Too Many Cairns. Not enough goats.

The north side of McClellan Peak lights up in the morning sunshine above Upper Snow Lake.
The north side of McClellan Peak lights up in the morning sunshine above Upper Snow Lake. At 8364 feet, it’s still one of the shorter peaks in the area.

I was much warmer my second night. Maybe it was warmer outside, maybe I chose a warmer spot (in the trees and protected), maybe I’m just getting used to the cold. I dreamed for the second night in a row about people having houses at the top of impossibly steep and treacherous driveways. Isn’t that the funniest thing?

Stars up here blow me away. There are so many stars it’s like a glistening sheet of sparkles, with a few black patches. There are so many stars that I can barely pick out the constellations. There is simply too much going on, light everywhere, the Milky Way busting through the middle of it all. I wish it wasn’t so bleeping cold out, so I could just lie on my back and fall up into the marvelous sky.

Last night there was something barking out in the dried up swamp area beside my camp (remember the cracked mud photo from the last post?). It’s a nice-sized bay, but dry because the lake is so low. Chipmunks are having their family reunions out there and it’s bustling with grassy activity. Anyway, I’m asleep in my tent and I hear a bark. And another. I’m instantly on high-alert, because, you know: wilderness. A bark out here should be high-pitched, like a coyote, but this is low-pitched and throaty, like a large domestic dog. Better yet, it sounded like a seal. And repetitive like a seal: bark, bark, bark, bark. I could not sleep. It went on for at least 20 minutes and I thought I wouldn’t sleep the rest of the night, but then it seemed to get tired of the game. I heard, “bark! bark. …. bark…. hoooo. whooo hooo.” It was an owl! All that time I was wondering what unspeakable beast was out there, and it was just a crazy owl. Interested in the reunions, I imagine.

I was *SO* fired up this morning that my coffee and sausage and eggs were old news by 8 am. I left my tent and took only a day pack with water and snacks, and was on the other side of the lake again in no time and – since I went farther than the first time – found a beautiful camp site beside a creek, only 50 feet past the spot I stopped looking the day before. Wouldn’t you know it? Ah well, too late now.

Whoah! What a sky.
Whoah! What a sky.
Goofing around taking pictures of myself because there was no one else to do it.
Goofing around taking pictures of myself because there was no one else to do it.
Then other hikers passed me heading downhill, and I asked them to take my photo.
Then other hikers passed me heading downhill, and I asked them to take my photo.

Thank goodness for no pack because today the real climbing began! I am talking scrambling straight up the side of granite boulders. That kind of climbing. Wowzers. Ok, so I do not like heights, and I do not like scramble trails, and I am scared of crossing bare-faced rock. But I was in the mood for adventure, so despite remarking aloud to myself many times, “You’ve got to be kidding me! This is for real?” I went right on ahead like a trooper.

I climbed 1300 feet in elevation from that beautiful camp site to the shore of Lake Viviane. There was not always a “trail” per se, but rather rock cairns. In the beginning I loved the cairns for showing me the true path. Later, I cursed them soundly when I spotted them. “You cannot be serious! I have to climb THAT?!”

This shot is from when I still liked cairns, and thought they were beautiful and helpful like a beacon of light in a storm. See the one in the background?
This shot is from when I still liked cairns, and thought they were beautiful and helpful like a beacon of light in a storm. See the one in the background?
The arrow points to the cairn, indicating that yes - despite the warning signs - the
The arrow points to the cairn, indicating that yes – despite the warning signs – the “trail” is this way.
Cairn says,
Cairn says, “Yes, Crystal, the trail crosses 30 feet of bare granite. Step on those bits of rebar if it makes you feel safer.”
I keep pointing out the cairns because I still can't believe it. Really. That is the trail. You can't call that a trail! Give me a break you stupid cairn!!
I keep pointing out the cairns because I still can’t believe it. Really. That is the trail. You can’t call that a trail! Give me a break you stupid cairn!!

Finally, I was there. I was so grateful. A man and his son were eating lunch on the shore of Lake Viviane when I arrived. They told me that just up over the hill, at Leprechaun Lake, there was a billy goat resting in the shade. They had come from that direction only minutes ago.

The Core Enchantments area is known to be full of mountain goats. My pre-hike research set my expectations so high. I totally expected to see a goat. So, all full of confidence and smug satisfaction, off I marched in the direction they pointed, and was determined to get at least one shot. I didn’t care if it was out of focus, far in the distance, whatever. Be vewwwy vewwy quiet. I’m hunting goat.

Lake Viviane reflecting. The yellow trees are Tamarack to me, Larch to people who call things by their proper names.
Lake Viviane reflecting. The yellow trees are Tamarack to me, Larch to people who call things by their official names.
The water of Lake Viviane is startlingly clear and aqua blue.
The water of Lake Viviane is startlingly clear and aqua blue.
The water is this clear! Look at this. I am standing on a rock far above this little guy. You can even see the rocks on the bottom.
It’s this clear! I am standing on a rock far above this little guy, who appears to be floating in air. You can even see the rocks on the bottom.

