Lake Chelan, a 55-mile-long lake in north central Washington State, is rich in both outdoor recreation and history. Though most people that have been to Lake Chelan have only seen just a slice of what lies alongside this massive lake, and few have even heard of the tiny village of Stehekin at the northern end of the lake. A place where no roads lead, but many find solace in the majesty of its mountains, trees, waterfalls, and culture.
A piece of the old world untouched by the hands of time and preserved as a national treasure for those brave enough to venture out into the wild and leave the comforts of modern society behind to make it there. There are only a few ways to get to Stehekin. By Ferry or personal boat, small plane, helicopter or on foot through several trails including the pacific crest trail. I chose to hop on the “Lady of the Lake” ferry in Chelan and hike the 18 miles along The Lakeshore Trail from Prince Creek to Stehekin over a couple of days.
My journey started out on a brisk Thursday morning when I arose early. I packed only the essentials needed for the journey into my backpack carefully selecting only what I truly needed to survive, knowing I would soon bear the burden of its weight over the next few days, met up with my hiking partner, and boarded the Lady of the Lake and embarked on an epic journey that I will never forget as long as I live. As the ferry left my hometown of Chelan behind; a calming sense of adventure pulsed throughout my body like the first sip of freshly brewed coffee on a brisk morning at first light. I had been daydreaming of this adventure since I was a child when my parents told me their tales of adventure along this very trail. Alas, the day had finally come. Finally, Freedom!
After picking up a whole crew of trail workers from the Forest Service at Field’s point, we arrived at our destination of Prince Creek, a small campground and start of the famous Lakeshore Trail to Stehekin. Prince creek was named after a horse, “Prince”, who died at the creek. Prince belonged to some of the first pioneers to discover the Stehekin valley. As soon as I got off the boat I eagerly hiked up to the creek and found a perfect place to spend the first hour beside the creek rock hounding. After hearing the success of several folks finding precious minerals in the creek curiosity had bit me on the cheek, so I decided to let the whole crew of hikers go on ahead of me and explore the creek for what little time I could spend. After an hour of climbing into the creek and photographing the picturesque surroundings, I decided to strap up my boots and hit the trail. It was a 7-mile trek to the first camp and only a few hours to get there.
The first mile was stiff and cumbersome, this was my first backpacking trip of the year, and I hadn’t quite gotten my trail legs for the year. I knew that if I pushed through the discomfort, I would soon find strength thru the pain. “Give me strength but make me stronger,” I asked the Great Spirit as I trudged along the trail with the afternoon sun beating on my neck. The weight of every ounce in my backpack became the source of both my pain and strength as I kept on trekking beside the lake. As I marched up switchbacks and around and over the creeks, the serpent like pattern of both the trail and Lake T’sillan (Chelan), the deep lake, became more evident with every turn I made.
Throughout the first few miles it became apparent that I was walking at twice the rate of my hiking partner, and we became separated on the trail by a long way. She was curiously searching for pretty rocks along the trail and lost in a world of bugs and butterflies. We decided that it was best if we split up for a while. After numerous stops I made to wait for her to catch up, I noticed a raven missing one big feather circling around between us, signaling me she was not far behind. Almost as if the Great Spirit itself was protecting us along the journey serving as a spirit guide into the unknown. This Raven circled between us the entire journey to Stehekin, and we began to rely on it more and more gaining trust with every pass it made between us.
Around 4PM, when my legs felt as if they could go no more, I stumbled upon the sign to cascade creek camp. The first campsite along our trip. The feeling of joy and satisfaction was never more evident until right then. I hiked down the steep trail down to the camp beside the lake and set up camp. After setting up camp I hiked back up to the trail hoping I had not missed my partner. That hike up to the turn off was the most arduous half mile of the entire day. After finally crawling to the top and plopping down to wait, I knew my day was done. After around an hour of waiting my partner finally stumbled in, just as exhausted and defeated as I. To her delight, I had already set up camp and we had just enough energy to make dinner and get in the tent before our bodies fully gave out in exhaustion.
We arose early in the morning light, relished the beauty that surrounded us and enjoyed some fresh brewed coffee while we dipped our toes into the crystal-clear water of the glacier fed lake preparing ourselves for the journey ahead. After letting the other hikers from camp get the first start on the trail, we finally embarked on the second leg of our adventure. That first half mile out of camp with the heavy backpacks proved to be a painful, but helpful warm up for the next 6 miles. Wandering between creeks, burnout areas from fires in previous years, beautiful meadows with freshly bloomed May flowers, and with our trusty raven guide circling between us we knew that today was going to be a better day.
The day proved to be cooler and calmer, the journey seemed a little easier as we began to get lost in the glory of mother nature. The blue skies, cool breeze and sounds of birds echoing thru the valley was like a symphony I’d never heard before. This was truly a magical place. Our next camp was at Moore Point. The former extinct town of Moore where there was once a grand hotel and post office until its closure in 1955. It now serves as a base camp for the trail workers, and a beautiful campground for hikers and boaters with a dock for the ferry. We reached the campground around 4 o’clock, not nearly as defeated as the day before, and were thrilled at the chance to finally get to relax and enjoy the peace of the sublime surroundings.
