Friday, October 8, 2010
On Friday I backpacked into the Caribou Wilderness with friends I’ve gone in with before but not for some time. We had planned to still be there but there are no guarantees with weather. After checking the weather report, we go. Sometimes the Sierras don’t cooperate with us puny humans. After repeating a prior error in judgment of getting a late start and finishing the grueling trek up the mountain in complete darkness, it took a bit longer to set up camp at Turnaround Lake. Doing it with only the beams of Mag-lites builds character I suppose. Every aspect in tent layout becomes a complicated chore from the first stake in the ground holding the main body in place to the last stake holding your rain fly down… and oh baby did we need the rain fly on this excursion. Hanging your bear bag in a tree after dark as an invigorating chore… fail!
After trekking up the mountain for over three hours along with having to erect our base camp in pitch black comfort, we stood around the fire laughing about how stupid we were for again hiking up in darkness despite vowing never to let it happen again after the last time. Walking away from the fire I could see a starry night of wondrous beauty I had thought never to see again after injuries and age made even everyday work and life a challenge. Those radiant beams carpeting the sky over Turnaround Lake again cast the same enchanting spell over me. I soon needed that exhilarating rush to fortify me against the days ahead.
Sleeping never comes easily in the forest. Most folks sleep fitfully and I get up at first light rather than fight it. I headed out with my 1080P HD Cam to finally video the eerie stillness with silence so pervasive it reaches into your soul. Because another backpacking party took up residence by my favorite rock across the lake, I hiked around to another site near a rugged rocky escarpment. I built a fire in a stone pit, enjoying the quiet solitude until after sunup. I store the time without sound like a human capacitor – a calming memory for future chaotic moments.
The guys were just stirring around the fire when I returned. We decided to hike up the trail to Triangle Lake, a nearly forty minute uphill jaunt but beautifully worth the trip. By the time we reached Triangle the temp had climbed to nearly eighty, a climate measure we were never to see again on this trip. I filmed a few more clips starring Triangle’s densely forested shores between cooling off with the frigid water, sunning, eating trail fare, and casting a line in the water for trout. Having no bites there we began our trek downward, stopping by Twin Lake to cast out a few times. I caught a fourteen inch trout before we had to continue down to camp. It made a fine meal that night. Nighttime’s lightshow repeated itself with temperatures cooling, but we had expected that in October. Sierra Night temps in October fall sometimes into the twenties.
I again headed out at first light the next morning to enjoy the sounds of complete silence. Upon reaching the stone pit around the lake I used the prior morning for my fire, the overcast morning made all the surrounding greens more vibrant in color. With a fire again crackling hotly small droplets of rain pelted sporadically around me. It was to be a harbinger of times ahead. In moments the watery droplets turned into hail. Round white crystals soon covered the ground as I recorded the event with my handy HD Cam from under a tree until the crystals again turned into water. Remembering I had optimistically left my tent flap open, stupidly assuming clear weather sailing, I couldn’t take a chance the guys would notice and close it for me. If they didn’t notice I’d have a small lake inside the entrance. Feeling confident in my waterproof rain gear apparel and boots I took careful strides toward camp. It was then the first hint of gear trouble popped its ugly head up. My right foot felt a chilly dampness. Rat shit.
At the camp my friends were huddled around the fire. They had closed my tent flap. We made a few jokes about optimistic oversights. One buddy had only a rain resistant parka. It may as well have been made of paper. My other two friends’ parkas leaked and one absorbed water, dampening the clothing underneath. We all knew weather causes unforeseen equipment problems. I had an emergency poncho in my pack which I gave to the friend with the Sponge Bob parka and we folded over the leaking seam in the other. My emergency parka was orange so its wearer acquired the nickname of ‘Great Pumpkin’ like in the Charlie Brown cartoons. The elements worsened for a time with first hail, followed by thunder and lightning. We kept the fire burning hot through it all, making foraging trips into the forest for plentiful dead wood. By evening the stars were out in force, convincing us the front had passed. Wrong! We did manage to dry out most clothing before retiring to our tents.
Up at first light again, I encountered a fog bank covering the lake which I recorded in 1080P. The landscape of fog and forest was stunning. I found fresh bear piles over at the meadow along with tracks in the wet ground, filming them to show the guys we better make sure the bear bags were hoisted come nightfall. Weather problems or not, the scenery left me awestruck. At my stone fire pit around the lake, I again greedily absorbed the silence. Noting the sky did not lighten up, heralding a sunrise, I began to suspect we might be in for more of the same wet weather. The first sprinkles confirmed it. We had already dug small trenches from three of our tents downhill toward the lake to keep the rainwater from pooling into small ponds under our tents. The tent furthest downhill had a veritable moat around it. I returned to camp in order to assist with wood gathering and drainage chores.
The wind whipped up even stronger than the day before, blowing accumulated water on the trees down over us. We were again stuck near the fire and foraging in the forest. Fog covered everything as the rain tapered off. The temperature dropped into the low thirties so we needed to remain near camp in case it began to snow. The descent off the mountain is treacherous enough when you can see the ground. Under snow the trail spiraling downward is dangerous. There are few actual signs other than a cut tree here and there. With snow obliterating any sign, it’s very easy to get off trail and have to constantly double back. Granite rocks of all sizes under a blanket of snow make every step hazardous. We decided if the weather didn’t clear on this fourth night, we’d have to decide before noon the next day whether to break camp or not.
Morning brought near gale force winds periodically with matching low temps. When the sky stayed dark, we packed all but our tents in preparation. By noon no doubt remained we were in for another wet one with possible snow. It’s funny about a bunch of guys dealing with bad weather and sometimes miserable conditions. We laughed at ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ jokes and my rendition of ‘They Call the Wind Mariah Carey’ along with a plethora of equipment humor while busying ourselves deepening drainage channels and wood gathering. We hiked out on our fourth day down the mountain only hours ahead of a storm that dumped water on the town below but snow up where we had been. There are a lot of ways to describe a good time. We had a great time and I have a 1080P movie to prove it. Some of the stills from the movie illustrate my post.
This is the year of the tiger. I was born in the year of the tiger – 1950. I’ve been able to work out, scuba dive, play basketball, ride my old 750 Honda motorcycle, and now backpack into the Caribou after years thinking I would never see the mountain lakes up there again. I’ll be able to draw a lot of memories from these past months. Sometimes things go so well you start peeking around waiting for disaster. Well, I’ve probably jinxed myself now, but I still have a few months left of my year. Maybe I can stay out of trouble a little longer. :)