I had another activity that did not finish until 9am, so I hoped we could be started up the trail by 10am. As is usually the case, we did not quite meet the target time, but we were headed up by 10:15am. We opted to take the trail up from the end of the road, though in hindsight, it probably would have been better to take the more direct trail up from the Starrigavan ATV trails parking lot. It took us about an hour and a half to reach the first clearings. Last December when Jonathan and I had made this hike, the clearings were covered in a few feet of snow. We were unable to go what I remembered from two previous trips as the 'normal' route between the first clearings and Baby Bear Lake. My memories from previous trips lead me to think that the 'normal' route was more or less along the hillside with very little up hill involved. In December Jonathan and I slogged up and down through the trees trying to find the right place and avoid the clearings where the deepest snow was located. We found ourselves going uphill far more than I thought we should have which lead to the conclusion that we must have overshot on one or more of the occasions when we had gone downhill. One of my goals this trip was to get a better feel for the route between the clearings and Baby Bear Lake. My conclusion is that my memory stinks. Although Jonathan and I came in to the open area surrounding Baby Bear Lake higher than we needed to, it was fairly close to where I remember coming in the first time I made this hike in 1998 (oddly, I do not have a clear memory of the second time when Jonathan and I both hiked up to camp in 2000). However, we went up hill quite a bit and crossed a couple of steep gullies. My memory is of a relatively easy walk without any kind of steepness. I guess I have that notion straightened out (for the next month until my hiker's memory kicks in, anyway).
We made it to Baby Bear about 3 hours after our start. It was sunny and warm, and the lake looked inviting. I waded in to rinse the sweat off and cool down a little before relaxing in the sun and eating some lunch. As Jonathan and I were eating lunch a couple of other hikers came down from higher up on the ridge and stopped some distance away along the lake shore. They proceeded to get into the lake an swim for a little a few minutes before heading out. On their way, they talked with us for a few moments and mentioned that they had first gone swimming in the lake further up on the ridge and then came down to this one. I was not so bold as to go swimming just yet, but I did wade back into the lake to get my clothes wet in order to help stay cool. We took some pictures of the many flowers blooming and then walked around the lake to take a look into Katlian before heading up the ridge.
By the time we got up to the upper lake, I had warmed up again significantly and it seemed like it would not be a bad idea to cool off in the water. As we waded around the edge of the lake, we spooked up a sandpiper of some sort. I never got close enough to have an idea of what kind it was. When we got to a place that seemed good for wading in deeper, we stopped for a break. Jonathan waded in first and got deep enough to duck his head under. Despite the presence of snow along the water's edge, the water was on the pleasant side of cool, especially after hiking uphill under the midday sun. By the time I was ready to get in, Jonathan had returned to shore. A fine layer of silt pushed through my toes as I waded deeper. When I got chest deep, I started swimming. This seemed enjoyable enough that I decided to swim across the lake. I periodically checked the depth of the water and never found that it was any deeper than my neck.
After my swim we walked along the shore to look at the various wildflowers that were blooming all along the edges of the lake. There were some plants that are not aquatic which were submerged in a couple inches of water. I guessed that maybe the lake was higher than usual due to the amount of snowmelt that was occuring in the hot sun.
We went up from the lake to a small cascade below a snow bank to refill water bottles before going on. We skirted around the highest point on the ridge and made our way back without too much difficulty. I had forgotten what the terrain looked like in the 6 years since I had last been back this way, but it all looked quite familiar when I saw it. It took us a couple of hours to get back towards the saddle at the end of Starrigavan Valley. By that point it was after 6pm. It seemed to me that it would take at least another two hours to reach the saddle at the head of the West Fork of Indian River valley, from there I figured it would be at least another 3 hours to get home. Instead of going the way we had originally planned, we opted to cut down in to Starrigavan Valley and call someone for a ride when we got down.
The route we took down from the ridge to the valley was fairly steep. It would not have been a good idea to attempt this in the dark as there were a number of cliffs. We were able to get down by following a well worn deer trail down the steep slopes between a couple of gulleys that were even steeper. We saw a number of eagles in the trees as we walked around lake 1310. We followed a well worn trail down from the lake to the end of the ATV trail and proceded to walk out on it to Nelson Logging Road. I called Melissa to let her know what we were doing, but Jonathan's phone battery ran out of power in the middle of the conversation.. With no phone to call for a ride, we were stuck walking back to town. We made it about to the large gravel quarry before Jonathan got us a ride into town with his thumb. From the middle school where we were dropped off, it was a relatively short walk back home.
I think it is reasonable to do the hike as we originally intended, however the next time I try it I will make sure I get an earlier start. It also would be good to be in better condition.