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A survey of WA Cascades high lakes

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A survey of WA Cascades high lakes

Postby windknot » Wed Aug 24, 2016 11:28 am

I haven't yet been fortunate enough to do an extended backpacking trip in the Washington Cascades, so most of my forays in the past year have been of the dayhike and weekend trip variety. Off-trail travel is more challenging than in most of the Sierra because of the combination of brush and precipitation, so this means that on nearly every trip thus far I've been jockeying for position on the trail with the hordes of other Seattleites that flock to the Cascades every weekend between Memorial Day and October.

It's unfair to compare the "wilderness" experience on these busy PNW trails with the off-trail solitude I've become accustomed to in the Sierra (the best comparison would be hikes in Desolation Wilderness or along the Highway 120 corridor through Yosemite), so instead I thought I'd offer a brief set of snapshots of the kinds of high lakes that are possible to reach within moderate day trips (no 3am alarms or midnight returns!) from Seattle.

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Tuck and Robin Lakes are an extremely popular weekend backpacking (or rather masochistic dayhike) destination. Encased in a Sierra-like granite basin, Robin Lakes are often referred to as the "Little Enchantments" and unlike their quota-regulated namesake, are accessible to anyone who cares to drive 2.5 hours from Seattle and fill out their own dayhike or backpacking permit at the trailhead. The only thing keeping these lakes from being even more popular (and we saw over a dozen groups camped at Robin Lakes on the sunny August weekend when we went) is the hike: 8 miles and 2,900 feet of gain, which is deceptive because most of this gain occurs in the last 3 miles on a goat trail that, although very well-defined because of the foot traffic, is incredibly, gripping-onto-roots-to-pull-yourself-up steep.

The lakes are well worth the effort, though. The setting is undeniably gorgeous, and with a bit of creativity it's possible to find a campsite that isn't right on top of other campers. The lakes all have self-sustaining populations of westslope cutthroats, and though I didn't see anything particularly noteworthy I wouldn't be surprised if some of them grew quite large, especially in the larger and deeper of the two Robin Lakes.

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This past Monday I took advantage of having a free day while the rest of Seattle was busy at work and went for a dayhike up to Rampart Ridge. Located near Snoqualmie Pass just an hour and 15 minutes away from Seattle, this is another extremely popular area (even more popular than Tuck and Robin Lakes) that I likely wouldn't have even attempted to visit on a sunny weekend. However, on this overcast Monday, this area seemed almost...lonely. The famous Pacific Northwest gloom (and chill) had creeped in momentarily, and the trail I took sacrificed gentle grades and switchbacks for brutal efficiency: it went up, and up, and up.

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It's difficult to accurately depict the steepness of trails or slopes in photos, so the best I can do is show photos taken of lakes far below that I had either just left or was about to reach.

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Again I was in search of westslope cutthroat, and although I caught a few, they didn't quite warrant photos. For someone who's admittedly an information junkie, it's both exciting and frustrating to arrive at new lake after new lake not knowing what to expect. The high lakes fishing community here in Washington is notoriously tight-lipped (even going as far as to private message posters on the popular hiking forums asking them to edit their trip reports to remove references to good fishing in lakes that they've visited) and I understand their reluctance to broadcast this information when so many WA Cascades lakes are so easily accessible. However, the WDFW website has a treasure trove of high lakes stocking data, all public and well-organized and dating back fifteen years, and so this alone can help the backcountry angler willing to put in some research work to help narrow down which lakes to target.

I've swung and missed more than I've connected, so my batting average in Washington high lakes isn't great: out of 27 lakes visited so far, I would only categorize 3 of them as having good fishing. However, if you only count lakes that I've made dedicated efforts to reach (and not the many lakes that I've passed by en route to others), I'm a much more respectable 3-for-10. Not quite All-Star level, but all it takes is one solid (or lucky?) swing to hit the home run that keeps me excited for more.

An undisclosed location somewhere in the North Cascades:
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A 17" rainbow:
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A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/



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windknot
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Re: A survey of WA Cascades high lakes

Postby rayfound » Wed Aug 24, 2016 12:36 pm

Matt, that fish was impressive when you emailed it, and even more so now that I get to see more of the PNW high country. Looks awesome.
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Re: A survey of WA Cascades high lakes

Postby rhyang » Wed Aug 24, 2016 1:05 pm

The PNW is a special place, love the pics !

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Re: A survey of WA Cascades high lakes

Postby maverick » Wed Aug 24, 2016 1:15 pm

Thank you for sharing your observations, love your first photo. Even though the "Little Enchantments" and other location in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness are so easily accessible, I would love to have access to something as pretty as Melakwa Lake within 2 hrs of the trailhead from the Bay Area. :nod:
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: A survey of WA Cascades high lakes

Postby giantbrookie » Sun Aug 28, 2016 9:22 pm

That is some beautiful country and that is an impressive rainbow, too. I think it takes time to come into any new wilderness are and find the best fishing. 3 for 10 is way better than I did in my early years in the Sierra and Klamath Mtns.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: A survey of WA Cascades high lakes

Postby windknot » Thu Sep 01, 2016 4:38 pm

Thanks all. Mav, I've been to Melakwa and it took only about an hour to drive up I-90 to the trailhead and then another hour and a half to hike the 4.25 miles to the lake. I certainly can't think of a more alpine backcountry setting accessible within 2.5 hours from any West Coast city except for possibly Snow Lake, just to the east of Melakwa (an even more popular lake due to the easier hike).
A few backcountry fishing pictures: http://wanderswithtrout.wordpress.com/
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