Packwood Lake

In mid-summer, we backpacked up into Goat’s Rocks Wilderness to beautiful Packwood Lake. We had a loose plan to camp the first night at Packwood lake, and then continue up to Lost Lake via Coyote trail for a two night, three day trip. We ended up changing our plans while on the trail, and it was a wonderful trip.

Originally, we had permits for Mt Margaret but opted to pick a different trip after a landslide/washout made the road inaccessible. This was a trip to celebrate Pat’s mom’s birthday, and so we looked for a trail that would be fun and provide big views. Goat’s Rocks Wilderness came to mind as it is a stunning area and not so far from us.

On a side note – we had recently sold our previous backpacking tent and were supposed to have our new tent for the trip. Unfortunately, there was a delay in production which meant we wouldn’t have it in time. This posed a the question – cowboy camp, buy a tarp, or lug our 7 lb (!) ‘car camping’ tent out? (We chose the latter and split the weight between our packs. Weight training!)

The first day, we made our way through a lush old-growth forest on a well-groomed, wide trail. The trees and small springs that dotted the trail felt so nice against the hot sun. We ate lunch in a patch of blooming bear grass. I truly love the way their flowers look — very ethereal and delicate, though the leaves are sharp and can hurt.

The trail in is pretty quick – our Garmin had it at less than 5 miles from parking lot to the lake. There was a ranger at the entrance of the lake, and we spent some time talking with him about campsites. We learned that many groups had been heading up to Lost Lake all day, to our dismay. Lost Lake is a lot smaller than Packwood and we were looking for some quiet time in nature instead of a party lake. We decided to find a campsite and see how the trip unfolded before making any plans.

I loved the views at Packwood lake. The end of the lake stretched out to Johnson Peak in the distance. The colors were absolutely stunning – the lake was an immaculate aquamarine color and very cold. I saw someone swimming all the way out to Wizard Island. There were also several people fishing. The ranger told us that this lake had its own special subspecies of rainbow trout, but that they were hard to catch since they lived in the deepest parts.

We hiked on, passing campsites that dotted the lakeshore. Our plan was to hike to where the ranger said his favorite spot was, which was a few miles away. It was very hot, making each site we passed look tempting. We investigated some of the sites along the way, since some had beautiful sandy beaches or creeks nearby.

Unfortunately, many of the campsites were disgusting because there was used toilet paper all over. I couldn’t believe it. People had used the bathroom right next to the lake. It made me feel so upset that this beautiful area was getting trashed by humans. I also felt bad for the poor ranger who had to clean up after people. We saw something similar at Snoqualmie Lake, but that lake had a backcountry toilet that people were supposed to use. It is a sad reality but popular places get ‘loved up’ during the season. So – PSA: pack out toilet paper (and any other trash). Use the bathroom 100-200 feet away from water and be sure to bury feces securely so that animals can’t dig it up.

The first part of Packwood Lake was pretty busy, with groups of hikers and families occupying most of the campsites closer to the entrance of the lake valley. As we hiked on, groups became less frequent, and the space between sites stretched out. We began to see a new view — once we swung around to the tip of the lake, we would be facing “backwards” and would be able to see Mount Rainier.

When we made it to the campsite, it felt like we had arrived in a magical place. The late afternoon light flickered off the lake and danced back in the trees, illuminating a soft, mossy forest. There was a large creek that bisected the trail, with a tiny waterfall that splashed over a downed log. We were excited to filter water from the creek – it tasted delicious. Even the ducks drank from the creek, and we got to watch them swim up from the lake to take a big drink, before returning to the open water.

From our campsite, we had a view of both Johnson Peak and Mount Rainier. Despite the cold water, I went for a dip in the icy lake. It felt amazing after sweating under my pack all day. I floated in the water for a long time, until I turned into a small prune.

I loved listening to the lake lap at the pebble beach, with the rushing creek in the background. The birds called to each other, and we even had a family of Mergansers (mom and three babies) sleep on a log nearby. It was soft, quiet, and gentle. It felt magical.

