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Duck Pass Trip

Day 1 of 6

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Monday, August 7th
Coldwater Campground to Duck Lake
5.8 miles
1860 vertical feet (ascent)
540 vertical feet (descent)
5:42


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In the morning we visited a store to get 3 replacement cups - in fact, almost exactly like the cups we had left at home. Click here to see what's in our packs. Then we drove to Coldwater Campground and arrived at the trailhead at 10:45am. The upper lot was mostly full, but there were a handful of spaces left.

There weren't any bear boxes at the upper lot, so we stored our extra food in the bear box next to the lower trailhead. After getting everything ready and doing our weigh-in, I discovered we had more weight than I expected. I was carrying 60 pounds, Jean 34 pounds, Nathan 33 pounds, and Jared 24 pounds. These were all close to the limit of what we wanted to carry, but at this point I didn't want to fiddle anymore, so we got started just before noon.

We had done a day hike from this trailhead before, 5 years earlier to Arrowhead and Skelton Lakes. The kids couldn't remember it, and I didn't remember much other than what I read on my own website. The trail starts climbing steadily from the start, switchbacking through the forest up to Arrowhead Lake. We stopped at the intersection, but didn't actually go down to the lake.

There were lots of people out on the trail today, mostly day hikers probably headed up toward Barney Lake. The trail continues to climb, though not as steadily and mostly not as steeply as before. Soon enough we passed by Skelton Lake. We could see the peninsula we had stopped at 5 years earlier, but we didn't go there this time. We continued on up the trail for another mile or so to Barney Lake.

Skelton Lake

Skelton Lake

Stream crossing

When we arrived at Barney Lake, it felt like there were 500 people there. Ok, maybe there were closer to 50. But there was a large, loud group of college-age kids near the far end of the lake, chanting, offering each other money to jump in and swim in the cold water. On the bright side, it was a beautiful (though somewhat shallow) lake. Snow fields flowed right down to the edge of the lake. Mountains rose up above it to the south and west.

Barney Lake

Barney Lake

Wildflowers at Barney Lake

After a snack break here, we left the crowds behind and started the climb up to Duck Pass. The trail climbs up switchbacks and across a few muddy or watery portions of trail. While earlier reports had mentioned snow on the pass, we didn't set a foot on snow on the way up to the top. What little snow there was, people had routed the trail around it. It's about 800 feet of climbing from Barney Lake to the top of the pass. Along the way are some great views of the lakes below.

Heading up to Duck Pass

Barney Lake

Pika seen on the way to Duck Pass

Barney Lake

Barney Lake

Barney Lake

Barney Lake

Taking a break on a snow bank

The pass itself is kind of anti-climactic. It's narrow, and you can't see much to the northwest anymore. You also can't see much to the south or east yet, either. After continuing a little over the pass, though, we reached the trail intersection and could see Duck Lake spreading out below us.

Duck Lake

Duck Lake

The trail to the left leads to Pika Lake. We decided to stay on the main trail for now, looking for a campsite. However, we soon decided that the terrain made that almost impossible. We did see one or two small sites, but none big enough for our tent, or even remotely flat, or close to the water. In fact the entire northwestern shore of Duck Lake drops precipitously toward the lake, so it's probably impossible to find a suitable campsite on that shore unless you're a solo camper who doesn't mind a slanted site and a long walk to the water.

Duck Lake

We doubled back and took the Pika Lake trail. After another aborted attempt to find a site on the northern side of the lake, we continued along the trail as it descends around the northern tip of Duck Lake. When the trail reached the bottom, it became very muddy in places, slowing our progress.

We saw two other tents in the area, and we found a site a little past them, near the northeastern shore of Duck Lake. While the site we found was mostly suitable, it was slightly slanted toward the lake. After dinner I moseyed up the hill to see that there were many large sites above, but without good lake views. I also didn't go far enough to see Pika Lake itself. In any case, our site was still pretty good, with some nice views of the lake and easy access to the water.

Duck Lake

Duck Lake

Duck Lake

Mountains to south of Duck Lake


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