Monday, April 21, 2008
My First Time...Part 2
Well last I left off, we were trying to beat the dark, and make it to Azure Lake to camp, which was still some 4 miles away.
Now before I go any further, I should probably point out that my husband and his family have backpacked several times in this area. However, it was mostly when they were kids. Never the less, they all had an idea of where we were going. The only problem was, everyone's ideas were different, which led to quite a bit of confusion.
In the beginning we followed the main trail up the mountain for a quite a ways, and just as we got to the top, the trail split off into about 3 different routes. A couple on the right,and one straight ahead. However the trail we wanted should be going to the left, in the direction of the lake. Or at least where his family remembered the lake being.
From the top of our lookout we could indeed see a couple of lakes in the correct direction. However, it should be noted that the area of Desolation Wilderness has about 100 lakes. So I wasn't terribly confident of making it to the right one.
To be honest it didn't really matter to me. Any lake would do. Heck the first one we stopped at was an excellent choice I thought. Even if it was a bit windy, and all the day hikers would crowd the place up come morning. At least we knew where it was.
It wasn't until after several discussions and the trying of different trails, that we finally settled on the obvious solution. Make our own. We could see the lake right? If we just head down the mountain straight for it, we are bound to reach it eventually.
So all 12 of us troop down the side of the mountain, which was full of bushes and twigs and rocks, thorny things, and all kinds of bric a brac to stumble upon. There were a few nasty falls involving errant logs, but nothing too major, so we were able to carry on just fine. Although how you can "trip" over a log that comes up to your waist, is ... well ... honestly? It was damn funny. Once my sister in law said she fine of course.
Some of the younger kids though could not climb down the mountain and carry their backpacks at the same time, as it required some careful balancing acts. So of few of us took turns carrying their stuff. This of course meant that that we were overloaded, and were walking in a sort of stooped over fashion, like a gang of hunchbacks. I guess we made quite a site. To be honest, I'm not sure we needed 3 pounds of carrots, nor the jars of spaghetti sauce, or ... well, quite of lot of things actually. We were only staying two nights.
Eventually we reached the bottom of the mountain, which opened up to a kind of meadow/swamp area with about 27 billion mosquitoes zooming in like fighter jets ready to attack. No amount of DEET kept those buggers away. I drowned myself in the stuff, and still came away with something like 20 bites.
We tried out various trails, but eventually ended up back in the mosquito swamp when those didn't work out. As indecisive as we were, we couldn't wait too long as it was getting dark, and we were fed up with the damn mosquitoes.
The best thing we decided, as time was not on our side, was to make yet another trail of our own. This way we could just blaze directly to the lake, instead of meandering along and following trails that led the wrong way.
Right about this time, we noticed something important. My brother in law and the dog were missing. Instead of being concerned and looking for him though, we just kept going, pretty much figuring that he would find his way to the lake eventually.
Luis and Clark, we weren't, but we did manage to finally fumble our way to the lake, and yes it was the right one, about an hour later. It was pretty much dark by this time, but the moon above allowed us to see enough that we could make our way across the rocks along the shore.
As we were stumbling around trying to find a flat area, lo and behold my brother in law shows up with dog in tow. I guess he really did know where he was going after all. Not sure what exactly he did to get himself detached from the group, but oh well, he was back and that was good.
Eventually we found a place with a couple of big boulders that were flat enough on top so that we would be able to set up our tents. It wasn't ideal, but as it was approaching 10:00 at night, we really didn't care. Tomorrow we would move to a new spot. For now this was home.
We unpacked, set up the tents, and finally started to get ready to prepare dinner. As I stated before, we were in charge of the meat, and brought several frozen steaks. Considering we had packed early this morning before we left home, it was safe to say the steaks were um ... defrosted.
Oh my god, what a mess! Not only did they defrost, but the air tight packaging they were in, totally exploded due to the altitude change. Blood and juice were soaked all over every article of clothing my husband had brought. He wasn't too thrilled about having to wash all his clothes in the lake that night that's for sure.
Despite this tragedy, we had a lovely steak dinner, and seeing as it was almost midnight, went straight to bed.
I'll I can say is thank goodness bears weren't an issue. Besides the steak scented clothes, the amount of food we had stashed behind some rocks, a little ways from the tents, could have filled a grocery store. Had any creatures come to visit that night, they would have had a gourmet feast for sure. As it turned out the dog got loose in the night, and found the food, but he was quickly captured and only made away with a few Oreos.
