My longest trip to date was this last summer. I had planned on two nights, visiting five different alpine lakes, and hiking around 25 miles. I had done lots of research on hikes within a few hours of my house that I could do in two and a half days, with some flexibility on length. This one sounded like a gem. I always get amped about new trails and rarely do the same hike twice. I have lived in this area for about twenty years and have been hiking avidly for a few years now, so I was excited to stumble across one I had never heard of before.
Thursday evening I packed my larger pack (still not near large enough for a trip any longer than this one). I planned my meals, portioned out instant coffee, made sure I had enough fuel for my stove, etc. I always bring a variety of clothing, including rain gear, even if the weather doesn’t predict rain. It’s Washington after all! I also make sure I pack the ten essentials. Always. Even on a short hike close to civilization. Always bring the ten essentials. And if you’re unsure what those are but are interested in hiking, please Google it. Any reputable source will have that info. You can even find it on REI’s website (and then they’ll try to sell you the items you need).
Friday I had to work for part of the day, then set off to hike on a sunny afternoon. It would be about four and a half miles to where I was planning to set up camp for the weekend so I knew I had to hurry in order to get there before dark. Once I made the hour drive from my house, I hustled to make it to the lake. I had to avoid the temptation to stop and admire two other alpine lakes to get to Copper Lake during daylight. There were two other tents in sight spread around the lake but all was quiet, and it was insanely beautiful. Scoping out a private spot to make camp, I managed to keep my balance crossing logs at the outlet of the lake and hiked a small cliff to find the perfect camp site overlooking the lake.
Saturday morning I got up feeling well rested, made coffee and oatmeal and enjoyed the warmth of the sun while the air was still cool. Knowing I had all day to do as much or as little as I liked, I took my time cleaning up breakfast, Then I had to decide what to take with me exploring and what to leave behind. Hint: I took my ten essentials! But I also packed my donut floaty (not an essential). The trail past where I set up camp led to at least two other lakes. Beyond that, from what I read, the trail got a bit overgrown and hard to follow but continued on to another alpine lake for those adventurous enough.
I decided I would hike from Copper Lake up to Big and Little Heart Lakes. Going further, where the trail was sketchy, didn’t sound safe. Plus, I hadn’t downloaded that map onto my phone so I couldn’t track it via GPS like I usually do. For those who are curious, I use the AllTrails app. I download the maps I need to my phone and am able to track where I’m at via GPS. I also bring a back up battery pack so that I can keep my phone charged. Once I got my pack together and was back on the trail I noticed quite a few more people at Copper Lake, and a few more tents popping up here and there. I was surprised, but it made sense since the lake was so beautiful!
I got to Little Heart Lake relatively quickly and sat down at the outlet to enjoy a snack and some water. It was a very pretty lake, but quite small compared to Copper Lake. After a break I trekked on to Big Heart Lake. When I was finally able to see it as I came around a bend in the trail I was astonished at it’s beauty. The water was green and blue, and so crystal clear. Most alpine lakes have amazingly clear water, but this lake felt special. I loved seeing the cliffs rising from the water, the snow on the mountains, and hearing the waterfall pouring from the outlet. It was simply stunning. And thankfully I brought my floaty because that ice cold water was calling my name.
I was again surprised by the number of people at this lake, so deep in the wilderness. I figured I must have slept through all the people hiking past Copper Lake that morning, which was one of the benefits of my campsite. I was unable to find a spot where I could be alone in order to I could take a dip in the buff, so my underwear stayed on for my swim. You may wonder why having other people around would stop me from skinny dipping, but I try to be aware of other people around me and don’t get naked when strangers are nearby. There are two reasons for this: I don’t want to offend anyone or ruin their experience by doing something that unfortunately is still socially unacceptable to most people; and I don’t want to drawn unwanted attention.
