Hike Difficulty: very difficult
Hike Length: 8.6 mi RT (out of about 13 mi total RT)
Elevation Gain: 2500 ft (out of about 3700 ft total RT??)
Time: 2 hrs 48 mins
My Rating (out of 5): 4.0 – This hike was a definite challenge from the start. I have driven by the trailhead several times when going to the Devil’s Punchbowl (Doe Flat trailhead), but I was intimidated by the amount of climb. Since school is about to start, I wanted to sneak in one last overnighter and so I somehow chose this crazy steep hike to Island Lake.
Right from the start, I got off on the wrong foot by leaving too late. I knew that I had about 2100 elevation gain just to get to the lake and with such a short amount of time, I had to book it. Still, it’s difficult to book it with a 25-lb pack on (probably more with water). It was all downhill for the first 3.15 mi and I just kept following flags and ribbons that marked the way. It follows an old road most of the way down to a campsite right by the South Fork Smith River. There were several easy ways to cross; I chose walking across the tree that bridged the river.
After crossing the river, things started to get really serious. I was feeling pretty cocky with how well I was doing on such a difficult hike, then the elevation gain began. First, it gained 200 ft in .5 mi. Easy. Doable. Then it started getting ridiculously steep, like 500 or 600 ft in .5 mi. I found myself walking with my body perpendicular to my legs (leaning forward) just to keep from falling down the mountain.
At a certain point, I looked at how much I had climbed and realized I still had 2/3 of the elevation to go. I knew I didn’t have a great chance of getting to the campsite on time, much less alive, so I made the difficult decision to turn back before it got too dark.
Craziness happened right after I crossed the river again because I saw my first bear in the wild. I don’t know why I was always wanting to see a bear because instead of loving it, I was petrified. I only saw a cub for a split second, which was more than enough for me to imagine all sorts of scenarios where mom is right around the corner and comes after me. It was a cute little cub, don’t get me wrong. It just meant that the next 20 mins of my hike were the most intense I’ve ever experienced. Fight-or-flight response kicked in and I really had to pay attention to my surroundings. I’m pretty sure mama bear, or maybe the cub, was following me in the trees for a good 200 yards. Then, of course, the trail switched back, so I had to walk right by where I knew a bear had just been. Pretty crazy stuff.