[Note: HL communications officer Tony Curless is mining past HL publications for hidden gems, and here is one such from member Don Wicklund, originally published in 2004.]
2004 Introduction: As I write this story some nine summers after the trip took place, I find I did some things then that I wouldn’t do now. However, I present everything to you as it originally occurred. Get ready to accompany me on this unique backpacking trip and see if you can guess the lake…
Wednesday, June 28, 1995. It’s a very pleasant afternoon at 4,931 feet and I thought it would be a good idea to write some notes about this trip for my future reference, as well as for your amusement! First I shall have to go and get a sleeping pad to sit on (because this bedrock is getting really hard) and rubber bands to put around my pant legs at the ankles to keep the ants from crawling up my legs. I feel so very fortunate to be here now and more importantly, to be here comfortably. So many things could have happened differently to alter the chain of events…
I’ve wanted to come back up here to my favorite lake “just after ice off” for about five years. I’d always anticipated that the fishing would be really good here early in the summer. I tried in vain to find out exactly the current conditions at this lake high in the Cascades of Washington State just east of Steven’s Pass. Some said all the snow was gone, others said there was lots of snow and the lake still frozen, others in between. I think I hit it just about right! Although the ice has probably been off the lake for about two weeks, enough snow has melted that I was able to find pieces of the trail without having to use a compass. I sure had to be careful on the steep and very slippery down climb to the lake though. Only slipped once, but I instantly rolled onto my homemade ice axe to stop my descent down the gully. Fortunately, it worked as designed!
Rewinding a bit: On the way here yesterday, I fished Naches Creek for a few hours with no luck and only saw one trout. After spending the night in the truck at the trailhead I headed up. It’s been two years since I was last here and I was uncertain of the condition of my stashed gear, or if I could even find it under the snow… Excuse me for a moment while I stand up to stretch and to check on my worms… Yes, I actually brought worms this time and I’ve tied on a flasher, but I think it is too close to the worm. But I digress.
I decided that if I couldn’t find my gear – I would get by. If it was all there, I’d stay longer and have more fun. So I came up hoping to find my frying pan, 150′ twine, a sitting pad, small raft, garbage bags, and lastly the remaining seven ounces of Everclear – in case of snakebite. I yelled in jubilation when I found it all undisturbed and not covered by the snow. It was easy to tell by the still flattened nearby vegetation that just a few days ago it was still buried by snow! After hauling it all down the steep hillside to camp, the first thing I did was to pump up the raft. It’s in pretty good shape, though I am treating it gently because it is old and very fragile.
The temperature is 70°-75° with a hot sun, yet the breeze coming off the lake and surrounding snow is nicely cooling. It’s got to be close to 5:00 p.m. and I want to do some serious fishing this evening, but I still have the usual work cut out for me first. Set up the tent, gather firewood, rebuild the fire pit, dig a latrine, make dinner and clean up. I’ve got crap spread all over the length of this peninsula.
Thursday, June 29, 2:00 p.m. Never a dull moment! Last night I caught one trout while trolling with a flasher trailed by a worm. I also brought in two more using eggs on the bottom at “the log” in the middle of the lake. All Cutthroat measuring 9″, 10″, and 12″. I kept one because he swallowed the hook. This morning I caught and released a couple more while fly fishing near the outlet. As I was paddling back to camp I had a passing thought about the odd, very weather worn “stump” barely floating at some 20 yards distance.
After some yummy pancakes for breakfast, I cleaned up and went for a stroll around the peninsula. It was then that out of the corner of my eye I noticed that “stump” now floating very near the shore. But something wasn’t right!? Quickly taking a second look, I was compelled to go and look even closer. It was then that I saw what it actually was… a very large dead mountain goat bobbing slowly and slightly in the small waves just as an iceberg would. Here it is floating right where I had been getting my drinking water (Like – Gag me with a hairball!) and I was going to have to deal with this-this—Contamination. I got a rope to secure it from floating away; however I got quite a surprise when I grabbed onto his horn to pull it closer to shore. Making a gurgling/sucking sound, the horn slowly oozed off and dislodged, leaving a 3″ pink stub protruding from his head. I thought that was pretty cool so I wrenched the other one off too. But STINK, Yikes! Eventually I looped a section of rope around a portion of a rotted leg that didn’t seem like it was going to tear off, and formed a tight knot around the soft flesh. Yuck! Formulating my plan, I went and gathered all the twine in camp and got in the raft. Thus began the three-hour ordeal that I have just returned from.
Remember that scene in the movie “Dances with Wolves” where Dunbar had to use his horse to drag dead deer out of his water supply? Well, I didn’t have a horse, or the tools, or help, or ability, or desire to actually get it out of the water (imagine 200 pounds of soft, bloated, beginning-to-rot flesh of old goat). I decided the best I could do was to somehow get it to the outlet where the natural current would carry the particulates downstream and thereby, hopefully, save this lake’s water quality somewhat. I quickly found that trying to tow it was impossibly slow due to its large heavy mass deep in the water—versus me—sitting on the surface in my little raft and awkwardly paddling with one oar and a stick. So on to plan B.
After retrieving all the twine from camp, I tied one end to the rope that I had already attached to the goat and rowed away from it while playing out about 150′ of braided yellow twine as I went. Then, I’d tie the front of the raft to a log or a tree branch anchoring it in place while I proceeded to pull the heavy bloated bastard toward me, hand over hand. I would pull a few yards and wind up the slack on a stick. Pull, wind, pull, wind. Ever so slowly this was going to work I surmised, because the shoreline between camp and the outlet was a gentle arc, so the goat would never get close enough that it would drag on the bottom. I was right about that part.
