As I drove up the never-ending forest road to meet Tricia and Tommy, I saw the sun rising ever so slowly in the sky. After I came around a bend, the sun scattered it's brilliant light through silhouetted trees filling the dusty road in a golden hue. Baker lake was obscured far below, save for a few patches of it's turquoise color. It's namesake loomed above in quiet repose.
The trailhead parking lot was starkly empty except for my client's car. I never saw a picture of Tommy before meeting him. But it was clear when he stepped out and stood by Tricia they were siblings (except for Tricia's vibrant red hair that you can see from a mile away).
The sunlight lingered around for about 15 minutes before ashen grey clouds moved in. It was like a fond memory of a summer now gone. We did some pre-hike portraits and set off on the trail. Drip. Drop. Drip. Drop. The rain had started. Hoods went up. Tommy and Tricia's boots clanked along the various hollow-sounding boardwalks on the trail going up.
The rain was in full-effect by the time we descended down some slippery rocks to the lakes below us. The trail along lower Watson Lake was now like a small tributary. Water flowed steadily down the trail forcing us up onto the sides and into the wet vegetation further soaking us. Try as we did, water inevitably seeped into most of our boots, stealing what little warmth we had left. I asked Tommy how he was holding up and if this how he imagined his first time backpacking? He replied that it wasn't exactly what he hoped for, but it sure made things interesting.
We skirted Lower Watson lake for a few minutes working our way to Upper Watson Lake. The trail crossing was blocked by a log jam of a precarious nature. I elected to try things out first. I slowly and cautiously stepped on each log just waiting for it to collapse under my weight and throw me in the water - thankfully it never did. After attempting this for a couple of minutes, I suggested we find another way around rather than get drenched in two feet of water.
The rain continued to fall vigorously and without refrain while the wind sucked all the warmth out of my face as I searched for another way around. Tricia and Tommy waited patiently at the logjam during my solo expedition. I returned about 10 mins later on the opposite side announcing the victory. They followed me back from across the way and with much wariness leaped across from some wet rocks to a slick hillside.
With still no interruption in the rain, we made our way past a raging waterfall, across another precarious log jam, and up to what would be Tricia and Tommy's campsite. The campsite was perfect. A rock outcropping with scattered trees, bushes, and a flat dirt area big enough for several tents. What more could you ask for? Oh, and a dozen waterfalls across the lake cascading down the sheer cliffside.
Tricia helped her camping newbie of a brother set up a very small single-person Mountain Hardwear tent that she had borrowed for the trip. After everybody had set up their tents, I made all haste to set up my own. Hours went by and the rain was still a constant in our lives. I left the comfort, warmth, and relative dryness of my own tent and checked on Tommy and Tricia. They had been passing the time by reading an e-book and playing a version of six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
With Tommy and Tricia content in the still dryness of their tents, I set off to explore the lake. The constant rain was slowly becoming a secondary thought in my mind - something I almost came to regret later. While climbing up to explore one of the dozen or so beautiful waterfalls, I slipped on a rock and in turn slammed my right wrist onto a flat rock. Underneath all the excruciating pain I was thinking, "No, no, no, not my camera hand!" After resting for a while, the pain subsided and I made my way back to camp and my wrist was luckily feeling fine.
After returning I checked in on Tommy and Tricia. Apparently there had been some sort of incident. I'm a little foggy on it, but it involved water in a backpack they didn't know was there and quite a few things getting soaked. This was on top of Tommy's skinny jeans and socks already soaked. Through all this, Tommy and Tricia persevered with as much dignity and grace one can with completely soaked clothes. The warmth of the sunset never touched us. Instead, the blanket of grey continued to engulf us with droplets of water and a starless sky.
Queue sunrise. I laid in my tent under the veritable warmth of my sleeping bag and watched the light change outside from a dull colorless sheen to a bright gradient of colors. I emerged from the cocoon of comfort and heat, put some plastic grocery bags around my feet, and slipped on my water-logged boots. The water around the lake was still, unburdened by the rain. I called over to Tricia and Tommy across the way, they were already awake. A few scattered clouds littered the pure sky and changed color as the sun rose.
After some breakfast, we trekked through the still water-logged vegetation, to a viewpoint just up from the lake. As you leave the main trail and hike up ever-so-briefly, the valley suddenly opens up, and right above it draped in white, is Mount Shuksan. The view was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The ever-changing sunlight filtering through clouds layered the mountain in depth and shadow. I could tell by watching Tommy that this was in complete contrast to the concrete jungle of New York he lives and works in. They say 90% of communication is non-verbal, and when he saw Mt. Shuksan I could tell he felt the same as I did, utter reverence.
I asked Tommy and Tricia if it was awkward having a total stranger photograph them for 24hrs. They said, "Yeah, at first. But then we realized you were cool and it was ok." Well, thanks, guys! On the hike back to camp, I discovered a shared love for Tolkien when I mentioned that the tarns along the trail resembled the "Dead Marshes" from Lord of the Rings.
Now that the rain was gone, the wildlife was back. The sweet sound of birds chirping resounded through the trees, even some rats came out to say hi while Tricia and Tommy were eating. After shooing the rats away, they were able to finish their meal, pack up and we were on our way out.
The water level in the impassable tributary from yesterday was now much lower. We decided to give it a go on the logs like a game of frogger. I carefully hopped across first, then Tricia. Tommy stood on one of the logs trying to psych himself up to jump across for a good full minute or two. He finally made the jump and across the rest of the logs. Back at the car we did some post-hike portraits and parted ways.
This was my second Adventure Photo Session in a row with a first-time backpacker. In both sessions, everyone did great, despite enduring miserable conditions the first day. I felt honored to be a part of their initiation into the great outdoors. Thank you so much, Tricia and Tommy!