The RocketDog

The RocketDog

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Cairns, Company and Caught in the Storm: The (dis?)Enchantments




 The Enchantments: the name speaks for itself.  A magical place, with names like "Gnome Tarn", "Rune Lake",  "Valkryie Lakes"  (the original names).  Land of high alpine larch, mineral infested blue waters, glacial boulders. Mountain goats bound like unicorns all over.  So tempting, that to preserve it, the FS only grants overnight access by lottery in the dark of winter.  Of course I had to go.  We won -- if you use the term loosely-- a permit for the Snow Lakes zone, which, while not the Core zone I wanted, was acceptable.  All spring and summer my dreams were filled with golden larch against blue skies.

core zone old map here

     As things go, this was a summer of both extremes: perfect backpacking weather, and imperfect fitness.  I just couldn't get ahead on my arthritis and for the first time in 6 years, I voluntarily took 6 weeks off of everything.  From my backpack at the beginning of July until around the 10th of August, I rested.  Unfortunately, this didn't help at all.  Knowing a challenging hike was looming, I restarted with running and weight lifting.  The weather held.  We made plans, splurged on some new daypacks, daydreamed.  My health improved. I felt strong again.

     Two weeks out, Scott developed a bad bout of diverticulitis.  Two antibiotics three times a day and he could barely walk.  The First Sign.  Then, the forecast started to tank.  Gorgeous, clear and dry until the day we would hike in.  The Second Sign.  But everyone knows weather changes at the last minute.  Then Gabe came down with Hand, Foot and Mouth disease on Wednesday.  BABY DISEASE!  In high school! The Third Sign.  The day before we left, Caitlyn came down with a sore throat (the beginning of HFM disease).  The Fourth Sign.  She wasn't feeling bad other than that though, so I ignored them all, and focused on the trip I'd built up in my mind all summer.  Then I received news that a very important court date for a friend was scheduled at 9am the morning of the 25th-- in the midst of the trip.  The Fifth sign. I was dense.

     We drove to Wenatchee Monday afternoon to spend the night.  It was so odd to me to head West to go backpacking instead of East.  Wrong, somehow.  After we arrived, we became concerned our packs were too heavy, so we went through and lightened Scott's.  I was worried he'd have an attack up there. We trimmed some of his and added a little from mine, as they weighed the same.  This burned me a little, even though I was in better shape than he was.  His ended up around 42lbs with water and mine around 38lbs.  He was thinking about the long climb up Aasgard Pass.  Speaking of....there's two main ways into the 'Chants.  One , the 'traditional' way, is up Snow Lakes trail.  This TH starts somewhere around 1300' and gains about 6000' by the time it enters the Core zone (lower Enchantments), and it's 10 miles.  The Stuart lake TH is higher by a couple thousand, and is only 1700' over about 5 miles to Colchuck Lake.  However, you then have to cross a boulder field to round the lake to make it to the bottom of Aasgard Pass: a vertical mile that gains about 2300'.  It is both risky, dangerous and yet young children do it, dayhikers do it, 75 year olds do it.  It's an anomaly.  I thought it would be easier overall if we got a Core permit to go in that way.

     Bright and early, Tuesday the 23rd we hit the ranger station in Leavenworth.  Scott's cousin graciously met us there to give us a ride to the Stuart Lake TH if we scored a permit.  We were the only ones there; the Ranger said it was the first time she could remember not having to do a drawing for the core permit.  Score!  The thought did cross my mind that the weather might have something to do with it, but it didn't look that bad.  A small storm that night, and rain... well, we had rain gear.  Onward.




     Boy, we look optimistic.  We made short work of the first few miles, even with numerous stops to adjust this and that (and dial in my new boots).  We decided to go ahead and put our rain covers on our packs, as it kept drizzling on and off.  I'm glad we did.  The trail was easy until the last mile, and then, while not 'hard', it's definitely grunt-worthy with full packs on.  We met several people on the trail.  I thought this would be an issue for me-- the first group of men we met were aghast that we were going up Aasgard that same day.  Only one of the men, the older one, said 'Ah, you can do it.  Just be slow and careful'.  Not that encouraging for Scott.  He is the caution to my impetuousness.  Then we met a couple, probably ten years or so older than us, and they were far more upbeat.  They reassured us we were going in the 'preferable' way and they'd done it the other way before.  They said to reassess after the boulder field, which we thought was reasonable.  Due to the rain, I didn't take much for pictures.

