Last weekend 24 friends (yes, really! that many) and I headed east for the second annual Weekend in Freakin’ Stehekin. Stehekin is a little town on the “uplake” end of Lake Chelan in central Washington. Accessible only by foot, boat, or air, it’s a wonderful place to disconnect and simply enjoy.
But, I’m ahead of myself.
The adventure to Stehekin was part fun, part training (as most things are this time of year). Several of us broke up the drive out to Chelan on Friday with a 16-mile out-and-back run on the Ingalls Creek Trail, and then everyone joined for some version of ferry + run or ferry + hike or just ferry to get out to Stehekin on Saturday. This post is long because it covers both runs and a bit of Stehekin. I hope you enjoy it.
Day 1. 16 miles of out and back on the Ingalls Creek Trail
Two carloads of us headed out Friday morning and detoured to Ingalls Creek for some extra trail time. We were a mix of hikers and runners, and so broke into two groups at the car.
The consensus was that this is not a destination trail and none of us need to go back here again (unless we’re using it for access to points further into the Stuart Range or other area trails).
I’m not sure why we were all so negative about it—perhaps because it was raining, or because it’s overgrown and all the carwash effect from the wet plants made it feel even wetter, or because … well, enough whining. We were like those reviewers on Yelp who say absurd things such as, “The beach was too sandy,” or “The water was too wet.” There were some pretty and runnable parts.
The trail noodles up-valley alongside the north side of Ingalls Creek, which with the recent snowmelt currently is more like a raging roaring river. We saw some pretty flowers, ran up trails that could easily be called creeks, and crawled over, under, or around quite a few downed trees.
Probably the most excitement of the day was a mystery: At the base of a talus slope, there was what looked like a cave behind some rocks. Around the “cave” the air was steaming. We don’t know why, but we had many theories … some had to do with cold air flowing down the slope and some had to do with big grumpy furry animals with big claws and teeth. Ultimately, we decided NOT to investigate. We later checked in with the hiking portion of our group; they had similar theories and similar caution. So the steaming maybe-cave remains a mystery.
Anyway, our goal for the day was 16 miles and we turned around at 7.94 (per Garmin). It was there that we hit a pile of downed trees that looked like too much work to crawl over or around for that .06 extra.
The way down was quicker, as downstream runs tend to be, but I had been on full-on ding-a-ling mode prepping for the day and had failed to pack enough food. (You see, my logic was that Friday’s run was the shorter of the two planned for the weekend and therefore I didn’t need much. Let’s see: 16 vs. 18—not much of a difference. Doh!) Wendy and Heidi kindly offered up sour gummies (seriously sour) and some Sour Patch Kids (also seriously sour), which juiced me up enough on sugar to run it in to the cars.
We swapped out of soaking wet clothes and shoes, and piled back into the cars for the final hour’s drive into Chelan.
This is just a shout-out to a friend of a friend, who now for two consecutive years has hosted the full Stehekin gang in his beautiful home perched on a hill overlooking Lake Chelan. A seriously open floorpan offers us spacious views and enough floor space for everyone to sleep. Thanks Webb!
Day 2. Chelan to Stehekin via ferry and 18 miles on the Lakeshore Trail
We had reservations for the 9:45 Lady of the Lake ferry from Fields Point uplake to our various destinations. Somehow, 25 people making breakfast and packing up gear was not too chaotic! Everyone wanted to leave a bit early to be able to make a run to Starbucks in downtown Chelan before making the 30-minute drive to Fields Point. As we pulled into the parking lot, the group’s competitive nature came out: car doors flew open and people raced to be first in line. (Tip: Use Starbucks’ mobile ordering feature—you get served ahead of everyone else.)
It was an hour-and-a-half chug uplake to Prince Creek, where 13 of us disembarked to start our adventure. **My husband, Mike, along with several others, stayed onboard for another hour-plus and then disembarked at Moore Point, where they started their 7-mile adventure on the same trail we would travel later in the day. You can also take the ferry all the way to Stehekin, which is a great option too, as there are many day hikes/runs out of there that head into the Glacier Peak Wilderness.** (Tip: You can leave your luggage onboard the ferry; they’ll drop it off in Stehekin, where the lodge staff will take it to your room. Pretty convenient!)
