Continued from Browns Lake – Part 1

I got to sleep late the next day. Of course, sleeping late out there means something like 7:30am instead of 5:30. I was actually up before the sun crested into Browns Lake – without any external prompting, it’s amazing. It was my day to cook, so I set to making coffee and breakfast. Then Ambrose and I set off for an exploratory day hike. We wanted to get to the unnamed lake above Browns at least, and maybe climb the peak.

First, we followed the trail around the lake, deviating only when a combination of tree limbs and snow made the trail unsafe. We found a stream that fed into Browns Lake and began to follow it up. Ambrose had a compass heading that he wanted to follow to reach the small lakes above Browns, but the direction it pointed us in didn’t seem quite right. So we improvised, based partly on the terrain.

After scrambling up a rocky meadow with a boulder field to our right, we entered a section with burned trees and ashy soil. The ash can be almost as treacherous as snow to walk on. Sometime it will be solid under your foot, and other times it collapses or sinks like sand. We considered crossing a stream to a different ridge, but ended up staying on the one we started on. I thought about walking through the stream as the best way to get to the lake that surely fed it, but we ended up scrambling over tree limbs instead. The lake, when we found it, was a bit of an anti-climax. It was more like a snow melt puddle. Okay, a large snow melt puddle.

At this point, I wanted a snack, but Ambrose wanted to drop packs and then keep going. I kinda wish I had kept my pack or spoken up, but I didn’t. We hoofed up to see if we could see the lake or glacier which fed the stream which fed this lake, but decided to stop at the next flat spot.

Walking around Browns Lake

Following a stream up to the next lake 
Scrambling up a rocky field

What large boulders you have!

Looking back at Ambrose – he’s keeping up pretty well. 

Then Ambrose proposed traversing below a rock wall to try and reach a saddle on the way to the peak. I was game, and we were off. It wasn’t too bad, as long as I didn’t look down. We had one tricky moment with a log that was precariously perched above us. To get by it, Ambrose had to grab it for balance, which caused it to rock. He then held it while I got past its line of fall. Of course, after we passed, it didn’t fall.

I beat him to the saddle and went to the edge to look down on Browns Lake while I waited for Ambrose to catch up. I used the camera to zoom in on the shores of Browns Lake. I found that at maximum zoom, I could discern one of the tents of our neighbors. When he caught up, he pointed back up to what looked like the peak and asked if I wanted to give it a go.

Browns Lake behind Ambrose

The lake was partially hidden by snow.

The land here was wet and boggy with snow melt.

A source of melting snow

I’m on a rock!

A close up of a cornice

That looks climbable, right? 

On the one hand, I totally did, but on the other hand, I had no pack and was both hungry and thirsty.
Ambrose had food on him, so we each ate and then headed up, navigating rocks, tree limbs and steepness to get closer to the peak.

Looking down on Browns Lake

36X Digital Zoom – there’s a tent, I promise.

Climbing up was not the easiest thing that I’ve ever done. I was nervous about the scrambling. We weren’t on trail, we didn’t have any supplies beyond the camera and a bit of food and the terrain was uncertain. But it was also fun and exhilarating. As we progressed up rocks and around downed trees, I warmed to the idea of reaching the peak. But when we got to the top of the next saddle, we saw we were at least ridges away from the peak, so we headed back down to our packs.

If we had had our packs, then we might have made a go of the peak, but, as Ambrose put it, our margin of safety was too small for the fun to continue.

We made our way down to our packs and ate some of our cold lunch of tortillas and potted meat while enjoying the scenery of the small lake. Then we continued down until we reached the area the hiker had mentioned with the sitting log. There wasn’t actually a fire ring, just some rocks with evidence of scorching on them. I wished that I had said something to that hiker about not needing a fire ring since we hadn’t brought a fire blanket or pan. In the wilderness area, fires are only allowed on blankets or in pans. A fire ring offers no real safety.

Climbing down is harder than climbing up… 
This might be a nice place to camp, if we could haul our equipment up here. 

Climbing through the break in a massive tree. 