Me, looking like a hobbit for some reason (I swear I was standing upright!)




   Looking back the way we came:




First view of the lake and Aasgard Pass:


West end of the lake, as we went past:
 





The boulder field sucked.  The gal had said to me: "At the beach at Colchuck, you can decide whether you'll want to continue up.  You'll have already done something hard".  She was right.  It wouldn't be hard with a day pack on, but with a full backpack, in the rain, it's a bitch.  We met a group of about 6 people, 4 guys and two gals, that cheered us on and mentioned Inspiration Lake as a place to camp.  We hit the beach, chatted with a couple of women there and went a little ways up to sit and eat a bar and drink. We felt good, we felt ok, even looking up at the pass.  It didn't look so bad.




We headed up.  Time: 2:27pm




Surprisingly, it wasn't too bad.  Grunt work for sure.  You just follow cairns and more cairns.  "Stay left", everyone said.


View of Dragontail about halfway up:


Looking back at Colchuck:



A few shots of the views:




     Fatigue started with about the last quarter to go.  We met a group of three guys, they also mentioned Inspiration Lake as more protected.  We trudged on, and hit some large granite slabs that were slick from the rain.  At this point, for a shorty like me, it's basically heaving yourself and your giant pack up.  I was getting irritated and tired, and the cairns were few and far between.  (I now wonder if we didn't go far enough 'right' at this point.  I know there are several routes up and I think we got off track a little bit)  A young couple appeared above us, on the way down, and when I gratefully acknowledged the human interaction and said "We've got to be close, right?"  I was slightly crushed when he replied "Well, you're 85% of the way!"  The fuck you say.   The wind had started to pick up but we figured it was just the elevation.  We finally drag ourselves up over the top, and the wind is blowing like crazy.  By now, it's about 4:40pm.  It's grey, grey and more grey, and the rain is hitting hard.  We're chilled now with the sweat and the rain and wind and Scott insists we change shirts, so we try to get behind a big boulder and brrrrrrrrrrrr-- naked in the wind and rain while we frantically change into dry shirts, throw our down sweaters on and our rain shells.  Ahhh.  Much better.  I snap a couple quick pics.










I am struck by the moonscape around me.  It is so dreary and drizzly though, and bitingly cold with the intense wind that it's hard to stand and take pictures.  Not to mention I don't want to ruin my wimpy iPhone.

     So the thing is: I knew the 'Chants were the Land of the Traveled.  I figured the trail would be, well, a trail.  Notsomuch.  It's cairns.  Cairns and only cairns.  The thing is, which cairns?  There are cairns marking the way to this tarn, and that tarn, and this lake, and that lake.  It was difficult in the growing weather to make sense of which way to go.  I refer to the map and we trudge along, and am mostly able to make out where we are.  The wind intensifies, as does the rain.  We see three tents along the northern end of Isolation Lake, and they are blowing and battening down in the storm.  STORM.  DUH.  This isn't just 'wind up high', the storm is here.  The wind is a steady strong 20mph+.   It's almost knocking me off my feet.  We see an overlook and the lake is far below.  Mistakenly, we think it might be Inspiration (it wasn't, it was Crystal) but it served its purpose: we know there is no way we're going to make it down that night.  We start scouting for a tent spot and it's pouring rain now, except it's sideways with the wind.  I see a grassy spot but Scott overrules it by pointing at the way the larch trees are bent sideways.  We walk a bit further and boom -- he points to a perfect, small, sandy obvious tent spot encircled by larch not bent in a wind tunnel and it's decided.  We throw our packs under the trees on the bit of grass and start to work.  Our gloves were so soaked we had to ditch them.  We'd used our leather ones to work up Aasgard, so this was our spare pair.  No more gloves. At the last minute, I decide to keep them on just a little longer. 

