Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Last Photo....?

I have a few pictures to share from our trip to the Spy vs. Spy event near Lake Tahoe. Not of the event--I was too busy causing mischief and mayhem to get pictures, but after the event, Amanda and I spent a few days in the area and took our time driving back to Seattle. It's not like we're in the area often, so we wanted to make the most of it.

After the event, I got dumped off at various trailheads to find my way to wherever I wanted to go. Even in June, snow can be an issue at high elevations, so most of my hiking activities were confined to trails near or on Lake Tahoe rather than the mountains surrounding it. The mountains were calling to me, but they would have to wait another day.

For my first hike, I decided on a near-loop that would start me at the trailhead for Cascade Falls, take me around to Eagle Lake, come down to Emerald Bay, then end at the Eagle Creek Campground a short jaunt up the road from where I started. This is Cascade Falls. Not a very creative name for the waterfall, but it is pretty. =)

Next up is a photo of Emerald Bay with the rest of Lake Tahoe in the background. I stopped to rest, drink water, and admire the view because, WOW! What a view!

Next up is my first view of Eagle Lake. I reached the high point of this hike from this vantage point. The trail followed the ridge down towards the left to a gap another mile or two, then down the canyon back to the lake. It doesn't go straight down the mountain from this point!

I just love this old gnarled trees.

Snow plants were all over the place. I found this group growing alongside Emerald Bay.

This next photo, I swear I don't remember taking. I was as surprised to see it while going through my photos later as the next person. It appears to be a bird flying over Emerald Bay. I do remember taking photos from this vantage point--I just don't remember the bird being in it. And looking closely, it appears to be largely black or dark brown with a white head. Did I actually get a photo of a bald eagle?!
Next up is Vikingsholm, an interesting little place nestled along the shores of Emerald Bay. It's apparently open for the public to check out, but I only admired the outside. I had a scheduled to keep to and didn't want to be late for my pickup!

And another photo of Emerald Bay. I just liked the clouds and the light. I could hear thunder coming from those clouds as I hiked along the shore, but fortunately the rain didn't come for me.

The next day I did another hike from a scenic lake to a scenic meadow whose names I can't remember off the top of my head. Bearclaw Lake? I'm pretty sure it starts with a B. Anyhow, that's not important. Just after leaving the lake, I ran into a bit of trouble--the trail led me to a meadow, then disappeared! I scratched my head a bit, and tried to retrace my steps making sure I didn't miss a subtle turnoff or something. I examined the topo map I had for every tiny squiggle and mark that might help me out, but for the life of me, that trail was gone. So I took a photo of the non-trail. Do you see a trail in this photo? Neither do I, but that's apparently where it was supposed to be. I had a pretty good topo map to go cross country, however, so I wasn't terribly concerned about getting lost. (I did not, however, have the compass--Amanda and Lea had it to find letterboxes!) I determined that the trail led to the gap just to the left of the hill you see in the photo and headed for that. (The gap, not the hill.) The meadow was marshy, though, and my feet kept sinking in muck. It was like the Florida Trail all over again! In the photo, the meadow looks pretty solid, but trust me, everything in that photo has about a half an inch of water under it.

Anyhow, near the gap, I finally came across the trail again and followed it out the rest of the way without any additional trouble. The trail went down through a steep canyon, enormous in scope, but sadly puny in pictures. I won't post those photos because it really doesn't do the area justice. Instead, I'll leave you with these two photos of flowers I found growing alongside the trail. =)

Amanda and I then started our trek back to Seattle with a quick stop at Lassen National Park along the way. This is a place I've wanted to visit for years, and the only national park in California I had never visited. It's tucked away far in the northeast part of the state, alone and neglected. A park few people seem to be aware of, and fewer people seem to visit. As the area was along our route, it seemed like the perfect time to visit. When would we get another chance?!

We stopped at the Visitor's Center, learned a bit about the park, then decided on a game plan. I would hike down from the Visitor's Center--there's a trailhead right there that leads to Mill Creek Falls, then I could hike out past two lakes and the thermal features of Bumpass Hell. It seemed easy enough at the time.

And the hike to Mill Creek Falls was indeed easy. A simple waterfall, but nice. The trail was well-traveled and snow-free, although I passed nobody along the entire route. I took photos, ate a snack, drank some water, then continued on my way.