View from the alternate campsite.

When we got back to our camp, I noticed that the other tents were gone, so we kept going on our exploration to take a look at the spot they had chosen for their camp. And for safety.

The night before, I had noticed one of them pulling low dead branches off a tree near the water when I was getting some water. When I got back to Ambrose I told him they were building a fire, because I had seen them gathering wood. Sure enough, we were soon able to smell their fire smoke. I didn’t know for sure that they didn’t have a blanket or pan, but based on the guy’s comment about a fire ring, I was betting that they didn’t.

And when we came to their site, a nice enough area that seemed more windy than ours as well as lacking water access as convenient, we found a fire ring with fresh ash. Ambrose pressed his hand to it to make sure that it was out cold, and I really wanted to punch the guy who had left a cigarette butt in it. Or girl. There was one girl in the party, but I’m not sure who the smoker was.

The rest of the day was to be a lazy day, other than one small thing that I wanted to do.

I wanted to get in the water.

Yes, yes, it’s going to be cold. So I’ll prepare. I boiled water and made myself, and Ambrose while I was at it, a Nalgene bottle of hot soup with some leftover rice noodles from the previous day’s lunch. I got my towel ready. I removed most of my clothing, so I’d have something dry to put on afterwards.

And then I got into the coldest water I have yet to subject myself to.

The other camp site had water access, both by the river and the lake, but the lake side was crowded with logs pushed by the current, and sandy to boot. Our water access was a rock shelf. I didn’t have to wade into the water, I just slid right in and froze.

After Ambrose got photographic evidence of my bravery/foolhardiness, I scrambled out and started drying myself off. Clothes back on, still not warm, drinking soup in the sun, still not warm. My skin was still cold when I climbed into the tent, which I knew would do the trick. The tent was in full sun, with the rainfly up. It was an oven in there, and I eventually recovered from my dip.

The rest of the afternoon I read, or lounged in the sun. Or out of the sun, depending on how hot it got. The deer stopped by again, but I still couldn’t get a really good shot. After I cooked dinner, I cooked the next morning’s breakfast and coffee so we could avoid cooking in the morning. There’s just something awful about cooking in the early morning, to me at least. You get really cold when you have to clean the pot up after you’re done and I have to carry that wet cook pot. Yuck.

From afar, this feature looked like an alien peaking over into Browns Lake. Thanks to super-zoom, we could see it was just some trees. But when the moon rose over it, I had to take some pictures.

Our water access had a nice rock shelf (bear rope on the right).

We turned the tent to have a less tilted sleeping surface for the second night. 

A great shot – except for the missing head….

So we saved some time by doing the cooking the night before (and Ambrose didn’t have to do them on his day to cook – coincidence? I think not).

After it was done, and we were trying to let the hot coffee and hot breakfast skillet cool enough to be stored, I was exhausted. I thought I would fall asleep as soon as I stopped trying to stay awake, even though it was barely 7 in the evening. But once we put the food up and I was allowed to fall asleep, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get comfortable; Ambrose was snoring too loudly; I had to pee; I had to pee again.

I gave in to necessity and took a couple anti-histamines, which eventually did the trick.

Our deer were back that night. As I heard them rustling around outside, I would doze off and find myself dreaming of them. After hearing them splash into the lake, I dreamed of them coming out of the lake, fleeing a monster. It was probably the cold of that glacier fed lake!

Goodbye, Browns Lake!

Since it had taken us 5 hours to get to our turnaround and then 3 hours to get back from it on our last trip, I calculated that our 10 hour trip up would translate to a 6 hour trip down. Despite that, we still got up at 5am to head down. We should have gotten out of there by 6, but nature got in the way of that. Nature and the fact that I picked a spot with dirt baked hard like concrete to dig a cat hole. But we left by 6:30, which wasn’t too bad.

Bye bye, not Browns Lake!

Losing elevation is so much easier than gaining it. We dropped 400 feet in what seemed like no time at all.
I found where the main trail diverged in part because Ambrose had estimated it to be near a particular formation that we had crossed, and in part because I was keeping a sharp eye out. The trail looked like trail, kind of, but the kicker was the two burned nails in a burned tree. I was willing to bet that that was where the sign for Browns Lake used to be.

