Test Lab Hike–White Pass/Pilot Ridge, part 4 of 5
Posted by joeabbott on September 11, 2012
Day 4 – Rest Day at Blue Lake
The post for Day 3 got a bit longer than I’d anticipated, so I’ll try to be succinct. Not likely going to happen, but I’ll give it a try.
We all agreed the evening’s chill wasn’t as deep as the previous night’s; perhaps being in the bowl of the lake helped trap in some still air, perhaps the clouds from the day before helped hold off winter a bit. Regardless, we woke a bit better rested, I didn’t get up at all during the night, and the day held promise to be beautiful. We had a few clouds in the valley, but they were low and the upper skies were clear. Another gorgeous late summer day!
We’d already picked out our destination for the day’s hike and it was Johnson Mountain, the 6721’ peak off Blue Lakes WNW’s side. The lake sits at 5625’, so it’s a short 1100’ jaunt to the top, and the trail is roughly a mile and a half, so we’d have all day to go a very short distance, do a lot of nothing, and come back when we were tired of doing it.
We arose at, you guessed it, 6:30AM as Ron’s internal clock ticked over to the new day and he started for the tent flap. It was chill enough in the morning and later afternoon air for mosquitoes and bugs to be invisible at these hours, which made for a pleasant time in camp. Food was brought down, stoves heated up water, and we milled about catching up on how many times each other got up to go to the bathroom, what hurt today, or other commentary reflecting on our aging bodies and minds.
I had to re-tape my heels as they were quite sore but the blisters, while they’d grown, hadn’t popped. Then each of us considered whether to save our clean clothing for the last day, or if the stench from several days of hiking had taken their toll. I opted for fresh duds, internally arguing that today would be “easy” and whatever I wore would still be spring fresh by tomorrow. And that wasn’t all that far from the truth. Now if my body had just started the day a bit cleaner!
Around 9:15 we were ready to head out for the day. By this time, many of the surrounding groups that made up the Blue Lake Tent City had moved on, while a few other groups milling about their camps. The path out of the area passed directly by the Love Birds’ tent and they appeared to be kibitzing inside while the day passed them by.
The trail took a meandering route, intent on visiting many areas and the loo, but eventually dropped off steeply, taking a big step down. It then ran away from the lake and within a quarter mile or so, branched: one path leading to the lower lake (“Little Blue Lake”) and the other heading to the top of Johnson Mountain. We chose the latter, heading up the gentle slope to the top of the west ridge of Johnson. By this time, Ron and Tim had forged ahead, I was third, and Dan was close behind.
Somewhere between locations “6” and “22” on the map above, the trail split yet again, and we met our ranger friend from White Pass here. He was taking a break for re-setting signs and we shared a few minutes of chit chat. I then realized that this new split was the fork between getting to the top of Johnson Mountain and the Pilot Ridge route back to the parking lot and Dan’s truck! I clearly hadn’t been thinking the route home well enough, because it just then dawned on me that I’d be heading up the same ridge tomorrow. With a full pack! Suddenly the “gentle slope” of that west ridge looked a whole lot steeper!
But, shock aside, we continued up the branch to the top of Johnson. About where our trail was at it’s east-most point, Dan decided it was was steeper and less interesting than he was liking, and headed back down a bit to the gentle slope and to sun himself in the alpine air. Tim was equally concerned about the repercussions of a fall but continued on, didn’t fall, and eventually made it to the top to see the remnants of the old fire lookout that had once been atop this peak. At this time, only the foundations stood but I’m not sure what brought it down.
I scampered about the top, found the USGS summit register, and tried to find a place to get comfortable. The wind was moving here and it still had the chilly nip of pre-winter in it; huddling made it tolerable but the sun was clear and bright, beckoning for you to stretch out.
We’d arrived at the top around 10:45 or so and for the next hour and a half, I looked at the surrounding peaks, read from my book, ate a bit of lunch, and chatted with Ron. Tim had decided to head down sooner than we did, so Ron and I had the summit to ourselves for a time. But, like a shark, or someone who’s interested in getting out of the wind, we eventually had to get moving.
On the way down, we ran into 2-3 other groups heading for the top, and even ran into the Love Birds who were gunning for a summit. When we got to the turn-off to Little Blue Lake, Ron tried to enlist me in joining him on a trip to the lower lake. My heels smarted, so I dissented but suggested that Tim would likely be game for the trip. Once back at camp we found Tim milling about, he was game, and so I found myself alone in camp. And that wasn’t a bad thing at all.
Shortly, however, Dan came by from a sunning session in one of the nooks surrounding the lake and we idly chatted while waiting for dinner time. As it wasn’t yet 2PM, we had some time to while away.
And that was about it for the day.
We had dinner at dinner time, played cards at card-playing time (Dan won), and Dan and I stood beneath muted stars and drank tea. It was our last night in the mountains and it seemed Mother Nature was doing everything in her power to make us stay: the moon was beautiful, the temps were chilly but bearable, and winds were nonexistent. A veritable paradise bestowed on us. And it wasn’t wasted one bit.
If you’re looking for a tiny slice of heaven and have the wherewithal to put up with a little up-and-down trail that goes on just a touch too long, well, Blue Lake should be your destination.