Sunday, October 16, 2011

end of the season

We hike towards Maxwell Lake under cloudy skies. The sun has been evasive these days and six inches of snow blanket the ground. This piece of country is under snow eight months of the year. It barely wakes in a profusion of flowers before it is smothered again. The lake itself is not frozen. Not yet. But soon.

Ken and Claire show me a secret lake I never knew existed, only minutes away. A mean wind bites through our clothes. The mountains are changing.

There is nobody else in the canyon, the tourists having fled back to the city and our trail crew long gone to scratch out an existence until summer comes around again. We retreat a thousand feet and watch the fog sidle up the canyon below us.

Backpacking season is well and truly over. I had hoped to sneak in a quick overnight, but at this time of year, in this weather, you have two options: stay on the move or sit in the tent. For hours.

Trail running won't last too much longer either, snow drifting high enough that any run turns into a survival shuffle.  The skiers are starting to reappear from their summer hibernation, peering into the distance at snow-iced bowls and speculating on the charms of another La Nina winter. "Winters are so short here," J says, meaning it despite the evidence to the contrary. This is a country of winter, summer just a pause.

We wind back down the switchbacks to the trailhead, still the only car in the lot. That night it rains hard, and I know that more snow has fallen in the high country. I feel like we've gotten away with something, sneaked in a trip to the lake in the last few moments. Nobody will be back up there until July.

The next day I run up the trail to the Bear Creek cabin in search of items that went missing from my pack this summer. The larches fool me into thinking they are the sun. It rains and I splash through puddles. I catch up with some wolverine researchers, setting out cameras. They are the only people I see. The mountains are changing. It's a long time until summer.


  1. Beautiful!! I bet it's really gorgeous in the snow too! ;) All we get here is rain, do you end up with snow at the elevation you live at? Or is it rain? One thing I miss about living in the U.P. is the buttloads of snow that they get. Yeah, I said buttloads. haha :)

  2. From our perch here in the U.P., I'll take "buttloads!" Except for folks like Karen, that much snow keeps the population down. A shorter season in the woods than in Marre's mountains, but the mountains are worth waiting for.

  3. So pretty. I love the quiet/bad weather time of year if you can get out in the moment it's not sleeting...


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