Saturday, December 9, 2017

Eel Lake

Eel Lake isn't very eely, that I can tell. I did do some cursory research into the small mystery as to how the lake came by its name but while bass, trout, crappie, steelhead, and Coho salmon inhabit the lake, there was nary a mention of a historical eel encounter, story, tale, or legend. After walking on the Eel Lake Trail, my theory is that from above, the lake has lots of arms that wriggle out from the main body like so many eels. I'm open to other theories, by the way.

Eel Lake, in all its eely glory
The lake is part and parcel of William Tugman State Park, with the western shore being the only civilized portion of the lake, what with campgrounds, park, boat ramps, docks, and kiddie swimming areas. The lake is not all that big but with all those eely arms, it would be a 40 to 50 mile hike if one were to hike the entire shoreline. However, that would be a venture with a high degree of difficulty as the Eel Lake Trail only follows the shore for about 4'ish miles; the remaining 35 to 45 miles would be by bushwhack through the densely forested slopes surrounding the lake. 

If Richard were a mushroom
When I started hiking, it was a crisp winter morning where the sun was out in full sunshiny glory that did no good at all, seeing as how it was 27 degrees. Naturally, the swimming area was devoid of any aquatic-inclined humans. The trail immediately crossed over Eel Creek and ducked into a well shaded forest that quickly had me rummaging through my daypack, searching for a few more layers of clothing. That was the only thing that was quick about this hike.

Orange eels emerge from the depths of the black earth
The mushrooms were out in full force on this chilly morn and I spent a lot of time lying on the ground, in search of the perfect photo of the perfect fungus. Not much hiking got done while engaged in this particular activity. Anyway, after photographically cataloging every fungal specimen sprouting from the ample decaying biomass flanking Eel Lake, I was grateful to continue hiking and warm myself up a little. By the way, there was a clump of orange eely fungi emerging from the earthen depths, maybe that's how Eel Lake got its name.

Alder grove
The trail spent about 90% of its time in the well shaded woods but on occasion, brief glimpses of the lake were seen through a frame of cedar and rhododendron branches. About 2 miles in, the cedar and conifer gave way to leafless alder, their bony arms stretching to the heavens in supplication. You could almost hear their anguished cry "Hey, give us our leaves back! We're freezing down here!"

Ankle-breaker bridge
And now a word about the "bridges" and "boardwalks": Numerous creeks crossed the trail and the path also ran through some swampy patches; both of these situations required some kind of human invention to ensure hikers remained dry-footed. The fine folks at William Tugman Park have fashioned crude bridges and boardwalks by laying poles across the various wet spots, with the poles oriented parallel to the trail. The cracks between the poles were then chinked up with mud. Those things were slippery and there was a high likelihood of a an ankle slipping between two such poles if one was not careful. I safely negotiated the obstacle course by keeping with my feet perpindicular to the poles, but sheesh!

Eel Lake, from the trail
The shoreline was quite serrate and the route spent a lot of time weaving around small coves and bays, ducking in and out like a boxer looking to land a punch. Eventually the path rounded an arm of the lake and began heading north, there was much rejoicing at the sunlight slanting through the trees next to the lake. The temperature became relatively balmy and all those additional layers of clothing were soon stowed back in the pack. There were several viewpoints along the way with benches strategically sited for some lakeside contemplation and I partook thererof.  

Fungi was everywhere
The length of the trail is officially advertised as a 3'ish mile long trail. But really, it sort of depends on the mood and ambition of the trail maintainers. Prior to this hike, I had perused a couple of hiking blogs and the consensus was that the trail disappeared into the brush long before 3 miles. However, I shall sing the praises of the trail crews for at the 3-mile mark, I was still hiking on a well-maintained trail. At the 3.7 mile mark though, the trail was following an eely arm that soon became choked with brush and debris. It became downright swampy even, and the trail quickly degenerated into a muddy mire. My brand new boots were sinking into the goo with attendant sucking sounds as I extricated one foot while the other one sunk into the smelly black muck. Past the fetid swamp, the trail disappeared into the brush on a faint track that looked like it was used by deer more than hiker, and that was my cue to turn around and head back to the park.

A mushroom sprouts from a stump
On the return leg, the trail angled up a short but steep incline and I lowered my head and focused on the hard work of hiking uphill. Suddenly and without warning, a wolf entered the limited field of vision underneath my hat brim and I pretty much near voided my bowels. Turned out the "wolf" was a friendly German shepherd whose owner was laughing pretty hard at my discomfiture. He said I squ-eel-ed like a little girl but I also flopped and twitched like a landed eel. Maybe that's how Eel Lake got its name!

Eel Lake, at the end of the hike
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. We hiked the same trail a few years when we camped at Tugman SP. At that time it did only go 2 miles out due to erosion and mugslides - they had that trail blocked off. Sounds like now you can at least get a little further before reaching the mire. Watch out for them wolves!

  2. Nice winter hike! Love all the fungi. And I laughed at your "wolf" sighting (I would've done the same). Here's to another year of great hikes! Hope we see each other on the trail again.

    1. Thanks, as always, Linda! And same to you, wish you many happy trails in 2018