Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Indian Heaven Wilderness Solo Backpack

As most of my blog readers know, I'm a day hiker.  I've tried a few overnight backpacking trips here and there, but they were always with my husband and he carried the majority of the heavy stuff (such as our old-style tent that weighed as much as an anvil).  However I'd always been interested in trying a solo backpacking trip and decided to make this one of my summer goals.  But before attempting to carry "all the things" by my little 'ole self, I needed to invest in some lighter-weight gear.

Obligatory sign photo

First, I swapped my huge Thermarest mattress for an airy fold-up sleeping pad.  Then my hubby and I ditched our hefty ancient tent in favor of a brand-new lightweight backpacking shelter (tipping the scales at a mere three pounds!)

Now to pick a date and destination.  Wanting to get into the Indian Heaven Wilderness this year, (my very favorite huckleberry-picking place) I chose the Lemei Trail into Lake Wapiki.  One I'd yet to explore, the trail was only 3.5 miles into the lake, perfect for a newbie backpacker such as myself.  I had the Friday off before Labor Day Weekend, so decided upon a one-nighter (enabling an easy bail if things didn't work out).

Giant pinecone!

Carrying everything I'd need for an overnight campout was a bit daunting at first.  But I laid out all my stuff, ditched the things deemed "luxuries" and cut back on my food (I have a bad habit of packing way too much).  I kept telling myself it wasn't the end of the world if I forgot something, it was just for one night.

Huckleberry leaves just starting to turn

The day of my big adventure dawned, and I took my time packing up, leaving my house after the morning rush hour.  It was a 2 1/2 hour drive to the trailhead (long drive for a dayhike - probably one of the reasons I'd never done this trail).  Reaching the trailhead around noon, I gulped down a cliff bar and shouldered my huge backpack.  Man it was heavy!  Could I make it 3.5 miles (all uphill)?

Lake Wapiki

The trail started out in a pleasant ponderosa pine forest.  Giant pinecones and thick huckleberry bushes covered the ground, some showing ripe berries.  At least I wouldn't go hungry on my hike in!  Taking my time, I slowly covered ground, picking any especially juicy-looking berries.  Although the first half mile was relatively flat, it didn't take long for the ground to rise.  And not only was the elevation getting higher, so were the temperatures.

My home for the evening

The Lemei trail alternated between steep and moderate, but it was uphill all the way.  With temps approaching 90 degrees, this made for a hot, sweaty slog.  I found it amazing how much a bit of extra weight could slow a person down.  The 3.5 miles seemed to take way longer to cover than if I'd been carrying just a dayback.

Golden morning light on the trees

But finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the sign for Lake Wapiki came into view.  Gratefully, I took the short quarter mile spur trail through thick woods (still uphill) before finally reaching a clearing.  I'd made it!  The lovely blue-green waters of Lake Wapiki were a sight for sore eyes (and back!).

Early morning reflections

When I arrived, there was only one party of day hikers splashing in the waters.  It appeared I had my pick of campsites.  Following a user trail around the lake, I spotted a sweet site right off the shore.  Surrounded by trees for privacy, it had a lovely view of the entire forest-rimmed lake.  This would do nicely!

Light filtering through the trees

After setting up camp, I briefly considered hiking to nearby Lemei Rock, only a about mile and 800 additional feet of climbing.  But the hot climb to the lake had done me in, so I was more than content to sit by the lakeshore with my book, dipping my feet into it's cool waters.

Blue water beyond the forest

By late afternoon, several other backpackers began to trickle in, most passing by my campsite, eyeing it longingly.  I struck up a conversation with one nice couple (with a very friendly dog) and discovering they planned to stay all weekend, offered them my site once I left the following morning.  I also chatted with a young man who'd hiked in with his family, including twin 19-month old girls.  He said the toddlers had walked most of the 3 mile trek by themselves.  Impressive!

