Magic water at Spade Lake. Mt Daniel, center of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is above. Citadel Pass is at right skyline, 1,600’ above where this picture was taken.

Magic Water
by Brad Brisbine

Why does a 60-year old hiker continue to abuse his body on strenuous hikes with little prior conditioning? This is the tale of backpacking to 7 lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The trip took place August 6th-9th of 2015.

Looking down on the azure water of Deep Lake.

The minute I arrive at a high lake I feel that the bodily sacrifice was worth it. I admire the peaks, but I love the lakes. I’ve hiked to alpine lakes every summer since being in the Alpine Club at Wenatchee High School in 1972.I’ve held Spade Lake in high regard from the photos I’ve seen. The desire to see it finally overshadowed the thought of the 25 mile hike with lots of steep climbing needed to get there. The second weekend in August, Len Lamb, Justin Weedman and I made a Cle Elum river valley loop-trip encompassing 7 lakes, taking in Squaw Lake, Peggy’s Pond, Circle Lake, Venus Lake, Spade Lake and Waptus Lake, including looking down on Deep  Lake.                                               

Several miles up the trail we spotted our route from Peggy’s Pond to Circle Lake, sitting in a lunar bowl under the Citadel. The following day we hiked over Citadel Pass to Spade Lake, the jewel I have been waiting for. I will see Spade Lake soon enough. First, more precious gems to see.

Peggy’s Pond displays a beautiful aqua over a shallow, light colored bottom, transitioning to deep teal.

Peggy’s Pond sits on the shoulder of Cathedral Rock. Looking east with 9,415’ Mt Stuart in the background, the highest I’ve climbed.

 

Looking down on the azure water of Deep Lake.

After skirting above cliffs overlooking Deep Lake, we made our way to 6,014’ Circle Lake.Circle Lake’s cobalt blue sky reflection belies the depth of its turquois delight when the sun penetrates into its clear waters.

It’s easy looking at this magic to believe that we’re in an Adriatic Harbor with a white sailboat just out of the picture.

First light on the far shore, waking us up with a rich orange that warms the soul. Day hikers usually miss this. We bear the 45-pound packs in order to experience daybreak in the mountains (pictured right).

Water is the lifeblood of nature. To me, the mountains seem most alive around the lakes.

An hour later the colors have changed. An impressionistic painting appears on the lake, displaying both rich and subdued colors.

Rainier.

Climbing above Circle Lake, we cleared the ridge and had an impressive view of Mt Rainier.

Hiking over 6,850’ Citadel Pass gave us my first-ever view of Spade Lake. It was everything I had built it up to be. Perfect! The peninsula camp awaited, with its double beach.

All are peaks that hold alpine lakes in their clutches, and I’m living the good life because I’ve been to many of them.

Getting down to Spade Lake was not as simple as we might have imagined. This is definitely a back door route, and there was no trail. In the rocks close to the pass I saw only one cairn, and it was only two-rocks high.

After being stymied by one cliff band after the other, we finally found a place where we could lower our packs with a rope, and down-climb, at times sliding with one foot dragging in a rock crack so we wouldn’t pick up too much speed.

Spade Lake. In the distance, from left are Mt Rainier, Three-Queens, Hibox, Four Brothers, Chickamon, Lemah Mountain, Chimney Rock, Summit Chief and Little Big Chief, with Bears Breast at the far right.

We enjoyed shallow inlets on each side of camp for superb color displays. The featured attraction were blue and green, of every possible combination. I was ecstatic.

This intimate scene of clean water and unspoiled beach is a rarity on this planet. I feel blessed that I live so close. It would be a shame to not come back (pictured right).

A fantastic 7 lakes, all that I had imagined and an array of colors for the eyes to feast on. It was worth the 45 pound packs and steep terrain, those jewels of the mountains.

Maps. See a topo map of the route.

Nearest Town. Cle Elum.

Skill Level.
3

Fitness Level. 3

Distance: 21 miles.


Recommended Season.
Mid-summer and early autumn.

Access. From Cle Elum, follow Highway 903 west to Roslyn, Ronald, and Lakedale. Higway 903 eventually merges with the Salmon la Sac Road. Stay on the Salmon la Sac Road and, just before the Salmon La Sac Campground, veer right on the Cle Elum Valley Road (aka Road 4330). Follow this for 12 to 13 bumpy miles. About 100 yards before the road ends, park on the left side of the road at the Cathedral Rock Trailhead. Some years a high-clearance vehicle is recommended. A loop can be done starting and ending from this trailhead. The author did this using a second vehicle at Salmon la Sac and hiking from Waptus Lake down the Waptus River to the car parked at Salmon la Sac. A Northwest Forest Pass is required at these trailheads

Lakes Visited. Squaw Lake, Peggy’s Pond, Circle Lake, Venus Lake, Spade Lake and Waptus Lake, including looking down on Deep  Lake.                                  

Leave It Better than You Found It. This should be every user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, etc.

Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.

This article was originally posted on 11/16/2015.