From Rae Lakes to Lake Marjorie
It’s raining on J. Cold, wet drips, as the frozen condensation inside our tarp melts, splash on his face. None of them hit me – I’m happy to stay in bed – but J feels otherwise. We can hear Teal hacking even though we can’t see him. He succumbed to temptation and smoked during his time in town, and he sounds like the Marlboro man, 30 years after the commercials. Guess it’s time to get up.
Bluesman takes off ahead, then Teal, with me and J bringing up the rear. We hike downhill a long ways, then turn into another valley and begin the long uphill to Pinchot Pass. Teal is under a tree, eating skittles. We throw down our packs and join him, and I put on my windshirt despite the warm sun. “I thought this was a windshirt,” I explain, “but it turns out it’s actually mosquito armor.”
“The mosquitoes can still bite you through that,” J chimes in.
“No they can’t.”
“Yes they can.”
“Well, they choose to never do so then.”
“That’s considerate of them,” J replies, irritatingly.
The mosquitoes have been sneaking up on us, absent sometimes, swarming others. It figures that someplace this amazing would have something wrong with it… a high-pitched whine in your ear and an itch you can’t scratch. I switched to wearing pants for the sun exposure, but now I’m doubly glad for the protection.
Starting up the uphill, I charge it. We run into our buddy Crush, getting water at a stream with two other ladies I don’t know. I had thought Crush was way ahead of us – he’s got legs like a seven-foot tall gazelle – but I think he gets hung up chatting with people. He’s always saying ridiculous things, preceded by the phrase, “as they say in Texas…”. His rationale for this is that there are enough people in Texas that no matter what he says, someone else there has probably said it at least once. The two ladies introduce themselves as “the girls.” They’ve just jumped on the trail a few days ago.
“Well, if you’re the girls, then one of you is left and one of you is right, right?” I ask them.
“I thought the same thing, but figured I didn’t know them well enough to say that,” Crush laughs. We pass on by and keep charging up the hill.
I’m exhausted. Why am I charging uphill? Why is this hill so big? “How far are we?” I ask J.
“Looks like about 4 miles to the pass still.”
“4 miles??” I throw my pack down and nearly have a meltdown, but I need to make a trip to the bushes more than I need to throw a tantrum. I’m sitting there with my pants around my ankles when I spot a lean, dun shape moving through the bushes nearby. “Mountain lion!” I think. “I’m going to get eaten with my pants down!” I hold perfectly still and watch, and the shape emerges again – with a sharp nose and bushy tail. Coyote. It’s a beauitful specimen, a bit thicker than the scrawny desert dogs I’m used to.
Four miles is long ways, but we walk it. We’re coming up on the pass – a long mountain ridge closing off the bowl we’re walking in. “Which spot do you think is the actual pass?” asks J.
“Mmm, I think it’s that low spot over there,” I reply, pointing to a dip in the ridge.
“I think it’s that one,” J says back, pointing to a different one. But I won the flip of the coin and we head to the right.
My favorite part of going over a pass is the moment just before you crest, when all you can see of the other side is bright blue sky, and there might be anything over there – lakes, castles, the waterfall over the edge of the world maybe. Then you crest, and it’s sharp ridges and mountain waters and Bluesman, waiting for us to share the view. We sit on top of everything and eat snacks.
Crush and the Girls are not far behind, and they stop for snacktime too. Another hiker, (who, inexplicably, has packed his pack so that his bear can dangles and smacks him in the butt every step he takes) makes the top as well. The Girls had assumed that their hiking partner was right behind them (he also, inexplicably, packs his bear can so it hits him in the butt) but it turns out that we’d all been mixing the two guys with giant packs up, and the dude hiking with the Girls is actually several miles behind, with altitude sickness. “Did you guys ever discuss what you would do if you got separated?” I ask them.
“Uh, no.” Soon, the conversation is all about plans of action, whether to go back, or leave a note, or ditch him because they don’t like him. I’m all involved until it suddenly dawns on me that this conversation is about attention, not solving the problem of a greenhorn hiker with too big of a pack and altitude sickness, and alone. I leave.
I left the conversation, but it keeps bothering me that there seemed to be no plan to go back and make sure this dude was ok. I don’t care how big of a prick someone is, it’s bad form to ditch them without even telling them about it.
We get to Lake Marjorie in the evening, just as the mosquitoes come out to swarm and the fish are out to bite. J takes his rod and catches us a whole mess of little brook trout that we steam with wild onions we’d found earlier in the day. After pasta sides and crackers and stale cookies and ramen, fresh trout tastes so real. The Girls show up, sans hiking partner. We go to bed late enough that we’ve outlasted the mosquitoes, and don’t set up the net-tent. Mather Pass tomorrow.