Deep in the Alpine Lake Wilderness lies a body of water that’s different from any other lake I’ve witnessed.  Spectacle Lake is an absolute gem and more than worthy of a strenuous hike.  I knew the window of good weather was closing here in the Northwest so I found a patch of consecutive sunny days in mid September to make the journey.

The two hour drive from Seattle cut through the I-90 corridor eastbound through the Cascades mountains, then north through the small towns of Roslyn (used in the beloved show Northern Exposure) and Ronald, passing Cle Elum Lake and finally heading west pass Cooper Lake to the trailhead.  For a Thursday the parking lot seemed pretty full but I didn’t have trouble finding a spot.  I double checked my pack, wolfed down a tasty deli sandwich chased with a good liter of water, then hit the trail with a warm sun in the sky.

The first four miles brought me to Pete Lake but not before dodging a ridiculous amount of horse poop on the trail (didn’t realize the trail here was shared with riders).  Pete Lake itself was a pleasant area with a nice viewpoint and a handful of shaded campsites.  After another mile I came to Lena Creek which thankfully was easy to cross (it can be a raging river earlier in the year with the melting snowpack) and a great spot to filter water.  The next few miles brought me through a charred section of the forest from a 2009 fire, with blackened tree trunks lining the area and colored with vibrant lupine.  While the hike had been forgivingly flat up to this point, the final section involved a series of long switchbacks which condensed most of the hike’s elevation into the remaining few miles.  At the halfway point a waterfall provided a much needed break and a water refill before tackling the remaining elevation.

The trail finally peaked with an incredible view of Spectacle Lake below, partially obscured by the pine trees.  The trail quickly descended towards the water, eventually wrapping around to a peninsula which split the lake in half and held a number of pristine campsites.  I found a beautiful spot on top of a granite slab overlooking the lake and set up camp for the night (there was a bit of dirt for staking but the tent was mostly freestanding).  I had a delicious meal of beef stew (Mountain House makes an awesome assortment of freeze dried meals), kicked back in my chair with some whiskey and watched the fading light over the shimmering lake. 

In the morning I remember getting a decent night of sleep, something that usually eludes me on backpacking trips (too many endorphins kicking around?).  The temperature was cold and dewy but the sun quickly warmed things up as I ate a simple breakfast and packed for a day trip to explore the area, this time with a much lighter pack (sans the tent and sleeping gear).  Originally I was just planning on one night but this area definitely deserved another, and glad I packed extra food to make this happen.  The trail held more switchbacks that brought me high above the lake for an even better view, then dipped down into a valley where I found a shallow lake (name unknown) surrounded by a few campsites and colorful fireweed. 

The trail ventured north as I was hoping to make my way to Glacier Lake, but begrudgingly decided to turn back after coming to a gnarly amount of decent and realizing I wouldn’t have enough daylight to make it back to camp (it’s always OK to turn back!).  I found a nice perch amount the granite peaks to eat lunch with a stellar view of Spectacle, then continued south towards another body of water called Park Lakes.  Not really the most intriguing area but managed to get a great snap of a wandering Ptarmigan.

After a break there in the warm sun and a rinse off I marched back towards camp where I now had some daylight to explore around the lake (so many amazing campsites).  I also decided to move my tent to an lower spot for easier staking and more shelter from the winds.  The sunset provided some wonderful lighting and reflections on the water for photos, then I settled into camp with another tasty meal and whiskey at dusk as I watched the stars slowly appear in the night sky.

In the early morning I packed up camp and hiked out of the area (man, not easy leaving such beautiful spot!) with another day of good weather.  Back at Lena Creek I decided to add a leg to the return trip by searching for the Lena Meadows.  Not the most photo worthy area but still an interesting spot, and maybe my first time experiencing an alpine meadow.  After a water refill back at Lena Creek I turned on the afterburners and glided quickly along the trail, making it back to the car early afternoon.  Such a sweet two day trip filled with backcountry beauty and fall colors. And another journey that definitely deserves a repeat.