     Since our tent is mesh and the storm was so bad, Scott decided to put up the fly first.  As we're working on it, his fingers are already so frozen that the fly slips out and it's a good thing I had a freaking death grip on it.  He'd already mentioned that to me-- that if we lost that fly, we'd be in the storm alright.  A freaking shit storm, so I was holding on to it for dear life.  Good thing I'd kept my gloves on just a bit longer.  We get it up and we put the tent up underneath, so it stays relatively dry.  By now, it's dark and I have to get out the headlamps.  These are the times I'm grateful for Scott -- he never ever loses his cool.  He kept calm and steady and when I stood there, chattering, he knew I was close to a moment and he said "Aimee.  Get going".   I start on blowing up the thermarests and getting the bags out and Scott starts to guy the tent...except there's no guy lines.  For some reason, they're missing. Scott has to get cord and make them.  Everything is covered in wet granite sand.  About the time I get the beds ready, Scott's done with his makeshift guys.  We don't have time to get the gear shed up because we're both soaking wet and chattering, he can't feel his fingers and I can barely talk.  We pull the packs into the miniscule vestibules on either side, take off our boots and wet socks and change into dry clothes.  Our down sweaters are soaked: the rain has driven into the necks of our shells and up our sleeves, I guess.  We crawl into our bags, too tired to even eat, although somewhere in my brain I think we need the calories and I briefly think of making hot tea.  But my fingers are too frozen.  I rethink my decision to leave the MSR stove behind and bring my SnowPeak GigiPower canister, as it probably would take too long to boil.  We slowly get warm as the storm intensifies.

     The original forecast for the Enchantments, off the NOAA site, had said wind gusts up to 21mph.  Scott and I spent the night blasted by gusts up to 60mph, with wind at least 25mph steady, and he swears there were gusts higher.  All I know is after a few checks to make sure my shell wasn't blowing away and my boots were under the fly, I drew the cord of my bag around my face and tried to sleep. I realized I had only had about 1 liter of water and my mouth was insanely dry.  We had about 1 liter left, and I forced myself to drink some.  My breath blew clouds around me. Brrr.  I was toasty warm, though, and there was a brief time I thought the storm was abating.  The thing that kept going around in my mind though, was the forecast; it had read pretty much the same for the three days we were scheduled to be in there.  We'd waited too long to tent up and things had gotten too wet. The other thing that I'd made a mistake in, besides the stove, was in leaving the GPS at home.  In an effort to drop weight, Scott had suggested I leave it, as it's so traveled, so many people, not brushy and easy to find our way.  Well, ok.  Except....weather.  Weather forecasts.  Nothing to do now though. I think, it's easier to imagine worst case scenarios when it's just you, or just two of you.  Everything goes through your head that could go wrong.

     At 6:30 am, we both talked about waiting it out vs hiking out.  We decided to see if it died down, and frankly, I'd barely slept all night, which is odd for me, as I usually love storms in tents, and I was warm.  I set the alarm for 8:45am and we'd decide then.  When it went off, the storm hadn't died down in the least-- it was still going strong, so we decided to head out.  Scott wanted to just eat bars but I felt we needed some hot food, so he went out to get water and we forced ourselves to eat some beef stew with mashed potatoes.  My Scottish friend had made the 'mince', as she calls it, for her husband and son and their 50mile hike through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in August and it was delicious...other than that my SnowPeak, while working, took forever to boil and we didn't have 25 minutes to wait for it to fully rehydrate.  Still, it was a wise decision.

    Scott snapped a few pictures as we headed out.  The peaks around were all in clouds, and frankly, I was concerned about our late start and the 13.5 miles we had ahead of us to get out. The rain had turned to hard sleet, pelting us in the face.




   In retrospect, I wish I'd taken more pictures, but I just didn't want to risk the phone.  I was already pissed I couldn't see the views, and the trail was a bit hard to discern, mostly because we were on a time frame now and had gotten off track a bit. With the weather the way it was, we just wanted to get out. It was strikingly beautiful though, and I could only imagine what it was like in better weather.  Not even necessarily sun, but if only the damn wind or rain would stop. Both at once are the kickers. I was pleased with my shell though today and am still not sure how the down sweater got wet.  I must've not had the wrists tight enough and the neck, well, win some, lose some.

     We work our way to Inspiration Lake and realize it's a climb down.  Everyone always talks about how flat the core is, but it's most definitely not.  Well, there's two levels anyway.  It's a bit challenging in the weather and again, I'm glad that we did not attempt it in the dark and storm of last night.  I don't think good things would've come of it.


My favorite picture I think of the whole trip: be still, my beating heart.  Look at that golden larch (you didn't think I was talking about Scott, did you? winkwink)  I regret not stopping on Aasgard Pass in a little grove of golden larch and taking pictures.