The next morning, we woke and had breakfast on the pebble beach, watching the sun arc over the hills of the valley. Something that I love about backpacking is that there are countless opportunities to change plans and adjust. We decided to spend the day exploring the valley that extended behind us and looking for wildlife tracks. In the late afternoon, we would hike out and have a birthday dinner with Pat’s dad. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was a fortuitous plan because many, many groups were hiking in and Packwood lake was about to become packed.

During the day, the valley we explored was very quiet, and we did not see any other hikers the entire day. We started out on the trail that would eventually take us up to Packwood Saddle and Elk Pass. As we felt like it, we got on animal paths, or followed the river as it coiled through the valley. It felt special to be able to wander slowly, listening to the sounds of the forest. We followed woodpeckers through the trees, found mink tracks in the sandy mud near the river, and ate lunch in a small dip surrounded by blooming yarrow, wild rose, cow parsnip, and countless tiny wildflowers.

The hike out was easy and shaded, next to a river. Instead of following the same trail that we took in, we curved off onto an old forest access road to try something new. The trail was almost completely empty and followed the river for most of the way, keeping us cool and providing some beautiful views. We could see Mount Rainier peaking through the trees along the way. We hiked quickly so that we could stop at the Mountain Goat cafe in Packwood before it closed, since it was highly recommended. We made it just in time — while we waited for our coffee, three elk wandered up the street and snacked on the trees. Overall, it was a beautiful and wonderful trip.

Snoqualmie Lake via Taylor River

Memorial Day weekend we went on a backpacking trip with our friend up in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I have been craving to get up into the mountains, and have been waiting patiently for the snow to melt since we do not have spikes or snow gear (yet). Thankfully, Snoqualmie Lake was snow-free and high on my list of places that I wanted us to go.

We spent three beautiful days in the backcountry. This trip was not without its challenges, but I think that is one of the reasons why I valued the experience beyond my inherent love of being in nature. Through struggle and discomfort can come some of the most important lessons, opportunities, and experiences.

Trip Report

Location: Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Length: 18 miles roundtrip

Elevation net gain: 1900 ft

Permits: Northwest forest parking pass for parking lot

Starting pack weight (estimated):

  • – Pat at 20-25 lbs
  • – Hannah at ~15 lbs
  • – Nicco at 50-60 lbs

Day 1: 9 Miles

We arrived at the trailhead and it was packed. While this trail is usually pretty quiet, I didn’t factor in the holiday weekend. We almost weren’t able to find a parking space, which would’ve sent us back across a pothole-filled bridge to find parking at the Middle Fork campground. Luckily, we found a spot, packed up, and set off.

The first 6-7 miles of the trail were gentle, with some loose gravel/rocks and stream crossings the only major things to contend with. The trail gradually sloped uphill, but contained no real elevation gain — we discovered that it was saved for the last ~2 miles into the lake valley.

The crowds petered out after we got to Otter Falls, which had a few big stream crossings before it. These were doable without getting our feet too wet, but with higher water it would’ve been sketchy. I was thankful for my hiking pole throughout the trip, but especially during the crossings.

We knew there was the possibility of rain throughout the entire weekend. What we didn’t anticipate was the downpour that occurred all day (and night) as we hiked in. I also discovered that my rain jacket was no longer water resistant despite treating it with Rain X…oops!

Pat and I like to set a nice pace when we backpack. I built the trip itinerary around our pacing and how many miles I know we can do in a day. Originally, we were going to hike to Snoqualmie Lake the first night, and continue on to Bear Lake and Deer Lake the next day to set up camp, and then maybe extend it with a day hike to Dorothy Lake in the afternoon, before hiking all the way out on day 3. However, our plans quickly changed during the first day as we hiked in.

Our friend Nicco hurt his leg and so our pace changed to work around the situation. It was late enough in the day that hiking out would’ve been difficult — everything was soaking wet, and I felt nervous about doing stream crossings in the dark. As a team, we decided to push on to Snoqualmie Lake since we were under 2 miles away, in the last big gain of elevation. At this point, we had slowed to almost a mile in a little over an hour because of the injury. Our muscles were tightening up during the frequent stops, but beyond that we were getting cold from the constant rain and wind. An added concern was getting a campsite since it was a holiday weekend. Around 5:30 PM some hikers we passed told us there was just one spot left at the mouth of the valley. This presented us with a problem because if there wasn’t a site we would have to turn back until we reached one of the spots we passed earlier in the day, which was straight down the slick valley we were climbing out of.

