Thursday, January 13, 2011

Of Horseshoe and Stuart Lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington State; of the lake trek; of the curious grazing habits of the mountain goats;

I begin El Millón, not with my most recent adventure, but with a hike I took during the summer (on Aug 8th, 2010). With my Mom, cousin, uncle, and uncle's girlfriend, we hiked and camped for three days in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness outside of Leavenworth, WA. This hike was the second annual hike to Horseshoe Lake (~6250ft) in remembrance of my Grandpa. It would now be the second time I have visited this lake which was one of the Grandpa's favorites to hike.

View Summer 2010 Horseshoe Lake Hike in a larger map. Click on markers to thumbnails to expand photos.

Starting the hike in early morning with the fellow mountaineering members of my Mom's family, we reached Lake Stuart (~5050ft) before midday. We continued on the trail towards Horseshoe Lake eventually (there is always some confusion with the over grown section of the trail) reaching the hardest section of the ascent. The five of us trekked up the final near-vertical elevation gain with our fully loaded packs reaching the stunning alpine lake.

My Mom, Uncle, and Cousin with their packs getting ready for the much needed mosquito repellent spray down.
From Horseshoe Lake Hike

A section of the final climb over trees, roots, and boulders up a series of switchbacks to get to Horseshoe Lake. 

After reaching the lake we set up camp in one of the slightly less buggy areas. After eating dinner in camp, we noticed a mountain goat in the hill beside our campsite. The goat was followed by many others. Eventually we had two dozen goats grazing through our camp. There were mother goats with their young slowly passing through eating the plants, as well as teenage goats practicing their head-butting with each other on the rocks around us. As the goats moved on, we grew tired of the bugs, wind, and cold and went to our tents for the night.

We awoke the next morning to the sound of mountain goats running around our tents and the clanging of our pots and pans left over from dinner as the goats investigated our campsite. They soon left us and let us carry out the rest of our day. I continued to sleep in since it was the day following a large hike. For the rest of the day we stayed in the area around Horseshoe Lake area. I explored around the hills behind the campsite and along the mountain ridge. Later I swam in the lake which was pretty cold due to it being at a high elevation, and a cloudy/windy day. Once again, after dinner, we were greeted by our goat friends doing their circuit of the lake.

Horseshoe Lake and the granite hills surrounding it.
Below - Mosquito ponds and the lake/ Clouds pouring over the ridge north of Mt. Stuart.

The next morning we packed up camp and hiked back to the trail head. We stopped at Lake Stuart to fish but this year we did not have good luck and never caught anything worth eating. The final stretch of the hike passed through areas with some of the best huckleberry I have ever seen. Soon my hands were purple from all the berries I scooped up from the trail. On the last mile before reaching the trail head I spotted a black bear just off the trail. This was the first time I had ever encountered a bear hiking. The bear was feasting on the huckleberries, but scurried off after noticing us. Luckily he gave us no problems.

 I have been looking forward to this hike every summer now. This year was incredible. I saw so much wildlife this year and by camping at Horseshoe Lake (rather than Stuart like the previous year) I was able to spend a whole day exploring around the lake which was one of my Grandpa's favorites. I can see how he loved it. It is one of the most beautiful lakes around. I loved learning more backpacking tips from my uncle and of course I loved just being out in the wilderness.

Our daily mountain goat visitors  - From Horseshoe Lake Hike

Lake Stuart, looking up at the glacier on Mt. Stuart  - From Horseshoe Lake Hike

The descent from Horseshoe Lake  - From Horseshoe Lake Hike

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