October 6, 2018
Superior Lake, Elevation 9,394 ft
It’s 34 F and snowing. The wind howls occasionally high up in the trees. The tapping of snow on the tent comes and goes. It’s 9:06 pm and we have been here in the tent since 4:00 today and in the vicinity of Superior Lake since 2:12 today when we stopped for lunch. Outside the tent is a winter wonderland. When we wake tomorrow morning, what shall we expect to see?
I’d had a feeling about today. It was not exactly a premonition, but just a feeling. We’d checked the weather forecast yesterday and were aware it would be raining or snowing at some point in the day, but most of the day was supposed to be pretty easy with over 7 miles of trail, so we figured even if it was raining or snowing, all we needed to do was make the trail miles.
This morning was cloudy and overcast when we woke up. Well, when I woke up. Hurlgoat had been up since 3am, not able to get back to sleep. I’d heard him stirring and woke up as well, but then the sound of the rain gently tapping on the tent lulled me right back to sleep. I was so relaxed and in my own little world of sleep this morning. I stayed buried in my fluffy green coccoon until 7:15 am. By the time I finally forced myself to get up and go pee, I found out how long he’d been awake and I felt bad for sleeping in!
I popped out of the tent and surveyed our surroundings. There was mist, cloud and fog, and a slight drizzle. Even so, we sat outside under the protection of a big tree eating breakfast and having coffee. My coffee turned out perfect this morning, you know the way it does when you get the ratios of all the ingredients exactly right? That was today, it happened. Great way to start the day.
Since we weren’t too jazzed about the weather, we were in no hurry to get walking. We sat around chatting and eating, and slowly, eventually, packing up. I told Hurlgoat that the Sun was going to come out for lunchtime, that all these clouds were going to part ways and they would be beautifully swirling around the jagged peaks in such a way that it would be jaw droppingly beautiful. I hoped to manifest rainbows and Unicorns. I hoped I was right. I hoped it would turn out to be a nice day.
Well, guess what? By the time we started walking at 9:20 am the sky was blue, the clouds were actually dissipating and the sun was beginning to warm the land. We decided that taking a quick side trip up to the top of Devil’s Postpile was worth it, since the SHR takes you right by it anyway.
We armored ourselves against the throngs of tourists and day hikers and made it quick and fun. I have visited this National Monement a handful of times, it’s always cool and always worth it. We chatted with some locals who had lots of questions about our trip and who were eager to tell us of all the adventures they had had in the area too. Another group passed by us on the trail up, and they wanted to know where we’d camped “last night”. Why do they always want to know about just last night? Have they been where we’ve been? It’s alwyas the same question from the people. Strange.
We left across the bridge and reunited with the JMT for a couple more miles, noticing immediately how as soon as you get a half mile away all the people are gone. Vanished. We were alone again, hurray! The next several miles were fairly uneventful, a 2,000 ft climb along first the JMT, then the trail split off from the JMT and continued along to Superior and Beck Lakes respectively.
There are so many little side trails that branch off the JMT and PCT, it’s really cool to be exploring them. To my surprise this trail was well worn, easy to follow and had clearly also been washed out by recent rains. There was one set of footprints that kept appearing, and I guessed it was quite recent that this person had walked there, maybe a day or two.
As we climbed we could see clouds building to monumental proportions to the West and Northwest. I anxiously kept checking my GPS to see which direction we were headed and to my relief, our route was taking us away from those dark, foreboding clouds. It was clearly already snowing in several places, and we both commented that we had never seen cumulous clouds that were so thick and tall.
By the time we reached Superior Lake and its outlets, we were both quite hungry, needed water and I know I was ready to get that 40 pounds off my back! It was after 2pm already and we had made about 8.5 miles. It seems even on trail, we just move slowly. Maybe we spent more time at the Postpile than I thought? No matter, we made it this far, with a goal of only 10 miles per day anyway and since we made 15 miles yesterday, this was fine, perfectly fine.
I was happy because my prediction of the sun being out at lunchtime turned out to be correct, and I could lay out my sleeping bag to get it all fluffed up. The sun baked my sweaty back dry too, and we aired out our feet. We watched the clouds move so quickly, and when they covered the sun, the temperature dropped 20 degrees instantaneously. On went my down puffy.
We ate happily, silently, the way people do when they are hungry. No pleasantires exchanged, just some grunting and chewing. Eventually, we started to have reason to be concerned about the weather. I sent for a report on my InReach and we studied the route up and over Nancy Pass, which was just in front of us. This was the pass we planned to climb this afternoon.
