Backpacking Central Washington's Ancient Lakes
When wishing to avoid Seattle's infamous rain, the high desert never disappoints
We chose to follow the sun, bailing on our initial plan of a fire lookout in the Cascades when the weather looked foreboding. It was early October in Seattle and fall was in full effect. Not ready to give into the rain just yet, we went east of the Cascades to the high desert of Central Washington.
We reached the Ancient Lakes trailhead around 9am and had the parking lot to ourselves. On top of the solitude, the trek in was an easy two mile walk with spectacular views of the cataract canyon and a cascading waterfall. Alone on the trail, we chose the prime camp spot—situated at the center of three of the lakes and raised up slightly on a grassy knoll. The views made it hard to believe we were still in Washington, only two and a half hours from home. As most of us rarely, if ever, travel farther than the Cascades on an average weekend, the warm yellows and oranges of the desert landscape were an exhilarating change from the usual misty Evergreens the PNW is known for.
The rest of the afternoon was spent climbing atop a waterfall at one edge of a lake and following an unmarked trail up the canyon wall to the top of the basin. As the light got longer, a bit of whiskey was passed it around, as these things go. The evening was warm enough to not necessitate a fire, so we sat on flat, sun-warmed rocks around our un-lit fire pit.
In the morning, a bit of bad luck struck as our camp stove wouldn’t light. So, mostly still freezing from the night before, and with no spectacular sunrise to enjoy, we packed up and made a beeline for the nearest coffee shop and hand wash in the quaint town of Quincy, WA.
Though it was only October, the sun-drenched days of Seattle’s summer already felt long gone. Ancient Lakes helped soften the blow.