The number one rule in the outdoors is that no one gets left behind. You stick together, no matter what. While I firmly hold this rule in my heart, I realized that sometimes rules have to be bent. As a team, we decided our top priority was to secure a campsite so that we could get warm, fed, and rest Nicco’s leg. We estimated that there was another 45 minutes to an hour climbing up the valley wall at the pace we were going, and so someone needed to be sent ahead to get the last site. I volunteered to go, since Pat had the most experience to handle anything that could’ve happened. It wasn’t ideal, but sometimes situations arise that force you to adapt. I hiked ahead, leaving Pat and Nicco to follow up behind me.

Type 2 fun forever

I hiked as fast as I could over the slippery ground, jogging when possible. I had the lightest pack out of everyone and I was on a mission. At times the trail went straight up a stream, with cairns dotting the stream in the distance as guidance. Sheer rock walls rose to my left, with mist and rain swirling around, and wildflowers nodded in the wind. It made me smile — despite the challenges we were facing there was so much beauty around us. The challenges almost seemed to intensify it. Wading up the stream, I remembered reading somewhere that the ‘only way out is through.’

I felt relief when, rounding the corner next to the river bellowing over rocks and downed logs, I saw the empty campsite and then the lake peeking through the trees. Shortly afterwards, a group that was soaked left their larger site to hike out, and I snagged it.

That night we focused on getting warm and dry. Pat and Nicco started a fire and we fed damp twigs and punky wood into it. I realized how much I missed sitting in front of a fire; the last few summers were relatively free from fires because of burn bans.

After a long, cold and wet day, it was easy to imagine hiking out the next morning, especially since we weren’t sure how Nicco’s leg would be. What if it rained like this all weekend? How long would it take to hike out? What if we went back to town and just hung out and went to our favorite cidery? That would be fun and we could come back out the next weekend instead. I felt torn – I didn’t want to leave but I could feel my resolve weakening. We decided to see how we felt in the morning and what the weather would be like.

Day 2: 0 day

Rest day! Our second day dawned clear and cold. We ate breakfast and I experimented with making bullet coffee with a Starbucks Via and some coconut oil and ghee that I had packed in. I’m still working on it.

After breakfast we made the decision to stay through the morning and see what the weather did. I am so glad we made this decision because the rest of the day was wonderful. We explored the lake, hiking out around the eastern end and investigating the lakeshore. We also moved camp, down from the windy cliff to a spot right on the lake with a giant rock that we spent the majority of the day on. I called it our lizard rock.

The sun peeked out from behind clouds throughout the day, and we loved it up, stretched out on the rock. It felt so good to sunbathe and dry out. I took the opportunity to dry out my socks, gators, and shoes (which smelled atrocious, sorry guys) in the warm sun.

It was an interesting experience to take a rest day at the lake. As we sat on the rock, enjoying the sun, I started thinking about the rarity of doing absolutely nothing. When was the last time I did nothing? I couldn’t think of it. In my free time I am usually up to something, and even in periods of rest I like to read, knit, cook things, stare vacantly into my phone, etc. While I could’ve been doing something ‘productive’ like gathering firewood or filtering water, it felt really good to just be at total rest. Nothing to do but lay in the sun and watch it sparkle and dance on the lake’s waves. Nowhere to go, nothing to be.

Day 3: 9 miles

It was so hard to leave the lake. The good weather held all day and night, and the morning was clear and beautiful. We had heard that there might be thunderstorms during the day, so we wanted to get on the trail early.

After filtering water and getting packed up, we spent a little more time on the rock, admiring the sun climbing over the valley walls and spreading across the lake. Then, a major treasure happened — we saw a loon! It was so beautiful. Pat has a pair of ultralight binoculars, and it was a real treat to watch the loon through them.

The hike out went well. Nicco’s leg was much better after the rest day, and we distributed some of his pack weight between the three of us. I told Pat that I was weight training for our future longer hikes.

I still hope to come back and complete the four lake circuit. I value the experiences we had during this trip, and especially the gift of the rest day and also the chance to lean into discomfort and come out the other side.