Overnight at Jay Lake

Overnight at Jay Lake

January 16th 2021

We arrived at around 10:00 to a completely full parking lot. We could see a few parties that just arrived and were tying up boots, so we think people were going in and out, but we waited for somebody to leave to no avail.

This was an overnight trip to Jay Lake, which we needed to reserve; So we asked the rangers in the park's office and they very kindly allowed us to park on their parking spots! :)

When I called to ask for the Jay Lake camp spot I was told that the trail to see the upper falls was blocked, so we planned the route to be: Woody Trail -> Shortcut to Railroad Grade -> Railroad Grade -> Greg Ball Trail. This mounted roughly to 5.5 miles one way.

The Woody Trail is highly crowded. It starts with an ample gravel path that goes below some power lines, but as soon as you go down to the river it really feels crowded. Whenever we plan to the Wallace Falls, we'll arrive very early. The Woody Trail is popular with reason, it is a walk along the river and it is very picturesque.

Once we took the shortcut to the Railroad Grade Trail it became mostly empty. We saw probably 5-6 people for the rest of the way to the camp.

The trails is very clearly signed so it is very easy to navigate. There are some checkpoints on the trail too (Jay Lake being checkpoint K).

There are some bridge crossings (no handrails), but they are wide and some of them had steel mesh for traction. The trail on the north-west portion of Wallace Lake seemed like a swamp. Very muddy and certainly waterproof boots saved the day. We walked quite a few steps where water/mud would get close to the shoelaces.

There are two water crossings: The first has some sort of steps so that you can cross safely - think tires with rocks so that you step on the rocks - this crossing is the north part of Wallace Lake. Note: some nice ladies told us that on the summer that creek is dry and you can follow it to the lake to see a beautiful open beach.

The other one is a very small crossing close to Jay Lake. You can make it completely dry with a good jump. We just stepped a bit on the water and took the biggest step we could. This creek is the best source of moving water, so next time we'll stop there to gather and filter.

The lake itself has 4 (maybe 5?) tent pads. They are basically 4 logs making a square filled with with gravel. That was much appreciated as we had much more precipitation than anticipated at night. I could hear a bit of water running, but since the pads elevate the ground 5 inches or so, I knew we'd stay dry.

There is a picnic table and a fully stocked compostable toilet.

We set up our camp chairs, which we earned with hard-work by carrying them 5.5 miles, and got ready to have lunch. One of the best things of going backpacking is to be able to eat hummus by the spoon completely guilt free.

Guilty face because she didn't wait for me to eat!

After gathering some water and getting cold, we decided to watch the sun set across the lake (the main picture on the entry) while having some hot chocolate!

The sun set oh so early - one of the main disadvantages of camping < 4 weeks after winter's solstice - so we went inside the tent and played some cards. I was anxious as always, but after some time spent on my warm sleeping-bag-cocoon I promptly began to drift onto the pleasurable and anxiety free snore-land.

Taking advantage of the fact that mama and papa bears are on a deep slumber, we decided to keep our food for the time being in the vestibule, out of the reach of those shameless chipmunks. Once it got a bit late and we were both hungry, we decided to cook in the vestibule and just eat while on the sleeping bags while peeking out our heads in case we had some drippings. Ok ok, cooking is an overstatement, we poured hot water on some nice sealable bags.

Packed the food and put it safely on the Ursack for the rest of the night.

The forecast called for light drizzles between 00:00 and 04:00, and we started getting some rain at 22:00. Nothing to be surprised about, right? I consulted 4 different forecast models: ECMWF, GFS, ICON, METEOBLUE. They all agreed, except that one of them called for possible snow. Well, they were all wrong - A reminder that it is always wise to be prepared. (And a self pat in the back for me so I don't feel that guilty on my anxiety)

It started raining heavily (albeit with no wind) at around 00:00 and it continued to rain throughout the night. At 7:40 I decided to check on the weather on my InReach and paid the dollar for the premium hourly version. After the 15 minutes or so that I takes to send the message and get a reply, I saw with surprise: 8:00 moderate rain, 9:00 moderate rain and from then on heavy rain at every hour.

I woke up Karla and explained in no uncertain terms that we were to pack the camp and hike out as fast as we could. She - and myself too - was waiting for a bag of hot oatmeal as a good morning gift, but she had to settle for a cold peanut bar while walking :(

On the way back the trail was very muddy due to the extra rain and we sure were glad to have gaiters on.

I was concerned about 4 things.

  • A muddy, slippery trail (Yes)
  • A increased water level at the creeks
  • An overswamped trail on the north-west corner of Wallace Lake
  • A miserably cold and wet hike back

Fortunately only the muddy trail became true. The water seemed just a little bit higher and a bit more swamped on the trail, but as soon as we got away (a very quick endeavor) from the campsites the rain became lighter. We got past the areas of concern and I began to enjoy the hike again. As soon as we made it to the car - BOOM! Heavy rain swiftly followed. It seems as if we timed it to the minute. A very happy and welcome coincidence.

Overall it's not the most picture worthy place (although it is still beautiful!), but given the well maintained and signed trail; The maximum elevation of less than 2000ft it makes for an ideal backpacking trip on winter if you don't want to camp on snow. If you looked for it really hard, you could see some very small snow patches here and there, but really it was snow free.