Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

With a slight break in the weather, I decided I would head off to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and do a bit of backpacking.

I was originally planning on backpacking the Cooper River. However, that appeared to be a bit shorter than what I was looking for. Thankfully my coworker recommended I go check out Lake Waptus. It's practically the same place, but farther out and has a slightly higher elevation gain. Plus, she mentioned there was a nice view at the lake.

Seeing as how I like nice views and lakes, it made perfect sense that I should head to Lake Waptus and see things for myself.

After parking the car and placing my forest pass on the dash it was off to the trail head. It's not too tricky, but the first half hour or so is a bit boring. It's also a bit of a climb, so I kept my camera tucked away till I started to see a few things worthy of photographing.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

As I started to make my way into the forest, small creeks along with a few stagnant lakes provided me with a couple photo ops. Here is one of the few foot bridges I passed over.

Further along the trail, through the old forest fire, and getting into some new growth you finally make it to one of the larger rivers feeding into the Waptus River.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Wanting to properly document the experience, I spent a little bit of time trying to find the best camera angles before making my way across the fallen tree.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

As I scrambled along the river bank, looking for a better shot, I almost stepped on this guy.

With nothing much better than my original shot, it was time to get back on trail.

I passed an empty campsite and continued a little further on until I started to hear the distinct sounds of river rapids.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Peaking out from the trees I could see a bit of rapids ahead.

As I made my way along the trail, listening to the sounds of the rapids grow stronger, I spotted a very small side trail headed towards the river. With curiosity overwhelming me, I took a break from my trek and decided to see where the side trail would lead me.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

I found myself close to the river, but no clear views in sight. That's when I decided that climbing out onto an overhanging tree limb would be the best way to get a shot.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Not going to lie, I was a little nervous being perched out on this tree over the raging river below. So I took some quick shots and got back on the trail in hopes I will get a better look at the river further down.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

And thankfully I was right. Not much further up the trail, past the falls, there are more accessible views of the river.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

However, I was hurrying around a bit too much and ended up with one foot in the river. Actually, I'm so used to looking at my shoes full of dirt that they almost looked clean now.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Seeing as how it was a couple hours into the hike, I spent some extra time at the river's edge.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

And with the sun directly overhead, the river looked soo inviting. Too bad it was freezing cold.

After enjoying the short break, and drying out my wet sock, it was time to move on. I could tell that the trail would hang along the river for a ways more so there was no longer a strong need to capture every rapid as I went.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Even still, I took some more time to check out this narrow gorge.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Flowers finding life on the gorge's cracked walls.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Back on the trail and away from the river, there are a few places where side rivers are feeding into the main river. Each of these require different crossing strategies. From rock hopping to log crossing, it was a puzzle as to how to cross and keep my feet dry.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Drawing further away from the river, the underbrush of the forest starts to close in.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Because the forest here is so young, the undergrowth easily towers overhead.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Halfway through the hike, it was time for lunch. I found this great view of the river and surrounding landscape. Perched so high up, I was hoping to see some wildlife cross below. Unfortunately there was nothing but birds. And flies.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

With lunch break over it was time to get moving again. I passed a couple camp sites, however this one really caught my attention. It appears to be an established campsite where there is a an entrance and what almost some intentional landscaping of conifers.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Back down along the river, the afternoon sun starts to cast a heavy shadow on the trail.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

One of many Trilliums seen along the trails edge.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Just another river crossing where I am sure to get my feet wet.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

A little over 4/5th the way through my hike I am greeted with this wonderful sign.

I decided that I would have to trust the sign and just head for the horse ford without checking the condition of the bridge. It was a hard decision to make, but I couldn't risk being wrong. There was only so much light left in the day and I still was a little ways from the lake.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

It's hard to tell in this photo. But I would estimate the river to be about 100ft wide. And with my destination being roughly 30min away, I wasn't going to turn back. Crossing this river was going to happen and in doing so I decided that I should just keep my clothes on. I figured I could easily dry any wet clothes when I made camp and got a fire going.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Here is the view from the middle of the river. It was not an easy cross. And thankfully I had some trekking poles to keep me upright as I navigated the bowling ball sized rocks below.

It's hard to describe how cold that water was. But after 100ft of it, and including the photo break mid-stream, my feet were practically frozen by the time I got to the other shore. Crossing this on my way home is not going to be fun.

And as I had estimated, the camp was only 30min more up the trail. I had planned to hike around the lake and pick out the best spot, but when I arrived at the first campsite and peered through the trees onto the lake, I knew I wouldn't need to go any further.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Photos never seem to capture the awe and power you feel when you look at mountains. Especially ones with jagged peaks overlooking a placid lake.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

I've got to admit, the elation I was feeling at this point was well worth all of the hiking and river fording it took to get out here.

With the excitement over, it was time to start making camp and collecting firewood.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

As I was setting up camp, a young buck was feeding nearby. I tried to get a better photo, but he didn't really care for me stalking him.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

Returning from my buck chase, you can see the mountains through the trees from my camp.

Having set camp and dinner underway, I almost forgot about sunset. If it wasn't for the orange cloud overhead I would have missed it all together.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

And boy was I happy I made it in time.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

During the day, there wasn't really a cloud in the sky. And then by the time I got to the camp, things started to cloud over. Thankfully, right at sunset there was a tiny break and the sun got a final chance to put on one last show.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

At the lake's edge, you can see how clear the water really is.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

An example of how cloudy it was at the time.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus

One final shot of Bears Breast Mountain before things went black.

I awoke the next morning to a grey and cloudy sky. Initially I had thought about hiking around the lake and taking a few early morning photos of sunrise. However, with nothing but sheets of grey sky, I went back into my tent and slept a couple more hours.

As I whet through the plan for the hike home, all I could think about was that damn horse ford. It was going to be freezing cold, wet, and It was at the beginning of my hike. Not wanting to spend the day hiking in wet clothes, I despised what I knew I would have to do.

The walk from the camp to the river was a slow one. I took my time because I was hoping to see someone with horses. And hey, they would have an extra horse, or just feel sorry for me and let me ride with them across the river. It would be magical. What it really was was a complete fantasy that I needed to get out of  my head.

As I sat near the rivers edge I striped down to my boxers and tied my shoes and socks together so I could easily sling them around my neck. I stuffed my pants into the top of my pack making sure they wouldn't fall off in the middle of the river. I laughed at the image of me, a barefoot and pant-less hiker with poles and a 30lb pack. What a sight I would be if anyone were to come across me in any different scenario.

For some reason I was thinking it was going to be even colder than the last time. And it kind of was, but not because of the lack of clothes, but because there was no sun to keep me warm. This time however, there would be no photos. I was going to need that extra time to make sure I navigated the rocks below cautiously because I was without shoes and didn't want to risk any kind of injury being so far out from the end.

I made it across, and just before the freeze would take over my feet. I found a clean patch of moss, dried myself off and dressed for the hike home. Once again I imagined what I would look like if someone came around the corner and saw me rolling around on the moss half-naked. Not that I was rolling around or anything. I probably looked really respectable in that moment.

As I hiked home, I was actually thankful that I didn't need to break out the camera and look for photos. The grey weather made that choice for me. However, along with the lack of sun meant that there would be a swarm of mosquitos taking advantage of the conditions at hand. At one point it became a game to see how many mozzies I could kill in one swoop of the backside of my arm. However, that game started to get a little old. Thankfully, as I made my way back to the halfway point, the mozzies backed off from the breeze and gave me a chance to enjoy the rest of the hike home.

Backpacking the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA – From Salmon La Sac to Lake Waptus