Retreat at Cedar Lake

Earlier this week I took off for 3 days and went to one of my favorite places in the Olympics, Cedar Lake.  I started from Deer Park and made the long descent to Three Forks and then back up the Gray Wolf to where the shelter used to be; it is just a burned pile of timbers now.  From there a way trail heads off up the Cedar Creek drainage a couple of miles to the lake, which sits in a moderate sized basin.  The lake is about a third of a mile long and surrounded on three side by steep walls.  It has a couple of small campsites when you first come to the lake, and I grabbed the first one because it has the best hanging place for my hammock.

I spent two nights at the lake, with a full day in between and thoroughly enjoyed it, except for the persistent mosquitoes; I have seen much worse, but there were enough to be an irritant.  While there I enjoyed a trip around the lake, a little exploring, a swim, and some reading and meditating.  It’s really great to get away to a place like that and just reflect on God, life, and whatever else comes to mind.

On Wednesday I was up fairly early and was on the way by 6:30.  On my first trip into the lake, about 7 years ago, a friend and I had traversed across from a tarn a bit below the Gray Wolf Pass, and I had decided to reverse that trip on the way out.  There is no easy path around the lake.  On one side it is all scree and rock, and sometime so steep that it is challenging, and I opted not to try that with a pack.  The other side is covered in steep meadows and some trees, but is very wet.  Much of it is just oozing water and is pretty slick.  I opted for that side, and of course fell down on one especially slick slope; glad to have gotten that out of my system early.  Once at the other end of the lake I climbed half a mile or so up a relatively easy grade before getting into a steeper section for the upper half of the climb.  I had remembered a bit of a trail coming down from the pass, but found no trace of one this time until I was nearly out.  But the climb was uneventful and offered good views of the lake and basin below.

From the pass there is an occasional track through the heather that leads toward the Gray Wolf pass, past three tarns, and ending behind a fourth tarn that is visible from the Gray Wolf trail a half mile below the pass.  Even without the trail, if you knew the basic direction to head it would be hard to get too lost.  It was probably not much over a mile, and was bounded by a steep ridge on one side and a sharp drop off on the other.  The traverse, while short, was scenic and enjoyable.

Once back to the Gray Wolf, I just followed the trail back to Three Forks and then trudged back up to Deer Park, about 3000 feet of up in 4.5 miles.  All in all, a very good trip.  And the only people I saw the whole time were between Deer Park and Three Forks; right at 48 hours with no people.

This view is taken from near the Deer Park trailhead, as you make the short initial ridge walk. In real life you can easily discern the valleys that the Grand, Cameron and Gray Wolf flow through and see Three Forks, where they all come together.

The inside of this rotted tree trunk on the Gray Wolf looks like a medieval torture chamber.

One of my favorite stretches of trail on the Gray Wolf.  It is only a few hundred yards long, but everything is covered with thick moss.  It just looks so inviting and soft.

The upper trail along the Cedar creek, and around the lower end of the lake basin, was covered in Avalanche lilies.  The wildflowers were beautiful and abundant throughout most of the trip.

Closeup of an Avalanche lily.
Lots of Asters of different sizes and colors.

The Columbine were out in full force as well.  They are hard to get a good picture of  because the flower usually is facing the ground.  

There is a tarn up above the lake that had a pretty healthy population of tadpoles, and one frog.  When I went by they seemed all to be sunning themselves in the shallow fringes of the tarn, hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of them.

Looking back at the lake from up above the south end of the lake, and the tadpole tarn.  Camp was setup near the middle of the clump of trees at the far end of the lake, right next to the exit stream.

At one point, while walking around the lake, I felt something on the back of my leg, and found this little guy taking a break.  First time I can recall having a pet butterfly, even if only for a few minutes.

At the end of this trail you can just see my hammock nestled in the trees.  The lake in ahead and visible to the right.  The creek is behind the trees to the right. While it would have been hard to put much of a tent in here, it is perfect for a hammock.  In fact, that is the spot I saw my first backpacking hammock and was convinced to give them a try.

The big rock in the foreground made a good platform to swim from.  The low point in the far ridge wall was my exit point the next day.

I am not a fisherman, but if I was I would have been eating good.  There were lots of trout in the lake, looking to be around 8-10 inches.

A look back at the lake from the pass out of the basin.

Looking the other way from the same pass, toward the Gray Wolf pass.  The trail heads down the valley in the lower center and then veers to the right.  You can just see on of the tree tarns that you skirt on the way out.

Looking back at one of the little tarns on the way down.

Looking down the Gray Wolf valley, midway through the traverse.

I think I counted 7 foot logs across the Graywolf as well as one across the Cameron and another across the Grand.  This spot actually had two of them, with the one in the background broken at the end and apparently replaced by the other one.

All that’s left of the Gray Wolf shelter.  I don’t know when it burned, but the first time I came up this valley, probably 17-18 years ago, it was intact.

The footlog across the Cameron has broken in the middle, and both halves have rolled 90 degrees.  A little more challenging to cross, but still easily doable.

Quite a few Candy Sticks were sprouting on the Tree Forks trail.

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