Snow drapes the basalt crevasses of the cirque wall that borders Lake Angeles as a mystic islet rises from the turquoise mere while a thread of water wends its way down the rock in May 2004. The lake currently is covered in ice.
Silence. The quiet and stillness was pervasive. Beneath the dark boughs of Douglas-fir and cedar, nary a creature stirred. I was alone.
On rare occasions the distant chirping of a solitary bird or the furtive scramble of a startled squirrel broke the silence.
Hiking as the promise of summer sojourns to alpine heights beckons, is a unique experience. I saw another solo hiker head up the trail ahead of me but never saw him again, encountered a duo leaving as I arrived, and another arriving as I left. Other than that I had the illusion of complete isolation. I used my solitude to dawdle.
Sometimes I stopped to look. Sometimes I stopped to listen, sip some water, or rest my legs. Sometimes I stopped for no apparent reason: Only after several minutes of unintentional meditation would I realize that I was no longer moving and start forward again.
The trail climbs steadily uphill from its beginning through a dark forest, the ground covered with a green carpet of moss, lichen and fern. The trees are second growth — just over 100 years old — that sprouted from the ash of a fire just before the dawn of the prior century. Blackened stumps and charred boles of long-dead trees bear mute witness to the conflagration.
The rush of Ennis Creek provides a soothing background hiss through the first mile or so of the hike. A log bridge crosses the stream near a campsite and the trail continues up the slope through terrain that gets drier as the elevation increases.
The trees grew steadily thinner and the green carpet was replaced by the brown of fallen limbs and needles, though patches of green moss grew on stump and stone and many fallen branches still clutched to the green color of life.
The tightly intertwined branches obscured the sky. Glimpsed sporadically, it shone blue or gray as cloud and sun dueled for possession of the ether. Pale green wisps of lichen bearded the branches of many trees along the trail.
The trail to Lake Angeles is steep, gaining 2,300 feet in 3.5 miles. As the trail gains in elevation, signs that winter has yet to release her icy grip grow. The first snow is at about 3,500 feet, well below the lake and making the trail treacherous in places. Boots, gaiters and hiking poles are welcome additions.
Eventually the trail reaches a junction to the lake. The spur winds its way through several nearly level campsites to the shore of the 20-acre, teardrop-shaped lake.
Mist and fog shrouded the far side of the ice-clad alpine mere. The great, gray walls of Klahhane Ridge rose majestically on the far side, their soaring height obscured by white tendrils of cloud. Snow and ice filled the rugged crevasses and white ice covered the lake, making it seem a flat, snow-draped meadow.
Seen in summer from Klahhane Ridge above, the lake is a teardrop emerald with rocky, tree-adorned islet at one end.
On my last visit several years ago, the ice had started to melt, allowing the rounded, fir-capped islet to rise from the misty mere like a living emerald of tree and rock. The rushing echo of a waterfall rebounded off the stone walls of the cirque, the narrow ribbon of falling water threaded its way down the far rocks behind the islet.
Rather than dwell in the cold or dare the icy sojourn further up the trail, I headed back. In a few weeks (months), the snow will melt, allowing hikers to climb the steep trail to the top of Ennis ridge along slopes of loose talus and scree all the mercilessly steep way to Klahhane and then Hurricane Ridge. That is one of my favorite summer hikes, though quite lengthy as a round-trip trek. I have hitched a ride back with one of the numerous visitors making the drive to and from Hurricane Ridge to shorten the miles; alternately you could take two vehicles and shuttle back or just tough it out and do the whole round trip.
Note: It helps to bring a memory card with your camera. Since I didn’t, I must rely on pictures from my May 2004 visit. (The lake was prettier then and more like it will look in late May and early June.)
How long: About 7 miles round trip to the lake.
How hard: Moderate.
How to get there: From Port Angeles, drive five miles up Hurricane Ridge Road from the National Park Service center to the park’s entrance fee station. Turn right just before the station towards Heart o’ the Hills Campground. The trailhead is in the second parking area at the end of the road and is well-marked. Dogs are not allowed.