as I remember it. “We need to do a grandkids trip,” Pasayten said. “We do,” I said, “Really? Why?” “Yes. Absolutely. Because they’re growing up too fast.” said Pasayten succinctly.
He’s like that. I ask three questions. I get three answers. “OK,” I said, “when and to where?” “This summer,” Pasayten said, “and to Upper Eagle Lake.” “Uh, that’s pretty buggy country,” I said. “My summer trips in that whole Foggy Dew area have always involved a great quantity of DEET. Maybe early next spring or after the first frost or two in the fall. I fear the moskies are already rampant there.” “Upper Eagle isn’t that bad. Sure we’ll need repellent, but it’s a great spot,” said Pasayten. “There’s lots of places to camp around the lake, good fishing, and the trail in is reasonable. We can make it for any and all family members that want to go.” “Well, it is a pretty spot and I’ve caught some nice trout there, but I’m not sure about taking my grandkids there. As far as I know, Owen is still really sensitive to moskie bites — swells up pretty bad. Maliah’s too young unless her folks come along and I know Jeanette has issues with moskies too. Andy, Jennifer, Dalynn and Julianna handle bugs better, I think, not sure about Alana and Colby,but none of us like to have to bathe in bug juice.”
This was my first chat — as best I remember it — with Pasayten about this grandkids hike or family trip he’d dreamed up. After we set dates for the trip, I immediately typed out an invitation to my family. That invitation made it clear that I had reservations about the destination because of my experience with mosquitoes there in the time frame we planned. I also decided to not send the invitation while I searched for reports as to current conditions, and considered how my grandkids fare with moskies.. In the meantime, Pasayten invited the Young Fellow —the younger grandpa that joined us at Libby Lake in 2017 — to bring along his grandsons from Texas who would be visiting.
Note that Libby Lake is the northernmost destination in what I call the Foggy Dew (Moskie Heaven) region here in our Methow Valley, and our 2017 trip into Libby was quite buggy. On that trip, I lived in my moskie headnet which made dining a real adventure. In the ensuing weeks, Pasayten, the Young Fellow, and I had a number of chats via Messenger about how many family members were planning on going, and exactly when, and actually where we were going to end up. Pasayten’s group numbered as high as seven at one point, I think. The Young Fellow planned on three. I was holding firm at one – my invitation to family still being filed away unsent. In my defense, I had discovered that some of my kids and grandkids were indeed still very sensitive to moskie bites and the others were very busy with most of their summer booked already.
My wife wondered if I was really going to go to Upper Eagle Lake since the two of us had promised one another we would only venture anywhere in Moskie Heaven before or after the buggy season. Truthfully, I was seriously considering not going myself. Turned out that once the Young Fellow realized Upper Eagle Lake was indeed a moskie hangout that he too was backing away from the trip. “I made the mistake of taking my sons into a mosquito disaster. Almost ruined backpacking forever for them and I do not want to do that with my grandsons.”
Sometimes, things just work out right. I suggested switching our destination to Black Lake, a shorter easier hike — more of a stroll actually — and usually many fewer moskies. The stroll is about five miles to the lower end of the lake with a total elevation gain of 700 feet. The best camping is at the inlet – another mile of trail up a bit and then back down to follow the shoreline. There is a midway camp spot cut into the sidehill with room for two or three tents max. There are not a lot of spots for large parties to camp anywhere around the lake — mostly due to the configuration of the valley and the considerable number of fallen trees — the aftermath of the Thirty-Mile Fire.
The regs say no camping within 200 feet of the lake, but there are no camping spots available that far away — or even 100 feet away. In fact, due the mass of deadfall, the Lake Creek Trail disappears not too far up from the inlet area. Shortly after the Thirty-Mile Fire, it was still possible to head over along the creek itself from where the trail was totally blocked and find a way to reconnect with the trail further up the valley. The continuing downing of dead treess now covers what used to be several nice camping spots and access to the creek. Incidentally, the regs also state that stock cannot be grazed within 1/4 mile of the lake – good luck on that, too.
With the changed destination set, I did make inquiries to see if any of my kids or grandkids would like to join us. By that time, it was pretty late notice and all were booked with other activities, so I was the lone grandpa on this trip.
