The RocketDog

The RocketDog

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cliffs, Climbs and Consciousness

I'll get to this picture in a minute.  But first, a quick background:  Scott and I, once again spur of the moment, decide to hit the trail.  He remembered like on a Monday that he had a vacation day that Friday. :eyeroll:  So we made a few fast arrangements, and at 7am Wednesday morning, we hit the road to Cliff Lake.

This was going to be an easy hike; the worst part is the 14 mile drive off of Highway 200 to the trailhead.  Now, I've grown up on Montana roads.  I know what they consider the definition of a "road" to be.  Believe  me when I tell you it ain't much.  But this...the first 6 aren't bad.  Then the next 3 steadily deteriorate and for the last couple, you swear you've somehow 'lost' the road and driven into a riverbed, except for that there is no river.  You laugh. I don't.  I'm totally serious.   Even for me, it was nerve-wracking.  And, it took the Suburban almost an hour and 20 minutes to crawl the 14 miles, the last 3 taking over 45.  We get there (after also passing two strange vehicles, with even stranger occupants to the tune of dueling banjos playing in my head...yeah, you know the song I'm talkin' about) only to discover a rig there.  WTF.  It's in September, middle of the week.  MY GOD CAN'T I JUST BE ALONE.  Sigh.

The trail to Cliff Lake is only about a mile and a half.  You start the hike at 6700' + elevation.  Only the first part is even close to being uphill, then you suddenly are in alpine meadow gorgeousness.

I think Scott is playing some air sax here:



The first view of Chicago Peak.  All the years I've been tromping around over there, and I've never seen it.  We stop to take in the view of a little tarn called Copper Lake, and I spot a brown 'thing' at the lake.  I say it's moving, Scott says No it's not, and then suddenly, it's hauling ass in our direction.  We're 400+ feet up a drainage, but it's obvious by how brown it's butt was and how silvery it's front is, that it's a bear.  And obvious by how fast those damn things move.  We make haste back to the trail. A couple of minutes later, we encounter two older men and an older woman--in their early 70's.  They are the owners of the rig, they ask if we're camping, tell us they were just day hiking and we tell them to watch for the bear.   Whew.  No one so far camped there they say. Major change in my mood (much to Scott's relief)  Anyhow, before we knew it, we were at the lake.  First view: 

Down a little cliff, and OMG.  Gorgeousness abounds.   Perfectly clear, perfectly gorgeous, several campsites to pick from.  We settle on a gorgeous meadow at the east end, flat with soft grass.

  Lots of room and a little fire ring.  We put our packs down and go exploring.  Cliff Lake sits on a very small shelf on the side of a mountain named St. Paul Peak, and the shelf is probably barely more than a quarter mile wide.  To the south of us, about 100 yrds, I discover Paradise:

 Rocket waits at the fire ring, which is where I decide to do the cooking.

As always, I am amazed and stand in awe at Alpine Fir and how it grows out of solid rock.  We 'think' it needs deep, good soils, but Mother Nature scoffs:

I yell to Scott "I've found where we're cooking and making a fire!!!"

Please indulge my camera craziness:

We sit and I make coffee and we enjoy the amazing view.  We go back to the lake, set up the tent and proceed to lie down on the soft grass and snooze in the sun.  This is what's nice about such a short hike.  Lots of time.

After a delicious dinner which I almost screwed up-- I was so proud of myself for finding a good organic gluten-free mac and cheese and bringing hot spicy cheese sausages, that I forgot to bring milk and butter, duh!, but it was surprisingly good-- we decide to go back to see the sunset at Copper Lake. 

Chicago Peak first:

They call this a "cityscape" because the ridge looks like buildings.

Chicago peak, playing with settings on my phone.

Again, I wonder aloud what stops us from swan diving right off the edge as we sit on a cliff.  Cliffs abound here and it's not a short drop anywhere.  Scott groans.  I can't help it.  This kind of environment screams real life.  You mess around without taking it seriously and you die.  Nature doesn't care about you, you are nothing in the greater wilderness.  It is such a beautiful night I almost can't bear it.  You're so alive out here, all the stupid stuff of home-- the internet, the chores, the pressures, the bills-- all the things you think are really important are so obviously not. All that matters is basic needs.  The smell of the mountains is the best perfume in the world.  I could sit forever, but Scott reminds me that this IS where we saw a bear earlier, and it's getting dark now.  Strong --but warm enough-- winds are developing and we warn each other about getting too close to the edges and the crumbly rock combined with the wind seems to taunt you to dare it.  Scott of course repeatedly says "AIMEE GET BACK HERE".  I tell him to mind the dog, as he's still learning.  Heh.

This is one of my favorite times of night:  when the trees are black against the sky:

Back at camp, we lie on our backs on the grass and watch the millions of stars come out and the Milky Way hang above us, close enough to grab it seems.  I see a shooting star, and Scott and I ponder the vastness of eternity.  I wake up later and we hit the sack.

We're up bright and early, because we are planning on climbing the ridge to the top of St. Paul Peak, 7714+ feet.  A quick breakfast and sunrise:

I'm not sure how it is, so we empty Rocket's pack, save for some water and some snacks, and I take the long line in case it's narrow and I need to utilize it.  He's never rock-climbed a mountain like this, and I figure the pack will act as a harness of sorts.  He's ready to go and we're off.

There's a trail of sorts on and off, but we keep losing it. We come to a rock face, and I go first, then call the dog to me.  He looks at me like "WTF", but after only a moment's hesitation, he tackles it.

This is the "hop", described below:

There are several false summits, meaning each time we'd think we were at the top, we'd gain the ridge to see another stretching above.  Rocket handled it like a freaking pro.  I was so proud of him. Whitebark pine up here, amazing. 

