South Lake to North Lake: Day 5

September 4

This entire day will be all about climbing. It’s all uphill. After coffee and the usual breakfast, I take a few more pictures of the surrounding beauty. Then, we head up the trail toward Piute Pass. Brad and I are both glad that we had pushed a little further the day before. Our ascent will be a little shorter today.

We enter Hutchinson Meadow by late morning. The stream crossing at Pine Creek is treacherous. Actually, there are no dangerous spots, and the creek makes many small streams amid boulders. But, there is no good dry spot to cross, and all the boulders are polished and wet. I end up slipping and dunking my left foot. Luckily, I have extra socks to put on.

The other problem during the trip has to do with my sunglasses. The first part broke while at Lake 10880, and then, the entire side came apart this morning. I am glad that I had medical tape from which I fashioned a makeshift strap. As the trail becomes more and more exposed as we approach high country, sunglasses prove to be a necessity.

Over a ridge, we enter Humphreys Basin. Being at treeline, stunted pines dot the landscape below looming Mount Humphreys. The landscape is wide and open. Piute Pass is in plain view. The trail leading up to and going beyond this point is confusing. There were a few sections earlier where we had to use routefinding skills. Now, even when the trail disappears, we can just head toward Piute Pass. We completely miss Upper Golden Trout Lake, but that’s fine, since we had a head start of sorts, and we figure that camping at Summit Lake will make our last day less rushed.

At Summit Lake, we drop our packs. Because it is still early in the afternoon, I suggest that we hike up to the pass for a view of the other side. At the top, Brad wants a picture of himself standing on the large snowfield, so that it would look like he is overlooking a giant crevasse. Framing the shot does the trick.

Back at the lake, we set up camp on a sandy spot. The approach to the lake feels like walking on a peat bog—wet and marshy. Brad filters more water. The wind makes it feel colder than it really is. Here, I take a sponge bath and a mini-dunk in the lake. Other backpackers arrive and watch. It truly is cold, and I have to crawl into my sun-warmed sleeping bag and tent for a little nap.

We have minestrone soup first. Then, we cook the spinach ricotta tortellini and drizzle pesto and olive oil. Brad shaves aged parmesan to complete the menu. To finish off our last dinner meal, Brad pulls out the ingredients for tiramisu, arranges the shortbread, drizzles the espresso mix, and slathers on pudding. This is the highlight dessert of the entire trip, perfect for the last night.

As the sun is setting, we rush and bring water and cider up to a large boulder overlooking the solitary lake. I tell Brad about alpenglow, about how the earth’s shadow gives interesting hues when one sits at a high vantage point, such as is the case at Summit Lake. We sip cider as the sun turns the horizon and lake a bright orange. Some of the clouds have a blood-red lining. Then, the sky turns from light blue to deep cobalt while the horizon glows as if aflame. The first-quarter moon comes into view. What a perfect way to end the last night.

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