My phone buzzes at 3am. I grope for it on the nightstand and squint blearily at the text from a friend’s roommate.
“So, uhh, <Name-ommitted> probably isn’t going tomorrow 🙁 I had to carry him home.”
I roll back over, figuring I’ll deal with it in the morning. Serves me right for trying to plan a backpacking trip on one of the biggest party weekends of the year.
Sure enough, come the morning of July 4th, hangovers claim several of our intended party members. <Name-ommitted> had even thrown up in an Uber. But there are still a few willing to forgo the usual lake parties for purple mountain majesties. We pile into the Squirtlemobile and head to the Salmon La Sac area in the Central Cascades.
At the Tuquala Meadows trailhead, we heft our packs and begin the trek to Robin Lakes. The first four miles along the Deception Pass trail are an easy stroll through lush greenery, past marshy meadows, over several streams, and alongside Hyas Lake.
Shortly after the signed trail offshoot to the right, the path turns steep and rough for a mile, with lots of loose dirt and rocks. We settle in for a rest at Tuck Lake, where we lunch in the shade and swim in the cold water.
The next bit is the most difficult to navigate – returning hikers tell us to hug the shore of the lake, keeping it to our left and the Tuck’s Pot pond to our right. After heading over a log jam, there are plenty of cairns to mark the rest of the way. This section is steep, too, but in a really fun way. We heave ourselves and our packs up and over grippy granite slabs.
The views get better and better as Tuck Lake recedes to a deep blue pool on our left and Hyas Lake makes a reappearance to our right beneath the spires of Cathedral Rock and Mt Daniel. The melt from Daniel’s ridged icefields ribbons down its flanks in dramatic waterfalls, the rushing sound carrying all the way across the intervening distance.
On an exposed ridge, we take another break for some good old fashioned kite flying. A gusty wind sends our cheap kite darting and diving, but eventually it settles down.
Dmitri lets out the entire spool of string and we squint at tiny Spiderman rippling far above. “What if there’s a big gust of wind and I fly away on the kite?” he asks. We laugh at this ridiculous image, then realize it would be pretty irresponsible of us if the kite crashes where we can’t retrieve it. So we reel in Spiderman’s thread and continue on the final push over open granite slopes and down into the Robin Lakes basin.
Our chosen campsite is a slightly muddy patch with the shore of Lower Robin Lake in front of us, steep rocks to the left and right, and stunning mountain views behind. We’ve seen several other people around the lakes, but the area is so big it feels totally secluded.
Sunset sets the rocky slopes around the lake ablaze in alpenglow and turns the distant peak of Rainier a dusky pink. We all relax with our Kindles, breathing in the total silence.
This is my first time celebrating the fourth of July without fireworks, and I’ll admit it makes me a little sad. We try to make up for it as best we can, dining on all-American ballpark franks and Ballast Point grapefruit beer. For dessert, Rob pulls out a bar of Chuao Firecracker chocolate, which explodes with pop rocks and chipotle spice.
With the sun’s warmth finally fading at 10pm, we roll out our sleeping pads, crawl into our sleeping bags, and sing an off-key Star-Spangled Banner as the stars came out. Instead of bombs bursting in air, we have satellites and meteors streaking across the slower-moving backdrop of stars and planets.
It’s difficult to fall into a deep sleep, what with the whine of mosquitoes, the occasional thunder of goat hooves, and the intense glare of moonbeams, but you can’t beat sleeping out in the open for feeling close to nature.
The predawn light wakes me before 5am, so I get up to relieve myself and walk around. I almost run smack dab into a mountain goat. “Hello there,” I mutter, and try to leave, but it follows me back to camp. I stumble backward into our dirt circle, rousing my group with a nervous chant of, “Guys, guys, guys…” The goat walks past with only a curious glance, but this is just the beginning.
I’ve had several close encounters with mountain goats before and heard all the warnings – they are crazy for salty human urine and can become aggressive. We discussed how to deal with them, but in our laziness hadn’t gone far enough away to pee, just down into a little dell behind the camp.
The goats hone in with a zealous thirst. Watching a goat rub its face in my urine somewhat tarnishes the majesty of nature. Their crazed bleats must be some goat gossip system, because more show up by the minute.
At first, we are vigilant about guarding camp. We shout at the goats, wave around trekking poles, and keep rocks close at hand. The older goats are their usual cantankerous selves, unexpectedly charging at one another, huffing with anger, and slashing at bushes with their horns. It’s terrifying to imagine that quick temper turned on us. The babies, on the other hand, are heart-wrenchingly adorable as they bounce around, fall over one another, and make strange shrill sounds.
We’re soon overwhelmed by their numbers, upwards of twenty at any one time, and concede our territory. It’s a goat’s world after all.
Thankfully, the worst they do is stare at us, probably hoping we’d be overcome by the urge to pee.
The hike down is tough on the skeletal system, but an inspiring reminder of all that we had accomplished the day before. We talk with an elderly couple hiking with their pugs who have been volunteer rangers in the area for 22 years, and I can understand the lasting appeal. This American gem is worth every step.
- Tuck and Robin Lakes Trail Guide
16 miles round trip, 2900 ft gain.