We had the llama droppings to follow. And the sometime markings of a trail. But the numerous water crossings, trees in the path, and potentially dangerous plants slowed us down and caused many detours. A constant recalculating of our route took place on that overcast day in the Idaho wilderness.
How it began.
Luke's friend at work heard about our upcoming trek into the Sawtooths and told us about Crater Lake.
Wait, that's in Oregon, right? The map search confirmed that Idaho has one too, in the White Cloud Mountains. So the coworker told of his three-mile hike with llamas and how we should check it out.
Once into the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, we thought to consult a ranger station for some campsite and trail maps. We asked how to get to Crater Lake.
Crater Lake is in Oregon, a man told us.
Yes, now if we could just look at a map and show you the Idaho treasure . . . .
They passed Luke the gazetteer and, finding the coordinates, Luke and a ranger found the lake on the map. Then we purchased a couple of maps to show us how to get there. Since it wasn't a "designated trail" we knew we would have to be persistant if we wanted to complete this hike.
But the hike would have to come the following day. First, we found our perfect campsite, set up, and relaxed in and by the river.
While Luke played with his ham radio, I toured the neighborhood.
This fella found me threatening, so I couldn't stay long to admire him, but it was just as well. He might have tried to fly at me as so many of his friends and relations had been doing. I had to keep my mouth tightly closed, as you'll recall my butterfly phobia discussed in this post and in this one.
OK, the adventure.
To get to the Crater Lake trail, we took a back road from our campsite and drove along the river. The map clearly showed how the road would connect to another dirt road and lead us right to a trail. Obstacle one: private property with a closed gate. This made no sense at all, but, undeterred, we backtracked and took the highway to another connection.
We found our road and we found this view.
Our hike would take us along the creek right up that valley toward the snow.
I, supposedly the trusted navigator, thought map consulting was over, so I let Luke drive to the end of the road. Abandoning the guide, I decided I knew exactly where we were. Our water packs on our backs, the car keys lost and then found, we almost went hiking the wrong trail.
Then an unexpected angel happened by to correct our error. Oh, she said. Crater Lake is back that way. Yes, yes indeed. Her map agreed with ours—the one we later pulled out of the car and decided to carry with us. Thanking her, we drove away to find the real stop.
Obstacle two: though the trail had a number on the map, on the actual land no sign pointed the way. We had to guess. Down by a cabin we saw a creek and decided, according to what we knew from the map and the angel, that the trail started in that vicinity. After crossing the water, feet dry for the time being, we hiked up the hill along a fence and found this promising, and friendly, sign.
A trail, a real trail, and we, without dirt bikes or ATVs, happily started what we thought would be a gentle three mile hike to a lake. The assumptions we make in life. Just because we found the trail, and just because the lake was maybe three to four miles away did not mean it would be a gentle experience. I was huffing and puffing at half a mile. At three miles there was no sign of us being close.
It's the journey, not the destination, I had to say again and again.
Luke contemplated the little life quest we made, following in the footsteps of others. We thought at times we must surely give up or get lost, but then that little sign of someone who had been there before—that scrape on the log, that horse hoof print, that llama dung—if they could do it so could we. The trials on the trails would not keep us from enjoying the beauty around us and what waited just ahead.
Breaking out of the trees, we stared up to the switchbacks across the shale, obstacle number three. That's where we have to go, Luke said. Oh my. So many hours into our journey, did we have time to keep going and still get back before late? We both wanted to finish. The idea of turning around sounded dismal. But no one, except the angel, knew where we were and she had probably left for home already. So many creek crossings meant that our feet were no longer dry. And the sky threatened rain.
Three o'clock and we turn around, Luke decided.
OK, I said, then let's run!
And we climbed. And we climbed. Colder, colder. Our legs and feet screamed at us.
|Crater Lake is nestled among the trees below the peaks|
Where's the picture of the lake? OK, we didn't hike all the way down to it, but after climbing close to 4,000 feet our bodies needed strength to carry us back again.
Rain falling, no more snack food, and a glimpse of the lake through the trees—time to retrace our steps.
We got back to our car soaked to our knees, with bumps and scrapes. I caught my pant legs on so many trees and tripped my toes on so many rocks that I know not how I didn't sprain an ankle or fall on my face. Once we ditched our wet clothes and made it back to camp, we curled up in the tent, exhausted, and it wasn't even dusk. But as I sit here reflecting on it all, no regrets. Except, perhaps, maybe we should have taken horses. And llamas.