Alpine Lakes Traverse

37 lakes in 9 days by jason hummel

Jessy and Josh looking to escape the wind and rain.


"Gods Balcony"

I breath in nature, out the sound
pressure, struggle, pain, love, loss, hope, hate, courage, cowardice

abound here in the cage of lies
I adventure through the fog and clouds clinging to the sky of my mind
into a peace I ride into the sameness no longer creased.
Love is LOUD, she is released
and I am proud high on this mountain pass
where alpine grass chatters
like children, they sing, their laughs ring
thunder sets their emotional cheer to a frenzy
and, in the middle, I listen to the symphony
there above, on god's balcony.


THE PLAN STAN: Alpine Lakes Traverse

I used to do a lot of hiking as a kid. For a long time I stepped away from it. A hike was only part of a climb or ski, kayak or bike, never just a hike. These other sports can be fun escapes, but when I look back to my earliest memories of the mountains, I look fondly on those summer hikes. There would be fishing, sleeping in, long days strolling through forest and meadow, blueberries, and wildlife. There was frankly something that I don't have a lot of and that is simply, well, time! When I have other goals in mind, I am focused on those alone. The world around me is just the 'between'. I don't have a lot of time to dally.

This winter, after knee troubles, I was forced to sit back and rest, something that I have never done. Climbing and skiing were put on the backburner. By the time I was better, the skiing wasn't great and the climbing would be a lot of strain. Nonetheless, I was enthused to get back into the hills and make the best of what was left and a hike seemed like a wonderful way to stretch the legs.

For a few years now, my twin brother Josh and I had wanted to traverse the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This region holds a special place in my heart. I spent a lot of time traveling its trails and ridgelines as a kid. Fishing and swimming were always looked forward too, no matter the cold weather or cold water that may have made either less enjoyable. The late summer snowstorm wasn't an unheard of event.

My first traverse of the area was with my parents and brothers. We spent 9 days going from Snoqualmie to Stevens (a few pictures from that hike: Dog Days, Five Packs), something that doesnt take nearly that amount of time, but did for us because we explored surrounding mountains and lakes. Whatever fit our fancy! That's what is great about hiking. Like I said before and I'll say again, 'There is time.'

In the same vein of that first traverse, I planned a 9 day hike with my brother. Included in the trip would my other brother Jessy and Josh's girlfriend, Christy.  Our path would be an interesting patchwork of trails and short cross country jaunts, or at least that's what it appeared like from maps and dredged up memory.

For a point of reference, I'll provide this short description of our route. In the broadest sense we wanted to go in the Waptus trailhead and out the Icicle Creek Trailhead. We decided on two legs in this journey so we could carry less food. Day 1-4 would take us from Waptus Lake, over Dutch-Miller and La Bohn Gaps to Necklace Valley. Day 5 would be split with the first half spent hiking out Necklace Valley to pick up food, while the remainder of that day would be spent going as far down Tonga ridge toward Deception creek as we could manage before dark. Day 6-7 would bring us to Robin Lakes and vicinity. While day 8-9 would transport us around Granite Mountain and down past Kalonqua Lakes to the end of our journey at Icicle Creek.

DAY ONE: Waptus Lake

The night before we arrived late and tired, and spent our remaining hours sleeping on the shore of the Copper River, whose silent rumblings swooned us to sleep. There was no interest in getting up early, no matter our desire to make Ivanhoe Lake, many miles up the way, with the heaviest our packs would be. Instead, sleeping provided dreams of a break I had yearned for, and not received, mainly out of my own stubbornness to escape, for many years. A full week off hadn't happened in 5 years. I was always trying to pick weather windows, and choose the best days to climb and ski. Usually they would come and go, and I'd find my chance to take a break gone with it. Summer has more room for planning, more chances that weather will be kind and generous enough to make a long trip into the mountains a worthy and fun endeavor rather than a soaking wet swimming pool of rain and clouds, snow and wind.

It occurred to me that morning that there are many types of fun. Some take effort, and some take a lot more effort. To me, hiking takes a lot less than most of my other activities. I like that. So instead of sleeping in too much, I herded the troops and headed back to our cars, where piles of gear needed to be sorted and packed.

