Saturday, October 17, 2015

You don't know a place unless you camp there

Someday, dear blog readers, my hiking tales will be replaced by running and skiing, when the El Nino hits. Today, however, is not that day.

Last week I day hiked to Echo Lake, a 16 mile round trip, to discover two inches of sparkly snow. I instantly regretted not bringing a tent as I picked my way down the trail. D, a local photographer, was trudging up, laden with an enormous pack and camera gear. We stopped mid-trail to discuss. He has been everywhere, and that day was bound for Billy Jones Lake, a goat-trail ascent above Echo Lake. Not even I have had the fortitude to lug a backpack past Echo. "Well," he said. "you can't really know a place until you camp there."

Echo Lake
True that. And even then, you discover more each time you sleep somewhere in the mountains. This weekend I decided I was bound for the Lakes Basin, a place I have been many times, to search for the elusive Pocket Lake. I've heard tales of people being cliffed out trying to find this lake, but I was sure I wanted to go. Also, I have come up with a new goal: to visit all 70 named lakes in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. I've been to 41, so I have a ways to go.

My backpacking companions all had other plans, though TNT said they might meet me there. Happily I strode up the trail, bound for Mirror Lake. This is the most popular lake in the wilderness, and I was sure there would be other people there. But when I arrived, it was to silence. I've never been to the lake when I was the only one, except right as the snow melted. Today it was seventy degrees. In October! Where was everyone?

I didn't have time to  ponder. Pocket Lake or bust! Clutching a map and a GPS, I followed the ambiguous directions I had been given. Okay, there was Lake Creek, a simple rock hop across. There was the big meadow with the campsite in it. There was the pond, though it appeared on the south side of the faint path, not the north. And where was the faint path? It disappeared, and I felt momentarily afraid, because going off trail is a leap of faith in yourself and your ability. Never mind, there was the boulder field. Now all I had to do was climb up...and up...and up, over shifting rocks and decomposed granite. It was the mother of all boulder fields, and there were moments when I thought about turning back. Also, about what would happen if a boulder rolled on me. It took an hour to traverse three quarters of a mile. But then I was there, at a secret lake totally surrounded by forbidding cliffs.

Pocket!


Looking down from Pocket Lake. The boulder field looms below...

I couldn't stay long because night would be falling, so I picked my way through an eternity of steep boulders, wandered through the woods to find the meadow again, and arrived back at Mirror Lake where...there were no people. I was, it seemed, the only person in the Lakes Basin.


Smoke....

The stars shone with a brilliance you never see anywhere else but in the mountains, and a shelf of smoke crept in from an unseen fire. For a moment I imagined I was in a post apocalyptic world, where I was the only person left alive.

I didn't see another person for 24 hours, and when I got back the the trailhead, the mystery deepened. A bunch of Subarus were parked there. Subaru drivers are Mirror Lake people! Where were they? Obviously, I had passed through some mysterious curtain into another, alternate universe.






9 comments:

  1. Pocket lake...how very beautiful. Worth the search, boulder hopping, etc. but am glad no boulders shifted. The alternate universe was all yours!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I swore I'd never go there again, but maybe, only not after a day of backpacking. Maybe on a layover day.

      Delete
  2. Oh my goodness on so many levels. First that you had Mirror Lake all to yourself (and those last few pictures are magical). Second that you've been to 41 of the lakes!!!!!! Third that you found Pocket when so many others did not succeed.

    I also like what that person said about not knowing a place until you camp there. Never thought of it that way, but it is so true.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think from looking at maps I'm right about 70 lakes. There are some unnamed lakes that have local names but I'm not counting those, it's a good goal. Most of the lakes I have not been to are accessed from the south side, a long drive.

      Delete
  3. I ditto the sentiments of not knowing until spending an evening exploring, watching dusk turn to sunset to moon and starlight to dawn to sunrise . . .

    Off trail and even more so boulder fields certainly awaken my senses.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So it looks like blogspot likes my google login but is boycotting my wordpress one.

      Delete
    2. Ugh I have had so many problems commenting on WordPress blogs. I can't do it with google. I had to make a whole new WordPress id. I don't want to switch but I wish these two would play together.

      Delete
  4. I concur, you need to camp in a place, experience the night and early morning awakening of the landscape in order to feel it. Very cool hike.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ideally several days, but we take what we can get...

      Delete

Hello out there. If you liked this post, please leave a comment so I keep writing!