Winter seems a good time for reminiscing, with cold winds handicapping my outdoor activities.
I saw a post on Twitter featuring a lake at night, high in the mountains of Tierra del Fuego, an environment of thin air, rocky slopes, and water. Surrounded by fierce crags, to its right a talus slope descended at a forty-five degree angle into the deep blue water. It reminded me of an afternoon almost sixty years ago in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.
Our group of six hikers– three adults and three Scouts–was short a day’s food because of a mixup in packing for this side trip, and we were hungry. We were camped in the Evolution Valley and on our way to rejoin the main group on the other side of the pass. We packed up and left camp, climbing toward Alpine Col, a 2,500 foot ascent. We’d be leaving the trail and walking cross-country. I plotted this route with the aid of Starr’s Guide, a little red book that described all the trails in the Sierra Nevada. I was just sixteen.
We left the John Muir trail above timberline and headed up Darwin Canyon toward Alpine Col. Above one nameless lake we stepped carefully across a steep snowbank that descended to the water’s edge. One slip there would land you in ice-cold lake water. The slope in Chile reminded me of that snowbank
We struggled over boulders toward the pass, rewarding ourselves with a rest stop at the top, and a view of the incredibly blue waters of Goethe Lake below us. In the far distance sat the cone-shaped Pilot Knob, where I climbed with my brother-in-law and the Sierra Club thirteen years later. After entering our names in a register kept in a tin can under a rock, we descended.
Hours later in near darkness, the austere world of bare rock, water, and snow behind us, we arrived at the camp we’d left three days earlier. Our main party, food, and a campfire greeted us.