Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Camping at Silver Lake, Part 2: The Hike to Gold Lake

I hadn't slept well on Saturday night because the air mattress was uncomfortable. On Sunday night I added more air to it, and I slept much better after that. Well, at least until some bizarre bird landed high up in a nearby tree at sunrise and spent about half an hour making very loud, extremely bizarre nonstop bird calls that sounded like nothing I've ever heard before. It had two separate types of calls: when it first landed, it cawed several times like a crow, and after that it spent the next half hour making a bizarre, repetitive sound that was something like bubbling water. It was a sequence of clear musical notes repeated identically over and over. The bird did the same thing at the same time on both Monday morning and Tuesday morning. I haven't been able to figure out what kind of bird it was. Later on Monday I saw a large black bird that I think was a raven and wondered whether that was what had made the noises - I imagine the bird making noises to have been very large because of how loud it was - and upon looking up recordings of raven calls I've found some degree of resemblance, but not enough resemblance to make me think the bird I heard was actually a raven.

I eventually resorted to getting up and making myself visible just to get the bird to go away. (I first tried just letting Boston out of the tent, but this was not sufficient to scare the bird away. Only I was sufficiently frightening.) Once the bird finally left, I went back to sleep for several more hours and then got up at around 11:00 a.m. When I got up, I immediately started preparing to hike to Gold Lake. I spent half an hour shelling some homegrown pecans and adding the shelled pecans to a bag of home-dehydrated banana chips to create a homemade trail mix, then checked the water level in my hydration pack, put Boston's harness and leash on her, and set out for the trailhead that I'd noticed the day before.

As noted in my previous entry, the landscape on this hiking trail was chaparral - mostly manzanitas varying from less than one to occasionally as much as four feet in height - so there was very little shade, and I was forced to place great faith in the power of my sunscreen.

I didn't visit Bucks Lake, but the wilderness area in the entire Lakes Basin region is named after Bucks Lake because that's the largest lake in the area. Bucks Lake is vastly larger than Silver Lake, which in turn is several times larger than Gold Lake.

Gold Lake Trail 2.jpg

The early part of the trail to Gold Lake offered gorgeous views of Silver Lake.

Gold Lake Trail 3.jpg

Gold Lake Trail 4.jpg

Here's the panoramic view of Silver Lake. Boston and I had walked basically the entire opposite shore of Silver Lake on Sunday, heading from the right side of this picture to the left, before having to turn back at about the point where the trees thin out toward the left edge of the picture.

Gold Lake Trail 5.jpg

The trail continued on out of sight of Silver Lake.

Gold Lake Trail 6.jpg

I saw only one person while I was on the trail, a woman probably in her fifties hiking alone. She passed me on the trail when I stopped to take this photograph of what I think is largeleaf lotus (Acmispon grandiflorus). She called Boston a pretty dog.

Acmispon grandiflorus.jpg

Soon thereafter, she took the fork to Granite Gap, while I took the fork to Gold Lake. Apparently the fork to Granite Gap leads past two lakes that are even smaller than Gold Lake: Mud Lake and Rock Lake. It would have been helpful if I'd learned more in advance about what all the potential destinations on these hiking trails were, but unfortunately I didn't even realize there were going to be any hiking trails here at all until I stumbled onto them. The sign at the start of the trail didn't mention Rock Lake, so this fork in the trail was the first time I learned of its existence, and this sign didn't tell me how far away it was. Since then I've learned that Rock Lake is about the same distance as Granite Gap (not much farther than Gold Lake), and Mud Lake is even closer than Gold Lake. It would be nice to go back to this campground sometime and take the fork to Mud Lake, Rock Lake, and Granite Gap.

Gold Lake Trail 7.jpg

Boston was on-leash at this point, which had been fine when we were going uphill, but it got a bit more worrisome when going downhill. She tends to want to pull me forward very fast. I use the head harness to reduce her pulling power (it turns her head to the side if she pulls too much), but on steep downhill slopes, she still has the ability to knock me off-balance.

Gold Lake Trail 8.jpg

So, since there was no one around, I let her off-leash and allowed her to run ahead of me.

Gold Lake Trail 9.jpg

"Panorama with Dog."

Gold Lake Trail 11.jpg

"Panorama Without Dog."

