Archive for September, 2012

Day 1: Up and Away (7-22-12)

Posted in Backpacking on September 11, 2012 by moosetracksca

The air of early morning felt heavy on my skin, collecting in each drop of sweat as it formed at my temples and dripped down the sides of my face. I leaned into the heavy pack as I strode along the too-familiar trail, my pace slow and steady and pleasant as I wound across the lower sandy slopes, crossing the logs into the forest and continuing as quietly as my breathing would allow through the tents at Outpost Camp. Through half-open eyes following the meager circle of light projected by my weakening headlamp, I worked up the path until I reached the cascade out of Mirror Lake. Carefully, I lowered the Beast to the slab and greedily dug out my bottle to fill and guzzle the cool water. Curled against my pack, I allowed myself a few minutes to close my eyes, the first glow of dawn edging the Inyos.

The crimson sunrise met me at Trailside Meadow, the breezes ruffling Consultation Lake and throwing cloud shadows against Arc Pass. My friends caught me up as I napped again at the inlet to Trail Camp, and we all turned to face the switchers. My approach was the same as before: ten cuts across the face and allow myself to breathe. I knew exactly when I had reached the final traverse, and I grimaced and pushed through my poles to finish the stretch. Tom popped around the corner to greet me, and I gratefully swung the Beast onto the rocks before plopping down myself. “Be careful,” Tom said yet again as we hugged goodbye, both of us looking warily at the clouds swirling above. In the strange calm of Trail Crest, I eyed the ridge over to Mt. Hitchcock. Deciding not to get caught in a thunderstorm, I grunted the Beast over my shoulders and beat feet down the trail to Guitar Lake.

There is a certain thrill to knowing you are setting out on an adventure. As my feet carried me down from the crest, drops of rain spraying the rocks, I smiled broadly at those wandering back up. At the outlet of Guitar Lake, I lay back against the warm slabs and couldn’t help but giggle at my fortune thus far. I was free of the distractions of my life. I had shrunk into the vastness of my surroundings, and I was ready to face whatever challenge lay ahead. Where five years ago I was fearful, I now eagerly anticipated all that these mountains had to offer. My memories drifted back to my campsite then above Guitar Lake, spending the afternoon mending the seat of my pants with duct tape, figuring out my fishing pole, looking back up the Crest and knowing my path would take me further away from safety with each step. Now, instead of trepidation, I was calmed by the notion of disappearing into the backcountry for a time.

A sharp report summoned me to my feet while lolling at the outlet of Guitar Lake, the cacophony rolling along the Crest from the south as the blackened clouds crept in over Discovery Pass. Fat raindrops pelted the rocks as I quickened my pace down the slab staircase to Timberline Lake. Rumbles chased me down the trail, the storm now pelting me with hail, which was at least drier but hurt more. The foxtails offered some shelter as I dashed from tree to tree, but I could move only so fast with such a load on my back. I pulled into Crabtree hoping that Rob wasn’t out on patrol that afternoon, but I grinned at the others gathered under the trees there waiting out the storm. “How are you?” one couple called. “Ready to be done!” my reply.

Rob greeted me with a smile and hug, as well as an offer of hot tea, and we listened to the hail bouncing off the roof through the afternoon as we caught each other up. In a lull, I dashed to set up my tent on the edge of the meadow, returning to the warm cabin to sit and laugh with Rob, meeting the Rock Creek ranger, Dave, and his wife as well. Stars timidly peeked through the cloud cover as I hustled back to the warmth of my sleeping bag, the night’s cold riding the damp of the afternoon storms and trying to penetrate as I snuggled down and smiled, yet again.

In one day I had already learned my first lesson: that I was so blessed to have so many friends in such wild places.