I stop to take a photo of Scott:

And we're there. Amazing view in all directions. 

 This is my favorite, a panorama I took with my 4s.  It was so windy it was hard to keep still, but I think it turned out ok.

The lake above is St. Paul lake, which we camped at last fall.  If you head to the right, and go over the pass, you hit Rock Lake, which we also camped at last fall.  We fail and don't take a picture of Rocket and I on the summit.  OMG.  Back down we go, and when we get to the rock face, which is about 20 feet high, I go down first and Rocket looks at me like I'm crazy.  It's almost sheer, and only a couple little foot holds.  I insist, and he literally takes a leap of faith.  This is when I know he is awesome.  Here is a view of the lake and our tent from a bit down the trail: 

And here is a little jump that you don't want to "oops", as it's straight down all the way.  Hard to get a picture of:

The way down is steep, and I'm reminded of how real mountain climbers always say the ascent is the easy part.  It's getting back down where you die. 

Scott tries to make up for not getting a pic of Rocket and I (I didn't think of it either, but I let him feel bad for a split second) on a ridge:

 Back at camp, we eat lunch quick and head off to Copper Lake to see the bear tracks.  It's another adventure, as the rocks are MUCH bigger than they look and it's definitely an interesting descent.  Again, Rocket impresses me with his solid nerve and his willingness to do anything.  I did not take many pictures because I was too busy hopping from rock to rock and trying not to fall into a crevasse.  The brush hides the depth of the ground for sure. 

Do you see, in the middle picture, what Rocket sees?  Anyway, we get to the mud and decide it must've been a cub due to the size.  By the look of the print, we decide it's a black bear, not a griz.  Whew. 

Back up we go.

Now it gets interesting. We are hot and sweaty, so we jump into the lake to clean up.  It's a gorgeous day, about 84 degrees, and  no one's around anyway, right?  So we stretch out in the sun to nap and dry off.  About 15 minutes in, we see a couple of goats on top of the ridge.  We watch as one makes his way down, very s-l-o-w-l-y.  He makes incredible time when he's moving, but he keeps stopping and watching us for what seems an eternity.  Because of this, we lay very still and don't move.  It takes him about 45 minutes to make it down.  We see him just as Rocket smells him.  He alerts with one good "WOOF" and a slight growl, and I tell him to shush.  The goat does not seem disturbed.  First Scott gets up, then I, to go take pictures and see this magnificent animal.  He's HUGE, and incredibly muscular.  He reminds me of a unicorn.  I've seen goats before, much too close for my comfort actually, like a foot away, in Glacier; but this--the male goat was spectacular.  And yes, in case you'd forgotten, we're both naked as a blue jay, running around taking pictures.  Whooe Whee!  Gotta love mountain living. 

Gratuitous sunset picture of The RocketDog:

We enjoy a calm and warm night this time.  We're able to have a fire.  Hence the above picture, I first started with.  (OK. So it's been longer than a minute.  I NEVER PROMISED I'D BE SHORT-WINDED.)  Scott took that with his phone.  I've played with some filters and I can't decide which one I like the best:

The first one is the original, untouched. 

Rocket picked the very edge to lay on, causing me a bit of grief since he likes to roll over in his sleep. 

Here is also how he slept while I was cooking dinner, damn dog. 

The next morning brings 4 more goats, and an impressive display of obedience by Rocket.  He obeyed my stays, didn't bark or whine or try to cause a ruckus.  He definitely wanted to investigate the goats, but he listened to my "Stays" and my "leave it's", even though they were issued frequently while we were packing up.  While we were filtering, and Rocket was on the rocks with us, one of them came into our camp. 

We were very close to this goat, and I was really proud of Rocket's stay.  I have video of other encounters on my FB-- he earned the right to some treats!

We leave, and again, I'm taken by the beauty of the alpine meadow, and the empty little tarns that must be breathtaking in the early summer. 

It barely takes us 45 mintues to get to the car, where we find this on the windshield:

We look at each other and start asking if we'd seen anyone.  I suddenly realize: UH OH.  Now, remember when I said here is where it gets interesting?  *cough*  I think they had the timing off, since Rocket didn't bark until the goat was all the way into the camp, and I know they weren't down at the lake, but obviously they were up on the ridge.  While we were laying there naked.  *coughcough*.  All I can say, is, I hope they didn't have binoculars.  :blush:  We discuss the leaving of the note to distract ourselves from the road on the way down.  I mean, really.  The whole point of leaving the note is to obviously let us know we were seen.  With 4 goats coming down, there's no way any normal person could miss them, so asking us if we'd "seen him" was really just code for "NA-NA-NA-BOO-BOO WE SAW YOUR NAKED PARTS".  I still get a bit squirmy, since I have no idea who they were.  Reminder to be conscious of the fact that  just because you THINK no one can see you, doesn't mean that no one can.  Sadly I realize we need to go farther and farther back in to really be alone.  The world is invading even my favorite empty spots. Oh, and to J, L &F--  I WORK OUTSIDE.  FARMER TAN IS INEVITABLE.

We stop in Sandpoint at "our" restaurant, Eickhardt's pub, where they graciously allow Rocket to accompany us for a fabulous burger.  The food is excellent, the beer amazing and I urge any and all of you to stop there if you go through.  

  Despite our unwitting performance, we feel that Cliff Lake, while "easy", is an absolutely fantastically gorgeous spot, and are excited to take the kids there hopefully soon.  The colors will be phenomenal, I'm sure.  

Almost as bright as my face when I think about J, L & F. 

Flickr Photostream: here.

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