Gold Lake Trail 12.jpg

I don't know what this plant is, but it was abundant along the trail.

Mystery plant.jpg

This succulent is a stonecrop (Sedum sp.) of some sort.


This shrub with the red berries is a non-native garden plant, a firethorn (Pyracantha sp.) that has escaped into the wild. There were many of them around Gold Lake.

Gold Lake Trail 15.jpg

We continued hiking. The landscape got rockier, gradually transitioning to a vast swathe of granite.

Gold Lake Trail 10.jpg

Gold Lake Trail 13.jpg

As the landscape transitioned from dirt and plants to a vast swathe of granite, the trail became harder to see. I looked for cairns. They were around, but not nearly often enough, or else altogether too often: of any two ways to go, there were often cairns both ways, even though they couldn't both be correct, or else there were no cairns at all. I let Boston run ahead of me: she sometimes has a knack for trail-finding. Unfortunately she's not altogether consistent about it; sometimes she takes the wrong way and I have to call her back to the correct path, and other times she takes the right way but I think it's the wrong way so I call her back and she obediently follows me. But sometimes she succeeds in showing me the correct way. I'm not at all sure I would ever have found Gold Lake without her help.

Gold Lake Trail 14.jpg

But we did! We found Gold Lake.

Gold Lake 1.jpg

You can kind of tell in the picture above that the descent to the shoreline is rather steep. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to descend safely; Boston got down to the shoreline well before I did, and I had a few moments of thinking I might have to just stand on the slope above her and watch her without ever being able to climb down and join her on the shore. But eventually I found my way down. Those are paintbrush flowers along the shore in the picture below.

Gold Lake 5.jpg

Immediately upon reaching the shore, I desperately regretted having left my water shoes and swimsuit back in the tent. I'd just assumed there'd be other people around and I'd need to keep Boston on her leash, and/or there'd be a "No Swimming" sign like at Silver Lake, so I wasn't expecting great swimming opportunities. But Gold Lake turned out to be a pristine wilderness with neither another human in sight nor any signs posted by humans to notify anyone of any rules or regulations. I really, really, really wanted to swim. I contemplated how long it might take to hike back to camp and get my swimsuit and water shoes and hike right back out to Gold Lake again. I contemplated hiking back to Gold Lake the next day before driving home. Neither seemed really viable, though. I took off my hiking boots and socks and waded a little, but the rocky lake bottom hurt my feet, so I gave up and resigned myself to sitting on the shore while Boston swam.

And Boston certainly did swim.

Gold Lake 4.jpg

Boston wanted me to throw rocks into the water for her to chase after and attempt to catch in her mouth or pick up from the lake bottom. I did throw some, but not enough to satisfy her; she kept barking at me to throw more. Her voice echoed off the surrounding mountains. I shouted so as to hear my voice echo too. I took pictures of the granite cliffs surrounding the lake.

Gold Lake 3.jpg

Gold Lake 7.jpg

Gold Lake 8.jpg

I also took pictures of the plants. This is a gray alder (Alnus incana), with some Western steeplebush (Spiraea douglasii) to the left of it.

Alnus incana.jpg

And a closer view of the gray alder.

Alnus incana.jpg

Eventually I decided to head back home. This turned out not to be simple. The way back was a blank expanse of granite; it was hard to find the trail again. Finally I knew I'd found it, because I recognized some familiar rock formations. I started to relax. As I continued slowly ascended the cliffs above the lake - still within sight of the lake - I took some more pictures of plants. I think this is Regel's mountain beardtongue (Penstemon roezlii).

Penstemon roezlii.jpg

This is Lobb's buckwheat (Eriogonum lobbiii).

Eriogonum lobbii.jpg

And this is sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum), a plant I grow at home.

Eriogonum umbellatum.jpg

Suddenly I realized that I had lost the trail. I'd been following what appeared to be a trail around the perimeter of the lake, at a distance of some fifty yards or so from the lake, and supposing that at some point the trail would lead up and over the peaks away from the lake. But the rocks were divided everywhere by old streambeds resembling paths, and I'd followed one of these pseudo-paths for quite some distance before reaching a dead end that made me realize I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Then it got worse. I turned back and tried to retrace my steps, but I couldn't find my way back. I found three pseudo-paths that all led to steep cliffs that I couldn't fathom how I could have climbed up and also couldn't fathom how I could climb down. I must have come from some other direction, I felt, but there was no other direction to be found. Perhaps one of the cliffs was not really quite as steep as it appeared from my current angle? But if so, I couldn't guess which one. I wandered back and forth among the three cliffs over and over, with an increasing sense of panic.

