Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Big Hike and A Hit Song

After I retired five years ago, I had ramped up my hiking. Then COVID hit and cut down on trips. About a year ago, I began battling some foot issues that limited my track training and conditioning. I began to have doubts about what I could do anymore. Like anything, confidence builds with success, and I’ve just not had much opportunity to build that in the past 18 months. 

I had searched out some great hikes in advance and needed to make a plan on which one to tackle. A few of my choices were closed due to increased bear activity along those trails. Ice Lake and the Ptarmigan Tunnel were two of those that were off limits. I considered the Highline Trail, but it’s logistically difficult and crowded with tourists. After getting to Two Medicine, we decided to just hang here for several days and avoid traffic and crowds. I selected No Name Lake trail, which departs from our campground. It shows about 5 miles each way horizontally and 1,300 vertical feet. I decided I would tackle it early in the morning while it was cool.

I woke up about 5:30AM on Sunday (8/1) and lay in the bed. It was in the 50’s outside, the low 60’s in the van, and I had Elena snuggling on one side and Bebop cuddled up on the other. I lay there and thought about if I wanted to get up and do the hike, or if I could even complete the hike. Doubt and comfort doubled the gravitational force on my body. But the mountains were calling and I must go. Elena had already decided not to join me because it featured two of her dislikes: mornings and vertical hiking. I walked Bebop and had a quick breakfast, then packed up and walked to the trailhead. When I got there at 6:45AM, I could see there was likely no one else on the trail yet. A couple of face fulls of overnight spider strings was my first clue. 

I did a few things that you should NOT do when in an area with bears and mountain lions:
1. Hiked at dawn.
2. Hiked alone.
3. Didn’t bring my good camera, which almost guarantees a large animal sighting.

I did do a few things to improve my safety:
1. I had bear spray, though I’m not sure if it’s bear repellant or something like Axe Body Spray that manly bears would want to use.
2. This area has a very thick tree canopy, which limits the growth of food sources for bears - so there aren’t as many in this area.
3. I sang songs along the way, so animals would hear me coming, and I wouldn’t surprise them.

What did I sing? I went with some jazz greats: Resolution, Birdland, Corner Pocket, Spain, (Basie), A Warm Breeze, Why Not, and even one of my own compositions which was a hit on in the late 90’s. I sometimes sang the music, and sometimes sang the vocalese lyrics. Sometimes I just scatted. A good singer might attract wildlife, but I’m certain my singing had the opposite effect. It was working because I had seen zero other people or animals larger than a chipmunk for most of the way. The trail is fairly flat for about 3.5 miles, then it’s vertical. You might think I would save the ballads for the steep section, but any musician knows it takes more breath control to play a ballad. I was doing a mix of panting and scatting. Near the top a grouse suddenly fluttered up out of the brush next to me. That got my heart rate up, and he requested I sing Birdland again. As I became a little oxygen depleted, I was just making up nonsense songs. I had just sang out “I hope there’s not a bear on the loose, or mountain lion, or wayward moose,” when the first people I would see rounded the corner right in front of me. It was a couple who had backpacked and camped at the lake and were on their way back down. They were kind enough not to laugh where I could hear them. I was less than 1/2 mile from the lake at that point. 

I finally made it to No Name Lake and there was no one there but me. There were a few tents at the far north end, but I didn’t see anyone stirring yet. It was beautiful and serene. I sat there for about 20 minutes, enjoying a snack and watching the fish and scenery. 
No Name Lake - Mountains too large to capture with camera

Pondering at No Name Lake

Then I headed back down. It was a while before I saw anyone, but then I saw about 10 people over less than a mile. After I passed a trail intersection, I didn’t see anyone again for a long time. Those 10 had taken the 8AM boat across the lake and cut out about 2.5 miles each way. I was hiking all the way along the lake. I made it back to the trailhead in under 4 hours and, to my delight, found Elena and Bebop sitting on a bench looking at the scenery. It felt great and am ready to tackle bigger challenges again.
Note the vertical climb is all compressed into one section

I got back to the van and slipped on my swim trunks and water shoes, then headed to the lake where I stood in the ice-cold water all the way up to the top of my thighs. It was the best therapy ever - nature for my well-being, and ice water for my tired muscles.
Post hike ice water leg soak
Watch for my new hit single "Wayward Moose."  

- Paul



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