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WRHR, day 4: Alpine Lakes to near Hay Pass, 11 miles

Light, tinkly, pitter-pattering rain relaxes me – and the muscles – to sleep. It’s when it builds and lashes the tent while the sky lightens that I realize I’ll be packing up in this. 

The sound of rustling from my neighbors means no sleeping in, so I put on the rain gear and push out just as the rain pauses. Everything is Scotland loch-esque especially now as ‘weather’ pushes in. We were warned Thursday would be the bad day. 

Fog floats over Alpine Pass (How the hell does it look so close? We killedourselves to get here) Do I need to point out that this trio is made up of some bad ass chicks? They’re packed before me and I’m even considered a morning person. 

On the border of Bridger and Fitzpatrick Wildernesses, this stunning meadow has – in the words of Stefan) everything: glacier, waterfall, randomly strewn boulders, a loch (lake) towering pointy mountains and an air of mystery. 

Richard messages me on the GPS a new term: URS, unstable rocky shit. That is so yesterday. Today is just regular rocky shit. Within a football pitch heading down to the outflow, a carpet of boulders greet us. 

You have to understand, we need to find a path through. Up, down, slanty, wobbly, damp, sharp corned, these rocks could care less about our progress. Their sheer size creates trap doors where a fall might mean a broken leg, followed by a concussed brain on the way down as an ice ax slices an essential vein. 

Thanks, I’ll pass. 

Katlyn moves fluidly like a cat and Kelly skims over, albeit a bit more warily. I whine and sit on my butt at any whiff of fear. I’d be happy for any solid structural mountain boulder leading deep into the recesses of this now black lake, one I can spend the rest of today sitting on. 

This is all about balance. I trust the stickiness and stop entertaining retiring to this lonely lake and continue my spider-like walk. 

The good thing is wet makes no difference to staying upright as the 

rain falls in earnest and we dive under a rock ledge cracking our axes against the wall. Snacking, shivering, finding yet another rock couch we wonder aloud if this will be an all day thing. 

The rain lets up as we peak out, following a third lake under the towering Fortress. We choose counterclockwise since Alan warns of a class 3/4 exit crack on the other side of the lake. He offers it as a choice since except for that awfulness, the walking is much easier over there. 

We look longingly as we scramble on wet rock, pealing off for an arduous up and over, past more lakes (water is never a problem out here, had I mentioned?) The sun comes out in a burst of heat and off goes the rain gear. 

Ahhh, warm and dry and now meadows with boulder erratics ‘outstanding in their field.’ As we cross above, we see white pines climbing up the valley. Even here, we squish through marshy patches filled with bright flowers. 

The rock seems to flow out of the mountains as if melting wax. A cascade jettisons from our class 3/4 crack lake and we come to the edge looking for the secret slab ramp to take us down into the trees. 

All of us make a few interesting butt moves on what Alan calls a ‘system of ramps and gulleys’ before Katlyn picks through the brush to out exit. 

And it’s so much fun! 

The granite is pink and exfoliating but mostly in one long gentle incline, my feet clinging effortlessly even on such a grade. 

Coming around a corner, we bump into a couple. Katlyn tries a “hi” three times, but they’re snobby and unfriendly, pissed off about the rain because they had to skip a pass – although that may be more because they hadn’t done their homework. 

From the other way, we could have chosen the pass, but it frankly looked like a giant scree pile from hell. They continue to speak of their high route as the real route, the man adding Green River Lakes will be their day five. 

Good for you! I say continuing my downward journey to piney aroma, butterflies and birds. Slightly annoyed we miss a clear path and dive straight into a boulder field. I blame it on gorgeous Camp Lake luring us like a siren to our doom. 

Well, just ten minutes really of balancey trickiness with added tree branch interaction to a shaded spot next to a falls replete with three rock couches. 

I don’t know what motivates people to brag on the difficulty of their chosen route. Although maybe it’s sheer disbelief and an underestimation of our doggedness. Katlyn carries a gallon-sized milk jug with its top sliced strapped to the top of her pack. She uses it for scooping water, rinsing clothes, sponge baths and right now, to hold chips. Kelly wears a turquoise wide brimmed visor more appropriate for the tennis court. And me? My pants are a few sizes too big and my hoodie makes me look like a muppet. Maybe it’s hard to believe we’re actually pretty tough. 

Lovely trail follows this gorgeous lake protected by sharp mountains though we lose it in bog and huckleberry bushes filled with succulent red juiciness. We’re warned to find that trail or it will be horrible on yet another unnamed pass of 500 feet or so. 

We start anyway on rock strewn mountain and scream ‘trail!’ when meeting it. After talus boulders it’s a joy to rise on a bona fide footpath even if I’m short on breath. The views are gorgeous back to these gem-like lakes tucked in trees and meadows. Does the other high route skip such loveliness? 

While contemplating, I enter another glacial lake in a deep bowl of rock. For a moment, panic tightens my throat. I have a case of talus PTSD. Overcoming my fear, I look for a route until Kelly spies a trail beyond a tiny snow field. 

It’s up and up, revealing the backside of the missed pass near massive Douglas Peak but ahead another chain of deep blue lakes appear. So many lakes. Upper Golden is our first, surrounded by grass, trees and birdsong. Then Louise and Golden where we fill up on water before yet another pass. 

And then we hit a new obstacle. The willows. These willows are less tree and more hardy shrub with thick, solid branches. I hesitate and Katlyn crashes ahead, even in shorts. I guess that’s the way. Kelly and I follow pushing back at leaves and branches threatening to engulf and right in front of us is beautiful trail! 

How do these trails get here? They’re minimally maintained but cairned and obvious making a climb far easier – I mean, you don’t have to think or decide. 

The lake chain is revealed behind us, as stunning from this side with peaks reach high beyond. It’s not like I can see to where we started, but it is a massive expanse. 

Dennis Lake opens up far below in a derp bowl though still a high hanging valley above the Goldens, fed by falls loud all the way over here on a ridge. It’s mysterious, empty, tundra-like with no trees but also few rocks. 

Hay Pass opens up above another glacially scooped valley as the wind picks up. We had planned to camp much further today, buy talus and pass upon pass slows the walker. We sit down on the pass and just contemplate. 

A lake lies ahead and we could set there plus one beyond still on trail before we cut off overland into bog and risk ending up where Alan camped at what he called ‘crap camp.’ 

The wind is chilly and the sun is making long shadows so down we go taking it as it comes. We skip the lake to cut off near a stream and a grassy bit with stunted trees and shapely clouds. Maybe right here is just the spot? It’s not entirely out of the wind, but low enough to feel some protection. Again the grass is soft on our feet and water is nearby. 

I’m so tired I can barely move but rehydrated chickpeas and mayo revive. We set in a circle, wrap in our bags eating, talking and laughing as the clouds turn pink. 

I love this hike maybe especially because it’s hard. The Talus Hopper the Cairn Whisperer and me, the Trouper who moves slowly and often awkwardly, but keeps up are seeing some of the wildest alpine country ever and going to sleep in the middle of it. 

One Response

  1. You truly are “3 Bad Ass Chicks”! I love reading the posts and the photo’s are wonderful. I’d love to do this hike but don’t think I could handle it. You go “girls” and keep posting, I’ll live this hike vicariously through your writing and photo’s 😉

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