Arno hung a thermometer in the tent and when we checked it in the morning, it read 30 degrees. Below freezing inside the tent.
The morning was cloudy and windy, which made us reluctant to get moving. But my knight left me snug in my down sleeping bag, and got up to make coffee. I had been mostly warm during the night. In our rush to pack, we had accidentally brought the summer tent, made primarily of mesh to encourage a brisk airflow. Though I had the extra-luxurious air mattress, it was not enough to block the freezing temperature of the snow from chilling any part of me touching the ground. One nice thing was that I had thought to bring my wet jacket into the bag with me and by morning it was dry. Voila!
We drank the first press pot (yes, coffee snobs must use a French press even while backpacking) and ate breakfast in our bags. While Arno was making the second pot, I finally emerged from the tent to see that the clouds were burning off and the sun was out! What a difference the sun makes when it’s so cold.
To our surprise, another backpacker came through camp around 9am on snowshoes. He had camped at Russell Lake, and was now exploring. Our plan for the day was to go exploring up toward Russell Lake. For the rest of the day, we saw his snow shoe tracks all over the place and I was glad we had met him, so I knew who to imagine when I spotted the wandering tracks.
We returned to the Pacific Crest Trail, and soon left behind the footprints of Saturday’s day hikers. For much of the day, we were breaking new trail, watching for the little triangle brand mounted on trees to mark the PCT. I liked the idea that we might be helping a future hiker, so we tried to stay on the trail. Breaking the trail was hard work, but welcome effort, because it kept us warm. We took turns being in front, since the one following had an easier time of it.
Our earlier hiking was easier because the snow was more frozen and we didn’t sink in very far. As the day warmed the snow, we sunk deeper and deeper. We passed lots of lakes. So many that they aren’t all named. Some frozen over, and the larger ones liquid and sparkling in the sunshine.
Around mid-day we found a snow-free zone beneath some trees, and we stopped for lunch. We had to carry our down coats and thickest gloves and hats for the stops, so that we didn’t freeze when we stopped plowing the snow. I was grateful that Arno thought of this ahead of time, and that way I stayed warm all day.
After lunch we punched a hole in a lake and pumped some water to fill our bladders and a spare Nalgene bottle, then went back to camp. Not quite ready to stop for the day, we continued past camp and circled around Scout Lake to the other side, and discovered some truly stunning views of the mountain across the lake.
The sun had dried some duff on the north side of the lake, and we went to the place to sit and rest in the failing daylight. It was obviously a campsite, cleared of nearly all human traces. Except for one sandwich-sized ziplock bag of a thick brown substance. “Looks like a bag of poo!” I said, in my delicate ladylike way. Now why would someone leave this? WHAT is this? Eew. I could just imagine the conversation of the people leaving camp.
One says to the other, “Don’t forget the bag of poo. I’m not carrying it.”
“I don’t want to carry the poo! Let’s bury it.”
“You can’t bury that, it’s plastic! Why did you put poo in the bag in the first place?”
We found a spot to sit and read the map, eat some trail mix, and talk about stuff. Arno and I can talk a blue streak. I complain sometimes that he talks too much, but I’m a total jabberbox too. We talked and stretched and took photos and laughed in the sun till there was almost no more sun. The moment the sunbeams left us, it got cold quick. It was time to go back.
But… there was still something that had to be dealt with. Arno shook the last of the trailmix into his mouth. “Hand me that bag,” I said. “I’ll put the poo in here.” And I did. And I carried it out. Bleh. People.
The hike back went pretty quickly and it was still early evening when we unloaded our gear at camp. We crawled into our bags in the tent and played a game of Yahtzee. Then ate sausage jambalaya for dinner. Yummy and filling.
Monday morning dawned brilliantly! Clear blue skies and sun, sun, sun. Diamonds sparkled across the snow and in the branches of the trees. We had our coffee outside, and ate orange cranberry muffins. We finally caved to the begging Whiskey Jacks and shared our crumbs. They were obviously used to people and came very close to us. One even hopped onto Arno’s boot, so we got out the camera and took a bunch of bird photos.
The hike out was amazingly beautiful. So warm I took off my snow pants and just hiked in leggings. We counted people heading up and passed 16 of them! Only two had full packs, so the rest were just day hikers. I was doubly glad we had stomped the trail for them.