We caught a break the other day after a wildfire started near Lake Harriette in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness. In previous years it might have been left to burn “naturally” – thus likely spreading across this fuel-rich wilderness area. But after two summers of devastating 100,000+ acre wildfires and thick, choking smoke in the valleys, just letting fires go isn’t the program anymore. Instead, ground crews and helicopters were on the Harriette fire almost immediately. Despite the difficult terrain, they held it to just 8 acres. The pros and cons of this approach to wildfire management are subject to debate. In the mean time, however, I’m glad we still have a wilderness with green trees in it. 🙂
The majority of named lakes in this aptly named wilderness are on the east side of the divide around Lake Harriette and Aspen Butte. The west side hosts only Clover Lake on the Clover Creek Trail and Lake Waban on the Mountain Lakes Trail. Near Lake Waban are two other named lakes, Avalanche and Weston, that lack trail access and thus have long peaked my curiosity. So today I did an on-trail and off-trail loop (11.6 miles; 2,300 feet of gain) to visit these lakes. The LovedOne stayed behind to do taxes for the Friends of the Library – which speaks either to her dedication as a volunteer or her aversion to my off-trail adventures.
Rather than cut-over to Avalanche and Weston from the Mountain Lakes Trail, I followed that trail all the way up to its junction with the Mountain Lakes Loop Trail on the divide. Mosquitoes were a pestilence until I reached drier terrain above Lake Waban. From the crest of the divide, I partially reprised an earlier hike by going cross-country over Point 7652 (great views!) to the saddle on its south side.
From the saddle, I descended the drainage past two small seasonal ponds, Avalanche Lake, and Weston Lake before rejoining the trail near Lake Waban. The trail was in great shape and the surprisingly open forest floor made cross-country travel pretty easy. Going downhill helped with this too. The lakes themselves are beautiful little wet gems embedded in the forest. All, with the exception of the lake northwest of Weston Lake, are very shallow. The one to the northwest looks deep enough for swimming and is reported to harbor brook and rainbow trout in the 8 to 13 inch range. There’s also a nice campsite at this lake.
Lake Waban is readily accessible from the Mountain Lakes Trail via a short spur trail. Weston Lake and the lakes around it are best accessed by a short cross-country walk from Lake Waban. Avalanche Lake is probably the least accessible but going west cross-country from the Mountain Lakes Trail along the 6,800-foot contour might be the easiest approach. Just be aware that, while the forest floor isn’t hard to walk across, being down in the trees can be disorienting and the lakes often aren’t visible until you’re within 100 feet of them. So navigate well…HOME