“Is that all there is?” We’d just scrambled 200 feet of nearly perpendicular, scree-scattered forest to this lake that looked like a glorified backyard pond. But it was ours and ours alone. Less than 20 miles from Sun Valley and less than three hour’s drive from Boise, we were alone on a lovely August Saturday afternoon. So the lake was a bit underwhelming. The solitude was priceless.
Our hike began with a 4 A.M. bolt from bed, then the drive to the trailhead. We signed the back country registry at mid-morning and faced a daunting river crossing. After stumbling around the, now dry, flood plain on the other side of the river, we concluded that a newly placed sign marking the trail was pointing in the wrong direction. Re-oriented, we began hiking beside the river on a sweet, shaded trail that looked as tame as an urban bridle path. A gentle mile brought us to a fork and another river crossing. Then the work began. Three miles of steady uphill switchbacks led us approximately 1600 feet to the broad meadow of a cirque. The path covered varied terrain: shady forest with verdant mountain flowers and ferns, compacted talus that crossed intimidating rocky slides, interspersed with lovely meadows that unwrapped views of the surrounding Boulder Mountain peaks and ridges. I pondered how the contours of this country would appear in the nude. Trees camouflage the terrain, softening the wrinkles the way a well-coifed woman’s hair camouflages the unevenness of her beauty.
Around noon we reached the meadow. At a dry pond, our path faded into a scattering of rock cairns beckoning us around the shoulder of a talus covered hill toward a copse of trees and a saddle that hinted of contained water. Surmising that the lower of two lakes lay behind that saddle, we began stair-climbing under the weight of our packs. By 1:15 I crested the ridge and looked down at what remained of a bleak green pond puddled in a rocky basin at nine thousand feet. This was not a welcoming place to pitch camp. Lacking the energy to continue climbing up another 400 steep, rocky feet of elevation gain to the second lake, we retraced our steps back to the meadow.
During this time, we heard voices of other travelers, but we never saw them. Perhaps they were more informed than we and headed directly to the other lake. After settling in for the night and refueling with a spot of Irish whiskey and Mountain House fine cuisine, we explored our meadow and found the faint trail that leads to the other lake.
Driven to bed early by mosquitoes and deepening chill, we slept soundly but for the snuffling and munching of deer who stepped gingerly around our tent like subway commuters step around homeless panhandlers. A light patter of rain entered my semi-consciousness. Sleepily, I envisioned breaking camp in a howling wind and rain storm. Sigh. A light drizzle of frozen rain greeted us in the morning, but the clouds were in full retreat by coffee time. As we descended back towards civilization, we could see a fine dusting of snow on the tallest peaks in the distance. It won’t be long before we trade our hiking boots for ski boots.