I encountered the first problem almost immediately: There were no bridges crossing the creeks that fed the waterfall. The spring runoff was quite impressive, and while I could have tromped right through the water, I preferred to keep my feet dry if possible. I scouted around, trying to find a series of rocks and boulders I could jump across, and finally did so without getting wet. Or dead. The creeks feed into the waterfall. If I slipped and couldn't stop myself from getting swept away by the current, I'd be going over the falls! I took a photo from the top of the falls, and wondered imagined being swept away and over the falls. Would the photo survive? Would they find my body and see the last photo I ever took? Or would the camera and photo be ruined by the water or the plunge?

I crossed the stream a bit upriver as far as I could--enough so I felt safe that if I did take a dunker into the water, I could get out before I went over the falls. I made it across the creek safely and dry, but not before taking this photo of some flowers growing in a rocky outcrop in the center of the creek. The flowers fascinated me, growing there in the center of the creek. Surrounded by water on all sides, save from the torrents of water. Protected by the torrents of water, in fact, assuming hungry animals wouldn't want to fight the raging water to get here.

The trail was becoming increasingly difficult to follow. It was clear that few people ever hiked out beyond that view of the waterfall and across the water. My map showed a trail here, but it was obviously need of maintenance past the falls. I followed the thread of a trail another mile or two until it reached another small meadow and I bumped into the first couple of patches of snow. The snow didn't concern me too much--I expected patches of it along the way in shady areas. Then I looked up across the meadow and my heart sank. I saw patches of land. A nearly universal layer of snow covered the upper end of the meadow, completely obliterating the trail underneath. Where the heck had all that snow come from?!

Now the hike became a battle. Me against nature. And nature was kicking my butt! Several times I lost the trail completely, searching ahead for any signs of human intervention. A cut log, a marker on a tree, the faint hint of a trail where the land occasionally poked through the snow. The snow crunched underfoot, but I slogged along, wondering if I should turn back. At least it would be easy to follow my own tracks back out. The trail ahead looked like it hadn't been hiked all season, however. I couldn't follow the tracks left by the hikers before me--there were none! I had a trusty topo map, and read the land for clues about the correct direction to go. The compass, once again, was with Amanda. This time, I really wished I had the compass. I had miles I needed to hike through this snow, mostly in trees that blocked many of the waypoints that I could use to mark my progress.

But mostly, I watched for the markers on the trees. They were few and far between, but whenever I spotted one, my heart lifted. I knew I was still on the right track. I knew a search party would eventually find my cold, lifeless body if I somehow died out here. Just so long as I was still within view of one of those markers.

I was thrilled when I finally reached Crumbaugh Lake--the first major waypoint I was hoping to hit. I didn't venture near the shore--I wasn't entirely sure exactly where it started. The snow led right up over to the edge, and the edges of the lake were frozen. I didn't want to get too close to the shore to find out that I was actually over the water before I plunged through the snow and ice to my death. So I steered clear of the shoreline.

I felt pretty confident that I had found Crumbaugh Lake, but I didn't see any signs to mark the location. I compared the shape of the lake to that on my topo map, and compared the location with the mountain ridges surrounding it. Yes, this must be the lake I decided, although a sign to confirm it would have been nice.

I veered around the left side of the lake--according to my topo map, that's where the trail was and significant areas that were exposed to the sun had no snow at all on that side. At the far side, I found a sign confirming that it was indeed Cumbaugh Lake which pleased me enormously. The sign was positioned where they expected most hikers to come in at--not where I hiked in from.

I also pulled out my umbrella. The sun was hot, and I wasn't in the trees anymore.

The next waypoint on the hike was Cold Boiling Lake, but this one I figured would be comparitively easy to find since it fed the creek that led into Crumbaugh Lake. All I needed to do was follow the creek and I'd get to the right place. So off I tromped.