I could see the lake below me, but I didn't know where the trail was. I got out my camera and scrolled back through the pictures I'd taken to find the one that showed my first view of Gold Lake. I compared the placement of trees and landmarks on both sides of the lake in the picture with their placement from the angle I was viewing them now. This made it very clear that I'd taken a wrong turn and needed to go back the way I'd come from. But how to get past the sheer cliffs? And which one of the sheer cliffs was even the right one? I couldn't figure that out.

Someone had built a makeshift firepit at the top of the three cliffs where I was wandering. Had someone else been trapped in the same spot I was, for so long that they needed to build a fire?

Panic continued to rise. I wondered how long it would take for anyone to find me. I had enough food and water and sunscreen to last me several days, but I was supposed to be back at work on Wednesday and didn't see how the passage of time was going to make it any easier to get past the sheer cliffs. Besides, I have the kind of job, working from home, where it might take people a few days to even notice that I was missing. I had told my parents where I was going, so once they discovered my absence they'd know where to send search parties, but it might take a while for them to become aware of my absence. All of this suddenly worried me very much.

I tried asking Boston to find the trail for me, but she seemed just as confused as I was. She seems to understand a remarkable array of trail-related commands; she knows that "Up" means climb upward, that "Go" means go on ahead of me instead of waiting for me, and that "This way" means that I think I know where I'm going and I want her to go the same way. But she does not understand, "Boston, go to the lake! Lake, Boston! Find the lake!" And she does not understand, "Find the trail, Boston!" or "Back to the tent, Boston!" or "Show me the way home, Boston!" either. I was pretty sure she would find some way down to some part of the lake eventually when she got thirsty - and generally I should be able to follow any route that she can follow, since her legs are shorter than mine - but that was no help in the meantime.

Finally I decided to just dispense with any semblance of paths and started hacking my way through a dense manzanita thicket where there was clearly no semblance of trail at all. This was definitely not the way I'd come from, but it was the only way I could figure of going in the general direction I wanted to go without tumbling over steep cliffs. I had one goal: I must get back down to the lake at any cost. If I could just get back down to the lake, no matter what part of the shore I ended up on, I could at least wade back toward the correct part of the shore (I knew how to recognize the correct part of the shore) and start my return trip over again.

I was wearing shorts, not long pants or a long skirt, so hacking through the manzanita thicket was not much fun, but I was beyond caring about that. At least there were no thorny plants or poison oak. So I could deal with a few minor scratches on my legs. I forged ahead.

Have you heard it said that "There are no atheists in foxholes"? Well, panic did not drive me to take up praying, but it did drive me to take up swearing - something I hardly ever do, and when I do it at all, it's usually in writing and carefully premeditated. I didn't actually know I had it in me to swear in any spontaneous way, but apparently I do. Even more surprisingly, apparently when I do, I swear like a Christian. There was much repetition of the phrase "goddamned lake." Really, if I'd been in anything less than full-blown panic mode I would have at least managed to call it a "goddessdamned lake," or even better, a "nonexistent-goddessdamned lake." If I'm going to swear like a religious person I would prefer that it at least be a religion that doesn't oppress me. I do not like this involuntary, unconscious absorption of the dominant culture around me.

Boston and I had entirely parted ways at this point; she was far, far above me, looking for a way over the top of the peaks, while I was looking for a way down to the lake. She was far out of sight. I knew she would come when I called her, though, and when I finally reached the lake, I did call her, and immediately saw her turn and come bounding down toward me, finding her way through much the same places I had climbed down through.

Unfortunately I was on the wrong part of the shore, and the only way I could see of getting to the right part of the shore was to wade. I waded. Hiking boots and all - I was beyond caring about that too. I did still care about keeping my expensive camera out of the water, though, and it wasn't easy. I was hip-deep in water, and the rocks beneath me were slippery and steep. I clung to the branches of the shrubs along the shoreline to keep from falling as I edged along toward the part of the shore that the correct trail had led to. Boston arrived and swam alongside me.

