Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year to hike. The days may be getting shorter, colder, and often wetter, but the mountains are packed with color that rivals any spring meadow. It certainly doesn't hurt that the cold and shorter days seem to deter crowds! Andy and I had hiked to Melakwa Lake once before, on a hot July day a few years back with friends that were in much better shape than us. The moment we reached the lake, we dropped to the ground and sat gasping by outlet of the lake. By the time we'd recovered and wolfed down our lunches, our friends were ready to head back down the trail. On that first visit, the lake didn't make as much of an impression as the heat and the relentless climbing of the trail.
This time we were on our own, and while we probably hiked at a similar pace, we were in much better shape after our summer of training for our planned week of backpacking. That, combined with the cooler weather made the hike much less exhausting. Being less out of breath, I was able to notice all the beautiful views and interesting landmarks along the trail that I'd completely missed on our previous hike. I had no memory at all of the last 1.5 miles of trail to the lake, so it was almost like and entirely new hike! By the time we reached the lake, we still had plenty of energy for exploring. Sadly, the shorter days of fall gave us less daylight for exploring, but we managed to wander through most of the narrow basin Melakwa Lake and Upper Melakwa Lake sit in before finding my favorite lunch spot of the year. We sat, perched on a large boulder in the middle of Upper Melakwa Lake and enjoying the stillness and quiet interrupted only by the occasional 'eep!' of a pika until the sun began to drop behind the ridge and it became downright cold on the lake shore. We reluctantly left behind the lake, already making plans to return again soon, although maybe next time we'll get an earlier start!
While we saw relatively few hikers on this typically crowded trail, the parking, as should be expected at trailheads off I-90, was and absolute zoo! There was nothing available at the main trailhead lot, which had led several people to park illegally on the shoulder. There were still a few spaces left in the overflow parking lot, but that was at least a quarter mile from the trail. Considering the foot pain I'd been having all summer, the thought of having to walk an extra .25 miles of road at the end of a long hike almost led me to decide to just go home. Thankfully, after a minor meltdown in the car, I decided that I could suffer through a short road walk back to the car, especially if I took my time. Thankfully, the walk back to the car wasn't nearly as bad as I'd worried. The expectation of discomfort is almost always much worse than the actual experience!