Cookin’ Up A Storm: Humphreys Basin Labor Day Weekend

Originally posted on the WPSMB on 9-2-08

“44 pounds and you forgot a rain cover??” Mike exclaimed as we huddled under a small group of pines just west of Piute Pass. The rain and hail was coming more steadily now, and Leti was wondering about throwing on her rain pants. To the southwest , dark grey clouds huddled close to the Glacier Divide, and silver sheets of rain obscured the finer details of the craggy north faces. A good, open mile stood between us and the shores of Lower Golden Trout Lake where we had wanted to make camp, and the occasional roll of thunder reminded me that I, the tallest of the three, was the tallest thing out here.

Rain covers are fairly easy to improvise: Leti got the footprint for the tent, I got the rain fly. After securing each with quick tucking and shoving into any opening, the three of us headed west along the Piute Pass trail, towards the dark and noise of the storm…

Leti hadn’t been up to visit since her Spring Break in March, and also hadn’t been doing much in terms of heading to the gym, or climbing, just working like crazy. So when I attempted to convince her of a ‘leisurely stroll’ into the Wallace Creek Basin with Richard and Mike, she politely reminded me that I was, indeed, certifiable, and that 5000 vertical feet was not anywhere near ‘leisurely’. We stuck with our original plan to head over Piute Pass from North Lake, maybe climb a nice Class 2 peak, and spend a weekend exploring new terrain for us both. After Mike also jumped on board, I decided this was not only going to be leisurely, but my chance to cook up a backcountry storm. And why not? The hike for me was going to be easy, so I could afford to load up and treat my friends to some serious grub!

After breakfast at the Petite Pantry, (where the owner, Jay, is convinced that I should carry a piece in the backcountry) Leti and I met Mike at the Moose Lodge and headed up the hill to North Lake. Leti set a wonderful pace, nice and easy as we cruised through the aspens . I stopped along the way to pick alpine gooseberries, a nice, sweet treat as you’re hiking, but even better for one of the meals! We reached Loch Leven in about two hours, as I regailed Leti of my after-work hikes along this same piece of ground, how I could sit on the rocks and gaze at Piute Pass for hours if I wasn’t constrained by sunlight and hunger! We stopped for a break just above the trail, where Leti broke out the ‘party log’ : a full-sized salami, and we got our first sprinkle of rain. We were met on the trail by Leti’s and my friend Stephanie , a fellow student in WTC a year ago, who was leading her brother and a few friends on their first pack trip. We walked together up to Piute Lake, where their group was stopping for the night, and we continued on to the Pass .

On the way we started to get rain, sleet, and a bit of hail, the droplets slushing onto our jackets and packs. Clouds started to fill in over the pass, but to see the tip of Mt. Humphreys above us with blue sky was spectacular! We continued down, following the main trail and ignoring the dozens of splinter and use trails that sliced through the open ground. Mike and I both had trouble taking our eyes off of Humphreys, standing proud sentinel over the Basin. But we continued to hoof it down to the lake and treeline, finally stopping on the north shore in a relatively guarded spot . A lull in the weather allowed for us to pitch tents without soaking the insides, but the thunder continued to roll as the clouds finally peeled back from the Ridge. Wahoo Peak rose directly above us and the lake, and I admit to scouting potential routes for the next day. In the meantime, the shifting light from the sun trying valiantly to burst through the clouds provided for excellent views and added depth to the rock above us on all sides.

The rain faded away in early evening, allowing for me to set up the ‘kitchen’ behind a few rocks and with my windscreen. Leti had contributed a package of cheddar wurst, and I boiled water with portobello mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and spices while the sausage fried in the pan. I added couscous to the water, and the first meal was done: I called Mike in from his wanderings and we enjoyed our first meal, complete with Gentleman Jack to warm the insides. We all felt good from the day’s hike in, and looked forward to Sunday. After waiting for the Milky Way to appear in the clearing skies above, we bid each other good night and dove into warm bags with full stomachs.

