The trail rises gently out of Mosquito Flat. In contrast to the scorching hot week in Loma Linda, the air, scented with pine needles and sagebrush, is cool. I tell the kids a story about hiking in Kings Canyon to distract them from the mild uphill. Just before the trail junction to Ruby Lake and Mono Pass, everyone takes a break by some shaded boulders.
We arrive at beautiful Mack Lake. It sits a little below the main trail. There isn’t an obvious route to this lake, so we push on ahead. The spur trail to Marsh Lake takes off at a right angle to the left, and we follow it along the lake’s northern shoreline. Prior to the trip, we had agreed to meet in this general area.
There’s a green tent with a lakefront view, among the trees, just beyond the large rocky hillock. A young couple emerges from around the bend. No, they haven’t seen anyone else here, not Damien and his party. I ask them to keep a lookout for anyone else that might be looking for us, particularly if they have baby carriers.
Tyler and I scout for a campsite. We follow a use trail along Rock Creek, the outlet of Marsh Lake. The patch of brush opens up. The creek tumbles down a small rockfall and into a deep clear pool, then it meanders along a meadow. This is perfect. There are spaces for a few tents, and we decide to settle here.
The routine is pretty much the same as that of other backpacking evenings. Set up the tent. Unroll the sleeping pads and inflate them. Fluff up the sleeping bags. Pump water. Bathe.
Bathe. This time, because of the kids, I bring extra gas canisters, which a hiking buddy Mark calls “comfort fuel.” Everyone washes up, the kids with comfort fuel, and Yan and I directly with stream water. Biodegradable soap for bathing is used away from the stream, then there is soapless bathing directly in the flowing water.
The routine continues. Laundry. String a line. Thread the wet clothes through. Make dinner.
Tonight, it’s broccoli cheese soup with orecchiette pasta, dried vegetables, and freshly grated Parmesan. We try to catch fish but there were no strikes; there were several women who fished earlier, standing right by the bank with beer in hand, spooking all the fish in the deep pool. Even without freshly caught trout, dinner hit the spot.
Dishes. Post-dinner stroll. Pictures. Heat water. Make cider. We enjoy a hot spicy cider with double chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Then, the kids play inside the tent under a solar lantern while Yan and I take in the moment: comfortable rock for a seat, the babbling creek, the sound of kids giggling, and a deep blue sky lit by millions of lanterns so far away.