We woke up to the sound of wind on our improvised camp spots. As Garbelly woke up to take down the bear bag, he was greeted by Driver and Pitstop. They were a couple from Mississippi that we had recently met in Atlantic City. We seemed to all have a similar pace, they just woke up much earlier than we did. Sometimes that is how the trail culture works. You meet someone you hit it off with and know you would enjoy hiking with, but if you go two miles more or less than they do every day, it is almost impossible to see each other anywhere except towns. After they passed, we finished packing up and followed behind.
Our hike started with a climb next to Little Sandy Lake, even though we were never blessed with a view of the water from trail. The trail then wound its way through the trees and a few large rock outcroppings. Our day looked the exact same as the day before with the tunnel of trees leading the way until we rounded a corner and hanging high over a small lake, a massive monolith of granite was there to greet us.
After climbing away from the lake, we rounded the hill into a glacial basin. We spent the next few miles walking through meadow with 2,000 foot granite cliffs on either side. Snow appeared in the distance and we knew that had to be where we were headed. As we walked next to a frozen lake, thoughts went through our heads of the dangers of this alternate. Seeing this much packed snow on a pass that was not even named on our maps made us more worried about the larger passes we had ahead of us. As soon as Garbelly placed his first foot on snow, we both knew it might be a sketchy climb up the pass.
Garbelly lead the way cross the first traverse. After getting halfway across he told Critter to scramble up and around the snow. Even though it was still before noon, the snow was icy and covered in a thick layer of slush. Halfway across, a large crack ran underneath his path and the snow below belled out too far to see the ground. Carefully he stepped across the snow, picking up his pace as he got closer to the rock on the other side.
Seeing this traverse, Critter decided to take a more direct and safer approach. As she kicked her steps in to the snow, she slowly made her way to a pinnacle of rock and climbed around it and upwards towards Garbelly. Finally the hardest part was over and the rest was simply a scramble up the pass. At the top, Liam and Kate were laying down on a large flat boulder. It was definitely snack time and we readily joined them. Our bags of chips never last long.
Heading down this pass, we were transported to a different world. As far as we could see existed thousand foot walls of granite and deep blue alpine seas. It truly was paradise and we could not hike fast enough to get there. As we shoe skied down the pass, we laughed and never stopped smiling at the unimaginable views. The nearest lake to us was Temple Lake and the closer we got, the more we all agreed that we could not pass up a lunch break and an icy dip here.
During lunch Critter ended up catching a couple fish and Garbelly decided to take a couple polar plunges into the icy waters, (No one else joined him). The sun passed through dark scattered clouds overhead painting the gray rock with patches of light and warmth. Even though we heard a few rumbles of thunder, we all agreed to take it all in a bit longer. We did not think it could get any better, but the day was far from over.
Leaving our beautiful lakeside lunch spot, we hiked onwards towards Big Sandy Lake. This areas was a popular entrance point for climbers heading to the Cirque. As soon as we descended to the sizable lake, we started getting poured on and hearing large booms of thunder. With our heads down we continued to hike while trying to stay warm in the storm. Here we saw multiple tents strewn over the wild flower covered grass.
We decided not to go all the way over Jackass Pass to the Cirque, but after running into Driver and Pitstop around the pass, we decided we had plenty of daylight to make a push to the top. It was a relatively easy pass to climb, but we were all worn out from a long day of having to much fun and taking a lot of breaks. Nearing the top, we began to see the top of the Cirque. We were all silent as we stared onward towards the granite spires.
It was the most beautiful place we had ever been.
We slowly climbed down. Liam found an awesome campspot high atop a rock overlooking the towers. As we ate dinner, the sun set and we saw the headlamps from climbers descending the mountains. We fell asleep as millions of stars.
Garbelly & Critter