We were blasted all night by the wind, as it blew debris and dust against the fly of the tent. Even the early light of day didn’t roust us from the warmth of our bags as gusts continued to blow through camp. I knew we weren’t climbing anything that day. Around 0800, Leti and I finally emerged, and I set about boiling water for cowboy coffee and fixings for breakfast. Mike returned from more wanderings and he and I watched the clouds from the west cueing up behind Humphreys steep western ediface like a roller coaster ride: rising link by link up to the crux and diving with reckless abandon and momentum down the to the east as they evaporated. I realized that I had left my packages of breakfast meats at home on the bottom shelf of the fridge, so once again, improvisation was key: break out the party log! I sliced the salami into little chunks, setting them to fry in olive oil while I dug out a few sundried tomatoes and mushrooms saved from last night’s dinner. To that I cracked in the six eggs I had brought, as well as a seasoning blend I use on the fish I catch (lots of that lying around!!) of salt, pepper, paprika, and sage. We munched down the scramble and made plans for the day: Mike suggested a walk down to Hutchinson Meadow, I asked if we could follow the use trail west from camp and along the stream. We three ambled down from camp and into treeline, hidden from the larger gusts of wind.

By mid-morning, the clouds all disappeared and we were left with breezy sunshine in the shelter of the pine forest. To our south Piute Creek tumbled and drifted, draining from Saddlebag, Lobe, and Honeymoon Lakes. Just above the junction with the Lower Honeymoon Lake trail, Leti heard a bit of a roar and set out to investigate with Mike. After a minute, I was right behind them, and they had found a perfect swimming hole at the base of a nice falls . With little hesitation, I decided to get in, but with the rocks being a bit slick, opted for a sit-down first. Leti then got brave and found a spot to jump in, where I followed. As we lay out on the rocks to dry and warm, our fearless protector found a perch of his own to make sure we weren’t disturbed … From there we cruised down to Hutchinson Meadow , crossing the converging streams from French Canyon, and admiring Merriam Peak and Pilot Knob from the grass. We cruised back up to camp in two hours, feeling the breeze heighten as we climbed back above treeline. It was time for dinner, round two.

As I heated some olive oil in the skillet, I chopped some wild onions I had plucked from Hutchinson Meadow, mixing them, once again, with some of the mushrooms and tomatoes. Water boiled in one pot as I dropped four chunks of marinated tri-tip into the skillet to be pan-fried, the garlic chunks popping in the oil. The instant, loaded mashed potatoes were dumped into the water, and the onions and other veggies were tossed in the drippings of the meat before I added red wine to the pan, making a nice light sauce to pour over top of it all. The 2004 EOS Zinfandel complimented the meat perfectly, which was tender from almost three days of marinading. There wasn’t much left after all was said and done ! Once again, sipping our wine, tea, and cider, the three musketeers stared into the sky in anticipation of the blanket of stars, fighting off the chill wind with layers, and — grudgingly — a moose hat to keep warm.

The wind died during the night, allowing cold air to sink into the Basin, and starting the freeze of cellophane ice on the creek behind the campsite. I woke to see sunrise creeping along the western peaks, rays streaming to the south of Humphries. It was early, and cold, and I probably should have crawled back into my bag, but I was up and my body ready for coffee. Leti and I found a warm spot in the sun, while Mike went back to bed for a while, but around 0830 I started on the last breakfast. The alpine gooseberries picked from Saturday’s ascent of the Pass were dumped into the batter, water added, and it was time for pancakes . Again, I had been planning on pigs-in-a-blanket, but the sausage was sitting in the fridge at home. No matter: after the cleanup was done, we started to break camp and head for the Pass. The three of us started on a use trail that followed the lakes, but below Summit Lake split into three directions: Leti staying on the trail, Mike taking the low road, and me splitting the difference between them.

I was almost a bit melancholy as we descended from the Pass towards home: I just didn’t want this great party to end. The sun warmed the rock and air around us, a touch of air riffled the surface of the lakes and tarns. Leti wandered ahead, Mike behind, me keeping both in visual as we ambled along. The meadows are starting to glow red and yellow as the flowers and grasses die off for the year, and the streambeds of spring are dry. It’s an interesting change, this zone between seasons: where the sun doesn’t know how hot to get, and the breeze carries notes of the cold to come. I sprinted ahead below Loch Leven, telling the other two that I would get the TOF and meet them at the trailhead. But in reality, I wanted to hear the wind in the aspens at the bottom of the trail, whispering reminders of a glorious summer, and beckoning more adventures to come.

A few other moments from the weekend:

Rest of the pics are here .

From the luckiest girl in the world: Climb Hard. Be Safe.



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