Category Archives: Alpine Lakes

Trip Report: Spectacle Lake, Glacier & Park Lakes – Day 2

Day 2 Map:

Lazy Bones

It's not often that during the night I cinch up the string of my sleeping bag hood to barely a pinch-hole. Last night was one of those nights, but not because of the freezing temperature, on the contrary, it was a warm and mild night. I was hunting for darkness – it was bright & sunny all night and the light was waking me up. Too sleepy to question the ridiculousness of my logic, I closed that hood and fell back to sleep. Next time I awoke it was 9:30 am. I can't recall ever sleeping in this late.

I got up and went to reclaim the food bag while Tim started boiling water. Not surprisingly the two other parties camped at the lake had already left. After a quick coffee and breakfast of cold granola and coconut milk we packed up the tarp tent, which had minimal condensation this morning.

Loo with a View

It's worth mentioning that the toilet at Spectacle Lake has probably one of the most spectacular views of any wilderness toilet. Here's my throne  picture for the day:

My only complaint, is that they didn't orient the toilet in the right direction to fully appreciate it.


Climbing up out of Spectacle we passed by one of the solo campers from last night. He was carrying a serious rack of camera gear, including a tripod that look like it weighed 20 lbs alone the irony of the situation is that a lot of it was crammed into a GoLite  backpack. He was probably hauling 40+ lbs in there. I hope he got some great shots.

Annapurna Debate

We started the climb up to Park Lakes the views opened up to some very expansive Vistas. In the distance, a very prominent feature was Mt. Stuart. We tried to make our where Little Annapurna was in relation and guessed it to be on the left. Wrong. Tim whipped out his iPhone and used a nifty little application called Peak Finder; which uses the GPS and doesn't require a mobile signal.

We quickly confirmed it to be on the right. Peak Finder was really fun, and we used it on a lot of the views.

We kept climbing and crossed a few minor snow patches on the trail. Passing an occupied horse camp on the way.

Park Lakes

Our first stop for the day was to Park Lakes, we planned to spend the night there, and so were going to setup our tent and drop off a little gear before making the trek to Glacier Lake and beyond. We picked the smallest of the lakes, as it seemed nice and cozy and very swimmable should we get back in the early afternoon.

Glacier Lake

We we climbed higher on the PCT from Park Lakes the views kept getting more and more epic. Eventually we came across a junction with a smaller trail leading off in the direction of Glacier.

The trail climbed but was wet due to a stream more or less running down it. Patches of snow on the trail got more common as we crested the top. Down below us we could see the pretty looking Glacier Lake, complete with blue-glowing glacier off to the right. However, the trail down to it wasn't so easy. For a while the trail followed a steep gully with fairly good steps down, then we hit a large snow patch. The snow veered off – very steeply into the gully, it appeared to be the natural path, but the fall line took us right over a steep drop that we couldn't see the other side of. To take this path would be very foolish. Rather we traversed across the snow patch trying to get to bare ground to find an alternative route down.

We made around to see where the trail was – but it was hard to spot, and appeared to be now a stream due to the quickly melting snow above it. Far below, we got a good view of the road ahead to Glacier Lake. It didn't look good. A large body of water with falls above it was melting out and creating the large waterfall we saw dropping into Spectacle Lake last night. The water was covered in snow bridges and it was unclear how safe a crossing would be. A fall through one of those bridges could be fatal. We debated for a while on how adventurous we were feeling and eventually decided to take the conservative option. We bailed on Glacier in favor of a hike higher up on the PCT. A lake's a lake, and Glacier would be there next season.

On the way back up the Gully, we ran into two backpackers going down to camp at Glacier. We gave them our trail beta and told them we were turning back, but they seemed adamant to try and alternative path down. They said last year they bushwhacked to Glacier all the way from Spectacle, which would have been quite the adventure. We wished them well.

Up the PCT

Back at the junction, we turned left onto the PCT and hiked a series of long switchbacks in the hot sun. Tim took this fun Action  shot trying to blur my motion and keep the background steady. It ended up almost the opposite, but it's fun how it turned out.

Eventually coming to a high point on a corner, our turn-around spot. The views were outstanding, down to Park Lakes on the left.

and meadow views to the right, where one could see the trail weaving around the mountainside towards Snoqualmie pass. We must have been only 5 or 6 miles from Kendall Katwalk.

While playing with Peak Finder on his phone, Tim noticed he got a signal out here. I guess as the crow flies we were pretty close to I90, but it felt like a long way from civilization. I tried making a quick call to Theresa to say hello to the boys. Alas, voicemail.


We turned around and tore back down the hill at a pretty quick pace. About half way down to the lake, we heard the roar of a fighter jet and looked up to see two of them upside down. Upside down? Yup they completed their barrel roll as they flew overhead. Fun little air-show, just for us.

Of course, you can't witness a barrel roll and not mention the legendary roll of a Boeing Jetliner during the 1955 Seattle Sea Fair. So we yakked about this for a while as we continued to few miles left to camp at Park Lakes.

Camp Photos

It was 3pm, which was a little early for bed, so we took a nice dip in the lake to cool off. Behind the lake was a beautiful copper colored stream which seemed to drain towards Spectacle. It was our source of water in camp.

We ate an early dinner and hung the food. Admiring our almost text-book PCT-method  hang:

We spent the early evening wandering around and exploring the lake, and Tim took some amazing photo as the light turned.

