We reluctantly woke up from our stealth camping spot in the trees and plotted out our second day. Where did we hope to camp for our second night? How far did we want to go today and thus tomorrow? We eventually decided that Cached Lake would be our destination for camping. There is no official camping at the larger Eagle Lake so that would be our day hike after setting up camp. It would add about 3 miles to our day to go there and back but it was a low mileage day anyway.
After breakfast, dismantling camp and stuffing our packs anew, we quickly waded back across the chilly stream about 6:45am, mucking back through the slough of a flooded trail. Stopping at the junction with the Main Eagle Creek Trail, Elizabeth decided to filter her water for the day (I had already done this while she was finishing getting packed up).
While sitting there, a few horsemen sauntered by with their pack and silently nodded good morning. I was not surprised because yesterday I had seen plenty of horseshoe prints and a few actual lost horseshoes. It had me wondering what they do on trail when they throw a shoe because not all horse owners are farriers (someone who shoes horses). Do they just wait until they get home? My answer would have to wait until tomorrow…
It wasn’t long before Elizabeth and I were making our way along the trail towards the junction with Cached Lake (the Main Eagle Creek Trail continues to Eagle Lake). The surrounding rocky white slopes were just starting to brighten with the early morning sun and the tiny bit of dew still clinging to the lush plants lining the trail dampened the hems of our pants.
As we meandered up the valley with Main Eagle Creek gurgling to our right, we noticed a few more occupied campsites, one of them with some emerging hikers that I had seen the night before on my trip up to the lakes toting fishing poles on their way down. This would be the last time I would see them, or any other hikers, until we were on our way out.
This section of trail had multiple creek crossings and we both donned water shoes to cross at least once. I had some fun watching E wade across the biggest one and heard her yell from the other side, “Don’t come this way!” That was good because based on the rock hopping I had seen her do, I was already planning my own route. I don’t mind crossing streams but I have a thing about potentially slippery rocks and avoid rock hopping as much as I can. You can watch her cross in the video below.
We only had a few miles to make before we arrived at where we planned to camp, so we stopped to snack and ponder our maps after we put our shoes back on. Our original plan had been to hike as we were doing today, but make the junction with the Upper Minam River Trail for camp and then loop back to Main Eagle on the Bench Canyon trail. The crux of our decision was how much snow would be on the pass above there and whether we thought we could do it in a day. Or whether or not Elizabeth thought she could do it at all. We went back and forth but left it to decide when we got to Cached Lake for the night and what we thought about the snow we could see from there.
I arrived at the junction of Main Eagle and Trail Creek just after 9am and the sun was already warming the day considerably. There was no trail sign to actually tell me it was the junction, just a weathered gray post sticking up from a pile of rocks. GPS confirmed my assumption, however. I could see Elizabeth slowly snaking up the open switchbacks below me as I gazed back at where we had come from since yesterday (she looks like a smushed fly in the bottom left hand corner of my picture above). My picture doesn’t even really do justice the beauty but I paused a moment to be grateful.
Taking out some crackers and sunbutter to snack on and adding electrolyte powder to my water bottle while I waited for E, I glanced up in both directions, to the right and what appeared to be straight up to Eagle Lake, then to the left and the brush encroached trail to Cached Lake. This was going to be fun either way.
Once she arrived, Elizabeth and I made the final decision to hike the 1.5 miles to Cached Lake first, set up camp and then return to this junction and explore up to Eagle Lake. Elizabeth even hinted she may lounge at camp a bit and let me go first since I planned to scramble up from the lake and she did not. Okay, I told her, we’ll figure out the details when it gets to that.
The short distance northeast on Trail Creek from the junction was muddy, interrupted by multiple small streams and overgrown but when the trail broke out over scree and boulder, the views down the valley we had come up from gave us a few glimpses at the ridge and Needlepoint behind us. Cached Creek flowed to our left down a small canyon, dropping from Cached Lake where I arrived by 10am at less than 500ft higher than the junction. Although the guide book says 1.5 miles, I would say it is closer to 1.1.