Just as my desired portion of the shoreline came into view, three other hikers showed up, with two tiny dogs. I was still hip-deep in water, and now I was also fumbling to put Boston's leash back on her. In the meantime, the three hikers were greeting me, and I was explaining to them that I'd lost the trail and come back to the lake to start again. They asked if I had water. Yes, plenty. I just needed to find the trail. "It's right on the other side of this hill," they said. This was no help whatsoever; I already knew that much, which was why I'd waded back around to that particular hill. What I needed to know was which part of the hill, but I couldn't figure out how to phrase the question such that they could possibly point out the way to me without having to personally guide me there. I decided I'd just have to try again without obtaining any helpful guidance. Anyway, the two male hikers had by this time stripped off their shirts and started swimming. Did they have water shoes with them? Not as far as I saw. They certainly didn't have swimsuits. I guess they just took a few steps into the water and then transitioned to swimming so they didn't have to walk on the sharp pebbles anymore. Why do these things seem to be simpler for men? The woman who was with them sat on the shore and watched them as I had watched Boston.

I managed to find the correct trail this time. Goodbye, Gold Lake!

Gold Lake 2.jpg

As soon as I was sure I wasn't lost anymore, I sat down to untie my hiking boots and wring out my sopping wet socks as best I could. It didn't help all that much. Unfortunately all my extra socks were back in my tent, not here where I needed them. Oh well. I did have a stick of blister-protecting lotion with me, so I rubbed that all over my feet and then put my damp socks back on. The stuff really seemed to work; I got back to camp without any new blisters (just the old one from the Fairy Falls hike).

Along the way I contemplated my religious experience (the swearing). I do not want to swear like a Christian or hike like a Christian or do anything like a Christian. I've never been a Christian! I would like to choose my own cultural influences, please.

I wasn't sure what hiking like a Christian might amount to, but it occurred to me that it would probably be helpful to hike like a Buddhist - that is, to be very mindful of all the landmarks. Or perhaps to hike like an atheist? Since atheism isn't an organized belief system it doesn't really have any helpful precepts to offer that might affect hiking, but if I were to take the liberty of making one up - which is after all what one generally does if one is an atheist and feels a need for precepts to live by - it would probably go something like, "Do not have blind faith that you can find your own way. Use maps, compasses, landmarks, cairns, or whatever other tools can help you." And by this measure, perhaps I need to work at becoming a better atheist.

Anyway, I managed to hike back to the tent. Boston was much less energetic on the return trip; every time I paused to look at plants, she would lie down and wait for me rather than running ahead.

Gold Lake Trail 16.jpg

Gold Lake Trail 17.jpg

On Tuesday morning I was rudely awakened not only by the bird (again) but also, a few hours later, by people talking. From inside my tent, I could hear that they had stopped a car at the campsite across the road from me and were talking there; I assumed it was a family who had decided to camp in that campsite. A rather large family, by the sound of it. I was glad I was already planning to go home that day anyway. After I got up and emerged from the tent, though, I found that it wasn't a family at all. There was an entire caravan of nine cars parked along the dirt road, and a crowd of thirty or so people were gathered in the campsite across the road from me to listen to a lecture by their leader. It was some sort of class or social group of some sort. Soon they all trooped off on foot toward the lake.

A couple of hours after they left, while they were still gone but their cars were all still parked along the road, I happened to notice this.

Silver Lake campsite 7.jpg

See that tree? That does not look good. I hadn't noticed it on previous days, so I think it had just snapped during the night. It was close enough to my campsite that if it had fallen toward me, the very tip of it might have grazed my tent or my car. It was a lot closer to the parked cars, though. It also had the potential to block the only road out of the campground, if it fell in that direction. Its current direction seemed fairly harmless, though - it was aimed toward an unoccupied campsite. Anyway, all the owners of the cars were gone, so there was no one I could warn about it.

Silver Lake campsite 8.jpg

Since there didn't seem to be anything I could do about it, I just packed up my stuff and went home. Drove through the town of Quincy as I was leaving, but didn't get out of the car and explore. Just bought gas there. I always like Quincy though.

Now I'm back to the normal rhythms of life again . . . but wondering whether I can squeeze in any more trips anytime soon.
Tags: native plants, photographs
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