Hmmm, where should we go for Labor Day Weekend where there won't be a ton of people?
Hmmm, the temperatures in the Entiat are supposed to be close to 100 degrees, so I said let's go hike the Entiat River Trail! We never see anyone there, who else would do that to themselves?
There were four other cars in the parking lot when we arrived. Two of them belonged to a family group of 9 who were surely heading to Myrtle Lake for fishing. We hiked in around 6:30pm and soon noticed a plume of smoke rising above Myrtle Lake on the way that looked fairly mundane, I was not sure how much to worry when you are already walking through a burned out forest. Anthem Creek had water and the rails had been placed since we were here last year. I've seen someone mention a campsite here but pretty much there is just a flat spot at the end of bridge next to the trail so not really. The junction for Myrtle Lake was at 3.6 and made a nice snack and water break. There is no campsite right here but it is not a long way into Myrtle.
We passed the new Glacier Peak Wilderness sign at 4.2 miles, well before it was indicated on the map. It was another half mile to the junction with the Larch Lakes Trail (horseshoe nailed to tree) before losing daylight and calling it. There was a flat, open spot at the junction before it dropped down to the cobblestone river crossing and we set up tent there. A few deer circled around during the night but otherwise it was a calm night. Dinner had been eaten in the car so it was pretty much off to sleep after filling water bottles.
Up and hiking by 6:30am to beat the heat, there were a few stream crossings along the way including one with a suspended log crossing. We came to a Y close to the Snowybrushy junction at 6.2 miles and accidentally went left into the meadows. Oops. We didn't explore long but there was an interesting rain gauge structure back in the trees we only noticed when looking at a photo when we got home.
We made our way back up from the meadows and took the right fork and the actual Snowbrushy Trail junction appeared shortly on the right marked by a cairn. The sun was still behind the ridges above us but they were beginning to light up with the daylight. We observed the different sections of charred forest: some pines were ebony spikes, some bleached grey and others still covered with curly bristled limbs. A few verdant pockets existed among the deadwood reminding us the forest does live on. Further on the valley widened and few trees still standing allowed us to see out at both the Ice Creek Valley and Entiat Valley with the Spectacles, Maude and Tinpan rising toward the skies.
As we approached the Ice Creek Trail junction the woods filled in with more green understory and there was a couple camping next to a small stream. They would be the only people would see until tomorrow when we returned here. Trail 1432 (to Borealis and possibly Lucerne) was at a little past 8 miles and the sign for the Ice Creek junction stood at 8.2 miles and 4320ft up from the trailhead. We stopped for a rest here and by coincidence I discovered a pit toilet was being installed behind the tall boulders up slope for the campsites just below at the river crossing. It was about 8:20am at this point and the day was warming up despite no direct sun yet. It was going to be a hot one!
From here, we had about 5 more miles to go. The trail ran closer to the Entiat here as it twisted and turned creating a narrow green corridor among the scarred landscape. Just past 9 miles there was another stream crossing that was gone the next day when we walked out. At 11 miles the trail began a slow turn into the glacier drainage and towards the Entiat Meadows. The first campsite in the meadows was a quarter mile further, tucked in the trees on the left. This was probably the best one with the closest water source.
The valley narrowed again at 12.4 miles in and the Entiat rolled through a canyon with the most intact forest (complete with pine needles carpeting the tread) of the entire length of the trail. A small waterfall cascaded and teased with its melodic churning before we were passed through again in the amber fields of the meadow. We spotted another campsite tucked back in the woods (12.7 miles), most likely a horse camp based on its size. It was too far from the Entiat to be a good water source but there was a small stream across the trail before it.
The landscape alternated like this for awhile; forest, meadow, forest, meadow, until we arrived at the junction of Cool Creek below Buckskin Mountain at 13.4 miles and 5060ft around 11am. We looked around for a few minutes to see if there was any obvious campsite but nothing stood out. Hindsight said we should have tried harder but the idea of finding a campsite closer to the trail's end called to us despite it already feeling like a very long day. So, we pressed on.
