Saturday, March 12, 2011

High Uintas, Day 3

Day 3: Upper Davis Lake to Kidney Lakes (1.2 miles)

The night was cold, cold enough to freeze water-bladder tubes left exposed and to cause ice to form on the surface of the lake. Though strikingly repetitious, I was again first to rise, followed shortly by Kevin. The air was cold and damp, which is not conducive to movement among cold-blooded animals, like MountainGuys, but the promise of hot coffee got Oliver and Rick to shed the tent and get moving. Dan was a bit slower, since, as a non-coffee drinker, his wake up call was cold oat bran. Sure would hate to sleep through that.

Because of the cold air and the high elevation (11,000 feet), tents and bags were slow to dry. We did not hit the trail until 10:00 a.m. Though a good showing for many casual campers, for MountainGuys any departure after 9:45 a.m. is a bit of an embarrassment. However, the late departure did give us the opportunity to repair the firepit and replace the sod, and also afforded us one more chance to look at the map and re-review our options. Every contour line had already been dissected, each bend in the trail evaluated, but still, the options had to be reviewed. Stream camp by the Uinta River, a campsite further up the river toward Gunsight Pass, Kidney Lakes, Queant Lake, all were discussed. In detail. To those who did not want to do the 50-mile loop, Gunsight Pass looked suspiciously like a set up, for those who wanted a lay day, the stream camp along the Uinta River looked seriously boring, and for those who had tired feet and weary legs, Queant Lake looked decidedly far away. Nonetheless, they were all good options, and so none could be rejected. There was but one thing to do: punt. We would boldly strike forth to Kidney Lakes, take a look around, and then decide what to do.

 Ready to hike in the morning. Lower Davis Lake in the background.

It was a good plan, a plan that no one was stumping for but whose obvious simplicity made it obvious. With a flurry, final preparations were made, packs were hoisted, and we were off. The path from Davis Lake to Kidney Lakes first took us across a high, boggy meadow, and then over a low rise, where we picked up the trail. By 11:00 a.m. we were at Kidney Lakes, and though we still had grander plans, we kind of figured that as long as we were there, might as well look at the campsites.

The trail proceeded down a narrow isthmus between the two lakes, and though there were several promising sites, there was nothing particularly exciting. But then word came back that at the end of the lake, just across the stream, there was a very fine site. And a fine site it was. Large and flat, with many tent spots, a good cooking area, an excellent food hanging tree, and of course, lakefront property.

Now, normally, we would sneer at any site that was but a mile from our last encampment, but this day was different. Clouds had been building up in the south and west since about 10:00 a.m., and it was starting to look like we would see some nasty weather. And besides, a short day of hiking wasn’t all that different from a lay day, a chance to rest weary bodies and sore feet. The short day would also prove beneficial in other ways. By stopping at Kidney Lakes, the long loop trail was out. Stream camping along the Uinta River was out. There was but one option left: Queant Lake. It is just his kind of bold decision-making that sets us apart from run-of-the-mill outdoorsmen, from people who make plans and then stick to them. MountainGuys do not fear the uncertainty of indecision or the ennui of uncertainty. It is a state of mind and being that is unique to the environment, because it would almost certainly lead to a near-death experience if our women-folk were around.

With renewed energy, the kind that comes from knowing that you can finally kick back once all your chores are done, we set to work. Tents were erected, food was sorted, firewood was collected, and the food-hanging tree was set up. Chores done, it was time to fish, and nap, and even hike back to Davis Lake. There was a lot to do.

 Campsite at Kidney Lakes.

Though not before lunch. The decision-making had been a bit acrimonious to this point, but there was one thing we could agree upon—mealtime. Lunch was a casual, if gaseous, affair, featuring peanut butter and jelly on tortillas, cheese and salami on tortillas, dried fruit, almond clusters, trail mix, and, of course, chocolate. Lunch also proved to be a delightful social time, with a chance to say hello to our three bow-huntin’, horse-ridin’, mule-draggin’ cowboy friends, who, it turned out, had spent the night at Kidney Lakes and were just now hittin’ the trail for Milk Lake, their ultimate destination.

