Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Barclay Lake, Eagle Lake Trail Nude Hike

Smack dab in the middle of the proposed and probable Wild Sky Wilderness lies stunningly beautiful Barclay Lake situated in a narrow vee valley between the imposing mastifs of Baring Mountain and Merchant Peak. The trailhead is easily accessed four miles in on FS6024 from the town of Baring along US 2 in late April after the snow clears from the forest service road.

Barclay Lake is an extremely popular hike because of it's ease of access, the ease of the short hike (just under 2.5 miles) and the views of Baring Mountain at the lake. It is not unusual to see a dozen or so cars parked at the trailhead. Monday was a really nice day with lots of clear sky and sunshine so it was surprising that one single car occupied the parking area when I arrived at 9AM . . . having decided to take advantage of the sudden break in the rainy weather for some hiking.

The hike begins under old-growth canopy, robbing me of the sunlight I craved on my skin. I decided to stay clothed (at least shorts) until I met up with whomever was ahead of me. Just a friendly young couple and their dog, but this hike attracts families so I don't consider the beginning stages too nude-appropriate. However, once I past this couple, who were already on their way out, I knew I had the trail to myself. Off came the shorts and I was back to hiking to only way it should be done.

About two miles in you travel over well-made boardwalk over sensitive wetlands (in summer the bugs really come out in this area). A nice footbridge crosses Barclay Creek to the north side . . . close to the lake.

The lake, itself, is rather tranquil and shallow. During the summer months, the water warms up nicely and skinnydipping is a popular pasttime. There are a number of cleared camping areas right up against the lake, firerings and a rustic toilet set back in the trees.

The shoreline is gentle and sandy with lots of private niches. The most popular areas are the northwest portion of the lake, where the trail arrives, however, the trail does continue, less maintained, to the eastern and far end of the lake where there are some great areas to enjoy the sun au'natural . . . even in the busy summer months.

The main view is Baring Mountain towering above the lake to the south. Unfortunately, the noonday sun made getting a picture difficult.

To the north is Mechant Peak, which overlooks the lake as well as the next objective on my iternary . . . Eagle Lake.

Eagle Lake is a fisherman's dream . . . a sterile alpine lake that is helicopter-stocked with trout by the Fisheries Department. Eagle Lake is also very difficult to get to. There used to be a long, arduous jeep trail leading in from the Beckler River area but sections of that road have reverted and washed out. The only other feasible access is a little-known and very steep footpath straight up the flanks of Merchant Peak that is used by die-hard fishermen (and idiots like me).

Eagle Lake is half again the size of Barclay lake (and much deeper). It sits at the end of the broad Paradise Meadows, a wide valley trending southeast through the wilderness. Near the southern shores an old and still usable cabin still sits . . . defying the ravages of many hard winter seasons. Paradise Meadows is heavy black bear country and it's nice to know an overnighter can retreat to that cabin for a safe nights sleep.

However, I had no illusions about making Eagle Lake on this hike. It's still too early in the season to make access easy, as I discovered when snow stopped me at the 3,800 ft level just short of the saddle over and a smaller lake called Stone Lake.

Just finding the trail again was an accomplishment. The tread is faint and I've always missed the start . . . past the last section of boardwalk on the Barclay trail. I always carry bright construction tape in my pack and I used it to blaze the trail on the way up . . . mainly because I was not all that sure I could find my way back down myself. Yes, the blazes came in very handy. Under heavy canopy is it very easy to become disoriented.

Having been defeated by steep slope and unsafe snowpack, I enjoyed the views for some time before turning back in late afternoon . . . a six mile hike.

This hike was by far my most difficult one of the season but the effects didn't hit me until later that night when the cramps hit me. Thinking back on the day . . . yes, it was strenuous but not exceedingly so. What had hit me was delayed dehydration. The weather was nice but not heat-exhaustion hot. Just a little warning . . . with all that skin exposed in the higher elevations . . . even in cooler weather . . . we evaporate a lot of water from our skin without ever realizing we are sweating (mainly because we don't feel overheated). Dehydration sneaks up on you and I wasn't drinking enough liquids. Fortunately, I made it back to my car without being aware of any problems . . . but several hours later . . .

Rule Number 1: stay hydrated

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