What is truly surprising about Washington state is the diversity of the landscape. The Olympic and Cascade ranges dominate the west with their soaring peaks extending all the way to British Columbia, the beaches in the east are lined with lush, mossy coastal rainforest, and in the east, the gray of the city opens up into red rocks, deserts, and canyons running the course of the Columbia River. Our first hike of the year was advertised as being a short two mile jaunt through flat desert lands, admiring the canyons and camping out by the river.
It turned out to be so much more.
Ancient Lakes is tucked between the walls of a towering canyon landscape. As the name implies, the lakes are fed through a series of waterfalls. Under a wide meadow, the Columbia cuts through the red rock and sets the scene for a spectacular vista from up above the walls.
We set off from Seattle under overcast skies and were blasted by snow as we drove up through the North Cascades. As we cleared the mountain pass, the skies opened up into a clear blue and suddenly we were driving through a magnificent wind farm. Gigantic white windmills stretched out into the distance, providing clean and sustainable energy for the local farming communities.
After parking the cars under the magnificent canyon walls, our trail started through a sandy patch of dry weeds and petrified dunes. We watched the trail as rattlesnakes were common and frequently liked to hide between the thick, dry, shrubs. The trail meandered up the side of the canyon and became thinner as we gave way to some light scrambling as we rounded the bend into the lush meadow that ran alongside the river.
Under a dry heat, we carried our packs down the trail and stopped for our lunch break at a small wooden bench on the bank of the Columbia. Although we all assumed that this was going to be our stop for the day, our guides had other ideas in mind, and soon after lunch, we found ourselves scrambling up the rocky canyon walls in a loop that was going slightly off trail.
We crossed the meadow towards two twin lakes fed by a large waterfall up the side of the canyon rim. After a short break, we scambled up a twisting rocky moraine which set us right on the edge of the canyon. From this vantage, we looked across the meadow, the Columbia that cut in between, and snowy peaks far in the distance.
Above the canyon walls, we hiked the uneven terrain along the rim and wandered across a rocky shoreline of a hidden lake on the other side. We found a clearing between two walls where we pitched our campsite. Two waterfalls gently roared behind us and despite unnerving wind, we were able to stake our tents to the ground.
The best part of any trip is the camaraderie. We quickly set our fire, started cooking our meals, hot chocolate, coffee, and the conversation runs wild. We talked long into the night about other trips, experiences, and lots of storytelling. Despite the fact that we had only all met the same day, it felt very close to home. As the fire began to die out, we crawled back into our tents and blissfully woke up late the next morning.
With minimal soreness from the hike, we packed up and made our way back towards the trail on the other side of the twin lakes. Our trail downclimbed along the waterfall which made the rocks slightly slippery, but our group was able to slowly navigate the stony shoreline back to the meadow. After one last scramble up the red canyon trail, we made our way to the car.
As we headed home, we stopped in a small town for what was purportedly the Northwest’s best barbeque joint. As our exhausted bodies celebrated our trip over beer, ribs, and steak, we were watched over by portraits of rodeo queens which filed alongside the wall. With our appetite satisfied, we headed back towards Seattle.
My first hike of the northwest showed me the different landscapes that this side of the country has to offer and got me more excited for the possibilities here. I was able to be in great company, gained experience, got a little bit of climbing in, and enjoy every reason why I came out here.