Last year my awesome partner Katy (aka Unicorn) hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Having hiked extensively in my younger days I was quite jealous of her adventure, but suffering several knee injuries and surgeries my through-hiking days are over. After a meniscus tear a couple of years ago, even short hikes were too difficult. After a year of physical therapy and a few consults with a surgeon I’ve recently been able to start walking a bit more again. Katy has been very encouraging in getting me back on my feet and arranged this awesome beautiful but low stress backpacking trip for us. Starting off first with a short overnight to the Ancient Lakes in the Columbia Basin Wildlife Refuge, then to the rolling farmlands of Palouse and the ridge trail of Kamiak Butte and finally a short loop around the surprisingly dangerous Palouse Falls.
The Ancient Lakes
It’s a little over a 2 and a half hour drive into the deserts of eastern Washington to Quincy where the trailhead starts. It’s farm land and the crops and orchards are conveniently labeled here so you don’t have to guess what’s growing. It’s Memorial Day weekend but our fears of a holiday rush abate when we chatter our way down loose gravel roads to a mostly empty trailhead parking lot. For me it’s the first time I’m using my backpack but I feel good in it. Katy’s in perpetual training mode so she’s taken the tent, about 5 days worth of food, and 4-5 liters of water trying to weigh her pack down. The water in the Ancient Lakes is primarily industrial farming runoff so we decide to dry camp to avoid the cornucopia of potential chemicals that could slip through our filters.
It’s early afternoon and we head out into the dry and alien shrubland. We’ve lucked into a rare overcast day and as Katy’s planned it’s mostly flat and easy going. We wind along the basin near the canyon wall slowly winding up to a bluff overlooking the several lakes once carved out by massive flooding caused by glacial dams. Then settle on a flat space with a few large shrubs to break the wind and make camp.
I scout the area while Katy enjoys the view. The land is sandy and dry but there’s still life about hidden in the flora. On the way in Katy nearly steps on two snakes shamelessly getting it on on the trail. And I discover small lizards and a marmot and can hear the chirp of frogs by the lake. Large birds circle overhead neither of us can identify as they dive into the lakes for their dinner.
A bit down the bluff I discover a loveseat improvised out of scorched stones and Katy and I settle in to watch the sunset. I’ve brought a preroll for just such an occasion to compliment such a beautiful perfect evening. The sunset is blazing. And we enjoy the show shifting from orange to red to blues and purple stretching out across the desert expanse, endlessly into the horizon.
I brought a tripod to capture the night stars but the moon is nearly full with a bit of clouds and it’s too bright. But I capture a few moonlight landscapes to remember.
At first glance everything seems dead and dry but looking closer I find brilliant lichen on rocks and shrub trunks and desert flowers spotting the basin.
We break camp in the morning to a deep cloudless sky and retrace our path to the car.
Katy’s aunt has a farm in Palouse so we head out to the rolling green farmlands 3 more hours east nearly to Idaho. Endless green hills that look like the set to Teletubbies. And then a tall hill covered in trees, this very out of place forest, and it makes me think this must have been how the entire area must of looked before white people chopped the trees down. We find a camp spot in the forest and I get a few more night shots through the trees.
In the morning we hike a few miles to the Butte peak and enjoy the view.
On the drive home we stop by Palouse Falls on the Snake River, a massive 186ft waterfall surrounded by shear cliffs and dizzying unprotected ledges. A road sign tells us that four people have died this year already from falls over the canyon edges. But even still groups of tourists lean back over the edges for selfies and children race along the edges too far beyond their parent’s reach to help them. Quite beautiful. The spiny outcroppings to the left of the falls are dotted with hikers but they’re too small to even see in these photos.
Thank you Katy for such a beautiful trip! It was really meaningful to share your new passion and get back into the wilderness. Hopefully the first of many such adventures.