Tuesday: Day 1
Due to the “first come, first serve” permit service and only three designated backpacking camp sites, we knew that we had to plan for an early start to our day. The trail head was located 2 hours south with the office opening at 9AM. For me it was getting up at 5AM since I live on the outskirts and about 30 minutes away from Reno. It allowed plenty of time for everything without having to rush and I prefer it this way these days. By 7:30AM we were leaving town and traffic was unusually busy for a Tuesday. It seems like the population of the city keeps rising and so is it’s traffic congestion. The drive was fairly smooth and luckily we missed a coyote that ran across the road in front of us. What we did hit though, was some construction work and the dreaded flagger, but just as predicted, to the minute, we pulled up in front of the office at 9AM on the nose. The door to the gift shop / permit office was wide open already and the trail parking lot was already bustling with action. “Oh no” I thought, I hope we are not too late. I scanned the area but only saw day hikers and no other backpackers, which was good sign. Luckily we were the first to ask for a permit and therefore we were able to pick our favorite site out of the three. We got everything squared away and got the permit for two nights even though we would only stay one. This way would allow us to leave the tent up all day and have shelter in case it would rain. There was a chance of thunderstorms for both days, plus we could take our time packing up since we planned on staying until late afternoon. We always do and I wouldn’t imagine this time to be any different.
By the time the sleeping bag and my sleeping pad was attached, the pack didn’t feel unreasonably heavy, but it was enough. Especially with the arthritis. I centered and situated most weight onto my hips to put less stress onto my shoulders and legs. Off we went with our backpacks, tripod case, camera case and another little lunch bag (that everybody would comment and loved due the picture imprinted of a bulldog wearing glasses…who doesn’t love dogs, right?) with today’s snacks in tow. “Are we there yet” did cross my mind before I even got started. I love hiking but in most occasions I have to work harder with my joints to get to where I want to and strenuous is always a bit of a butt kicker. And this particular trail is always a bit of the same for me, especially doing it the first time of the year. The trailhead is at 8500 feet which is 4000 feet higher compared to where I live. It climbs 600 feet in a little bit over 2 miles. Nothing too crazy, but even walking on the moderate stretches makes me sweat when you are not used to the elevation. I have to find my pace and regulate my breathing as not to gasp for air trying to get more air into my lungs. Ok I’m slightly exaggerating, but you will definitely feel the struggle and it takes time to acclimate to higher elevations. And then carry a pack of 35-40 lbs. (at least) on top of it, is no joke my friend.
I found my pace, (I always do) but I’m not gonna lie and say I could have easily walked on forever. I was ready to get there, to pitch the tent and put the labor aside to enjoy the day. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the journey, I was just tired from working and I was ready to rest and be lazy. The trail passed little run off water crossings here and there and snaked its way through wooded areas and along mountain ridges. The hillside was in bloom, just as suspected and dotted with a variety of wildflowers offering a rich palette. A series of meadows was ahead of us and the first one was especially rich and thick with wildflowers. A little creek ran through it, supplying plenty of moisture to the lush growth. The trail would narrow through the thick and tall plants as if you had to cross through a jungle. One more turn and it would lie directly in front of us as our excitement was building. We came around the bend and what I noticed first was all the people amidst the “jungle” and then I noticed how thick and grown in it was. I had never seen it so rich and so tall in all the years coming here. It was quite a sight to behold and I couldn’t blame anyone for stopping and pausing to take it all in. After our share of it and taking a few pictures to memorize the moment, we pushed on to the next meadow, one of my favorites. The trail finally levels out and you are minutes from the ridge with Winnemucca Lake lying at your feet in a granite bowl. The meadow is grassy and full of boulders and wildflowers. It’s simply stunning and I’m not sure if pictures can bring it justice. I hope I did bring you an idea of what this area looks like until you might see it with your own eyes. We took a few more pictures before summiting the final steps that gave away the view of Winnemucca Lake and for the first time since the start of the trail, I was able to take the deepest of breaths, followed by the deepest of sighs and the deepest appreciation of being amongst this beauty and spend the night under the moonlight.