A few more alternating forest-meadows with a diminishing trail and eventually we reached a burn area with so many logs down and scorched soil that we were soon on our own. Maneuvering around a huge log pile-up at 14.4 miles, the trail was nowhere in sight. The map showed it originally stayed close to a creek on our left that ran between us and the actual Entiat so we opted to traverse another pile of logs over the creek up onto a small rib that offered less deadfall in order to continue.
The rib leveled out into a boulder field at 14.8 miles and we climbed up it to look around. Scanning what was ahead, it was nothing but a sea of rock with dark cliff walls mottled with small patches of remaining snow rising overhead. It was hot and I was exhausted. I had no desire to continue and there was no decent campsite-looking-spot around save for a flattened piece of grass on the slope to our right that I'm sure a herd of deer or elk would want back sometime in the middle of the night. Looking over, I noticed a patch of trees on the other side of the stream and I made my way over to get out of the sun.
Sitting here for awhile, we debated our options as we rested. I may have cried a little I was so miserable with the heat and had developed two good sized blisters, one on my right heel and one on my left toe. And I rarely get blisters but the dry powdery silt of the trail is hard to keep out of shoes even with gaiters. It was going to be time for band-aids and duct tape.
So, we could keep going further and see if there was a campsite or head back down to the meadows and save ourselves some time in the morning hiking out. Neither one of us wanted to have to retrace our steps in the early morning hours and add to what was sure to be another long day if we ventured up to Ice Lakes. The hubs got up and continued up the slope, discovering a faded path in the grass and when I got up to use the "facilities" I noticed that the actual trail was right there next to us, deeply rutted and encroached with brush.
I really did want to see how far the trail went, so we dropped most of our things and took the path he had found to the terminal moraine of the Entiat Glacier. The "trail" continued parallel just up on the right hand slope until we reached about 15.4 miles in and then it was nothing but a debris field. Without maintenance, the trail has been mostly been taken back but you can still see its faint impression in the meadowed slope. A few deep trenches remain and there are spots where you have to weave through trees whose branches guard the trail now. There was plenty of rock hopping to stay off the returning vegetation.
I didn't have it in me but he did continue and scrambled up the moraine which offered him a view down into a small tarn and back at the valley. A waterfall cascaded down on the right from Fernow and the outlet from the upper Ice Lake showered over the ridge on my left next to the remains of the Entiat Glacier. It was an impressive sight and I can now say I'm glad we persevered to get here. There were a few flat spots down in middle along the way where tarns and meadow mud has evaporated but no established campsites.
Just before 4pm we began our decent back down, following the trail we had discovered once we were up here. There were plenty of more trees to navigate but pretty much staying close to the creek got us back to where we had traversed to the rib earlier. We were soon back down at the junction with Cool Creek and in search of a flat spot for the night. Both down to the Entiat and up towards Buckskin was solid meadow but we found a spot in the trees just big enough for our tent that would leave the smallest impression. We had dinner and settled in for the night having the the whole place all to ourselves but another salt-loving deer. I made sure to pee on rocks!
We awoke and had breakfast to a gorgeous tangerine sunrise on Maude and Seven Fingered Jack. Hiking back out by 6am, we spent the morning in awe of all the animal prints highlighted in the dry, dusty trail. Lions, and deer and bears, Oh My! There were no other tracks but our own until the first campsite at the edge of the meadows coming in where a tent was pitched for the night. We could also smell something dead off to our right, it wouldn't take long for something to reek in this heat.
It was 5.2 miles back to the Ice Lakes junction where we debated whether or not to camp here or up at the lakes at quarter after 9am. Camping at the lakes would mean a 11+ mile day and I knew part of it was a slog straight up with our entire packs. Our timing was not the best, we'd be doing it in the heat of the day. And then a 14 mile slog out tomorrow. But staying here meant a 17+ mile day with day packs and I didn't know if I even had that in me.
We eventually opted for taking our packs to the lakes since that was our original plan. Secretly, I was hoping there was a camp along the way...
Down the short walk to the Entiat River crossing, there were several tents set up but no one around. Smart people to get going early! The river was not hard to ford, the log across was split and didn't seem worth it to risk. Besides, my feet would love the ice bath. Once on the other side there was another campsite, empty. I briefly entertained the idea of setting up here but studying the map, I was so sure we would find something half way up so we kept packs intact. I reapplied fresh duct tape and up we went.
