The Secret Lady of the Lake

9 10 2013

Holy autumn, Batman!! Is it really October?! *sigh* Life happens. On to today’s post….

Back at the beginning of September, a good friend from the Methow had her bachelorette party in the little town of Chelan. A weekend full of great times with amazing gal-pals? Count me in!

I can’t tell you much of what went down over the course of that weekend – not because I don’t remember (what kind of lush do you take me for?!) but because what happened at the bachelorette party stays at the bachelorette party. My mother reads this, for crying out loud! We’ll just skip the inappropriate games, the skinny dipping, the old gentleman I proposed to….. wait what?

*ahem* So I’m going to tell you a tale from the same weekend that had no male genitalia, dare checklists or absurd confessions involved. This is the tale of the Lady of the Lake.

I learned long ago that guide books or other advice on “Best Things to do Around such and such State” are full of crap. Or I’m just not their target audience. I don’t care about the best hotel or amazing shopping. I want beautiful vistas and hiking trails and places full of character. Washington, as well as all states I’m sure, is full of delightful gems no one seems to know about. Well, no, that’s not right – delightful gems no one tells you about. Lake Chelan is one such gem. Have you ever heard of it? Exactly.

Despite the shenanigans of Friday night, my Twisp Bestie and I dragged our tired buns out of bed at the crack of dawn Saturday (7am) to take a little boat ride. Tickets bought and breakfast in hand, we boarded our vessel: the Lady of the Lake EXPRESS. We took the fast trip so we could be back by early afternoon to continue bachelorette shenanigans. But we couldn’t miss this opportunity!

The boat wasn’t full, maybe because tourist season is pretty much over. The weather was absolute crap, but Twisp Bestie was thankfully much more prepared than me and had not one but TWO raincoats stashed in her back-pack. We rode on the upper deck, braving the wind and the rain to stand out on the open end, and spent several hours admiring the scenery and catching up on life.

Lake Chelan Lady of the Lake Express, WA

We’re having no fun at all. We just don’t do that.

Lake Chelan is an amazingly unique place that really took my breath away.  The lake is a deep gorge, gouged out of the North Cascade Mountains of northern Washington 17,000 years ago by massive glaciers, the last one being well over a mile thick. Steep rock walls guard the waters, which run 51 miles from the source to the dam. But the width of the lake never gets more than about a mile and a half or so, and cinches down to a quarter mile through a section creatively called the Narrows. The lake is the 3rd deepest in the US at 1,486 feet, and arguably the deepest gorge in North America. One section of the lake bottom drops to 386 feet below sea level, and the top of Pyramid Peak overlooking Lake Chelan stands at 8,245 feet. That makes the gorge a total of 8,631 feet deep. The Grand Canyon is only about a mile deep. Wowzers!

boat on Lake Chelan to Stehekin, WA

Bummer weather but still amazing scenery. I mean totally baller, un-frikin-believable, totes re-donk-ulous…and all those other “hip” expressions…

But despite these impressive statistics concerning the lake itself, there are a few more facts that just blast my brain to bits, and all of them are related to the most invasive animals on this planet: humans. At Lake Chelan, humans have yet to destroy the near-pristine environment. Yes, there is the town of Chelan down at the southeast end, but it only has a population of about 4,000 people. I’m sure the summer-time tourists swell that to a much higher number, but still, that’s not many. And once you head upstream, signs of human life diminish quickly. There is one road that travels along the southwest shore that reaches as far as 25 Mile Creek State Park, which is 19 miles from Chelan – not even half the length of the lake. From there – nothing. There are, amazingly, the occasional lake-front house, boat dock, and even an abandoned copper mine-turned-village up about 12 miles from the water. But that’s it. To reach anywhere past 25 Mile Creek, you have to take a boat or a float plane. Or hike in from far away, like my Twisp Bestie has done…

Nothing, that is, until you reach the other end. Here, nestled in the raw forest and mountains, is a speck of a town – more of a village, really – called Stehekin. Almost 100 people live here in this isolated town at the end of this immense gorge, cut off from society and, well, everything. There are a few roads around town and a few cars that were shipped up on barges, but no Internet, no TV, no PHONES – not even landlines! Don’t worry, this isn’t a prison or punishment camp of some kind to send misbehaving teenagers. These people live here on purpose and refuse these modern-day “conveniences” – not simply get by without them, they specifically refuse them. And wouldn’t you know, the 12 children who attend the one-room schoolhouse here, all taught by the same teacher until 8th grade, receive an outstanding education. WITHOUT THE INTERNET. (Dear God, what do they use, books?! Heathens!)

