Blog Washington State

Ancient Lakes Backpack – Section Hikers Backpacking Blog

Ancient Lakes is a well-liked east-side backpacking vacation spot in Washington State, particularly early within the season when the Cascades and Olympics are snowed beneath. The world consists of two 1.5-mile-long coulees (box canyons shaped by eroding basalt) separated by a 300-foot-tall “rib” or wall. The western ends of the coulees open to the Columbia River Gorge and the japanese ends are full of lakes, particularly Ancient Lake and pals to the north and Dusty Lake (with its signature white bathtub ring) to the south.

I sometimes entry the world from the west by way of the overnight parking zone on the end of Ancient Lake Street, which contains a single moveable rest room.

The waterfall at Ancient LakeThe waterfall at Ancient Lake

One among my favorite issues about this space is the stark distinction to typical Pacific Northwest climbing. Typically you end up confined to a view-less path because it meanders by way of the woods. Right here you’re free to wander wherever you want (though there are plenty of trails to comply with) and the views stretch on for miles in every path. The surroundings appears like one thing straight out of a wild west film, and the truth that the world can also be quite widespread with equestrians solely adds to the feeling.

The northern coulee is the preferred by far, the rolling green hills close to the lakes are incessantly dotted with tents. The waterfall tucked into the northeast nook of Ancient Lake is of specific interest. The bottom of the falls is accessed by crossing the scree on the north aspect of the lake, and a steep footpath to the left of the falls lets you attain the highest as properly.

Looking west as we head east into the southern coulee towards Dusty LakeWanting west as we head east into the southern coulee in the direction of Dusty Lake

Though it might not seem like it from a distance, the peninsula on the north aspect of Dusty Lake could be reached from the japanese shore by following a footpath throughout the scree. A handful of established campsites are situated close to the tip of the peninsula. I suppose you might additionally cross the scree between the western shore and the peninsula though I haven’t tried this myself.

For this specific journey I needed to attempt one thing a bit totally different: I needed to camp on prime of the wall itself. I had explored the highest of the wall on a previous journey however hadn’t tried pitching a tent so I wasn’t positive what to anticipate – it’s, in any case, a number of hundred ft of strong basalt. Nevertheless, it turned out that in lots of places the bottom was coated in a very mushy reddish-brown soil which was good for staking into.

A two-rainbow sunset over Dusty LakeA two-rainbow sunset over Dusty Lake

At 2:45 AM I awoke to the yips and howls of the coyotes who inhabit the world as they ran up and down the size of the northern coulee for the subsequent 10-15 minutes. The final time my spouse and I have been right here we camped on the Dusty Lake peninsula and the coyotes have been up round 5:30AM so there was sufficient mild to have the ability to watch them run alongside the scree slopes on the base of the wall.

The highest of the wall is accessible from the northern coulee by taking a trail that begins on the base of the wall somewhat southwest of the lakes and ends in a niche overlooking Dusty Lake. From this hole head west along a faint path to proceed your ascent till you attain a very brief but steep gully which you’ll be able to then scramble up to reach the top.

From the southern coulee the entry is simpler: a few third of the best way along the wall from the tip is a wide “gap” or decrease part within the prime of the wall with a bowl-shaped melancholy on the west end – a faint path follows the western edge of the scree here into the bowl. From the northwestern nook of the lower part you possibly can comply with a trail up to the westernmost part of the wall where the outstanding summit block resides.

The last rays of the setting sun on the northern couleeThe last rays of the setting sun on the northern coulee.

A phrase of warning: the world surrounding the lakes is farmland which suggests the water in the lakes is tainted by pesticides from farm runoff. Regular methods of water remedy are ineffective at eradicating pesticides which for most people means you’ll need to carry in your whole water. Nevertheless, the Sawyer Select S1 water filter removes both chemical compounds and pesticides so once I noticed it was half-off at REI I snagged one to check out on this trip. On that word, let’s get to the great things:

