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!


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