Across the Alpine Lakes, Day 9: Passes and Puddles

August 15, 2021

Hardscrabble Camp to Necklace Valley via Dutch Miller Gab Trail, Williams Lake Trail, Chain Lakes, La Bohn Lakes, and La Bohn Gap



I let myself sleep in, then spend the morning listening to a podcast about horror movies in the 70s. This is not, I’ll realize while night hiking later today, the best thing to listen to when you’re out in the woods alone.

But the morning passes pleasantly, and it’s nearly afternoon by the time I pack up camp and start up the trail.



I feel weirdly disconsolate today. The trail’s fine, if a little overgrown, and the heat and smoke are better than they’ve been in a while. But I just feel… not right. It happens sometimes.

Sometimes hiking’s just moving forward, even if you don’t really want to.





Morning passes to afternoon as I follow the trail smoothly up through interspersed forest and meadow, shadow and sun, bracken fern and blooming flowers. Stately stands of old growth butt directly up on sunny fields of paintbrush and lupine.



A few miles in there’s a steep glacial step, then the whole place becomes an open park, crisscrossed by deep slow creeks, some a few feet across, some as wide as rivers. Trout dart just below the surface, followed by broken shards of sun reflected in the sky-blue water.




I split from the main route at the head of the valley and head up a faded path a stout 300 feet to Williams Lake.



I know the route to my pass starts somewhere on the far side of the lake, but just getting to the far side proves to be an ordeal, involving acres of flooded marsh, several boulder fields, six hundred mosquitoes, and two candy bars.



I do though make it to the far side. Only… I’m not at all sure where my route actually starts. I have a vague idea that I’m supposed to climb the gully stretching northeast up from the lake, so I start up more or less at random, and just by dumb luck stumble on an old mine, then a clear line of cairns leading from the talus I’m on to a path through the woods.



From the cairns, the route is fantastic. Sometimes steep, sometimes sketchy, but it always goes.


The route vacillates from trees to talus, eventually settling on the latter in a steep rutted ravine that stretches up and out of sight. The mosquitoes have finally gone, and I rest a while on the rock, watching the sun play on the water a few hundred feet below.


Sometimes hiking’s just moving forward, even if you don’t really want to. The trick is knowing that, on a long enough timeline, you’ll always be glad you kept going. On a long enough timeline, you’ll always have wanted to.



The gully ends at a broad expanse of boulders, snow, and water—the Chain Lakes, I eventually realize. Old mining equipment’s staged at the far end, like an open-air museum. Someone’s built a bench and table out of old wood and rusty nails.




From Chain Lakes, a well-worn way trail climbs a hill of blooming heather to La Bohn Gap, then continues circuitously on a sort of tour of the La Bohn Lakes.




I love it up here. The lakes are nestled against the Cascade Crest’s western flank—Mt. Hinman and Brown Sugar Peak—and it feels so perfect it’s hard to believe this place wasn’t planned just for me.




Douglas Adams tells this story I love about the illusion of design. A puddle suddenly comes to consciousness and, looking around its world, begins to think that world must have been built just for it: “This is an interesting world I find myself in—an interesting hole I find myself in—fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!”

The puddle gets things backward: it was made to fit in the world, the world was not made for it. Same here. This place wasn’t built for me. It feels like home because I was built to belong in it.



There’s no easy way down from La Bohn Gap, but there’s a reasonable route that leaves from the outlet stream of the northernmost La Bohn Lake, then shimmies down a half-wooded hillside to Necklace Valley.



The easy path dead-ends at a mound of avalanche debris and talus, broken trees and brush-covered snow. But there’s an obvious—well, obvious-ish—way through, and soon I’m at the bottom, looking up.



I leave the talus just as the sun’s beginning to set, and find the end—for me the beginning—of the official trail just as the light starts seriously to fade.



Then a succession of jewel-like lakes—Opal and Emerald and Jade—as things go full dark and I put on my headlamp.



From the end of the valley, the trail drops steeply toward the East Fork Foss River, and I find a tiny spot halfway down, at the far end of a switchback. A quick dinner of freeze dried something and almonds and gummy bears and several liters of water, then easy sleep.


At two or three in the morning I stumble out to pee and wake a doe, lying not twenty feet from my tent. She looks up for a moment but doesn’t run. She just watches, then sets her head back down as I turn back to my tent.

I whisper goodnight as I drift back to sleep.

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