However, I quickly learned that I had to work fast. Very fast. If I let the line sink while repositioning myself for the next pull, it would get looped under a sunken snag on the shallow bottom. When that happened the only thing I could do was untie my raft from the shore, pull myself back toward the goat until I was above the snag, and cut the line. Then I’d row back to the goat and pull that line to the surface, tie the cut ends back together and start the procedure all over again. Three times I got snagged on the bottom when the line sunk. Three times I had to revisit the stanky Old Goat. This drama may be hysterical to someone else, but to me it was a disgusting additional chore. With much determination I finally succeeded in getting this repulsive carcass tied off to a stationary log near the debris choked outlet. Feeling relieved that I had accomplished my intended goal, I paddled back to camp for some lunch. But I quickly discovered that I had a very odorous campsite from those damn horns and had to move them back into the woods a long ways and put them on a stump to air out. Finally lunch was in order and then I planned to go after the large cutthroat I saw near the outlet for dinner.
Well that was fun! Landing two 15″ cutthroat along with so many smaller ones that I lost count. Only keeping two for eating. These all came out of the same area under the logs near the outlet. And yes, near that wretched corpse. I just had to put that thought aside. I’m excited about my big exploratory hike up the mountain tomorrow.
Saturday, July 1, 5:00 p.m. Yesterday I climbed Mt. Mastiff (6,741′) where I was pleased to find my baggied sign-in paper still at the top. I started it in 1991 and now it’s full of names and comments from many different people. Then for the first time I traveled down the ridge and up to the top of Mt. Howard (7,063′). Someone else had just started one there and I signed in on that one too. Then I had a fun time glissading the snow patches on the way down to Lake Crescent where I caught and ate two trout for lunch. I have a simple recipe of mixing up a thick slurry of Onion Soup Mix and enclosing that with the trout tightly wrapped in foil. I lay that right in the coals of a small fire and in a few minutes I’ve got a tasty meal. No dishes to wash either!
I’ve been pretty darn tired today from yesterday’s lengthy adventure. Lots of kickin’ back in the raft catching fish. I had one on that surely would have rivaled the 21″er of 1991 (really!). Ha—there I just now caught a fat 12″er from camp here, much to the dismay of my “guests.” You see, when I got back from the hike there was a group of three tents at one spot and two in another across the 90 feet of water from my peninsula to the peninsula on the other side. To complete your visualization of this lake; it is like a lopsided figure 8 with the two peninsulas nearer the smaller circular end. The outlet is at the far end of the smaller “bay” at about 100 yards from camp. There were kids running around in all directions. Later, while I was crossing the outlet stream, I saw that the first thing they had done after arriving was to completely tear up and destroy some of the trout’s hiding area under the log debris.
I have a bait report: The best are these ornery little creatures found under rocks and logs near shore. Kind of a cross between an earwig, crab, crawdad, etc… Then probably worms, eggs, maggots, and lures. (Although I did catch three fish on three presentations with maggots from near the destroyed fishing hole.) I also have a horn report: They are gone! I guess some varmint liked them too. Just as well.
Sunday, July 2, late a.m. The wind blew so hard last night that I had to get up and let the air out of the raft. I was afraid it would get damaged banging against the trees. Then later my tent collapsed on me. I went back to sleep until 5:30 a.m. when I awoke with a start to the sound of rain. I had to force myself to crawl out to cover everything. Since I was up I had some oatmeal while watching everyone else pack up and leave in a hurry, so I’m pleasantly alone again. After paddling over and cleaning up their garbage-strewn campsites, I stood around for some time waiting for the weather to make up its mind. Eventually I decided to wait it out here in my sleeping bag surrounded by my wildly flapping tent. Two hours later now it is still VERY windy out there, but no rain. I figure I can stay in this spot as long as it doesn’t rain and blow at the same time because it is way too exposed to keep a tarp up. Oh geez, now it’s starting to rain again but I can’t put up the tarp in this wind!!!!
12:30 p.m. It’s been an hour now since it rained or blew very hard. I was fixing to crawl out of this mess to make some soup to quiet my growling stomach when, lo and behold, it’s drizzling and blowing again!! A far cry from record high temps yesterday. I can see my breath. Well, I’ve had enough of this sleeping, reading, listening to the radio (vainly searching for a weather report) and being hungry so out I GO to make lunch.
Monday, July 3, 5:30 p.m. I have climbed up the steep hill on my way home a day early and have just arrived down at Merritt Lake to take a break and eat my last bits of food, which is peanut butter and ham on Yukon Biscuits. Yesterday turned out to be quite an ordeal. With a report of continuing high winds and showers, I had to move camp to the other side nearer the trailhead so I could build a fire and better shelter if needed. I didn’t want to slog through all the wet brush around the outlet end of the lake so I decided to ferry my gear across in the raft. However, the wind was blowing so hard that I ended up stringing a taut line between the points of the peninsulas so I could pull myself, hand over hand, and ferry all the gear across. I’ll bet that was a sight too! I didn’t get done until 8:00 P.M. and still had to prepare dinner. By the way, yesterday at one point the wind calmed down enough for me to paddle all the way to the inlet stream at the far end of the lake where I caught eight cutts. I’m taking a few fish home so I’ve got them on snow in my pack. Of course I have all the accumulated garbage too so my pack is heavier now than it was on the way in. Cool, I just saw another hummingbird.
Well, I guess I’ve had enough of this sort of fun for now. This is the end of my eighth trip to this destination. Although, I do enjoy my solitude here a lot, some of my fondest memories are those activities involving friends that I’ve shared this place with. I will have to remember that for the next time I’ve got a hankerin’ to find my way back —to Lost Lake.
Be Deliberate—Be Safe—Keep Moving On…