Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Barclay Lake and Beyond

Barclay Lake and Beyond (May 27, 2010)

It had been about 10 years since my last visit to Barclay Lake; that was on snowshoes. Prior to that I’d been beyond Barclay Lake to Eagle Lake on an old, rugged trail on a summer day. How different would the trail and lakes look after this 10-year hiatus? This being a dreary we weren’t sure what to expect nor did we know how far we’d be able to get – that damned late-season snow would pop up sooner than later (it always seem to pop up sooner on late spring, early summer hikes).

The 4-mile forest service road (No. 6034) was in great shape, even for passenger cars. Even the trailhead is in good shape with two clean portable toilets, a kiosk and a box with wilderness permits for hikers venturing beyond Barclay Lake into the new Wild Sky Wilderness.

Then, there was the footbridge over Barclay Lake, about half way to Barclay Lake. In the past the bridge was broken, missing or so deep in snow you had to side-step across it on snowshoes as you clung to the rail.

Readers know by now that stream crossings are my least favorite aspect of hiking; I dread them unless I am 100 percent certain the body of water either has a bridge or can be easily boulder-hopped without risk of drowning or soaking the camera. I kept my dread to myself, recalling the time I’d forded the knee-deep Stillaguamish River rather than balance on the footlog that spanned it (everyone else walked the log but me). Perhaps this is because I never learned to swim. Yes, I know I could have been swept away but I still feel safer IN the water as opposed to FALLING into the water.

The first half of the trail is in recovering forest; a victim of past clear-cuts though the forest is recovering nicely. The old stumps with springboard notches are hosting new seedlings and groundcover is carpeting the ground with false lily-of-the-valley, moss, lichen and ferns. Mixed in with early season greenery are sprinkles of yellow violets, bleeding hearts and trilliums. In a word, it’s lovely.

After the gentle promenade through the forest we reached Barclay Creek and the bridge was in excellent shape; not only wide but with a good handrail. No sweat!

The trail between the creek and the lake is through deep, dark delicious forest, much of it old growth. The trail crosses a blowout (no water in it) a little before the lake. There are views of Mount Baring from the lake (I can attest to that having seen them in the past) but we were denied the views on this cloudy day - you’d never know the mountain was there. Nevertheless the lake is pretty, provides several, spacious campsites and many spots where one can leave the main trail and bask in an isolated pocket away from crowds on a sunny weekend.

We continued on the trail but since my memory was dim as to where the “old” trail to Eagle Lake began I’d done a bit of research on The Internet, clinging to the nugget of wisdom suggesting that as long as you kept the creek on your left you’d get to the lake.

My companions, Silverback and Florida Bob, were depending on me not to get them lost – neither had ever been to Barclay Lake. We did have the appropriate map, compass and a GPS though I can usually find my way around without needing to use them. Oddly, I seem to have a photographic memory of terrain, routes and trails including particular trees and oddly shaped boulders.

On our way around the lake we noted two signs for toilets (away from the lake) and empty campsites. We noted – and ignored – a couple of dim trails that headed uphill – they didn’t “feel” right. Too, we wondered – which creek do we keep to our left? We concluded it was probably near the inlet of the lake and sure enough, it was. After a stretch of old puncheon we found a “better” trail heading uphill and the creek was on our left.

Up we went and I do mean up. Though steep the trail was mostly easy to follow as it spurted uphill, weaving between stumps the size of prehistoric beasts, old growth trees and downed trees hosting small armies of seedlings. Occasional boulders rested or balanced between the trees; some seemingly held in place by roots.

An occasional cairn or ribbon came in handy along this stretch; purists might sneer at those of us who are grateful for cairns. Many purists dismantle them when they find them or tear down flags that mark an obscure route. I will never dismantle a cairn; on a foggy day they are helpful and not all hikers are wizards of the technological gadgets hikers use today (some seasoned hikers do just fine with map, compass and memory).

As for flagging, I have only flagged a route a couple of times but taken the flags down on my return. There seem to be two schools of thought regarding flags and cairns: destroy them or appreciate them – that is unlikely to change. We like cairns; we consider them old friends. All in all we found only a few cairns and only in the most strategic places.

Still keeping on the left side of the creek we climbed through the forest to the first of several boulder fields. In the mist it was hard to see ahead so here we relied somewhat on the cairns and the lay of the land. I enjoy negotiating boulder fields; it feels like “play” as I decipher a route through the maze of rocks, holes, blowdowns, emerging vegetation.

The cloudy day brought out many shades of green ranging from somber forest green to cheerful lime. The best time to explore this route is spring or in the fall (sans vegetation). Later in the year the boulder fields will become more challenging -- Devils club will soon leaf out as will soldiering alders at lower elevations.

We were just getting into gear for the fun of the boulder field when Silverback said “We have a problem”. A lens had popped out of his glasses and he didn’t have a spare set. Luckily, he found the lens but he is legally blind without both lenses in place (Florida Bob and I share Silverback’s unfortunate vision – without our glasses none of us would have “evolved”) - we’d have dropped out of the gene pool long ago eaten by tigers or by falling off a cliff.

I volunteered my spare set of glasses but mine were not strong enough. What to do? He was able to put the lens back in place but it soon popped out again. This necessitated either turning around (with the lens tucked safely away in a pocket) or coming up with a better fix. Silverback found a rock, sat down and set about making a temporary fix with items from his first aid kit. Somewhat carefully, we kept on going.

At the end of another steep stretch on boulders Silverback decided to call it quits; his vision was still partially obstructed by the “fix” to his glasses, it was getting cold and we were hungry. He’d wait for us there, bundle up and enjoy his lunch.

Florida Bob and I continued on, pleasantly surprised to find the route almost immediately left the boulders onto a state-of-the-art trail through the forest. We thought we were probably close enough to Stone Pond to keep going but we were denied the goal. After that pleasant stretch on honest-to-God trail we stalled at a snow-covered plateau with sets of old tracks going every which way. This was a good turnaround - we don’t like leaving a companion behind and it was getting colder.

Had we the time and better conditions we would have continued to Stone Pond, turned left and gone on to Eagle Lake but this was not the right time to pursue this. It didn’t take us long to get back to Silverback (he was just finishing his lunch). From there we made good time going down and as often is the case were surprised at how “short” the route is between Barclay Lake and Stone Pond - the route uphill feels “long” because it’s so steep!!

The hike back to the lake was uneventful – soon we were crossing Barclay Creek again and faster than you could say “Barclay Lake, Stone Pond and Eagle Lake” we were back at the car. Silverback’s glasses held up the entire jarring way much to everyone’s relief.

I forgot to mention that shortly after we left Barclay Lake we encountered our first “Wild Sky Wilderness” sign, our first sighting of a sign designating this wilderness area. Barclay Lake is not within the wilderness.

We will return – hopefully after the snow melts and before the worst of Devil’s club leafs out. Eagle Lake is still on the TBD list as is Mount Townsend. We’ll wait for a long, summer day and blue skies. Plus, we are still pining for that view of Mount Baring at the lake.

To get there: From Seattle head east on SR 2, turn left onto Forest Road No. 6034 (signed 635th Place NE), cross the railroad tracks, continue about 4 miles to the designated trailhead. A Northwest Forest Pass is required. The map is Green Trails No. 143 Monte Cristo.

No comments:

Post a Comment