The morning was also very cold. The wind hadn’t really let up, probably because we were in the river canyon and high above the water. We got moving as quickly as possible to try and stay warm. You know, when you’re out there, that you will eventually wish it was cold outside. Later in the day, my cold hands will be slick with sweat, and I’ll just wish I could have just a small piece of the morning’s cold, as the sun beats down on my head and reflects up to my face from the trail rocks. 

But in the morning, no matter how much I tell myself this, I am still pretty darn cold. I keep my down jacket as on as I can while I change clothes, especially if I’m changing bras. And I keep my legs in my sleeping quilt while I change pants and socks. 

We had cookies for breakfast. It isn’t much of a breakfast, but it’s a nice way to break one’s fast. When backpacking, I don’t really like doing a big heavy breakfast. Part of that is time; I don’t want to spend the time doing breakfast when it’s too cold to be sitting still. It feels like a waste of prime hiking weather to cook breakfast. 

Cookies actually work pretty well; a burst of sugar to get you started. I like doing peanut butter chocolate chip cookies for a smidgen of protein to go with my sugar. My only problem was on this trip, Ambrose was the holder of the cookies, and I was a bit impatient to get a hold of mine and start eating (we’re fixing that situation on the next trip). 

I cannot overemphasize how rare it is for Ambrose to hike in his down jacket. COLD.

I was kind of hoping that we would take long enough to get to the next crossing of the Little Queens River that the sun would be up. But we were just too darn fast. The sun was flirting with the ridgeline, but had not crossed when we reached that cold, cold water. 

Nothing to it but to grit our teeth and get it over with it. 

And nothing wakes you up quite like submerging your feet, ankles and calves in snow-melt water with no sunshine. My feet were aching with the cold by the time I got across. I couldn’t wait to sit down and dry those poor footsies. 

We also snacked before moving on together. Again, it was not easy to leave Ambrose behind as we hiked. It was a little awkward, because I’m used to being so far ahead that he can’t hear me talk or sing to myself; now he can hear me, but not clearly, for the most part. I talk to myself a lot on the trail, sometimes out loud, often not. It’s a good place for introspection. 

It was so cold, he put his down jacket BACK on!

But not long after, the sunshine caught up to us.

Before too long, we made it to the trail junction for Scenic Lake. I think we could have made it all the way to there the day before, if we’d been willing to set up camp in the dark. 

I swear, this section of trail used to seem so long. It used to take forever! But we just moved right along. The sun started shining on us, and it started warming up. And then, in what seemed like no time at all, it was time for the section of trail that we call ‘The Ramp’.

The Ramp leads up to the junction for the Browns Lake trail. It’s maybe half a mile long, but more than 500 feet of gain. The whole section we’d hiked that morning was uphill, but it was a gentle, sneaky uphill. This was hard core rock ‘n roll. 

Before starting up, we paused where the trail first turns and agreed to have lunch at the top of The Ramp, where we know a stream flows. And then I started going up, intending to just power on through and get it over with. 

Then I ran into a downed tree. Okay, well, I could get around it, it was just a little tricky. I kept going, and then I just stopped. 

A gigantic tree had fallen across the trail. And it had to be recent, because the needles were still green. There were two options: go around on the up side or go around on the down side. I decided to try up first, but lost crucial time as Ambrose continued to approach. I didn’t like the look of things from the top when I got there, so I decided to go down around. Ambrose had already started up so he decided to try the up side, and it turned out to be easier (and less wet) than I had thought it would be. But by the time he figured that out, I was already doing the down, which was doable. 

There is, in fact, a stream under that log.

Pretty good zoom action on the new camera.

Then we both got down to the business of climbing The Ramp. I’ve timed myself hiking this section before, and I think my best time was around 20 minutes. I didn’t check my time on this climb, but I did note that Ambrose finished in about 27 minutes. Which means, with the tree problems slowing us down, he is moving fast

We split Mountain House biscuit and gravy for lunch, nice and hearty. Then Ambrose took a little mini-nap and I took the opportunity to do a bit of reading. We were resting up for the next big climb, from here up to High Pass. After High Pass, it shouldn’t be more than an hour or so to Johnson Lake, most of it downhill. 

Just another 600 or so more feet, along decently graded switchbacks, and we’d be done with climbing for the day. The hard part would be over. 

So I thought at the time. 

That big dark lump across the trail is a tree.

We got moving and I pulled ahead on the switchbacks, moving easy and relentlessly. There were a number of snags to get over, and I did pause at the point where you can look back down on the valley you just hiked through. But otherwise, I climbed it Terminator style. 

Until I got to the top, and was greeted, not just by an expansive vista of stunning beauty, but by the sight of snow. Snow on the trail. Snow on my trail. 

I suddenly regretted removing the snow baskets from my trekking poles at the car. But I was also happy to be able to grab some snow and stick it under my hat. Snow hat feels sooooo good while hiking. 

So, I sat down (not on the snow) and waited for Ambrose to show up. I wondered just how far behind me he actually was; I’d noticed him getting two switchbacks behind before the trail made it so I couldn’t see him. 

He was only 12 minutes behind me! On a big climb! I was so excited that he was able to hike so much faster than in previous years. 

He got some break time at the pass before we got going. Because my shoes were not water proof and his were, he volunteered to be the snow leader. Oh, and also because he wasn’t exhausted and grumpy. 

But kickstepping into mushy snow along narrow switchbacks did tire him out – understandably. He actually fell twice, when the snow deceived him as to its hardness. But neither fall was hard, more like slides to the dirt, partially landing on snow.

The snow, which came in patches along the trail, slowed us considerably. Each patch needed to be negotiated with care, lest we fall. I exercised my patience while Ambrose would slowly navigate each patch, making sure to leave good steps for me to use. I was only able to cross as fast as I did because he made the path for me. 

Looking back over the valley.

Looking towards Browns Lake.


We got down past the snowline, and then down to the trail junction to Johnson Lake. The trail to Johnson is not well maintained, especially close to the lake, but I’ve hiked it enough times to be able to route find through it. Ambrose has not, which I reminded him of when he wanted to turn left and go down instead of continuing to traverse. Pretty much, once you find the trail across the outlet of the tarn, you keep going straight until you can see Johnson Lake. 

I do always seem to lose the trail when I get close though, and this time was no different. But I don’t consider it getting lost, because I can see the lake. I know where I am. I just need to move myself through the brush and snags to where I want to be. 

We rarely see this stream with so much (or any) water in it.

And I’ve never seen this much water here either.

We paused at the first camping spot, taking stock and deciding if we wanted to stay here or move on. I didn’t like the look of the spot as much as in prior years; looked too slanted to be comfortable. So we left our packs and went to see if another spot might be better. 

Turns out, there was. With no rain in the forecast, we agreed on a nice flat spot, set back from the lake, that would probably get washed out in the rain. 

I got to pitching, and Ambrose worked on water. It was still too early for dinner prep, since we arrived around 3 pm. 

Johnson Lake

Since we were staying for two nights, I decided to try a trick I learned from my friend Bill. The fork changes the angle of the guy lines, which results in more headroom inside the tent.

Ambrose giving some finishing blows to his sleeping pad. 

The rest of the day was spent organizing camp and enjoying the beauty surrounding us. Even when it got a little scary, in the evening when it sounded like someone was clacking sticks or rocks together, one-two, click-clack. It didn’t sound natural, but I figured it had to be deer (or maybe goats?) jumping on or off of rocks, making that sound as their front and then rear hooves hit rock. Neither of us confirmed that with a sighting though. 

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