:: BIG HEART LAKE
had it really been seven whole years since my last backpacking adventure? to be honest I was a bit nervous about the idea of being out in the woods again, alone with the environment and the unpredictable. maybe that’s the real fear: the unknowing about what may happen, and yet in that unknowing lies the promise of excitement and adventure. and in the comfort knowing you have everything you need to survive and the knowledge of what to do in a tight situation. with that I realized seven years was way too long for such an opportunity to have some great adventures.
our trip to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area required some much needed new gear (pack, tent, sleeping quilt and pad and a few too many items on Amazon). i probably obsessed a little too much with weighing out all the items in my pack but with all my heavy camera gear i knew every little ounce counted. i packed up Sheena’s gear (she had her own pack as well), packed the car and hit the road on a cloudy, mid August day.
Sheena and i picked up my hockey mate Adam before heading north on 405 out of the city, east on Highway 2 close to the Stevens Pass ski area, and then south on a slightly bumpy forest road towards the West Fork Foss trailhead. Sheena for the record is not a big fan of the car but does tolerate it knowing an adventure isn’t far away. we arrived to the trailhead where the parking lot was pretty packed. after some fine tuning for the packs (and loading Adam up with a few extra snacks…two ain’t gonna cut it!) we filled out an overnight permit and hit the trail.
just a mile or so onto the well maintained but rocky trail, we were instantly rewarded with the view of a gorgeous, distant waterfall. the fog also created a moody backdrop, draping itself around the peaks of the mountains. another mile brought us to the first of four alpine lakes, Trout. nothing too exciting about this spot, but we took a quick peek (and a pee) here and hopped back on the trail.
after more elevation, a lone, older hiker passed us coming down the trail as we took a water break. he chatted with us for a bit, giving some of his experiences as a lifelong backpacker (fifty years!) and exchanged notes about gear and cameras (he had a nice lightweight mirrorless camera around his neck, unlike my monstrous DSLR). Note to self: i’m grateful to see people doing this in their 70’s; it gives me hope for the possibility of doing this for years to come.
we came up to a small water crossing where opposite us was a woman with another dog. we stopped to let her cross first (trail etiquette gives downward hikers the right of way, generally). as they past us (too close in proximity as i later noted) her dog started snapping nastily at Sheena, who thankfully didn’t react. i firmly told her proper warning was needed in a situation like that (she gave me a rather glib response) and noted for the future to give a much wider berth to other hikers, especially ones with fellow furry friends.
after more steady elevation we came to another steep waterfall, the top originating right at the peak of the mountain. we also had beautiful, sweeping views of the valley where tried a pano shot. a stream just farther up offered a perfect spot to filter water and refill our bottles. the water was so pristine we may have been fine without filtering.
as the evolution started to level off, we came to an easy water crossing (Sheena didn’t feel like rock hopping so just waded through the waters). more easy, flat trails led to the second of four alpine lakes, Copper. the views of the water did not disappoint as the trail wrapped itself around one side of the lake.
the trail now started to bite with some serious elevation, as evident at a viewpoint where we gazed down at Little Heart Lake which we would eventually pass. the last mile brought the biggest challenge to an already long hike; almost 1000 feet of elevation gain, and some serious switchbacks. but the views were getting sweeter, and as we peaked before heading down the whole environment looked like something out of Middle Earth; huge, mythical boulders, enormous trees and stunning views of Little Heart and the entire valley.
the walk down into Big Heart Lake led us onto a ridge by a few occupied camp spots, and then onto the lake itself with it’s emerald green water, jagged cliffs and more low hanging fog (jaws dropped a bit here). we got back on the trail to find a nice camp spot just up from the lake and started setting up for the night. i may have slept for just a few hours with all the tossing and turning but somehow felt refreshed in the morning. not sure Adam could say the same after forgetting to bring his sleeping pad (awkward!). luckily the dirt under our tents was nice and soft.
after a quick breakfast (freeze dried biscuits and gravy made much more tasty with Tapatio hot sauce) and a water refill from a beautiful waterfall next to the camp, we packed up and hit the trail home. where it took us a good six plus hours to reach Big Heart Lake, it took us almost half that to reach the trail head. the views were much more shrouded this time with the fog, yet still beautiful in it’s own mysterious way.
we past more hikers on the way down since it was the start of the weekend, and chatted with a few more people about their experiences, including a couple making a loop trip starting at the Foss Trailhead and ending up in the Necklace Valley trailhead (just a few miles away). a few other packers at the parking lot mentioned scrambling in the area beyond Big Heart Lake and getting lost for a few hours. not exactly my idea of fun, but then i secretly think part of me enjoys getting lost for the thrills. i’m hoping to come back and go beyond Big Heart and maybe get a little lost myself.