Your first day out of Red’s Meadow starts less pleasant than normal – the remnants of the 1992’s Rainbow Fire are dusty and depressing – but, before long, you are back in the forest. The trail surface is about as gentle on your feet as possible: compacted dirt, often covered with a carpet of pine needles. Your feet fall so easily that you hardly notice the climb.
Even on years with lots of snow, you will have to contend with the dry stretch between Deer Creek and Duck Creek, but that shouldn’t take much more than a couple of hours. Along the way you’ll be treated to views of the Cascade Valley.
The most popular spot to camp the first night out of Red’s is Purple Lake. There is much to recommend it. You will have already walked a little over 13 miles, and climbed nearly 3,500 feet. The lake is scenic and the mountains behind the lake, if the sky isn’t overcast, put on a dramatic and colorful alpenglow show.
The problem with Purple Lake is the lack of legal campsites. (There are lots of illegal ones – frequently used, unfortunately.) The other problem is that it isn’t Lake Virginia, which is a real gem.
Lake Virginia is a couple of miles farther, and about 500 feet higher, than Purple Lake. There are ample campsites – legal ones that are scenic and dispersed enough that one won’t hear every word spoken by your nearest neighbor. It is also at that magic elevation, just above 10,000 feet, where the trees start to thin and the granite reveals itself.
The evening alpenglow may not be as spectacular as Purple Lake, but the morning is amazing. The Silver Divide, reflected in the water of Lake Virginia, is a great way to start the day.
Camping at Lake Virginia has one more advantage: it gets you over Silver Pass, the next day, earlier.
Good hiking, Ray