Monday, October 9, 2017

Know when to fold 'em*

All week long I dreamed of Camp Lake. In the guidebook pictures, it looked just like my kind of place--windswept, barren, stark and lovely. Access to it has been closed most of the ephemeral summer we managed to get, due to a fire that really wasn't all that close. Busting a fire closure isn't really my thing, so I waited, hoping for a break that finally came this weekend. The road to the trailhead was open!

The forecast wasn't all that great for backpacking. This time of year, you are flirting with disaster when staying out overnight at high elevations. I really wanted to camp because the hike was seven miles long plus there were other lakes up higher to explore. While a fourteen mile day hike was well within my range, having the chance to wander around the basin really could only happen with more time. In the end, the thirty mph wind gusts forced me to reconsider. (and that is a good thing).

Ruby and I left at dawn, which now means seven, armed with treats, warm clothes, a SPOT beacon, map, too much water, and an emergency blanket. There were only two cars at the trailhead, one belonging to a hunter whom I caught on as we trudged through the first dismal four miles of burnt trees. The other group would mysteriously never appear.

Ice on the creek crossings made for some ballet-like leaps as I attempted to keep my boots dry. I normally hike in trail running shoes, but some instinct had told me to wear boots. I was glad I had as I ascended the switchbacks after the turn-off to Demaris Lake (4.5 miles). The trail became completely snow-covered, with only a few footprints to point the way.

Lakes. But not Camp Lake.
My luck ran out at a cliff. Several sets of footprints had merrily begun traversing what I could tell from the map was the wrong way. I could see where the group had milled around and given up. Punching through a foot of snow, I decided to traverse the ridge and drop down into a valley. I could, I thought, follow my prints back.

I ascended a hill and found the wooden No Fires sign that seems to mark most lakes in these parts. Hallelujah for route-finding skills, I was on the right track. However, I was completely alone in what felt like winter. No trace of the trail remained. To the south, the Three Sisters loomed, implacable and indifferent.
So much snow.
I found what I thought could be the trail, winding mid-ridge, but a tentative step revealed solid ice with a thin snow crust. The snow bulged out over the cliff, making it impossible to kick in steps successfully. A fall wouldn't be automatic death, but it wouldn't be all that fun. I stopped and pondered my options.

I knew I was within a quarter mile of the lake. I could even see the basin where I was sure it lurked. Perhaps a less prudent person would have kept going. Years of being in the wilderness, and of carrying people out of the same wilderness, have taught me that it's important to follow your instinct. It was, I knew, time to turn around. Even though I was so close. Even though it would probably all work out. Even though I would never be back, and this was my only chance. Even though.

I looked at Ruby. Ecstatic, she was rolling around in the snow. She raced at full speed around and around in the snow. She didn't care that this trip was a bust. In fact, to her, it wasn't. So what if we didn't make our destination? I resolved to be more like Ruby.

Yes, that is a dog rolling in snow.
I left Camp Lake to winter. Sometimes, you just have to know when to quit.

Winter is here.
* If there's a Kenny Rogers song now in your head, I apologize.
Dog out of focus, but happy.


19 comments:

  1. Nice post. When your instinct and dog are telling you it's okay to stop short, it's probably a good thing.

    John

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  2. Sure looks more like winter than fall. Sure is a beautiful white canvas. I also aspire to be like Ruby. Every day is a play day!

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    1. Someday every day will be a play day! As you know it's hard to fold 'em.

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  3. An agonizing "call." I might not have been as smart as you...especially if carrying a "SPOT." Though you do have to be conscious to push the button...
    Box Canyon Mark

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    1. I like your name. Yep been on too many rescues to rely on the old spot. Plus they put your name in the paper. Ha.

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  4. Ha ha. I laughed at Mark's comment.

    I'm timid on snowy mountain terrain and seem to become more so every year. I've turned my father back on hikes where he was still blissfully comfortable, because of icy traverses over cliffs, or perceived avalanche danger in the early fall.

    The Cascades are gorgeous winter country — looks more stunning even without an arbitrary destination.

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    1. I feel the same way...I turned down an invite to climb a mountain recently because the person who asked me is much more fit and skilled and I felt like I'd be at best an anchor and at worst a nervous wreck.

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  5. LOL about the Kenny Rogers' song. It came into my head as soon as I read that line. I agree though, success is gained along the way, it's enjoying the journey, Ruby has it down.

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    1. I keep being accused of being destination focused. I suppose that's true. Need to work on this.

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  6. For our reach exceeds our grasp....good turn-around call, lovely landscape, happy dog. These trails (and non-trails) will be in your memory, and maybe you can come back for visit to them some time. So glad to have the shares in places we may never see.

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    1. Might be able to come back someday. Wish they hadn't been closed all summer. The fire didn't reach that area.

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  7. There's aways another corner or ridge that beckons us on, isn't there!
    Lovely pics. Winter certainly looks entrenched already.

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    1. I am terrible about turning around especially if I have a partner in crime. I still agonize on how close I was to that darn lake.

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  8. I'm glad you were safe and turned around.

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    1. Thanks, I hate that I was so close, but better than a bad fall and hurting myself!

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  9. Another day, another time. There will always be another trail to challenge you, and another lake to explore. Remember not every goal is achieved with the first attempt. Love Ruby's attempt at snow angels.

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    1. Ha! Maybe that was what she was doing!

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  11. The last post: success in reaching the lake! This post: humbling, but very smart, turnaround.

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