Friday, July 22, 2011

Pratt Lake - Camping and Fishing close to Seattle

Pratt Lake is popular destination for the physically fit. It's 6 miles from either of two I-90 trailheads (Exit 45 - Road 9030 or Exit 47 - Denny Creek). The very fit can do it as a day hike (12 miles, whew!) but most people do it as an over-nighter. I did it as a 3 day trip.

I arrived at the Talapus Lake trailhead on Friday afternoon; the trailhead was strangely deserted. I had chosen this trailhead over Denny Creek because the Talapus Lake trail has significantly less elevation gain which was important to me as my pack was 31 pounds. This is a reasonable weight, considering the 8 pounds of fishing gear.

Pack ContentsWeight
Sleeping bag2
Sleeping pad1
Mess Kit3
Trail Boat4
Fishing Gear4
Water Pump1

Teige and Wesley at Olallie

At two miles the trail reaches Talapus lake, one of the shortest and easiest alpine lakes to get to. I kept on going another one and half miles to set up camp at Olallie Lake. Don't bother fishing at Olallie, there's nothing but small fish there. I shared camp with a young man named Teige Weidner and his parent's dog Wesley. It was nice to have some company! Teige's pump had broken so I lent him mine. I was freezing in my tent that night. I woke up at 2AM and put all my clothes on, including my socks and I was STILL freezing! That's the paradox of clear skies in Seattle; it makes for cold nights. At about 6AM the sun came out and hit the side of my tent instantly warming it and letting me sleep 3 solid hours.

Looking down on Olallie Lake

We broke camp and back-tracked to meet the Pratt Lake trail and then ascended the ridge looking back down on Olallie, with Mount Rainier in the background. As we topped the ridge, Teige's pack strap broke and he and Wesley turned back. I promised to send him this report! The trail wound down into a giant bowl where Pratt Lake perches before its outlet tumbles down a steep hillside into the Pratt river Valley.

Looking down to Pratt Lake, Kaleetan Peak in the distance

The descent to the lake is 2 miles and about 800 feet elevation loss. I ran into a confused couple who thought they were nearing Lake Olallie. I told them that they had passed it 3 miles ago and you should have seen the look that she gave him. I congratulated them on their fitness that they could day-hike 12 miles.

Pratt Lake

Lots of college kids arrived at Pratt Lake about the same time I did, day-hikers and over-nighters. I set up my tent next to a giant old-growth fir tree. My tent is a $20 one-man tent (only 3 lbs) from What a deal. I love this tent.

I love my one-man tent

I fished Pratt Lake in the blazing sun for four hours. I caught a lake trout and three brook trout. All were small; in fact, Pratt Lake is known for small fish so don't go there thinking you are going to catch a bunch of hogs for dinner. The lake trout was my first of that species! Strange looking fish, very predatory. Mean face, brown stripes, yellow dots. I believe these were planted to try to keep the brook trout population in check. I failed you, dear reader, because I had left my camera in pack, so no fish picture.

That night I realized that I was short on food. I had made some sandwiches but had forgotten them in the fridge. So my dinner the second night was merely a single packet of ramen. Not even the good ramen, just a 250 calorie Top Ramen. I slept fitfully, probably because I was so hungry. I was also very, very sunburned from my time on the Pratt.

Lower Tuscohatchie Lake

The next morning at 7AM I emerged from the tent, grabbed my fishing stuff and hiked the half-mile to the next lake, Lower Tuscohatchie. This lake is smaller than Pratt, but just as beautiful. Trees ring the entire lake, but at the far end, twin waterfalls cascade 50 feet down into the inlet. Absolutely gorgeous. There are several campsites here too, and had I known that I would have camped at Tuscohatchie.

Tuscohatchie Pano - click for larger

I fished for three hours, catching some small rainbows and completed my hideous sun-burn. You see, I couldn't use my sun-tan lotion because it had DEET in it, and that could have harmed my little trail boat.

Nice, easy, wooded trail

The hike out was 7 miles. My 30-lb pound slowed me down tremendously as I struggled to get back up the 800 foot ridge between Pratt and Olallie lakes. But eventually I got to the top. I plugged in my iPod and trudged the remaining 4 miles down the truck. All in all, I hiked about 15 miles and caught some okay fish. But the scenery was incredible and I'm even more prepared for my next trip.

the Pratt River Valley

What went right and wrong on this trip? The little bottle of Dr. Bonner's Peppermint Soap was excellent at cleaning dishes. I ran out of food because I forgot the sandwiches in the fridge. The sun-tan lotion problem of course. And I wish I'd brought a book, because I spent so much time in my tent when the bugs came out at dusk.

Lower Tuscohatchie in the afternoon.

What's next? There's a series of lakes (Island, and Kulla Kulla being two) to the West of Olallie. That area is still too snowy (they are 4000+ feet up) but they should open up in a couple of weeks. Maybe you'll see me up there.

