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TR: Rampart Lakes (Autumn Wonderland)

Posted by gck Tuesday, October 18, 2011 0 comments

Distance: 10 miles
Elevation gain: 2800 feet
Trailhead directions and more information on WTA.

If you’ve ever hiked with me before, you’ve probably noticed that I never lead the group. Part of the reason is because I like to hang back to take pictures. But the more important reason is that I have no idea where I am going. More on that later.

October is probably my favorite month to hike. Fall colors make up for the lack of flowers, there are sometimes berries to eat, it isn’t hot outside, and most of the crowds and idiots are gone. This weekend, I was tempted by some crazy hiking ideas, but reports of snow in the Teanaways made me give that up. Rampart Ridge has been on my list for awhile, and I really wanted to take the primitive shortcut way in (via Lake Lillian) this fall, but it was only going to happen if I had a navigator with me. So I hiked the Rachel Lake trail.

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(left: waterfalls on Box Canyon Creek, right: fall colors)

I hiked the Rachel Lake trail last summer. If you don’t remember my trip report, I think I spent most of it complaining about crowds and a couple trying to argue that it was okay for their unleashed dog to trample the wilderness and practically knock me over in the process. Fortunately, those people are gone. There were enough people around that I felt okay going solo, but they were spread out so I got sufficient solitude. It also helped that the biggest party was a group of 3.

SLR people who love their glossy waterfall pics: this is a great trail for those. Box Canyon Creek follows the trail most of the way up to Rachel Lake, and you get a lot of glimpses of little falls. But you better be dedicated in your love for creeks because this trail is all about creeks… you’re crossing them (bring poles) and walking through them a LOT. Seriously, like half of this trail is steep, rooty creek. It’s rough and exhausting both ways. On the plus side, there are things to see along the way – the waterfalls, Hibox Mountain views, and fall foliage (or wildflowers in the summer).

(Hibox Mountain)

Rachel Lake is really pretty on a day with sunlight – you get those bright turquoise shades in the shallow edges. It’s tempting to stay there, but it’s worth it to keep going up. In the series of social trails leading to campsites before you hit the lake, there’s a sign that says “Trail ->” pointing to a trail going to the right of the lake. This is the one you want to take you up above the lake to Rampart Ridge. From the lake, Rampart Ridge looks pretty high up, but the hike up wasn’t bad at all. The trail is in decent condition and you get nice views down at Rachel Lake as you go up. At the top, you get a choice: left to Rampart Lakes or right to Lila Lake. The Lila Lake direction is also the way to go for Alta Mountain. Next time.

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(left: NW Forest Pass at Rachel Lake, right: tarn on Rampart Ridge)

So about an hour into my hike, I realized I had done something stupid. I was using my Forest Pass as a bookmark in my hiking book so I could easily flip to the directions while I was driving. Unfortunately, I forgot to stop using it as a bookmark. I realized this about an hour into the hike, which was too late to turn back. I figured there was a good chance they wouldn’t be ticketing that lot that day, but just in case, I took a bunch of pictures of my pass in front of landmarks on the trail so I could try to talk my way out of a ticket if I did get one (I didn’t).

After walking on Rampart Ridge for a little while, I started seeing tarns surrounded by beautiful autumn foliage. Social trails went all over the place. It was pretty, but I was a little afraid that these were the Rampart Lakes, which would be disappointing because they were so small. But they weren’t – it’s just some bonus stuff to explore. The lakes were just a little further, and they were definitely lakes, though small enough to walk around.

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(left: tarn, right: creek and social trails)

A cold sandwich doesn’t really cut it when it’s 30-whatever degrees up there. I hauled in my Ms. Bento container for a warm lunch of chili, green beans, and bread. Up in the sky, there were about seven hang gliders enjoying the nice weather. Other trip reports have mentioned them, so there must be a known launch spot nearby. Oh, and despite this being opening weekend of some hunting season, gunshots weren’t really an issue. I passed a few camps on my way in, but it was nothing close to the mess that is Teanaway Road at this time of year.

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(left: hang gliders in the sky, right: Ms. Bento lunch)

After lunch, I wandered around the lakes, trying to explore all of them (I think I hit 4 of the 5). Some of the best views were from the less accessible sides of the lakes, and I got a few tasty huckleberries along the way, too. I could definitely have spent more time leisurely walking around, but it was already 2pm and I wanted to be out of there well before dark. Unfortunately, I was on the other side of a lake that turned out to be larger than I expected. A series of wrong decisions in the interest of finding the shortest route got me onto an island in one of the lakes. Yeah, I know, right? Two options: 1) Go back a long way. 2) Take off boots and walk through shallow but freezing water for about 10 feet. Man, it was cold. I don’t recommend this.

Anyway, social trails really aren’t my friends. I love views and when there’s a trail that goes somewhere, I know there’s something to see, and I’ll follow it. When there’s a whole network of these, there’s no way I’m going to be able to retrace my steps. My path from Rampart Lakes to the trail down to Rachel Lake had very little resemblance to my path in – I got a lot more trees in my face on the way out. The lake traversal disaster cost me more time than I expected, and going down the creek section of the Rachel Lake trail also took a long time. I ended up making it out before dark, but only with about 30 minutes to spare.

(one of the Rampart Lakes)

I’d love to spend more time on Rampart Ridge, though. There are some lovely campsites up there, and I even saw a sign indicating that there was a toilet. This was a very nice hike to end my hiking season this year, since snow is coming and I’m not as comfortable with unpredictable, potentially dangerous weather. I’ll be back in 2012 for more hiking!