Lake Stuart

Lake Stuart from the little beach at my campsite. Mt. Stuart (9415′) is the peak in the background.

I purchased overnight camping passes for the Lake Stuart Zone in the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. It’s due east of Seattle and north of Mt. Rainier. It takes me 4 1/2 hours just to get to the trailhead, but I can’t help myself: it is so beautiful there.

Interstate 90 in Washington state, heading east of Seattle first thing in the morning Tuesday.

I’ve been through the Enchantments several times, and always from the Snow Lakes trail which approaches the Alpine Lakes from the east. It’s a long through trek, and I have never had the stamina to go all the way through to the lakes on the west side. This year I simply began on the west side!

I think it is a nice touch that the U.S. Forest Service always makes these signs asymmetrical.
At a fork in the trail, I saw signs that left me puzzled. At first glance, “foot log” and “horse ford” sounded like landmarks I had never heard of. I had no idea what trail to take until I calmed down and took the words literally. A log for foot traffic, and a place for horses to ford.
Viola! “foot log,” otherwise known as a log bridge for those traveling on human feet.

One lovely thing about the west side approach is that the Stuart/Colchuck trailhead is higher in elevation than the Snow Lakes trailhead, so I climbed the first 1000 feet (or more) in my Jeep. That was pretty sweet. Once I began hiking, much of the trail was a rather gentle slope, and a couple of steep spots a few miles in. Nothing like the grueling switchbacks at the start of the Snow Lakes trail.

The trail beside Mountaineer Creek.
Look at these scrumptious red roots. Or branches. What are they? Gorgeous, that’s what.
Autumn is the most glorious flamboyant season, don’t you think?
I saw several of these cones on the trail. I don’t think my photography captured it, but they are a deep dark purple.

I’ve said before, my hike pace could best be described as “mosey.” I’m solid on the uphill stretches. Slow, but steady, I can just keep going up, up, up. But steady includes a lot of stops to look at all the waterfalls and pretty foliage and the squirrels and interesting pine cones.

It feels good to be on a trail again. I have not hiked much the last couple of years. My theory is now that I live in the wilderness practically, I don’t have the driving need to escape people and hit a trail as much as I used to. In any case, however wild my own property may be, it’s nothing like truly being in the mountains.

While pausing in a meadow with fireweed going to seed, a gust of wind came and filled the air with flying seed pods. Look closely, and you’ll spot the faeries.

Finally! First glimpse of the mountains. These are exactly the moments I live for on the trail. I get tired, I wonder how far I’ve come, how far there is to go, whether I should stop and rest, and then…. I get a view of mountains. This inspires me.
Another mile along the trail and blam! This, people. This is what it’s all about. My tanks are filled and I’m gushing.
I met a bold, fat chipmunk that practically climbed onto me while begging for food.
And this was a pika that might have been shy around me on another day, but this day rather had to get an urgent message to his buddy across the rock fall.

The pika was so hilarious I watched him for a full five minutes, and listened to another one shriek back at him. He would give a series of short, sharp, shrill shrieks, then occasionally would spew a jumble of high-pitched syllables strung together. I talked to him for awhile, saying, “Hey! Do you see me? Are you not afraid?” Nope. Not afraid. He had to talk and my presence was no deterrent. As I watched him, I imagined the following conversation. Very shrill and urgent:

“Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!” Silence.Β “Steve! Steve!”

From 50 yards away across the boulder pile, the reply: “Tony! Tony!”

“Yo!-I-can’t-play-tetherball-Mom-says-I-have-to-do-my-chores-but-I’ll-come-over-as-soon-as-I’m-done!”

“Tony! Tony!”

“Did-you-hear-me-I-can’t-play-now-but-wait-for-me-ok? Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!”

Listen, when your hiking pace is “mosey,” it involves a lot of imagination.