Mt Rainier

It was a lovely, warm summer evening.  By nightfall the lake's campsites were full of backpackers, but all were very quiet and well-behaved (even the little kids).  After watching the sun dip behind a forested ridge above the lake, I retired to my tent with book and headlamp.  It didn't take long before sleep found me.  Although I woke up a couple of times during the night (sleeping pads are never that comfortable), I wasn't ever scared.  I actually felt safer here at this wilderness lake than a car campground (during my most recent Mt Rainier solo trip I'd endured a neighboring campsite full of drunk, noisy people.)

Fall colors starting

The following morning, I woke before dawn.  Hoping to capture a spectacular sunrise over the lake, I waited, camera in hand, for the first light to break over the cliff encircling Lake Wapiki.  But unfortunately daybreak was a bust.  However, I did capture some lovely golden light on the trees and reflections in the lake's still waters.

Lemei Rock

After breakfast, I decided to take the quick trek to Lemei Rock before packing up and heading back.  It was a steep climb from the lake to a ridge high above.  The views down into Lake Wapiki were mighty fine, as were the appearances of both Mount Adams and Rainier.  Crimson huckleberry leaves added color to the forest - a reminder that autumn wasn't far away.

Mountain goat sighting!

Lemei Rock is the highest point in the Indian Heaven Wilderness.  This eroded volcanic plug towers 300 feet above the surrounding terrain.  Although some people are known to ascend this rock (apparently it's not a technical climb) I opted to gaze from below.  As I was staring at Lemei Rock's summit, I spied a small white patch.  Upon closer inspection I realized it was a mountain goat!  I'd never spotted one in the wild here before.  In order to save weight, the lone camera I'd brought was my new Fujifilm mirrorless camera with only an 18-55 lens.  Not nearly enough zoom to get a good shot, but of course I tried anyway. 

Oh well, at least I got to see a mountain goat.  Definitely the high point of my trip!

Lake Wapiki view from on high

After the excitement at Lemei Rock, I returned to Lake Wapiki, packed up my gear, and told the nice couple my campsite was all theirs.  Then I once again hefted my huge pack for the return trip.  At least this time my trek would be all downhill. 


It was late morning as I made my way back down the trail.  Since it was Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I met dozens of hikers on their way up, most toting huge backpacks.  One man, in addition to his large backpack, was also carrying his tent in one hand and a growler full of beer in the other!  With so many people heading into Lake Wapiki, I was glad for my decision not to stay another night.  It probably wouldn't be near as peaceful.

Mt Adams

Back at my car, I pointed it towards home via the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.  I didn't know it then, but it was the last time I'd see the Gorge in all her green finery.  Not two hours after I passed through, a huge fire erupted, started by kids carelessly throwing fireworks into the forest.  The fire would rage for weeks burning a large portion of my favorite hiking trails, shut down Interstate 84, strand 150 hikers, and cause hundreds of people to flee their homes.

If that wasn't bad enough, the following morning I learned a second fire had started in the Indian Heaven Wilderness, only a few short miles from where I'd camped the previous night.  All the hikers and campers had to be evacuated, some via different trailheads from where they'd parked.  I thought about the people I'd met at Lake Wapiki the day before - the nice couple who I'd given my campsite and the family with toddlers - and hoped they'd been able to evacuate safely.

More lovely autumn hues

My first solo backpacking trip was a success!  Although hiking uphill in the heat had worn me out, (how do those PCT thru-hikers do it day after day?) I survived and felt very little soreness the following day (save for my still undiagnosed broken toe, which was mighty angry with me).  Although I wasn't able to fit in a second trip this year, I'm already planning future backpacking adventures for next season. 


  1. The scenery around the lake is certainly worth the effort though I guess it will be a few years now before it recovers. I'm so glad that our native woodlands don't burn, though we do from time to time have problems with peat moorlands catching fire. I used to do a lot of backpacking in my younger days. Believe it or not you do get used to carrying the weight after a few days - just like being a few stone overweight! I'm glad I did those trips but I'll not be doing it again!

