I try to live in a little bit of my own joy and not let people steal it or take it. —Hoda Kotb
The purple sky reflects on the lake as I slowly wake up. It’s not too cold packing and eating before I head off from this soulful spot. Granite slabs of rock heaved sideways like sliced bread breaking apart catch the morning sun. I go up right away on a very well-built trail, out of breath carrying the bear canister, but likely the strongest I’ve been in my life.
It’s not long before I reach a lake resting in a granite bowl. I wonder if Fontanillis is the place where Ursula’s grandsons jumped from a high rock into the icy blue water. Snow is cradled in the shallows, the orange light creating long shadows. I spy Milk Jug fixing his heel with tape. Water pours out at a stream I cross on rocks.
More awaits me at Dicks Lake, this time with a kind of fan behind of high crumbly granite, snow in its usual place, trees triangular and pointy. I pass some campers, then find myself on a side trail to a camp going nowhere near the actual trail. Four ladies help me find my way, but not before asking about my hike and sharing bear stories, including one where after hiking uphill a half hour, she ran back down to her car remembering she’d left a pack of gum. All was well and she removed the gum, but the neighboring car was ripped open by a hungry bear – and the ranger ticketed them for not removing all their food.
They pile up my canister with their extra food and suggest I bushwhack to the trail – straight up, but on wonderfully clingy rock. I see a figure walking high above and aim for her, discovering as I arrive panting that it’s Blondine from Washington. She looks well and moves fast, but tells me she took several days off to recover from shin splints. I’m silently grateful I don’t have any major problems, though the bones on my back are sticking out and beginning to chafe.
As we fly up Dicks Pass, Blondine tells me she is nervous about the Sierra, mainly because her boyfriend arrives in a few days and they may not move very fast. What if it snows? What if he can’t keep up? I assure her we are right on schedule, though I am staying on task by walking every day to advance to the highest altitude yet, hopefully safely.
The pass is glorious revealing the lakes behind us and the snow-capped granite landscape ahead. The air is rarified, fresh, clean and the sky is a deep blue. I have seen the pointy tops for days and at last, I will head straight into them.
But it is a jumble of lakes, rock and trees and it will take hours to cross to the granite finale. As I begin to descend, a coyote prances across the trail, head up and alert. I descend into forest and come upon a trail crew – though only one appears to have a shovel. He tells me they are volunteers and mostly they pick up dog poop.
Susie Lake hides in the trees. I collect water from her outlet before heading steeply up to Heather, sidling her edge on a granite catwalk, the water azure and glistening. A man passes with a T-shirt reading ‘Whiskey Helps.’ Another man in a doo-rag talks to me about the trail and asks if I need anything, offering me ‘edibles’ which I graciously decline. He says I have three days until weather moves in, maybe even snow. I decide not to think about it now since it’s so lovely today.
One more push up on granite stairs slick with sand takes me to Lake Aloha, an enormous sparkling blue lake on a moonscape of white rock, filled with hundreds of islands dotted with gnarled and twisting Jeffrey pines. I have lunch in shade, mostly of snacks from the ladies and look out on this astonishing place, the sun intense but inviting so many day hikers and backpackers.
When I leave, I accidentally follow the lake and miss my turn, so decide to detour and visit Lake-of-the-Woods, nestled in granite and ringed by noble firs. The light throws diamonds on its surface and I drink a liter of this water. Up more, and just a bit more until it’s all downhill towards the Echo Lakes on a trail of rock requiring careful footing and skillful wielding of the poles. I pass dozens of hikers with panting dogs, many carrying little fitted packs. One woman with two large Goldens asks if the trail just zigzags and when I tell her yes, she wonders if cracking straight up is a good plan. I dissuade her, explaining it causes erosion. I don’t know what she did, but at least she asked. Runners must find passing so many people – and dogs – a pain.
I pass most hikers and fly down into a canyon of lakes. Houses begin to appear, approached only by boat or trail, along with speed boats and squeals of joy from water skiers – or is it the freezing water? The trail goes on and on, one hiker telling me it’s so beautiful, she forgot how to walk. Another offers me her water which I ‘fountain’ at her suggestion and dribble down my chin. I should have collected more, but there’s nothing to be done as I walk and walk passing a cocktail party and an older gentleman with a straw hat reading in the view.
I round a corner and see the resort, where I buy three drinks and down them, one after the other. It’s another steep up before a winding down to the highway. I delight in changing my map from Northern California to The Sierra as though I’ve entered a new state. I need to cross the lake outlet which is a raging torrent, the log bridge underwater. I hate to think of falling here and having to my hike so close to houses in an ordinary forest, so I move carefully, still soaking my shoes.
Mark finds me at highway 50, a busy road of tailgating tourists. We drive into South Lake Tahoe and pick up Klaus at the Mellow Mountain Hostel. I get the last bed, take a quick shower, throw my dusty clothes in the wash and see David again after Oregon. He tells me the Te Araroa is on his list, and I promise to share my friends – who will love him! He offers me a piece of thermarest to use to protect my back from getting rubbed raw.
Then, we’re off, Mark driving us on winding mountain roads into the fading light on the mountains and the flood irrigated plains of Nevada for a dinner ‘experience’ at J.T. Basque in Gardnerville. What a unique place, hats in a neat row on the wall and dollar bills stuck on the ceiling like used tissue, slot machines, a stuffed mountain goat and waitresses in red and black happily bustling about. The place is absolutely packed with all sorts of characters – a group celebrating with huge gift boxes including of a commutative basketball under glass and framed photos, a family with twins in bassinets and a young boy wearing a ten gallon hat, the well-to-do cattleman and the ordinary spiced up in rhinestone studded jeans. We sit in the middle of it all, served a five-course set meal, though I get to choose my entree – the fattiest lamb available loaded with fresh garlic.
We talk for hours and get to know each other even better. I am so fond of Mark and his bringing us off-trail to this wild west feel of a town and this odd, specifically Basque tradition. Full and sleepy, we leave, seeing the full moon a glowing candlelight yellow. Then it’s back up and over the pass, dry the laundry and off to sleep in my upper bunk with two very mellow roommates.
Tomorrow, I walk more and advance the chess piece that is me further along the trail. I am do excited by the sites to come – and eager to hike strong before winter begins knocking summer’s door. Sweet dreams!