The main trail heads off to the right.

In some ways, the trip down was really fast. The steep sections went by really quickly. But the flats seemed to linger and drag out. It seemed like we had only passed one copse of live trees on the way up and then we were passing our third and I was wondering when we were going to hit the marshy lake again. I love being out in the wilderness, but when I’m headed for the car, I want to get there NOW.

The green growths seems so much greener against the burned dirt and trees.

Heading down the steeps

We paused after the two right angle turns to have a pack off snack. Then we moved on and made good time to the marsh lake. I knew it wouldn’t be more than 30 minutes from the trail junction before we reached the first ford, so I hurried my steps and got there faster than I expected.

Here comes the sun!

Hello, marshy lake!

And, surprise! There were two more backpackers across the river, who looked like they were striking camp. As there would be no way to hear them or for them to hear me, I didn’t yell across, but I did wave when they could see me. Once I was across, I didn’t really talk to them, because I had to tend to my water bladder and get going. Ambrose had said that I could go right to the car, without waiting for him at the next ford.

The trail junction sign had something written on the back, but I’m not quite sure what it reads.

Now, this did make me a little nervous, because that ford makes me nervous. But Ambrose trusted that I could do it by myself, and it wasn’t like he had actually needed to help me cross it before. It was just that his presence made me feel more comfortable in case of emergency.

Ambrose chatted with them, a man and a woman, and I did chime in when I had something relevant (and could hear them over the roar of the river). But, again, it isn’t in me to be so social. And I had a mission. Get to the car, as fast as I can!

I did not stop for a lot of pictures. I pushed off at a hard pace and kept it hard. I ate energy chews periodically and tried to drink more than I thought I needed. This was my chance to get some hard exercise in, and I reveled in it. My body had adjusted to the burden of my pack and I felt comfortable and self-sufficient.

I ran into two of the forest service personnel crossing one of the streams. They had marked some trees with pink ribbon and were talking as I walked passed them and waved. They waved back, and I moved on.
I kept thinking that someone would approach me, from either direction, and ask where the fire was, because I was moving so quickly. I didn’t quite break into a run, but I kept at a walking pace just slower than where I would start to jog. And I thought about how I would answer such a question.

“In my pants!”

Because at that point, my main focus was not the car and the coconut water that resided therein, oh no, it was the rustic bathroom at the trailhead where I would be able to relieve myself without worrying about digging a cat hole or splashing anything on my sandals or boots, socks or ankles and pants or gaiters. What luxury!

The first snake I’ve seen on this trail.

This tree is a little awkward to get around.

When I reached the ford, I tried to be efficient with my gaiters-boots-socks off, cross river, socks-boots-gaiters on procedure, but I still took around 25 minutes to do it. Still, I was less than an hour from the trailhead at that point, and I thought I could get there before noon, if I really pushed it and did the section in less than 35 minutes.

I almost made it.

I got so close!

But 5 hours and 28 minutes to do 9.18 miles and come down over 3100 feet is nothing to sneeze at. I was happy to get back to the car and the toilet.

After visiting the toilet, I pulled the car over to the campsite we had used before and started setting up my waiting area. I put a tarp on the table, and then put my old sleeping pad on top of that. I arranged my change of clothes, cocowater, book, soap and water nearby. I had everything but my sandals, but by that time I didn’t care. I figured I could wait to leave the table until Ambrose got back. So I washed my feet and then settled down to wait.

He arrived at 6 hours and 3 minutes.

But he did cheat by fording the last crossing without taking off his boots. Which means he hiked that last section with water filled hydro-massage boots. And he surprised me by arriving before the couple we’d seen did, if only by about a minute. He said he caught them by doing the crossing that way.

I cooked our lunch before we got in the car to drive home. This was just the dress rehearsal for next week, when I’d be taking time off of work to do a 4 day hike of the Queens River Loop.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *