Alpine Lakes Wilderness
January 15-16, 2005

My original intention was to snowshoe up to Waptus Lake, a real gem, via the Waptus River trail. Located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, one of favorite areas from the PCT in 2003, Waptus Lake seemed like the perfect, easy snowshoe for a mellow weekend. I drove up to the Salmon La Sac Sno Park on Saturday morning under good, if cold, skies, and found it packed with snowmobilers and their loud, stinking machines. After gearing up I set out down plowed road and quickly reached a junction, thankfully, where the snowmobilers split off, leaving me in the quiet woods without the stench or shriek of highly revved 2-stroke engines.

The snow still wasn't thick enough to snow shoe on, so I continued up it in my boots to the trailhead for Waptus River (1310). Quickly, however, upon leaving the forest road for the trail, the snow deepened and I switched to snow shoes after post holing rather severely while climbing up a minor hill.

I was able to follow the trail through the thick snow thanks to some cross country ski tracks which led the way through the forest, eventually dumping me out into a nice valley with some cloud-obscured views of local mountains.

I dropped into the valley, wondering how I was going to reach the Waptus River, which should have been on my right. Instead, there were only mountains. I began to suspect that I was not on the right trail, as the trees were getting younger and younger (undoubtedly a previous cut area) and the sounds of the snowmobilers were coming back. Twenty minutes later I found myself chuckling with some other snowshoers back at the trailhead. I walked over my old tracks and found, more or less, where I had gone wrong originally and quickly entered the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I had only burned up 90 minutes of day light.

I bounced along, sweating harder than I should have due to the thick snow. Everything was more difficult than it would have been during the summer time: The heavy pack, the awkward steps, and creek crossings. Little creeks that I would simply have leapt in the summer became odd challenges to cross without getting my feet wet. Eventually, perhaps at Hour Creek, one stopped me cold.

In the summer it would have taken me about three seconds to rock hop, but now it was too much. I could have taken off my snow shoes and carefully gotten across, but it was snowing on me, I was only going to snow shoe for another hour, and I clearly wasn't going to make Waptus Lake. So, I turned around and walked fifty feet back to a small clear area by the trail and set camp. I tamped out a big area for the tent, pitched, and dug out a little entryway, all in a little over 30 minutes, a big improvement from Kautz Creek. I fetched water from the creek, as the water I had carried in from the trailhead was now almost frozen solid, and settled in for the night with a set of essays by James Baldwin (Notes of a Native Son) and a bottle of R&R.

Snow fell throughout the night, though I declined to get out of my warm sleeping bag to dig out, prefering instead to simply knock snow from the tent by tapping on the body. Not terribly effective, especially as it then rained down bits of frost on me from the condensation, but it was easy, at least.

In the morning it had finally stopped snowing and, after a big mug of instant coffee-hot chocolate mix, I left the tent to see how much had piled up. Judging from the poles and snowshoes I had left outside overnight, perhaps a foot had fallen on me. The tent was well padded with snow and it took me some time to dig it out and find the buried snowstakes.

The snow from the night before had covered over the ski tracks, but the trail was still easy to follow as a depression through the trees. The trees were heavy with phlumf and made interesting works of art. I retraced my route through the forest, including the wrong turn, and dropped out into the formerly logged valley of yesterday.

Surprisingly, I found more ski tracks from some early morning skier, leading up valley to something or other. I hadn't seen a trace of another human since leaving the trailhead, for the second time, yesterday and wondered if, perhaps, someone had camped near me last night without my knowing it.

I reached my car, rather tired after 2.5 solid hours of snowshoeing through the deep, fresh powder. Every snowmobiler on the road said hello and had friendly things to say, if they were not racing along at 35 miles per hour. Other people on foot ignored me, however, and I found this rather amusing. I dug out my car, changed into dry clothes and set out for the drive back to Lakewood. Going over Snoqualmie Pass, I spent a lot of time in first gear in a veritable parking lot. Although I-90 was well plowed and free of ice, a few drivers were spooked and stalled the traffic flow completely. I was driving slow enough to stick my camera out the window and get a relatively sharp moving picture. Not exactly the best way to end what was other wise a grand trip.


The Waptus River trail begins from the Salmon La Sac Sno Park in Wenatchee National Forest, east of Snoqualmie Pass. Although it is 11 miles from the trailhead to Waptus Lake, I found that I couldn't get across one particular creek and thus halted well short of the lake. The trail would be very easy in the summer, but has enough up and downs that, in deep snow, make it more challenging in the winter time. A Sno Park pass is required during wintertime, and I assume a Northwest Forest Pass (or Golden Eagle Passport) is required during the rest of the year when one can park at the trailhead itself.

From Lakewood, drive I-5 north to SR18 and take this to I-90. Drive I-90 up and over Snoqualmie Pass and then down to exit 80, which has a sign for Salmon La Sac. This is the Bullfrog Cutoff road. Drive the Bullfrog to the hamlet of Roslyn and continue on SR903 to where it ends at the Salmon La Sac Sno Park, about 17 miles from the Bullfrog. Park alongside the road and hike up into the national forest campground area, crossing a creek on a bridge shortly after the road junction where snowmobilers have to split off. From here, it is about a mile to the trailhead.