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Sprite Lake Overnight
posted by John : August 26-28, 2011

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Since last year's trip to the Ancient Lakes Clara's been talking about a hard overnight trip. It's not that she didn't want to hike with Lilly, but she is so much more capable that she wanted to push herself. So I'd been planning on Summerland on the flanks of Mt. Rainier. I'd even called to get permits. Except there was snow. LOTS of snow. Epic snow, for the end of August. OK....

Luckily, Eric and I had just gotten a taste of the hills north of Cle Elum. Sprite Lake was up there and it looked perfect. A few thousand feet of gain in the usually dry mountains. Rocks to climb and maybe even a goat. So...

We left Friday after school and work. After a quick stop for dinner we found ourselves a nice guerrilla camp about a mile from the trailhead. Treen loved the opportunity to run with impunity. Clara loved getting her feet filthy (apparently) by walking around in Crocs. I loved the fact we'd be sleeping in the truck so I didn't have to put up a tent. Eric loved the fact that he wouldn't be sleeping in the truck with us. Paula seemed to love just about everything. We had a fire, fun relaxing, and took a few pictures of the clear night sky. (Why aren't there any of those pictures here? I need to work on my technique.)

In the morning we were introduced to the source of the ants in the camp. A monster anthill just a few hundred feet away. And a smaller one right next to the truck. Speaking of the truck, it was a good plan to sleep in it. However, it wasn't perfectly level so every few hours I'd wake up on the bottom of the pile of Clara and Treen. I'd slide them back into their proper spots and we'd start over. Someone ought to fit the truck with the kinds of sleeping harnesses they use on the space shuttle.

By 9am we were packed up and at the trailhead. A beat up old car pulled in and a crazy old guy got out. He was wearing slacks and his hair, what was left of it, hadn't been combed in months. He sort of grunted at us and then started up the trail. No backpack. No water. Nothing. We figured we'd see his body shortly. Or he would be lying in wait for us to take our packs. HA! The joke will be on him. The packs are so heavy both Eric and I lost at least an inch of height due to spinal compression.

And don't tell me I need to make Clara carry more. She had a solid 10 pounds in her pack, about a fifth of her weight. (Yes, she's a slight little thing.) Even with her and Treen sharing the load I was still barely able to lift my pack over my head. Ugh.

It was warm, but not oppressive. We didn't hurry, but still made decent time. We had lunch at a switchback where Eric draped his bug net over himself and the girls. Silly, Eric. The bugs weren't bad. Yet. Higher up we passed a couple of guys who had planned to stay for two nights, but were chased away by the bugs. Not a good sign. Still higher we ran into Mr. Crazy on his way down. He regaled us with stories about how it used to be and how he'd climbed just about everything except this trail. He said he had a mouthful of snow at the pass and that was plenty for him. We didn't see his bones on the way down so presumably he got out ok.

At a boulder field we found the outcropping we'd been told about. We got the best views of Mt. Daniel (highest point in King and Kittitas counties) and a chance to regroup a little before the final push to Paddy Go Easy Pass just ahead. (I don't know who Paddy was, but if this was his idea of going easy he was pretty messed up. Maybe had a little too much whiskey in his camelbak.)

At the pass we didn't see the goat that supposedly was a little too friendly and we didn't see the lake we expected to. We did see the Cradle, a mountain across the valley, and we did see a salt lick someone had dropped for the goats. Maybe they were all salted up and didn't need our products today. (I was a bit interested in the salt lick, but manners prevented me from giving it a taste.)

Unfortunately, we had to go down from the pass (unfortunate, because we'd have to come back up on our way out) and even more unfortunately we'd be passing a snow field. Snow? In August? Yeah. Sad, huh? The girls lulled us into complacency by building an innocent little snowman and then they struck. Snowballs from everywhere! We were outgunned (since we were standing on the trail, not the snow), but the tide turned when we started collecting their spent snowballs and returning fire! Of course, one does not risk a direct hit on an eight or a 10 year old so while they were aiming for our heads we had to throw at their feet. Ah, well. What are dads for other than targets? I hear it only gets worse from here.

Refreshed by the snow we pushed on and soon found Sprite Lake, a sparkling sapphire in the brown hills, below us. We made our descent and found great spots at the outlet. Perfect for two tents. Treen was immediately in the water and we circled back to the shallow end of the lake once we had the tents up. The girls waded in a little, Treen splashed around a fair amount, and I walked in up to my neck. Now I know what it will feel like when I have a heart attack.

The water was so cold it was hard to breathe. My chest was being crushed from within and my fingers and toes were going numb. Right about the time I could see straight Eric pointed out that my head hadn't gone under yet. So I finished the job and got the sweetest brain freeze ever. Like two 40 ounce Coke slurpies in through the nose. I tried to coax the girls in beyond their knees, but they were smarter than I. Instead they drew fire from the recently arrived swarms of mosquitos. Time to go.

We ran back to the tents and crawled inside as quickly as we could. The rest of the evening was spent either running between tents or with personal bug nets on. Even Treen was encased to protect her. (They couldn't get through her fur, but definitely could find skin on her belly and nose.) We ate dinner inside and when the sun started to set we climbed first a knoll above camp and then to the ridge between the pass and Paddy Go Easy South. The bugs weren't as bad up here. Too bad it was a couple hundred feet down to the water and our camp was already established. We'd talked about climbing PGE South and maybe North, but between the bugs and the sketchy route we opted not to follow through.

You'd think with all the mosquitos and the killer hatch of mayflies we'd have had a blast fishing. I felt so silly not taking a rod to either Summit or Sheep Lakes where you could plainly see the fish that I had lugged an extra couple of pounds of gear to Sprite Lake. Ha! Never even put the rod together. The lake was barren. No vegetation in the water and with a million bugs dancing on the surface there wasn't a fish rise to be seen. So sad.

Clara, Treen, and I slept without the rainfly on and were perfectly comfy until the rising sun in the east lit up the back wall of the tent the next morning.

In the morning we hoped maybe the bugs had gone away. No such luck. Instead, they were ready to finish the job. Clara was already looking a little pale from all the blood loss and on her back I think Paula was trying to replicate the constellations we'd seen the first night. So instead of lounging we started packing. The girls were in the tents to begin with, but soon we moved them to the bug shelter so we could pack up the tent. I'm sure there were a couple of the little bloodsuckers in the tent when I rolled it up. Suck on that.

Without much ceremony we fled. It was sad such a beautiful lake was plagued by bugs and a dearth of fish.

We poked along the ridge line and slowly climbed back to the pass. Somehow, my pack was heavier than when we started. It might have been because I was doing my dadly duty and carrying some of Clara's load. In a sign of her growing maturity, she recognized this and said thanks. She really is growing up.

Once on the way down it was just one foot in front of the other. Every once in a while we could see Tucquala Lake snaking through the valley, but it didn't seem to be getting any closer. We could even see our guerilla camp, we think. The only excitement was the occasional Skittles stop and a couple of grouse too stupid to fly away even when we were right on top of them. At least they made for good pictures.

When we did finally return to the car we spent more than a few minutes soaking in the creek by the road before changing into clean, dry clothes for the ride home.

Clara's first two-night trip netted us about eight miles and 3,000 feet of gain. Next year maybe we'll spend two nights actually in a tent.

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