The three cowboys were barely off before we had the pleasure of welcoming a young bow-hunter from a camp situated up the creek between Kidney and Davis Lakes. He was a friendly sort, who was happy to explain that he lit out three to five miles a day in search of elk. Wanted to know if we seen any, then answered his own question by noting that it wasn’t likely since we had been making more noise than a freeway. Guess that he and his companions had heard us up at Davis Lakes the night before, had heard us hike by their camp in the morning, and could pinpoint our location without difficulty from two miles off due to excessive flatulence. With such a positive greeting, we felt obligated to offer him the opportunity to join us in peanut butter tortillas, but he politely declined, saying that they gave him gas. With a friendly wave and a nasty comment about being “catch and release” fishermen, the young guy melted into the forest in search of his elusive elk.

With social hour over, it was time to button up the camp and get off to whatever afternoon activities were on the agenda. As noted, the clouds had been building throughout the morning, and by noon were starting to look really threatening. By 2:30 we had rain. By 3:00 we had snow, and by 3:15 we had hail. Some of it not so small. Oliver and Kevin were on their way back from Davis Lake, where they were on a mission to retrieve Kevin’s wayward knife, when they were overtaken by the fast moving storm. Of course, they were prepared with proper rain gear and their unerring sense of MountainGuy direction, so returning to camp was no problem. As they explained later, “We could have stayed out longer, but cross-country exploration just isn’t that much fun in white-out conditions.”

Dan and I were downstream from Kidney Lakes fishing when the storm went through. Of course, we were prepared with the proper rain gear. But fishing in a hail storm isn’t much fun either, especially since the fish don’t appear to be interested in coming to the surface to feed when the surface is being pelted with marble-sized hail. So Dan and I returned to camp was well.

Rick was holed up snug in his tent during the storm. Sleeping snug in your tent in a hail-storm is cozy and warm, so Rick had no place to return to and no reason to do anything different.

The worst of the storm had moved through by about 5:00, though the rain continued to fall for some time after that. Oliver and I reviewed our options. We could sit under the tarp and stay dry while making dinner, with the risk of having to retire to bed at 7:30 p.m. to stay warm, or we could attempt to build a fire in the rain with the hope that the skies would clear and we would be able to stay up all the way till 9:00 p.m. Again, a bold move, but aided by tinder-dry pine needles from a nearby deadfall and the large stash of dry wood we had collected earlier in the day, the fire was started with a single match, despite the inclement conditions.

With the fire started, we began to heat water for dinner. This was a slow process, however. Wood would be piled onto the fire to get it going, the rain would start falling, and we would retreat under the tarp. The rain would abate, we would pile wood onto the fire to get it going, the rain would start falling, and we would retreat under the tarp. Slowly, the conditions improved, and as the sun went down we were treated to a really fine sunset with vibrant red and orange clouds lighting up the evening sky.

Hanging out in the kitchen.

Dinner that night was beef stew, which was, admittedly, a bit of an experiment. I had been seeking a way to provide a hearty and tasty soup in a light and easily carried package. The package was light, and easily carried. The soup was not wholly unflavorful. However, it was not adequately hearty owing to an oversight at the food-sorting table. The two cups of converted rice that were to bulk up the beef stew had been left behind, so while the soup was hot, it lacked heft. Nonetheless, despite the less than stellar reviews, primarily from Dan, who claimed he could feel his stomach shrinking with each bite of the thin gruel, I was encouraged that the quest for a good meal that could be easily cooked on a cold, long day would be fulfilled. A new and improved beef stew will be on the menu for next year. 

 Clear skies after the storm.

By the time dinner was done, the clouds had blown off and the stars were out. The air was getting cold, and even the fire and the tequila were insufficient to keep the cold at bay. We extinguished the fire, and with a final toast to a fine day, set off for the cozy warmth of our tents.

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