From the back of the car more gear and knick-knacks came out than a dozen California transplants would purchase at a local REI before a hike to Paradise. I felt ashamed, but not so much. This gear was for the fun and enjoyment of all of us who deserved a break, plus this gear couldn't possibly add up to the absurd weight that a standard ski mountaineering venture could tip the scales in at.

In the end, all of our packs weighed 50-60lbs which was fine by us. We could surely cut it in half, but why, we had 9 days, and after some thought, we decided on a short hike to Waptus Lake, some 11 miles in. Why not? We were sure it would make for great swimming. Better to swim than to hike until it is too late to.

The hike began in good spirits. Jessy and I leapt ahead and wouldn't stop until we reached Waptus Creek. This was a familiar place for me, who had with Josh and another friend, carried our whitewater boats up the trail to put in at Waptus, whose nice pools and scenic canopy of trees make for a cornucopia of wonders. The ride is a pleasant experience on mostly class III or easier water. At least easy for us. The thousands of dead and dying moths would definitely disagree. They filled every eddy and pool.

My brother decided on a break there, while I broke off and ventured up for reminders. Those are important to me, reminders of past journeys. That is why I keep this website, and spend so much time writing. I want to remember these trips when I get old and grey. I want to smile and laugh about my youth and beyond. That is why I will remind Jessy to watch climbing over logs and laugh when I tell him how he followed me up the creek and yelled, 'Hi,' just as the log he was on begins to rotate and bees leap out to hover and gather below. They rise up and sting him. Why he is reminded throughout the trip that he may not be as light-footed and quick as he may think. He has the bruises and scars from his fall off the log onto bedrock to remind him that it's best to tread lightly when following his older brother. Although, a day or two ahead, I would have scars of my own. So we are both maybe not as nimble as we may think.

The next several miles went without incidence, and the creek would creep into sight a few more times before we would finally cross and stand on the other side. About then we come to Waptus Lake. There are camps at the very end, middle and a few other gems hidden throughout. You'll have to work like us to find those.

The next several hours are embarrassing. We laze about like Sloths, like your worthless dog or shrew cat. Our existence was defined by repetitive dips, cooking bacon and sausage, and sun bathing on shore. It was corruptible! It was literally an about face to our 9-5, Monday through Friday, jobs. What would our bosses think? Let me again remind you of our situation: nice beach, swimming, and food. I KNOW what they'd think, 'You f#$%^#'s, get back to work.' That's what they'd think.

This did become too much after a time. Jessy and I eventually set up camp, and decided to yard up the food, because it's always a good idea to let mice and other varmints get as little food as possible. No reason to feed 'em. Although, on a trip a few days after this one on the Ptarmigan Traverse, I would learn that they aren't necessarily junk food junkies. They like fingers too, even when they are still attached to their warm blooded owner. And YES, there are bears too, but my experience has always been like this. You see, they run, and then they are gone. In Alaska and Canada they are a bit scarier. There it's a good idea to yard the food up high. Even so, according to the Fish and Wildlife website ( there are 25,000 Black Bears in Washington. It notes that while information is sketchy they do know of four attacks, one of which ended in death.

We weren't thinking of that though, we were just doing what we have always done. It didn't go as planned, and because the plan wasn't going as planned, comedy was spelled in the forthcoming events LEADing to disaster. Jessy and I pulled and tugged, but we had so much food we were afraid we wouldn't get it high enough. Except, by will of god, we thought we had. Then Christy, that vicious meat eater, reaches up and swats our food like a bear. Laughs and giggles instead of growls and grumbles made for a poor imitation, but no matter her bad acting, there was more comedy ahead.

After Christy had left, Jessy and I continued in our efforts to hang the food. When again, not long after, we had the food nearly tied down, project completed. Smug satisfaction quickly faded. In a flash, the rope shuddered. With a twang the threads burst apart and all the food came crashing down. I can still hear Josh and Christy's laughs from behind the bushes, where the sunny shore was. Neither Jessy or I could hold our laughs back either.

Finally, we gave up, piled the food next to Christy and Josh, and went to bed. In the morning, we weren't sure what exactly the plan was for the next day. All we knew was that another beach and more swimming were prerequisites.

and Douglas Spiraea.

A butterfly suspended on a yellow flower and a bees nest.

Bacon and Sausage at Waptus Lake? " Save some for me, guys!"

Waptus Lake toward late afternoon, and, Waptus Lake at night.

