PACIFIC COAST TRAIL - The Carson Pass to Echo Summit hike is best known for wildflowers, but I was most captivated by yellow-bellied marmots.
Larger, pudgier versions of a prairie dog, the three marmots I encountered, respectively, were cautious, brazen and downright regal.
I caught glimpse of the first one about a half-mile beyond Showers Lake. He was on the trail 20 yards ahead and he waddled with his red tail to a safe place under a big rock. He poked out its his head but retreated farther when I tried to get a closer look.
From there I crossed the cirque with its "miracle mile" and I waded through every color of wildflower which at its tallest was chest high. Horse dung on the trail was merely ankle deep. The view looking south from the peak at elevation 8,900 feet beneath Little Round Top was majestic. I took in the glacier and volcanic sculpted granite from a stand of wind-blown, snowpack-shaped cedars that looked like the talking trees from "The Wizard of Oz."
That's when I saw the second marmot. He was inspecting my backpack and a bear-proof food container I recently purchased from Lake of the Sky Outfitters. When I returned to my pack, the marmot stood his ground. If I tried to pick up my pack, I would have had to put my hand within a foot of its head.
"What are you going to do, bite me?" I asked.
With indifference, it wriggled away a few feet, but stuck around, just to make sure, I suppose, that I took the pack.
After I spent the quietest night I can remember sleeping in a hammock under the stars, I resumed my hike at sunrise. It was about 7:30 a.m. on a switchback when I saw marmot No. 3. It was sunbathing on a massive bolder overlooking the runway of the airport and beyond it was a spectacular view of azure Lake Tahoe. He must have been king of the marmots.