The next morning, we decided we wanted to leave early and finish the trip to Stehekin and make it the last 7.4 miles to the village. The last stage of the hike proved to be, physically, the easiest but mentally toughest. Trying to spot the village around every turn and twist in the trail, cautiously trying our patience. After a quick stop at the top of Hunt’s Bluff to take pictures of the glorious pinnacle peaks across the lake and the first real view of the village, a sudden burst of energy consumed my being. I took off like a bolt of lightning, not stopping for rest or water knowing that my reward for the long journey was soon approaching.
As I strolled into the village a quarter past 3 PM, a great sense of victory overwhelmed my spirit and I walked into the gift shop and bought an Ice-cold beer and sat along the shoreline to enjoy the fruits of success. The original plan was to camp at Stehekin, but after several days on the trail I decided a hot shower and bed sounded like something the doctor ordered for my partner and I, so I enquired about an available room at the North Cascades Lodge. Surprising enough I was their first walk in of the year, and they had one available. I surprised my partner when she got into town, and we were so excited for the first shower of the journey. After a grand dinner at The Lodge, we called it a night. The next two days were going to be spent at a cabin we had rented up the river valley and now we needed a good night’s rest before our big day.
The next morning, we arose with glee as we ran down to get breakfast while awaiting the arrival of our hosts with eager anticipation of the next leg of our journey. Our hosts, David and Jeanetta, picked us up promptly at 1 O’clock. From the moment we met them, I knew the last leg of this journey was going to be special. As we began to drive up the river valley, Jeanetta began to give us a detailed personal account of the various properties in the valley and the adventures along the way up to the cabin. As we traversed along the scenic drive up to the cabin, a sense of peace swept over me in a way I’d not previously felt. This truly felt like home; a place I’d dreamt of my whole life was finally before my very eyes.
On our way up the valley, we passed the Garden (a local organic garden and source of a lot of the food supply to the valley), the world famous Stehekin bakery, both the new and old Stehekin School (the old school built in 1921 served the students of the Stehekin valley until the new one was constructed in 1988), Rainbow falls (A glorious 312-foot waterfall in the heart of the Stehekin valley), and Harlequin Camp before we arrived at our destination. That being the home of our hosts, our Creekside Cabin rental, and final destination of our journey.
The cabin was so perfect, and beyond our wildest dreams. The craftsmanship and love that was put into the property was completely immeasurable. It reminded me of a place in my childhood my mother used to take me, and I had never felt at home in any one place until this very moment. Upon perusing the various literature carefully placed around the cabin, I discovered two books entitled “Knowing Home” and “Gossamer Days” placed on the living room table. Curiosity once again bit me on the cheek! Upon reading the description of the books I soon discovered that the author was none other than that of our host, David Kurth. With great excitement I took the book Knowing Home” out to the hammock beside the creek and began to read. From the first page to the last, the words seemed to leap at me in such a personified manner that the words of the book and sounds of nature echoing in the wind began to intertwine. My mind raced through what seemed to be a vivid lucid dream. I simply couldn’t put it down; I was speechless. We were left with a vehicle to explore the valley as part of our booking and this couldn’t have made the trip any more exciting. We embarked on an adventure aimed at exploring every sight and sound the valley had to offer. We took the car up past the Ranch to the High Bridge (the boundary between The Lake Chelan Recreation Area & North Cascades National Park) before heading back down to the cabin to make supper.
The next morning, we set out to visit the bakery, and it was beyond our wildest imagination. The construction of the bakery was simply magnificent. The old-style craftsmanship of the building was second to none and with cinnamon rolls the size of my head we were equally delighted in their food. After stopping at the bakery, we headed up to Rainbow Falls excited to take photographs at its peak flow of the year. It did not disappoint. As we approached the end of the trail along the upper portion of the falls, we began to get soaked by the pressure of the falls. It felt like heaven itself had opened up and blessed us. After we left the falls, I decided to try my hand at fly fishing the fast-moving Stehekin River. After several hours of catching nothing but a buzz, we decided to call it a day and settle in for the evening.
Upon the end of our stay, I met with our hosts and thanked them for their gracious hospitality and David graciously sent me home with a signed copy of his book, “Knowing Home,” that I had cherished so much. It was the perfect memento from our trip. There was a calming spirit that resided amongst the trees at this home; something holy and pure I had not felt in a long time. We waved goodbye and told our hosts we would be back and would be sending my parents up to experience this little slice of heaven.
As we boarded the ferry for the journey home, I felt a sudden boost of strength and confidence, something I had constantly sought to gain from the experience. On the 3-hour boat ride home I began to share my intimate knowledge of the Chelan/Manson area with other passengers on the voyage. I quickly made friends and met with several of them for dinner at the local brewery following our arrival in Chelan.
This adventure was not only a test of strength and endurance, but also a cleansing of my spirit and reminder that the earth will always provide for us as long as we treat her with her love and respect. For any hikers aspiring to take this adventure, feel free to find me at the Front Desk at Mountain View Lodge and I will be glad to share my experience. I’d be honored to help you make memories of your own.