It’s a really quick trip from Viviane to Leprechaun Lake. It’s less than half a mile and hardly any elevation to speak of. Maybe 200 feet. I began looking for the goat, while simultaneously realizing that if one’s natural body colour is off-white, this would be a really awesome place to hide.

The entrance of Leprechaun Lake
The entrance of Leprechaun Lake
Down the (soon I would find out) wrong side of the lake.
Down the (soon I would find out) wrong side of the lake.
At least there were no horrible cairns. Look at this trail. Wouldn't you expect it to look like this at Leprechaun Lake?
I found this trail perfectly suited for a lake named Leprechaun.

Not knowing the area, I set off immediately on the wrong trail. I was supposed to be back-tracking the path where the men saw the goat, but instead I was following a little goat path myself, around the wrong side of the lake. I walked a good half mile and never saw a goat. I never realized my mistake until I finally lost the trail and turned around in frustration and returned to the beginning. And there, it was clear as day, on the other side of the lake. By this time an hour had passed. I hurried along the trail and passed a few people. “Have you seen a goat? There is supposed to be one here.” They had not. I reached tiny Sprite Lake and took my boots off to cool my feet in the water.

A hiker came up and pulled out his fly rod and began fishing while we chatted in the warm sunshine. It was blissful, and my disappointment and frustration from the goatlessness of it all eventually faded away.

There are lots more lakes. Really close to that spot, too. But my day had been so close to perfect that I knew there was no sense in asking for more. While I talked to the fisherman, the sun dropped and shadows were getting longer. I had eaten enough dried apricots and trail mix to suit me, and I wanted real food, which was down the hill. I put on my socks and boots and back across all those rocks I went.

The spot where I stopped to soak my feet and chat with the fisherman.
The spot where I stopped to soak my feet and chat with the fisherman.
A magical miniature valley beside the path.
A magical miniature valley beside the path.
Another view of the ear-shaped Leprechaun Lake.
Another view of the ear-shaped Leprechaun Lake.
There it is! So close and yet so far. In the distance, Lower Snow Lake and closer to me, Upper Snow Lake.
There it is! So close and yet so far. In the distance, Lower Snow Lake and closer to me, Upper Snow Lake.
Where I grew up in Idaho, these are called Tamarack. The only tree I know that loses its needles every winter.
I learned to love these when I lived in Idaho. The only tree I know that loses its needles every winter.
Looking up the side of The Temple (8292 feet) soaring above the shores of Upper Snow Lake.
Looking up the side of The Temple (8292 feet) soaring above the shores of Upper Snow Lake.
Tamarack needles spinning in slack water instantly made me think of Starry Night by Van Gogh.
Tamarack needles spinning in slack water instantly made me think of Starry Night by Van Gogh.

38 thoughts on “Too Many Cairns. Not enough goats.

    1. Yes, you do! And they’re relatively close to you. So keep this in mind: permits are about 99% lottery-based. The lottery opens in February, so put in your request at Recreation.gov and wait and see what happens. If you miss that lottery, there is a daily lottery at the Wenatchee Forest Service office in Leavenworth. And if you win, don’t do like I did and go “yay!” and forget all about it. If you win, you then have to go and ACCEPT your win, and pay the fee to reserve the tickets. I was awarded a week in the Core Enchantments in September, and then lost them because I didn’t realize that I had to confirm that I still wanted them. d’oh! Luckily I was able to grab this permit when the pool opened up for general purpose on April 1. All permit zones were totally sold out by 10 am.

  1. What a day! A part of me thinks you must be insane but the other part of me is in awe and thinks you lead a wildly exciting life, full of derring-do and adventure! Can you tell I’d like to be like you when I grow up? I saw the movie ‘Wild’ on a plane a while back and loved it – and her – so much I had to watch it again when I got home. Your adventures remind me of her story. I have heard that having owls accompany you in the wild is a sign you are being watched over and no harm will come to you. Isn’t that special!!

    1. Good to know about the owls, and I’ll tuck that knowledge away for future hikes.

      I also liked the movie Wild, and would like to read the book. Here I have been hiking alone in the mountains for 15 years, and I also lost my mom way too early, and it never occurred to me to write a book about it. Then some newbie goes and does one amazing hike and gets a movie deal. I just never thought of hiking as remarkable, only one of the things I like to do.

      It’s fun to share my adventures with you! I find myself grateful each day I add another trail to my history, that I am still physically able to do this.

    1. ha ha, you’re so funny: “No way.” Thanks for the compliment on the photography. It was in an environment and weather conditions that didn’t allow for many bad shots, unless I had left the lens cap on or something. But thank you. I try really hard to capture it digitally the way the places have an effect on me.

    1. Aww, that is a really nice compliment: why we get outside. You may be exactly right. We do it in the hopes of having a time that turns out as good as this. But I had a 5-day hike in the Trinity Alps once, in which the rain never stopped pouring, and that one was good too. And once I hiked to Mt. Jefferson only to find snowpack of at least 4 feet that I was not at all expecting, and that one turned out great. For some of us (I suspect you can relate) just getting outside (away from my cubicle and my phone and responsibilities of taking care of the house) is so wonderful that everything else becomes a small detail.