Suddenly I spotted a sign that said “No campfires beyond this point.” And I don’t know what crazy person ever starts campfires this time of year, but to me this sign means “the lake is pretty close.” And sure enough, only a little while later, the trees parted and there it was.Β Only 4 1/2 miles along the trail, an elevation gain of 1665 feet, and I hit Lake Stuart.

Lake Stuart

(Can’t you just hear Anne Shirley saying, “That is not the right name. I think it should be: Lake of Shining Waters.”)

At the far end of the lake, looking back.
I love how the sun lights up those pale green grasses and horsetails in the water.
Many spots were occupied, but when I found this lovely little beach, I knew it would be my home for the next couple of nights.
Um, yep, that would be my campsite. Recurrent theme for camping in the PNW: always gorgeous campsites.

I admit, I crashed early. You know with my exceptional gastronomic tastes, I always bring a pack filled with amazing food, which means: HEAV-VY! I get so wiped out when I have a full pack.

For supper I mixed up the easiest thing on the menu, taco salad. Fresh chopped lettuce, corn chips, beans, tomatoes from the garden, green chilis, hominy, sour cream and salsa all stirred together. An obnoxious chipmunk came to raid my bowl while I left it on the beach and went to get the wine. I was impressed to see that the prize it chose was a big chunk of taco-spiced lettuce and not the chips!

13 thoughts on “Lake Stuart

    1. Picturing your place in my mind, I can see what you mean about spending time in your own forest and not feeling as much of a need to go somewhere else to commune with nature. Your place could sufficiently block out views of the community around you, and it’s rural in any case. Spending time out in your garden must certainly soothe the soul.

  1. Ah, yes. The imagination can have a field day listening to critters chatter. I’m glad you are back home, safe and sound but that scenery would be worth the hike could I do it. πŸ˜‰ I’d travel with a heavy food pack too. πŸ™‚ Just beautiful there.

    1. What you’re saying is: you’re willing to suffer if it means exceptional food is the prize?! ha ha!! Yeah, that’s my thinking. When I hike alone I always send a trail map and a projected itinerary to a friend who can call the authorities and come check on me if necessary. I feel it’s the bare minimum in safety planning for a solo hiker.

  2. Your story about the animals reminded me of this sketch: https://youtu.be/xaPepCVepCg. Also, have you tried making fireweed tea. It grows in my garden so I tried fermenting some of the leaves earlier in the year. It didn’t work out properly but tasted good enough for me to want to try again next year.

    1. That sketch definitely looks like something I would have seen before! I’ll bet that while I was watching the pika, my subconscious was recalling that video. So much funny. πŸ™‚

      I have not made fireweed tea. Didn’t even know it was a thing. But now I really want to. Sadly there is no fireweed on my property, but there is always some when I’m hiking, so I’ll get ready for next season. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Apparently (according to some random Internet source so I don’t know how accurate this is) fireweed tea used to be all the rage in Europe until the Chinese stuff took off. The batch I made was surprisingly tasty but it would take a bit of work to get right. I let mine dry out too much at the beginning so it didn’t ferment properly. I hope you get a chance to try it out. I think you can use the leaves fresh off the plant so you could try infusing some in water over your camp fire next time you find some.

  4. Ohh, Crystal, this is amazing! And you were all alone, or even if you weren’t, it doesn’t matter, you did it! What a glorious trek! ❀ A piece of lettuce is a small price to pay. πŸ™‚

    1. Yes, I was happy to share my lettuce, even if the chipmunk did not get permission.

      I enjoy hiking alone. This trip was only three days, two nights. My biggest fear related to hiking alone is spraining an ankle, but there are so many people on the trail that I’m sure I could drag myself to a busy area if I got hurt, so that someone could help me out.

      The first time I backpacked alone into the wilderness I was really scared and didn’t sleep all night. I thought bears and wolves were right outside my tent, getting ready to eat me. But that was 18 years ago… so apparently I decided it was worth it. πŸ™‚

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