Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Visit to the Buffleheads

Six thirty and I find myself sitting in Starbucks on a Saturday morning. Soon I will meet my find and we'll drive to tbe Big Bend ranger station to begin a hike to Loch Leven lakes. As always during these down times my thoughts turn to hiking the entire PCT in a single season. How many things will I have to give up in order to accomplish this goal I have set for myself. I can imagine some of them, such as sitting in a Starbucks doing nothing but enjoying the smells and the taste of a smooth hot mocha. Other things are not so clear and I will not know that I miss them until they are gone.

After a quick drive to the trailhead the work begins. My pack filled with twenty pounds of bird-shot, two four pound dumbells is augmented by two liters (four pounds) of water, my microspikes, my snowshoes, lunch, and a few other things bringing the weight to around forty pounds. This is the heaviest pack I have carried in years. I would never carry a pack this heavy if I was really backpacking. For training though, I am a firm believer in training with weight more than I plan on hiking with.

The hike from the trailhead up to the ridge should be covered with snow this time of year, it's not. There are patches of snow in the northerly dells under the trees, but the trail is mostly clear and wet, with rivulets of snowmelt coursing through the steeper parts. As we leave the vicinity of the trailhead, the sounds of the freeway melt into the silence of an early spring morning in the mountains. The air is cool but not cold, still and silent. The birds are still, for the most part, somewhere else, or still quietly avoiding announcing their existence. The sky is partly, well mostly cloudy, the sun still hiding behind the hulk of the ridge we are climbing.
The Loch Leven Trail is not a remote or hard to find trail. In fact it is probably one of the busiest trails in this part of California, being right off a major interstate within easy driving distance of millions of people. Currently we meet no one. There are signs that other have been through here recently perhaps in the last twenty four hours. But they aren't here now. There was a single car in the lot where we started. Getting on the trail before eight has the advantage of solitude. 
We reach the first lake after an hour or so of uphill climbing. Silence except for the beat of my heart in my ears. I catch my breath and a cool swig of water, lightening my pack ever-so-slightly as we contemplate our goal for today. The last time we were here we discussed leaving the trail here and exploring the terrain between the first lake and the high lake. Normally the trail takes you south around the far southern outlet of the middle lake. Our goal is to find a route that avoids that long way around. 
First things first. we climb a boulder on the shore of the lake and contemplate the sunrise over the cool clear water. Its too early and cool for mosquitoes as we sit and watch a family of buffleheads chase each other around the lake. Diving beneath the water, all six of them disappearing and reappearing as the search for food in the water below. Other than their conversation, and ours, it's utterly silent. The water is like glass, reflecting the trees and sky with perfect symmetry. We discuss our route and look at the map. Strategizing and pointing out our route to each other.
It's time to go.
We skirt through the forest around the first lake and over the stream feeding the second. Our way is blocked almost immediately by a brush covered cliff, its about seventy five feet up with brush choking the gullys and what would ordinarily be the 'easy' ways up. We fight our way through the brush guarding the bottom of the cliff and reach the bare rock wall. There is a fissure that beckons us upward. The hand holds are slight but the hard is solid and firm. Cool to the touch and grippy as sandpaper. We climb. 

From the top we can look across the broken terrain towards our goal. It's still slightly uphill from here, but before we can go up we must go back down. There is no trail and we both take separate routes choosing the way that seems easiest to us personally. There was a time when I would have felt the competition and the need to choose the 'right' way and feel upset if we didn't agree. I am past that now. I almost laugh at my former self with my insecure need to be right. The joy of choosing my path and living with the consequences is happening in real-time with immediate feedback. It's fun and with both experience the terrain differently our paths crisscrossing each others and first one and then the other find's the easier route. We see ponds and streams with waterfalls that don't exist for most of the year. 
A little over an hour later we reach the high lake. It's only about a hundred feet higher in elevation but that is enough to blanket most of the lake with a layer of ice and snow. The ground around the lake is mostly clear, while the lake sleeps beneath its white blanket. We pause again, snacking and thinking about what next. They day is still early and we are where we were trying to get. We found a number of off-trail campsites that we could use in the event we choose to come back here for an overnight trip in the busier part of the year. A solitary hiker appears on the trail and we chit-chat for a bit. I quickly run out of words and fall silent while the others discuss all kinds of things. My mind wanders and I am no longer paying attention. I slouch down the rock and cover my face with my hat, nap time. 

I stir a few minutes later when the sound of voices cease. The rejuvenating power of nature is filling me with a sense of joy and contentment. I can think of no place I would rather be. I try unsuccessfully to remain still for a few more minutes. The mission calls, we must go. We head directly north, exploring in a new direction. Up, down, around, repeat. When training on the sidewalks of my home town I reach speeds close to four miles per hour on a good day. We currently are averaging about one and one half mile and hour as we step over downed trees, duck under the low hanging branches of trees and post-hole down the quickly melting remaining patches of snow. This is not a race nor am I concerned at all at our slow pace. If it takes the rest of the day, thats ok with me. Too soon we arrive back at the first lake and begin our descent back down to the car. 

We see more people now, they are ascending to the sanctuary we are leaving. I envy them as they get to remain where I must leave. For a few short hours I live the life of a thru-hiker, almost able to reach the belief that this is normal. The car appears through the trees, its no longer alone, the parking lot is full and cars are wandering back and forth looking for an opening. We making a couple really happy when we tell them that we are leaving and they can have our spot. In less than seven weeks I will be at the southern border. Looking at the monument marking the terminus of the PCT. That day will not end with a car ride back to family and a warm shower. For a few weeks I'll be doing what I was made to do. Between now and then there is much planning to complete.

No comments:

Post a Comment