Nancy pass sounds a little sketchy based on Roper’s description, mostly the descent on the North side, with lots of loose talus, possible steep snow fields and loose debris. My friend Double Tap has completed the SHR in sections and has made some incredible notes which he sent me last week. I have kept the notes available on my phone to support the notes in Roper’s book and they are proving to be very helpful! Thanks Double Tap, you rock!
So, I read over his notes too, and he mentioned it took him 2 hours to get from the top of Nancy pass to the next saddle, then another hour to get to Minaret Lake. Minaret Lake was our ultimate destination for the day today. Hmmmmm…..I sat there gnawing on my food and thinking about all this.
Factor in a solid hour to climb the 600 foot wall of Nancy pass, and you have a definite 4 hours of hiking from here to Minaret Lake. At this point, we are looking around at the clouds, looking at our watches, and then I checked the forecast on my InReach. The writing was already on the wall. Do not go any further today. Stop here, stop now. This all confirmed the “feeling” I’d had about today from the get go.
We packed up our gear and left our packs at our lunch spot to go scout out a potential camp site that was protected from the weather. My InReach had told us to expect 60% chance of snow showers this afternoon and also tonight, followed by a windy day tomorrow. We knew we were in for it. As we walked around, the clouds built up, and soon little snowflakess began to drop out of the sky like magic little balls of white foam.
We strolled around trying to find the “perfect” place to make camp as the storm quickly grew. The wind picked up and soon we were hearing rolling thunder. We began to run up and down the trail, adrenaline beginning to surge into my bloodstream. This weather was stimulating, exciting, new and fresh. Especially since I knew we didn’t have to hike in it. All we had to do was make camp and get all warm and cozy.
Turns out we found a fantastic place to pitch camp right under some towering conifers, protected from most of the wind and a lot of the snow. We settled on it and raced back to our lunch spot where we left our packs. When we got there it was full on snowing and the wind had picked up considerably. Visibility was dimminishing too, so we booked it with our packs on, running up hills to get back to the campsite we had found.
We scurried and set up both tents, one for us and one for our gear. The snow was falling heavily by now and we needed to go fetch water. We made our way down to the little creek nearby and delighted in the weather on the way.
We ran into another hiker surprisingly, on our way back from getting water, and we stopped to chat with him for several minutes. None of us seemed to care we were rapidly accumulating snow on our heads and backs. It was just that beautiful. It was a moment. He was out on a day hike and had been fishing at Beck and said he had 9 miles to get back to his car at Reds. We wished him well and he was on his way. We made it back to our tent and got all cozy inside.
We spent about an hour or so staying warm and eventually decided to take a look out at the weather. To our surprise, the snow had stopped and the clouds were beginning to part. Mist and fog were surrounding the nearby peaks, making a strikingly beautiful scene. We snuggled in the warmth of our tent, and each other, for another 30 minutes and then decided that we should really get out and photograph the evening light on these gorgeous rocks with all the great clouds and the orangey-pink colors.
Outside we walked around in the squeaky snow for a while feeling like kids. We enjoyed photographing a stunning sunset, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The weather seemed to be still moving quite a bit, the clouds were zipping across the mountain tops so rapidly. The day hiker we had talked with had confirmed the same weather forecast as we’d gotten, with high wind tomorrow, but he had specifics. He told us there were expected to be 40-60 mph winds on ridges and high points. Dang it. That sucks for climbing passes and we had two to get over tomorrow, Nancy Pass and Glacier Lake Pass.
Well what can we do? By now our feet are wet and cold, the sunset is nearly over, and the cold of night is settling in soon. We made our way back to the tent, and got all cozy again with dry socks and pajama layers. We looked through Hurlgoat’s photos from the previous week, the week I missed. Wow, all I can say is ah-maz-ing! I regret that I had to skip any of this beautiful high country and it looks like the part I missed was pretty epic. I will just have to come back!
Darkness came quickly and we grew hungry. It’s difficult to share this small tent, and it’s even more difficult to cook dinner in the vestibule, so we took turns. Hurlgoat made tea, then I made my dinner, then he made his dinner and now I have made some tea for myself. It works.
We are all tucked in, he is listening to an audio book as I lay here and write. My bedtime tea is soothing and hot in my belly. I still have to brush my teeth and go pee, but then I will truly be able to relax and settle in for the night. I really wonder what tomorrow will bring? I guess we’ll see what happens.