Now, this is where things start to go bad.
The next morning I wake up early, needing to use the restroom. Well of course there are no bathrooms, so I make due the old fashioned way. Business concluded, I head back up the hill towards our tent. For some reason, I'm a feeling a bit winded, but I attribute that to being exhausted from the day before, and the high altitude change.
As I settle back into the tent, to catch a few more zzzz's, I feel a distinct rumbling in my stomach region. I try to ignore it, but it's no good. Minutes later I have to use the bathroom again, only this time it isn't the find a bush at your convenience kind. No it's grab the shovel, and dig a hole real quick I gotta go now! Kind. Ugh. Much to my dismay this continued all morning. The good news is, I probably fertilized enough land to grow crops, or at least 12 more trees. Big ones.
As if that wasn't bad enough, I was also feeling faint, weak, and somewhat nauseas too. I needed to eat, but I just couldn't stomach food.
It took about 3 miserable hours for me to be able to eat enough crackers so I didn't feel sick to my stomach anymore. I was still very weak and running to the bathroom every few minutes, so I couldn't enjoy all the fun activities everyone else was doing. Which was an enormous bummer.
I didn't know what the hell was going on with me, but I assure you, I did not want it to be happening in the middle of nowhere, with no proper bathrooms. Maybe that makes me wimpy, but god I felt like hell, and just wanted to go home.
As a result, my husband and I decided to leave that day. However, by the time we made the decision it was late afternoon, and as it was a hot day, we decided to take our time gathering our stuff, figuring even if we left around 5 we would have enough time to get to the car before dark.
Naturally I assumed we would go back the way we came. Even though we off roaded it at the end, I have a pretty good sense of direction, so I was confident that I could get us to the main trail no problem. Once on the main trail, it was all downhill, and we would be able to make it to the car pretty quickly.
My husband had other ideas. He thought it would be best to go back a different way, that presumably would be less hiking uphill. So, following some very sketchy directions from a couple of day hikers that had come out to the lake, we took off.
For anyone who isn't familiar with Desolation Wilderness, first it is absolutely stunning. Lest you get the wrong impression, had I not felt like poop, I would have loved this experience.
However, most of the trails I learned are unmaintained and there are a lot of areas of just granite slabs and boulders. The only way to know you are on the right path is to follow the stacked rocks, that hikers leave behind to indicate a trail.
The "trail" we decided to take back, was mostly unmaintained, and along enormous granite slabs. The beloved stacked rocks that I quickly learned to cherish, were few and far between. Plenty of times we would follow what we thought was the right path only to realize we had veered off in the wrong direction, and had to turn around and start over again. Obviously this wasted a lot of time. And as the minutes ticked away, I was starting to get a tad nervous about finding the car before dark.
We did have a map, and according to that, we were only about a mile or so from the car. Mind you I'm taking directions from a man who gets lost in a mall, and after so many false starts, I must admit my confidence was wavering just a bit.
Finally, we find an honest to goodness dirt trail, and happily follow it for quite a ways to ...
WTF? How on earth can a trail just stop? Why is it even there in the first place? It must have served a purpose. What the heck?
Eventually we noticed a bit of a "path" winding between some rocks going up the mountain, which seemed good, as we knew we had to cross over that mountain somehow to get to the car.
This so called path was about as wide as a pencil, and not only that it wound it's way up the mountain in such a fashion that you had to edge extra carefully along the cliff, which was extremely high up. If you slipped ... well you wouldn't have to worry about making it to the car before dark that's for sure. I'm sweating just writing this bit, it was that scary.
I'm pretty sure I had a mini heart attack right then, but I braved it out, by throwing down my pack for my husband to carry,(I know aren't I nice?) and walk/run as fast as I dared over the cliff edge, and on onto a more stable surface. Normally I wouldn't even attempt such a thing, given that my fear of heights is so extreme, but the way I figured it, this was my only way home.
I just wish that logic were true, so I could say the panic attack I had wasn't wasted. As it turned out that path led us in a complete circle. Arrrgh!
It's now an hour and half before dark, and we are completely clueless as to what to do next. There are no trails leading anywhere and it's too late to turn back around and start over. Oh and did I mention that we didn't bring food or any extra water, since we thought we would be driving away by now and therefore not need it? Panic was definitely setting in..