The weather forecast was amazing. A three day string in the middle of September of hot and sunny with no significant calendar obligations. How could I not go up into the mountains for a last fling. I thought about doing a long loop and covering some new ground in the Olympics, but ultimately decided I had done enough long walking for the year and opted instead to find a place where I could just sit and enjoy the solitude.
Five years ago, in the midst of hiking the Grand Loop with a friend, we stopped over in Cedar Lake for the night. It was a pretty lake sitting in a bowl near the Graywolf Pass. We made a trip back there a year or two later when it was still mostly under snow and very cold. And the more I thought about it, the more I felt like that would be a good spot to go and just sit for a complete day, free from distractions, and hopefully from people.
I had to stop by the office briefly on Tuesday and so did not get to the Deer Park trailhead until about 11:30. Cedar Lake is actually about 400 foot lower than Deer Park, but with a serious dip in between. The first 4 miles or so is a 3400 foot drop down into Three Forks, followed by a 9 mile, 3000 foot, ascent up the Graywolf and then the Cedar Lake way trail. Overall the trail was in pretty good condition, although wet and a bit brushy in spots. The Cedar Lake way trail was particularly wet and brush covered in places, although it was obvious that someone had been in there with a chainsaw recently. That trail has some sections that are seriously up, but fortunately not for extended stretches.
The most exciting part of the trip was getting across the Cedar Creek. I could have taken the easy way out and just splashed across, but I opted to try and keep my feet dry and found a log jam just upstream from the ford and worked my way across it, slipping in a hole once and scraping up a shin.
I hit the lake about 6 PM, setup camp, ate dinner and cleaned up a bit before turning in early. Sometime during the night the wind kicked up and I spent the last half of the night playing rock-a-bye-baby in the hammock. Fortunately it was fairly warm and so the wind was not an issue. There was no moon out and the stars were brilliant.
I spent Wednesday exploring a bit, including a walk around the lake. There was still some snow melting above the far end of the lake, leaving the water still a bit chilly. But with the warm air temps that was no obstacle in taking a couple of quick swims. But most of the day was spent in quiet reflection and contemplation, time alone with God; something I am not very good at doing at home because there always seems to be something else to do.
The day in paradise passed quickly and before I knew it dark started to settle in and I hurriedly prepared for bed. No sign of people all day other than a passing plane. Nothing to disturb the quiet and solitude. Even the bugs were for the most part content to leave me alone.
The night passed, warm and still, and with morning came time to break camp and head back for home. I was nearly packed when a guy wandered over from the other camp, just across the outlet stream. He had apparently come in from the Graywolf Pass traverse late the previous evening. He was looking for information on a traverse over to the Cameroon Pass area, but I had little to offer him other than speculation as to where the trail crossed out of the bowl we were in.
Heading back down the the Graywolf, I found a better way across the Cedar Creek. There was a largeish log that crossed downstream from the trail; a log with no bark and slightly damp. As graceful as I am, I opted to sit down, straddling the log, and then scooted across on my bottom. Slow and undignified, but safe and dry.
I met a few more people on the way out, including what appeared to be a 5 year old boy slowing trudging up from Three Forks to Deer Park with his dad. I was pretty impressed. He was already 2/3’s of the way up and dad said he had walked most of it.
One thing that really stood out to me on the Graywolf and Cedar trails, after 435 mile of the PCT through northern California was the amount of moss, mushrooms and water on the trail (yeah, I know that is three things, but all related). It seemed like there was more of each of those three things than the entire 435 miles of northern California; so very lush.
All in all this was a wonderful trip; although with a 2 hour drive at either end and a trail with a single significant up and down each way. Of course that helps keep the crowd down at the lake as well :).
Looking down from near Deer Park into the Three Forks area.
The Three Forks shelter down at the bottom of the Deer Park trail.
I know little about mushrooms, other than red ones with white spots are to be avoided. But I was really impressed with the number and variety of mushrooms throughout the length of the trail.
The lake is nestled close up to the rocky bowl on one side. I really liked the reflection of the rocks in the lake.
Home on the lake. There are two primary spots at the lake, each of which has multiple tent spots, and even a couple of spots to hang at. The outlet creek is just behind and below my hammock.
Up on a bluff at the far end of the lake. The outlet creek and camp spots are in the trees by the lake and directly below the highest peak..
Still a bit of snow in the bowl. The traverse from the Graywolf Pass comes in at the low point in the ridge, just to the left of the green patch above the snow.
Lots of fish in the lake if you are into fishing.
Other than a nail or two in trees, and lots of trails, this was the only sign of humanity I saw on my full day at the lake.
While eating dinner on a rock by the lake, I noticed this butterfly going for a swim. I watched to see if a fish would snag him, but eventually fished him out with a stick.
A waterfall mid-way down the Cedar Creek.
Another interesting looking mushroom.
This tree, loaded with burls, was near the bottom of the Cedar Lake way trail.
A mossy rock with a contrasting pair of mushrooms.
A star in a tree.
This stretch of the Graywolf trail is covered with a thick carpet of moss. One of my favorite spots on the trail.