Saturday, May 28, 2016

Wanderings: Barclay Lake

Barclay Lake reflections

Phenomenal. This was the name of the Alpine Trails Book Club read for the month of May, and is also a fitting word to describe the view from the shores of Barclay Lake on the chilly, rain-soaked Sunday morning when our book club met for our monthly hike.

After following Highway 2 east with the familiar peaks of the Cascade Mountains looming before us, my sister and I turned onto a narrow gravel Forest Service road rutted with crater-like potholes that would challenge the ground clearance of any vehicle smaller than a pickup truck. With blind corners and stretches of road narrow enough for only one vehicle, it was a bit of a white-knuckle drive uphill to the trailhead. A word of advice: go slow. While my sister and I grew up on a gravel road and are pros at dodging potholes while traveling forty miles per hour, this road requires a bit more caution!

There were a few cars in the small parking area when we arrived at the trailhead and met up with our group. A steady drizzle falling from low gray skies quickly drove us into the drier, but still drippy, refuge of the forest as we set out on the trail.

The drizzle quickly strengthened to rain, and we found ourselves walking through a dark forest that was gleaming wet and green everywhere, save for a brief stand of hemlock so dense that very little sunlight found its way to the forest floor, which was a result was bereft of any verdant vegetation. A large western red cedar stump hinted at the big trees that once held court here. This is clearly a second growth forest, and of course, we're hiking in an area with a long history of logging.

We crossed a rustic log bridge over a wide, clear creek, pausing to watch the water rushing and tumbling below. It still rained. We hiked uphill, through the forest, past innumerable blowdown trees, and across a few rocky slopes, hoods still pulled tightly over our heads.

The lake materialized into view as the trees thinned out, its shores empty for the time being, its surface rippled and blurred by the persistent rain. Towering over the lake's opposite shore was formidable Baring Mountain, swathed in misty clouds and still bearing a few patches of white snow, although the meltwater tumbling down its rocky slopes suggested those bits of snow might not last much longer.

The view was phenomenal, and I found myself musing whether the word "phenomenal" encompasses places (such as this one) in addition to the events we'd read about in the book (like the aurora, great migration, and bioluminescent waters). As I considered that each of these events was tied to a particular place on earth, I concluded that yes, a place can be considered phenomenal - if not for the events that occur there, then at least for the feeling it gives you to be in the presence of such a place. Lake, mountain, low trailing clouds and dripping green forest evoked a sense of wonder and tranquility, the feeling of being very small but yet belonging to this place. Yes. Phenomenal.

After dubiously evaluating our options, the group finally settled into the relatively dry (or at least slightly less drippy) shelter beneath some large hemlock trees to eat lunch and discuss the book we'd read. After awhile, we started to feel chilled and decided to head back down the trail to get some blood and warmth flowing through our bodies. Luckily, the rain had abated and allowed us the opportunity to more fully appreciate the lake views, and to snap some photos without worrying about drowning our cameras!

Barclay Lake, post-rain

There were some flowers blooming along the trail, most notably the tiny bunchberry. I also spied some blooming vanilla leaf and one lone trillium blossom still holding out, while its breathren throughout the forest had long been naught but headless trios of green leaves.

Vanilla leaf

With the good company, mystical scenery, fresh air, and reprieve from the rain, the hike back down the trail went by all too quickly. Well-wishes, farewells, and see-you-next times were exchanged as we headed back to our cars, shedding rain gear and preparing for another bumpy and careful drive back down the winding road.

If you go: Be sure to bring your Northwest Forest Pass, or purchase and print one out online to take with you. There are reports that the rangers patrol this trailhead frequently and hand out tickets to cars without passes! And as mentioned... be cautious when driving up the forest service road and look out for oncoming cars, especially around those blind corners. With only 500 feet of elevation gain, this is a relatively easy and family-friendly hike, with a beautiful destination.

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