Saturday, August 25, 2012

Day 126: Shale Lake to Olallie Lake Resort

I woke to the sound of men's voices across the lake. I looked at my watch. 3:30 a.m. Climbers, preparing to climb Mount Jefferson that day? Covering my head with my sleeping bag, I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Two short hours later, we rolled out of our cozy, warn sleeping bags and began packing up. Getting up early always sounds better in the evening when we are making plans from the comfort of the tent than it does in the morning when we are faced with the prospect of leaving our comfortable sleeping bags and hiking on in the cold, dark morning.

We switchbacked down the ridge in a series of long, slow switchbacks. We crossed Milk Creek on a slippery log and Russell Creek on a thick snow bridge. Then we continued on through a heavy haze of smoke. Smoke burned our eyes and dried the backs of our throats.

We reached Jefferson Park just before lunch. The grassy meadows there were dotted with a potpourri of wildflowers in a rainbow of colors. Small lakes and ponds fringed with evergreens were scattered throughout. Towering above all this beauty and grandeur were the steep, snowy flanks of Mount Jefferson.

Unfortunately, today Jefferson's beauty was shrouded in a thick cloud of smoke that almost completely obscured the mountain. Even closer features, such as nearby trees, appeared as ghost-like apparitions through the haze. But we were grateful to be hiking through the area at all: the day before the forest service had rescinded a fire closure order closing that section of trail.

From Jefferson Park we climbed steeply to the top of the ridge (6,920 ft). There the trail disappeared under a huge expanse of snow. Far below, a thin line showed the trail reappearing at the bottom of the snowfield. "Boot skiing!" Sierra exclaimed, delighted.  With whoops and shouts of glee, we slid down the snowfield on our feet, quickly dropping hundreds of feet.

Helicopters whirred overhead as we continued down the trail. Several trailed large buckets of water from nearby lakes to dump in the fire. One passed directly overhead, seeming to follow the trail. Bits of ash floated from the gray sky like dark gray snowflakes.

A ghostly forest populated a charred, barren hillside, completely devoid of life. Remnants of another recent fire. But reaching the ridge above the burn, we finally reached blue skies, leaving the dense clouds of smoke behind.

From the ridge we descended past several small lakes and ponds to Olallie Lake (4,950 ft), our destination for the evening.

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