From everywhere around the lake you could hear the roar of the waterfall. I knew this to be the same waterfall that tumbles down the mountain almost to the point where the forest service road ends and the trail begins. This waterfall is insanely long, gushing over rocks and tumbling down the mountain side. The trail is placed just perfectly to enjoy the view of it on and off for the a good portion of the hike. Whoever designed the trail did an excellent job. But now I wanted to see the start of this epic waterfall. I found the lake’s outlet and scrambled down some rocks to the side until I found a spot where I could rest comfortably. It was a great place to relax and have lunch. And since no one else was around, it was also a great spot to finally get naked.
After lunch and some pictures I half considered going further to see what beautiful lakes lay ahead of me, but thought I’d be pushing it as far as safety, so I decided I’d go back to camp, swim a little, take a nap, or do whatever else I felt like doing. Once I hiked back down to Copper Lake there were tents EVERYWHERE. Any spot you could put a tent had one. There were people all over the place. Loud people too. Large groups laughing and blasting music on Bluetooth speakers. In places like this lake, every sound carries and echoes. Between the water and the cliffs, sound bounces off everything and is amplified. It was wonderful that they were having a good time, but it was ruining other people’s enjoyment (I assume I wasn’t the only person annoyed by the situation). I was relieved when I got back to my camp that no one had dared venture across the outlet and I still had a little bit of privacy, even with all the noise.
I decided to swim go for a quick swim in Copper Lake, then had a snack and snuggled into my sleeping bag thinking I’d take a nap before making dinner. As tired as my body was, I was unable to sleep. One particular group of people (I counted eleven of them) were so loud it was impossible to sleep without ear plugs (which I didn’t bring). Someone in their group had the most obnoxious laugh I had ever heard. It wormed it’s way into my brain and wouldn’t leave me alone. I couldn’t take it. I laid in my bag for an hour debating what to do, while also thinking that maybe I’d just fall asleep if I laid there long enough. That didn’t happen. I checked the time, started doing calculations in my head. “If I start packing right now I’ll be all packed up in 15-20 minutes. If I hike fast, I might be able to stop at one of the lakes below and still make it to my car by 8 or 9 pm.” And on and on and on. Then one more loud laugh echoed across the lake right into my tent – like it was a sign. That was it. I got up and started packing.
I have never packed so quickly in my life. Sleeping bag stuffed, tent down, shove everything in the pack – don’t worry about organizing things. Just. Do. It. Faster, faster, keep going. Before I knew it, all was packed and I was taking one last scan of my site to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind. On the way down the trail I took a minor detour and made it over to Lake Malachite as it began to get dark. There was only one person there, so I was able to take a few photos and then grab my headlamp and go. By the time I got to my car it was almost 9 pm and really dark. And the one thing I didn’t think about when I decided to leave: would I be able to get out of the parking lot. It wasn’t really a parking lot. It was basically the end of a forest service road where people pull onto the shoulder (hoping not to go too far and slide down the mountainside). There were so many cars I was worried I wouldn’t be able to leave. But I reminded myself that sleeping in the back of my car in silence was better than being up all night listening to that annoying laugh.
Call me grinch or a grump or whatever you want, but I go into the woods to seek solitude. To enjoy quiet time away from the stress of regular life. I don’t go to campgrounds much because I recognize those places can be crowded and loud. So when I hike deep into the woods and am surrounded by the noise of music and loud voices it really irks me. I’m sure they were just having a good time and not intentionally being annoying, and maybe I’m being too harsh, but we all need to be aware of our surroundings and respectful of each other. I had really looked forward to one more day of hiking, swimming, and exploring. But I know I would have gotten minimal sleep and wound up being miserable. So I only hiked 20 miles total, and made it home around 11 pm. I slept like a baby in my own bed, in the peace and quiet of my home, where I can be a grouch by myself.
What do you expect when you go into the woods? Would this situation bother you or would you go with it? Would you confront the people, ask them to be quieter, and how would you approach it? Or am I just overreacting about the whole thing? Often times expectations and reality don’t line up. I enjoy hiking on my own so I can roll with changing situations the way I want to without having to worry about disappointing someone else when things don’t go as planned. This hike was incredibly beautiful and so much fun, but it was also frustrating and disappointing. I’m glad I made the decision to head home instead of trying to tough it out.