     We meet another group of guys, who had camped at Snow Lake the night before, and they asked us about how our tent held up.  Fine, we say.  They look at each other and mention that a tent blew over in the storm down there, and if ours held up, up there, we were ahead of the game.  We looked at each other and thought someone doesn't know how to stake a tent out (HA. But the winds were that bad, really).   Anyhow, I mention I'm glad it's all downhill and one of the guys says, "Well, yes, but you'll work for it.  Trust me".  Me and my big mouth. And he was right.

     After we get down to Inspiration and Perfection, the trail is defined and we snap a few pictures.  The wind is far less intense down here and we relax a bit.







I think, according to the map, that Prusik Peak is here on the left, but it's covered in clouds.  Effer.






     Then we began the climb down from the Core to upper Snow Lake and it is definitely a climb. Wet slick rocks don't make it that fun. Again, it's mostly cairns and more cairns.  There are some slightly exposed granite spots that make for nerves.


     It became "Do you see the cairns?"  All we did was look for cairns.







Looking back up a spot that was particularly fun:





We met several people on the way down, that were venturing up to the core as dayhikers from camps at Snow Lakes.  They caught up to us later, having not gone very far due to the weather.  That was a bit gratifying in a way.  It also helped us with route finding.  I was amazed that I was so grateful for the sight of people.  Maybe there's hope for me after all, heh.  We hiked the last quarter mile to Snow Lake with a gentleman a bit older than us, he assured us that the remaining 6.5 miles would go by fast.  Really, he was just lying because it would've been rude to say "Better get your asses going, you have a Bataan Death March ahead".  We hit the dam between the lakes at 3:50pm.  There were more talus slopes and boulder fields to come, but the first 1.5 miles down to Nada went by fast.  We stopped to view the spillway from little Snow Lake.







     I swear, the trail guides fuck with you, just for the sake of it. The mileage from Lake Viviane to Snow is only supposed to be 1.5-- but that is the longest 1.5 ever, especially compared to the 1.5 miles from the dam  down to Nada. That was the fastest part of the trip, other than the first 3 miles from the Stuart Lake TH.  The 5 miles after that was a damn death march.  It just went on and on and on.  We should've stopped and rested and refueled better, but we just wanted to make the car before it was pitch black.  The temperature was warming considerably, and although I was only wearing an ultralight smartwool shirt, I was hot and getting hotter.  Combined with my under-fueling and under-hydrating, I started to feel sick and feverish.  Scott asked if I wanted to stop, but I grabbed a bar and managed to eat half of it without throwing up and drank a little water while walking.  The last two miles they say, are switchbacks, so every time we started down some we thought fuck yeah, this is the end.  But soon they would end up in a long downhill and we just kept going on........... I even wondered aloud at one point if we'd possibly ended up on a wrong trail.  That should've told me I needed more calories, water, and a rest break.  As if a peace offering, Mother Nature suddenly broke the clouds and this appeared:




     But finally, we spot a .....ROAD.  Civilization!  Soon, the TH appears, although you're 25 minutes away.  We did have to break out the headlamps for the last 15 minutes or so.  Too dark.  And we somehow managed to turn right after the irrigation canal bridge, and ended up walking down the fucking road to the TH parking lot, but oh, the sight of the old silver 'burb never looked so good.

     In retrospect, I wished I'd listened to the signs.  I followed the cairns, but not my gut.  A much better trip in that weather, if one had to go, would've been a night a Colchuck, followed by a night in the core, then a night at Nada, then a hike out.  A perfect trip in good weather could handle an entry into the core the first night, then another camp or even two farther on down the core, if one started the descent earlier than 11am, or at least wasn't bound by dark and weather.  Hiking in darkness doesn't bother me; but hiking fatigued, in bad weather, downclimbing talus and boulders in the dark with only headlamps and cairns isn't my first choice and is often the first bad decision in what ends up a dangerous spot.  I learned the presence of people isn't always a curse, rather, it's comforting and energizing.  I was reminded again not to press on in bad weather, even just a little farther.  It wasn't my best backpack but every experience teaches you something.  Win some, lose some.  I'm slightly irritated that I didn't get to spend more time enjoying it, and when  people tell me "You can always go back", well....there's a whole damn world out there to see that I'll never even get to once, let alone twice.  Maybe. 

