Claremont, California, USA
Dead Horse Lake, 3 a.m.
I'm awake in my sleeping bag on my back in the ferns and flowers, watching the sky explode with falling stars.
This day was spent in climbing through fields of Pretty Face, Pussytoes, Thimbleberry, Red Heather, until there was no trail, just snow banks pink with algae, and melt water rushing down.
It was a tough climb. How to pick the path? Stay on the high side. Put the pack down on a log and search the way to Minaret Lakes, then return and struggle back into the pack and climb some more, put it down again, until the pack falls over, and I say to Runty, ok, this is camp. (Runty's my hiking companion-photographer's assistant . . . stuffed puppy, rides in my shirt pocket. Sometimes I talk to him. He's the only stuffed yellow Labrador pup to have ascended Kilimanjaro.)
Above a wildly coursing stream, we climbed to a snow bank whose melt water ran down into a pica's hole—the rest of the ground was flat and dry. I set out my sleeping bag and pulled out the stove, and, as we waited for the freeze-dry to rehydrate into dinner, I downed a cup of Tang.
A movement on the snow above us caused me to slowly unzip the camera from its case under my arm—a huge buck had just jumped across the raging creek and bent his head to graze. The first gear-sound that opens the camera lens makes him raise his head to stare at me—his rack is still in velvet, five points each side, alpine glow frames him—the only sound between us, the musical chink of the shutter—which he eventually decides might be dangerous. He turned and bound up the bank.
After supper, I followed his pink prints in the snow, up several pitches to find the wrong lake, sheer-sided and covered with broken icebergs and snowpack—and know I'll never go there with my gear. This can't be the fabled Minaret Lakes. We must have taken a wrong turn. Tomorrow we'll head down—to look for another way.
in random arcs
through the pines