The guide book, also, had said that there were campsites along the lake which was about 100 yds off trail, but it turned out there were two options to get there: a significant stream to cross or walking over the marshy terrain next to the lake. My guess is that all the snow runoff has the lake and surrounding ground gorged and that later in the season access is easier. The book was accurate, however, that this was normally a busy spot. There were quite a few social trails and campsites too close to the lake that indicated a lot of use.
As I waited for E to catch up with me, I forded the creek almost to my knees and went in search of the supposed campsites, but I didn’t see anything worth bringing her over here for. So when she joined me at camp a short time later, I suggested a large site in some trees closer to the trail. If we had run into more people (anyone at all) hiking today, it would not have been an option. But since we hadn’t seen anyone else and I hadn’t been any trip reports online before leaving home of people making the loop this far this season, I guessed correctly we wouldn’t have neighbors or traffic with our location for the night. I know for some people having the perfect location for their site is key but since we tend to be out on trail most of the day only to be at camp for the night, I don’t worry so much about it.
We took about an hour or so to set up camp and then hash out the rest of the day over snacks. Elizabeth confirmed she wanted to rest for a while and then join me up at Eagle Lake. The plan was that I would head over and spend some time scrambling up to towards the summit of Needlepoint which rises above Eagle Lake to an elevation of about 8,900ft. We set a turn around time or a time I would be back down at Eagle Lake to meet her. We decided on 3-3:30pm at the latest for me to be down off the mountain. I packed enough to survive a night out despite the high temps (puffy, extra food, etc.) and made my way back down Trail Creek to the junction.
It was about 20 minutes to noon when I turned and continued up the Main Eagle Lake Trail. Earlier it had been hard to see exactly where the trail climbed but within a few feet or so I could see it took a more gentle contour direction up and around to continue up the valley towards the cirque that held Eagle Lake.
The trail was rocky and dry from here up, so much so that I passed 3 more thrown horseshoes littered on the trail. My tendency to pick up trash on the trail had them gradually adding to the weight of my pack as I went. The trail looped around the slope and continued along the contour line with several switchbacks towards the V-formation ahead of me that I guessed was the spillway for the lake. Some sections of trail here were carved out of the rock itself requiring using my hands and it was hard to imagine a horse making it up the far.
Before I could see the lake, there was the sound of water rushing down from an obvious rock dam several feet deep held together with wire mesh up to the right of the trail. Quite a few of the lakes in Eagle Cap are dammed, which becomes more noticeable the more time you spend in the area; a garish intrusion to what is considered a wilderness area. You can tell that some visitors do not have a problem crossing over to the other side on it but since I was pretty sure it wasn’t designed for that, I stayed on the northeast side of the lake.
The lake was a translucent jade with what was left of winter floating and clinging to its edges. Further out the water gradually became darker sapphire blue, so beautiful and enticing. If it was any colder I might have gone for a swim but I knew better than to take my chances on the frigid water.
I sat for awhile and ate lunch (which I talk about in the video below) and pondered the heavy hitchhikers in my pack. I decided to leave them at the lake close to a rusty bucket which I assumed was an artifact of some kind; they didn’t need to go scrambling with me today. I hedged my bets by positioning them as you see here, I didn’t want my luck to run out!
I had looked up some scrambling routes on Summit Post so I would have a general idea of which direction to start up. I had, also, downloaded a map of the area to my GAIA account so I could have details of the terrain. I opted to climb from Eagle Lake instead of an easier route closer to Cached Lake, which ultimately may have not been the best decision for making the summit.
From the lake, I made my way up and to the right, hoping to skirt a few cliffs and hit a ridge that I could turn back on the direction of the summit.
It was your run-of-the-mill granite slabs and boulders interspersed with a little vegetation as I rose above the lake and caught glimpses of peaks in the distance emerging from the ridges around me.
The northern view was the Eagle Cap summit that I had climbed last summer, reaching for the sky beyond the cirque. It was interesting to see it from this angle and I remembered back to what I had seen standing on her and looking this direction.
The terrain began to change and there were larger boulders to maneuver and a snow field to ponder crossing. The granite also gave way to crumbly and slippery granodiorite (similar to granite), and my progress slowed considerably.
I decided not to cross the snow, or at least wait until the last minute to do so. There was no reason to find out later I had to cross back since I knew I needed to do that anyway.
