The Adventure Begins
A few years ago, I parked my car at the trail head leading to what I thought would take me to Lost Lake. I strapped on my drawstring bag, bear spray, camera, binoculars, and water bottle and headed into the Beartooth Wilderness on what I thought would be a 6 mile hike round trip. It was the first time I had gone hiking in many years, and the first time I had ever went alone. I was nervous and excited. I prided myself on being prepared. I had rain gear, matches, flashlight, and thermals just in case I got lost and had to camp out. I had all those little things I thought I would need in an emergency. I was doing it! What I didn't know, was that the drawstrings on my bag would be come extremely uncomfortable, my shoes would rub blisters and that the binoculars and camera would weigh heavy around my neck by the end of the trail. I didn't realize how the higher elevation and recovering from pneumonia would effect my hiking ability.
It was so beautiful out. I had missed being in the mountains. I had missed the solitude. I had forgotten what it was like to be deep inside the woods with the sounds of birds overhead and the sound of the river as it raged down the mountainside. Completely alone without the sounds of civilization, I was in heaven.
It's slow going when you are are stopping to take pictures of all the wonderful things along the way. Little waterfalls, moss, chipmunks, and every now and then I would pass a couple of hikers coming back down and I would ask them how much further to the lake. A mile, half a mile, a quarter of a mile, and then the next group told me a mile. What?! How could it be another mile if the last group told me it was a quarter mile. I had missed the unmarked footpath leading off the trail to Lost Lake (it's still lost) and was now closer to the lake further on down the trail. That's what happens when you lose yourself in the woods. You lose track of time and distance. I wasn't going back without seeing "A Lake". I hiked the last mile into the next lake thinking to myself I can do this and also I was thinking, please don't let there be a bear. The lake was beautiful! All of a sudden you step over the crest of a ridge, and there it is, a lake so crystal clear you could see forever out into it. I was alone. I took off my shoes and waded out into the icy cold water to numb the pain of what I would soon realize were some pretty big blisters forming. Paradise. It was about that time I realized my plan to hang out for awhile was going to have to be cut short because it looked like there might be a bit of storm moving in and I didn't want to be caught in it. I reluctantly put my shoes back on, strapped the gear back on and headed back down the mountain.
When you are hiking alone in bear country, it's always good to make noise to scare any bears away that might be in the vicinity. Okay, well first of all it's probably never a good idea to hike alone in bear country, but if you do, carry bear spray and make a lot of noise. I was being pretty quiet, completely disregarding all the rules, because it's hard to get pictures when you scare everything away. Sometimes once you've had a little time to think about every thing worth thinking about, other things have room to creep into your conscious, things like the movie "The Night of the Grizzly". What if I did run into a bear, what would I do, how far was I from help, how long had it been since the last time I had seen another hiker. It's amazing how little thoughts like that can have you looking over your shoulder, how your heart starts beating a little faster every time you hear a twig snap. The photographer inside of me told me to make sure I had my camera ready just in case, the worrier inside of me was indeed a little worried.
It was a lot further back down the trail than I had remembered it being. I hadn't seen too many people on the trail recently. It was still a beautiful day out in spite of the few sprinkles of raindrops. My feet were killing me, as were my knees and my hips. It was really starting to hurt to walk, but the alternative was to camp out alone, without a tent and sleeping bag. As beautiful as a forest is in the daytime, at night the trees seem a lot more dark and ominous looming over you and you hear every creek and scratch they make and the night sounds are not as comforting as they are in the day and then there are the wild animals. No, sleeping on the trail was not an option. I was not use to this. I was use to walking and walking a lot, but not uphill and not at that elevation, with worn out tennis shoes and carrying gear in bag that was meant to be carried from your car into the gym. I was feeling my age and the added pounds and my feet were painfully aware that I was still probably another mile (or two) at least from the car. My six mile hike had turned into a fourteen mile hike.
About the time I thought I was never going to make it back, I started recognizing the terrain and knew I was getting closer to the trail head. I had made it! And then I came around the next corner. To my short lived relief, no, it wasn't a bear, but a rather large mama moose, and she was not happy that I was that close to her and her calf. Great. I realized that my feet were in no condition to run, (not that there was any chance of outrunning an enraged mama moose), there was a straight up ridge on my right and she was on my left. I lowered my eyes and softly just told her I just wanted to go home, please not to hurt me. She snorted and stopped her feet at me a couple of times, and I just slowly kept edging my way around the corner down the trail (of course, I was taking pictures as I was walking, if I was going to get attacked by a moose I was going to at least document it). She never took her eyes off me or bopping her head at me until I was around the bend. I was lucky. Now the bridge was coming into view, the bridge that would take me over the river and back to my car.
I never have found Lost Lake, but I found something way more important that day. I found me. I rediscovered my love for the outdoors, the mountains, solitude, photography, courage, strength.
The only one of my photographs that I have hanging in my house today, is the path through the trees I traveled on that day, the one that lead to my big adventure and challenged me to keep going. It is not the best picture I have taken, it was in my before I was wanting to be a serious photographer days, but it still remains to this day, one of two that will always be my favorites. The other was taken the very next day, but that's another story.