Coming around the bend to Convict Lake, our eyes opened wide and something like “Oh my gosh” followed. It was one of the few spots you can drive up to and be rewarded with the stunning beauty that was begging you to believe you had to put hours of strenuous hiking into it prior to getting there. The lake was nestled in a bowl at the base of the mountains and during the summer month the mountains were marbled with colors of brown, gold and white. I call them my gelato mountains as they remind me of the swirl like motion of gelato ice cream. Layers of various colored rock, pushed through years and years of time, leaving behind the traces of their travels through history. Bands of color stretching, dipping down and rising back up in stunning patterns, a truly magical place. I don’t think we had ever seen this beauty in the winter and it looked so totally different, covered in a magical cloth of white innocence, it had the feel as if it was brand new, like we saw it for the first time.
Although I missed the gelato effect that was now covered up, we quickly agreed that the snow gave the area an even more majestic feel. A breathtaking wonderland, clean and pristine, stretched out under nothing but sunshine and blue skies. We stood in silence and after taking it all in, we thought it to be the perfect spot to shoot a few pictures with the war bonnet. It had been a silent traveler, mostly stored in the cabin or coming along from spot to spot to stay behind in the Jeep with no action. Today, it’s status would be changed and it couldn’t get any more epic than this, at least not from a scenic point of view. I quickly got ready and could already envision the finished product in my mind. Nobody bothered us as we snapped away. We probably didn’t go unnoticed, but our privacy was respected and we were granted our own space and the proper distance to the increasing amount of people that was beginning to show up.
The lake was frozen for the most part, but not solid in all spots. It made me slightly nervous to see people walking on the ice and tempting faith, but there wasn’t much I could do. Luckily nothing bad occurred that day, and everybody’s guardian angel must have been on duty right there. We decided to hike the right side of the lake and find a spot at the furthest end under the mountain ridge. The snow was pretty packed and albeit our snowshoes strapped to our packs, our snow boots were sufficient without sinking into the deep snow. The hike was serene and relaxing and we stopped several times for a short moment to watch a tiny little dot on the mountain across the lake, climb it’s way in switchback motion up to the ridge. Switchbacks are a zigzag pattern to make steep terrain more manageable and level the climb. With my zoom lens I shot a picture and later zoomed in even further to identify the tiny little dot as a person with skies strapped to his back. That almost made me even more nervous than the people on the ice. The mountain was very steep with a lot of snow and the potential of avalanche danger. There would be no way for survival if a slide was triggered and for being such an optimist, I surely was worrisome that day. Usually always seeing the positive, somehow it was the dangers that stood out on that day. Somehow there was a heightened awareness, a caution to something I just couldn’t explain.
Reaching the end of the lake, we found a big enough rock and cleared the snow from it. Spreading our towels, we declared it our final destination for the day. Leftover pizza was our picnic meal for today and it was delicious, even cold. We lost track of the tiny black dot as it disappeared behind another ridge, but our eyes were peeled into the direction we last saw him or her. With any luck we would witness a free ride down the steep mountain slope, and so we waited. After eating I explored and shot a few more pictures. It was incredible to see all the snow. Trail markers and wilderness signs were buried all the way to the top, barely sticking out of the snow. It was definitely the most snow/moisture producing winter we had in years and I had to smile at the prediction that it would be an average winter.
All of a sudden we noticed our little dot moving down the mountain side. He/she was skiing from side to side to slow the steep terrain in this epic free ride downhill while heading towards the lake. We lost sight a few times as the person must have stopped behind a ridge to slow the descend and make the ride last as long as possible. It was great to watch and witness and eventually the rider finished at the bottom of the base in perfectly safe circumstances without triggering the feared avalanche I had thought of earlier. Wow, what a ride and what a stellar adventure to remember. I had watched people do this before but never in steep terrain like this and the climb had to be bear to get up there.
The hike back was quiet for the most part. The day, the adventure and the entire trip was nearing it’s end and we knew it. The lake was on my right side now with another mountain on my left. A noise I couldn’t identify, coming from the left stopped me in my tracks. My eyes open wide and pierced, I was trying to spot what could have caused it. The terrain was pretty open, with a few bushes and wood logs, but not forested at all. It should have been easy to spot where the noise come from and yet there wasn’t a darn thing I could see. Other than standing there with an eerie feeling and no idea what got me spooked, “Mountain Lion” was the first thing that came to mind and I don’t know why. Probably because that is a fear as I see them as stalkers of their prey and fierce killers. I’m not afraid of bears but mountain lions have my shivering respect. Still nothing and I couldn’t see a thing. We moved on and I was last in line. Needless to say, I turned around every other moment just to check behind me and have time in case something was stalking me or ran up on me. The eerie feeling never left as I clenched my staff a little tighter and until we made it back to the beginning of the trail where the jeep was parked. I can’t explain what it was we heard, or what had made that noise, but it was as if something walked through the brush, crackling wood, something of that nature. For sure it wasn’t the snow shifting and the sound was very different from that. But it was close to where I was, very close indeed.
The drive home was quiet and reality definitely hit. We were leaving this magical place and we didn’t want it it end. It had come and gone in the blink of an eye and already I found myself dreaming of when the next adventure could be arranged. Permanently if possible and preferably. But for now we were filled with new memories of the recent adventure and somewhere buried and hidden were four Tri-Tip bagels that found their way back home with us.