My 16 year old son James and I got to go on our first father-son overnight camping trip of the year. He had mentioned he wanted to do some camping this year so I looked for a first hike which I hoped would not be too difficult yet still give him a taste of the Alpine Lakes region. I checked the Forest Service web site and determined that the Copper lake trail was open. I checked the distance - 3.5 miles in - not too bad - and the elevation gain - ouch 2,000 ft in the last 1.5 miles. Well, I figured, a short amount of pain would be worth the great location... my bad!
The first part of the hike went "OK". James seemed to be huffing on a stretch I thought was nothing much, but I figured he was getting his legs warmed up. By the time we reached trout lake I realized that he would need some help to make it to Copper lake, so I repacked the back packs and got him as light as I could. Trout lake (17 acres, 2012 ft) is a pleasant little lake, said to have rainbow in it. I saw a couple dimples out in the middle of the lake while we had our lunch.
The crossing of the West Foss river proved to be interesting as the spring run-off had raised the river level and removed the easy log bridges previously there. We managed to get across and begin the difficult ascent to Copper Lake. Switchbacks and steep trails did their best to beat our will, but we climbed ever higher, greeted by the roar of Malachite Falls in it's full flow. Quite a sight to see and hear. There was a point I turned and said to James, "We aren't going to let this mountain beat us, are we." Not a question, but a statement. He was doing better now and just said "Let's keep going". Maybe it was resignation, I don't know, but he seemed to have gotten his second wind. As we reached the falls we came to our first patches of snow, which soon became more snow than trail, and finally just snow. Fortunately others had come before us and a path in the snow led to Copper lake and a nice, snow free camping spot. We set camp and enjoyed a view of a almost fully frozen lake. The snow cover obscured much of the surrounding peaks, but the next morning we had clear skies and a great view. Copper Lake lies at around 4,000 elevation, is 148 acres, and is said to hold rainbow, cutthroat, and eastern brook trout. Obviously no fishing for me this day with only small shoreline areas free of ice. James and I enjoyed our now re-hydrated chicken/potatoes/corn dinner and retired to an early evening of reading and James listening to his i-pod.
As mentioned, the next morning came with clear blue skies and gorgeous views. The descent down was a workout as well, and I'm feeling the effects of a cold, although my sleeping bag was warm enough. It was tough and we were both very happy to make it back to the truck and home to civilization. I was worried I had done the opposite of exciting James into further camping adventures, until he turned to me and said "thanks for taking me camping". Coming from a 16 year old that was as much enthusiasm as I could ever ask for! I will plan on the next overnight being a far easy hike though.
Hiking stats from my GPS hand held: 13.8 miles hiked, total elevation gained 2,649 feet, maximum elevation 4,342 feet.
I'm guessing the guide books don't do a very good job of estimating switchback distance, just distance as the crow flys.