I took a solo backpacking trip to Eileen Lake via the Pacific Crest Trail instead of coming in from Linton Lake and saw some amazing views.
Attempting to recreate something magical is not always a good idea. My stubborn goal was to do just that. Due to a confluence of circumstances, I failed. But it was still a solid trip. On the prior trip to the area, we headed in from Alder Springs and off-trailed about 12 miles to reach Eileen Lake. It was very hard and I wasn't 100% sold on coming in the hardest way possible. Instead, I picked a different way, which combined a ways on a horse trail and a little along the Pacific Crest Trail. It was longer but seemed fairly flat. On top of that, I'd be going through places I hadn't seen before.
Right off the bat, my illness from the Detroit Lake trip again reared its head. One of the symptoms was profuse sweating in mild temperatures. The temp was ~85 degrees and humid, so I started swimming in sweat. This meant I drank my 2-liter supply of water very fast. The one downside to the chosen trail route was a lack of moving water. Along the off-trail route, moving water is readily accessible with little effort. With my filter, I can technically drink out of mud puddles...I would just rather not. Along the way, there were a number of small, stagnant mosquito factories. I went without rather than drinking from them, though I should be able to safely with the Sawyer filter. Considering I already felt bad, I didn't want to take a chance at feeling even worse. Not only would I be miles from the car, the car would be 2.5 hours away from home. If I'd have been closer to home and on a shorter trip, I would have used the ponds. As it was, this meant that I would have to go ~9 miles without water of any kind.
To paraphrase Jack White, I'm desperate but I ain't that desperate yet.
The first chunk of trail was used primarily for horses, so it was heavily chewed up in places. The scenery was fine, though much of it was through a burnt forest. Kind of cool to walk through.
This was what I found when I came out of the forest:
It looks like a desert and it sort of is. Oddly, this was when I got very optimistic regarding water. Another mile or so into this area is Linton Spring, which shoots out of the ground as a waterfall.
This is Linton Spring, most of the way to the top. I drank a solid amount of water and I can guarantee that it was the best water I've ever tasted. Socrates said "The best sauce for food is hunger." I believe his logic applies to thirst as well. The water out of Linton Spring has to be incredibly pure which also helped my appreciation for its taste. As I type this 1.5 years later, I can taste that water right now...
It is pretty as well. Looking back down the creek to the valley I had just entered. I messed around here for a bit and regained some strength (both physical and mental) and drank a bit more. I then resumed the journey to Eileen Lake. Unfortunately, given the illness and having to push through it without water for such a distance, I was irreparably wiped out. Every bit of this trip was going to be a test of will and determination more than it was going to be something I could coast through and enjoy.
Looking at the South Sister from across the huge meadow. I could not escape this view for most of the trip, which was fine by me.
There was an unbelievable number of tadpoles in here.
One thing I had hoped to do was hit all of these meadows at the peak of wildflower season. That is easier said than done. I missed it by a couple weeks, probably.
I made my way along the valley and climbed the short hill to Eileen Lake. I wasn't sure if I was going to camp here or push on to Linton Meadows, where Jeremiah Osborne-Gowey and I had camped before. I left Eileen Lake and was heading toward the lower meadow when I heard an immense amount of gunfire coming from that direction. If those were semi-automatic weapons, we need to redefine what "semiautomatic" means because there were dozens of shots fired over just a few seconds. I assumed those weren't really my type of people so I turned around and made camp at the lake.
South Sister to the...South.
The Husband to the West. Middle Sister to the East. This is a monumental campsite. Next time I'm here, I'm going to take a 360-degree picture. (You'll start seeing these pop up in future posts.)
There is a large colony of chipmunks just off the hill, about 30' from where I set camp.
And speaking of large, that is one chunky chipmunk.
I set up my hammock, then rested with the chipmunks for a bit. After a while of taking it all in and feeling really worn out after doing ~13 hard miles, I did the practical thing and decided to head out and explore before it got dark.