It was another death march up an exposed valley with the sun beating down. The Entiat Mountain Range towered regally on our left. I so wanted to die (and I was using a sun umbrella) and my silly hubby had had nothing but coffee so far for the day. Passing the junction with Pomas Creek Trail at just under 1 miles and 4420ft that only noticeable because of the sign and cairn, there was no obvious trail but something looked like a drain that ended in a few feet. We stopped at practically every piece of shade to drink and passed a couple also drinking who had camped down below and heading up for the day. We shared a brief fools-love-misery conversation and I noticed the guys's pack was twice the size of mine. For a day hike. Turned out he was carrying camp chairs...
The further up the valley we climbed, the more the forest returned. The trail wandered closer to its first crossing of Ice Creek and we were blessed with a campsite at 4800ft! I guesstimated we were roughly 2.25-2.5 miles or so from the lower Ice Lake. Perfect! We dropped our packs and set up camp, ate a snack and got fresh water at the creek just down from camp. The couple we had passed came by, along with two guys and a dog, also day hiking to Ice Lakes. Seems that is what the smart people do.
Leaving our camp just before noon, we rock hopped the creek and continued on. The trail stayed pretty mellow elevation gain wise and was a mix of meadow and shaded forest. Waterfalls spilled over the mountain ridges and we came to another creek crossing with a large log. We stopped for lunch, soaked my feet and watched a cutthroat snap at lunch in the water. The couple we had seen the day before came down from Ice Lakes appearing to have survived. But their packs were pretty small, ultralight small. We were still at around 5100ft.
More meadow, more forest and we reached the last campsite at 5400ft with a little over mile left to go. One of the two guys who had had the dog was wisely resting in the shade while his friend continued on and I was a little jealous. The creek was not super close and it looked like you had to push through brush to get there.
The climb up into the lakes basin from here was probably the most brutal thing I've done in a long time, right at the peak temperature for the day and weekend. All exposed, overgrown and then loose rock. Definitely a climber's path. We weren't alone but not a lot of other silly fools doing the same. A very slow slog...so not happy. Lots of stops to drink water and rest so I didn't pass out. The sun umbrella helped a little until the wind picked up and then it became a hazard threatening to flip me backwards. Whose idea was this anyway?? I was so glad that when we were here last year we only went for Larch Lakes instead. It took me an entire 2 hours to make that last distance 1400ft into the basin.
There were three groups that shared the lake with us and plenty of space to spread out. The lakeshore is yellow pumice and light granite and makes for interesting walking so as to stay on solid ground. There is a path around the lake and unfortunately a few social trails. We weren't perfect at it but did our best to find a spot for dinner and stay on granite or the established path. I soaked my feet in the water which was pleasantly not glacial due to being shallow in spots. It was super windy at 7000 feet but it felt good after our climb and I only needed a light pullover and cap to stay warm. If we had had an earlier start for the day it would have been fun to continue up to the upper lake and walk up Mt. Maude but that would have to wait for another day. The larches were just starting to turn, give them a few more weeks.
Then it was back down to our camp, leaving the lake around 5pm to gratefully get off our feet in the tent just after 7pm and wonder if the wind would knock one of the dead trees nearby down on us. I jokingly thought about putting my helmet on but was so tired I just put my earplugs in and fell asleep. Gary says the wind died down shortly there after.
We were up at 5am this time and hiking in the dark with headlamps. It was about an 11 mile trek back to the car and we wanted to make it out before the sun hit the trail which had been about 8:30-9:00am so far. Aside from a stop so the hubs could look for a geocache (long ago disintegrated by fire), we were out by 9:30am.
Overall we had seen about 5 groups all weekend for a 44 mile trek. Still only a handful of cars in the lot, including some horse riders headed in. I was able to show them pictures of the logs down between there and Anthem and they went prepared with a chain saw so those logs are mostly gone now. We found out later the plume we thought was rising from above Myrtle was the Chikamin Fire and it had jumped close to Garland Peak. It was on our way out and back on SR 97 that the smoke rolled in from all the fires blowing up near Omak, luckily we didn't have to deal with all that, too!
Link to more pictures below!