Waptus Lake & Dutch Miller Gap

     I backpacked into Waptus Lake and Dutch Miller Gap in July of 1989. After 14 years it was time for a return trip. This is a horse trail and that means it's dusty. It also leads to a big and a small lake near the Cascade crest. You have to take the bad to get the good. I sped out of Seattle Friday afternoon and reached the trailhead near Salmon La Sac CG at 3:45. By 4:00 I was on the trail. It was in the mid 80's as I started out. The trail gains only 500' in nearly 9 miles to Waptus Lake. There are a number of ups and downs though giving about 1000' of gain to the lake. There were only a few mosquitos at the start leaving me far too overconfident in that regard. The trail is smooth enough for fast hiking. There are a number of creek crossings and I was able to manage all of them with dry feet. I stopped for one break after 1 1/2 hours near the midway point. By then I had reached the Waptus River. The second half of the trail stays near the river. At some points it is a noisy torrent through canyons and at others it is nearly as still as a lake. After my break the mosquitos became very noticeable. In fact, they became a real problem. I had on shorts and a short sleeve shirt and they were swarming me. It was worse than I have encountered in quite a few years. With a black cloud around me I speeded up and raced down the trail. I reached the Waptus River bridge, just before the lake, at 7:00. About 9 miles with one break in 3 hours. I crossed the bridge over Spinola Creek and dropped down to the lake shore. The first campsite is large enough for a big horse party. There was nobody in site so I took it. It has a short walk to the shore with a spectacular view of Summit Chief and Bears Breast Mountains. Right between the two is Dutch Miller Gap which would be my goal for Saturday.

     I purchased a  Hennessy Hammock last winter and this was my first opportunity to use it. It was much smaller and lighter to carry than my tent. I had time to get it set up and eat dinner before dark. One lone horseman came through at 10:20 looking for his party. That was the only person I saw all day. The hammock took some getting used to but I had a very comfortable night's sleep.

     On Saturday I was on the trail at 9:00 after a leisurely morning. It's great to not have a morning drive. The lake is over 2 miles long so it takes a while to hike along it. I passed 6 horses at one site and heard the people who were out of sight. Nobody else was at the lake. after leaving the lake shore the trail climbs a little to the Pacific Crest Trail. The tread improved markedly at that point. A big bridge crosses Spade Creek and another crossed the Waptus River. Soon after the trail splits. The crest trail goes straight ahead and the old crest trail goes right up to Lake Ivanhoe and Dutch Miller Gap. In a short distance the trail reaches a major creek crossing. I was able to rock hop with a scary final leap. On the way back it was necessary to ford up to my knees to cross. The water is very swift and poles were very helpful. The trail does not receive much maintenance these days. Still, it was in very acceptable condition. A few sections were overgrown with ferns. Two downed trees required me to crawl under. Another I had to go well around. The trail is very gently graded with many switchbacks. The day was a little cooler than the day before but it was quickly warming into the low 80's. Much of the route up is in partial shade which helped. The best part was the dramatic decline in the mosquitos as the trail rose. Views opened up down to Waptus Lake and up to Bears Breast Mountain. After what seemed like the 70th switchback the trail began a long traverse towards Lake Ivanhoe. Just before the lake is a pool with a cascading waterfall dropping into it. There is also a wide open view down the valley and up at the peaks. A few more switchbacks and I reached a bridge crossing the lake outlet. There is a trail all the way around the lake starting here. I took the right route and hiked along the north side of the the lake. The trail does not drop to the shore but gives nice views down to the lake and up to Dutch Miller Gap. Near the end of the lake on the other side was a series of waterfalls eventually dropping into the lake. It was 11:40 and I stopped for a little lunch at a bare rock looking down on the lake. I saw one tent at the lake but no people.

     I continued along the lake and around the far end. The trail went up to a crossing of the waterfall. This will be no problem in a few weeks when the snow has melted. Right now it is. The crossing requires three separate jumps. The last two are not bad. The first one is a little scary. A slip might be fatal. I spent several minutes considering it and finally decided I could do it. I made it but it was near the limit of what I would try to cross. From there the trail meets the route around the other side of the lake. The two trails combine for the last push to the gap. The waterfall is crossed one more time but this one is easy. The pass itself is large and flat with several tarns. Clouds were now gathering at the crest and gave a small respite from the heat. I continued up higher to the north of the gap for views of Lakes Ivanhoe and Waptus 7 trail miles distant. Coming down I met the only hikers I saw all weekend. This party of 4 came up from the Middle Fork Snoqualmie side. They were very nice folks and we ended up spending lots of time together. I headed down from the pass and took the south lake shore trail back. The other hikers started on the other trail but did not like crossing the waterfall and ended up following me. There are still three small snow fields along the south side of the lake. The first two are easy to cross and the third is very steep snow but has melted out behind it. We were able to squeeze around behind it. Back at the east end of the lake we climbed up to some big slabs and enjoyed the view. I was in no hurry to return to Mosquitoville. Finally, at 4:00, we parted company and I headed down. The gentle grade was very easy on my knees. The only problem was that stream crossing where my boots were thoroughly soaked. I reached my campsite amazed that I had seen only 4 hikers so far.

     When I looked back up the lake to the gap I could see more and more clouds coming in. I quickly saw that I did a lousy job of rigging the fly on my hammock and set to correcting it in case the rain came. By 8:30 a little rain started and I headed indoors. It rained on and off during the night and I am happy to say that I remained totally dry in my Hennessy Hammock. I may carry this far more than a tent in the future. I awoke the next morning to clouds but no rain and packed up to leave. By 7:25 I was on the trail. The mosquitos were unbelievably bad for the first half of the return trip. After that they were only an annoyance. I arrived back at the car at 10:35. I took 2:57 coming in to the Waptus bridge and 2:53 coming out. Without the mosquitos I would have slowed down and enjoyed the river more. This hike has two nice lakes, a long river walk, wildflowers, and mountain views. It goes from Salmon La Sac all the way to the Cascade crest. All in all, it was a very nice weekend.

Waptus River
Tiger Lily
Waptus River
Waptus River Bridge
Summit Chief
Bears Breast
Dutch Miller Gap
Summit Chief
Bears Breast
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