It was pitch black inside the tent. The air was freezing – it had to – it was 14 degrees below zero degree Celsius. Almost like two soldiers on guard duty through the night, my legs and hands were alternately getting cold and numb. As if, the total warmth inside the tent could only be enough for one of the two sets of limbs at any given point in time. Somewhere towards the middle of the night, exhaustion from the flight, the drive and constant shivering took over and I could finally get some sleep. This was the end of November and the first of the two cold nights we were supposed to spend inside Bryce Canyon National Park over Thanksgiving.
When I reminisce about my Bryce Canyon winter trip from last year, three things come to mind the foremost. The cold, the colors and the sheer magnitude of the geological forces that are at play at that place. The cold was brutal, colors dynamic and magnitude astounding.
The last time I wrote something here was August of last year. From that time to now, I have wandered some more, climbed some more and also got into a small skiing accident that has kept me indoors for 5 months. Traveling to new places has not stopped ever since I moved to the vast land that US is and yet sometimes, I have struggled with not being able to write anything about such travel experiences.
When I say travel in US, I mostly am referring to my jaunts into some of the most popular national parks in this country. US has so much to offer in terms of variety – every national park is unique in itself. From grand limestone cliffs of Yosemite to stunning hot water geysers of Yellowstone to panoramic continental divide of the rocky mountains to deep gorges of the Grand Canyon to lush green rain-forests and craggy coastline of the Olympic, US has no dearth of options for a hiker and a nature lover like me. I visited these places and a few more and yet, I haven’t been able to document much about those trips.
As you might or might not know, I live in the state of New Jersey. Now the Garden State is not exactly known for any mountains. Living up to its name, you can find a lot of fields, woods and green grass around but mountains? – Uh Oh.
So it wouldn’t really come as a surprise if I declare that currently, my favorite place for hiking and training up for a mountain climb is located not in New Jersey, but in the state of New York, about 2 hours of driving distance away from Princeton. I found out about the Breackneck Ridge quite randomly – through a meetup group, which doesn’t even claim to be a hiking club or anything. But it so happened that the group has a couple of crazy hikers/ rock climbers as its organizers and they decided that it would be fun to go up and down the Breackneck Ridge on a wintry Saturday morning. True to my calling, I signed up for the outing without putting in a lot of thought.
Before February of this year, I didn’t even know that there existed a certain Mt. Washington in New Hampshire and that the mountain is infamous as the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather” (although technically that claim is not true, the weather is bad enough! Imagine extremely fast wind speeds combined with low temperatures). Luckily, I have joined a couple of climbing related Meetup groups and I keep getting notifications of upcoming events from these meetups. Someone had posted an event for Mt. Washington winter hike and interested people were supposed to confirm their spot. I did a Google search on Mt. Washington for about 10 mins and signed up for this event by the end of the 15th! Turned out that there were quite a few who wanted to do this tough winter hike and in the end, a group of 6 of us from New York/ New Jersey and Connecticut areas booked a spot each on an IMCS (International Mountain Climbing School) guided climb up the peak.
A gust of wind, followed by few minutes of quietude, another gust of wind. Feet making crisp steps in the snow. Pine cones spread over the trail, may be because they were about to fall anyway or may be because the rain and the snowfall over the previous night brought them down. Tracks of a small animal starting out randomly in the middle of the snow covered trail and leading in to the bushes. Wind blows again – signalling that weather is far from being stable. Gain in elevation, as we go up and away from the crowded vista point half a mile below us. Just me and my buddy, making steps in the snowy cushion beneath our feet, on a trail that winds up and above the Emerald Bay. We pass a couple of humans, who are on their way down and are very happy to see us (it happens to people when they camp out in the mountains, get caught in the snow and rain unawares, can’t find another soul around whom they can call on for help, finally pack up their tent and trace their way back, sometimes even sharing just one pair of hand gloves, and finally chance upon us). Their happiness reaches another level when we tell them how close they are from the parking area at the trail head. From then on, we have a fresh set of step to follow, like a guide book.
Finally, about 45 mins into the snow hike, we are at the lookout – watching over the beautiful bay. A rainbow is stretched across the bay – it’s arc is bigger than any that I have ever seen. I had hoped that the deep blue shade of the bay would be rivaled by the azure blue of the sky but it is not to be so. The sky is grey for the most part – ready to pour on us at a moment’s notice. The panorama ahead of us beyond the cliffs is captivating; but we walk on, for the destination is still a little distance ahead. The steep hike is behind us and now it’s a flat walk towards a lake that is tucked away in the mountains, just below the twin Maggies Peaks. We have walked for only about 0.9 miles from the trailhead to the Granite lake, and the elevation gain has been of about 850 feet – An easy hike with great views from the lookout point that we passed 0.5 miles after leaving the trailhead. Once at the lake, views are limited and closed, but the feeling of isolation among the mountains gives the place a mysterious flair.
These are the bits of information that I was trying to save in my head while hiking to Granite Lake, a place that’s on the way to Maggie’s peaks if one starts hiking from the Bayview Trailhead in Emerald Bay area near South Lake Tahoe city in California – okay, I know I have tried to give you too many geographical data points but basically, I was hiking in the southern side of Lake Tahoe area in the state of California when the snowflakes started raining down upon us and we raced back to our cars parked at the trailhead just in time. This was the second of our 4 days at South Lake Tahoe city (town). We had promised ourselves that since we are on a relaxed gate-away, we will not engage in any physically exerting outdoor activity as is the wont of most of our trips. Despite that promise, we had somehow pulled up the laces of our big, ugly trekking shoes once again.
