Across the Alpine Lakes: In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

1.

It’s mid-October, 2014, and my dad’s taken me to see my first larches, on my first trip to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

We climb from the Teanaway through parched open forest to Ingalls Pass, then down to Headlight Basin, part of the broad headwaters of Ingalls Creek, to camp among the shining yellow and orange trees. I’ve never seen anything like them before.

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Then further, to Lake Ingalls and Stuart Pass. The trail braids between the Lake and Pass, and disappears entirely on top. To one side is Ingalls Creek, to the other Jack Creek. Dad tells me there’s a trail down there, stretching for miles from here to… he’s not quite sure where. Somewhere near Leavenworth. Some place called Icicle Creek.

I wonder what the trail’s like. The tread’s already gone here. What must it be further down? Is it possible for trail to disappear further than this? I try to imagine it. Can there be negative trail, like there are negative numbers?

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2.

Two years later, August 2016, and I’m northbound on the PCT in the Alpine Lakes, just south of Stevens Pass. I slept at Mig Lake last night, after my planned camp at Hope Lake a mile before was full.

I slept with the stars but wake in a cloud, everything in my open tent covered in the drizzle that’s just started steadily falling.

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It’s a disconsolate morning, broken only by an unexpected junction. A few miles south of Stevens Pass, I pass a turnoff for Icicle Creek, and it feels wrong. Since we looked down that night on Stuart, I’ve been to Icicle Creek a couple times. But I only know it as a sunny stream that we pass on the way to The Enchantments. Where we pass, just outside of Leavenworth, it’s broad and deep and settled, with houses and dams and sunbathers sleeping on the shore. This place couldn’t be further away from that.

I look at my map, but it only shows the PCT—a thin band of light through the dark. So I have to imagine the trail, how it connects such disparate things. I think of a route winding through the deep wet woods here, transitioning somehow to the sun. I think of following it. And I think of going further: once to Icicle Creek, maybe I could find Jack Creek—if the trail exists—and follow that to Stuart Pass and Headlight Basin, the only other pricks of light here I know.

And maybe one could keep going from there.

3.

Winter now, 2019. Well… it feels like winter. It’s really just the first weekend of October, but there’s already a foot of snow on Icicle Ridge.

Dad and I came up this morning from Icicle Creek, from the other side of that trail I saw on the PCT. It’s been snowing for an hour when we make camp at Lake Mary.

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Eating lunch in the tent, I trace the lines on my dad’s map, trace from here to the PCT, then here to Stuart Pass, to that first trip. Connecting the dots.

The next night, driving home through the rain, I pull up another map on my phone. Every place I’ve ever been in the wilderness here, every place I’ve ever heard of here, could be connected in a single long loop.

4.

In the early winter that follows, I keep pulling up that map, keep tracing that route. And I make a plan. It’d be a couple hundred miles—almost exactly the length of the JMT—and I’d have to figure out a way to resupply, but there are options.

For my birthday that February—2020—my mom gets me a new hiking guide for the Alpine Lakes, and I spend every night reading descriptions for trails I want to walk, for the bits I want to see.

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5.

But then 2020 happens. Travel feels scary and resupply would be impossible and… and I just don’t have it in me to be that far from home for so long.

So I spend another year dreaming, tracing trails on my map, and in my mind.

6.

The time comes in 2021. A dozen loose ideas combine into a plan.

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It’ll take two weeks, starting and ending at Icicle Creek, with a resupply at Snoqualmie Pass. I’ll go from the far east to far west, and far south to north. I’ll walk the paths I’ve been dreaming for years.

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In dreams begin responsibilities.

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