I’d planned on a 4 or 5 day backpack into the Waptus Lake area: Waptus Lake, Dutch Miller Gap, Escondido Ridge, and Polallie Ridge. But Dutch Miller Gap was a bit much for my old bod (age 72), so I came out the easy way – the Waptus River trail that I’d used coming in. In fact, this trail is a classic, well used by both people and horses, with only modest 200’ to 300’ ups and downs on a 9 mile walk close to a beautiful river, with several good campsites along the way. Incidentally, you can hire horse packers to pack in, and pick up, your gear to the spacious camping areas at both sides at the east end Waptus Lake.
My walk in was mostly cloudy and cool, very pleasant, with a few light rain showers overnight. Early the next morning I moved my mid-lake campsite 2 ½ miles west to the nice PCT campsites at the junction with the Dutch Miller Gap trail. This trail runs flat for a half mile to a stream crossing and campsite. Just beyond this on my way out I encountered a Momma bear and two cubs. Strangely, the Momma bear was mostly brown but with a black head, while the cubs were all black. Momma promptly disappeared into the undergrowth, but one cub tried to crawl up a small tree. It got only about 3’ high and was only about 3’ long stretched out, trying to cling on. I made a few noises and soon Momma bear had coaxed her cub down and off into the bushes.
Above this point the trail transitions to a long series of well-graded and maintained switchbacks. The forest here was fully recovered from the pine rust we’d seen 13 years ago during a 5 day loop trip from Snoqualmie Pass. But the trail got rougher as I passed by Lake Ivanhoe, over Dutch Miller Gap, and steeply down to the Williams Lake junction. Given my bad balance, sore lower back, and limited energy, this was slow going and stressful, so I turned back, even as the weather turned glorious. When I found the perfect photo op back at Lake Ivanhoe and reached into my pocket for my cellphone camera, it was gone. With the prospect of a 3 hour back-tracking search, including wading a torrent down a cliff into the lake, I decided to write it off, it being already late in the day. Incidentally, I went around the north side of the lake but it appeared that the broken bridge at the east end could be traversed with care to do the easier south side trail (the bridge is collapsed in the middle, but still holding together, even as water rushes over it at the narrow break).
The south bound PCT hikers seem to have thinned out. Yet I had good conversations with a solo PCT section hiker ‘Valerie’ the first night at Waptus Lake, lending her my battery charger, and later with a father & daughter team on the Waptus River trail on the way out. I thought it would be a long slog going out, given my uncertain physical condition and the 85 degree afternoon, but my body rallied. The impact on my back didn’t hit until I got home after the long drive, even with seat cushions and two rest stops.
Added later: Amazingly, someone found my lost cellphone, probably Saturday while hiking east over Dutch Miller Gap, and left it conspicuously on the Waptus River bridge on the PCT. On Sunday a father and son team found it and figured out how to contact me (just google "how to return a lost iphone"). The computer-savvy son had activiated Siri to see a message to me from my wife and replied to her. The next day I picked up my cell phone in Enumclaw, as good as ever, but bought a new hot-pink case to make it more visible and vowed to always put it in a zip closure pocket on my REI hiking pants.