I sat uneasily at Chimney Lake. As the hours stretched on, I could tell something had gone wrong. Should I stay here? Hike further back on the trail? Go over two passes again to where I had left my tent? In a recurring theme for Covid x 2 summer, nobody else was around, unlike Covid 1, where this lake was so packed, I avoided it like the plague (although, that saying is no longer relevant, since very few people actually avoided the plague. But I digress).
The plan had seemed so simple. I would travel the eight miles to Bear Lake to capture the best campsite for the group of friends coming in the next day. I would experience a night of solitude at this lake before six other people appeared. I would hike back to Chimney to show the group the way in to Bear Lake, which, if you don't know the way, can be tricky. What could possibly go wrong?
Finally some horses hove into view. The group was getting packed in, and while this isn't really my thing (I carried all of my stuff), I have to admit, a chair can be really nice. The wranglers told me that the group was moving really slowly, one member of it experiencing chest pains. By the time the stragglers arrived, it was obvious nobody was going to Bear Lake.
Except me. I didn't have the enthusiasm to travel back to Bear Lake, pack up my stuff, and travel back to Chimney. Also, one member of the group had forged ahead and was AWOL without overnight gear. We speculated that she could have gone to Bear Lake. I would go back there and offer up overnight accommodations (a rain fly and a sit pad plus a few bars) and bring her back in the morning.
This is why I hike solo a lot, I contemplated as I climbed the passes again and dropped down into Bear Lake. Sure enough, the missing hiker was there, mystified as to why she hadn't seen us at Chimney (it was likely when the group had gone in to set up camp). A group of nice guys nearby had offered bagels and a tent, so she wavered between staying or going, but eventually decided to go. I explained the route and hoped for the best. She seemed confident, anyway.
The next morning I headed back to Chimney Lake, only to find two members of the group heading out. Their rescue dog had been sick all night and had torn a hole in their tent, and, sleepless, they were going to leave. Down to a group of four now. I recruited the hiker formerly known as missing, and we embarked on an ambitious plan to climb the pass (again), drop way down to Wood Lake, come back up and then go to Hobo Lake. It was a tour of lakes!
The whole alpine basin was deserted. We were above the smoke and the swimming was perfect. When we descended to Chimney (again), I decided to do something that had long been a goal--swim to one of the islands in the middle of the lake.
|See the island in the middle of the picture? That's the one!|
Observed by a party of two who just appeared to be hanging around their campsite, I swam easily out to the island. A goal conquered! There was a small campsite on the island and I allowed myself to dream of investing in a packraft and coming back someday.
That night the dark side of Chimney Lake emerged. It's only five miles from the trailhead, and often attracts people who decide to talk loudly, play music and stay up way past hiker midnight. I fumed in my tent and contemplated rattling plastic bags in the morning, but in the end, everyone slept.
I left at dawn, after three nights in the wilderness. It's the longest I've been able to spend out this summer, and I was grateful for it. There's something good about being completely disconnected and away from the superficial. Next summer, a month, I thought hopefully to myself. I've already asked for the time off, and my supervisor has agreed. She's retiring, though, so I will be at the whim of whatever temporary person is put into that job. I still have hope, though.