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?
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.