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."
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.
|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.
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.