Second Solo Backpack Trip
Mormon Ladies Lakes Loop
For my second solo backpack trip, I planned to have another go at the Enchantments. After an unsuccessful attempt at such for the fourth of July trip, I still had Enchantments on the brain. I planned for a three-day, two night excursion, but stormy weather kept me in a campground in Leavenworth instead of in the mountains for that first night. I was set to hit the ranger station early Tuesday morning to put in for a one-night stay in the Enchantments, hoping that on a Tuesday following a day of thunderstorms, competition for permits would be less.
When I arrived at the ranger station at 7:30, however, I could see that was not the case. Eight parties put in for the Core Enchantments, giving me a 1 in 8 chance to secure one. I honestly didn’t care that much if I got it or not, as I had a good back up plan. And it’s a good thing I did, because again I was not selected. My usual good lottery karma seems to be on hold for this year…or maybe the universe knew that I really needed to go and spend my time with the Mormon Ladies, a group of lakes that I had heard about from the ranger after our previous failed enchantments permit attempt.
The Mormon Ladies Lakes loop takes off from the end of Icicle Creek Road, a popular road for hikes, backpack trips (including the Enchantments), campgrounds, rock climbing, and anything else outdoorsy you can think of. I’d never been to the end of the road, and I had never heard of the mormon ladies until earlier that month. I was drawn to the name of the lakes, the descriptions of them, the beauty apparent from my guide book, and the desire to simply get up into alpine lakes quickly and relatively easily. The lakes are apparently named after Brigham Young’s wives…Mary, Margaret, Florence, Flora, Edna, Ida, and Alice, to name a few. How many wives did he have?? There is also a paternal lake, aptly named Brigham Lake.
Icicle Creek Trailhead to Upper Florence Lake
In so many ways, this was the perfect backpack trip for me. I arrived at road’s end by 9:15 am, the Icicle Creek Trailhead. There was just one other couple there also getting ready to go. They were headed to Lake Leland, and would branch off from me at 4.5 miles. I realized that I could have near-complete solitude on this trip, which amazed me since my guidebook called this loop extremely popular and heavy with livestock. Having done a solo backpack trip previously, my anxiety about being alone was much less acute this time around, and I relished the idea of quiet after anticipating the idea of crowds.
The first 4.5 miles of the trail meandered ever so gently through forest, gaining just 400 feet in that distance. Now that’s a great way to start a backpack trip! I loved letting my body warm up and get used to the weight of the pack on a flat stretch. And the trail was in great shape too…I felt like I was in heaven! I knew Frosty Pass was coming up, when the trail split off to Lake Leland and I continued up. My book described the switchbacks as hot and dusty, although the day was temperate and still held clouds from the previous day’s storms. I was prepared for anything, frankly, and enjoying just being out and on the trail.
And the trail up to Frosty Pass was definitely more challenging. There were lots of obstacles and blow downs, and much to climb up, over, and around. I had experienced lots of downed trees on my previous solo trip, unexpectedly, and it got to me. This time around, I fully expected challenge, and it didn’t phase me. I took it one step and obstacle at a time, and really did encounter each obstacle as a challenge instead of a discouragement. I was proud of myself and my attitude, and relished that the miles to the top of Frosty pass flew by.
In no time, I was at the turn off to Lake Margaret, the first of the ladies. I had no desire to camp there, as I was just hitting my stride. The trail had opened up, and cloud cover was increasing, with a threat of rain. But since it wasn’t too ominous, I continued on toward Mary Pass at 6900 feet. I had considered Lake Mary for a camping spot, but I encountered another solo female hiker heading down the pass as I was heading up. She said the bugs were REALLY bad at Mary, and she had opted to pitch her tent almost at the top of the pass to get a breeze and some reprieve. She was wandering and exploring after setting up camp, in an effort to stay moving and be less bothered by bugs. A mentality just like my own! She had a dog with her, otherwise, I may have asked if I could join her little party. I liked her style, and she seemed to be about my age. (Note: it’s not that I don’t like dogs. But I do prefer my wilderness experience without them…just saying.)
I topped out at Mary pass by 3:30, and I was feeling strong. I’d gained 4000 feet of elevation for the day, and, honestly, I barely felt it. Maybe it was my mindset of anything goes, how well my backpack was fitting, or the cool temperatures that were perfect for hiking…but I felt like I could go on forever. However, I had to figure out where to stay the night, as my camping options would be limited if I opted to go much further. The book had described Upper Florence Lake as THE place to camp (besides Mary)…but warned that one
could never find a campsite there. From Mary pass, I could see down to Upper Florence, and it looked like a great option to me. I dropped down, and actually missed the turn off to get to Florence, so intent was I on studying the lake for all those backpackers I was sure must be down there somewhere. I backtracked after I realized my error, found the trail to the lake, and dropped down. I’d seen clearly from my vantage point high above the lake the campsites, and felt certain that NO ONE was there. I thought maybe there was something wrong with the sites, or that I had the wrong lake. Not a soul was present, and I had my pick of sites.
