Backpacking in Alpine Lakes Wilderness

June 7th through 8th, 2003. Talapus Lake trail, 4 miles round trip.

Report by Mars Saxman.

Kelly decided on Friday afternoon that we should spend the weekend backpacking. This sounded like a fine whimsical idea, and off we went to collect supplies and plan a destination. By the time we had chosen our trail, purchased food, and packed up the car, it was too late in the evening to actually start hiking. We postponed the trip til the next day, whereupon we promptly chose a different hike altogether and set off for Talapus and Olallie Lakes in the southwest corner of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The trailhead is on a logging road from exit 45 on Interstate 90, just east of Issaquah. The trail climbs up two gentle miles through secondary forest. It's a broad, flat, well-maintained path with a few boardwalk sections, well suited for casual hiking. The latter portion of the trail switchbacks along a rushing creek until it reaches the lake's outflow, just past the wilderness boundary.

The lake is a sparkling little gem. It's hard to believe that a place which feels so remote is only two hours from downtown Seattle. The guidebook warns of thick crowding, and we did see a fair number of other hikers, but perhaps because it is still early in the season solitude was not hard to find.

The last of the snow around Talapus Lake melted only recently; a shady corner of our campsite sported a muddy spot that was probably still frozen over no more than a week before our arrival. The main trails are clear, but the side paths half-overgrown. Everywhere you look, green shoots perforate the duff, and the lake was dusted with a long current of fresh yellow pine pollen.

Kelly settled in with some homework, and I took off for a scramble over the boulder field that rings the lake's western shore. This is the lower slope of Bandera Mountain, and the rocks are mostly bare and well sized for running across. I thought about following the creek up to Island Lake, but by the time I got within striking distance the sun had begun to set.

We had a quiet evening in camp. The bears ignored us and the bugs didn't.

Next morning I hiked around the lake, found a path through the marshy area where the creek from Island Lake meets level ground, and scrambled back over the rocks to our campsite. It's a pretty little meadowy area that reminded me of places I've seen thousands of miles away, at elevations thousands of feet higher.

In early afternoon Kelly and I set out for Olallie Lake, up a short hill to the east. It's a pretty little lake in a cirque below Granite Mountain, a nice place to sit and eat lunch. A couple of backpackers had inflated a large raft and were drifting lazily across.

Seattle was suffering under the grip of a heat wave before we left, and the snow patches along the trail and around the lake filled us with great glee.

I speculated as we walked back that Olallie Lake must be named for some early settler named Olallie, who likely also donated their name to the berry. After looking it up when we got back I discovered that "olallie" simply means "berry" in Chinook.

A short walk back down the hill and back into civilisation.