It’s September. Labor day is just around the corner. Another summer is ending. As usual, I do not know how this is possible–how a season composed of days which feel so warm and lazy always seems to pass at the fastest clip. Still I am eager for the change–for raindrops and drops in temperature and trees to drop their leaves (although I doubt Santa Cruz, or the rest of California, will comply with my desires).
When Christian was little, his family marked the end of summer with a backpacking trip to Warm Lake in the Goat Rocks. He took me there in 2010–right before we moved to California–it was my first backpacking trip and I was instantly smitten. This is in spite of the fact that I was eaten alive by mosquitoes (photos of me from this trip show comically large red bites running up and down my brown legs); in spite of the fact that Christian led us up some literal goat paths before finding the correct path to our chosen campsite (consequently adding a mile or more onto what was already a 10 mile hike). It didn’t matter. I loved passing the day in almost complete solitude–maybe seeing one other human besides Christian, maybe not. We had an entire lake to ourselves. Sure, it was a very, very cold lake, but it was crazy blue and beautiful, surrounded by wild flowers and totally remote. In that remoteness, my mind emptied itself of its usual anxieties and I felt immersed in the moment. We read next to our lake, sprawled out on sleeping pads; we plunged into its cold waters; we hiked to waterfalls and pumped water at the creek; we cooked over a tiny flame and played gin rummy until the mosquitoes drove us into our tent. And at night the black sky cracked open and a million brilliant stars spilled out above us. Being there felt extraordinary.
This summer, Christian and I joined five friends for a three day backpacking trip in the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area (near Mammoth Lakes, California). We hiked seven miles in to Lake Ediza. We went up: across creeks and alongside waterfalls, vistas rising up behind us. At Shadow Lake, we sat beside the shore and ate lunches–peanut butter and jelly, bread and cheese, salami and trail mix. Then we climbed on: under trees, over rocks, on a path that cut through wild flowers of every color and hugged the rushing creek before jumping over it, departing from and then returning to its winding waters again (and again). Eventually, we rounded a corner and Lake Ediza spread out before us. It was stunning. In the distance you could make out a tent or two but it felt empty–big and isolated; crazy blue and beautiful.
Once again I fed a small army of mosquitoes (I counted 37 bites, mostly on my legs but I’m sure the actual number of bites was even higher). It didn’t matter though. Once again my mind emptied itself of the customary concerns and I reveled in the moment and marveled in that place. Daily tasks are often more difficult in the wilderness (cooking, hygiene, even sleeping all take on a particular effort) but life feels much simpler. I read Vonnegut next to the lake and when I felt hot or dirty, plunged myself in its frigid waters; I played card games on the large rock we used as our kitchen before and after dinner and cooked over small flames (instant coffee at breakfast, grilled cheese at lunch, mac and cheese and other backpacking fare at dinner); I day hiked up to elusive alpine lakes and watched the sun color the sky and pour onto the waters of Lake Ediza as it disappeared behind the surrounding mountain peaks at the end of each day. We explored and talked and stared off into space and splashed around and even celebrated a birthday. And at night the sky split open and stars flooded the darkness. The place was new but the experience was just as I remembered. Five years later and I’m still smitten.
A mix of iPhone and DSLR photos from our backpacking trip to Lake Ediza below: