Location: Ancient Lakes (Quincy)
Length: ~17 miles
Elevation: ~1,700 feet
Fall was officially here in the PNW and the forecast for the weekend called for heavy rain nearly everywhere. This left me with a couple choices. One, I could head to the mountains and just go do a wet, soggy, dark, damp trail run with little to no views and … eh TWO, I PICK OPTION TWO, WHATEVER TWO IS!!
Option 2: Take on a “lake bagging” challenge and head on over to Ancient Lakes near Quincy. The weather forecast looked much more promising on the Columbia Plateau.
The challenge is part of a series of routes making up the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge. What’s this UPWC you ask? To pull from the org description, “The UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge is an annual multi-faceted, multi-media, adventure blogging contest open to Trailrunners, Fastpackers, and Backpackers. There are no aid stations, no course markings, no start/finish, no lemming lines, no cut offs, no set date, in fact, it’s all up to you.” This particular undertaking was the Ancient Lakes “Touch All the Lakes” Challenge. All I had to do was plot a route through the area and touch 20 different lakes as identified on the official sign up page. No problem – I love route finding and adventure runs!
I spent some time Friday evening looking at Google Maps and determining the most efficient route I could take that would bring me close enough to each lake to stick a finger in and once I was totally sure in my masterful route plotting, I loaded that into my phone GPS and went to bed.
I was totally sure in my masterful route plotting
The next morning, I hit the road dark and early, had my customary 850 calorie McDonald’s breakfast (judge all you want but there’s nothing like a rib-sticking sausage, egg, and cheese McGriddle to get me going before an adventure!) and blasted off into the rain toward eastern Washington.
I pulled into the trailhead, threw on my running kit, and was off around 9am under cool, grey skies. My planned route was to go in a counter-clockwise direction starting with Judith Pool and I hit the trail accordingly. I shall from here on out describe each lake with a haiku.
1 Judith Pool
A pond with some scum
Cool waterfalls flowing out
Sign of things to come?
From Judith Pool, I took one of the myriad social trails down into the canyon. Myriad social trails – this is the theme of the day. Dropping down from Judith, the trail passes a couple more waterfalls that flow into my next lake – Ancient Lake.
2 Ancient Lake
Like this rocky trail
I navigate the shoreline
First route fail is near
Myriad social trails – this is the theme of the day
I circumnavigated Ancient Lake with a goal to hop thru the narrow bit of land dividing Ancient Lake with … shit, Ancient Lake. This was the first of my route errors. Don’t worry, there are more.
Anyway, my first error was thinking I was splitting 2 lakes. Well I wasn’t splitting anything because that path I saw on the satellite view in my masterclass of route planning was actually under about 3 feet of water 20 feet wide and I was not about to go swimming. But I touched the third lake here before rerouting around the second half of Ancient Lake.
3 Ancient Lake II
Already off route
That didn’t take very long
This lake is the same?
Heading toward … dammit, this one is Ancient Lake too?! Well, ok. Heading toward Ancient Lake III, I learned another valuable lesson in route-planning – the direct route may not always be the best route. This lake’s eastern shore was protected by a battlement of towering brush that was full of all the fun things desert flora hides – thorns, pokey things, skin-scrapers, sticky seeds, more thorns, and the biggest f*¢k¡˜g spider I’ve ever seen in the PNW. I pushed my way through, making sure to avoid bringing that spider with me and finally got to the shoreline.
4 Ancient Lake III
Giant spider here
This is now named Spider Lake
That spider is huge!
Ok, off to the next … Ancient Lake. I battled my way back through the brush, picking up more seeds and sticky things and made my way toward the fourth Ancient Lake.
5 Ancient Lake IV
Nice camp over there
Nestled ‘neath the canyon walls
Cool. Toilet Paper.
My next step was to climb out of the Ancient Lakes coulee and into the next coulee in order to snag Dusty Lake. I started following the trail until I had the epiphany that maybe I should check my route. A quick glance at the map confirmed I was off course. So back I went until I found a side spur trail that headed up to a gap in the coulee wall. With some scrambling, I was on top and totally turned around. Once again referencing my route, I aimed in the general direction I wanted to go and found another trail. This took me even higher up the butte and once again, I was off course. I said to hell with it, matched the map with the topography around me, and bounced off through the rocks.
After my impromptu Bonnie Tyler belting, I backtracked and found the trail I needed to be on
I picked up the trail again and was sure I was heading in the right direction. I started to descend into the Dusty Lake coulee and … wait. Dusty Lake looks a lot like Spider Lake. WTF? Map. Look around. Off course. Turn around. Every now and then I get a little off course and I need to find my way and then Turn around.
After my impromptu Bonnie Tyler belting, I backtracked and found the trail I needed to be on. I climbed up to the gap above Dusty Lake and soon saw my next target.
From the top of the gap, the trail kind of disappears as it picks its way down the coulee wall. If you go this way, stay high! I, of course, did not, and found myself looking straight down a basalt column to the coulee floor far below. I determined I did not want to take the super quick way down and opted to find a better path. So back up I climbed, finally happening upon a faint track carved in the scree. Cool. Cool coulee cool.
The track took me safely down to the floor where I was able to pick up some runnable trail again. And I grabbed Dusty Lake.
6 Dusty Lake
This is a big lake
It’s also not named Ancient
Getting here was fun!