This is Husband Creek, a small little thing that leads from Eileen Lake to...Husband Lake (technically, the other way around). This is the creek Jeremiah fell in on the first trip. I found myself wishing he was here to fall into it again. Really, wherever he's at, I hope he's currently falling into a creek.
Unusual tree decay.
There were still some flowers hanging around, though not in large numbers. Lupine is one of the most common flowers of the area.
And some prairie-fire.
I hit Husband Lake with fortunate timing. The lake was nothing special but the view was. Do you ever wonder what life would be like if everything we saw was a little blurry and perfectly clear via upside down water reflection? Would the clear version end up being blurry?
From here, I had a two options: 1) take the easy route and go back the way I came or, 2) go a bit further, then circle around back to camp on the main trail, also fairly easy. I chose Option 3, which was to off-trail over the unseen hill to the immediate left of the above picture. The map showed there was a small pond up in there somewhere and I thought it may be interesting, or at least more interesting than the trail. But, really, I think I just wanted to push my luck. One thing I seldom give in to is the urge to allow my current physical condition limit where I'm willing to go or what I'm willing to do.
I plowed through a huge collection of giant blowdowns and came into this:
A good-sized patch of snow. Those circle impressions are horse tracks, I'm assuming.
There wasn't enough room between the pond and the trees to get a good picture. I shrugged and headed back to the main trail and back to camp.
Just before reaching camp, I laid down on the trail to get this scene of the Middle Sister.
Some nice shots of the South Sister with the moon and some fire smoke. (The fire was not mine, as no fires are allowed within 100' of Eileen Lake and I was ~20 feet from the lake. The smoke was from a forest fire.) Also, to reiterate the epic-ness of this campsite: the above pictures show the unobstructed view of the South Sister from my hammock. On the bottom right, that is not my thumb but instead a light leak that shows up when it's totally dark.
I was totally beat. At this point, I had been re-hydrating for about 6 hours, but I'd also burnt a lot of energy and put in over 19 miles by the time I went to sleep at 9:00.
Sleeping in the hammock was actually very nice. There was a solid wind blowing, which caused me to rock back and forth at a nice clip. It is an asymmetrical hammock (Hennessey), so you lay flat. And it has a bug net. Overall, that was great. During the night, I had two problems: 1) I woke up for whatever reason and couldn't go back to sleep, and 2) there was a forest fire relatively nearby. The fire was the big issue, though it was nowhere near my location. That nice wind I mentioned switched directions and was now blowing the fire smoke my direction, which made breathing difficult. Upon waking up at 2:00 AM, struggling to breathe due to the fire, health issues, lack of wildflowers, and a hillbilly shootout going on in the area I wanted to be, I called it a trip and packed up. I got up at 3:15 and by 3:45, I was packed and headed out in the pitch black.
Before I left the lake, I noticed a huge number of these toads around Eileen Lake. Reflective eyes everywhere.
On the trail out, I alternated between my headlamp and no light. I mostly preferred to hike with no light, but there were things in the trail that I probably wanted to look out for.
Like this large western toad. It was camped out in the middle of the trail.
Or this trap-door spider with a face on its back. Not exactly a fearsome face. It's more like the face I make when I remember there's ice cream in the freezer during the afternoon, then open the freezer later that night and remember I finished it off the night before. I guess this evolutionary adaptation is to scare off creatures that like to eat things that look annoyingly disappointed.
The last picture I took was of this decaying ghost pipe. They are truly a fascinating plant, living their lives without chlorophyll and instead gaining energy through a complex parasitic system involving a combination of mushrooms and trees. You can see day breaking in the sky above it.
Overall, I hiked 18.5 miles the first day, and about 14 the second day. But if I was going to head into Linton Meadows and Eileen Lake again, I'd almost certainly come in from Alder Springs. Overall, I think it was planned well and I prepared well, but too many things out of my control put the kibosh on having as much fun as I hoped.