The full moon setting over Moose Lake
Waking up at Moose Lake was like waking into a dream. The sun hadn't risen yet and the moon was still up, giving the area around us a serene glow. I laid in my sleeping bag a while, admiring the last of the stars in the clear sky above me and listening to the soft sounds of gear being packed away around me. It was warm in my bag and I wanted to just stay there, drinking in every moment of this place. But there were miles to go....
In what was quickly becoming routine, I gathered up my gear and headed to the rock outcropping where our "kitchen" and common area was. As I heated up some water for my oatmeal the light around me grew brighter. It was a lovely phenomenon to witness the day come alive in the mountains - the moon was still slowly setting to the West while the amber golden tint of the sun crept in from the East. I don't really like oatmeal, but in such a beautiful place even oatmeal seemed like a gift.
The day's destination was, you guessed it, UP. Ok, so UP isn't really a destination. In our case, it was more like an inevitable to get to wherever our destination was.
Our parade of hikers leaving Moose Lake early on Day 3. Photos like this give some bit of perspective to how small you feel in such a vast landscape.
Once breakfast was done, pots were cleaned, and gear was all packed up we headed out of our little oasis, up to another ridge line, where Alan was able to point us in the direction we needed to go. "I want you to lead today," he said to me. "Bonnie can help you." I'd been hiding near the back of the group for 2 days, hoping to avoid this moment. I didn't feel confident and was nervous I'd take the group off course. One doesn't easily say no to Alan, and with Bonnie's support I took on the challenge with a little less trepidation. Bonnie had a much better aptitude for map skills than I did, and together we made our way for the peak in the distance.
Surveying the landscape and wondering how I was going to get a troop of hikers through this maze of rocks.
Photo courtesy of Phil
We stopped occasionally to check our compass and our map (ok - for Bonnie to check and tell me if I was going the right way) and to confer about the best route to take. Even above the treeline it's not as easy as you might think to find a passage to your destination.
There are hurdles you have to tackle, dips and bumps in the landscape to navigate, rocks and boulders to accommodate, and nothing looks the same up close as it does when you're standing half a mile away. Minor course corrections are needed through the day as you make your way across the terrain. I found that I was pretty good at finding a route through the maze of hills and rocks, and I felt strong as my confidence and enjoyment grew. Bonnie and I made a good team and we moved along fairly swiftly. Alan and Brian lingered at the back of the train, far enough away to make it really feel like we were on our own yet close enough to keep us from wandering too far off track.
Soon we were on a large field of desk sized boulders. Our lunch spot was just up ahead at the summit of our climb. I am a big fan of lunch, so was motivated to get us there quickly and efficiently. Soon Rod and I were moving out in front of the group, stepping from big boulder to bigger boulder, watching out for wobbly, ankle spraining traps, and feeling the rush of joy that only comes from doing something you truly love to do.
Rod and I enjoying the race to the top.
Rod and I reached the top of the climb and dropped our packs. Soon the rest of the group came along behind us. Alan came over to me and said, "Great job, Nicole. You have good instincts, you just have to trust them." In that moment I felt like I could conquer anything.
After lunch Alan and Brian led the group over to a wide open spot with views in every direction so we could practice our compass skills. "Orient your map," Alan said. I did. "Now figure out a bearing for that lake," he instructed. I did. Brian came over to check my findings. "You got it," he said. I got it? I got it! I finally understood! I felt pretty proud - in one afternoon I'd overcome my hesitation to lead and my ineptitude with a compass. I wasn't ready to go charging off into the wilderness on my own, but I was getting there. With every step on this adventure my comfort zone was gaining new ground.
Eventually it was time to move on, towards our final destination for the day, an un-named lake somewhere below us. It was someone else's turn to take the lead and soon we were descending again.
Our destination: the lake on the horizon, under that hump of rocks.
As we approached our campsite for the night we discovered our first disappointment of the trip - the lake was dry. Well, not exactly dry, but mostly, and what water was there was covered in a layer of some sort of green organism I wouldn't want to swim with.
Instead, we used the time to do a tent demonstration. There was a surprising variety of tents among the group (including the one I'd been carrying and hadn't even taken out of my backpack yet). All the tents were set up and Alan went around teaching us the benefits and weaknesses of each design. When the tour was done I asked, "Can I take mine down now?" I'd started this trip feeling afraid of sleeping without the illusion of the security of a tent, but by the 3rd night I wanted nothing more than to lie underneath the clear Sierra sky.
L to R: Mike, Alan, Tom, Chris, Bill, Bonnie, Rod, Phil, and Brian
At dinner that evening we got to enjoy the bacon we'd forgotten to add to our breakfast on Day 2. After everyone got their sprinkle of protein Alan looped back to me. 'You can have the extra bacon for doing such a great job today," he said. Extra bacon! I felt grateful, proud, and, well, hungry. After dinner was devoured and pots were cleaned we sat together watching the sun fade into the distance. As the stars took over the sky Brian started to point out constellations. "Do you want to see Andromeda?" he asked. Andromeda is the closest large galaxy, and I didn't even know it was there. Alan handed me his binoculars, and with Brian's guidance, I saw the dark fuzzy area where Andromeda lay. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, was visible as a band of sparkling light reaching across the dark night. Brian told us that the morning would bring a new set of stars into view, called the Winter Constellations, including Gemini, my own astrological sign. I eagerly agreed to get up at 5:30 am the next day to see the twin stars of Castor and Pollux.
As the cold began to creep through my layers of clothing and my eyes grew heavy I headed for my sleeping spot, tucked next to some tall grass and between Phil and Bonnie's own nests. As I crawled into my sleeping bag I thought of the day's adventures and accomplishments. It had been a good day. A really good day.
Come back for Day 4 - Will we make it to the top of Mt Sillman?