If you go: Bring a GPS, there are several trail intersections that you can get lost at. Bring bug spray. Think about camping at Tuscohatchie which is only a half-mile beyond Pratt Lake, if you can't find a good spot at Pratt. Be sure you have the new Discover Pass (for parking). And best of all, enjoy our beautiful Alpine Lakes Wilderness!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Damsel Madness at Davis Lake (Winthrop)

Davis Lake north of Winthrop

The town of Winthrop is one of my favorite places in all of Washington. Casey and I had a great time there last year. And also, because of our association with the PNCC, our church is good friends with Pastor Steve, Shannon and the kids at the Methow Valley United Methodist Church. As I was in the area for this trip, I stopped in at their church and enjoyed the service, sitting with Shannon and Bob. I stuck around for treats afterwards, but by noon the fish were calling and I had to say goodbye.

I'd been wanting to get back to Davis Lake ever since Casey and I had visited there last year and had seen all those big fish on the fish finder. As I approached the lake in the mid-afternoon I was greeted by swarms and swarms of damsel flies.

Image Copyright Brian Robert Marshall. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

Remember how my pontoon boat bladders had died on the ill-fated Dry Falls trip the previous weekend? I had since purchased (from Craigslist) an entire, still-new-in-the-box, pontoon boat and replaced my old pontoons with the new ones. I put together the resulting Frankenstein boat and fished shirtless and in sandals for four hours. I hooked fish after fish in every part of the lake at every depth.

Carey Bugger, tied for this trip

The fish were rising everywhere to the swarming damsels all day long. I observed something interesting. There were clouds of blue damsels hovering over the water. Every now and then a gray damsel would fall to the water and the blues would appear to "attack" it. I wonder if the gray was the female and the blues were the male. I can't say if that's true but the trout seemed to love the situation and would rise up and grab several damsels at once. Of the fish I caught, the largest was perhaps 14". Not a hog but big enough to make for a fun afternoon

The drive home was a long one - just under 4 hours, down through Pateros, Wenatchee, Cashmere and south to Cle Elum and then home. 650 miles in three days. Whew!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nunally Lake, Aeneas Lake

Nunally in the morning

The Worst Summer Ever (weather-wise) in Seattle continues. I couldn't take the idea of spending a mid-July weekend under cloud-cover so I planned a long journey on the other side of the mountains. The first night I camped with some good friends at Wanumpum state park, on the Columbia River, just 3 miles south of where I-90 crosses the river. We sat in the dark and talked about the world until it was time to go to sleep in our tents.

The only way to Camp

Up at 4:30AM. Between the JetBoil and the Starbucks Via I'm caffeinated with-in minutes and driving across the bridge and then south to the Nunally trailhead. The mosquitoes were merciless, that's definitely a theme everywhere in the Northwest this year.

As I hoisted my float-tube down to the lake I could see big fish rising across the placid surface. Yippee! Out in the water was a different story; with no wind, the fish were very, very picky and I could not fool them at all. They appeared to be rising to little winged ants. I had nothing in my fly box that looked like that. I eventually broke down and switched to fishing a wet fly (a Carey special, the ultimate still-water go-to fly). I picked up a single fish.

The fishing died off as mid-day approached, as I had been warned. I had been the only angler there all morning, with only a crop duster for company. The fishing could have been epic if I'd been able to match this hatch. Maybe next time.

I used the unproductive mid-day hours to drive way north to the Okanogan region. Passed by Steamboat Rock on the east side of the Columbia, where hordes of campers were joining with the hordes of mosquitoes. Eventually I made my way to Aeneas lake, which I'd always wanted to visit.

Aeneas Lake

Aeneas is a beautiful little lake with a reputation for producing quality trout, but I'd arrived too late in the year; the water was too warm for trout. I fished it anyway but didn't get a bite. On the shore I saw a very strange site. The complete bleached skeleton of what appeared to be a fox or small dog. Eventually a thunderstorm chased me off the water and I got back in the truck to continue the trip...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hyas Lake Hike

Panorama of far end of Lower Hyas lake.

Continuing that long weekend: after fishing with James, I stayed the night in Ellensburg so I could get an early start the next day. You see, the Cascade mountains are still PILED with snow, far later into the year than anyone had ever expected. Funny: on the local hiking bulletin board this winter, there was great debate about snow levels. The "doom-sayers" were assuring us that even though we had record snow fall, the snow was in fact melting faster and faster each year and that this year would be no different. Ha.

View to Upper Hyas

On the map, it seems like the trailhead to lake Hyas is relatively close. Don't be fooled, it takes FOREVER to get there due to many low mile-per-hour streches. The last 15 miles is on dirt road and takes about 45 minutes. The hike to Hyas was beautiful, and I'd got there before anyone else.

