon a lake you are expecting is a wonderful thing, I can't imagine the feeling of coming upon something so beautiful without knowing that it is there. Stew caught the first glimpse and turned around to smile at me. Little Heart is surrounded by rocky slopes on one side and boggy meadows on the other. There are camp spots in between on little bluffs. Part of the beauty of this scene for us was the realization that we had left all our fellow hikers behind, there was no one up there.
We chose a spot for setting up camp. Made some dinner and lounged about. The bugs were bad, but not horrible. We ended the evening with some chai tea and whiskey. The next day (and a few to follow) my muscles told the tale of how out of shape I am. But that feeling is also one of accomplishment. My body loves to hurt for hikes, painful up, painful down and everything is just lovely in between.