Mirror Lake is typically tourist ground zero in the summer. Good luck trying to find a place to camp where you aren't observed, or even worse, a place to pee undetected. I've seen people carrying duffel bags here instead of backpacks, and all sorts of rule flouters. Its saving grace is that it is truly a beautiful lake, surrounded by peaks and other lakes, a sort of highly inhabited heaven. In summer, we stay away.
But not now. As I slogged up the switchbacks, thinking that the trail had become more difficult in my absence, not a soul appeared. Fresh bear tracks were pressed into the snow. I started wishing I had brought my tent, but as I crested the final hill, 7.3 miles later, the full brunt of the wind hit me. Unlike in summer, today Mirror Lake was an inhospitable place. Six inches of snow covered the ground and the lake boiled with waves. If you could even put up a tent, you would be hunkered in it for many hours, hoping it would hold.
Day hiking is okay, but I've gotten my backpack weight down enough that I can almost move at the same speed with or without it. I don't like tagging a lake and leaving, and going back the same way isn't as interesting as waking up the next day in a sweet place and hiking out. Today was a day hiking kind of day, though, and I knew that I couldn't linger long, even though I had enough gear to survive if I needed to. There's not a lot of daylight, and you have to stay on the move.
The snow has come fast and sudden this year, and this will be the last trip to Mirror until next year. Probably I'll do what I usually do, slog as far as I can get in July before snow turns me around. It's a short season up this high. We're lucky to get what we do get.
As I trotted along the lyrics of a song we used to hear all the time when I was younger ran through my head:
Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach, I can feel it in the air, summer's out of reach. Empty lake, empty streets, the sun goes down alone..
The sun will go down alone at Mirror Lake for months to come. Don't look back, you can never look back...
I did look back, though. I looked back at snowy Eagle Cap peak and thought that we can't disregard all of the things we have right now, empty trail, empty lake, the fitness to hike fifteen miles, the love I never thought I would ever find. There's always something to complain about, like a job that keeps me sequestered from the mountains I love. The trick is to capture what is good and know that it will pass, like summer, because all things end, even if it breaks our hearts. But we have it right now.
The trailhead was empty. I went back home. I looked at all the things I should have done that day. And I didn't do them. I sat on the couch with my kitten happily sleeping on my lap.