Writing and photography by Maura Stewart and Dave Carulli
There’s not much to say about the magical swath of land in Washington state between Route 2 and I-90, better known as the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, that hasn’t already been said. Once Dave and I (two Pennsylvania natives) got a taste of the alpine grandeur last year, we were hooked. We spent the winter researching a long list of hikes to tackle in 2020 and day-hiked as often as possible to stay in shape. Since the trails were closed at the start of the 2020 season due to COVID, that proved to be more difficult than we expected. (Weights and cardio help, but the best way to train for a hike is getting out there week after week with a 30lb pack). We started out with a few easy overnights once trails reopened, and eventually tackled a few bucket list hikes, including the longest trek we’ve done to date!
A few of these places are fairly “insta-famous,” so we were anything but alone on our adventures, but I don’t mind a bit of camaraderie when folks follow Leave No Trace principles. Sometimes complete solitude is all you need, but after spending all week working from home, a few days with other people who enjoy the outdoors as much as we do was a welcomed change of pace. I’ll never forget the sound of a ukulele ringing up from the valley while we basked in the golden glow above Thunder Mountain Lakes… You can’t get that atmosphere without a little company.
Thunder Mountain Lakes
Choosing a favourite hike feels a bit like picking a favourite child, but…yeah this one might be it. Still somewhat under the radar, easy water access, stunning views, and a secret camp spot that we’re definitely going for next time. We arrived at the lake by noon and within a few hours, the place was full of other overnighters, but it still didn’t feel nearly as crowded as the more popular spots in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. After setting up camp and enjoying a Pittsburgh beer our friends sent in a care package, we spent the last two hours of the day on the ridge above the lake with a stunning view of Mt Daniel.
Next year, I think we both agree that while we can’t stay away from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness completely, we’re excited to venture beyond this area a bit more. There truly is so much to see in the PNW we’ll never even get close to experiencing it all. Who knows what life will bring, so we might as well soak in as much variety as we can! Even though we didn’t make it to all the places we planned this year (wildfires cut our season a few weeks shorter), I’m pretty damn grateful for the chance to enjoy this beautiful place. Already dreaming about a few gems at the top of our list for next year!
We’re always happy to talk hiking and love meeting other photographers / outdoor enthusiasts, so our Instagram DMs are open!
Note: If you plan to enjoy this place (and we hope you can!), please make sure to follow LNT Principles and camp only on designated sites. Overcrowding is definitely an issue in Washington and it’s important we do everything we can to minimize our impact so we all can enjoy for years to come. Also, this hike has a pretty sketchy section after crossing the PCT, so if you’re not a fan of heights, this may not be for you.
Full article originally published on After Whitsett