Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Pavlovian Conditioning at Pratt Lake

The Pavlovian conditioning was cemented after my last backpacking trip (see Backpacking, Hunkering Down, & Bookreading).

The stimulus: the desire to read a book.
The response: the need to head to the mountains for a solo backpacking trip.

Backpacking, hunkering down, & book reading...again.

My desire to head to the mountains coincided with the long Labor Day weekend. Knowing that holiday weekends are synonymous with an exodus to the mountains, I decided it best to begin my trip early Friday morning and to return to Seattle Saturday afternoon.

As I pulled into the Pratt Lake trailhead, the drops began to hit the windshield. What was forecasted to be a 30% chance of precipitation after 11am ended up being 100% precipitation at 7:30am. One thing was for certain: It would be a soggy trip.

Filling out the required permit at the trailhead.

What wasn't certain was whether I'd be able to find the solitude that I so very much wanted. Fortunately, the early weekday start, coupled with the damp forecast, kept the hikers at bay; I had the trail mostly to myself.

I had the trails (mostly) to myself.

On the six mile-long hike to Pratt Lake, I only came across three others hikers. They were all out shroom hunting for the day. But they weren't the only hunters in the area. Every once in a while I heard gunfire. Fortunately, I wasn't surprised by the sounds, as I had noticed the "safety tip" posted at the trailhead.

One of my least favorite trailhead postings.

After a few hours of gaining elevation, I arrived at the final split in the trail. Following the trail that veered to the right, I began the steep descent into the Pratt Lake Basin. I had been hiking at a brisk pace up until this point. But once I entered the basin, I slowed to a snail's pace so that I could take in the gorgeous views.

The view of Kaleetan Peak from Pratt Lake Basin.

My senses were thrilled. The soft duff tread smelled sweetly of moisture and decay. Dream-like fog imitated walking through the clouds. Steep fields of talus surrounded the trail -- each rock topped with its own toupee of mossy carpet. Picas scrambled about the rocks and squealed so loudly that I wondered why they needed such big ears.

The magical forest of the pacific northwest.

After walking for about a mile through the magical forest, the trail deposited me at the north end of Pratt Lake. I spent some time wandering along the smaller paths, getting a feel for the layout of the land. I was the only person around, and so I claimed the primo, lake-front property as my home for the night.

My home for the night.
You can see the back of the chair where I read, on the rock to the right.

And here was my own lake.

Though the rain had disappeared for a majority of my hike to the lake, it reappeared in more-and-more frequent increments as the afternoon progressed. The precipitation drove me into the tent. My sleeping bag kept me warm and cozy as I read further into my book. Eventually I closed my eyes and gave way to a nap.

A ranger stopped by camp and awoke me from my slumber. She wanted to ensure that I had a permit. I did. We got to chatting for quite awhile, talking about the detriments to the backcountry. She told me about how she had spent a good part of the day restoring an area that campers had turned into a campfire; campfires are not permitted in the basin. We also talked about the impact of stock on backcountry trails. I told her that I had seen a number of horses on my previous backpacking trip, along the Kendall Katwalk. The ranger told me that a horse had recently gotten spooked just before the Katwalk and had slid down the steep slope. Comparing our notes, it's likely that the horse was one of the horses that had stopped for a drink at Ridge Lake, where I had camped. Apparently, the rescue had happened about a mile away from me; I had been oblivious to the going-ons.

A late afternoon bout of hail was the segue into a consistent rain that would last through the morning. The rain confined me to the tent for the rest of the night.

By the time morning rolled around, the only drips on the rainfly were those falling from the branches above. Despite the cold, I felt like I would develop bed sores if I didn't get up and move. I put on all my layers and left the comfort of my tent to explore the nearby area.

It seemed as though fall had arrived overnight. The morning air was downright chilly, and more-and-more leaves seemed to have turned their autumn hues as I slept.

Autumn is in the air.

I was curious about the lake's outlet, at its far north end. Here, the lake water was supposed to transform itself into river water. Where I had expected to find a river, though, there was a wide expanse of rocks instead. It didn't take long after stepping atop the rocks to realize I was walking on top of the river.

The rocks atop the river.

Standing atop the rocks, I heard the most beautiful, reverberent sound of babbling water beneath me. Sure enough, through the tiny cracks between the large rocks, I could see the flowing water. I stood there for minutes listening to the surreal sound of the river.

A hint of moving water.

I finished crossing the bed of rocks and hiked along the Pratt River Trail, on the far side of the river. Though the trail was unmaintained, it was navigable. After walking along the trail for a little while, I turned around and headed back to my camp spot.

The first hikers arrived at Pratt Lake mid-morning on Saturday. I offered the hikers my water-front camp spot, I finished packing up my things, and then I started the hike back to the trailhead.

I passed at least thirty people on my hike out. Although I don't know why this continues to surprise me, I ran into an acquaintance of mine on the trail (again). We chatted for a few minutes before parting ways. For those hikers who were carrying overnight packs, I asked where they planned on spending the evening. Most of them were headed for Pratt. Boy, was I glad I was on my way out; the lake was going to see quite a populace of backpackers tonight.

Though soggy and cold, I got what I wanted -- the opportunity to read a book, and the opportunity to enjoy the solitude of another solo backpacking trip.

At some point in time, I'll need to break this dangerous stimulus-response pairing. One doesn't need to venture to the mountains to read a book. If I don't break this conditioning, I'll spend the rest of my days as a hermit in the mountains, reading through my infinite stack of books. For now though, I'm perfectly fine being obedient to my conditioning. For now, I'm perfectly fine being a good puppy for Pavlov.


  1. Hi Sarah! The only time I have ever camped was in the rain, and it wasn't nearly as enjoyable of an experience as yours! The difference might be that we were at a campsite with just trees and other campers around us. Your private lake was stunning. I enjoyed the pics! Maybe they'll inspire me to camp again...?!

    1. The *only* time you camped was in the rain?!?! Oh, we need to change that! I know I wouldn't enjoy camping if my only memories were from a wet trip. Maybe someday we can do a girls camping trip
      . Though your boys, even your biggest one (i.e. your hubby), would probably enjoy it, too. :)

  2. The hike to Pratt is also a great Snow Shoe route! Love that area! It is also the trailhead for my Favorite I-90 climb, Granite mountain. It takes you to a fire look out, great views and some of the coolest little creeks anywhere.

    You are correct, you do not HAVE to go to the mountains to read, but there is no better place to do so. Something about the fresh air, and sounds just make it a better experience, even if I only read one page.

    Plus, there are few things that make me smile more than heading down a trail as a passel of people are heading to where I just left .

  3. I have camped in that exact spot. I believe it was 2010, in late June or early July.

    Cheers! :-)

    1. I *thought* I recognized some of the claw marks on the trees, Mr. Knaak. ;)


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