Saturday, July 5, 2014

Island Lake backpack

The 4th of July weekend is all about the red, white, and blue.  Red is the color of the the Belgian national soccer team uniform. White is the color of my legs. And blue was my mood after a World Cup loss by the U.S. team to Belgium. There had to be some kind of supernatural intervention involved in that loss. How else to explain Chris Wondolowski missing an open goal from yards away? How could one of the world's great superpowers lose to a country famed for waffles? What else can one expect from a team named the Red Devils?

Let's go hiking!
Despondent, I went to lose myself in the Sky Lakes Wilderness. Plus, I also really like to hike, but that's beside the point, just let me wallow in my mire. The mire-wallowing began at Fourmile Lake, situated at the foot of Mount McLaughlin. As I laced up my boots at the trailhead, it was quiet...too quiet. Despite it being early summer, there were no mosquitoes and I was suddenly a little less despondent.

Junction in a lodgepole forest
Of course, the mosquitoes were waiting for me in the lodgepole forest but I didn't really feel the need for Deet until a little over a mile, the mosquitoes weren't really bad at all...yet. The first mile of trail was a rather utilitarian bypass around the Fourmile Lake Campground in a thin lodgepole pine forest. I could not see the campground or lake but I could hear the happy hordes and car motors as I walked by.

Let the oohing and aahing begin!
After crossing the Cascade Canal, the "real" hike started. The trail was basically following the Fourmile Lake shore, although the lake remained mostly hidden behind the forest. Huckleberry grew everywhere and this has got to be a royally fruity hike come September. At a viewpoint by the lake, there was a postcard view of Mount McLaughlin's perfect snow cone rising over the lake's sapphire blue waters.

Badger Lake
Next up on this lake tour-de-force hike, was Woodpecker Lake. A short climb took me to this small but pretty (just like me!) lake. And after a relative hop, skip, and jump, hikingwise, up came larger Badger Lake. Every time I see the word "badger" I am reminded of a certain coworker whose office nickname is "The Badger", but I saw no real badgers or coworkers at the lake. I did see and hear woodpeckers throughout the hike, though.

Columbines graced the trail
After Badger Lake came Lily Pond, a brown wet spot in the middle of a marshy meadow. Wildflowers were blooming in numbers at the meadow and I put down the pack for a bit and engaged in a happy photo shoot. Plumes of white bog orchid grew uncoincidentally in the middle of the bog. Monkshood, delphinium, columbine, aster, and showy Jacob's ladder each had a turn at keeping my camera busy. Life is good in a meadow in early summer.

Life is hard on trees
Life is hard on trees up here and the trail between Lily Pond and Long Lake was through a forest of trees that had been snapped off at the top. The broken tops were strewn all over the trail and it was a little bit of work to wade through the debris. However, it was easier for me than it was for a couple of horse riders I exchanged pleasantries with.

Long Lake below Lost Peak
Long Lake was indeed long, lying in skinny slender repose below Lost Peak. A nice little rest stop in the shade was enjoyed and a hiking couple jumped into the lake to cool off while I was there. From there it was on to and across the Pacific Crest Trail into a forest with a lush carpet of huckleberry bushes where a side trail delivered me to Island Lake, my home for the night.

Island Lake in the late afternoon
It was late afternoon, and I set up camp next to the Judge Waldo Tree, famed because the noted conservationist Judge Waldo defaced the tree by carving his initials on it in the 1800's. It was late afternoon, and the sunlight burnished the lake with a soft golden glow. Dragonflies flitted by and fish jumped, their splashings marking the passage of the afternoon. Suddenly, there was a rumble like a large landslide that culminated with a thud, a falling tree does indeed make noise when a man is there to hear it.

The innocent victim's home
My lakeside reverie was further interrupted by a noise that sounded like a combination snort/cough/growl, the sound emanating from the forest about 50 yards in back of me or "my campsite" as I like to call it. I made a mad dash to the camp but there was nary a creature around.  It was about then I had the feeling I was going to spend yet another night in the woods defending my territory from invading marauders of uncertain specie.

Island Lake sunset
Sure enough, in the middle of the night I abruptly awoke, senses on full intruder alert. Just outside of my tent, something breathed heavily, close enough to ripple my tent fly with it's hot and presumably fetid breath. "Get thee gone you four-legged spawn of Satan!" I yelled, or some facsimile thereof. Startled, a large animal took off running in panic, I could feel the vibration of the footsteps in the ground I was laying on. I have no idea what animal it was but I'm thinking deer because deer are the four-legged hiking-pole stealing spawn of Satan. At any rate, it was no more sleep for Richard as there were several more nighttime confrontations, my invective increasing in saltiness with each new raid.

The spirit of Judge Waldo haunts the campsite
At one point, I arose to check upon the welfare of the camp and bats swarmed to the headlamp located disconcertingly on my forehead. I'm not sure what was worse: getting stalked by unknown creatures of the night or having bats by the buckets flitting in my face with their leathery wings. This hike was beginning to feel a lot like Halloween.

Morning reflection
I'd like to say I woke up at the crack of dawn but actually I arose before the crack of dawn since I'd long been awake anyway. Heeding the call of nature, I approached a bush with the intent of relieving myself. When the first molecule of pee stream hit the bush, a black humming cloud erupted forth and swarmed towards the only patch of skin within 5 parsecs that was not protected by Deet. MOSQUITOES! I had to use all my formidable athletic skills to hop and dance around and finish the business I had started, waving my hand frantically to ward off the predatory insect vampires while simultaneously keeping the waving hand safely out of the jet stream, so to speak.

Man, the mosquitoes are huge!
The mosquitoes the day before had been tolerable, overnight they had tripled in quantity and quintupled in ferocity. I wore an inch-thick layer of Deet but the mosquitoes were like a collective swarm of invertebrate Admiral Farraguts, each quoting "Damn the Deet and full speed ahead!" in wing-speak as they dive-bombed me.

Pretty but hot, just like me!
Also tripling in quantity and ferocity was the temperature. This had been a fully sunny weekend but on the hike out, it was hot, so hot I couldn't come up with a simile to amuse my readers. So I'll just say it was hot as heat. So, this hike had heat, mosquitoes, falling trees, mosquitoes, fearsome camp raiding creatures, and more mosquitoes. However, it also offered mosquitoes, pristine lakes, wildflowers, mosquitoes, green meadows, a venerated tree, and mosquitoes. That makes it a great hike in my book and my World Cup despondency was cured, at least until I found out it was a Germany vs Argentina final. I may have to go out for another curative hike!

Where mosquitoes come from
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. We have hiked out to Long Lake but have yet to get to Island Lake. Based on your notes, it may just be a hike out and back to avoid getting bit and tormented through the night! We are hoping to maybe try the entire 14 mile loop around Four Mile Lake in one day - we will see. I think we will wait till later in the year though....

  2. Pictures look better than the hike sounds!