A dusting of frost covers nearly everything. I first notice this on the backpacks just outside the tent. My towel is frozen stiff. There is bad condensation inside the tent because it’s so cold outside. The cure, of course, is a nice helping of hot coffee. Starbucks Via. Being in charge of the rest of breakfast, Brad measures out servings of oatmeal and dried mix of almonds, coconut, and an assortment of berries. Yes, the caloric allowance has been accounted for.
After loading up the packs, we head down into LeConte Canyon. The Black Range forms a wall directly in front of us across the canyon. Dusy Branch cascades alongside our descent, and the large waterfall right after the footbridge presents us with many photo opportunities.
Soon, we reach the junction with the John Muir Trail. We register ourselves. We hike through scenic Little Pete Meadow and then through the forest cover at the edge of Big Pete Meadow. Switchbacks take us up toward Muir Pass. We meet hikers coming from the other direction, and I ask some of them about conditions. Helen Lake is too frozen to stay at, and I know that there are campsites at an unnamed lake just below that.
We arrive at Lake 10880. While there is a very nice peninsula at the lake’s outlet with great campsites, the biologists have deemed this area to be a frog protection zone. We find our site on a high ridge overlooking the outlet stream. Behind a big rock pile, a small trail leads to the edge of a bluff facing the canyon.
This night’s dinner would turn out to be the worst of them all. The black bean soup is tasty, but I will soon conclude that watery soups are much better in the wilderness. The post-dinner routine is pretty much the same—cleaning, hot drinks, dessert, putting away food.
Brad and I decide to take a stroll along the lake. We sit at the peninsula’s edge watching the sky turn from blue to purple to black. Brad plays music from his iPhone, something you normally try to get away from while seeking wilderness. I tell myself that technology is OK; after all, I did bring a heavy digital camera.
Setting up the camera, I find a very nice spot just south of our tent, between camp and the high bluff overlooking the approach trail. From here, the view of the tent and the granite ridgeline across the lake are clear. The Big Dipper, with the ladle handle pointing westward, and Polaris come into plain view. I take a few test shots while asking Brad to flit the headlamp around inside the tent to bring even illumination. After getting everything set, I turn on the intervalometer and let my camera click away on multiple 30-second exposures. The plan is for a total of one hour—pictures to stack together as star trails.
The wind whips around our tent, and this wakes me up. Not being able to sleep, and thinking that the camera is finished, I venture outside to check. It has only been about 45 minutes, but now, I’ve ruined that exposure because of my headlamp light. I figured it would be fine to stop it here, and I bring the camera inside the tent.