You may recall a post a while back entitled “ All I want for my fortieth birthday,” where I entreated family and friends to join me in some sort of fitness activity. (If you haven’t read it, go back and take a look, you too are welcome to invite me on some sort of fitness frolic!) Anyhow, many of you have said you are on board and I’m looking forward to you contacting me to schedule an exercise date in the months ahead. My first volunteers were cousins Danielle, Max and Diane. Diane (Toots) is my dad’s first cousin’s wife. Danielle (Yeller) is Toot’s daughter (if anyone can tell us if we are 3rd cousins or second cousins once removed, be my guest. We’ve never quite figured it out). Max is Yeller’s son and while I didn’t have any nicknames for him previously (can you tell nicknames are big on this side of the family?), he will forevermore after this hiking adventure be known as the gazelle, the mountain goat, or Billy (another goat reference). More on how he earned these titles later. Greg also earns credit for participating in his challenge as he joined us for the hike, as well.
Anyhow, Yeller had been quick to request a hike during our June Lake visit knowing we would be very unlikely to see one another before my 40th, as she lives in Virginia. She suggested the Saddlebag 5 mile loop, a portion of which she had hiked previously and which boasted beautiful views. When we arrived at Saddlebag Lake our plan had been to ride across the lake on a ferryboat and then begin our hike. An unexpected snafu arose when we found the shore quite full of people and all the ferries for the next two hours booked. Our cousins had been here before and never had seen it so crowded. A solution was quickly reached, we would rent two motorboats for a half-day and that would shuttle 10 people across the Lake. The challenge was that we had 13 most of whom were here to fish. (Along with Yeller, Toots and Max was Max’s younger brother Henry, Yeller’s husband Scott, Scott’s dad and step mom, my cousin Nicolle, Nicolle’s husband David, and their two small children Olivia and Samuel and if you add in Greg and I.) We considered making our own shuttle but deemed it too time consuming and Yeller, Max, Greg and I volunteered to walk the 2 mile path around the Lake to where the others would be fishing. Thus leaving ample room in the boats. It was an uneventful and easy two-mile hike to meet up with Toots and start our journey.
On our hike, we passed a plethora of alpine lakes: Odell, Shamrock, Steelhead, Wasco, Hummingbird… so do not be deterred by what you are about to read, this was a beautiful hike. Due to very poor signage and a vague map from the boat rental shop, we ended up doing the loop in reverse. This was not really a problem to begin with but after stopping for lunch near a delightful little stream and pond, one of the few signs pointed to a water crossing (sort of a collection of downed logs forming almost a bridge) which ended in a sketchy path straight up a craggy cliff-like hill. This didn’t seem like the way. But after talking with several other parties and watching them scramble over the cliff and not return for an alternate route, we followed suit. Indeed the trail did rematerialize then vanished again into mountains of shale and then reappeared along a stream. Max, leading the way chased down some possible bear tracks in the mud, after another questionable bridge of logs took us across yet another creek.
Apparently this is where we made our wrong turn. We were oblivious at first, marveling at the beautiful waterfall we had stumbled onto but as the trail descended treacherously down the canyon, we began to wonder where all of our fellow hikers were. Steeper and steeper the downhill course plunged and thanks to Toots who began to feel a bit uncomfortable with the heights and the sheer drop from the trail to the canyon, we paused to reassess. Looking at the map it seemed we might have accidentally taken a detour into Lundy Canyon. We seemed to be going much further down than we had hiked up so far and if we continued how would we get back to the meet up point? Max suggested that if we kept on trekking down to Lundy, Aunt Polly would give us a ride back because he knew she planned to fish the lake that day. While Max’s plan made sense, we couldn’t know how many more miles of hiking that put ahead of us and our energy was starting to wane a bit (well perhaps for all of us except Max.) Max effortlessly jogged up rocky ledges, sure-footedly bounded down sheer shale hillsides, all with a causal confidence that seemed to indicate this was all second nature for him. (Thus all of the mountain goat reference I made earlier). I was thoroughly impressed with the endurance of this nine year old, and at 10,000 feet to boot! We had probably gone less than a mile out of our way even with retracing our steps (though that meant climbing back up the incredibly steep switchbacks). Back at the water crossing we saw our error, had we not been doing the trail in reverse, we would have seen a sign pointing us in the correct direction. In the end, all was well. Counting the extra 2 miles around the initial lake the hike probably totaled close to 8 miles.
As we neared the fishing spot we became increasingly aware that we were more than an hour overdue to meet up with our family. While Nicolle and David could have taken the little ones back in the second boat, we anticipated that Scott and perhaps his dad and step mom if they had stayed, were waiting on us to depart. It turned out that everyone had tired of fishing except for Scott who had stayed behind to wait for our return and ferry us across. Indeed he was relieved to see us alive and well. Scott also gets credit for the fitness challenge of Saddlebag Lake because he valiantly volunteered to walk the 2 miles back to the boat dock on his fresh legs so that Greg could shuttle the tired hikers back in the boat. The boat had a limit of 5 people and while you might think you could squeeze in a 6th, the way the skiff rocked and swayed, we decided not to push our luck. A short boat ride later and our adventure had come to an end.
It turned out that our simple little 5-mile loop turned into an 8-mile trek that none of us will soon forget. Sounds like fun right? So who is the next victim…I mean volunteer for the fitness challenge? Any takers?