Waptus Lake, Alpine Lake Wilderness
To start off our backpacking trips of the year, we headed to the relatively close Waptus Lake Trail - just northwest of Cle Elum. We picked a perfect weekend to get away - it was overcast with a few sprinkles in the evening, enough to keep the crowds down (saw maybe 8 groups on the trail). Being easily accessible meant the trail was well-used - as obvious, by the trail cutting large trenches into the ground. Stock users have especially taken their toll on the trail. Still the off-trail surroundings were in good condition, which was the important part. The trail was fairly flat; it started off at the Cooper River and crossed over to Waptus River while keeping elevation gain down to a minimum. There were several small stream crossings - nothing that threatened our dry boots. The vegetation along the trail was interesting once we entered the forest. There was a dense undergrowth of Douglas maples, blueberries, vanilla leaf, twin-flowers, and many other wildflowers mixed in. The plants changed with every micro-habitat - bogs, open fields, dry forest, marshes, so there was almost always something different to look at with each step.
Evening Grosbeaks called from the tops of the trees as Swainson's Thrushes serenaded us with their liquidious song. As is true for most forest birding, the birds along the Waptus Lake Trail were more often heard than seen. Still it was enjoyable being surrounded by the calls and songs of the forest birds. On occasion, we'd enter a part of the forest that was buzzing with bird active - Pine Siskins chasing each other from tree to tree, Western Tanagers with their brightly colored costumes foraging in the trees, and flycatchers swooping and looping in the air from an open branch or tree top. However the mosquitoes made it difficult to stop to an extended time; they were quite ferocious at getting blood. We hiked up the trail for four miles until we found a suitable spot along the Waptus River with few mosquitoes to camp for the night.
The next morning, we hiked up the rest of the trail to reach the lake, which was 8 miles from the trailhead. Before reaching the lake, we had to ford the river. The hiking bridge washed out last winter during a major storm. It must have been a very powerful and impressive flood, because the bridge was made of metal and bolted onto a concrete foundation. Fording the river wasn't too hard - if the water weren't so cold it would have been quite pleasant, especially on a warmer day. But the icy cold water reached up above my knees and I had no relief until I could reach the other side. We watched horses cross the ford - even they didn't have an easy time stepping on/over the large rocks that lined the river.
We made it up to the lake and enjoyed the scenery. Waptus Lake Trail ended and met the Pacific Crest Trail. We hiked along the trail a little ways before turning back - up until that point trail crews and rangers cleared the trail from fallen trees, but the PCT still had many fallen trees across the trail. We forded the river again (still not any warmer at that point) and hiked back to camp.
In the morning, we headed back down to the car, pausing along the way to savor a few of the very abundant blueberries and grouseberries.
Pied-billed Grebe - 1
Osprey - 2
Spotted Sandpiper - 4
Vaux Swift - 1
Rufous Hummingbird- 4
Western Wood Pewee
Evening Grosbeak - saw one fledgling fall into a tree and continue to beg and be fed by its parents.
Other Critter List
White Bog Orchid
Green-flowered Bog Orchid
Located: trailhead starts at the Salmon la Sac campground
Directions: From I-90 take the Roslyn/Salmon la Sac exit (west of Cle Elum). Drive through Roslyn to the end of the road at Salmon la Sac. Follow the signs to the trailhead.
Required permit: parking fee payable at the parking lot or Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Pass, free backpacking passes available at the trailhead
Information on Waptus Lake Trail and surrounding trails