Camping with Florence
It wasn’t even 5:00 pm when I dropped my belongings at my chosen site. It is unusual for me to stop hiking so early, particularly when I still had so much energy. But I took my time setting up camp, washing my feet in the lake and putting on long pants and sleeves. I could tell right away that the bugs were bad…they swarmed me constantly and relentlessly. I do not like bug spray and almost never use it. However, on this evening I did, and rubbed my bug hat and flaps with it to try to keep the bugs from driving me nuts. I have good bug tolerance overall, and rarely get bit. But these guys were plentiful and hungry after the previous day’s rain, and I was their only target!
I set my tent up and made dinner, all the while doing the bug shoo. It was distracting for sure. After dinner, I thought I’d go on an evening hike up to a nice knoll I could see from camp, to get away from the bugs. The clouds were coming and going, mostly coming, and the weather had a dramatic feel to it. Surprisingly, once I was done with dinner, I didn’t feel like putting my shoes back on and going anywhere. Instead, I crawled in my tent with the rain fly open…and the sun gleamed in as it flirted back and forth with the clouds. It was pleasant and lovely, and I was out of the bugs. I wrote and read some, until an acceptable amount of near-darkness allowed me to call it a day and try for sleep. I felt peaceful and satisfied with the day, and slept reasonably well.
Florence to Chatter Creek Trailhead
I was awake before first light. I lay in my tent until just after 5:00, when there was enough daylight to get up and moving. The morning was cold, and a heavy dew had settled in overnight. I actually relished this, as one of my fears for the JMT is that of trying to pack up and get ready to hit the trail when the morning is cold. My hands get cold easily and then they don’t work well or warm up well. I had brought hand warmers for this trip, and I decided to try it. I stuck a pair in my gloves, and made breakfast and coffee while alternately taking my fingers out of the finger compartments in my gloves to wrap around the hand warmers. This strategy worked well, and I was able to get everything broken down and put away without too much cold-hand trauma. The sun had entered the campsite by the time I was ready to go at 7:30, and the day looked to be lovely.
Ladies Pass was the next event on the trail. Just a mile or so away, it was all flowers, beauty, and views to get there. There was also snow, and the snow was too hard to traverse in the early morning chill, so I climbed up and around. The views were stupendous, and I felt like Maria in the Sound of Music! I came up and over Ladies Pass, and before me lay four mountain goats taking a rest above Lake Edna. The scene was pastoral and perfect. By the time I was camera ready, the goats had ambled off…but Marmots remained, and the lake below was serene and other-worldly. It reminded me of the Enchantment Lakes, and I was truly in awe of the splendor.
The trail wound down and around Lake Edna. I embraced it all, not wanting it to end. The trail splits shortly after Edna, and I would be heading back to Chatter Creek. Briefly, I entertained continuing along Icicle Ridge Trail. I knew you could go for many more miles, and still work your way back down to Icicle Creek Road via Fourth of July Creek Trail. But my car was already 3.5 miles from the trailhead I would come out at, and to go farther would be ludicrous. I didn’t want to leave the ridge, but reason won over. I turned for the Chatter Creek trail.
I assumed the trail would start to drop immediately. I had 4000 feet of elevation to lose. But instead, it went up and down, over boulder fields and more snow fields, and navigation was challenging. I had to stay on my toes, and try to keep track of the trail when it disappeared in rock and
snow. Eventually I topped out (again) at a pass, and the trail began to descend in earnest. Steep, open switchbacks, lay before me, and flowers and creek sightings. It didn’t look like too bad of a way to get back to the trailhead.
And it wasn’t. The hike ended as it started…quite perfectly. The trail past the last pass, while steep, was in better shape than Frosty Pass, and easy to follow. I felt totally zen, and marveled at how good of a fit the trip was for me overall. I felt really good physically, and like I could have continued on for many more hours and days. THAT is what I wanted to feel, like I had gas in the tank at the end of the trail. I saw just one more lone hiker almost at the bottom of the Chatter Creek trail…for a sum total of four other hikers the entire 20 miles. On the road back to my car, I had nothing but positive thoughts about the trip overall.
What went right…
As I walked those last 3.5 miles on roads, I thought about what all had gone well. My gear was good, and my feet were good. I have come back to the great combination of trail runners and gaiters…and that’s how it will stay. I felt “one with the backpack”, similar to how I feel with my bike when I ride. At all times during the two days, I was at peace with my solitude, surroundings, and even the obstacles I encountered. I had lakes and flowers and mountains spread out before me like a first-class buffet. I got to do a loop hike, where each step took me somewhere new. And since it was a hike I had never done, it truly was all a new experience. I returned to my car with energy to spare, and ready to take on more. JMT here I come!
I simply could not have asked for more on this trip. It was perfect in every way. (Well, except maybe the bugs…)
For more information on the Mormon Ladies Lakes loop, click HERE