As if the fabulous view of Emerald Bay from the Inspiration point, half an hour away from our hotel in downtown South Lake Tahoe was not enough, we had wandered away towards a better vantage point and a better vantage point it was! There’s nothing like looking up on a large body of water from a height – especially when the water is so beautifully colored and the land around you is glowing with snow. After the hike to Granite lake was over and we were on the way back to the hotel, we entered Alpina Coffee Cafe in search of some creamy, warm caffeine. With its rustic wooden decor and a peppy female handling the coffee counter, it turned to be a perfect coffee stop over on a wet, rainy day. While we sipped on our caffe mochas, snowflakes powdered the outside of the cafe.
Day 3 was spent in some touristy sightseeing at Zephyr Cove – a beach on the south eastern side of Lake Tahoe. All the water activities were off, the season being winter. Chill in the air was not very pleasant but the sight of the sandy semicircle of the cove, of a jetty going out in the water from the middle of the beach and the general air of calmness were surely very soothing. This beach was way more beautiful than El Dorado beach, along which we had taken a long walk a couple days earlier. El Dorado beach, being in the center of South Lake Tahoe, had a lot more people but the beauty of that beach was not on shore. It was rather in looking out on the shapes of the hills that surrounded the lake and shone in various colors in the morning sunlight.
Day 4, the last day of that long weekend holiday began with feelings similar to the ones that one has on a Sunday morning. I wished for that day to never get over. For some reason, we again went back to the Bayview Trailhead in Emerald Bay area.
According to me, Emerald Bay is the most beautiful part of South Lake Tahoe region. It has, as its name suggests, a bay, mountains overlooking the bay and serene alpine lakes in the lap of these mountains. Where there are mountain cliffs and water bodies, there are water falls as well. As a proper farewell, we chose to visit Cascade falls, an easy mile and half long hike from Bayview trailhead. While the trail to Granite Lake/Maggies Peaks pointed in one direction from the trailhead, the one for Cascade falls pointed in the other. 10 minutes of walking on flat ground was soon followed by a loss in elevation as we started going towards Cascade lake and falls. The hike was easy and nice, with mountain on one side of the trail and the lake some distance below on the other side. Halfway through the hike, weather began to deteriorate. but it wasn’t so bad as to want to stop and head back. So we kept walking.
A father-daughter duo passed us – father apparently aggrieved at being dragged through bad weather and the daughter concurring with us as to how beautiful it all was. I definitely believed it was beautiful – the lake was kind of lost in the mist and the grey color of the weather. Fog had started to build up. Snow was upon us, but in a gentle way. We were thankful that it wasn’t rain – that would surely have forced us to go back to the car. We kept walking toward the direction of the falls but the trail got a little confusing in the end. We were almost at the falls but couldn’t really locate them. We could know that we were on the top of the cliffs where the falls were but the weather was getting worse every minute and we had to abandon our search for the exact destination. We were only a mile away from the trailhead, but the lack of visibility due to fog made us feel more isolated than we were. The lake had disappeared in the fog!
We lost the trail a couple of times before finally taking a direction that led us to the trail after a few minutes. Another 20 minutes of treading on the trail brought us back to the trailhead. We were cold and ready for a journey that was bound homeward.
It had been two and a half days since landing in Colorado and we hadn’t really climbed up any hills or hillocks. But Ajinkya made sure that Chinu and I don’t go back home without stepping foot on the summit of a small mountain by deciding to take us on a hike to Mount Sanitas, a place where all Boulderites love to jog, hike or just walk their dog in the morning.
A group of us took the bus (public transport) from Ajinkya’s home to the point closest to the trailhead. Bus dropped us about 8 blocks away from the trailhead for Mount Sanitas. It was a bright sunny day and the weather was pleasant. Mount Sanitas got its name from Boulder Colorado Sanitarium and Hospital, built in the late 1800’s. According to the government website, “The sanitorium was one of a series of John Harvey Kellogg’s Battle Creek, Michigan, Sanatoriums. Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist, was one of the leaders of a growing movement in ‘health building and training’ called the Western Health Reform Institute. The institute promoted ‘hydro-therapy, exercise and a vegetarian diet’ as the way to good health.”
Life is mostly a sinusoidal wave. Sometimes you hit a plateau and keep going until you either take a deep plunge or opt for a steep uphill climb. That way, plateau also is a fun place to be in. At least it leads you to something more exciting. But what happens when you find yourself in a – how do I say it without sounding dull – Plain?
I live in Bloomington, South Indiana – relatively the most hilly part of Indiana state. One would imagine hills rolling away into horizon or something of that sort when I say that. At least those accustomed to the majestic Himalayan heights or the rugged beauty of Sahyadris would do so. But all those folks will be in for a disappointment; because this part of the United States just does not know what real mountains are like. May be folks in Denver know better. Alas, I can’t be there right now.
But fear not, for every place has its own charm and it would be idiotic to miss out on the same just because you could not find your 18000 feet high snow clad peaks here. Bloomington, the county seat of Monroe County, happens to be only 30 minutes away from an eponymous lake. This lake is the biggest one in the state and is surrounded by forests on all sides. The whole forested area has been divided into various wilderness zones and one fine weekend in September , we decided to camp in one of those. Charles C. Deam Wilderness, which was to become our destination, encompasses 13000 acres of Hoosier National Forest and plays hosts to multiple hiking and horse riding trails.