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Margaret Lake Overnight
posted by John : September 27-28, 2008

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All clean and full of energy

Miracles of miracles, it wasn't expected to rain on our annual daddy-daughter backpacking trip. In spite of it being the last weekend in September, in spite of being the weekend after a weekend of furious precipitation, and in spite of both me and Clara desperately looking forward to this trip.

Of course, there were other threats. Daryl, the other dad, saw his company flounder, fail, and get snatched up for pennies on the dollar just before we were to leave. Apparently, it was no great surprise, but I was still worried it'd get in the way.

And then there was Lilly. She threatened a fit so intense it could only come from a petulant three and a half year old told she couldn't go on a trip because she wasn't old enough. (And, yes, that was Clara who told her that, not me.) However, this was defused, amazingly, through logic. "Remember that special hike you did with Daddy and Tokul to the waterfall? The one that nobody else got to go on?" (And, to tell the truth, there might have been some bribery in there, too. Something about getting to sleep in Mommy's bed and go to NanaPapa's and eat nothing but chocolate all weekend.)

So Saturday morning, with a grey sky pocked with bits of blue Daryl and his son Lex showed up right on time at 10am. We loaded two kid-sized backpacks into the trunk of the Honda (as opposed to the "Truck," which also happens to be a Honda) and two packs for the kids. (Huh? When I say, "kid-sized," I mean they were literally the same size as the kids. Or maybe a bit taller and heavier.)

Amy took pictures of us before we left for our big adventure as though worried we might not make it back. After all, it was to be an ambitious three mile trip with 1,600 feet of gain the first day that rivaled anything Clara has done and was certainly more than Lex has hiked. Waving and flashing the lights at the kids left behind we drove into the mountains.

On the descent from Mt. Catherine on Thursday other TNAB hikers remarked how lucky I was to live so close to hikes up the I-90 corridor. I countered that it made it really difficult for me to abandon trips so close in favor of new adventures even as close by as Stevens Pass. (Don't believe me? Look at the map of hikes and you'll see the dearth of trips outside the South Fork valley.)

Still, only 30 minutes later we were at the popular Mt. Margaret trailhead. For me it wasn't unfamiliar at all. Just a few weeks earlier I'd been here scouting the trail and the lake. I knew it was a bit of grind up some old roads, into a second growth forest, then onto the open slopes of blueberry heaven before a final climb to the ridge and down the other side to Margaret Lake. The plan was to go slow, pick berries, marvel at the views of Mt. Rainier glowing above the mountains to the south, and mosey into an empty Margaret Lake where we'd have our pick of the many campsites.

It started out as planned. Slowly. Even though Clara had been talking up the trip for about a week (ever since I told her about it when I was relatively sure of the weather) she suddenly wasn't all that motivated. At times we were running ahead of Daryl and Lex, sometimes with Lex, sometimes Clara and Daryl were hiking in the lead, but mostly Clara stuck close to me. It was just about the perfect weather for hiking (cool and dry missing only a clear sky), but she just wasn't into it.

Still we pushed on. Her opinions changed when we got to the berries, for a bit. The berries were soft and mushy down low, but as we climbed they got better. The promise of better berries and snacks (always the snacks) helped us continue the climb. Lex was doing great and so was Daryl in spite of his pack.

Last year on our overnight trip to Scout Lake I described Daryl as using a covered wagon approach to packing. The only thing he was really missing was the clanking of pots and pans hanging off his backside. This year I was forbidden from using the same analogy, but I was saved by Lex who declared his father was, "The Camel!" There were many guffaws and up we went.

We stopped for lunch short of the ridge and it was suddenly chilly. Clara donned a fleece and a wool hat, but still complained of being cold. She solved this by jumping off logs while eating her sandwich. As a testament to her skillz her sandwich never once hit the dirt.

On top of the ridge we paused for a few minutes before preparing to head down. A hiker who looked to have stayed the night at Margaret Lake came up and I asked whether there were any others camped down there. I was hoping to hear, "Nope. It's empty." Yeah... right.