Along with the 13 of us in our group, about 15 to 20 backpackers got off at Prince Creek as well. There are many backpacker campsites along the lake, and it makes for a nice weekend outing to backpack the same stretch we’d be running and then ferry back to your car at the end of day 2 or 3.
As we gathered on the shore and made sure we hadn’t forgotten anyone (quick head count? yep: 13!), I was excited to head off and explore new country.
So off we went, following some of the backpackers and eager to get out ahead so we didn’t have to keep passing people. (With a group our size, we were sensitive to our impact on them as well as our own desire not to be stacked up behind folks.) After .2 of a mile we came upon Prince Creek. Like Ingalls Creek, this was a roaring raging river with all the recent snow melt. We could hear boulders being rolled downstream—wow! It was impressive! But the trail we took from where the ferry dropped us off did not go to a bridge. We—and a bunch of backpackers—scoured upstream, and we all worried about how we could possibly cross. We finally found the bridge downstream, almost to the lake, and on the other side of a “river” we needed to cross to get to the bridge to cross the river. There’s just so much water out there right now! **Update: Per a couple of posts on the Washington Trails Association trip reports page, this bridge washed out since our visit. Click here for a look at what the bridge looked like on Monday.**
Once we got across Prince Creek, we discovered the trail switchbacked up the hillside, and thus began a series of ups and downs that would keep us busy for the first 10 miles or so. There were trip reports warning of ticks and rattlesnakes, and at least one rattlesnake was encountered during the first annual Weekend in Freakin’ Stehekin, but perhaps due to the rain on Friday and somewhat cooler temps this year our total tally was one tick and zero snakes.
It’s difficult to break this part of the trail into sections, as it meanders along the lake continuously and I found there to be few landmarks, trail intersections, or other detours. However, it’s all so pretty—gawking was requisite with each turn of the trail, as the lake lay below in an almost aqua-blue ribbon and the cloud-topped and still-snowy mountains peeked out in the distance.
This area was affected by a wildfire a couple of years ago, and there is evidence of the devastation everywhere. But, the resulting fields of lupine, arrowleaf balsamroot, and wild rose were gorgeous, and the surviving trees provided both moments of shade and a contrasting beauty against the backdrop of flowers.
We crossed a lot of creeks and rivers, some with bridges and warnings not to dilly-dally and others that required some balancing on logs or hopping across rocks. I remain reluctant to get my feet wet early in a run, but as the day progressed we all just tromped on through the smaller creeks.
At 11 miles, we reached the intersection of the trail heading down to Moore Point. From here, the ups and downs continued but the ups were shorter than earlier in the run. There were lots of fun “screaming downhills” and still lots to gawk at.
At about 14 miles, the trail dips down near the lakeshore. There are some campsites here, and also a large smooth rock shelf where we spent a bit of time basking in the sun and soaking our hot feet in the chilly lake water. Oh, and we gawked at the views some more too. Seriously, the mountains and the lake: Wow!
The final 4ish miles are fun and highly runnable, even on tired legs. Upon arriving at Stehekin, friends already there cheered us in and met us with hugs and cold drinks. Heaven!
Day 3. Stehekin
Sleeping in with no alarms. Breakfast on the deck looking out at the lake and mountains. Baby goats. A bakery with insanely yummy cinnamon rolls and sticky buns and GF cake. A cascading waterfall providing a Sunday morning “baptism” of spray. Super heavy rental bikes. Absolutely no phone, internet, TV, or texts. Bliss.
The 2 p.m. ferry home picked us up and we traveled back downlake the way we had come the day before. New adventures were discussed, including new routes to Stehekin leaving from Lucerne (another ferry stop on the lake, but this would be longer and along the south rather than the north side). And then home.
The third annual Weekend in Freakin’ Stehekin has already been discussed. I don’t know whether we’ll repeat the same route on Lakeshore Trail, or diverge to alternatives discussed on the way home. I can say that we all came away from the weekend relaxed and disconnected from the stressors of our daily lives.
I am very glad that the Prince Creek bridge was still in place when we crossed. Reminder to self: checking trip reports before heading out is always a good idea!
I don’t know what made the weekend so special, exactly. I think it is the sum of many parts: being totally disconnected from the outside world, the novelty of taking a ferry to a run, a magical lodge in the woods, beautiful surroundings, and probably most of all the people who came together for this adventure: my friends, new friends made, and of course Mike.
As always, cherish your friends. Say yes to adventure. And adventures with cherished friends are the best!