An overnight makes the best use of limited time: the drive to the trailhead is the same, but the time outdoors is multiplied. The only problem is finding a free weekend. So with my wife out of town, I was looking for a candidate. The constraint is that I would have to take my two dogs with me. In the past that has not been a problem because they are well behaved and stay close. But events conspired to make this trip a fiasco. Not a disaster, or an epic, but a fiasco.
The first problem is that it was supposed to rain in the morning, then taper off for the rest of the weekend. But it was still raining by mid-afternoon. I could wait no longer, so I packed my raingear and headed out. The trail starts out broad and relatively flat. The mountain side is really steep, but the trail does a good job of heading uphill at a constant angle (which increases gradually the whole way). The views would have been spectacular, except that I was wrapped in cloud the whold time and could not see a thing.
I had read a trip report from the previous weekend that said the lake was under a few feet of snow. So I was prepared to deal with that. But I was hoping that it had melted since then. There were only occasional patches up to the ridgeline, where the trail starts to descend to the lake. But that ridge was a dividing line — on the other side there were only occasional patches not covered by snow, which was still several feet thick in most places. Picking my way carefully down, tethered to two dogs (who must be leashed in Alpine Lakes Wilderness) was a challenge. They were constantly pulling, threating to topple me. Why do they have better traction than I do?
The trouble start crossing the outlet stream. I will skip the details, but in the end we all fell in — the dogs up to their necks and me up to my knees. By now it was just getting dark, but I found a good spot for my tent, on bare ground, not on snow. The dogs were frantic, tied to a tree while I set up the tend in the continuing rain. As soon as it was up, I got inside with the dogs, took off all my wet clothing, and got inside the sleeping bag. The dogs curled up together and tried to go to sleep. Unfortunately, neither one of them could get warm, so they decided they needed to get in the sleeping bag with me. Which might have worked if they were not soaking wet and shaking violently.
By midnight, with rain still coming down, my sleeping bag was now pretty wet, the dogs were still restless, and I was ready to give up. I got up, packed everything up, and headed back down the trail. Despite the utmost care, we all fell into the stream again on the way out. The trail through the snow was hard to follow in daylight, but it was even more difficult at night. I always forget that a big challenge of hiking at night is the cloud of fog that often envelops me, making the flashlight or headlamp ineffective. I went to get out the GPS to see if I was on the right track, and discovered it was not in its assigned place. Damm! I was already 10 minutes away from camp. I could drop my pack and tie up the dogs and go back to get it, but I was not 100% sure I could get back here ( that’s why I needed the GPS). The thought of returning was just too much, so I pushed on, found the trail, and headed back. Maybe the GPS was inside the wadded-up tent, or maybe I put it in the bear cannister, or it is just in its assigned pocket, and I just could not feel it.
As I proceeded down the trail, at a snail’s pack, I developed a theory. I had put it in its pocket, but had neglected to zip it, and when I picked up the pack to leave several items had spilled out. I had picked them up, but I must have missed the GPS. I had just finished my thorough my through inspection, aware that it would be easy to leave something behind. All down the trail, I thought about how luck it was that REI had just put this very model on sale for the weekend.
I got back to the car at 3:00 AM, returned home, and went directly to bed. The dogs seemed really grateful to see their beds. On the way home, I noticed that the rain had stopped, and before arriving home I saw that the sky was clear and that there was a full moon. Why couldn’t this have happened a few hours earlier?
At 5:30 I awoke suddenly, with the conviction that would have to go back and get the GPS. I could run up the trail — it’s only four miles, just a normal Sunday run. I hurried to get prepared, before I changed my mind. I took a minimal pack — just my hydration pack, microspikes, and a camera. I started running, but that only lasted a mile or so, until it got steep. But I kept up a really brisk pace, racing up past all yesterday’s landmarks. The snow was still hard, so the microspikes worked like a charm. Crossed the stream without incident, walked up to camp, and picked up the GPS exactly where I expected to find it.
The night before I thought I could hear another party, but never spotted them. In the daylight, there they were, camped a hundred feet away, in the snow. It looks like they were just getting up. Perhaps they were surprised to see a runner up there, so early — I did not stop to chat. Returning, I was surprised to see a party of three just coming to the lake not ten minutes behind me. They must have been moving as fast or faster than me. On the way down, I passed at least 20 parties heading up the trail. I guess everyone has been feeling cooped up this week.
- don’t take two dogs when they have to be leashed, especially in the snow;
- don’t take a dog camping except in warm weather;
- double check departure inspection after putting on the pack.