      1. Your notes resonates with me. And it illustrates one of my concerns and frustration with today’s society, particularly children. I work in the outdoor recreation industry, and I know first-hand how important it is to disconnect. I find it alarming how dependent people are becoming on “connectivity.” I fully discovered this on the trail in Bhutan. It was about a week into the trek when my rhythm began to align with nature. I recognized that a one-week disconnected time frame isn’t quite enough (the typical American vacation). It was the most refreshing trip I’ve ever had. In any event, somehow, we need more ways to be “in the moment,” and not be obsessed with all the “what ifs” coming up. Some call it the “snowglobe of thoughts.” But I’d never reject a day outside, if it’s all I can manage.

  2. I can’t believe you climbed that!!! Oh my goodness. I have trouble climbing the steps. 🙂 I can see the draw though. And I think you should write a book. It could be spell binding. I think there is a lot there under the surface but it may take a few more years of quiet to let it bubble up. The photos are amazing. I’m glad you had a wonderful time and got home safely.

    1. I would love to finish a book Marlene. I’ve started two of them! Writing an outdoor book is a good idea and I’ll add that to my list! Now, what do you mean by “a lot under the surface?”

      Thank you for the compliments on the photos. I still think I didn’t quite capture it, since these look so heavily white and yellow, and when I was there, I was taken by richness of multiple colours. I imagine I could have framed them differently to make it match what I see in my mind. Oh well, that’s what practice is all about.

      1. I don’t know if we can ever capture the essence of a place on film. It’s not possible. You did a pretty good job of it though. It’s hard to explain what I meant. I’ll give it some thought as to the best way to explain. 🙂

    1. Your compliment is *so* nice! Thank you! Yes, it was really unbelievably beautiful up there. And I am particularly intrigued because I only got to the few lakes on the eastern edge of the Enchantments. There are more lakes that are supposedly even more beautiful. Next year I will head out there again!

      Yes, the water was cold but I still splashed it onto my face. After hard hiking in the sun, it didn’t even feel cold, but just right. 🙂

  3. Great photos Crystal. Again, it seems to me you are having a perfect trip. Sorry about the goat, however. I’ve followed cairns, ducks and blazes over many a trail. Ity’s always fun, at least for me, to spot the next one. –Curt

    1. It was perfect indeed. Yes, I really would have been lost – literally – without the cairns. In fact, I was lost multiple times anyway, especially slogging downhill. When your trail requires clambering over rocks, you can easily zone out and follow what seems like the logical path in front of you…thus I went off track at least a dozen times. I had to stop and scan the horizon for cairns, back track, scan again till I found one, scold myself, and begin again. But even that…was perfect.

  4. Wow… what a beautiful landscape!!!

    The images are so inviting and beautiful write up too 🙂

    The description about the ‘stars’ reminds me about a night I spent on top of a hill during my college days.

    It was a dark night and the place was some 7000 feet high, the number of stars that I saw and the clarity was just mind blowing.

    Thank you so much for sharing and have a beautiful day ahead 🙂

    1. thank you Sreejith! I am so glad you can relate to my experience with the stars. It’s very hard to explain to someone who already knows what a night sky with stars looks like, and best to share the experience. “Mind-blowing” is exactly right.

      1. Though it happened some 13 years back, I still could feel it, the chillness in the air and the twinkling of stars 🙂

        Thanks a lot for helping to bring back all those incredible memories 🙂

        Have a nice weekend …

  5. Gosh, I’m really loving hiking with you. Thanks for bringing me along. 😉 I love all your observations and photos. The starry night in the river is beyond words.
    P.S. You mentioned a permit – please forgive my ignorance and astonishment, but do you really need a permit to walk?

    1. I am a little thrilled every time someone says I took them along on my journey. It’s the best compliment. Thank you.

      Sarah, great question about the permit! No permits are needed to walk in any National Forest or Wilderness Area that I am aware of. Permits are nearly always required to camp in public land. Typically, permits are free (or inexpensive) and unlimited. They are used to track the numbers of people using trails.

      However, there are a couple of trails here and there that are incredibly popular with campers. When the number of people camping becomes so great that the traffic begins damaging more and more areas of the wilderness, then camping (i.e. permits) is restricted. The point is not to make money but to limit the number of people setting up tents and trammeling the undergrowth. Under these circumstances, permits may be available as first-come, first-served, or like the one for The Enchantments, it’s lottery based. If caught camping in an area without a permit, the campers are fined and asked to leave.

  6. The “goatlessness of it all” cracked me up!
    The colors of the sky, the water, the trees, the rocks are just stunning. and I’m so proud of you for scrambling over those bare rocks.

    1. Yay! I cracked myself up with that one too. Glad I’m not the only silly one out here laughing in the blogosphere. I am proud of myself too. What is that great quote about bravery? It’s not feeling no fear, but being afraid and doing it anyway. Something like that.

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