It was another day of terrible air quality. I lurched around the house with a headache; without air conditioning and the inability to have windows open, the air inside wasn't much better. My state was burning. I had to escape.
Clearing a few hours on my work calendar, I headed to the mountains (the trailhead is only six miles away, so I wasn't becoming part of the problem). My goal was to find the elusive Unit Lake, one of the few named lakes remaining on my list.
The smoke was thick as Ruby and I climbed the dusty trail. A few horses passed by, kicking up rocks and dust. Annoyed, I thought about turning back. But at three miles in, a wind kicked in, and traces of sun began to appear. Things were looking up. Plus, the trail was almost empty, finally the tourists clearing out. Soon, the snow will fall, so I had to take advantage of the still-warm weather.
The river was low enough to hop on rocks, and I climbed the final three miles to Horseshoe Lake. There was only one other group there, and I found the perfect campsite on a rock outcrop far from them. The lake was the perfect temperature for swimming and the smoke had cleared to reveal a pale blue sky. It felt good to breathe again.
It was time to hunt for Unit Lake. I had forgotten the guidebook, but I had my map and Gaia GPS, so I headed confidently in the direction I assumed was right. It quickly became clear that even though this lake was only a half mile from the trail, it would be no easy stroll. I crashed through the woods until darkness caused me to retreat. Unit Lake 1, Monkey Bars zero.
The next morning I headed back, convinced that I would find the lake. I climbed up through a rocky cliff, crawling over downed trees. My phone battery drained rapidly (does anyone else have this issue with Gaia GPS?) and my map was nearly useless in the deep forest. I was about to give up when I saw the glimmer of water through the trees. Somehow I had climbed too far above the lake, but there it was.
Good enough, I thought. It was time to embark on the nine mile trip back to the trailhead, and climbing down to the lake would add considerable time to the journey. Sometimes you just have to call it.
Does this count as visiting the lake? Probably not. Probably I need to go back. The goal of visiting all the named lakes in the wilderness is arbitrary and I can make up my own rules. I have only heard of one person who has been to all of the lakes and he didn't go down to a few that he deemed too dangerous. So maybe this counts.
I arrived at the trailhead, enveloped in a thick cloud of smoke. I was back in the land of smoke. It's supposed to rain on Friday. I hope it does.