     As far as dayhiking, now that I know the route, and if I had a very light pack and good weather, I might be tempted to explore from one side or the other, but I doubt I'll ever attempt it as a single, 20 mile dayhike.  I stand aside for those that do.  Maybe it was the unfamiliarity, maybe because Montana is where my heart is, mostly likely the damn storm, but I was reminded in the 'Chants that I am nothing to Mother Nature.  And I didn't even get to drink the whiskey.



*EPILOGUE*
For an amazing photo experience of The Enchantments, check out THIS  Flickr stream, taken by an amazing photographer.  It's everything I was hoping for and more-- and while I didn't get it, it's that good that it might even make me go back some day.




Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Only Way Out is Through: Going Forward by Going Back; Upper Geiger Lake, Cabinet Wildnerness July 1 2014




    Robert Frost once said that.  Or actually: "The best way out is through". Truer words were never spoken.   When I'm running and I want to collapse and die, when I'm in the midst of some terrible heartache, some horrible turmoil, physical or mental: you just get through it.  I have often thought, during such times of duress, if I could 'only' go back.  I could change this.  I could change that. But should I?  Would I be who I am today, who I will be tomorrow, if I didn't face the challenges in front of me?  As I've said before, I hate the expression "Everything happens for a reason"-- mostly because people use it to justify things that are positive for them or negative for another, never when it's a negative in their own life.  I find that hard to swallow when I hear of extreme cruelty or abuse of innocents.  I'm not a religious person (MOM STOP IF YOU'RE READING THIS);  I would say I'm an Agnostic.  But that is not denying that there is reason or a greater force in the universe, just admitting I don't know what it is.  That said: if you could go back in time, would you?  ( If you want to read an interesting take on the situation, try Ray Bradbury's  A Sound of Thunder.)
     After a challenging winter and spring, with graduations (Hallie), renovations (bathrooms),  a busy (read exhausting) spring at work, and a mother with health problems, Scott and I received the  all-clear from the doc regarding my mom to leave her for a few days to celebrate our 19th anniversary and take off in search of our 7th lake in the Cabinets, my home away from home.  We looked at this one and that one, and Scott was worried about the fact that he'd been working on the bathroom and not his quads, so we finally settled on Geiger Lakes, mostly because we found a description of Fourth of July trail mentioning that one could expect solitude by coming into Upper Geiger this way instead of the usual way.  This was all we needed to read apparently; and the fact that we stopped reading after that would come back to us all too soon but all too late.
     Since my Mom's dr's appt wasn't until the morning we hoped to leave, and we didn't know for sure until then, we didn't head out of town until about 3:30pm.  We planned to do a car-camp at the trailhead as we've done before and hit the trail early.  Fourth of July trailhead isn't that far as the crow flies from my home base of Noxon, and it's just over the ridge from our first backpack, Wanless Lake, but you must first drive to Libby, MT and then down again about 25 miles before heading about 6 miles back West.  The start of us going forward by going back.  It was a nice day for an anniversary though:  warm, sunny, good news about my mom, and most importantly, we were headed to the best place on Earth and a towards a chance to let go of the burdens of the winter; to lay down the shroud of grief that still lay heavy on my heart, for as the year has progressed, so has my affection for my grieving friends.  We had a new tent to try out, and the descriptions of the lake were amazing.  We arrived at the trailhead, found no cars (FUCK YES) and popped open a bottle of wine to make a toast.  As we sat there, we decided we wished we had some snacks, and Scott remarks he 'almost bought me a bag of Cheetos Puffs for our anniversary' and I'm briefly crushed that he didn't.  Heh.  Who says a girl needs diamonds and rubies?  JUST GIVE ME CADBURY'S DAIRY MILK and CHEETOS.
     We awake, make a quick breakfast and are off.  We chuckle at the spelling of "Forth" vs "Fourth".  Poor dude with the wood-burner.  hee hee





     This is a fairly easy trail, and we make short work of it.  Until we stop for lunch, and Scott says "Don't look up".  Of course I do, and it's straight up.  I didn't get a picture, but I enjoy a good challenge (I say from the comfort of my desk chair).  The trail is very pretty though- it is hot and we come to the creek crossing, which isn't too bad.  Shortly after that we encounter snow on the trail, much to The RocketDog's delight.