I sat down for a break at about 8050ft and not only soaked in the surrounding beauty, I held an internal debate with how much further I wanted to continue today (okay, maybe not so internal). It was already 1:45pm. At the rate I was going, reaching the summit would mean not getting down to the lake until 6pm at the earliest and that would mean not only worrying Elizabeth but not arriving back at camp until dusk. I had secretly hoped to have time after dinner to scout past Cached Lake and up to pass fro conditions on the loop route. If I gambled on a summiting of Needlepoint, I may not get either.
I also thought about the events of the last week and a promise to be extra cautious while on this trip, not only to myself but to Elizabeth. And my family. So I turned around and reluctantly headed back down toward the lake.
I looked back up at where I had been (the red dot) when I was a hundred feet below and wondered again which route I would have taken. The cliffs were too steep to the left so it would have been either up or to the right. It had been at that point I knew I needed to turn around because it was already 2:15 and there was still up to 700ft to go. Oh, well. The mountain will be here if I decide to return.
I ended up taking a slightly more southern route down, the terrain appeared a bit more gradual on the map. With the exception of route correction to avoid a cliff band I had circumvented on the north side, this proved to be an accurate assumption. It didn’t mean I avoided the loose and crumbly rock, however. You have got to love that veggie belay!
I was about 500 feet up from the lake when I could look down and see a tiny Elizabeth with her green shirt sitting just up from the lake reading a book. I thought I could see her turn around and look up, possibly hoping to see me come down from the mountain. I waved my arms but she didn’t wave back. Hmmm…maybe I am not as easy to see? Note to self: next time wear brighter clothing. You can kinda see her right of center in this blurry zoomed in picture…
She soon got up and started back down the trail. What?!? I wasn’t that late! I guess she had given up on me…or knew me too well. I tried to yell but she didn’t hear me either. So, I picked up my pace as much as I could and luckily the more solid, grippygranite presented itself again to ease in my descent. I was back down to the lake and caught up with her about 3:20pm (much to her relief). She joked a bit about not being too worried, but I imagine there may have been more than she let on. Our minds so easily betray any reasonable thoughts we may have.
Hiking back to camp with Elizabeth, it wasn’t even 5pm when arrived. And it was barely 6pm when all was said and done with dinner and such. What was I going to do until the sun went down?? It was WAY to early to hit the sack. Elizabeth settled in with a book but I was restless.
I wasn’t quite done with my adventure for the day, so I decided to continue up the trail to see if it was possible to make it the pass up above. Maybe have some nice sunset views and check snow conditions. But after an amazing amount of downed trees, snow on the trail, mud and then finally a wide, shallow stream to cross (I left my sandals back at camp), I played it reasonable and turned around reluctantly for camp.
With sun setting gloriously on the hills before me and my sleep wear on: long underwear, long sleeve shirt under puffy and running shorts, I explored a bit on the other side of the trail from the lake making sure to stay on durable surfaces. I was still grossed out by the tick I had found in my bandanna while changing from the day, I hadn’t even thought to be worried about that. This had lead to a few extra minutes making sure I hadn’t picked up any other little transients during my adventures today. Now that I knew that was possible, I was also avoiding brushing up against any grasses. I eventually found a spot to settle and watch the day slowly slip away and said a little prayer for the gift of another day. And friendship.
Turns out 8:15 is a much more reasonable time to lay out in your hammock and watch the last of the day turn a red glow on the ridge above you as you fall asleep. I had told Elizabeth that making the loop was not an option because if the little I had gone was any indication, the time it would take us to continue up and around would not happen in one day. So, tomorrow we would hike out and if we got to the junction with Bench Canyon early enough we could do a day hike up to the lakes above and then hike out. Ultimately, though, we would have to decide if we wanted to make it all the way to the car or have one more night out just a few miles from the trailhead.
We’ll see what tomorrow brings…
This is a video of some of the pictures I took in addition to video clips from parts of our day, including some of what I ate on the trail. Try and ignore the fact I kept calling Needlepoint “Needles” all day or that chewing gum while filming yourself is gross and means a small amount of choppy editing.
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