Steam rolls from my shoulders as I remove my thermal sweater and battle to cram it into my pack. Slumping into the rocky hillside I take three deep breaths, holding the last one in the pit of my lungs for an extra fifteen seconds. Mesmorized by the fogged breath as it dissipates into the sharp mountain air, I lose myself in the blank space in my mind, where I retreat to in moments of over simulation. Exhaling I throw my body onto my boots, the sweat soaked shirt on my back sends chills throughout my body as I tighten down my pack and push on down the trail. With the snow deepening and the path growing more rocky and steep, every step is met with a new challenge and I’m eager to face it.
I have never attempted to hike this trail before, all of my knowledge comes from reading articles and guidebooks, none of which lead me to believe I would be encountering snow today. Although the sun is out, the air is ice-cold. The thermometer in my car read 31(F) when I walked into the woods this morning but there was no snow on the ground until I broke away from the tree line at about 3400 ft elevation. I always pack for worst case scenarios, so the snow didn’t worry me too much.
I drag my body over another ridge, I haven’t been keeping track but that was the millionth ridge I’ve crossed over today. Fighting to find my footing, I descend down the backside of the ridge. Taking my eyes off of the trail to absorb my new perspective of the horizon and begin to slide, my aching feet scramble over the icy rocks. Reaching my arms outwards in all directions, trying to grasp anything that feels like balance, I snatch a flimsy, pine needled branch and pull myself to stability.
Stopping at the bottom of the gully, I survey the climb in front of me. The path nearly disappears into the bleached white slope with the icy holes left in the snow by previous mountain wanderers being my only means of navigation, I plot my course one literal step at a time. I place my feet into each hole as if I am walking a set of stairs made of an unknown strangers staggering footsteps. I can see the places where their boots slipped on the rocks below the snow and their hand prints where they caught balance on the frozen bank. As I progress I begin to think of the tracks as if I was being lead up the mountainside by a ghost.
Half way up the next hillside I reach a rock face with a quarter-inch of ice coating the entirety of its surface. The ice bites at my finger tips and stings my palms as I search for a place to get a grip. Finding one I place my foot against the rock and pull myself up to the next hand hold. Digging my nails into the icy ledge I look for new footing, and find nothing but slick terrain. Both of my feet slip from the rock and my elbows clash with the frozen rock, it takes all of my strength to keep my grip with numbing fingers. I feel the freeze of melting ice water pour down the neck of my shirt and trickle over my torso. Swinging my foot up and to catch on a crack in the rock, I push myself to the top of the rock and back to my feet.
With storm clouds breaking over the peaks across the canyon, I begin to doubt my efforts towards reaching the top. There is no more rocks, there are no more trees, no more bushes, just snow. Snow blankets everything in front of me, making it seem as though I am an ant crossing the vast expanse of someones down comforter. The slope in front of my is by far the steepest of todays trek, heading in a near straight line for the top of the ridge. I tell myself that this must be the last ridge as I begin to move forward, nearly crawling as I dig my hands and feet into the cold, cutting snow bed. With every other step I sink through the surface and find myself waist deep in the freeze, did I mention that I’m only wearing runners leggings and shorts?
As I crawl under a fallen tree blocking the path, I realize that the storm is literally surrounding me. Reaching the top of the crest while dark and foggy clouds roll over the horizon in all directions, I get my first glimpse of my final destination, Foggy Lake. Not much of a lake at this point, more of a giant ice-cube covered with snow and mist. I walk around the water’s edge a bit and find a spot to sit and catch my breath. The clouds are closing in on me, and the visibility lessens by the second. Within a few moments I can no longer see the lake that is less than 15 feet in front of me.
I decide this would be a good time to leave, but not before capturing a few pictures and taking in the moment with a mental pictures of my own. The way back was a lot easier, taking me half as long and allowing me to slide down some snowy hillsides with a smile on my face. Reaching my car at nearly dark, I think back to the start of this day, my expectations of the journey opposed to the realities of the trail and how crazy the snow was. Replaying the moments in my head, I begin to laugh out loud, what a crazy day I spent completely alone. They say that you should expect the unexpected, and while that is great advice that makes no sense at all, sometimes its better to be surprised.