On the morning of our departure, I arrived at Pasayten’s place to join the group which had evolved to a total of seven — four experienced backpackers and three newbies. I rode to the trailhead with Pasayten, his wife Avis, and grandgirl Taylor. The Young Fellow followed with his two grandsons. Upon arrival at the trailhead, I slid into my pack, adjusted my trekking poles and watched while the rest of the group made final arrangements, repacking some gear, and making final adjustments to this and that.
Watching and listening for a few minutes reminded me of the many “saddling up” situations I had gone through with newbies and even experienced folks who still led very busy lives and many things were done at the last moment. I have many fond and a few frustrating saddling-up memories with both family and guided clients. Since I knew there were limited camping spots by the lake, I flung a “I’m gonna make sure we have a place to camp. See y’all at the lake.” in the direction of the group and headed up the trail. It wasn’t until their arrival at the lake that I found out no one had paid the slightest attention to my departure, The Lake Creek Trail is perhaps one of the most pleasant walks in the Pasayten Wilderness.
As mentioned, there is little actual elevation gain twixt the trailhead and the lake outlet — that doesn’t mean there are not ups and downs to handle along the way. The lower part of the trail is a mix of conifer and deciduous forested sections, and even the last couple of miles of trail is through the old burn is lushly brushy country. It is always nice not to have to climb over multiple downed trees. On the first of several trips into Black Lake in the years shortly after the Thirty-Mile Fire, I had to clambered over more than fifty fallen trees. I believe this trip is the first where I did not have to find a way over, under, around or through any deadfall. I was concerned about finding enough room for us to camp together at the inlet.
Even though I thought the following group would probably be moving pretty quickly until it sunk in to the newbies that racing up the trail was not a good strategy, I decided to enjoy the walk in and so did not push too hard up the trail. If they caught up to me as I enjoyed the journey, so be it. Being first was not my intent or goal. I arrived at the lake outlet in 2-1/2 hours. Honestly don’t think I broke a serious sweat enroute. Even took time to look for moose, to scan the valley’s recovery from the 30-Mile Wildfire at the high points, and to take a few photos on the way.
As I approached the inlet. I could see some gear in the lakeside camping spot, a big orange tarp or something back in the trees, and two young fellows coming down the trail toward me. “Hi,” I said when we met, “you guys heading out? Where were you camped? I got a group following me up here.” “We weren’t camped here,” the older guy said, “We just came down from Halfmoon Lake.” Note: Halfmoon Lake lies in a basin high above the Black Lake valley on teh other side of Lake Creek. It is a good dayhike — lots of up from here. “How long were you up there.” I asked? “How was the fishing?” “Fishing was fine,” he said. “Better than Kidney or Crystal. We spent two nights at Halfmoon.” “So you came from Crystal Lake,'” I said. “That’s a pretty good offtrail crosscountry jaunt. You start at the Crystal trailhead?” “Yep,” he said, “it’s my buddy’s first backpack trip. I decided to break him in right.” “Wow,” I said! Turning to the younger guy, I asked, “How’d you like it?” “Looked a lot harder on the map and Google Earth than it was,” he said. “and he said it could be a killer trip. We just kinda worked our way around the mountains, stayed below the really steep parts.” The older guy said, “We hit a couple of spots that were a little dicey, but took our time and had no problems.” “I am ready for a hamburger,” the younger guy said. “We ate a lot of fish, but I always seemed to be hungry.” “Altitude will do that,” I said, “I burn a lot of calories when I’m out and about. Seem to lose a few pounds no matter how much I eat.” “Well, we got to get going,” the older fellow said. “Hoping to get a ride over to the Crystal trailhead, but may have to walk, and we both are definitely ready for a hamburger!” “OK, see you,” I said. “I need to grab a good spot for my group.” They headed down lake, I walked on to the inlet.
