By Joanna Bastian
I woke up to a strange ripping sound and a shower of ice crystals in my face.
“Joanna, wake up, the tent is falling down.”
In response, my eyelids squeezed shut even tighter as I burrowed deeper into the warmth of my sleeping bag.
With a grunt I shoved only a single hand out of my warm cocoon and fumbled around until my fingers found the faulty pole and pushed it back upward, causing another cascade of ice crystals to shower down. Joe secured the pole back into position with a Velcro loop.
Or, I assume he secured it. I was still fully cocooned in my mummy bag, eyes shut tight to the early morning sun cresting over Foggy Dew Ridge.
The day before was a steady climb past boulder fields, tumbling springs and Foggy Dew Falls. The trail turned nearly vertical at the lip of Merchants Basin. The meadow bowl was filled with sunshine and soft green grass, the edges of the basin lined with snow. A few yellow glacier lilies spotted the landscape.
After a leisurely spell in the meadow, the trail slowly climbed up a ridge to overlook Cooney Lake, still locked in by snow. A sharp turn to the left took us along the ridgeline and rewarded our steady uphill climbing with positive altitude and angelic views looking down the valley towards Stehekin.
Storm clouds flowed through the corridors of mountain peaks, sunlight slashed holes through the darkened masses, illuminating the valley below. The wind tore words of awe from our lips and we bent our heads in acquiescence to descend Angel’s Staircase into yet another high altitude meadow, this one as darkened by storm clouds as the other was brightened with sun.
The evening was quiet, yet cold. The night colder still. And in the morning, the sun — and a fallen tent pole — revealed icy stalactites that had formed overnight on the fabric directly above my head.
Our companions, Scott Rudy and Sandee McKinney of Hayden, Idaho, spoke of “backpacker amnesia” as we packed up camp and shouldered our bags for the next leg of the trail. Backpacker amnesia usually occurs the morning after, when the beauty of the surroundings overrides any muscle aches or coldness that linger from the night before.
Boiling Lake appeared suddenly, still and tranquil. I had read that bubbling springs create the illusion of boiling in the lake when seen from above. As we climbed Horsehead Pass I kept looking down to witness this phenomenon, but the surface of the lake remained calm and serene.
The views from Horsehead Pass were just as breathtaking as Angel’s Staircase, only this time it was the scenery and not the wind that took our breath away.
More flowers lined the path along the Eagle Lakes trail. The colors crossed the spectrum of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
Our day ended much too soon, along this epic trail in the lower valley. Early summer, in that space in between the melting of the snows and the heat of high summer, this trail is resplendent with wildflowers. In the fall, the larch trees are the draw, their golden glow magnificent in autumn. A trail worthy of many visits.