Gear: What Labored

Sleep System/Shelter

  • First time taking out my new Therm-A-Rest compressible pillow and it was superb. I finally determined to throw in the towel on inflatable pillows and get myself a pleasant heavy foam-filled pillow and I couldn’t be happier. It looks like a traditional pillow, it compresses and supports like a traditional pillow, and it doesn’t slide around like my pad is an ice skating rink.
  • Talking of pads, this is also my first time taking out the Gossamer Gear Thinlight foam pad. I had heard that it was good for stopping pad slip and boy are the rumors true – this thing is like sleeping pad cement. I’ll write one thing more detailed later however the pad slip drawback is now a solved drawback in my world – that’s one much less factor to be irritated by.What didn’t:
  • Few issues are worse than having to desperately rustle round in your tent at night time on the lookout for a light-weight supply so that you don’t get eaten or wander away a cliff when it’s a must to go pee. To avoid this I all the time put on my headlamp round my neck in order that I don’t lose monitor of it. Then I read concerning the Gossamer Gear Photon Freedom LED Micro Mild and I assumed it is perhaps a heck of much more snug, so I picked one up to try out on this journey. I’m glad to report that, yes, it was far more snug – I didn’t even notice it was there (except when it obtained caught up in my headphones whereas I used to be listening to audiobooks making an attempt to fall asleep). It’s additionally simpler to hang from the little clip at the prime of my Six Moons Lunar Solo for use as a tent mild.


  • My Path Designs Kojin alcohol stove was incredible. That is my first alcohol range and my first time using it within the area. I paired it with an Evernew Ti Mug Pot 500 (a shade over two cups, probably the most water any of my dehydrated meals requires) and accompanying Evernew Ti DX stand, which perfectly matches the groove on the underside of the mug-pot so it’s more durable to knock over. My Path Designs Caldera Cone package (which additionally consists of its own Kojin range so now I’ve two – whoops) is sitting in a box on my kitchen table as I write this so I’ll mess around with that on my next journey. I also picked up a square of carbon fiber felt in its place technique of insulation while cooking, I’m going to see if I could make a comfortable out of it.
  • The Gossamer Gear long-handle bamboo spoon doesn’t have a clean finish so it feels weird in your mouth, and it also isn’t very deep so my dinner stored falling off of it. I imagine it will also be fairly tedious to eat liquid meals with. Perhaps I’m just not used to picket spoons however I feel I’ll begin in search of a alternative.
  • I “borrowed” a Wild Zora Mountain Beef Stew paleo meal from my spouse’s stash for dinner. It was fairly good.
  • I forgot to weigh my meals. Once more.


  • Once again, it was windy. I bumped into some fellow Mountaineers who have been additionally camping on prime of the wall they usually had measured the wind velocity within the low twenties (mph) by way of their WeatherHawk Skymate, which is a kind of moveable fold-out wind meter. In any case, it didn’t matter – my Massdrop Veil wind shirt eats wind for breakfast and stored me completely heat with just my climbing shirt on beneath as long as I was even mildly lively.


  • The Sawyer S1 filter, but solely because it additionally requires the included Sawyer Micro (which I had left at residence) to correctly filter. Apparently the foam solves the chemical drawback but not the microscopic baddie drawback. I still used it to filter water just to undergo the motions, and this is once I remembered that you simply’re supposed to make use of it a couple of occasions at residence first so that each one the unfastened foam bits are rinsed out of it – you can see the foam particles swirling like clouds of ink within the filtered water. Whoops. I don’t know if I’ll get out to Ancient Lakes again this yr but for these less forgetful than myself I feel this is able to be an incredible filter for backpacking in farm country.

And that’s it, actually. I’m pretty proud of every thing in my gear listing so my listing of complaints seems to shrink after each journey.

Ancient Lake Space (Map)

Future Journeys

As I used to be gazing south across the southern coulee I observed that the world on the plateau south of it seemed fairly fascinating but in addition pretty inaccessible, apart from a scree slope where the facility strains ascended the cliff at the southwest corner of the canyon. Checking maps online once I acquired residence, I came upon that not only is it additionally part of the Quincy Lakes Wildlife Space (the right identify for the managed land containing Ancient Lakes) but the space stretches another 2.5 miles south alongside the gorge all the best way right down to the Gorge Amphitheater. I feel I’ll be heading that method next time I go to.

Lastly, wanting west at the rolling hills on the far aspect of the Columbia River Gorge received me wondering for those who might go backpacking over there as properly. Turns out which you can: it’s the 90,000 acre Colockum Wildlife Area which is run by the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (the same people who handle Ancient Lakes). One other location so as to add to my listing.

Concerning the Writer

Michael Montgomery is a Washington State native who has been exploring the wilds of the Pacific Northwest for almost 20 years. He’s a backpacking mentor and trip chief for the Mountaineers who also dabbles in images, scrambling, kayaking, and caving. His noteworthy international trips embrace the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu in addition to the final third of the Camino de Santiago (because there’s solely so much vacation time to go round). He enjoys serving to new people get probably the most out of their outside experiences.

Disclosure: The writer owns all the products mentioned above.

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