"To be honest, it's packed." My hopes sank. "There's a party of about 18 with lots of kids." Oh, crap. "They're pretty good, though. About your kids' age." Whew. At least they weren't a bunch of 17 year olds drunk on animal beer.

When "the guy from Ratatouille" left us (he did bear a striking resemblance) we started down the steep switchbacks. At Lake Yvonne we saw a monster tadpole swimming lazily near the shore of the little puddle. From Yvonne it's maybe a quarter mile to Margaret Lake and the only tricky part was the final drop through a slippery, muddy trough. As we got close we could hear the monster party having a great time. My heart sank another foot.

At the lake's edge one of the adults admitted there a ton of them, but told us there were some campsites beyond where they were (in the primo spot on the big rock, of course) and not to worry, they'd probably all be in bed by nine. (Nine, huh? I was hoping they'd leave by about six.) We walked around the massive complex of tents they had set up and found something somewhat doable. No views, but at least it was kind of separated from the rest of them.

I decided to try to find something better and started around the lake to scout the other side. (I had found such an abundance of sites on the close side I didn't make it over there when I was out earlier in September. I didn't anticipate such a large group.) On the far side was a spot tucked in the trees, but not exactly what we were looking for. I returned and we dropped our gear to start looking for firewood.

While searching for dead wood in an area already well picked over I followed a thing trail up a little hill and found a tremendous spot. Big enough for our two tents, a continuing trail for a loo away from the lake, and in a spot where nobody would be walking by. Perfect! (I'd love to say that it would have been my first choice had I known about it, but there is really only one perfect spot and that's where the big party had set up.)

We moved all our gear there and built up our stockpile of damp wood. Fires would be a bit hard, but no matter, that's what the Jet Boil stove was for. All we'd need is an adequate supply of fuel and we could boil water like pros. (In case you're not remembering, last year I ran out of fuel in the morning. Surely, nothing like that would happen again...)

Once our tents were set up we broke out our fishing gear and headed down to the lake to pump water and try for some action. Unfortunately, the only action we found was yet another big group of campers arriving (a group of eight women) and lots of brush making casting really hard.

So we wandered to the west end of the lake where the shore was open, casting easy, but the fish not exactly interested. Clara did a bit of stripping (the line, she was stripping in the line, sicko) and got her first casting lesson. Turns out: She's a natural! I think if we spent some dedicated time she'd be practicing gorilla-style fishing just like I did when I was that age. (Grandpa Jack would be so proud!)

With no luck we continued around the lake onto the talus and tried some more, but with no difference in the results. Clara declared she was cold (after refusing to wear her coat, of course) and so I gave up my fleece to her. We heard squeaks and chirps and saw a pika on the rocks. I always thought pikas were more like a chipmunk, but this was almost like a rabbit. It chilled as we all looked at before I spooked it trying to get too close.

Dinner was, of course, "special" macaroni and cheese for the kids with a smore dessert. Daryl and I had other dehydrated goodness that didn't really distinguish itself from hot, wet styrofoam.

Last year, the kids went down just after dark. They had worn themselves out in a last burst of joy when we gave them glow sticks. This year it didn't work that way. They got the glow sticks, but still had too much energy to go down. Both (mostly Clara) insisted they stay up until we went to bed. Meantime, we busied ourselves with putting out the fire and getting everything squared away for the night ahead. When we finally did go to bed Clara was out quickly, but slept restlessly. As a result, I got little sleep and woke up sore at about 7:30.

While Saturday had started cloudy and stayed pretty cool throughout Sunday had no intention of repeating. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and although there was frost on the tents and ice in my water bottle it was warming up quickly.

I wandered up the trail toward the ridge above us to try to get pictures of the lakes below with the early sun on them and heard something big and clumsy crashing away through the brush ahead of me. I called out with a couple of, "Hi, bear!" and such, but really thought it could only be an elk or maybe a hunter. Getting shot was far more a concern than getting mauled.

