9-10 April 2016
Ancient Lakes, Potholes Coulee, Central Washington – Wenatchee, Department of Fish and Wildlife
8 miles, 250 ft. climb to 1200 ft. maximum elevation
Getting back to normal. What does that even mean?
I have independently put myself through two Ivy League schools, worked with Wall Street kings and Fortune 100 tycoons, as well as singularly traveled and lived all around the world. Yet, the idea of backpacking, much less solo, frightened me beyond anything my rampant imagination could conjure. Was it the idea of being in the wild where anything could happen during twilight hours? Or was it because I underestimated my abilities and sensibilities?
It was the latter. In all seriousness, I suffered from postpartum depression with the birth of my eldest daughter. Big Hiking Buddy was the first infant I ever held. She was mine, yet I didn’t know what to do or how to feel about this beautiful life. So I struggled to engage and present myself as the perfect mother – which I now know does NOT exist – until I couldn’t anymore. Never before in my life had I felt like a failure. Through the gift of counseling, I have since worked to resolve my anxieties and insecurities as a parent. I love my two hiking buddies to pieces and am proud of the strong girls they have become, regardless of my inadequacies. The side effect of my PPD, unfortunately, has created in me an overwhelming vulnerability I did not have before motherhood. It has taken me until now, almost 10 years later, to regain my sense of self once more.
So, with the supportive blessing of my husband, I decided to spend a night on my own under the stars at Ancient Lakes. After a year of solo hiking through some of the more rugged and forested terrain the Cascades has to offer, we both felt confident I would survive a short and easy backpacking trip. I chose Ancient Lakes for its flat trail in the open desert of Central Washington, as well as its popularity with fellow hikers in the early spring season. I knew I would not be alone. After kissing my family farewell Saturday morning, I loaded my pack into the car and drove off for the weekend.
Located three hours east of Seattle, Ancient Lakes is a remarkable remnant of Ice Age flooding. This gorgeous canyon sits between the vast Columbia River and the fruit orchards of Wenatchee, offering the perfect dichotomy of past and present. After a long drive along I90, followed by a quick jaunt through a dusty access road, I arrived around noon to a nearly full parking lot. Given the recent spring weather enjoyed by all in the PNW, I suspected the trail would be busy with likeminded folks in search of sunshine. At the trailhead with me was a balanced mix of day hikers tired of wading through melting snow and backpackers readying themselves for the warm camping season ahead.
There were many large groups hiking along the main trail this afternoon. True to my introverted self, I went off the beaten path and opted instead for one of the many side trails leading to Ancient Lakes. Here, I wandered past desert life that included verdant reminders I was still in the Pacific Northwest as well as bright blooms that basked in the warm weather. I couldn’t believe the rocky cliffs above me were once shores ushering a basin of ice into the Columbia River. Today, it is a cavernous coulee of sand and stone, speckled with lakes and unlikely vegetation.
After trekking two miles under the full heat of the sun, I found myself at the perfect campsite, between a pair of the many ponds comprising Ancient Lakes. Given the number of backpackers onsite, I quickly set up my tent, pad and bag as a means to situate myself for the weekend. Knowing this was the desert, the 30 pound load on my back also included a full gallon of water, extra sunscreen and full package of baby wipes. Yes, baby wipes, which I thoroughly enjoyed using after a hot, dusty day in the sun. Once my home for the night was secured, I went off to explore the area further. I followed the rocky trail around Ancient Lake itself towards the waterfall. Having left behind my heavy pack, it was an easy scramble up the loose scree to higher land. The view from atop was splendid.
I perched myself on a boulder just beyond the top of the cascades that flowed into Ancient Lake. I could see the enormity of the canyon as it extended out toward the horizon. Following a short break, I continued east past Judith Pool and her Falls toward H Lake. From the plateau, I spied the oversized windmills of Wild Horse Solar Facility to the west, as well as Dusty Lake basin and the rugged walls of Pothole Coulee throughout the near distance. Realizing I was parched from heat of the late afternoon sun, I returned to camp for a shady reprieve and an early dinner of freeze-dried Italian Pepper Steak, lovingly reconstituted by my JetBoil. Of course, my meal was only complete once I devoured my favorite backcountry dessert of peanut butter cups. YUMMERS!
Following a quick cleanup of dinner, I settled into my tent to enjoy the luxury of reading one of my long-forgotten novels. I must have dozed off for a bit because I woke up with barely enough time to view the sun setting over the western edge of the canyon. It was magnificent to the experience the array of colors accentuated in the sky as nightfall slowly edged out daylight. With the aid of my solar lantern, I tidied myself up as comfortably as I could, changed into clean wool “nighties,” and zipped up my bag and tent for the night. I once again picked up the words of my book until they blurred into a hazy stream of lines beyond my scope of comprehension. Sleep almost immediately became my best friend.
My internal clock promptly stirred me up just before sunrise. In the dawn’s quiet, I watched flocks of ducks and geese float overhead on their way to the numerous ponds still undisturbed at this early hour. After taking in the changing hues of the morning light, I returned to another prolonged slumber as I ultimately had no schedule to keep on this Sunday. Many a camper had already packed up and left when I awoke again just after 9 am. I enjoyed a hearty breakfast of blueberry oats and hot cup of coffee as I leisurely stared off into the distance. It felt amazing to revel in the luxury of peace and quiet without any notion of guilt. After realizing how much I actually enjoyed my overnight experience, I slowly decamped and headed out along a different trail from whence I came. I meandered past a few mountain bikers and horse riders enjoying this less trafficked route until I reconnected with the main trail back to my lonely car.
I did it. I spent a night on my own under a blanket of stars without the aid of another soul. Not only did I prepare, hike out and set up with ease, I aptly enjoyed every moment of my time at Ancient Lakes and cannot wait to share this experience with my two hiking buddies! This is my normal, my new normal. My adventurer’s soul has not only returned, but has also evolved into one more relevant to who I am now: a role model to two young girls who can do anything they set their minds to.
Believe you can and you’re halfway there. – Theodore Roosevelt