07 June 2005

The Mud Shoe Diaries: Rachel Lake

Rachel Lake: After gazing upon such beauty, one
simply must consider gouging out their own eyes,
as much of the rest of life will be such a disappointment
Posted by Hello


I don't think I told you about my hike up to Rachel Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness a few weeks ago. It was a journey worth remembering, I tell you what. If I already told you about it, just skip this blog and go surf some porn or something.

Okay. So. I read about the trail to Rachel Lake (trail 1313, better known as the Box Canyon Trail) in some book called "Best Hikes for Children". I took a quick glance at the informative icons which showed the trail to be "moderately difficult for children". So I'm thinking, "How hard can it be?" Plus, it looked on the map like there were some interesting peaks and some river crossings and what have you, so I decided it would make a good Saturday day hike. Teresa had a drum circle to go to, so just Elizabeth and I went.

I think we all know where this story is going. Let me say just here and now that no matter how dire the description becomes, remember that I had a really good time. And remember, no matter how much I yell and scream and beg to be let out, do not open the door to my cage!

The distance to Rachel Lake is about 4.5 miles. Then it splits off and goes up to another set of alpine lakes called the Rampart Lakes which are on the other side of a 4,500 ft. elevation ridge called - you guessed it - Rampart Ridge. The first three miles of the trail are pretty flat and wind through woods and meadows and have great views of misty waterfalls cascading down the distant canyon walls. Most of the way, you're alongside the Box Canyon River, and you actually have to cross it a few times. Needless to say, the whole experience makes you consume so much beauty that your head could explode. And I'm pretty sure that mine did. I have yet to find my occipital lobe, and I know darn well that I didn't leave it on the roof of the car when we drove away.

So at about three miles in we came to the foot of an astounding cataract that was cascading down from somewhere so far up we couldn't even see it. It's an amazing thing to have an immense waterfall on one side and an awe-striking canyon view on the other. Unfortunately, I was too freaked out at the time to take any pictures. Plus I think I was out of film anyway. So we forded our way across the foot of the waterfall and headed on toward Rachel Lake.

On the other side of the waterfall, the trail got pretty difficult. It went from being a hike to being a scramble up switchbacks consisting mostly of stony gullys and toe-hold roots. Did I mention that I had a full pack? Just for practice? Well, I had a full pack. Just for practice. And it was loaded ALL WRONG. As in the load was hanging too far back, which was something that I didn't realize until I was going downhill.

So we lose the trail. But do we panic? No. Why? Because along with my awesome num-chuck (sp?) skills, bow-hunting skills and computer hacking skills , I have developed the Awesome and Terrifying Power of Map Reading. And using a compass. (The classes at REI do not blow. No, they do not.) So with a flick of the wrist, I and my trusty Indian guide (Elizabeth) triangulate our position on the map and get back on the trail.

So - and no, I'm not setting a precedent of starting every paragraph from here on out with the word "so", I'm just lazy and a piss-poor story teller - just about one living hell and thirty gallons of sweat later, we're standing at the saddle which, according to the map, is only a hundred or so yards from Rachel Lake, when it starts raining. And by raining I mean like buckets - like Malaysian amounts of rain.

So - goddammit! There I did it again! Started a paragraph with the word "so"! Anyway, quick as a cat I drop my pack and leap into my rain gear (and Elizabeth does likewise - but leaps into her rain gear, not mine). A couple seconds later, a couple of backpackers who have way more awesome gear (and ostensibly more awesome skills) than ours come down the trail. They tell us is that the weather is moving down from the ridge and the wind is kicking ass up at the lake, but it's really beautiful to look at. However, I've frozen and/or soaked pretty much all of my balls off by this point, so I opt to turn around and head back down the trail.

The crazy thing about water is that it runs downhill, and rain is pretty much all water, so that means that those stony gullys that we had scrambled up were now mini waterfalls that we had to scramble back down. And my pack was loaded all wrong, so there was much utterance of the "F" word, even though not much sense of humor was lost. Plus, the rivers that we had crossed on the way up were ten times beefier now and much less likely to be forgiving of our bullshit river-fording skills. I think Elizabeth got soakers on the way up and on the way down. She had to stop and wring out her socks a couple of times.

So my neoprene rain gear pretty much told me to fuck off after two hours of that, although it wasn't a complete failure. It leaked a little around the wrists and ankles, but other than that, it held up. But man was it cold! And painful! It wasn't until afterward that I found out that I had overloaded my pack's rating to the tune of about thirteen pounds. I'll never do that again.

So you're thinking to yourself, "Y'know Thaddeus, as I recall, you're pretty much a pussy. And I don't mean half way. I mean all the way to the bone. So what kept you going through this ordeal?" I'll tell you what kept me going. A sandwich. We bought mozzarella and pesto sandwiches and they were calling to us from the car. Once we got back to the parking lot, we took to those sammiches like hyenas to a wildebeest. They could've been made out of cat crap for all I know, but after being cold and wet for five hours and tired to the bone, they were ambrosia.

Once my hunger abated, I went back to the "Best Hikes for Children" book to see what sort of sadistic bastard would foist such a cruel hoax as to say that was a moderately difficult hike for a child. And then I actually read the description, it said, "one of the most difficult hikes in the Cascades" and "if you and your children survive the 'cruelest mile', you'll be rewarded with a view of beautiful Rachel Lake!" Christ H. Double-Dutch Jesus! If you survive - ! What kind of kids do these people have? The kind with rhino skin, ham-thick haunches and suction-cup fingertips?

Am I going back? Yer damn skippy. I plan to spend my birthday weekend (6/24-27) up there hiking the whole Rampart Lakes region. And that will certainly be fuel enough for another blog.

Cheers, and give my best to Marie.

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