Monday, September 7, 2020

An adventure. That's what it was.

Earlier this week, on a rare cool day, Older Daughter talked me into An Adventure.

Specifically she wanted to hike the Crystal Lake Trail, an unassuming "moderate" 2.8-mile excursion through what promised to be some spectacular scenery.

This trail was near what locals call Mt. Baldy, around 6000+ foot elevation.

So we packed up some water bottles, extra (warm) clothing, loaded up Mr. Darcy, and off we went.

Foolishly, we didn't leave until after noon, and we way way underestimated how long it would take to get to the trailhead. Following the map, we left pavement and embarked on a steep (though well-maintained) logging road through desolate logged BLM land.

We followed this road for mile after bone-crunching mile -- eleven miles, in fact.

Older Daughter said if we'd brought her car, she would have turned around after 100 feet (she has a low-slung two-wheel-drive city car). Our vehicle has high clearance and four-wheel-drive, and is designed for off-road conditions. Even so, I kept a sharp eye on the temperature gauge.

As we climbed, we started seeing scree slopes and realized just why Mt. Baldy was bald.

It certainly felt very ends-of-the-earthish.

But the views down to the valley floor were spectacular.

At one point, the engine started to overheat, so we turned the car off for a bit and let Mr. Darcy out to sniff and explore.

After ten minutes or so, we resumed our travels and soon found ourselves at the trailhead. It was a very wild and remote spot.

The trail was very rocky in parts, and one of those cling-to-the-hillside trails with a sharp drop-off to one side. But wow, the views were spectacular.

We kept Mr. Darcy strictly on his leash. We didn't want to risk him falling down a slope while chasing a chipmunk.

I was astounded to see some summer wildflowers still in bloom, despite it being early September. The season at this elevation is so much shorter that flowers were blooming even as fall colors crept over the landscape.

We saw mountain ash trees everywhere. Believe it or not, I've only ever seen these as handsome landscape trees, never in the wild. They have bright orange berries and scarlet foliage in the fall.

But the trail was rough -- steep in some parts, very rocky in others (you can see Older Daughter's boots and Mr. Darcy's feet at top). We went slowly and carefully, knowing we were far from help if anything were to happen to us.

Here, a previous hiker piled some stones into a formation.

Lots of red willow-like shrubs, but they didn't seem like willows. Anyone know what they are?

And huckleberries! Lots of ripe delicious huckleberries. We snacked all along the trail.

We stopped to rest at one point and admire the scenery.

But then we consulted the map and realized we'd only covered about one mile in one hour. And -- it was by then four o'clock in the afternoon. Reluctantly we realized we weren't going to make it to Crystal Lake before dark fell, so we made the difficult decision to turn back.

It was while hiking back that we became aware the "birds" we heard were, in fact, mammals. We were hearing pikas -- another animal I'd never seen in the wild.

They were very hard to spot. Pikas live in rocks, and there were a lot of rocks.

By the time I zoomed in my camera lens, they were already in another location.

Can you spot the pika?

Here it is, near the top-center, over that large rock.

Here's another photo -- the pika is almost dead-center.

We left the pikas behind and continued to admire the scenery as we made our way back to the trailhead.

Once back in the car, we decided on a more direct route down to the valley floor -- which turned out to be a mistake. The road was a lot rougher, though it was certainly more picturesque. All I can say is, it's a good thing our car is designed for rough off-road conditions.

Definitely nice views, though.

This is what we could see waaaaay below us.

I saw a species of grass I'm unfamiliar with. Anyone know?

How about this? If I didn't know better, I'd say it's the remains of a black-eyed Susan, but I'm not sure.

Steep scree slope, distant valley floor.

We returned to pavement exhausted all out of proportion to the relatively little bit of hiking we did. Even Mr. Darcy spent the whole following day flat on his side, sleeping.

We never made it to Crystal Lake, but we had An Adventure. Yeah, that's it. An Adventure.


  1. What beautiful scenery. You and your daughter and Mr. Darcy are certainly brave. Two of our kids took me to a moderate hiking trail. Once I saw those chipmunks I knew there was not much else brave enough to be there. We did not even see any birds up there. We were in the foothills by Boulder, Colorado about 30 minutes from our home. It is funny the things we see on our hiking trips. Thanks for sharing yours. I wish you could have made it to Crystal Lake, it sounds wonderful. We have had so many fires and tonight we are waiting for a snowstorm. Not my ideal start to a new season but grateful for any moisture to douse those fires. I loved seeing your photos. Thanks for sharing. HUGS across the miles XO XO

  2. I have had an adventure like this as well, one where at one point my father sincerely believed we would not make it back (he told me this later).

    The pictures are beautiful. And I had no idea pika lived in the US (they are a relative of the rabbit!).

  3. We hiking addicts, never leave home unless ultimately prepared! Well....usually. That's the thing, every hike is an adventure!! I live in farm country, but I can do a quick hike out past the farms and into the woods. Ya never know, from an orange tortise, to white buck darting across the trail, to wild morning glories! Problem is.....there is always another hill and ya just gotta see ! Thanks for sharing!!

  4. In the course of my hiking adventures, I have seen animals that I didn't know existed until I actually SAW them and was astonished, and thinking 'how did I not know this??" Quartamunde in AZ (think cross between a raccoon and a monkey ) Marmots in MT ( think giant hamster ) and more! What a beautiful, amazing world!

  5. My wife just finished your book and wants more. She's
    hoping that you will write a series.

  6. Thank you for taking us along on your Adventure. And, for being wise enough to know when to turn around, albeit short of your goal. There's always another day.

  7. Very scenic. Too bad you use a camera you got in a box of Cracker Jack from China. At least the thumbnails look passable.

    1. I once queried Patrice what her camera was. Do not remember the camera body name but the lens was zeiss and it does not get any better than that!

    2. Why the need to be a camera snob? It's the memory it records that counts. Some of my parents' old color-distorted slides mean more to me than any National Geographic winner photo ever would, whether shot by me or not.

  8. My goodness, I don't usually see the mean spirited and absurdly self righteous types comment here. But I guess they're everywhere now, huh?. Boring, sigh.

  9. lovely photos, Patrice - especially the Ash trees - the Emerald Ash Borer killed the Ash trees in Lower MI, and I miss them.

  10. Ahh, looks grand and lovely. :) Wish I could come over for a hike. I'm from the Midwest and went backpacking/camping in the Absaroka-Beartooth range once. I'll never forget it. We saw pikas there, too! And so much more, of course.

  11. Crystal Lake... Crystal Lake... hmmm.. I seem to recall some sort of movie about a place called Crystal Lake.. :)

    Steve Davis
    Anchorage, Alaska