Friday, January 7, 2011

Flat Tops, Day 2

Day 2: Meadows, Sheep Dip, and Undeveloped Real Estate (6 miles)

As with day 1, Kevin was the first to arise. Again, his first act was not to heat water. Damn. I was up shortly after first light myself, so Kevin must have been up and ready to go under the last of the setting moon. Together, he and I went to retrieve the food. Good thing there was two of us—probably had about 80 pounds a food in those seven sacks. A small burro wouldn’t have been unwelcome in carrying the food back to camp. 

 Adequate rations for a week of camping.

The morning was cold, and there was a bit of ice in the pans left outside. I built a fire with the leftover wood from the night before, along with a last piece of the Wall Street Journal (!?) that Dan S. had brought along. Nothing burns like Wall Street, so the fire was up and going in an instant. Kevin got water from the lake while I started the fire. By the time that Dan T. and Oliver emerged from their tent, the fire was hot and the water was heating over the flames.

Ricochet, who had slept outside, refused to move until Oliver got up. He would gratefully accept charitable handouts of attention, but he didn’t want to come closer to fire for any actual warmth. Once Oliver emerged, Ricochet got up and limped around, whimpering and looking mighty sad. He was cold and sore, and he wanted Oliver to know about it. When I got to thinking about it, I realized that while we had aged two years since our last trip together, Ricochet had aged 14. No wonder he woke up sore.

Dan S. remained a rumor for quite some time. Some of us began to speculate that he had walked back to Sweetwater Resort (that hotbed of liberal intellectualism), to pick up the current WSJ. This rumor was dispelled by the voice from the tent, which once again complained about the cold, the lack of hospitality, and the poor service in general. A nose briefly poked out of the tent, but quickly retreated when confronted with the cold of the morning and unadulterated odor of his fellow MountainGuys. We couldn’t really blame Dan for staying in the tent. With nothing but cold oat bran to look forward to as a morning meal, why would you want to get up?

Breakfast for the rest of us consisted of fresh coffee, oatmeal with dried fruit, and granola. With breakfast done, camp was quickly broken, food was packed, and the two groups of MountainGuys were ready to set out their different ways. Well not quite. Dan S. and Kevin were ready to go at about 9:00 a.m., but with at least 30 pounds of food to pack for each of us, Oliver, Dan, and I were struggling to make it all fit. We didn’t get out till 10:00 a.m., late even for us.

 More early morning efficiency.

Now, before continuing, it is important to recognize Kevin and Dan for their budding MountainGuyness. No, it doesn’t wash off. You either exude it or you don’t, and sadly for them, they do. When faced with a choice of trails, to hike back the way they came or to set forth and return on a new trail, to “do the loop”, as we say, they chose to do the loop. It is this spirit of adventure, this desire to see new things and to brag incessantly about it afterwards, that is essential to the MountainGuy makeup. (Not that kind of makeup, the other kind.) Yes, Dan and Kevin, you have what it takes to be a MountainGuy. Sorry.

While Kevin and Dan were seeking their adventure on the way home, back to bikes and traffic and hot springs, our trail led further out, away from such comforts of the modern age. The morning found us hiking through high mountain meadows like none we had ever seen. These meadows ran for miles between peaks and past streams and small lakes. From the top of a rise, one could see for 10 miles to the top of the next rise and the peaks beyond. 

 High meadows. Trappers Peak in the background.

Anxious to make up time, we set a blistering pace despite carrying about 35 pounds of food apiece. Dan found that the blistering pace was leading to real blisters on his feet, something he struggled with throughout the trip. On that second day, though, still hopeful that small pieces of moleskin might make a difference, he diligently tried different techniques and patterns to alleviate the pain. Nothing worked. (By the end of day three he would discover that by encasing his feet entirely in moleskin, like moleskin booties or slippers—very stylish really—he was able to hike through the day without making things worse.)

In the high meadows, it was not uncommon to have two or three trails running parallel to each other. These trails would merge, split off, recombine, and then disappear altogether. The major trails were marked with cairns, but the minor trails were not, and finding our way was sometimes challenging. The bushes proved to be a menace even in the meadows. The trail would run into a clump of bushes, splintering into a countless number of “trails” heading in all directions before simply vanishing. The going was slow, and despite the relatively level terrain, the hiking was not easy. Hiking poles were useless in these areas, and both Oliver and Dan ended up carrying the poles lashed to their backpacks.

Our trail found us rounding Shingle Peak, before descending to the creek that ran out of Shingle Lake. As we headed toward the creek, on a stretch of trail that was really quite good, we found ourselves wandering through the middle of a herd of about 5,000 sheep. Oliver quickly leashed Ricochet, and a good thing, too. A giant white dog came out to greet us and escort us past his flock. I suspect this dog could have given a good-sized bear a decent battle, so we quickly shelved the idea of grabbing a couple of lambs to add to our small larder. This decision was reinforced when five other large white dogs joined the party. Bit of a nervy moment, really. We never did see any shepherds—the dogs seemed to be taking care of business all on their own. But by radiating the ethereal calm and quiet self-confidence for which MountainGuys are so well known, we were able to walk on past without further trouble.

From the creek, the trail slowly wended its way toward a series of small lakes to the west of Trappers Peak. This was our destination for the night. Through most of the morning we had been traversing high meadows, but shortly after noon we entered a small woods. We had not taken ten steps before we chanced upon the most perfect forest duff, a soft spot within a small copse that called to us so strongly that I don’t doubt that it was the work of wood elves and magic. We had to stop.

 A most perfect resting spot.

Despite the wood elves and the magic, lunch was a pedestrian display of cheese, crackers, dried fruit, salami, cookies, and chocolate. The naps, however, were excellent.

The afternoon hike was uneventful. No dogs, no sheep, no elves, no magic. We made camp at a large lake (by local standards) that was over a small rise from the trail. The near side of the lake was a steep tumble of rocks and cliffs, but the far side looked promising. Despite that promise, the lake had little to offer in the way of a campsite. We did find a small site that had an old, spruce-needle-filled fire ring and a couple of flattish sleeping spots, but the site was so small that a fire could not be made without risking the trees or the tents. 

 View back to Sheep-Dip Meadow. Distances are deceiving--
it's four miles to the top of the meadow.

The one bright spot about this site was dinner, which we had carried in with us. Dinner that night was curried tuna with rice. The recipe went like this: First reconstitute vegetables and mushrooms in water. Cook 3 cups of instant rice, and add the reconstituted vegetables to the rice. Fry onions, apples, and curry in olive oil in the skillet, and then add tuna in yellow curry sauce. Add hot peppers, salt, and pepper to the sauce, and then combine it with the rice. Cook the combined rice and sauce for another 10 minutes. Yummy.

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