Story and photos by Leif Nesheim
Despite the burden of an over-heavy pack and a trek up steep slopes, camping by the pristine beauty of Silver Lakes was worth the effort.
My backpack was heavy. I loaded it with my sleeping bag and pad, a change of clothing, sandals, food for the weekend and a bear-proof canister, tent, folding stool, fishing pole and tackle, propane stove and fuel, mess kit, knife, extra knife that I later found buried in my pack, camp towel, first aid kit, four bottles of water and a bottle of wine, flashlight (but no batteries), and not one but two books. (I also had a camera but I carried it separately.) Next time I go camping I plan to reduce the load significantly.
The well-maintained trail switchbacks in a steady climb upward at a 20-percent grade through a fir and hemlock forest with a dense understory of rhododendron. I’ve now hiked this trail twice: once before the pink flowers were in bloom and once after. I look forward to making the trek again when they are in full rosy splendor.
I stopped soon for lunch. Better, I reckoned, to carry the weight of sandwiches and juice in my belly than on my back. Shouldering my burden once again, I trudged toward the top. I hiked slowly and paused often, noting my progress by my relative height compared to a peak to the south that partially obscured the floating majesty of distant Mount Rainier.
Soon the forest diminished and the trail opened into a magnificent meadow ripe with wildflowers. Crimson paintbrush, violet lupine, white yarrow and daisies, little yellow flowers, bluebells and dozens of others in varied hue and form. The buzzing of bees and flies in their busy business of feeding and pollinating droned close by and on all sides while the whispering rush of falling water from a pretty waterfall provided a serene auditory accompaniment.
And still the trail climbed, past Camp Windy to the junction with the Silver Lakes Trail. From there it ascends gradually to a saddle in the ridge before descending on the far side. I met a nice couple hiking to the lakes from an unmaintained way trail that follows Silver Creek from near the Tubal Cain Trail.
I busied myself with searching for a perfect campsite: room for a tent, nice view, and most importantly, level ground. I found a spot and set up camp.
As twilight fell, not only was I tired but my flashlight was without batteries and my legs were horribly chafed by the swimsuit liner of my hiking shorts. I could barely hobble from my tent to my stove. I cut the offending liner from the trunks with my pocket knife.
The night was cold, but I slept well and woke early. The rose light of the morning sun shone beautifully on the massive rocks of the glacial cirque that surrounds the lakes, while a ghostly steam rose off the glassine water of the near lake (the other smaller lake was out of sight 0.2 miles to the north beyond some alpine fir). Trees and mountains reflected in the pool while I cast my fishing line into the water in hopes of landing a trout or two. Lots of tiny fish were jumping and when I switched to lures, some nibbled once or twice but were too small or tentative to get hooked. My spool unraveled twice and I had to cut away most of my fishing line.
Once the sun shone bright in the day, I lay next to a log on the southeast shore in the alpine meadow bordering the side of the lake and I decided to swim in the cool lake. During the day, perhaps a dozen day hikers had taken the plunge, splashing in the refreshing water. Though it was brisk, it was pleasant. The bottom of the lake was a mucky mire of sloppy mud that squelched between toes. I tried not to touch it.
I read until the light was gone and soon was visited by the sandman myself.
After a quick breakfast, coffee and tea, I packed away my camp and headed back down. Thanks to the loss of food weight, my pack was much lighter and only a short portion of the return hike was uphill. I was able to enjoy the trip quite a bit more than I’d imagined I would.
I stopped to rest and appreciate the views atop the saddle and soon caught a brief glimpse of Mount Baker from the ridge before rejoining the Mount Townsend Trail.
I judged my proximity to the trailhead based on the apparent fatigue of the uphill hikers I met as I headed down and was soon thrilled to see the lovely sight of my red truck waiting parked in the shade.