Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Greek Odyssey

Best time for hiking in the Cascades? Immediately preceding, and just after, the autumnal equinox, when the colors are most vibrant and flying pests have diminished. And so it was, a small cadre from that loosely knit consortium known as the Aldo Leopold Society embarked on a journey into the backcountry.

This odyssey would transport us into the realm of Greek mythology: Lake Minotaur, Labyrinth Mountain and Lake Theseus in the upper reaches of the Little Wenatchee River, a tributary of Lake Wenatchee. Four of our group, all former backcountry rangers, departed from the trailhead for a day of hiking and witty repartee.

A.H. “Hal” Sylvester -- a surveyor and explorer who was the Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor from 1908-1931 -- named this picturesque corner of the wilderness for the puzzling map contours. The hike skirts two exceptional lakes in tarns occupying glacial cirques near the summit of Labyrinth Mountain (above).

In Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a monster with the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull. Because of its monstrous form, King Minos of Crete banished the beast to a huge maze known as the Labyrinth. The Minotaur remained in the Labyrinth, receiving annual offerings of Athenian youth to devour in tribute to King Minos.

One such youth, Theseus, the son of King Aegeus, was said to have volunteered for the assignment to slay the Minotaur. Upon reaching Crete, the daughters of King Minos, having fallen in love with Theseus, provided him with the answer to escaping the Labyrinth: a ball of string to retrace his steps once he killed the Minotaur.

Upon entering the Labyrinth, Theseus tied one end of the string to the door and continued into the maze. Finding the Minotaur in the farthest corner of the Labyrinth, he killed the fearsome man-beast with a sword. Finding other Athenians and following the thread back through the maze, Theseus led the group out of the Labyrinth.

Despite the formidable name, you don’t really need a spool of thread to find your way on Labyrinth Mountain, although near the top, several trails meander in various directions but all end up in the same place: the summit. A steep two-mile stretch through tall hemlocks gives way to heather meadows and alpine firs.

The two charming lakes occupying the high glacial cirques next to Labyrinth Mountain -- Lake Minotaur and Lake Theseus -- are particularly ethereal depending on the season and time of day, providing a changing landscape among the wilderness gods in this fairy tale region of the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness.

Glacier Peak, the most remote volcano in the entire Cascade Range, dominates the skyline from the summit of Labyrinth Mountain. The 360-degree panorama allows sweeping views as far away as Mt. Rainier, Mt. Stuart, Mt. Daniel, Lake Wenatchee, Sloan Peak, Baring Mountain and the Monte Cristo Range.

After scrambling about on Labyrinth Mountain and a long break at Lake Minotaur, we adjourned to the Headwaters Pub at Lake Wenatchee for some well-earned grub and grog: a Dirty Face pizza and a local IPA brewed in nearby Leavenworth known as Bootjack Ale. Tell you what: nothing tastes better after a full day of hiking.

A couple of weeks later, we were off for yet another sojourn to the Owl Conservatory for some well-earned rest and relaxation, as well as a hike or two. In this case: Lanham Lake near Stevens Pass, and Hidden Lake, a picturesque little pond located beneath Nason Ridge, just above Lake Wenatchee.

Lanham Lake, is a four-mile jaunt through old growth hemlock, devil’s club and huckleberry patches. Once at the lake, we deviated from the trail for a few pictures and, unfortunately, disturbed a yellow jackets nest. Boy, were they cranky; I picked up five stings before we fled down the trail in haste to the car.

Arrived at the trailhead, I felt my face swelling; indeed, I was having an allergic reaction to the stings. We proceeded immediately to the Owl Conservatory for some benadryl, an application of Devil’s Club Soothing Rub from Back Bay Botanicals (good stuff) and a couple of limoncellos. We were back in business.

Hidden Lake, an even shorter hike, is more like a walk through the pines. In fact, it’s so short that I recall packing in coolers, camp chairs and various and sundry other supplies that you might have when you’re car camping. Nonetheless, it’s a delightful stroll and a beautiful spot where you can lay on a rock and bag some rays.

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