Chapter Two: A Rocky Start
I checked my watch… 2:34pm. OK… I have 6 miles to cover till my first planned camp, aside one of the many Alpine lakes at around 9800 feet. I had hiked to this lake many times before in the dog days of Summer just to escape the heat of the valley. It was quite picturesque and held a bounty of small brookies that I liked to catch and throw in the pan. The clear cold water seemed to make them taste even better than ones caught at lower altitude streams. There was a particular stand of sub-alpines that I like to camp by. The morning sun came over the far ridge of the lake and warmed up the tent and camp area nicely. It made for an easy transition from the warmth of my sleeping bag to the warmth of the morning sun.
I knew that there were two stream crossings between here and there but there had always been some rocks to hop on and even a makeshift log bridge at the second. I headed out with a steady stride figuring I could cover 2 to 3 miles an hour. That would put me at camp well before dusk and give me some time to explore the lake, collect fire wood and maybe… if the fish gods are with me… catch some fresh fish for dinner.
Breeze was off to his normal trail running. He would run ahead and disappear for a few minutes then come happily bounding back like a big goof and seem to ask what was taking me so long. Every now and then he would catch a scent and look back at me as if to ask if it was ok to go check it out. He was a wonderful companion. A loyal friend and my protector from large animals. His antics have caused us both some grief though. Two years ago we were hiking the Grand Daddy lakes and he happened upon a hole. At first I thought it might be a badger, but we both soon found out it was a skunks nest full of babies and momma skunk was not happy. That was a very long three day hike considering he loved to sleep right outside my tent’s vestibule. Pee uuu…
The day was absolutely perfect. The sky was cloudless and a warm breeze rustled through the pines high overhead. I was quite saddened by the black pine beetle plight that had claimed so many majestic trees. It looked as if a wild fire had tore its way through the forest and picked out only certain trees to burn up. The skeleton remains of these trees stood as a stark silhouette against the true blue of the sky. There were hundreds of dead standing trees. As the breeze blew they would creek and crack. I had heard of campers being squished by these trees falling over in storms at night. Poor souls never knew what hit them. Note to self: camp far away from any dead stand.
I could hear the first stream off in the distance. It didn’t sound like the innocent stream I remembered. The closer I got the more springs came trickling out of the forest and made a muddy mess of the trail. I had to spend a good amount of time scampering over dead trees that had fallen in the past winters strong storms. Several had fallen but not hit the ground. The trail was muddy and the area around the trail was no less dangerous or easy to maneuver. It took almost an extra fifteen minutes to get to the stream crossing. It looked like a ragging river and the rocks to hop across we’re now creating rooster tail rapids. I looked up and down the river but could see no easy crossing point. Ah hell I got my sticks… this will be a snap.
I grabbed Breeze and looked him squarely in the eyes and told him to stay! I then proceeded to step down into the icy water. One foot in front of the other, pause, plant my sticks and move one foot then balance, move the next, plant, balance, move. It was only about twenty feet or so wide and the current was strong. I just took it very slow and methodical. I was about two thirds the way across and Breeze just couldn’t take it. He jumped down into the water and hopped across the stream in five or six strong bounds. Nearly knocked me off my feet and caused a rush of fear to run right up my spine. Damn dog!
I made it to the other side and scolded him with all the seriousness I could muster. He licked my face and gave me his cold, wet paw. My heart melted and I forgave him with a shake and scratch. “When I say STAY… I mean STAY!” I reiterated. He took a shake and bounded off down the trail. I found a downed tree and sat down to catch my breath and calm my racing heart. I was a bit concerned since this was only the first of six crossings. Were they all going to be this full? Would I be able to find a safe crossing point? If I continue on and find one I can’t safely cross I would be caught between here and there only to be forced to turn around. Maybe even have to camp in the dead standing trees and maybe be squished like a bug in my sleep. OK enough negative thinking!
I stood up and for the first time I could feel the altitude and my pack seemed to gain ten pounds and my legs felt like lead. I took a few deep breaths, looked up at the sky and moved forward. Whatever “intuition” I was feeling I wrote off as blowing this whole thing out of proportion… the rants of an altitude crazed mind. I am a seasoned hiker, I got this. The next hour and a half was uneventful. I climbed my first pass of 11,435 feet. Breeze made it look so easy. He just ran ahead, then back, then ahead again. He was my energizer bunny. I longed for even a tenth of his energy and enthusiasm. I headed down into the next depression and the second stream came into ear shot. Again it sounded like a rushing river instead of a little trickling stream. I could feel that intuitive side of me whispering in my ear… of course I dismissed it as fatigue and altitude not letting me think clearly.
Descending from the pass I came upon a clearing and I could see the lake I was hiking to. It energized me and I picked up my pace. All these detours off the trail to escape the numerous springs that would find the trail and flow across it, were burning up daylight. I was hoping the bridge I remembered was still there… OR the trail monitors had built a makeshift one to expand the length so the crossing would be safer than the last. I was placing my hopes on the newly built bridge I was envisioning.