So, Twisp Bestie (referred to as TB from now on) and I have several hours of jaw-dropping nature to feast our eyes upon, all the while chatting, laughing, and fumbling over our own words trying to remember all the stories and tidbits we’ve been saving up to tell each other. We don’t get to hang out nearly enough. And all the while, sentences were continuously interrupted with exclamations of observations: “…and it was so hilarious that I just – WHOA DO YOU SEE THAT MASSIVE WATERFALL?!?!?!” This makes conversation much more…challenging. But we managed.

Lady of the Lake Express to Stekekin, WA

The weather finally took a turn for the better and some of the mountains appeared. We enjoyed the breeze!

We made a few stops along the way to pick up people or drop off cargo, but soon we reached our destination: Stehekin! Villagers greeted us as we unloaded, most of them there for the anxiously-awaited mail and supplies. We admired the lodge right there by the pier but decided to grab the one and only bus that would take us up to Rainbow Falls. A bus tour of the tiny village that doesn’t really have cars…. Indeed.

lodge at Stehekin, Lake Chelan WA

The main buildings of Stehekin! I believe this one is a lodge, but there’s another one that has a gift shop selling crafts the folks make during the long winter. Totally not kidding.

Remarkably, due to the massive storms that passed through the North Cascades the previous week, the roads were sloppy and the going slow. Then ceased; a mud-slide had ripped right through the middle of the village and took with it a good part of the hillside, washed out part of the road, and buried a bike rental shop. No bueno. A crew with a couple front-end loaders was clearing the road as fast as they could and we didn’t wait long. (We were under a time crunch due to the departure time of our boat.) Moving once again, we passed quaint houses, the older one-room schoolhouse, the huge community garden, and the famous bakery loved by PCT hikers. Then we stopped and unloaded to see the falls.

I won’t lie, my expectations were not high. Living in the Columbia Gorge with the highest concentration of tall waterfalls in North America, I’ve become quite spoiled. Don’t misunderstand – waterfalls are still one of my favorites, but when someone says “beautiful, towering waterfall” I know to expect some exaggeration on “towering”. Do I sound like a waterfall snob? I really don’t mean to, but maybe I am. But I at least glimpse Multnomah Falls every time we go to Portland, so my perspective is skewed. But back to Rainbow Falls – low expectations or not, I was blown away. The area right around the falls is a micro-climate, created from the mist and differing temperatures of the waters that plunge 312 feet over the cliffs, where you can find ferns and other plant-life that can’t exist anywhere else in the surrounding area’s much dryer conditions. So cool.

TB and I rushed past the lower viewpoint headed straight for the upper deck – we wanted to see the rainbow! And see it we did. The recent rains that had caused the earlier scene of destruction now put on a different performance, gushing over the massive drop. With the mist in our faces and giggles in our throats, we posed for pictures and gawked at the sight.

Rainbow Falls, Stehekin WA

TB and Rainbow Falls – tall falls, tall tree, tall TB!

We shimmied down to the lower viewpoint to make sure we didn’t miss anything and almost missed the bus. We made a stop at the famous bakery for a super-fresh, delicious lunch and then jumped back aboard to return to the Lady of the Lake.

…and we got stuck in traffic. I kid you not. The impossible has happened. The landslide was again the culprit, and the machinery working on the road blocked the only passage back to the landing. The driver was back and forth on the radio, all the while watching the construction. The Park Service tour guide told us the house we could see next to the road that was almost buried – though left standing – by the landslide belonged to our bus driver. And yet she was here, driving a busload of gawking tourists around her little village. That wonderful woman managed to hurry along the construction dudes and we made it to our boat before it left. Hallelujah!

The trip back down to Chelan was no less eventful than the trip up. Different angles, moving clouds, and less fog gave us plenty more views to soak in. We created our little bubble of sorts, laughing and getting rowdy. By the time we docked in Chelan, our hair was wind blown, our cheeks rosy, and our smiles unmovable.

Lady of the Kake on Lake Chelan, Washtington

TB getting her hairs did. 🙂

We rejoined the group at a winery and the party enveloped us back in like we were never gone. The entire weekend was unforgettable, and our little side trip seemed to exist in a parallel universe or something – was that even the same weekend?!?!  We had seen the secrets of the lake, marveled at the other world of Stehekin, felt the speed of the Lady of the Lake.

And I’ve decided that I think I could be the next Lady of the Lake! What if I dropped everything and moved to Stehekin, ditching all this technology and getting back to the simple life? Well, I’m not going to, but it sure fuels a lot of awesome daydreams…..

😀

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10 10 2013
A message from Joe |

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