Klonaqua Cradle Loop
September 26, 2015
This was a relatively short loop trip on the eastern edge of the Alpine Lakes. Beginning at Icicle Creek Road, I hiked up to Klonaqua Lakes, then backtracked back to the main trail, and headed up the Snowall Creek Trail to Cradle Lake where I set up camp for my second night (where the wind was blowing fiercely throughout the night, keeping me up for a good portion of the night). I then dropped down to Jack Creek, and completed the loop.
It pays to do your research, maybe?
Some time ago, I stopped doing really any more research into a backpacking trip than I really had to do. I generally just look at a map, find some interesting lake, meadow, or river, decide to go check it out, and go. I've even stopped looking up photos before I get there. Of course all of this is mildly stupid, since bridges sometimes wash out, roads get closed, and forest fires can alter the landscape and a gnarled landscape of fallen, chared tree trunks can make travel difficult.
After climbing my way up a pretty steep ascent, I could feel the anticipation build as the trail leveled off, and rounded a corner. I knew that lower Klonaqua Lake was pretty close. Then it appeared, and I felt utter disappointment -- a disappointment unlike anything else I've encountered in the backcountry. Lower Klonaqua Lake was ugly. The water level was far below the rim of where the lake should be, a mass of whitewashed tree trunks clogged the near end of the lake. Lower Klonaqua apparently was a reservoir, with a small earth dam. I had a vision of what I thought the lake would look like, and the reality was far from it.
There were some nice cliffs behind the lake, and I knew there was an Upper Klonaqua Lake. However, I wasn't sure if the upper lake was also a reservoir, and if so, would it look just like this lake? Should I continue on, or just backtrack back down the climb to get a head start on my next day which would surely offer better scenery? I searched for a trail to continue onto the upper lake on the south side of the lake, but didn't see anything promising. I followed the trail across the dam, but it soon evaporated into the trees, an avalanche chute, choked with small cedars and fir trees -- pretty much inpenetrable. Indecision! I was really leaning towards just heading back out, but I was so close to this other lake, but getting there wouldn't bee too easy. I ended up walking along the shoreline of the lake, a bit difficult in places, and required climbing up the hill aways to get over tricky sections where cliffs fell into the water. The lack of a real trail made me think that this other lake wasn't worth the effort, otherwise others would have made a better trail. But I had to know for sure.
I continued on, eventually reaching the far edge of the lake, where I climbed up the hill, crashing through trees and shrubs, reaching the top of the ridge between the lakes, and then I could see the lake. No bathtub ring around this lake -- it looked perfect! And then a few steps later, a trail, how did I miss this?
I scouted around for a good campsite, which it took a while. I only found one good site (although a few others could be made, but those were less than ideal). I was ecstatic to finally have made it.
Had I done a bit of research, I could have learned that the lower lake wasn't much to look at, and that the upper lake was beautiful. I very nearly turned back, which I would have felt pretty stupid about once I learned how great the upper lake was. But the not knowing also made it a bit more of an adventure. I didn't know what to expect at the upper lake, and that may have made it all the better once I arrived.
Upper Klonaqua Lake
Upper Klonaqua Lake
Waiting for Sunrise at Cradle Lake
Why is it that a fierce wind is so unsettling? It's not like it will harm me -- well I guess it could blow a tree on me, but that seems pretty unlikely.
When I arrived at the lake, it was glassy. The birds played and splashed around in the peaceful lake. The first gusts arrived near dinner time. I told myself that the wind would stop near sunset. When it kept coming, and strengthened, I then told myself that it would stop after dark, which then became midnight. I hope things are calm by sunrise.
I can hear it in the distant trees. I feel my anxiety grow as the wave approaches, forcing it's way through successive stands of alpine groves, growing in fury until it explodes against the tent. I recognize the strength of each wave, and am able to predict the force of the slam against the tent, ten to twenty seconds before it hits. The entire tent shakes violently, dust flying beneath the fly.
I feel like a sailor battling a storm at sea. I need to drop the sails and point the bow of my little ship into each oncoming wave, but my tent doesn't steer so well.
Meadows along Meadow Creek
Notes for Hikers
Access Road to Trailhead: Good quality road accessible for all cars.
Upper Klonaqua Lake Trail: So there is a trail to the Upper Lake, but it leaves the main trail maybe a quarter mile before reaching the lower lake. Right before the trail crosses a large rockfall (and as the trail veers away from a small creek), there is a small trail that leads pretty steeply up the hill. There was a small 2-3 rock cairn marking this intersection but it's pretty easy to miss. The trail leads around the southeast corner of Bob Lake, climbs above Bob Lake, and makes it's way to Upper Klonaqua Lake. This trail isn't on my USGS or National Geographic map, but I found it easy enough to follow.
Klonaqua Lake Camping: There is one good campsite at Upper Klonaqua that I found (it doesn't follow the 200' away from lake rule, but it's by far the best option), and a couple of other places that would work if needed. There are several good campsites at the lower lake (but the lake isn't that much to look at).
Fording French Creek: The Snowall Creek Trail begins with a ford of French Creek. The crossing in early September wasn't bad -- maybe mid-upper calf high, and only for a few steps. I was able to find a spot just downstream from the actual crossing that wasn't bad at all.
Lots of camping along French Creek, Snowall, and Jack Creek.
Cradle Lake Camping:
Camping is somewhat limited near the lake. There is quite a bit of flat area to the south of the lake, and there are actually a couple of "hidden" campsites that overlook the Jack Creek valley and look across to the Stuart Range.
The Built Environment