One of the things I love about hiking is the camaraderie. It’s a great social activity to spend time with old friends and meet new ones. However, lately the idea of solo backpacking has become more and more appealing to me. I’ve done lots of day hikes alone and this would just be a way to extend the adventure a bit. It would be a good way to test my skills and just really get out there and be present, without any agenda or distractions.
When I told people my plans, the two most common reactions were “Isn’t that dangerous?” and “Why?”. Well, if you are prepared and experienced, backpacking alone is a reasonable safe activity. All the talk of bears, crazy people and getting lost are overrated. As for the question of why, well I would say why not? Imagine taking your favorite activity and having it all to yourself. At least that was the theory I was going to test.
Finally the perfect time had arrived for me to embark on my new adventure. It was a weeknight with a good weather forecast and for once I did not have any evening commitments. For my destination I chose Ancient Lakes, a desert basin in Eastern Washington filled with lakes and waterfalls. The weather on the east side tends to be dry when the rest of the state is wet, and I wanted good conditions -no snow camping this time! This area is also only 2 miles from the trailhead, so if things hit the fan I could bail pretty easily.
I made the 2.5 hour drive from Seattle and got to the trailhead in the early afternoon. There was only one other car there, this was looking promising already! Since this was an easy hike, I had loaded up on the luxuries, including some wine and 2 Dura flame logs. Hey, a girl needs some entertainment after the sun goes down at 6pm!
The trail starts out flat and makes it’s way down into the canyon. There are a few intersecting trails that are unmarked so it’s a good idea to bring a map. The good thing is that they all pretty much lead to the same place. After about a mile, you pass Judith’s Pool and the first waterfall. It just gets better from here.
When I got to the second waterfall, I encountered a steep descent on loose dirt and rock that I was somewhat unprepared for. My “firewood” was making my pack lopsided, and it was quite heavy since I also had 4 liters of water (you can’t drink the water here due to farm runoff). I ended up taking off my pack for one small part since I was pretty sure it was going to throw off my balance and send me cliff jumping into the lake, which was not on today’s agenda. Of course, the next day I discovered there is a better way down…figures.
Once you reach the lakes it is wide open country with plenty of places to camp, the hard part was deciding where. I almost chose a scenic spot on the knoll overlooking the lakes, but it was pretty windy so I went with a more sheltered spot in the saddle between the first two lakes. Bonus -it had a giant fire pit!
I set up camp as the sun was going down and had not seen a single person since I started. There were no other camps or lights as far as I could see. Well, I did want to be alone! I decided to get the party started and watch the sunset with a fire. Since I had the Dura flame logs, I was actually able to start a decent fire for once in my life, cheating aside 🙂 The problem was that the fire was too good, it was quite windy and the flames quickly turned pretty big and I was afraid that I was going to set the entire dry, brush covered field on fire. I could picture myself running for my life and then calling 911 to report that I’d set the entire basin on fire. Instead I calmed it down by piling on some more rocks, which I learned can also be bad when they get hot and start to pop. Oops….live and learn.
The fire was awesome for my warmth and moral (so was the wine). I could sing Disney songs at the top of my lungs, echoing around the canyon with no one to annoy. Er…not that I would do that or anything. I stayed up till the fire died then read my book until falling into a deep sleep, with only the sound of the wind and the waterfall. The moon was nearly full and when I woke up to look outside, I could see all the way across the canyon. Beautiful.
I woke up to the sound of the angry geese who didn’t like that I set up shop right next to them. The night had been cold and I was happy to have brought my 0 degree sleeping bag. The downside to not having another person in the tent was that there was no added body heat to warm it up. Anyway, the morning was brisk and threw on my puffy jacket and started walking to warm up. There was a cool waterfall in the distance that I wanted to check out.
After taking lots of pics of the waterfall, I wanted to find a trail I’d heard of that went up to the top of the cliffs looking down at Dusty Lake. I finally ran into a couple day hikers with a map but they also did not know where the elusive trail was. So I went exploring. There are tons of trails and I just followed the one that went up and up, eventually leading to a saddle, where you could scramble up the cliff. The views here were awesome with Ancient Lakes on one side and Dusty Lake on the other side, sheer cliffs dropping down.
Eventually I wandered back to my tent, taking my sweet time. I packed up and headed back out, not seeing another person. What a privilege to have such a popular place all to myself!
In the end, I felt very relaxed and rejuvenated after this trip. It was great to go where I wanted, when I wanted, walking my own pace and with absolutely no agenda. I still love backpacking with my friends, but there will definitely be some more solo trips in my future. Maybe next time I will venture into the deep, dark , bear-infested forest…maybe.
Some tips if you are thinking of going solo for the first time:
-Pick a destination you know well or something that is well within your limits and comfort zone
-Triple check your gear, if you forget that headlamp you won’t be able to borrow one
-Check the forecast. My trip was in the desert but it was windy and cold. I would have been pretty miserable without winter gear
-Tell someone your plan: where you are going, what you are doing and when you expect to be back
-Have Fun! This is your time to take pictures, walk as fast or slow as you want, take breaks, do a midnight hike, check out that side hike, or whatever your heart desires!
Stats for Ancient Lakes:
2 miles to the first lakes, some elevation loss, then ramble as far as you want
Discover Pass Required
Bring your own water, the water here is farm runoff and not drinkable