A Walk in the Woods

Another day, another hike with new friends.

One of the few things I miss about Arizona is the hikes I did with the Phoenix Atheist Meetup Group (PAMG). This 1700+ member group has a small subgroup that goes hiking in Arizona almost every single Sunday of the year. I began hiking with them when I returned to Arizona in September 2012 after my fifth summer work season in Washington and hiked with them periodically throughout the autumn, winter, and spring months. With them, I explored the area around the Superstition Mountains, Sedona, Prescott, Flagstaff, and even Wickenburg. They’re a great group of people — smart, friendly, educated, and open-minded. I made a lot of new friends that last winter in Arizona and already miss some of them very much. If you live in the Phoenix area and are looking for a group to hike with, I highly recommend meeting up with them. Tell them Maria, formerly of Wickenburg, sent you.

Although there are plenty of hiking opportunities here in the Wenatchee area of Washington, finding folks to hike with wasn’t quite as easy. Wenatchee is a much smaller city than Phoenix — although it’s much larger than Wickenburg — and there aren’t as many meetup groups. I did join a few that sounded promising. Among them is the NCW Freethinkers, which is based in nearby Cashmere, WA. (NCW, by the way, stands for North Central Washington, the commonly used label for the area where I now live.

At a recent pot luck BBQ meetup in Wenatchee, I told the group about my hikes with PAMG. Another member had been thinking of hiking as a group. He rose to the challenge and came up with the hike we did Sunday, to Clara and Marion Lakes.

Getting There

Lupine is still blooming in the higher elevations near Wenatchee. A splash of sunlight illuminated this plant while leaving the forest behind it in relative darkness.

Western Monkshood
According to the National Audubon National Society Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest, this is Western Monkshood.

Heart-Leaf Arnica
According to the excellent Washington Wildflowers iPhone app, this is Heart-leaf Arnica.

Purple Monkey Flower
This Purple Monkey Flower was past its peak of bloom alongside a stream. Still beautiful, though.

Getting there was quick and easy for me — I was less than 10 miles away.

The trailhead is at the Mission Ridge ski resort’s lower parking area. Just take Squilchuck Road until it turns into Mission Ridge Road and keep going to the end. I currently live about two miles off Squilchuck so I was likely the closest hiker.

The road winds up into the canyon, past orchards and into the tall pines. There are amazing views back into Wenatchee from most bends in the road. Along the way I passed the turnoff to Beehive Lake, which I’d explored by Jeep only a few days before, and another trailhead I’d hiked with Penny the previous year. It’s amazing to me how much there is to do outdoors so close to where I live.

I arrived right on time after handling a few bee-related chores earlier that morning. Four other hikers were waiting for me. There were two other dogs, too — a 120-pound Rottweiler and a smaller Border Collie mix that reminded me of my dog, Charlie, left behind in Arizona. (Poor Charlie probably spends far more time curled up on a dog bed in front of a television in a Scottsdale subdivision than running around, off-leash, in the woods.) While I chatted with the other hikers, Penny tried to make friends with the other two dogs. The Rottie ignored her completely while the Border Collie immediately began playing with her.

I could tell then that it would be a good hike for both of us.

The Hike

When it became clear that a sixth hiker who’d RSVPed would not be showing up after all, we hit the trail. It immediately began a relatively steep climb with occasional switchbacks in a dense alpine-like forest. There were pine and other trees and dense underbrush. The air was cool and the sound was hushed. Wildflowers typical of the Pacific Northwest — which I still need to learn! — added splashes of blue, yellow, red, and white along the way.

I took up a place near the rear of the group, stopping more than a few times to take photos along the way. Although my uphill hiking endurance is far better now than it was when I was a fatty, I still need an occasional rest stop to catch my breath on steep climbs. Framing shots with my camera offered a good excuse to do so.

The Rottie and his owner led the pack, setting a brisk pace for all of us. Meanwhile, Penny and her new friend, now off-leash, began a chasing game up and down the trail. I swear those dogs covered three or four times the terrain as the rest of us.

The trail leveled off when it intersected with the Pipeline Trail. That’s also where it crossed a small rushing stream of snowmelt coming from somewhere high above us on the mountain. After taking a short break near the stream, we continued the climb on the narrow trail up to the lakes. Either it wasn’t quite as steep here or I was getting used to it because I had no trouble keeping up and needed fewer and fewer photo/rest stops along the way.

After a while, we came upon an open marshy area. We thought it was Clara Lake, dried up. But a post-hike examination of my route (tracked via GPS) shows that it was just an unnamed marshy area.

Near Clara Lake
Silly us. We thought this beautiful, flower-filled marsh area was a dried up Clara Lake, but that lake was still ahead of us on the trail.

Clara Lake Shore
Along the shore of Clara Lake.

Swimming Rottie
Not only did the Rottweiler (appropriately named Tanker) like to fetch sticks, but he didn’t mind swimming to get them.

Penny the Adventure Dog
Penny, as usual, kept ahead of me on the trail. It was such a pleasure to walk in the cool shade of the forest. When I lived in AZ, I dreamed about hiking in places like this.

The lake we came to a short while later was Clara Lake. Surrounded by tall pines and bordered on one side by a slide of volcanic rock, the small lake featured clear clean water and a collection of floating logs. We paused for a while and watched Mike’s dog swim to fetch large sticks, then moved to a shady area on the other side of the lake for a rest and snack. Some of us wandered around the vicinity.

Because we thought we were at Marion Lake — the second of two lakes on the trail and our intended destination — we didn’t go any farther. Looking at my GPS track now, I see that another 1/4 mile up the trail would have brought us to another lake. Oh,well. I think I’ll make that another hike, perhaps in the autumn when the trees are changing color. There’s another trail to the lakes down from a forest road that’s not quite as long or steep.

We headed back the way we’d come a little while later. It was a lot easier — almost all downhill. But steep! My knees really felt it. (I fully expected to be in serious pain the next morning — especially in my calves — but my body surprised me and took the workout without complaint.)

As usual, the hike back was quicker than the hike up. We passed several mountain bikers along the way — they were all walking their bikes up the steep trail. I wondered where they planned to ride and whether the ride down would be as wild as I envisioned. I also thought of the trail’s winter use — for snowshoeing. That’s a sport I might need to explore if I decide to spend winters here. I’ve already decided to get a new set of cross-country skis and explore trails in the Leavenworth area.

Back at the trailhead, the group split up. Although I was invited to join the others for beers at a local microbrewery, I decided to head home for a shower and a little R&R instead. I’d been running myself ragged for the past week and needed a break.

Besides, I’d promised a winemaker friend that I’d come visit her for a tasting that weekend and the weekend was almost over. I still had plenty on my calendar for the day.

What do you think?