The lakeside campsite has a couple of float tubes sitting around and some waders draped over the logs surrounding the fireplace, as well as another belly boat and waders further over toward the inlet stream. There are no tents pitched, so I walked on up the trail and found the big orange thing is a parachute hanging over several chairs with some guys about my age lounging in them. I can see several tents back in the brush. “Hello, the camp.” I call and get several greetings back. From where I stand on the trail, it seems I would have to climb over a big log to get down into their spot. I decided not to do that and just asked, “Is that your gear down by the lakeside?” One guy groans a bit, gets up out of his gravity lounger, and walks to the other side of the log I’m standing by. “You looking to camp over there,” he asks? “There, or over by the creek above here ” I said, “me and a group. We need four tent spots. I’m going to check out along the creek – used to be a couple of nice spots over there.” “Well, there is a spot big enough for a couple of tents up the trail just a bit if you climb over some of the deadfall. Good luck at getting to the creek. It is pretty rough, lots of down trees, and the main trail just disappears under all the downed trees not far up the trail” “It’s been that way since a couple of years after the Thirty-Mile Fire,” I said. “Wonder if they’ll ever have the budget to get it opened back up?” “Probably not in our lifetime,” he said. “Sounds like you been here before.”, “Yep, been here quite often,” I said, “close to home. Several of my group live in the Methow. Looks like we’re going to have to move in where your gear is laid out. By the way, you got quite the setup — I mean, gravity loungers, float tubes and all.” “Retired dam workers annual drop camp,” he said, “we’re here for another five days before the outfitter picks us up.” “Uh, excuse me,” I said, “but what kind of workers did you say?” “Dam workers,” he smiled, “two of us worked at Grand Coulee, a couple at Chief Joe, and one from Rock Island. We’re all retired and just like to get together here.” “Sounds like fun,” I said, “Well, I better get over there and grab a tent spot before my group arrives.” ‘I’ll get the guys to move their gear out of the way,” he said, “how long you going to be here?” “Planning on three nights,” I said. “Thanks for making room — appreciate it.”
I turned and walked back down the trail to the lakeside spot. I was thinking about last time I camped in this spot and had a windstorm blow down a couple of big dead pines a bit too close for comfort. That storm pushed my partner on that trip and I to cut our visit short. I remember suggesting we move halfway back downlake to the hillside spot where the trees were not burned. Buddy stated unequivocally that if he was packing up, he was going home, and that’s what we did. Anyway, as I was selecting my tent spot, and the dam workers (retired) were moving belly boats, waders and flyrods, the first two members of the group arrived – Taylor and her grandpa, Pasayten.
The best spot for the tent I brought — it pitches best on a truly flat spot — seemed to be right in the traffic pattern from the trail into this camping area, so I set it up down in the shady little grassy area – in a corner when two logs intersected giving me a protected spot to cook. It was right next to the spot where a horse had been tethered. I did some judicious road-apple kicking to clear around the area around my tent site. Avis, wife of Pasayten. arrived and said that the Young Fellow was hanging out on the beach near the outlet with his two grandsons, Chance & Kacen – the two young lads had discovered that the effort required to do even a reasonably gentle hike with a loaded pack was quite different from just strolling up the trail.
Meanwhile. at our campsite, Avis & Taylor are tasked with pitching the new tent Pasayten bought for them. Since I am solo — as far as having family along — I am able to sit and watch from the shade. I realized it was going to be interesting for me to observe how other grandparents react to and function with their kin. I have to admit I am really enjoying watching Pasayten “helping” Avis and Taylor pitch their tent. It plays out more like a film director or perhaps a pasha gesturing and issuing ‘suggestions’ from his UL chair. Avis is accomplished enough at backpacking to seemingly follow Pasaytens directives by doing it her way, Granddaughter Taylor functions quite nicely as Avis’ assistant and the job goes smoothly.
The Young Fellow(YF) and his two grandsons arrive about this time and Pasayten points out the tent site we have left for them. I can tell that the site isn’t quite what the YF wants. Perhaps the first clue is his leaving our area and heading over toward the inlet stream, He returns and announces that he has chosen a real nice flat spot on the sandy gravel bar on the other side of the inlet stream which is easily waded. I mention that the rules state that campsites are to be a certain distance from the lakeshore, which leads to the YF rationalizing about setting up camp on the inlet sandbar — we all have to agree that our camps are not 200 feet from the lake, and that it is almost impossible to find empty camp-able spots that far away.
Not having anyone dependent upon my actions here allows me to observe how other grandparents and g-kids interact. Young folks today seem so busy — or seem to have the need to be busy. I don’t see many younguns just watching the clouds drift by. Actually I don’t see many of their parents doing that either. The world has become a busy place. I remember having a chat with a fellow about my age and we reached the conclusion that busyness seems to hold as much value as productivity does these days. I guess they don’t call it just spinning one’s wheels any longer. It is interesting to see the how catching his first trout excites Kacen and now he has an activity that keeps him satisfied. The Young Fellow enlists Chance and Kacen in getting a log floated over the the inlet stream – creating a bridge so they don’t have to wade back and forth between campsites.