   We arrive at the lake about 3 1/2 hours after we started.  I should've paid more attention to the fact on the trail (as evidenced in the picture with the sign) that many shrubs weren't even leafed out yet.  As we see the lake, and approach gratefully hoping to discard our packs, we start searching for a 'dry spot'.  And search, and search, and search....







     Sigh.  Well, at least the dog is happy.  Beside himself happy, in fact.   He decides to butt-tuck joyfully around, spraying Scott and I in mud.  Oh well.  Backpacking is about getting dirty, right?  We search around for about an hour and a half for a dry spot to set up camp and do eventually find one.  We notice little 'rivers' all around from the melting piles of snow, so Scott grabs the poop trowel and I grab my KBar and we dig little trenches to keep the tent dry.  All the while, I'm remembering my dad asking me where we were going, and his response of  "Hmm.  There'll be a shitload of snow up there still" and my flip reply of "So?" Now I know what he meant.  We find a dry spot on a very steep bank and enjoy the afternoon.  It's easy to see why the lake has been described as "amazingly gorgeous".





     Mostly because it's hard to enjoy soaking wet ground, we hit the sack early.  As I read a little more, relaxing in the tent, I actually finished reading up on the guide we'd printed out for the trail.  "Camping is excellent once the snow has melted, usually by mid-July".  Whoops.  Note to self:  finish reading all the trail guide before departing.
     As usual for the Cabinets, a gorgeously wild thunderstorm rolled in about 2am.  Our new tent is a different set up:  a two man tent with a vestibule almost as big, for the packs, boots and RocketDog.  Due to the wet ground, I had cut off a bunch of fir boughs to put under our fly (thank you Thad!) and we'd bought a tarp for Rocket for the vestibule (under which I'd also put boughs, I LOVE MY DOG SO WHAT), so we were warm, snug and although Scott slept through it, Rocket and I laid and enjoyed the different sound that thunder makes at 6,000' feet.  We awoke early, and had breakfast and headed up to Lost Buck Pass and the Cabinet Divide Trail to check things out. The trail up had so much snow in the beginning, we couldn't find it initially.  I spotted boot prints, and they looked fresh from this morning to me.  So we followed those, mostly.




     Once we got out into the Southern exposure though, the snow was mostly melted and it was a breathtakingly beautiful hike.  The smell---- the unbeatable smell of alpine forest and meadow.  Mmmmm.  Can you smell it?









     The above picture is to the north, or on our right as we were hiking west.  I wished we had continued on the day before instead of stopping at the lake, since there was a perfect snowmelt stream rushing down we had to cross, and we could've camped up in the meadow.  I briefly tried to convince Scott we should go back and pack up and return, but he was not to be swayed.   We hear voices, look ahead, and see three guys descending a sketchy-looking snow field and decide they are the boot prints we've been following.  We wait for them, discover they're from Libby, they tell us the snowfield is safe, we wish each other well and part ways.  Here is the snowfield we climbed to get to the pass:


     As we turned back, here is the view from which my original Facebook picture was taken (not by me) and clearly at a later date in the summer:



     Be still my beating heart.  We continued up  the snowfield, Rocket giving me a brief moment of stress when he started to roll in the snow, and slid on his back, legs in the air, right towards the edge of the snowfield-- which would've taken him off and down towards a smashing death on the rocks.  He flipped over at seemingly the last moment, shook his fur, looked at me unconcernedly and dashed up the rest of the snow, only to wait with an air of extreme patience for his two-footed friends to cautiously make their way.




     Here was Lost Buck Pass, elevation slightly over 6,000'.  We don't see an easy way up to Carney Peak, and we weren't really feeling the urge to find one, so we scrap the idea of peak bagging it.  Nice views though.  We head south towards the Cabinet Divide trail and the view of Wanless Lake, site of our first backpack.




  At the below snowfield, Scott and I stop and discuss how damn straight down it is.  I muse once again, how you could just step off that path and down to your death.  I speculate out loud, that you could conceivably 'try' to steer yourself away from the cluster of giant boulders at the bottom and towards the flattening snow slope on the right, and possibly survive, while Scott again wonders silently (I'm sure of this) what in the hell he is doing backpacking with --or more likely, married to-- someone like me.  Hehehehe 




     Round that corner, we see our first view of Wanless and Buck Lake far down below:



     Wanless, the largest lake in the Cabs,  was our first trip.  Ten grueling miles in, the first 6 straight up, the first 3 miles all switchbacks.  No water until mile 7.  88 degrees.  Oh, to be that naive again.  :) But what a reward!

