It was a beautiful sunny day as we strapped on our packs and hit the Echo Lake trail head. People were out in droves enjoying the lovely holiday weekend weather, and we passed many groups in the first few miles around the lake. Just as we were starting to feel like it was too crowded for a place with “Desolation” in the name, we began a steep ascent while the groups of people stayed below. We were both glad to have our trekking poles with us as we moved over the rocky and uneven Earth. May in the mountains brings slick rocks due to snow melt streams running over them, so we took our time and stepped carefully.
As we climbed higher and higher, the elevation change was starting to make our climb a little more difficult. We were passed by a group of three dudes who looked like they were roadies for Foghat, who we ended up in front of us again as they lounged on granite slabs enjoying sandwiches and cigarettes in the sun. There were a handful of pretty steep switchbacks before we entered the higher country, and we crossed paths with a few backpacking couples on their way out. They let us know that there was a fair amount of snow pack up there, and that the trail was pretty difficult to find in some spots. One team had hiked all of the way to their destination early that day, only to turn back when they couldn’t locate a trail to make the final descent into their permit approved camping area. Their looks of frustration were fresh in our minds as we thanked them for the advice and continued on to our slightly closer destination. Anxiety levels about what we would discover up there were getting higher, but we kept our fingers crossed that we wouldn’t have the same outcome.
As we entered the last mile and a half of our journey, we started our snow trek. The ground was visible here and there, and it was easy to see where others before us had fallen through the snow in areas where bushes and branches were hidden underneath. As what we believed to be the final crest to the ridge came into view, the trail became nonexistent. You could see a distinct line where the footprints stopped, and turned back around. We weren’t sure if was to find an alternative trail, or to head back down, so we grabbed our map and compass and began double checking our orientation.
When you’re standing in the middle of the woods, and every direction you turn looks like the same set of trees covered in snow, your mind starts to get a little panicked. We used the navigation skills we had learned from various classes and friends to identify the major peaks, and confirmed our direction. Realigned, we pressed on breathing deeply up the snowy incline, until we reached the rim. It was beautiful sight as we whooped and cheered when our destination, Lake of the Woods, came into view. The snow was nonexistent as we barreled down into the basin, excitedly ready to set up camp and enjoy a warm meal. Just as we rounded the final turn on the trail, the Foghat roadies, who had grown in size from 3 to 10, came jogging past a few hundred feet shy of the campsite we were eyeing. Being true gentlemen (insert sarcastic tone), they said hello before quickly spreading out into the location we were moments away from securing as our home for the night.