Elk Lake, WA – Overnight Backpacking Trip
Indian Heaven Trail to the PCT to the Cultus Creek Trail
Elevation Gain: 1800+ Feet
Date: August 2 – 3, 2014
Hikers: Groucho, Harpo, Kate, Ross, Charlie (the dog)
Duration: overnight 4pm – 11am
Last week, an intrepid crew (Groucho and I, Kate, Ross and Charlie the dog) sought a leisurely one-night backpacking trip somewhere nearish to Portland, Oregon. Kate conducted research and came up with the Bird Mountain Loop a beautiful section of Southern Cascades with abundant wild flowers, looping trails of varying difficulty, picturesque waterside campsites and many lakes named for various wildlife (Bear, Deer, Elk, etc).
While the trailhead was a good three hours drive from Portland, the ride along the Gorge provided stunning views of the Columbia River, and afforded us a leisurely lunch break in the charming town of Hood River.
We arrived at the Cultus Creek Campground around 3:30 p.m. A little later than we’d hoped but the blessed summer night meant we could hike at least 4 hours in good light if we wished, with many possible campsites along the way in case we grew tired. The first 1.5 miles up the Indian Heaven trail took us straight uphill. It turns out most of the elevation gain in this hike is in the first 45 minutes. Once we started hitting meadows and lakes the path leveled off and flowers triumphed. Kate identified paintbrush and columbine and lupin, among others. In this zone we also encountered our first mini-swarms of mosquitos. And the sense of dread that accompanies an army of mini-blood suckers chasing you down the path.
We intersected with the PCT after another mile or so, and headed South to seek out the nearby Elk Lake trail. There we found several lakes draped with shimmering mosquito mist, thousands of tiny wings sparkling in the waning summer sun. Groucho and I were reminded of our biblical plague of mosquitos in Maine last summer. Charlie the dog cowered. We found the next available campsite, donned our wind jackets and pants and head nets. We started a very small but smokey fire. We sprayed on the 100% DEET. We tried to be civil and make conversation and not flee into our tents. We drank wine. We prayed.
After dinner we tried to stay out late enough to watch the clear skies for signs of stars but dozens of mosquitos buzzing in one’s ears kind of makes one feel insane. So we went to bed down in the safety of our Ray Way tarp tent and net enclosure. (Kate and Ross invited Charlie into their enclosed tent, so all were able to rest peacefully.) The next morning the blood suckers persisted, but a good night’s sleep made us more emotionally resilient and we enjoyed a lovely breakfast before heading out. Groucho tested his new gourmet, cook-free breakfast recipe – the Savory Oat Express.
We headed north on the PCT, stopping only briefly to snap flicks and refill water before the bugs swarmed. The morning was reasonably clear and we were able to spy small views as we began the steep decent back to the car, via the Cultus Creek Trail.