I kept my face tucked into my sleeping bag, out of the cold night air. Per Brian's advice, I'd worn my Buff around my eyes when I went to bed, which felt odd at first, until I woke up during the night and peaked out from my bag to find the full moon shining bright on our meadow like a spotlight, making sure we didn't miss the sheer beauty of this place we temporarily were calling home.
Around 6am, with the moon dipping below the ridge line and the glow from the rising sun beginning to warm our little vale, I started to hear the others in the group stirring, packing up sleeping bags and breaking down tents. Not wanting to be the last one to breakfast I hurriedly got out of my bag, slipped on my shoes, and began packing away my bed. With so little to pack up, I was soon heading to the kitchen spot out on the rock ledges to join the others for some breakfast of instant mashed potatoes and cheese (we forgot to add the bacon, which in the moment seemed like a bummer, but paid off in full later on when we added it to another meal).
Enjoying a hot breakfast on a cold morning with (L-R) Bill, Alan, Rod, and me. Incidentally, bear canisters make great seats. Photo courtesy of Bonnie.
I'd like to pause for a moment in this story-telling to introduce you to our merry band of hikers. In Day 1 I introduced you to our intrepid guides, Alan Dixon and Brian Robinson. The rest of the gang was: Rod, an experienced hiker and retired LA detective; Phil from Tulsa, a bike-packing enthusiast; Bonnie, a San Franciscan who completed the John Muir Trail earlier in the summer; Bill, a trail runner and software developer from NJ; Mike and Tom, a father son duo; and Chris from San Diego, who signed on to the trek just one week before go-time. With any other mix of people this trip might have had a completely different outcome, but because I was lucky enough to share the experience with such a wonderful group of adventurers, I now have a new hiker family.
Back to the trip report.
With breakfast completed it was time for our first official lesson in using a map and compass. We gathered around Alan and Brian and watched as they showed us how to orient the map, taught us phrases like "red in the shed" and "declination". Have no idea what I'm talking about? Well, I had no idea what they were talking about either. Clearly there were star students in the class, others who'd either taken courses in map and compass reading (Bonnie) or who just seemed to know a lot about a lot of things (I'm looking at you Phil and Rod). I tried to keep up, absorb as much information as I could, and not look as bewildered as I felt. Alan pointed to our destination for the day, Moose Lake, on the map.
Today we would take turns leading the group, finding the route, and picking our way through the terrain. Remember, there are no trails to follow at this point, so it's up to us to get to the next point on the map safely and (hopefully) efficiently. We hoisted our packs, took a last look around, and headed out.
Right: Alan would often give directions by pointing and saying "You want to go there". It was up to us to figure out how.
As was our trend for the trip, we headed up. And up, scrambling our way through, over, and around rocks of varying sizes. On Day 1, when we'd been climbing steadily on relatively smooth, graded trail, I lagged behind. I felt tired and worried that I'd be too slow to keep up with the group. But out among the rocks with no trail to follow I felt free and strong. My legs seemed to find their stride, and if I fell to the back of the pack it was usually because I was stopping to take photos.
Above: Brian climbing out of the little meadow we'd camped in the night before. This was the last we'd see of a significant patch of trees for a few days.
The day was filled with anticipation of getting to Moose Lake. It was hard to know how far it was in a world with no trail signs and no guide book. It seemed that every ridge we climbed had another one right behind it. We went up, around, down, and back up again. Several times the group would stop, confer about course corrections, look at Alan and Brian for some sign of assurance, and sally forth.
Throughout the day I was carefully rationing my snacks, worried that I'd left too much food behind during the previous day's harsh reckoning. A handful of nuts now would mean one less handful later. Should I eat my energy bar now? Or save it until the next stop? As I nibbled my way through my snacks and climbed my way over rocky ridges, I marveled at the sights around me. The Sierras were like nothing I'd ever seen before - vast, impressive, remote, and magnificent. In my home state of North Carolina you rarely peak out from the green canopy that covers most trails. Here in Sequoia you could see for miles, a sea of brown and gray and spotted with green, a wide blue sky above you, and undulating ridges and peaks in every direction with clear blue lakes filling in bowls and dips throughout the mountain range.
Ahead of us was yet another ridge. There was some discussion among the group about whether to go up and over or around. The up and overs won out, and soon we were climbing again. The September sun shone down clear and hot as we picked our way through the ever present rocks. Coming up over the ridge we gasped: before us was Moose Lake, as beautiful and inviting as Alan had promised. Eager for a swim, we dashed down the hill to a perfect sandy beach. Packs and shoes went flying off and most of the group jumped in. We guessed the water was around 60 degrees, which seemed just perfect.
Above: Our first view of Moose Lake
I'd been skeptical about Alan's assurances that I could get by with just 1 shirt for the 5 day trek, but as I laid out my now rinsed and clean shirt on a sunny rock (don't worry, Mom, I was wearing my fleece jacket) I was glad that'd I'd been willing to listen to his advice. My comfort zone was getting a little bit broader by the day.
Now clean and rested, we began to set up camp. I'd enjoyed the feeling of sleeping out beneath the stars the night before, and with no rain in the forecast, I decided to try it again.
Left: my bed at Moose Lake
Above: Hanging out at Moose Lake, L-R Alan, Rod, Brian, Phil (coming back from lake) and me (far right), getting in a little alone time. Photo courtesy of Bonnie.
The evening routine of cooking dinner, cleaning up, packing up our food and putting toiletries into our bear canisters ensued. After two days of climbing I was tired, and as the sun set the temperature dropped and I began to get cold. I curled up in my sleeping bag early, listening to the voices of the others chatting against the backdrop of the silent Sierras. Soon the moon was rising and I was fast asleep.
Stay tuned for Day 3 - when Alan puts me in charge (?!)