After Dusty Lake, my next goal was Cliff Lake. I was back on my plotted course and made my way up the end of the coulee (I like that word). I had to do a little off-trail navigating to get to Cliff Lake, but once I did, I was able to pick up the social path.
7 Cliff Lake
The lapping shoreline
Reeds in wind percuss
I backtracked out from Cliff Lake and bounded up the trail to Cascade Lake. The next few lakes were in super close proximity to each other which was great since I kind of threw out my route here. Anyway, Cascade Lake …
8 Cascade Lake
Not so much a lake
Def’nitely not cascading
Kinda gross. Pond scum.
The trail from Cascade to Cup Lake went around to a gap in the cliff wall but I saw a more fun route and decided to scramble up instead. This worked out since it took me closer to Crystal Lake (which I had planned to hit later) and I knocked that one out as well.
9 Cup Lake
I called this one 10
My numbering’s all off now
Oh well, it still counts!
10 Crystal Lake
Glad I got this now
‘Cuz I ran by it later
Would have sucked to miss!
I made my way over the ridge to Spring Lakes and had to down climb a cliff to reach the shore. Spring Lake 1 looks like it would be a great place to cliff jump depending on how deep the water is. Not that I’d go swimming here.
11 & 12 Spring Lake I & II
Cliffline for jumping
The sky looks like it’s clearing!
Ha! No rain for me
The trail works it’s way around a high point and onto the last of the smaller lakes – Dot Lake.
13 Dot Lake
Is Dot it’s real name?
This found sign says otherwise
South Warden Lake. Shrug
Once I touched Dot, I was off to hit up the bigger lakes in the area. But not before getting off route again. I was following cattle trails and those cows give no f*¢ks about brambles or raspberry bushes. I do. I had to do some route finding to avoid lacerating my legs in the brambles and wandered around until I found a “clear” path forward. I finally emerged onto the access road and smiled.
From here, I got to do a bit of dirt road running and trotted on an out-n-back to Cree Lake.
those cows give no f*¢ks about brambles or raspberry bushes
14 Cree Lake
Gah. So much garbage!
Why are people so careless?!
Pack it in and out!
After debating on whether to actually touch Cree, I did, and headed back down the road toward Evergreen Reservoir. The wind was starting to blow a little, which was nice since the sun had come out and was heating up the air.
I crossed the outlet to Evergreen on the sketchy metal bridge, and figured I’d get my touch on here. The lake decided it really wanted to get its touch on and as I reached down to dip my finger in, my feet slipped on the slimy shore mud and in I went. Great. Both shoes fully submerged in what I can only describe as slimy, smelly muck. Ugh.
15 Evergreen Reservoir
A poor choice for me
Maybe use the boat launch here?
Soggy shoes are fun!
With freshly soaked shoes, I continued on my way. My route was to take me to Crystal Lake but I kept following the road and missed the cut-off. Glad I had already touched that one and I didn’t have to backtrack! I ran along the western shore of Evergreen until I reached Burke Lake. I chose to use the boat launch.
16 Burke Lake
The boat launch is keen
The lot is actually clean
The toilet is locked
After the requisite touching, I headed on the trail along the south shore of Burke. This trail is a mix of sage, rocks, and sand, and is very open. I eventually reached the east end of the lake and started plotting my attach for Flat Lake. I left the road a little ways out of the Burke parking lot and did some cross-country travel to the nearest point of water on the map avoiding as much of the prickly brush as possible.
I finally caught a glimpse of the water way off in the distance. I also reached another obstacle. A sea of reeds hiding who knows what along with the shoreline. I espied a small bay on my map and trotted over to it, only to find the reeds still prolific there as well. I was able to get into the reeds and marsh and, lo and behold, I sank into water. Touch counts!
17 Flat Lake
Way out of the way
The reeds obscure the shoreline
Shoes are wet again
Lo and behold, I sank into water
With Flat Lake in the bag, I headed back toward Burke, this time keeping on the north shore. The wind was howling now, and I was headed straight into it. I kept my head down as I plodded along until I found the trail again. I wound along the lake, and upon reaching the road, I hung a right toward Quincy Lake.
18 Quincy Lake
Quick touch and I’m off
Only two more lakes to go
The wind can stop now
The rest of the run was on the dirt access road and I kept my head down to shelter my face from the blasting wind. I soon reached the turn off for H Lake and crossed that one off my list.
19 H Lake
It’s shaped like an H
The outlet stream is too wide
Back the way I came
Stan Coffin Lake was the final lake on my list and I paused briefly to dip a finger and snap a picture before finishing the last little climb back to the parking area.
20 Stan Coffin Lake
Why’s this lake so grim?
Who’s this Stan guy anyway?
So many questions
After completing this challenge, I think I’d do a couple things differently. First, I’d run it clockwise and knock out all the big lakes in the open areas first. These are more runnable but not nearly as interesting for me, and it’d be nice to complete them before taking on the canyon lakes adventure. Second, well, now I know my way around the Ancient Lakes coulees so I think I could be more efficient in my route.
This was my first UPWC route and it was a lot of fun. I can’t wait to tackle a few more courses!
For more info on the UPWC Ancient Lakes Challenge, please check out the page on UltraSignup
Who knew there were so many lakes there? I’ve hiked around there several times and never had a clue. Congratulations!