Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Island Peak - 131 days till Departure - Chelan Lakeshore Trail

Several years ago, and I’m not sure where, I’ve heard about a trail that lets a hiker venture into an world of nearly never-ending sunshine, astonishing display of wildflowers, and amazing views. Of course I wanted to go and see it for myself but at that time backpacking was not an option and hiking the 17.5 miles in one day was out due to a limited ferry schedule.

Now that there are no longer restrictions on my recreation activities; and with rain in forecast for the long weekend on our side of the mountains, I was eager to visit Chelan Lakeshore Trail and witness its beauty in company of resident rattlesnakes, bears and cougars.

The adventure started on Saturday morning when after a night at Best Western in Wenatchee and a very non nutritious breakfast consisting of waffles, muffins, and other gluten-full goodies, we drove to Field’s Landing and boarded Lake of the Lake II. Its front was loaded with overnight backpacks; obviously we weren’t the only one with this brilliant idea. It made us little uneasy first. While we were aware of the fact the trail will be busy, competing for camp sites with crowd of this size was not on our to-do list. Luckily after talking with several of the frequent visitors we gained an understanding that the hoards spread in the net of trails available in the area, which helped us ease a little and enjoy the rest of the hour long cruise taking us deep in the mountains, miles past civilization.

The on-foot part of our trip started at Prince Creek where we disembarked the vessel in a sort of organized chaos with everybody picking up a piece of luggage closest to their hands, bringing it to the shore, and then running around in a search of their own packs.

Once united with our belongings, our journey along the lake shore could start. The flower displays did not disappoint. Some slopes were purple with lupines while paintbrushes toned other ones red. We saw an amazing variety of other flowers including giant tiger lilies, columbines, yarrow, balsamroot, wild currant, and many more whose name I’m yet to learn.

Wildlife was also present. Chipmunks, lizards, Osprey flying above our heads. We closely missed a bear encounter (the other wildlife – group of boy scouts just ahead of us – must have scared it away), and as much as I was hoping we will avoid the snakes, I managed to step close to one, and it made me jump when it started slithering in the bushes. I did not see much of it, only part of the body and the rattle, but quite frankly even that was more than plenty.

Our Western Washington bodies not conditioned for the hot and dry 70 degree day broke quite a lot of sweat considering the trail was not much more than rolling hills. Finally after 11 miles we arrived at Moore Point, our destination for day one. It was busy with families already settled in, many who took the ferry all the way here, and were now using their big stoves and ovens to cook gourmet meals, setting up net for badminton, or simply displaying the collection of wine they had for later that the evening. And then, of course, there were backpackers like us, using their jet boils to prepare freeze-dried Mountain House dinners.

Finding a site little away from this scene was surprisingly not a problem. A perfect one right on the beach with large fire pit was calling our name. We made ourselves home and headed to pick firewood for the evening, cooked dinner and rested with cup of chocolate wine after the long day.

The morning came, and we found ourselves hitting the trail before 9:00 a.m, beating many others, including the Boy Scout group that just like us headed for Steheiken. Not only we beat most of our fellow hikers, we also managed to cover the first 2 miles of uphill while the sun was still hidden behind trees, and not so scorching hot.

The day was supposed to warmer than yesterday; but the wind came and it accompanied us for the rest of the way, making it rather pleasant to stroll along the bluff soaking up great views all around us. There was something very calming about the way the wind played among straws of a grassy meadows, about its power forcing waves to crush against the rocky shore, and it’s tenderness with which it carries scent of fragile wildflowers.

Getting up early paid off once more when we arrived to Steheiken and learned there the camp ground was full and there was a very last spot open at the overflow area. We gladly took it. People arriving after us got accommodated on the grassy picnic area which was not sheltered from the wind, as a matter of fact the wind never seemed to calm down there, and they did not have the opportunity to have a fire.

We spent the rest of the time exploring Steheiken and its surroundings. Dinner at the only restaurant in town was good, but the wait was about an hour just to get seats, and of course they run out of the ribs which we were looking forward to.

The social life in town consists of talks the rangers give every evening. The day’s topic was use of plants by Native Americans. It was actually very educational, not only we learned that bulbs of lilies are edible, we also learned how to make rope from bark of trees, soap from leaves of others, and at the end of the presentation we made some smoke using wood plank and a stick.

After an evening spent by fire, and a good night sleep, it was time to say good bye. It was a great trip, which gave us ideas for several future trips, and the fact we were able to get on the earlier ferry and arrive home at somewhat reasonable time, made a great ending to it.

Distance: 17.5 miles + couple short side trails
El. Gain: Appr. 2000 ft

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