First Time Backpacker- Mad Lake Trail

I finally took my first backpacking adventure in the Pacific Northwest and I got more than I had asked for… We did our research and searched the web, read books, went to REI, got maps – we decided on the Mad Lake Trail. According to all of our resources it was supposed to be a fairly easy hike with a stunning lake at the end of it.

I had many mixed emotions about my first backpacking adventure, even though it was just a short 19 miles. A lot of the time I thought to myself, can I do it? Will it be too hard? What happens if something goes terribly wrong, are we prepared? Spoiler alert, I’m still here and I’m fine. But at that time, it was just one of those moments where I was going to have to do it and find out.

We set out, arriving somewhere in the vicinity of the trail, we got lost thanks to not using offline Google Maps. It was about 10pm and it was pretty dark out with the only light being our the headlights of our car. We reached a steep unpaved dirt/rock road. We took that in the dark for about 1 mile or so. The dirt rocky road was wide enough for barely one vehicle and it was pretty terrifying, luckily my boyfriend was driving. When we got to the top, the road split off, straight ahead spots to camp and park and we had seen a few cars and a campfire already set up. But off to the right, there was supposed to a pathway to more camping spots, we decided to head in that direction and boy did we have a surprise waiting for us! As Ian started to cruise toward the path with only being able to see what our headlights were shining on, the pathway we were making our way towards had collapsed in. He slammed on the breaks and me being me, panicked just a little thinking we were going to just fall right off the pathway and roll downhill. It was a team effort trying to reverse an SUV back up a hill, in the dark with minimal lighting, and less than a foot of space on each side of the tires. That was a bit of a scary moment for us, but it was fine! Just word of advice, go slow when driving to new trails, especially at night.

We car camped of course and by the morning we were up and at it ready for this ready adventure! We hiked down the pathway, the one we almost drove off, and that’s when we realized part of the pathway was missing and had sunken down. That pathway led to another area of camping spots and the trailhead, which is where the fun began.

The trail was pretty rough, with quite the incline, 4300 feet elevation gain, so for beginners, this may be tough especially carrying 20-30 pounds of weight. There are also a couple of fjords that you have to cross, just above the knee deep for me, I’m 4’11. Bring water shoes if you can, I wore Tevas and they worked great. The water is ICE cold, so my advice is to just not think about it and power through it. I would also advise to not use your trekking poles during the crossing because they may get stuck in the rocks and make it difficult to maintain balance. The space between the two fjords are a few miles, so your feet at least get a break from the cold water. The trails are packed with lots of trees on both sides and there was a good amount of trees that had fallen onto the trail so there may be some climbing involved as well.

We didn’t see much other wildlife… Except for a black bear, here and there. Our first encounter was about 7 miles into the trail, the sun was out and the bear in on the trail with its butt up and nose down sniffing for berries. We slowly and quietly backed away, with our bear spray in hand, waiting for the bear to catch our scent and runoff. To be honest, I was terrified, and we had to make the decision to either continue or turn back immediately since it was starting to get dark. We decided since we had a few miles left, we should see this through and continue on. Throughout the rest of the hike, we were on edge, with a death grip on the bear spray, and Ian yelling “Hey Bear!” loudly for the next 2.5 miles. For the last two miles, as it got darker, the woods got a little scarier and our pace was a little quicker.

We finally got to the lake and had not seen a single human being throughout our entire hike up, and one cougar print which was a little alarming. We had a choice of a couple campsites near the wooded areas, but I was not a fan of being too close to the treeline with bears on the hunt. We opted for the lakeside, creating our own campsite where we had a 360 view of our surroundings. About 20 yards away we hung up our food bag and began to set up the tent, we realized there was no flowing water into the lake so we had to hike back about a 1/4 mile to a stream and collect water from there. We were finally starting to feel a little more comfortable with our tent set up, campfire going and dinner cooking when I see another bear come out of the woods. We immediately jump up and start making noises, Ian starts yelling and I start banging our tin cups together. The bear had zero interest and just continued on sniffing and making his way around the lake.

We did have some other friends come join us as well! They popped up to nibble on some grass but was also distracted by the sound of Ian chopping wood. After all of the excitement, we began to wind down and although we were a bit on edge, it was a pretty peaceful evening. We even woke up to some sunshine!

Overall, it was a great experience and I’m glad I did it. As for my next backpacking trip, I will now not be so worried when it comes to bears and I will know exactly what to do when the same situation arises. But next time, I think I’ll pick somewhere with a little more traffic and lot more water! I’d give this hike a 2.5 stars out of 5.

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