Sunday, July 24, 2011

alone in the mountains

I arrived at the trailhead to find about forty cars gleaming in the sun. I knew the Lakes Basin was a popular place, but forty cars? Inwardly I steeled myself to a hiker brigade, the clatter of cooking pots and the unavoidable (after you've been a wilderness ranger) noticing of glaring gaps in camper low-impact etiquette.

None of the usual suspects could go with me so I had decided to go anyway, fueled by curiosity over the reports of monstrous snowdrifts and impassible creek crossings. As I headed up the trail, a steady stream of backpackers were coming down. "You might be able to get to Moccasin Lake. But there's no way you can get to Mirror," they chorused. The water crossings? High and scary. Mosquitoes? Terrible! Everyone looked happy to be leaving. "Only a mile to go? Good!" one kid exclaimed, rushing towards the car.

Then a strange thing happened. The wilderness emptied of people like water rushing out of a drain. I climbed the nine miles to Horseshoe Lake to find complete solitude. A couple of day hikers headed back to the meadow three miles below and nobody else appeared. The logs across the creeks were friendly. The mosquitoes, bearable. The day spun out like a dream, quiet, peaceful, still.

The next morning I walked the loop to the high lakes, climbing up over snowdrifts. Surely I would run  into campers. This was the Lakes Basin after all, the most crowded destination in the Wallowas there is. But I passed by each lake, a glimmering link in a chain, completely alone. On the far side of Mirror, I followed a single hiker's footprints, he and I the only ones to make it up here this year.



Mirror Lake, still mostly frozen in late July.

Wintery Eagle Cap Peak. The sun made taking pictures difficult but I wasn't complaining.

I live in a postcard, don't you think?

It's always like this here, surprises, just when you think you have everything figured out. I don't know why I thought staying in one place would be boring. I'm finding every reason to stay right here.  I don't need to chase adventures around the globe anymore. All I need is an afternoon at a sun-warmed alpine lake, and then, later, hiking out to find people happy to see me. It's the balance I looked for, it seems, forever.

I know there will be days when this isn't enough. I haven't lived with myself for this long not to know. There will be days when I want to be anywhere but here. But today is not that day.


3 comments:

  1. Love, love, love this:

    I don't need to chase adventures around the globe anymore. All I need is an afternoon at a sun-warmed alpine lake, and then, later, hiking out to find people happy to see me. It's the balance I looked for, it seems, forever.

    I know there will be days when this isn't enough. I haven't lived with myself for this long not to know. There will be days when I want to be anywhere but here. But today is not that day.

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  2. So beautiful, so powerful, Mary. Thanks for sharing this. I wish I had some high peaks around me about now to help put it all in perspective (and to keep in shape). I've been going on long, flat rides here in Lake Country of the northern US. It's lovely in its own way, but you know me: mountains, mountains, mountains. Glad you're there soaking it all up.

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  3. Beautiful! :)

    I especially love when people tell me I can't do something and prove them wrong... Where is Mirror Lake? I think I need to visit this place !!

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