The promise of agreeable weather was interrupted by thickset fog and a drizzle of rain. For two of the three boys, this would be a milestone - their first time backpacking. The Adventure Photo Session was a graduation present for Matthew, and what better way to celebrate that than by bringing your two best buds?
The slide that had fallen across the road months ago was still present and made parking interesting. We managed to wiggle in-between some cars and were off. The boys climbed over the massive rocks, roots and trees that blocked the road. The rain kept the otherwise dusty road placated as our boots kicked up the dirt. After an easy 15 mins of trekking up the road we reached the Independence Lake trailhead.
A grey sheet of fog continued to obscure the forest. Giants clad in brown armor stood guard alongside the trail. The boys wandered in utter glee about seeing new things. "Look at the size of that mushroom!" "How old do you think that tree is?" It was refreshing to see these boys experience the awe of nature for the first time.
Independence Lake arrived without much effort. An intricate spiderweb hung low on some logs, nearly touching the translucent water below. The otherwise vibrant lake was shrouded by the weather, only giving us glimpses into its clear and cold water. We pressed on. Vegetation drooped over the trail, drenching us as we pushed it away.
The sign for "North Lake" signaled the start of the unrelenting and acclivous portion of our journey. Thomas, or "The Machine" as I liked to call him, was just that. He led the pack and never seemed tired going up. The rest of us required many breaks along the way.
The overgrown foliage and other greenery continued to assault our jackets, pants, and boots. We squeezed under and climbed over a few downed trees on the way up, passing our bags over first. When we reached the top of this arduous journey, we spotted a young owl not ten feet up in a tree, just scoping us out. The rain continued and so did the trail.
We had come up 3 miles so far, through the lush and soaked forest, now it was time to go down. With limited visibility, it could be hard to see where the windy trail was leading us at times. We passed by a number of small tarns and kept going. We ended up at a decent sized body of water but we were definitely off the main trail. After a minute or two of back-tracking, we found a small cairn and a path up a small boulder field just past a previous tarn.
The windy and rocky trail trail continued downwards. Slick and narrow in spots, the rocks on the trail were ankle-breakers lying in wait. The fog let up briefly and we were able to glimpse the lake. We were almost there. We came out through some trees and there it was, or what we could see of the lake.
The boys were relieved to have made it. After a little break we broke off and inspected the very small shoreline and neighboring rocky areas for possible campsites. Spots to camp were pretty scant, but we managed to find enough to fit all of our tents. A few day hikers lingered around but left soon after our arrival. Jonathan, the more experienced camper of the teens, helped Matthew and Thomas setup their tents after getting situated.
The rain was still coming down, albeit in a slight drizzle, but enough that after eating lunch we all just went to our respective tents and passed out for a couple of hours. I slept lightly, eagerly watching the light on my tent in hopes of the sun coming out. Sure enough, in the late afternoon the fog slowly dissipated. The lake was bigger than we thought and situated below some prominent peaks like a bowl of soup.
The sun lit up the steep and verdant hillside across from us with a rich green color. Fish popped up from below the lake trying to catch the insects floating on the surface. With dinnertime approaching, the guys were soon eating some warm freeze-dried meals. Matthew asked, "So what is there to do?" I replied that this is it. Enjoy the peace and quiet, hang out, just relax, that's backpacking. An attempt at spear-fishing was had by Jonathan and myself to no avail. Rocks were skipped well into the evening and cairns were made on the floating logs next to shore. The sun retreated behind steep walls and the fog rolled back in.
The boys were out like the rocks around them. I was up early. The last vestige of night faded away and a gradient of colors gave way to the morning. The lake was cast in a blue sheen until the sun came over the ridge-line above. The tents lit aglow and the lake changed from it's melancholy blue to a shimmering yellow that revealed the age old stones below it's surface.
The boys were still sleeping, it was nearly 8:30 am and I wanted to try and scrambled up Independence peak above us, so I had to wake them from their slumber. The dreary eyed teens ate some breakfast and packed up their gear.
The Hike Back
We set out up the rocky path, now with everything visible we saw just how far we had come down and how gorgeous everything was from above. The sun was getting higher and hotter. After making it to our "owl spot", we detoured on a boot path towards Independence Peak. The path was straightforward and easy at first, but then the path shrunk and became a little more precarious. I had the 3 amigos wait for a couple of minutes while I scouted ahead. I made the call to turn back after reaching a particularly sketchy gully of scree I thought unsafe for some first timers. On the way back the boys scrambled up a smaller peak and got what I call their "smaller summit."
The hike back down with the sunshine and relatively dry vegetation was a breeze, except for our knees. Independence Lake was out in all it's glory this time around. It's pristine blue was cold but inviting. Thomas and Jonathan decided to jump and corral a beached log and move it out into the lake for some fun. The sight that ensued was quite hilarious. If you've ever tried to move a large log, let alone balance on one, you can imagine how it went. Many failed attempts at standing up and trying to dive off the log, were foiled by the log's incessant need to rotate once the two boys got on top. Needless to say they enjoyed the cold water, as did Matthew and I just soaking our weary feet.
Weary and tired, but filled with adventure in our souls, we made it back to the car. The boys seemed to learn a lot about backpacking and enjoyed the new experience. There's that quote that says: "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone" and I think the boys did a little of just that on our trip.
Till the next adventure!