Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Beaten Path - Day 2 - On to the High Country

On our second day of the Beaten Path, we left early and continue climbing toward the high country.  Some trail sections tilted down but most were up, up, up.  

Larry wanted to start at the southern end because there is less climbing involved.  The south trailhead is around 8,000 feet (2438 m), the trail summit just under 10,000 (3048 m), and the north trailhead around 6,500 (1981 m).  South to north involves less climbing, although one hiker we met at Elk Lake said it was easier on the knees to go the other direction.  She also carried a sunflower umbrella, and walked faster than we did.  You have to respect an older person who has done the trail both directions, walks fast, and has the chutzpah to deploy a sunflower umbrella on a sunny day.  She also pointed out that it was a matter of tradition to patronize the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe on our way home.  I thought wistfully of the highly recommended hamburger as we whizzed by the bar.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

One of our early stops on this second day was in a beautiful meadow through which a small clear creek flowed.  We hadn't been resting long there before a black dog bounded up the trail toward us.  Wow, you're a long way from home, Bowser.  But pretty soon a pack train of horses led by some pretty non-dude-looking types showed up and it was clear who Bowser was with.  The pack train turned off the trail and headed up the hill to a nearby lake.  

Back on the trail again we came to a not-bridged creek. This was not good news to guys who had started to build up a fantasy about dry creek crossings on this trip.  After a pretty dangerous looking attempt to get across on some slippery logs just above an impressive set of rapids -- actually, it really more of a low waterfall -- the accumulation of 120+ years of staying-alive wisdom kicked in and we walked upstream to more level spot.

Now, note, ford does not necessarily mean getting across with dry feet.  If you are aboard a steed, yes, that might be so, but the only steeds in sight went the other direction an hour ago.  

Off came the socks.  Boots back on, we plunged in.  It was neither especially deep nor horribly swift, but there was plenty of liquefied snow to fill calf-high boots had we been wearing them.  We linked arms, doubled trekking poles in the out arms and made it to the other side without drowning even once.  I would have gladly carried some little lightweight fording shoes to avoid many hours of wetfoot.

Speaking of trekking poles, I have learned to appreciate them, and this trip underscored that.  One of many ways to get hurt on this trip is to stumble on a rock and do a face plant (or a rib or knee plant) on another rock.  But beyond the advantages of sticks to ward off klutz moments, they help with balance, take load off the knees, and allow us to put our arms into the walking/packing motion.  You guys in your 30's with your pristine knees don't know what I'm talking about.  You will.  When 60 years old you are, hike so well you will not -- at least not without sticks.  My spiffy little sticks are adjustable (longer for downhill, shorter for up) and have carbide tips that really dig into rocks.

On up we climbed.  None of it was arduous, but for a guy (me) who lives within sound of the sea (Cook Inlet) 9,000'+ (2743 m) of additional elevation was.....umm.....good aerobic excise.  My brother, on the other hand, acted like he wasn't even tired.  He walks slowly and steadily uphill, but on the level, it's hard to keep up with him.  Good thing I spent many hours on the treadmill, stair climber, elliptical and fixed bicycle this past spring.  It's hard on older brothers to be walked into the ground by younger.  I stayed up with him, mostly.

Some hikers we met coming out of the high country reported a lively flock of mosquitoes up on top.  They showed us their headnets and reported that the little suckers made life less pleasant in the Fossil Lake vicinity.  I asked how many mosquitoes got sucked in just in normal breathing, eating and talking because that is the true measure of mosquito badness. I also asked them if they were fishing them out of their food or if there were so many they just ate them anyway.  That's a good auxiliary indicator.  When they replied less than one per hour, and mainly fishing them out, we knew their numbers weren't epic.  But that didn't make us anxious to spend a lot of time in their company allowing them to probe our defenses.

So we walked straight on through from the trail summit just west of Fossil Lake until we got to tree line down valley to the north.  Between the mosquitoes, an electrical storm and accompanying rain and hail, the trees seemed like a good idea.  It was impressive how fast the storm came and went.  From a cloudless west, clouds began scudding in on the wind and getting stuck over the high country.  Within a couple of hours, lightning flashed, and thunder started crashing from far and near, and rain began to fall.  Pea-sized hail began, driven by the storm wind that followed.  A lot of hail.  

Although we were walking right along, the high country was beautiful, even if there was scarcely enough oxygen to support life.  Fossil Lake cried out for a raft from which to explore and fish the large lake.  Fish disturbed the lake surface as we walked by.  

We continued on downhill until we arrived at Twin Outlets Lake where we stopped for the evening.  The sky had cleared, but then clouded up and rained hail again.  We logged quite a bit of tent time that evening, but the skies did clear.  Mosquitoes were few.

I made a mistake that evening.  One of the great features of synthetic insulation sleeping bags is that they can dry out the washing, or at least small loads, anyway.  My mistake was wearing my wet socks in the sleeping bag overnight.  I should have just put them on my chest....anywhere that would have allowed my feet to dry out.  My feet paid for that error as the trip went on.

The Beaten Path
Trip Photo Album


  1. Too funny and ironic. My wife and I recently hiked the beaten path an spent a night at rimrock lake in the exact same campsite (aug 1st). I was awoke. At 4:15 am by something splashing around in the lake and outside our tent. None of our windows of the tent were open and my wife xonvinced me NOT to open them to peer out for fear it was a bear (we had spray, but no pistol). We spent about 45 minutes completely still while something moved around outside our tent and in the water.

    1. THAT made for poor sleeping afterwards, I would imagine. :( Thanks for passing on the story.