Kaleetan Peak on the left, from upper Melakwa Lake
Lake Melakwa has always been one of my favorite places to camp within a short drive of my home near Seattle. In fact, this was one of my first backpacking destinations ever, and I have been returning to the same spot every summer. The lake itself is a beautiful alpine lake, small by some standards, but placed in one of the best settings of the Snoqualmie Pass area. Southeast of the lake, Bryant peak is visible, to the east Chair Peak abruptly rises into the sky, and to the northwest Kaleetan peak pierces the skyline. The ridge west of the lake is an easy approach to the gully that ascends Kaleetan, and is a great day hike from the lake. Of all the times that I have been to Lake Melakwa, I have neglected to climb Kaleetan, but that issue was taken care of on July 4th, 2006.
The plan was for David (also a fellow SP'r Supermarmot
), Shari, and I to hike up to Melakwa Lake and camp there for the night, then the next morning climb Kaleetan Peak and hike out that afternoon. Kaleetan is completely feasible in a single day, but David and my climb of Mt. Stuart in a single day a few weeks back left us looking for some actual time out in the wilderness, not rushing to get back to the car before dark. Shari didnï¿½t get off work until 4:30 that afternoon, so we agreed pick her up and then head straight to the trail head at Denny Creek.
We made a quick stop at Safeway in North Bend for food supplies and dinner, then started towards the trailhead. Along the way we noticed some large dark clouds looming over the cascades, they seemed to be on the east side of the crest so we hoped they wouldnï¿½t bother us.
By the time we arrived at the parking lot and had everything packed it was starting to get a little late, we started hiking at 6:30. We wondered if we would make camp by dark, but the sky was clear and we only had four miles to hike. Shari didnï¿½t have a headlamp, but we figured that between David and I she could manage without one if it got that dark. Then David discovered that his younger sister, Cathy, had ï¿½borrowedï¿½ his headlamp out of his bag and ï¿½forgotï¿½ to return it, thatï¿½s when we decided to expedite our travel up to our campsite.
The hiking went quickly without any major problems and we made the lake with plenty of light remaining to set up camp, not needing the headlamps we didnï¿½t have. We had great views of our objective for the following day, now it was time to just relax and hit the sack. That night, I woke up to loud thunderclaps and lightning flashes. I unzipped my tent and was able to watch the sky light up with lightning, silhouetting the mountains against the sky. That was a very fun sight to watch, but then I heard the disappointing sound of raindrops hitting the tent fly. It rained for about two hours, and we just assumed we might be spending some extra time in the tents in the morning. Other than that, there wasnï¿½t much we could do but go to sleep and hope the storm would pass.
In the morning, the rain had stopped and the sky was clear again, the day could go as planned. I never really fell asleep after the thunder storm, so I crawled out of my tent around 6 a.m. and went exploring up the slopes to melakwa pass while Shari and David continued sleeping. Eventually I headed back to camp to wake them up so we could start for Kaleetan peak. When I got back they were still sleeping! As I walked through camp I muttered something about ï¿½lazy assesï¿½ under my breath hoping to get an irritated reply, but to my dismay all that I received in return was snoring.
A while later my partners crawled out of bed and we grabbed our food and water for the day, then started heading back around the lake towards the trail up the ridge. The trail up the ridge starts out fairly steep but very well beat in. Almost immediately, Shari started complaining that she felt weak and dizzy. We hoped she was just still waking up and needed some water. She chose to continue on, at a slow pace, as far as she felt comfortable hoping the dizzy spell would pass.
David standing on the ridge that leads to Kaleetan Peak Hiking the ridge up the the false summit with Kaleetan beckoning in the backround.
The trail follows intermittent cairns up through trees and talus slopes, giving continuously improving views of Chair Peak, Granite Mountain and Mt. Rainier.