Around dusk the bugs turned nasty and we had to break out the head-nets. There were very large swarms of mosquitoes all over us, but as soon as the sun was down and the temperature dropped, they were almost non-existent.

I set my watch alarm for an early start – 6am – so we could burn most of the 13 miles out before lunch time.

Spectacle Lake, Glacier & Park Lakes – Day 1

Trip Report: Spectacle Lake, Glacier & Park Lakes – Day 1

Last week, Tim and I took a spontaneous mid-week 3-day backpacking trip in the Alpine Lakes area of the Cascades.

Due to an unusually high snowpack this year, we struggled to find the perfect spot for our 3-days. Many of the epic trips we wanted to do were still suffering from high-elevation snows which would mean we couldn't do the mileage we wanted in our allotted time. An excellent compromise, very close to home – was Spectacle Lake and beyond.

Trail Name: Spectacle Lake, Park Lakes, Glacier Lake, PCT

Distance: 30-ish miles

Date of Trip: August 24-26th, 2011

Permit Info: An overnight permit is required but can easily be obtained at the trail-head. This is a crowded area on weekends, so go mid-week or expect to fight for camp spots.

Getting There: From Seattle, drive I90E to Cle Elum, then drive Hwy 903 for 18 miles. Turn left on Forest Road 46, crossing the river and after 3 miles turn right onto a gravel road – following signs for Cooper Lake. Pete Lake trail head is here, people parking on the left, horse parking on the right.

Trail Map:

Map from Backpacking Washington.

Green Trails Maps: #207 and #208.

Photo Credits: The crappy ones are from my iphone, the awesome ones are Tim's.

Day 1:

Checking the scale before we left, my pack was coming in at just under 19lbs with water and 3-days of food. Tim was running a little heavier as he was packing in his Canon 5D for some spectacular shots.

We left Seattle at a nice leisurely 9:30 am and arrived at the Cle Elum Ranger Station around 11. We wanted to check-in on trail conditions and also needed to buy another NW Forest Pass (after leaving mine on the kitchen counter!). The Ranger told us that he pretty much just checks the WTA website these days for trail conditions reported by hikers, as they don't have many field-rangers anymore to keep up on conditions.

Another 30 minutes or so and we were at the Pete Lake trail head, close to the shore of Cooper Lake. It was a Wednesday, and so there weren't many cars in the parking lot, so the mozzies smelled us a mile away. As soon as we got out, a couple came right up to introduce themselves

We read some recent reports that mosquitoes were very bad in this area, so defended against them with Permethrin treatment on our clothing.

To Pete Lake

The hike starts out with a very easy 4 mi hike in to Pete Lake. The trail hugs Cooper River, which reveals itself at various spots along the way – the river had a very pretty copper-blue tone to the riverbed that made you just want to run down the bank and jump right in.

Other than a few junction off-spurs on the way, a couple on horseback and a few hikers coming out, it was a fairly uneventful trip to Pete Lake.

We ate lunch on the shore of Pete Lake – I munched down my usual Day One , PB&J and fresh apple with a little beef jerky. Delicious.

A Wet Bushwhack

A sign at the trailhead warned us that the PCT bridge had washed out and the only option was to ford the creek. Some WTA reports suggested there was a tree down near the bridge that was crossable, but we decided to just do the ford anyway.

Rather than just jump right in, we scouted the bank for a drier option. There appeared to be some cairns marking the way towards a large downed tree. Unfortunately the tree turned out to be inaccessible and the cairns stopped short to another bank, they probably marked an earlier season crossing when the main crossing was too fierce. Foolishly we decided to take the freshly discovered alternative crossing.

We pulled out our socks and insoles (to allow shoes to dry faster on other side) and waded in with our shoes on. The stream was over knee deep in spots, and flowing fast, but fairly easy to cross with poles. However, when we got to the other bank – we had to take a pretty extensive bushwhack through nasty thorny bushes before we were back at the trail. Added an unexpected 20 minutes to our crossing.

On the other side, I re-applied Hydropel to my feet to prevent blisters and put the dry socks on and insoles back in, within ten minutes of hiking the shoes were dried out again. This is a huge advantage for non-goretex light mesh style trail runners – they dry fast.

Zen and Forest Fires

After the crossing the trail weaves through a burned out section of forest and them began climbing up to Spectacle Lake. 

As we hiked though this section Tim has a Zen moment: he noticed that the hard-worn trail we were on had very aggressive growth at the sides. The trail (or wound), allowed there to be more light which allowed for more intense growth to heal itself.

The trees quickly regained their foliage and the trail opened up to pretty meadow views and crossed a foot bridge by a large waterfall.

On our way up to the Lake we ran into a Spanish PCT thru-hiker – he was almost running down the hill. He noticed my ULA pack and stopped to chat. He was also carrying a ULA and was curious what pack Tim had (GoLite Jam). Sixty seconds later and he was on his way, cruising rapidly downhill clocking the miles before bedtime.

The trail finally spurred off towards Spectacle. As you can see in the picture below the lake is almost divided by a long peninsular. When you get to a fork in the trail go left and around the lake to get onto the peninsula; these appear to be the best camping spots. We arrived around 4pm.

We setup the tent and explored the area for a while. The temperature was pleasant and the bugs were minimal.

Not that hungry, we eventually forced ourselves to cook our freeze dried goop and chow down a meal.

Hung the food and tucked up in bed by 8pm ready for a big day up to Glacier and Chickamin Lakes tomorrow.

Spectacle Lake, Glacier & Park Lakes – Day 2