Breakfast was the same as last year with a variety of dehydrated eggs, but Daryl had the brilliant idea to bring tortillas that made the "eggs" palatable. Hurray for new tastes! (Of course, the kid weren't really that interested.) As I was heating up water for hot chocolate there was suddenly silence. You know that horrible feeling you get when something you had specifically intended to avoid comes to pass anyway? Yep, I was out of fuel. Again. The claims of almost infinite power from a tiny canister turned out to be just a wee bit overstated. Luckily, we had the fire going and I was able to boil water there so we had hot beverages anyway.

(New rule: Two canisters minimum.)

I also tried to cook pancakes on the fire. However, I'd forgotten something to grease the pan with so I wound up just burning pancake batter. Amazingly, Clara loved it and ate two of the pancake crumbles that were somehow both underdone and burned at the same time. Good for her. I just hope she doesn't expect me to try to make them like that at home.

After breakfast we were all about packing up. Even though everything we had came in on our backs it was still a chore to gather it all together and get it into a state that it could go back in the pack. I cheated a bit and put the tent (Jeremy's "peanut" tent) on the outside of my pack for the walk home making it a lot easier to buckle the top.

We headed out just before noon and got the usual collection of cheers from folks we passed who were just in for a dayhike. It's always great to see the kids' faces light up when someone other than their parents tell them how great a job they were doing. I bet they'd even have cleaned their rooms had those folks told them to do it.

At Lake Yvonne, the tiny puddle at the base of the switchbacks, we met two parties who had settled in there. They asked where the trail we were on went and when we told them it was Margaret Lake they were clearly surprised. They thought Yvonne was Margaret. "We thought the lake had dried up since the book was written."

We made quick work of the switchbacks climbing 300 feet to the ridge. The only problem was Clara's desire to be in the front and my desire to encourage her to share the lead. I held out the carrot of maybe going after Mt. Margaret if she did a good job up to the ridge and that helped a little, but after such a lousy night's rest it's no wonder she was still crabby.

We settled into the shade atop the ridge and broke out lunch. Dayhikers were coming fast and furious now, mostly heading down to Margaret Lake, but a few made their way toward the Twin Lakes and Lake Lillian. (This is the official route to Lillian, one I haven't used in years.)

Daryl and Lex opted to hang out while Clara and I dropped all but the essentials and headed up the trail toward Mt. Margaret. We didn't get far before the trail started dropping and I realized we wouldn't be able to tag it and return as quickly as we needed to with Daryl and Lex waiting for us. So we returned and did a bit of off-trail exploring (which Clara said she loved) in an attempt to get a view of Margaret Lake from above. We were able to see a bit of it, but nothing picture worthy.

The hike down from the ridge was a lot easier than the hike up. We stopped more frequently for berries and to let others pass, but otherwise it was a straight descent with minimal fussing. Clara did have to encourage me along after I counted the 200 yards Daryl promised to the car and came up about 15 short. In the parking lot I had to tell Clara that they weren't pretty little shiny rocks, but someone's broken car window.

"Why did they break their window?" asks the innocent one.

"Well... um..." says Daddy not wanting to get too deeply into the miscreant's intentions.

"Maybe a rock fell from the mountain and hit the car."

Phew. "Could be. Let's go!"

We got home and found Amy, Lilly, and Henry were still in Kirkland at a baby shower so we had time to unpack, shower, and generally decompress before they arrived to many hugs and kisses.

Daryl and I have already talked about next year and how Lilly and Jack (Daryl's younger son) will have to get their own private trip before Clara and Lex join them for another late season expedition. Give it another three years and Henry will be ready, too!

What a sight that will be! What a wonderful sight.

(And hopefully they can carry more of their stuff or I'm gonna have to get me a goat.)

Totals: 3.3 miles and 1,650 feet on day one, 3.8 miles and 400 feet on day two.

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