  2. Que maravilha de fotografias e é muito belo o lago Wapiki.
    Um abraço, continuação de boa semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa
    O prazer dos livros

  3. Backpacking and Wild Camping is one of the best of the outdoor activities. I don't get out as often as I'd like or should. Work and family commitments seem to get in the way. Keeping the weight down is a challenge and an art form that never ends. I've been doing it 30+ years and I'm still finding new ideas to cut the weight (or increase it with the advent of tech). Never economise on food though for a short trip, eating on a backpack is one of the best things :)

  4. Hello, I enjoyed reading about your first backpack adventure. You are a brave one, I would be scared. The lake view was a fabulous spot for the tent. Beautiful view of the mountain and huckleberries. Those fires made the news, awful about the stranded hikers. If I remember correctly they all made it out safely. Great post and photos. Enjoy your day!

  5. Lovely tree colours and mountain shots. Although I've done a fair bit of backpacking abroad over the years with friends on holidays, backpacking alone never really appealed to me much. I prefer company in the mountains but happy on my own for day trips anywhere. Lightweight gear really helps but it still hurts :)

  6. Looks like you picked a good one - pretty

  7. Well done. What an adventure. I don't think i would be that brave. Walking and hiking on my own is one thing but camping out overnight on my own is quite another. The sunlight on the trees is spectacular but how sad that so much will have been lost in the fires. Hope there was no loss of life.

  8. Congratulations Linda. You certainly chose a beautiful spot to hike to.

  9. What an awesome trip and beautiful scenery - you're motivating me to go camping again next year!

  10. Yay for solo backpacking, one of my favorite things to do. It's funny how you pretty much carry the same stuff for one night or five. Curious about your packweight. I've gotten mine down a lot but it's been years of trial and error. Maybe we can backpack sometime.

  11. Now that's an exciting adventure! And a fabulous picture of the Mountain Goat up on the rock.

  12. Beautiful place. That mountain goat sighting! What fun.

  13. What a great trip! And you were lucky to go just before the fires. We actually went up that way last weekend, and it wasn't any more colorful than your trip, plus covered in a foot or so of snow! I saw all the little hike in camp sites. Looks like such a fun trip!

  14. Gorgeous views, colours and reflections, Linda! And wow, what a huge pinecone!

  15. Good for you! I'm impressed. Love the mountain goat! And the (human) kids were probably so well behaved because they were tuckered out!

  16. Hi! All of your photos are very beautiful. I especially like your Lake Wapiki’sp穂と。Thanks for sharing.

  17. Great post, Linda! Those super light backpacking air mattresses are awesome. I've never backpacked alone, so am quite jealous here. What a lovely destination. And that mountain goat sighting!!! Like he was posing for you!

  18. Blogger ate my comment! What a great place to backpack. I need to backpack more, when my firefighting job allows. I also feel better with a posse (bears).

  19. Nice. I love solo back packing trips - I used to do a lot more in the UK - but even here, with well marked trails, I seem to be considered an oddity when I arrive on my own.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  20. really gorgeous! Thanks for sharing! Making me miss oregon! How fun you were able to capture the mountain goat. Also, that pinecone is incredible!

  21. What a lovely hike. The scenery is so pretty. I'm always impressed with views of the mountains. Wow, spotting the Mountain Goat was awesome.

  22. beautiful spot to camp. I am glad you felt safe by yourself. I suppose you don't carry a weapon? So sad about all the fires. :(

  23. Indian Heaven is where I made my first ever backpack trip, with my husband and a friend. We hiked in from Cultus Creek campground, just a few miles north of your trailhead. It's a beautiful place, one of my favorite places on earth. Glad you had such a good experience.

  24. I love that you finally did an overnight backpack trip. I have yet to do this myself and you've inspired me that it's still not too late. I dig the shot of the mountain goat, maybe better that you didn't have the zoom I really like the sense of place the image inspires.


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