It’s a lazy morning. We’ve had a tough second day, and to reward ourselves, we decide to not rush it. Mickey had slept under the stars, and that must have been beautiful. Wayne, seated on a smooth boulder, reads his devotional. I take pictures of the stark above-treeline views.
Mark pulls out his fishing rod, attaches lures, and heads to the lakeshore. In his first cast, he gets a bite. Here, there are no protected species, and regular California fishing regulations apply. Soon, he returns with four rainbow trout. Before this morning’s catch, Mark had been regretting bringing his luxury item. He cuts their heads and tails off and fillets them. With a little melted butter, he pan-fries them. We complete the dish with a fresh squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of salt, pepper, and fresh herbs from my garden. The trout actually tastes pretty good. I tell Mark that the last time I had fresh trout was nearly a decade ago, with Ryan, who was then my intern, during a through hike from Cottonwood Lakes to Whitney Portal. He had hooked some golden trout, grilled them over a fire, and got me to try some, thereby inducing projectile spitting from this vegetarian. But recently, I’ve been trying to like fish; for some reason, it’s excellent this time. With that, we have scrambled eggs, vegetarian chili, and avocado on multigrain tortillas drizzled with Tapatío sauce.
I know we’re taking too long for this luxury breakfast when Mickey and Wayne say they want to take off first. Soon, Mike, Mark, and I hit the trail down the Big Arroyo. The sweeping view, the same one that we saw from atop Kaweah Gap, becomes more intimate and beautiful. We get water at the first creek crossing.
Near the old patrol station in the Big Arroyo, we meet up with Mickey and Wayne. Here, we have lunch.
“What’s the honey for?” Mark asks.
“You’ve never had it with blue cheese? Sometimes, they have that at these nice receptions.”
“I’ve never had the luxury to go to those types of events.”
Pita chips, blue cheese, walnuts, and a drizzling of honey—that turns out to be heavenly, and Mark becomes a convert. I was going to bring grapes, but I didn’t think they would last that many days.
From the junction, we climb up toward the Chagoopa Plateau. This ascent seems long. Across the valley, Lippincott Mountain passes further and further behind us to the right but somehow not fast enough. After a long uphill stretch, we crest at a dry lakebed. Across the lip, we can see the triple valley’s intersection of the Big Arroyo, Lost Canyon, and Soda Creek drainage.
Anxious to reach camp, Mickey bounces down the trail, and Wayne follows suit. I tell Mark that my knees hurt just watching that downhill run. Mike stops to adjust his pack while Mark and I speed-walk. Near a picturesque dead tree, Mark suddenly develops the urge to take care of business, and he finds a perch overlooking the Big Arroyo below. “I had a great view,” he says. Mike passes us while I wait by the dead tree, accidently sitting on this boulder dotted with pine sap.
Soon, we meet up with the rest of the group at Moraine Lake. Mickey is already swimming. We set up and get clean. Mark walks to the other side of the lake, but there would be no fish for dinner tonight. Wayne and Mickey have curry lentils and mashed potatoes. We had jettisoned our single fresh egg this morning at Nine Lake Basin because it had cracked, so I borrowed some powdered egg from the next breakfast to make egg drop soup. Mickey comes by with his notepad: “Now, what is it you guys are having?” Then, we slurp down spicy Korean noodles with tofu, mushrooms, and sesame oil. After dinner, Mark reminds me how it would have been nice to have the pink bucket to do dishes in.
Our campsite, situated at the forest’s edge, catches silver rays from the brightening moon. Nearby, the warm campfire casts an orange glow. Even without fish and without the pink bucket, this experience is just about perfect.