Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lake Caroline

Pic courtesy of Vlad Karpinskiy
As you might recall, my New Year's Resolution was to get to this lake.  Its a long way from the trailhead, and for all but the most hearty souls it should be a 3 day trip.  I was lucky enough to go with my personal alpine lake mentor, Vlad Karpinskiy.  His pack was 30 lbs, mine, 35 lbs.

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We got an early start, arriving at the Snow Lake trail head at 6:00am when it was still dark. 

We hit the trail at 6:30, hiking up the valley while the day was still cool.  
We topped that first ridge at 8:15am when the light was just hitting Snow Lake. I stand by my statement that Snow Lake is the most beautiful place you can see for just a couple hours of hiking.
The trail contours to the north side of the lake.  We saw some rises and Vlad stopped to throw a lure in the water.  No luck yet though!  I love this picture because all the angles converge at Vlad's neck.
The trail from Snow Lake to Gem lake is harder than it looks.  Its another three miles and probably another 1000 feet gain.  By now it was hot, and when we got to this beautiful gem of a lake I was so tired I had to rest for while and eat a sandwich.

On the far side of Gem, the trail becomes The High Lake trail and it plummets 1000 feet down the side of a valley over about 15 switchbacks.  Spread throughout the valley are little "pots" of water, like this one. 

On his first cast into one of the pots (not saying which), Vlad caught this very chunky 13" rainbow.  The picture doesn't do it justice, it was a great fish!  Better than I usually catch on ANY alpine lake trip.
Eventually we worked our way to the end of the High Lake Trail and our final destination for the day; Upper Wildcat Lake.   If you have a chance, DO NOT miss this lake.  Incredibly beautiful.  The far side is 2000 feet of twisted granite cliffs, dropping straight to the water.  

We set up camp and fished the rest of the afternoon from our rafts.  The fishing was good!  Lots of cutthroat and rainbow, nothing huge but fairly consistent action both on the surface and underneath.  Between the two of us we kept six fish for dinner.  Vlad's wife had supplied him with her best spices and herbs and as a result our dinner was literally the tastiest trout I'd ever, ever had.  We ate all six!

Upper Wildcat in the morning
That night, Vlad slept outside, since he didn't bring a tent.  I slept in my little 1 man $20 tent like a baby.  Fell right to sleep and keep on sleeping all night until 6AM.

When I woke up I knew that this was going to be a long day.  We ate a quick breakfast and then headed up the hillside (approx 700 feet up) in the picture above.  

Vlad, while leading up the hillside to the Ridge
 On the ridge, we wandered along a bootpath, sometimes having to do light bushwhacking for about a mile.

Looking back to Upper Wildcat
Views on either side of the ridge were incredible.  Upper Wildcat to the south of us.

Views to Derrick Lake to the north of us.  After a couple of tiring hours we descended from the ridge.

I highly doubt that I could have navigated the way to Lake Caroline by myself.  Vlad is a confident guide and he got us there around 9am.  I quickly inflated my boat and got into the water to get away from the bugs (which are bad this year).

None of our pictures captured the beauty of Lake Caroline.  It butts up against the central ridgeline that separates this valley from the Pratt Lake valley (see previous reports!).  We were, of course, the only people at the lake.

Fishing was slow, but we did catch a few trout.  Here's one of the better specimens of the day.

As in most alpine lakes, the fish hang out near shore, and the further away, the better the fish!

Now get this; while I was fishing, Vlad busted out an entire WET SUIT and went snorkeling.  You heard me right; in addition to his boat and fishing gear, he had packed 8lbs of snorkeling equipment, specifically to dive this lake 11 miles from the trailhead.  Vlad Karpinskiy is the most interesting man in the world.  Here are some of the shots from his flickr stream.

Beautiful ripples

Curious Trout
Split Shot of Me Fishing
The Frogman Himself

At 1pm, Vlad announced that it was time to go.  We'd spent four hours at the lake that I've spent years dreaming of getting to, but that was all the time we had if we were to get back to the trucks by nightfall.  So we packed up, waved goodbye to Lake Caroline, and then bushwacked our way across the ridge.

We stopped to take some pictures, and then descended to our campsite at Upper Wildcat, where Vlad had some lunch and I packed up my tent.  It was 3pm.  I was beat.  But we still had 9.5 miles to hike to get out!

We achieved the the next waypoint, Gem Lake at 5pm, after climbing that 1000 vertical feet.  Now I was REALLY tired, but still had 6 more miles to go.

Our last stop was Snow Lake again, and then finally, we made it back to the trucks, walking the last hour in the dark with our flashlights.  My shoulders were so sore from the heavy pack, and I have personally never smelled so bad in my entire life.  We stopped at a bar in North Bend anyway, and feasted on burgers and beers.

This trip was about pushing my boundaries; 
we hiked 22 miles in two days.  
We did 13.5 on the second day alone.

This trip was my new years resolution.  
This trip was the last lake on my To Do List.

This was a great trip.
Thank You Vlad!!!!