trip reports

September 28, 2018

Indian Heaven: Deep Lake backpack

Two night backpack trip in Indian Heaven Wilderness, with day hikes to Lemei Rock and the Lakes Basin

My favorite place anywhere for fall color is Indian Heaven Wilderness. The entire area is filled with hundreds of acres of huckleberry shrubs, all displaying brilliant shades of red, purple, orange and yellow in late September. This was my fourth backpacking trip here, and this year’s color is the best I’ve ever seen! I may have gotten carried away with posting too many photos, but it was all so spectacular, I just couldn’t help it.

Day 1

We started at the Cultus Creek campground and hiked in via the Indian Heaven Trail #33. The hike is steep right away, climbing 1,200 feet in about 1.5 miles before it levels out. About one mile in, there’s an opening in the forest with views of Mount Adams, Goat Rocks and Mount Rainier.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Indian Heaven Trail #33

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

wilderness sign

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

almost to the viewpoint

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

expansive views with Mount Adams and Goat Rocks on the horizon

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Sawtooth Mountain and Mount Rainier

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Mount Adams

 

After the trail levels out, we passed by the first meadows near the base of Bird Mountain. We took the side trail to Deep Lake to look for a campsite.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

side trail to Deep Lake

side trail to Deep Lake

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Deep Lake and Bird Mountain

 

Two years ago, I had camped on the south side of the lake so we checked to see if that site was available. It was, but we decided to hike all the way around the lake to see if we could find a better campsite. There were a few sites right on the trail, and they were in low spots where water would drain if it rained, so we kept looking. The trail is faint as it goes around the lake, and there are numerous side trails, so we stayed near the lake.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Deep Lake shore line

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

colorful huckleberry shrubs around the lake

 

We were three quarters of the way around when we saw a group of day hikers taking a break in a campsite. They told us that it was the best campsite in all of Indian Heaven and they had camped here over ten times in the past, so we decided to camp here. The camp kitchen was next to the lake, with a small fire pit and easy water access. Behind the kitchen area was a large clearing in the forest for our tents.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

our camp kitchen

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Ahh. I love the color of Deep Lake!

 

After we set up camp and had lunch, we did a quick hike to Lemei Rock and the ridge above Lake Wapiki. It was getting late and we were hoping to make it back before it got dark. We took our headlamps, just in case. The trail passes through what seems like millions of huckleberry shrubs, most with ripe berries just waiting to be tasted. Wilderness regulations don’t allow for removing berries to take home or sell, so eat what you can and leave the rest.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

outlet of Cultus Lake

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Lemei Trail

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

this section of trail is so pretty!

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

huckleberries lining the trail

 

Lemei Rock comes into view long before you reach it. After a long stretch of meadows, the trail switchbacks a couple of times in the forest and then passes a great view of Mount Rainier and the surrounding ridges.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

view of Lemei Rock

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

view of Mount Rainier from the switchbacks

getting a closer look at Rainier

 

A short distance later, there is a faint side trail to explore more around the base of Lemei Rock. However, we wanted to reach a viewpoint just past Lemei, so we continued for a short distance to an overlook with views of Lake Wapiki and Mount Adams. Continue across the cinder cone ridge to a higher viewpoint. Turn around for a great view of Mount Hood.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Lemei Rock

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Lake Wapiki

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Mount Adams

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Mount Hood

 

We headed back to explore a bit more around Lemei Rock. It looks different from every direction, with craggy jagged edges at the top. I’ve seen posts from other hikers who summited Lemei and saw mountain goats. We looked and looked, but couldn’t see any goats.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

exploring around the base of Lemei Rock

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

 

It was starting to get dark, so we headed back to camp.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Cultus Lake and another view of Lemei Rock

 

Back at camp, we had dinner and enjoyed watching the moon rise under a clear sky filled with stars. For the first time, I was able to capture them in a photo! I didn’t bring a tripod, so I held the camera on top of a tree stump.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

stars and the moon rise

Day 2

The next day, we did a day hike around the Lakes Basin. We started on the Indian Heaven Trail and continued to the Lemei Lake Trail #179 (not to be confused with the Lemei Trail we had taken the night before). We passed through more meadows filled with bright fall color and sections with large grassy meadows before reaching Lemei Lake.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Cultus Lake

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

A gorgeous day for a hike!

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Lemei Lake Trail

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Lemei Lake

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

yet another view of Lemei Rock

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

getting closer to East Crater

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

East Crater and Junction Lake

 

At Junction Lake, we stopped to eat lunch. We saw more people here than anywhere else so far during our hike.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Junction Lake

 

After lunch, we took the PCT Trail #2000 north. This section of the hike was mostly in the forest. After about a mile, we passed Bear Lake and Deer Lake, then took the Indian Heaven Trail to finish our loop.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

PCT sign

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

hiking on the PCT

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

Bear Lake

 

As we passed a talus slope full of rock, I mentioned to my friends that I hoped to see pikas. They hadn’t seen them before, so I started making the pika “meep” sound and soon one of them came out for a look at us. We ended up seeing about six pikas in all. What a treat! Then we passed Clear Lake and soon were back to Cultus Lake and our trail back to camp.

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

talus slope with pikas

Indian Heaven Wilderness backpack

heading back to camp

I’m so happy that I made it to Indian Heaven for a backpacking trip this year! I will definitely go back again and again.

 

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