We continued up to the false summit which gives an unobstructed view of the remaining route up through the summit gulley. This seemed like a great place to take a break, so we sat down for some food and enjoyed the great views of the surrounding mountains. The summit gulley appeared VERY steep and difficult from here, but reports say other wise and we hoped for the best. Shari was still feeling very ill and a little unstable on her feet, so after the false summit a little further, she made the decision to turn around. This was unfortunate as it would have been her first summit of this type, but it was good that she could make the call as to when she should turn around. We had a quick discussion and she felt comfortable with taking a slow pace back by herself while David and I tagged the summit quickly and caught up with her on the way down.
After the false summit, the trail dips down several hundred feet to the west to avoid some rather exposed scrambling along the ridge crest. This was slightly annoying, but the path was still pretty clear, and we made quick time under the cliffs. A short distance later we gained the ridge again and continued up the boot path to the summit gulley. The sun had been out all day and was high in the sky by now. It was getting extremely hot, and I was sweating profusely. All I could think about was how much I wanted to be swimming in the lake several thousand feet below. But the views and climbing made the heat worth the effort. As we hiked up the ridge Summit Chief, Chimney Rock, and Lemah Mountain came into view along with several other peaks along the cascade crest.
David on the summit Chair Peak from the summit.
At one point along the way, we stopped to take a quick break and looked back down the ridge to the south. Although the weather here was nice, down to the south and enormous thunder head had formed. This brought a little concern but it was a very long ways away, so we agreed to keep and eye on it and hoped that it wasnï¿½t heading this way.
Eventually we reached the base of the gulley, which was no where near as bad as it looked from the false summit. We made quick work of this and soon were standing on the summit. After we arrived at the top, we realized just how much exposure this mountain offered, the west face dropped 1500 feet down to the lakes below, the northeast side drops slightly less down to Chair Peak Lake, while the jagged north ridge traverses over to Mt. Roosevelt. Our efforts were rewarded with unobstructed views of the surrounding cascades, and also a coconut that David had voluntarily hauled up to the summit! We happily sat down enjoying a break from the heat and David began the task of breaking open the summit coconut. A sharp rock assisted in punching a whole in the side so the liquid inside could be consumed. When that was gone we split it into halves and feasted on the inner flesh of the prize.
The summit prize being opened, unfortunately someone found it necessary to leave their name on the rock behind. The summit prize received.
The thunder head to the south appeared to be moving in our direction, and quite quickly at that, so after a quick scribble in the summit register, we began a quick but controlled descent down the ridge. Once again we dropped below the cliffs and climbed back up, we made quick time back to the false summit and continued down hoping to meet up with Shari soon.
As we continued down, I heard a rather unnerving noise.
ï¿½Hey David, did you hear that?ï¿½
ï¿½yea, lets get out of here.ï¿½
Thunder was rumbling across the mountains from the system we had been watching all day.
The weather system that threatened us but never delivered.
The descent went quickly and we found Shari along the trail slowly moving down, still feeling ill but doing alright. Luckily the storm was passing farther to the east now, but we could still hear the thunder. We arrived down at the lake and found several parties lounging on the shores enjoying the weather, oblivious to the system passing just to the east. A yellow lab was having all too much fun trying to retrieve small rocks his owner was tossing into the lake. We headed back to our camp to have a quick dip in the lake to cool off and relax for a while.
Shortly after arriving in camp, clouds began spilling over Hemlock Pass and more rumbles could be heard. A lot of the day hikers decided to make a run for their cars, while we felt pretty smug as we could just take shelter in our tents for a nice afternoon nap. It rained for a little bit, but not hard, and we enjoyed just sitting around for a while. When the weather passed, we packed up and started back for the car. Everything went well and we arrived back at the car around eight that evening, without even a drop of rain hitting us.
Overall this was a great hike, not too hard but with great views from the top. Having Shari summit with us would have been nice, but the mountain will still be there so a return trip is in the future. It was fun being out in the mountains while so many storm cells were passing through, even getting a show from nature on the 4th of July.
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