Day 9: Legends (7-30-12)

Hoof beats on the bridge awakened me as the lone packer and his mule slowly ambled into Roaring River. I yawned, stretching the stiffness out of my body from the push of yesterday. There was a lack of chill in the morning air, signaling another day of heat, but I remember the stroll up Cloud Canyon to be gentle and shaded. Quietly, I stole out of Roaring River, just as the sun crept into my campsite by the bridge.

The trail shadows the gentle folds and rise of the creek as it descends Cloud Canyon, a sister to the mighty Deadman to the west. I caught glimpses of Glacier Ridge above, but the trees obscured most of the views. In the dust, I kept seeing small boot tracks, a shorter stride, the imprint ruffled but fresh. Roaring River is a crossroads between east and west, with many paths branching in all directions, but I still hoped my friends had passed this way. The creeks descending from the Great Western Divide still ran clear and cold, so I kept a meager liter in my bladder, and simply dipped and sipped out of my bottle as I strolled along. I strapped my poles to my pack for a time, allowing my arms to swing freely, and hummed to the rhythm of my steps. Just out for a stroll, I thought to myself.

The guys almost ran me over, what with their light packs and trail runners. Yanked out of my reverie, around a corner of tall greenery, I pulled up short as they had come rushing down the trail. The third man in line cocked his head to one side and sputtered, “I can’t believe I’m calling you this, but, Moose?” It was another trail telegram, and the Dittli’s were just ahead, having spent the night on the edge of Big Wet Meadow. So the little tracks were indeed Leslie’s!! Beaming, I pushed on, started to bolt as the pines shifted to aspen and the overhead views opened. Green leaves sparkled and waved as I cleared the rise.

The Whaleback sliced the southern skyline, and Big Wet Meadow spread green and lush at my feet. I have always remembered this spot, ever since it first was burned into my brain five years ago. I leaned back on my heels and drew in a deep breath, sending a holler to the upper reaches of Cloud Canyon. It was this spot that had healed me five years ago: a view of which I couldn’t take a picture of then, but I had never forgotten. Skirting the grass and meandering river, I danced out of pure joy in the late morning sun along the trail. An unsuspecting couple was lassoed into taking a few shots of me standing jubilant in the meadow. I surrendered to laughter more than once.

My pace had quickened, but my stomach reminded me of the need for fuel. I dropped the Beast near the cascading stream just as the track started to climb around the toe of the Whaleback and munched away at the trail mix and cheese. Tiny trout fought the current, waiting for small morsels to drift their way in the small pools along the creek. A sign warned of the unmaintained nature of the trail between here and the Kern Canyon, but I no longer felt like a pack animal. Strong and steady steps climbed beside the creek. I dug back in my memory, remembered cresting the first headwall and descending back to the creek below Colby Lake.

But there, my memories ended. Oddly, I had no recollection of the stretch between that point and the Lake above. The flats and slabby cascades held nothing familiar, and I searched the canyon for a waypoint. Golden foxtails thrived on the terraced granite. I took photos almost frenetically, desperate to record the meadows, flowers, and grand terrain. Tall faces of the Great Western Divide rose ahead. My friends were also ahead, though, so I settled into my mantra again as I switchered between the trees.

The big camp was nestled in a perfect spot near Colby Lake’s outlet. My eyes scanned the area, searching for John and Leslie. Unceremoniously, I dumped the Beast and crept between the trees, searching to surprise the pair, as I do love a good surprise! Leslie was strolling up the slabs with John just behind her, and I could see him smile under that grand mustache as he turned my way.

“Candygram for Dittli!”

I didn’t realize just how much I had missed my friends until John wrapped me in a tremendous hug. We hooted and hugged and laughed at how well the stars had aligned to allow our paths to cross at this lake deep in the mountains we loved so much. I ran back to my pack, a mite embarrassed that it had not been planted in John’s camp, and lugged it up to the Dittlis’ chosen site on the slabs. Cameras emerged from both John and myself, as back and forth we bantered about our adventures thus far. Of course, my first priority was to show them the pictures of the great rattlesnakes of Chagoopa Plateau, since John is constantly teasing me about my fear. We chatted about the trail telegrams, how the guys had recoiled a bit about my nickname. After a shorter day than mine, he wanted to hoof up a bit and fish the lakes above camp. I was perfectly content to spend some girl-time with Leslie.

After his return, John and I fished Colby, and he showed me the wonder of his simple lure. Point taken: he was casting and pulling in every time, while I was hopelessly flinging and only getting nibbles. All at once, I heard Leslie squeal with laughter and hellos to, presumably, the owner of the other site. We cleaned our respective catches and clambered back up to camp to see what the fuss was all about.

“Oh, some dear, old friends of ours,” cried Leslie. Who? I wanted to know. “Oh, Claude Fiddler and his wife Nancy, and daughter Laurel.”

Wait: THE Claude and Nancy Fiddler? He, of first ascents all over the place, guidebooks I’ve studied; she, along with him and an Olympian cross-country skier? THOSE Fiddlers??

How on earth could this trip get ANY better???

Introductions all around. Shorts and light jackets as we sprawled on the slab. A full moon rising over Colby Pass right at sunset. John’s “poached” fish, mine fried in olive oil and Cajun spices. Everyone cradling a mug of warm tea or hot chocolate. The brightness of the moon held the dark at bay from our amphitheater. I wasn’t just a fly on the wall here, I was part of the conversation between masters, among friends.

The moon couldn’t quell the stars twinkling in my eyes.


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