September 19, 2018
Grouse Lake to Horseshoe Lake, Elevation 10,300 ft
We are cowboy camping again tonight, and I just got snuggled into my amazing sleeping bag. Perched up on my stomach so I can write, the nearly full moon is casting it’s soft feminime glow onto my face. It is a totally still night, about 45 F and very comfortable here next to Horseshoe Lake at 10,300 ft. I have a full belly and did some self care this evening in the form of rinsing off my dirty naked body in the lake, and doctoring the blisters and peeling toes that have been problematic since the CT. I have a hot cup of tea warming my belly and my soul. Life is good.
We hiked roughly 10 miles today, it’s difficult to guage exactly, but Hurlgoat has been recording the tracks on GAIA still, so today it tells us we hiked 10 miles and climbed 2,400 ft, descended 2,300 ft. It was not a difficult day by any means, but rather pleasant, leisurely, and really beautiful. We could not have asked for better weather. There’s been not a cloud in the sky, and while that generally forebodes the best of conditions, and it has in this case, we both commented tonight how we miss the giant cumulus clouds of Colorado decorating the sky.
We were up at 6:45 this morning and layed in bed inside the cozy tent, lingering in the aftermath of a good night’s sleep and taking advantage of the fact that we really do not have to rush. What a different pace this is for me. Don’t get me wrong, I can very easily get used to it, but not having to get up and start walking immediately feels so luxurious, so different. We sat outside making coffee and eating breakfast until the sun rose in a magnificent burst over the ridge and graced us with much desired heat. We layed out our gear to get dry then, as we had quite a bit of condensation and even frost inside the tent. There’s no cure for a wet tent like the fresh first rays of light from a new day.
Our first task for the day was to navigate up to Grouse Lake Pass, our first pass, yay! It would be some 700 ft above the lake, and the route was nebulous, with Roper’s book and Skurka’s notes saying to take either side. We chose to hug the left side of the lake and made our way up granite slabs, grassy ramps and a few boulder piles. All in all it took a mere 45 minutes to get to the pass, and from there we took in the views in every direction. To the South lies the Mt. Brewer Range and the Kahweas in the distance. It was, indeed a stunning view. We were cheerful having suscceeded so easily up what was the first of 33 passes we will cross on this route. One down, 32 to go!
Making our way down toward the basin below and then climing up to Goat Crest Saddle took some time. We would have liked to stay high up and traverse more directly to the saddle, to the North, but we could not. The terrain was way to steep and rocky, so we had to first descend, then gradually make our way around a ridge of granite, climb back up, make our way up and around another granite mass, and finally ascend a nice long grassy ramp up to the saddle. Once we reached the saddle, there was a really beautiful little pond of pure snow melt water, reflecting a cobalt sky. It was unbelieveable how crystal clear that water was, and we both filled up our bottles, enjoying the delicious and pure, icy cold beverage. The best infusion nature has to offer.
On our way down from Goat Crest Saddle we met a nice retired age gentleman, who was making his way up, and we stopped to talk with him. He was the first human we met on the route so far! Turns out he was a back country ranger for Kings Canyon NP for 42 years, and he was a wealth of information. As we parted, he threw in a book recommendation, caled “The Last Season” which I will most definitely check out! He then wished us well and we were glad to have taken the time to stop and chat. Meeting people on the SHR will be an infrequent occurence, and as it goes with the trail, you always meet the most kind and interesting folks.
From the saddle, we made our way around first to the Eastern slope and then cut down straight toward Glacier Lake, the first of two we would be passing by. When we reached the shores of the lake, we looked back up and the view of where we’d just come from was impresive. Dang, we just dropped 800 feet! The shores of the lake were equally impressive, like the best beaches of the Carribbean, with gravelly yellow sand and turquoise water lapping at it’s edges. We couldn’t help but stop here for lunch, as it was already 2:00 pm and just too beautiful not to linger a while.
Hurlgoat tried some fishing at Glacier Lake and taught me how to cast too. Let’s just say, I need more practice. Turns out there were literally no fish in this lake and after 30 minutes we decided we’d better get going. We wound around the far side of the lake and down a slope to the second (and lower) of the Glacier Lakes, which was just as beautiful. Lower Glacier Lake’s shores were lined in golden grasses and owned a backdrop of huge, textured granite walls. As our guidebook recommended, we crossed the lake’s outlet and stayed to the far end for the descent into Glacier Valley. This descent turned out to be steeper than I’d expected and we took our sweet time making our way down.
Once in the valley, we could clearly see why they recommend the route we took, as there is a sheer granite dropp off right where the outlet trickles down, you simply could not have gone that way, unless you are a serious climber with safety equpiment. Now, we’d dropped into a lush meadow of yellowing grasses and the remants of what was earlier this year, little snaking creeklets, now filled with icy cold black bottomed pools of water. It was a mile walk up the valley, super easy walking, until we reached the State Lakes Trail, and hooked onto that for a couple miles.
The State Lakes Trail takes you around Upper and Lower State lakes, aptly named for the towering granite walls and peaks right at the water’s edge that make you feel small and humble. We stopped at one of the lakes to take some photos and briefly contemplated stopping there for the night because we could clearly see there were a ton of fish! It was a little too early to stop though and we only had a couple more easy trail miles to make it to our destination for the day, which was Horseshoe Lake, so we pushed on.
We meandered around the second State Lake as the sun began to dip low on the horizon. Since we happened to be traversing and hugging a western facing slope, we were treated to stunning views of the fading golden light in the valleys below, stretching out to eternity and beyond. So much space! The sunlight trickled in through the airy forest of lodgepoles, making beautiful shadow art to admire as we walked. Time slowed down and it was like walking through a painting. The large sandy granite floor created an ambient light which reflected the late day sun, and all the world was floating and good. This is my absolute favorite time of day to hike, lending a peaceful, magical feel to the world and as I walk I think of some floaty, ethereal song lyrics “I live in a hologram with you”….
By about 6:45 pm we arrive at Horseshoe Lake and it is also just as beautiful as the State Lakes. Maybe even more! We decided to cowboy camp and got our beds set up in a cozy flat spot on a floor of pine needles in the trees. I decided I wanted to go for a rinse in the lake since it wasn’t too cold out. I splashed myself clean in the water, now almost shivering, as I watched the reflection of the sunset, along with the darkening silhouettes of black trees on Stiller than still water. Hurlgoat was on the far side of the lake and when the moon rose above the ridge he howled like a wolf, “ohw-whooooooo”….and I howeld back “ohw-whooooooo”.
I used my micro sized, cut in half, pack towel to dry off my goose bumped body, and got dressed at the shore of the lake. Finally warmed up again, I started making my dinner. Shortly, Hurlgoat joined me in our “kitchen”. We sat cross legged on our little foam pads, enjoying our meals under the light of the moon, silent, content. As it grew slightly colder, I brewed some herbal tea and then began to long for bed. We settledd into our cowboy beds side by side, propped up on our elbows and studied tomorrow’s route on the maps together. What surprises and beauty will day three bring us? I can hardly wait.