Pasayten gives g-girl Taylor his camera and now she has fun taking pictures – many are included in the album here. I guess I’m not that different really because I decide to move my tent – a normal event for me on many, perhaps even most, trips. The sweet grassy shady spot is too close to the slough and I woke to a full coating of condensation on the underside of my rainfly. Lifting a corner of the tent’s floor confirms that there is much moisture in the ground where I set up.
Pasayten threatens to film the event, however I make it a process rather than an event – not nearly so entertaining as repairing a broken trekking-pole connector from underneath my pyramid tent on a previous trip.
Everybody that spends a bit of time at it catches trout – Rainbows and Cutthroats are all nice sized. Pasayten catches the largest fish – just ask him. The hours around the campfire are mellow. The Young Fellow shows his grandsons one of his Boy Scout skills by setting trout roasting above the campfire on sticks. It is very entertaining to watch the differences in grandparenting from my elevated new tent site. I feel like royalty surveying the population from my UL chair in the spot of shade I’ve found. Looking back, it seems like we were at Black Lake camp for days and days. I mean, a lot of things “happened.” Like the Young Fellow going for a swim out into the lake — asked why, he explained that a plastic baggie was just dropped on the sand at their camp and it got blown out onto the water. That one does not just drop trash anywhere was a lesson learned by a first-time camper. And grandpa got some good exercise. .
A minor medical procedure is undertaken by grandma Avis as one of the Young Fellow’s barefoot grandson steps on something sharp – could be a thorn or maybe a yellowjacket stung him. As we are all ensconced in the shade up on the trail to escape the hot sun, it ts an interesting diversion even for me as I get to offer the tweezers and magnifying glass I have carried for years but seldom needed The young ones are getting bored. They’ve had enough of catching fish, taking pictures, messing with the campfire, and watching the clouds drift by, so the decision is made to head out a day early. Waking the next morning, I pop the stopper on my air mattress before rolling out and start disassembling my tent while I have my morning javamocha and a munchie.
As usual, Pasayten has his setup pretty much ready to be tossed into his pack by the time I get mine done. There is no sense of urgency as somehow we convinced ourselves to pursue a leisurely exit rather than hitting the trail first thing. Soon I am packed up with only my UL chair left to be added. I am sitting in the shady spot next to where my tent was pitched when the Young Fellow appears with his enormous-looking pack on. Kacen and Chance follow along and after a parting prayer they start out on the trail along Balck Lake. Remembering that the Young Fellow’s grandsons had struggled a bit on the hike in, I have the thought I might be able to help if they have any problems on the way out. I decide to shadow them, so I say my goodbyes to Pasayten, Avis, and Taylor and start down the trail.
Turns out that the boys were quite eager to get back to the trailhead, their ride, and civilaization. I am able to keep them in sight down the trail, but when I stop to fill up my water bottles they leave me in the dust more or less. It is hot. The trail is much dustier than when I hiked up it — or is that just me not liking hiking in the heat and so the amount of dust is magnified? I remember wondering why we decided to take our time packing up and hiking out? Did any of us think about how hot it had been just yesterday — when we were all hiding from the sun up on the trail and some of us did immerse ourseves in the lake? I don’t remember us discussing probable ambient temperatures. I do know that I consumed several liters of water exiting and did not have to urinate. I do make a mental note not to do this again and I do realize I have made such a note before while hiking in the heat.
As I near the trailhead, I catch up with the young Fellow’s group just as we all arrive in the parking lot. We all are quite happy to be done hiking. They are looking forward to sitting back and heading for home in the air-conditioned truck. I decide to wait for the rest of our group and sip my remaining water as I sit at the trailhead picnic table. Before very long, Taylor arrives and joins me at TH table. While we sit there, she asks me to do her a favor and take her remaining h2o a ways back up the trail for Avis & Pasayten. Didn’t take me long to reach the decision that as much as I like her grandparents, I am older than either of them and not inclined to hike in the heat anymore period. So, I tell her that it’s her good deed, not mine and she needs to put in the effort for your grandparents. Which she did — gave me a “look” as she headed up the trail, but she did it. And it was apppreciated by Avis and Pasayten.
As we all enjoyed the ride to Pasayten’s place, we did discuss hiking in the heat and we did decide to never, ever do it again by choice. I caught Pasayten’s eyes in the rear view mirror and saw the twinkle there — we both know that there will be times when we absolutely have no other choice.