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Cities and Towns of the Central Cascades
by Anne Maxwell
It was Father's Day, Jack's and my first hike for the season, my first hike since moving permanently to Seattle, and the snowmelt was a month behind its usual schedule due to record snowfall this past winter. Our party of four wanted something that would not be overly strenuous, and accessible without snowshoes. For an enjoyable family get together, an easy drive away from the "big smog" of Seattle; trail no. 1039 fit the bill. This is the Talapus Lake - Olallie Lake Trail on the western side of the Cascades, just off Interstate Highway 90. It is partly in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area, so we needed a wilderness permit, which we purchased at the Texaco Service station at North Bend.
In all we probably saw 20-30 people on the trail, many who looked like they were also on Father's Day outings. Some families were even coming in as we were coming out in mid-afternoon. The 16 hours of daylight at this time of year make this a great outing to follow a leisurely brunch. And you don't need to travel far to be rewarded with some wonderful countryside. We gave ourselves the option of seeing how we felt about continuing onto Olallie Lake, and as it turned out we were content to stay around Talapus Lake, a round trip of about 2 hours unhurried hiking.
The trail begins on an old logging road where it is quite easy to walk two abreast. "Serious" single file hiking is soon required as the trail narrows and rises up the mountain in a series of gentle switchbacks. I was wondering about the way each curve of the switchbacks seemed to continue as a short "false" trail, which required small efforts by the trail makers to indicate these were not to be followed. Later when "nature called" and I made use of one of these false trails, I developed my own theory of the process behind their formation!
We came to the Alpine Wilderness Area at much the same time as we hit the snow level. It was perhaps this combination that gave me the feeling I had crossed an invisible threshold into a place imbued with some kind of magic. The melting blanket of snow, now at about three to four feet deep, led the eye on a flowing dance over mounds and around whorls at the bases of trees. Negotiating the contours of the snow cover provided just enough of a challenge that I could feel a slight thrill about making it over this landscape, without ever feeling uncomfortably anxious. The trail encounters the rushing Talapus Creek, and the narrow, three foot high bridge of snow upon the bridge was quite a treat to see and cross.
The passing of others before us meant the snow trail was quite easy to follow. There was still enough of the snow pack for it to be mostly a case of walking on a solid terrain rather than slush, but I was very glad to have my feet snug in waterproofed hiking boots. The ski pole provided by Jack's son Brian also made the going a lot easier. If you know you will be encountering similar conditions, I definitely recommend finding a suitable stick on the way up, if you haven't brought such an item with you.
Brian and Marcia chose our lunch site from the many possibilities around the lake. Here we started to see more signs of human life, including campers. The tameness of the wildlife indicates there have been many before us, and it gave this American-wilderness newbie a real delight. We had barely got our food out of our packs when a "camp robber" bird (probably a gray jay) perched expectantly near us. I was delighted when it swooped to take a crumb from my fingers. But my favorites were the chipmunks, which were also tame enough to feed by hand. At one point we had three darting around us, looking very comical when their little faces popped up over someone's boot or backpack.
Settled on the east side of the lake, we could take in the gorgeous reflection of Bandera Mountain, which seemed to dissolve slightly then reappear with the coming and going of light rain. And we could look past reflections into the clear, clear water to see the ghostly shapes of logs and branches, lying so still in their watery grave. We had the opportunity to contemplate the weight of snow still lying on the soggy ground, and the signs of old landslides on the mountain above. Under the pine tree we were unbothered by the rain, and as one of our party of four said, "This is why so many choose to live in Seattle. All this so close by."
(c) Go Northwest! Photos by Brian High
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