 

Mountain Penstemon Davidsonii  and mountain juniper:
 

     Lunch with my two besties







  So.  In all my years of tromping around in Montana, in the Rockies, in ANYWHERE:  I have NEVER, EVER, gotten a freaking tick.  Those disgusting, nasty horrid things.  Did I mention DISGUSTING?  So the three dudes from Libby warned us about ticks up there.  As we move off to hike more, Scott finds one crawling on his jacket.  Ugh.  We hit the trail and OH MY FUCKING GOD, there's one ON MY LEG.  DO YOU HEAR ME.  ONE CRAWLING ON MY LEG.  THE HORROR!  I'm tainted.  I'm ruined.  Holy shit.  It was UGLY, TOO.  :shudder:  Anyhow, we hit the rock.  The gorgeous, sterile, safe rock.




     We go awhile, enjoying some spectacular views, before heading back.  The lake looks even more beautiful now.




     We are so hot and sweaty upon reaching camp, we do the usual: the dip in the icy mountain lake waters.  Except usually, we're there after the snow around the lake has melted, and the days have warmed it, even if it IS only a little bit.  I brave the waters and jump in and.......well, you know that York Peppermint Patty commercial?  Yeah.  It's like that.  I literally can't breathe and as I'm trying to scramble out as fast as I can, I slip on the rocks and plant my self again underwater, only to breathe a bunch in.  I claw at the bank and drag myself up.  Scott stands and laughing asks, "Cold?" as he hands me the whiskey flask.  Mr Cool doesn't submerge like I did.  So I offer this as revenge:



The dog is not amused by our antics.




     We dry off in the warm sun and bask in the serenity and beauty.  There is nothing like the silence and solitude of a high mountain lake.  I revel in the quiet. I realize that here, in this moment, Mother Nature thinks it's the beginning of May.  That Spring is just Sprung.  The firs and hemlocks haven't even pushed their growth yet.  It's like I've stepped back in time, two months.  Before my Mom got sick.  Before my oldest graduated high school.  Could it be?  Can I go back, and just enjoy those moments of innocence?


     I reflect on those last two months.  My oldest is a beautiful, responsible, empathetic human being with a bright future and a head and heart focused on not just herself, but on human beings as a whole.  My mother is recovering but has learned that the meds she is on, while being necessary do have the tag of 'necessary evil' and finally is recognizing that.  I think of my friend, who's heart is forever missing a piece.  But I hope, I think, I dare to hope....that maybe a small part has awoken again to the light in her life from her other loved ones.   That maybe that part will continue to bring light to the rest of the darkness.  Gradually.  Warming and renewing the life in her, much like spring and the warm sun does to the mountains.  In the two days we've been here, the buds have unfurled halfway and  I know by now they are open fully, as I hope every day for my grief-stricken friends' hearts to do.
     We hit our comfy bags and during the night, we hear a giant rock tumble it's way down the mountain.  So at least I can attest that if a Rock falls, Yes, it makes a sound.  We sleep soundly, and pack up in the morning.  It's so hard to leave, but as the mosquitos seemed to have hatched the day before, it's none too soon by the time we're done packing.  The trail is way easier of course on the way down.  I think to myself how I should savor this and go slowly, but the temptation to burn it up is too great.
    Bear grass blooms up close:





     Cool spider web:


 I'm amazed again by the difference between an alpine forest and a cedar forest:  Cedars allowing almost nothing to grow underneath.




     We hit the car about 12:30 Montana time.  We clean up, hoping to stop in Libby at Burger Express for some of their FABULOUS burgers and their fantastic Billy Goat Ice Cream.  If you're ever in Libby, this is the place to eat.  Mmmm MMMM.  (Try the Jalapeno burger, it's delicious.  I don't eat buns but it's served on Texas Toothpicks -- jalapeno straws and onion straws with a chipotle spicy sauce).  The dog immediately commandeers the most comfortable spot. As we head out, I'm pretty happy to be going home.  Not that I didn't enjoy myself, and am already awaiting and planning the next one, but I realize, even though I'm glad the winter is over, and that I'm a different person this July than last, I'm thankful for where it's gotten me.  I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.