Backpacker’s Secret Spots: One night out in the North Cascades

As a recently retired person who loves hiking with my dog, I decided to take action on a day dream.  The day dream I used to enjoy involved a realization that with perfect weather on the perfect day, I would drop what I was doing, pack up and go.  Finally I said to myself, “why not.”

A couple of years ago, a friend shared with me his notes about a secluded lake with a trailhead about an hour and a half from my home.  I couldn’t locate the place on any map in my possession but with the notes I had, I was pretty sure I could find the trailhead.  Preparing and leaving was a simple matter, I keep nearly all my backpacking gear handy and packed.  I added a couple packets of freeze dried meal fixings from a large stash I keep around, measured out some kibble for the dog, added some herbal tea bags, packets of freeze dried coffee, filled a water bottle for the hike in (I usually filter the water I’d consume from a local source), and tossed everything in the back of the car.  I asked my furry little buddy to hop in and off we went.

Once we were off the main highway, we only saw one other vehicle, headed the opposite direction. Less than 2 hours after leaving Portland, we arrive at the trailhead.  It was a Wednesday afternoon in late summer and no other vehicles were parked at the trailhead.  Not a soul or sound in sight or within earshot either.  Only a few smudged footprints were visible in the pine dust when we started the short trek in.  

The trail itself isn’t very long or difficult.  In my experience, these types of hikes usually lead to places filled with remnants of young people’s outdoor parties and all that goes with them – trail trash, beer cans, fire pits with partially burnt refuse etc. But…this was different, totally and unexpectedly peaceful, clean, and pleasant.  I suspect only a few people have even heard of this place and those who know of it, respect it and “leave no trace” of their visits.  With my dog Matisse leading the way, we contoured around to a shallow ravine where we could hear the sound of Green Lake Creek cascading down the draw to the White River 5 miles below.  I carefully stepped across some large stones in the creek, keeping my feet dry while Matisse slogged across slurping while rehydrating himself.  Most of the trail wound along the contour with a couple of detours around recently fallen timber from the previous winter (lots of fallen trees everywhere – this past winter provided the north cascades with a particularly heavy snow).

To my great surprise, we arrived on the lake’s shore at about 3:00pm.  The only sounds came from a raptor hiding in the high branches of one of the many pines lining the lake.  Between the large bird’s infrequent squawks was the rhythmic sound of wavelets lapping the deadfall along the shore accompanied by the buzz of aquatic insects dancing over the lake’s surface.  I thought that maybe since it was still early there might be some late arrivals – maybe even a large group.  With that possibility, we decided to pitch camp and take in the peace and quiet for as long as possible.

I used to have different gear for back packing.  Most of my stuff was ’70s vintage and reliable, but also bulky and heavy.  I’ve also discovered that at a certain human vintage (mid-’50s) one can hike faster and farther with less weight.  I’ve since ditched my old gear and acquired some pretty nice lightweight and durable equipment that makes my outdoor adventures even more rewarding.  In all, my entire outfit weighs in at less than 25 lbs.  That includes hiking poles (double as shelter frame), hammock (I use it as a lounge chair mostly), and ukulele (my 22 lb banjo would blow my entire pack light strategy).  With my current arrangement it takes about 10 minutes to set up or strike camp.

Catalpa Lake

By 6:30 pm, the sun cast a long shadow over the lake and as it sank below the west ridge, caused the water to go still.  I prepped some kibble in a collapsable bowl for my dog, then set about making dinner for myself.  The Jetboil stove had 2 cups of water boiling inside of 45 seconds.  This I poured into a pouch of Beef Stroganoff, which I stirred and resealed in order for it to rehydrate for about 20 min.  I then filtered some more water and boiled it up for tea.  It wasn’t a gourmet meal, but in the out of doors, everything tastes good.

With sunset, I determined we’d be the sole residents of this wonderful secret spot in the North Cascades.  I thought this kind of solitude could only be achieved in the off-season, but I was rewarded with the unexpected.  Morning unfolded in reverse order with peaceful solitude prevailing throughout the entire experience.  I’ll be heading up to Catalpa Lake again in a couple of weeks – on a Wednesday afternoon for sure.

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