DAY TWO: Lake Ivanhoe, Williams Lake, Chain Lakes

The climb from Waptus Lake to Ivanhoe continues further up the valley where at one point, you look down and see Waptus. Like a football stadium with a million sports fans, the lake like the field and the fans, trees, you wonder at the wildness of it all. No cars, no buildings or any sort, and no mark of any kind beyond the trail, of human incursion into these lands. It was definitely a magical event, trees rustled with approval.

Soon you come to Lake Ivanhoe, which is cradled between two mountains. To the North is Bear's Breast and to the South, Big Chief. Above the lake is Dutch-Miller Gap, a splendid meadow, full of ponds, mostly dried, heather, and grasslands.

At the lake we traversed the South side, and climbed down to the edge where we would be able to swim. If you are noticing a trend, swimming is a large part of our thrill, and thrill we would have, especially if we thought Waptus was cold. Nonetheless, what brought us to the other side was a falls, and it was our goal to jump off of it. But first, well, we had to get to it. Jessy found the best way (remember, don't ever follow me), while the rest of us took the scenic route. We would do the same on the way back and it would provide plenty of comedy for Jessy, but we're not there yet. Anyhow, on a scale of 10, this ended up being way up there for us. The weather was perfect, the day so hot that the sub-freezing Atlantic waters of Ivanhoe weren't that bad once every nerve and fiber of your body was numbed. It took some doing for each of us, but we all jumped in, climbed the falls and jumped off. It was very satisfying to take a few hours, and appreciate this joyous place.

As for joys, how about the comedy I alluded to earlier? We had climbed down a ravine, which led to a steep gully. This gully wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for the lunch we had brought, but neglected to eat, in our hands. No matter our full loads, with Christy in the lead, she was only a step away from freedom, and easy going on the trail. But, by god, it wasn't to be. She was rejected. One misstep threw her off balance forcing her to reach out for a branch, whereupon everything proceeded to tumble out of her hands, much like a ship’s cabin boy, arms full of rolled up maps, losing his footing, and reaching for the railing. Maps catch the wind. Food found the gully and its way down to Josh and I, who attempted to salvage it, but ALAS in the course of trying to capture canned salmon, crackers, and cheese we drop water bottles, shoes and clothes. All the while the mutinous Jessy can be heard hooting, 'So, how's it going over there, eh?'

Back at our packs we climbed another few hundred feet up before crossing Dutch-Miller Gap. There are switchbacks down the other side. These drop nearly a 1000-ft before you reach a creek and the intersection of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail. This trail is a nice entrance to the area, but I've heard tell that the road may be closed. Not all of it, but enough to make for a longer hike, possibly taking this area away from the weekend warrior. Who knows? It is something to consider if you plan on going here in the future.   

Williams Lake is now a short climb away. Through shrub trees you come to a shallow, stone studded, grassy shore. There are a few camps here, but nothing special, although there appeared to be more elsewhere. We didn't see anyone, which was nice, and took a break to explore the area.

Soon it was time to go, and we continued along the shore. Ahead are passed meadow-encompassed streams carved into mud, ideal frog estuaries. Amphibious antics mad for photos and entertainment. Up mine tailing, we take our packs off once more to explore a mine tunnel. It was full of litter, and not just old rusty nails, but more recent plastic pipes and buckets.

A hiker's path climbs steeply beyond here through more shrub trees. For the most part it heads straight up before traversing back to a boulder field on the left. The boulder field leads to Chain Lakes, a collection of tarns carved into granite. By the time we negotiated all of this, the sun was waning, and we were inclined to stop at Chain Lakes and enjoy what daylight there was left.

Once situated, we sorted through food and decided on dinner. Afterwards, Jessy and I explored the area, and found an old shelter, roofless, but still with three walls standing. Later we sat atop a hill where a USGS marker was. From it we watched the glow on the horizon vanish, and the stars appear.

To Dutch Miller Gab we go.
Christy hiking up to Ivanhoe and climbing down to the waterfall.
A swim before heading to Williams Lake.
William's Lake.
A frog climbing a mossy wall on the edge of Williams Lake.
Looking out onto William's Lake from the head of an old mine shaft. PHOTO: Jessy Hummel
Christy climbing up granite slabs to camp for the day. Josh at Chain Lakes with La Bon Gap behind. PHOTO: Jessy Hummel
One of the many lakes at Chain Lakes.



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