I was so confident about following the creek, I largely stopped looking for the markers on the trees. Put my topo map away, and charged through the snow, keeping the creek within hearing distance at all times. Which isn't to say that I wasn't keeping my eyes open for markers, cut logs, or signs, but I stopped searching for them as actively as I did before. The creek would guide me. I was sure of it. As long as I didn't follow it up some unrelated tributary. =)

Along the way, out in the middle of nowhere, probably not on any trail at all, I found a message for me in the snow. It said, "Fun." The word was made of twigs, that seemed to have fallen randomly from the surrounding trees. Or maybe some other hiker with a twisted sense of humor really had passed by, but if they did, they left no tracks in the snow. The snow around the twigs melted faster than the rest of the surrounding snow--the dark twigs absorb the heat of the sun more than the reflective snow does, then the heat melts the snow. So the message was inlaid into the snow. I felt certain that the trees were mocking me.

I reached Cold Boiling Lake after another hour or so of hiking--covering a distance that normally would have taken me half that time. Like Crumbaugh, I shied away from the shoreline, not exactly sure where the snow ended and the water started. On the far side of the lake, the snow vanished from view, and I had high hopes that my snow trouble were finally over. The trail was supposed to climb up a south-facing slope, and south-facing slopes tend to have significantly less snow than north-facing ones. I hoped this was the start of a snow-free zone once again.

I stopped to rest, eating a Pop-Tart and drinking much of my water. I also pulled out the walkie-talkie and tried to call Amada on it. I was already an hour late from when Amanda expected me to arrive, and I still had miles to hike before reaching the trailhead where she would pick me up. I knew she'd grow increasingly concerned the longer it took for me to hike out. If she were at the top of the ridge, there was a chance she could pick me up on the walkie-talkie and I could put her mind at ease. But alas, she didn't respond to my calls.

The trail climbed up the ridge, along which was mostly free of snow. Occasionally there were large patches of it, but finding the route consisted of continuing to go straight until the snow stopped and that's where the trail would be found. The trail looped around Cold Boiling Lake nearly 180 degrees, but this time up the mountain ridge rather than the valley I followed to it, passing by a bird's-eye view of Crumbaugh Lake. I couldn't help but notice that had I hiked directly up the steep slope from that lake, it would have been completely snow free. I'd have missed Cold Boiling Springs, but under the circumstances, I wouldn't have minded.

I finally reached Bumpass Hill, a cauldrin of bubbling mud, fumerales, and boiling hot springs--an impressive display of nature. I had also reached what I considered to be civilization. I saw two people in the distance walking on the boardwalk--the first people I had seen since leaving the Visitor's Center earlier in the day. The trailhead was still another mile or two away, but a lot of people hike out to Bumpass Hell to see Earth's fury, and I knew the trail would become clear, well-trampled, and populated at this point.

I tried calling Amanda again from the walkie-talkie, and got a response. She was at the trailhead, waiting for me, and glad to know (finally) where I was and when I would be arriving.

I wandered around the thermal features a bit taking pictures, then continued my hike to the trailhead. The two figures I saw from a distance had already left, so I never spoke to them.

The hike out was exhausting, pushing through snow nearly the entire way. At least the trail was quite clear from the multitudes of people who tromped through it before me, and packed down considerably better than before. But I still found the snow exhausting and frustrating.

At a viewpoint where I could see the parking lot, I slipped on a couple of stone steps, slamming an arm into the pointed edge of the rock step--the most serious fall of my hike, ironically within view of the parking lot! I cussed a few times, then called Amanda again on the walkie-talkie, telling her that I could see the car and that my arm hurt like crazy.

At the trailhead was a wonderful, large, bright orange sign with a warning: "Trail Hazardous: Travel not recommended." Ha! NOW they tell me this? When my hike is over?

I got into the car, finally ready to go home. I needed a rest. =)


Anonymous said...

Do you know the approximate distance you hiked? How long in total did it take? Thanks for the great report.


Anonymous said...

Whoa! What an awesome trip you took us on! I could swear I can feel the snow that's slipped down my own shoes just from reading this! I love virtual hikes! Thanks for sharing!
Mama Huntin Dog

Amanda from Seattle said...

Ryan's Hike was supposed to be about 6 miles from the parking lot at the Visitor's Center to the Bumpass Hell Trailhead---from Bumpass Hell to the Trailhead where I was waiting was about 1 1/2 miles (the part I 3 miles roundtrip for me :-)

sarcasmo said...

Wow now I want to go to Lake Tahoe for the hiking and photo-ops...thanks for sharing. Those rocks can be tricky...;)

Anonymous said...

The lesson I've learned from your excursion is...Ryan needs his own compass! Or Amanda. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your hike, thanks!