Cathedral Peak

The water level at Hyas was higher than normal, and windier and colder. I kept on walking; my destination was Upper Hyas, just a mile further. Upper Hyas, too, was overflowing with cold, cold water as the sunny day melted the snow in the mountains around. I couldn't even get to the main lake without trudging through 30 yards of surrounding mud, so instead I sat down on a log, ate lunch and enjoyed the view. I back-tracked to lower Hyas and fished from shore, but I could tell it was still too early in this crazy season.

Even though I didn't fish, I've crossed Upper Hyas off my list. The scenery there is beautiful, the campsites plentiful and I recommend it as a destination for anyone with young ones.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Desert Fishing: Dry Falls Lake, Rocky Ford

The very next day after the hardest hike I'd ever done, I got up at 5:30AM, stumbled down the stairs on shaky legs, got back in the truck and drove 3 hours to Dry Falls Lake to meet my friend James Speaker.  We started fishing at around 10:30am.  The water was VERY warm and we were the only anglers there, suggesting that perhaps the season for Dry Falls had already reached its summer low.

We hooked but lost a couple of fish on the way across the lake.  Eventually James hooked a nice fish on a damsel pattern.  He netted it and we got a good pic.

I was just starting to get into some fish when I noticed that my boat was riding lower than it should have been.  My pontoon was deflating!  And I was all the way across the lake from the boat launch.  PANIC.  I yelled to James and started rowing frantically.  We got back to the launch okay.

I tried to repair the bladder in the pontoon but it was no use, it just wasn't working.  So we bailed on Dry Falls and drove down to Rocky Ford, where boats aren't required.  It was quite hot and dusty.  Some burned out looking dudes were camping in the parking lots.

We fished the lower stretches of the ford.  James hooked a beautiful rainbow under an indicator using one of his awesome Rocky Ford Scud patterns.  Great fish.

I was having no luck until I switched to fishing a snocone fly.  The second it hit the water, the biggest trout in the pool zoomed about 15' over to it.  I was saying "no, no, no, please don't eat it!"  But he did.  Soon he was freaking out and zipping all over the Ford while I tried to hang on.  He ran behind a boulder and bent the hook and my line came shooting back.

I ended up getting skunked both at Dry Falls and Rocky Ford.  No fish landed.  That happens when James is around partly because he's such a great fisherman that he's going to get the action, but also because he's such a great guy to fish with, I don't really care if I catch anything.  I kind of just like hanging out and talking.  Of course, we could do that in town!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lake Philippa

I am under the gun to finish ALL of my to-do hiking list this summer. If I feel like sharing the reasons why, I will, but for right now let me focus on one of the oldest entries on my list; Lake Philippa. This was the hardest hike I've ever done, even harder than last year's Marten Lake Adventure.

Logging Road to Loch Katrine / Lake Philippa Trails

Mysterious Lake Philippa lies between the road-accessible peers of Calligan and Loch Katrine. The deal with Philippa though, is that there is no maintained trail. Instead, one follows a "fisherman's trail" starting at about mile 1.

Beginning the Fisherman's Trail.

From there, one has to watch for trail markers. I personally got lost every 100 feet and had to learn to look closely for bits of tape or trash that marked the "actual" trail, as opposed to game trails. This can make for slow-going if you aren't used to doing it.

Trail Marker

Once the "trail" reaches the "end" of the valley, it crosses Philippa creek on some downed logs, and then the real fun begins. The trail goes straight up the side of the valley wall, sometimes at a 75 degree angle. One must use hands to climb on roots and bushes, with water and mud cascading down on you as you climb (at least during snow-melt season). Eventually the trail pops out into the sunlight and displays a cruel false summit.

False Summit: a Stickery Bowl

At this point, I had been hiking for 3.5 hours. I lay down on a log in the sun and seriously considered abandoning this quest, but I realized I'd hate myself if I did that. So I hoisted my pack and kept soldiering. Part of the "bowl" was overrun with snow and I lost the trail. I stumbled around in the stickers for an hour before finally spotting a tiny little orange stripe 60 yards away. I trudged over to it, and it was a trail marker. Whew! Found the trail again. I was so tired now that the final 1/2 mile and 400 vertical foot gain took me an hour.

Lake Philippa

I stumbled down into the campsite of a couple of guys who'd gotten there the evening before (imagine night-hiking that trail). They said that the water was too cold for fishing; they'd been fishing all morning and had no action. I inflated my trail-boat and fished for a couple of hours anyway, never touching a fish. A low rumbling signaled a large stone/snow avalanche on one of the nearby peaks; very exciting to watch.

The trip down went faster than I expected, but not as fast as I hoped; it still took me 3 hours to get back to my truck. So my total hiking time was 8.5 hours. For that I was able to fish 1.5 hours with nothing to show for it.

Conclusion: The only reason that one might want to go to Philippa (unless you love a challenge) is to get away from other people. There are many, many prettier lakes nearby that are far easier (and safer) to get to. See just about any of the lakes I've written about on this blog! However, if you do go, plan on 5 hours to get to the lake and be sure you take the 10 essentials.