sunlight and lakes | alpine lakes wilderness (tuck and robin lakes)
September 9, 2020
18 mi . 4370 ft gain . 6900 ft high
This backpacking trip is on one of the most popular trails for backpackers in Washington. Look it up yourself! And there are hints throughout this blog too. But just as a respect for trails, I like to keep locations a bit more hidden, especially if they’ve become overpopulated. Because as amazing as these popular destinations are, there are still many more hidden gems! I decided to do this trip since I hadn’t explored this region and my friend was going to take her sister on her first overnight trip!
We had debated a bit which trail to do, but it would definitely involve some alpine lakes! It’d be win-win no matter what. I was planning to do some extra scrambling to any of the destinations for added fun. And the best part was that we set the time aside a few weeks prior and the sunny summer weather held up for us! It’d been a while since I did a backpacking trip that didn’t also involve a serious climb, and sometimes I forget how nice it is to just set up camp and enjoy everything. I knew that we’d get some spectacular views of sunrise/sunset, so I decided to bring ALL of my camera gear (3 lens and a body), which amounts to just under 5 pounds. Extra training weight for those sweet, sweet snaps!
The first part of the trail was very leisurely, I think we clocked something like 3 miles/hr because the trail was literally that flat! But soon enough, the hills started to come. It would be steep and then flatten out, and then steep again just as you caught your breath again. But as we emerged from the forest, we started getting better and better views of the mountains surrounding us and it was indeed incredible. I could understand why this was such a popular overnight trail! It’s a bit long for a normal day hike, and when backpacking, you can enjoy all the different lighting from the sun throughout the trip.
At the first alpine lake, we took a nice lunch break. But soon enough, the wind picked up and it got chilly, so we embarked on the last uphill leg of the hike to the third set of lakes. You can see where we were headed and many trip reports claim the next section to be treacherous. One person even called it a “slog” as they were coming down and us up. But honestly, it was more fun than anything since the views got better, evening out the pain of the uphill. And my friends crushed it! A little scramble here and there did not stop them from pushing forth.
Eventually, we got to the lakes and picked out a camp spot. I was so nerved by all the people camping on vegetation. There were plenty of spots where it was more barren and you could avoid the grass, but people blatantly ignored that and I overheard someone being confused as to why their campsite was free but was such a good spot next to the water. I tried explaining that maybe people try not to camp on the fragile vegetation, but they looked at me with bewilderment. At the trailhead and even online, the Leave No Trace policy includes protecting vegetation. Maybe grass is hardy, but imagine if people stepped all over your lawn every day – wouldn’t it get matted and patchy? But there were many people who were more considerate, camping on the bare soil and on rocks.
Anyway, we set up camp and decided to explore for a bit. There are 2 peaks that are somewhat of a scramble nearby and we started heading towards one. And boy were we in for a surprise! Sometimes before a trip, I look at the topography in detail but for this, I just downloaded tracks and called it good since it was a well-trafficked trail. But this little side trip is lesser known and the views couldn’t have been better! A mile or so later, we found ourselves at the top of a peak! I would point out where I knew some of my other friends were backpacking the same weekend, which was kind of cool. Just one ridge over there are some friends and then a few more ridges north are more friends. I felt a little connected even in the wilderness here!
As the clouds rolled in, we made our way back to camp for dinner with a view. The wind started picking up more and the temperature started to drop. But we were determined to watch the sunset! Sometimes I hope for a specific kind of cloudless sunset, but sometimes the clouds surprise me with the different views it brings. Like many other groups around the lake, we sat and stood and watched the colors change before us. And then quickly ran back to our tents to huddle for warmth again.
I woke up in the middle of the night to a full moon setting behind the mountain. It was so unexpected, and I groggily took a few night pictures. Still learning and in need of a tripod to get a more stable, well-framed picture, but it was a good practice for the time being. A few hours later, I woke up for real to enjoy the sunrise. It took a few tries to wake up. I’d snooze my alarm and peek outside the tent, waiting for that pink sky to appear. Initially I was going to watch it from the top of a peak nearby, but too cold and lazy to get out of my tent, I waited.
The views from camp were amazing even without gaining more elevation! And surprise, Rainier was peeping where the clouds were hiding it the day before. I started heading up and up, snapping pictures left and right and eventually someone started to pass me up the trail. I kept thinking, maybe I’ll catch up to him, but I seriously took too many pictures to do that. At the saddle point, I was beyond amazed by the morning light hitting all the peaks, including Rainier and Glacier Peak, and even found Baker off in the distance. I lost the guy I was trailing behind and decided between 2 peaks which to scramble up. I eventually chose the lower one, a little less intense, but still probably a solid class 3-4 scramble through the route I picked for the last section. But apparently the scramble I wanted was the other one, which I later found out the other guy had climbed.
Wind was blowing hard and I tried my best to keep warm and stay in the sun. I continued watching the sun rise and light up the campsites below. I was hoping to get a better view of the lakes once it was fully lit, but took longer than I had expected. So I decided to head down, but then met up with another person on the saddle. I found out that him and his buddy are pretty amazing photographers. Check out their stuff! Dillon does a lot of film and Elliot is a professional photographer that I had apparently followed on Instagram prior to the trip. How cool is that?
Anyway, made my way down to camp and my friends and already enjoyed breakfast in the sun. We leisurely packed up and decided we had enough walking around so we just headed straight down without any detours this time. Retracing our path, we were back down at the second lake, and then the first lake, and before we knew it, back at the car, ready to chill on our way back home. What a delightful trip!
This is a fairly basic backpacking trip where the trail is well defined for most. Follow the signs towards Tuck and Robin. From Tuck, continue to the right side of the lake and climb the ridge. It’s well-traveled enough that you can follow the footprints even if they’re faint at times. There are also cairns (stacks of rocks) that help mark some of the rockier sections.
There’s plenty of camp spots around Robin Lakes. Be kind to the land and try to camp on pre-existing campsites on gravel/rock/soil. Grass may seem pleasant, but over-trampling will cause long term damage to fragile plants.
If you’re into scrambles, the peaks surrounding Robin Lakes is pretty straight forward. Go as far as you feel comfortable.