The thunderhead looked like a massive gray genie exploding from Pyramid Peak; its belly dark and swollen. A great roar clapped down on us. We waited for the rain. There would be no three wishes this time.
Even a single night out in Desolation Wilderness can be an adventure. The area keeps many secrets and conditions flip like a high-diver. Every time I visit, there’s a new dynamic and this trip would be no different.
A few hours before the storm hit, two out-of-towners, Michael Mullady and Jason Boynton, and I had set out on a mild hike to a mildly difficult-to-find destination. We’d heard rumors of a small lake that sits on the edge of a 1,000-foot cliff like a giant natural infinity pool. The waters spill over the edge into a trickle of spray. The only decent campsite is furnished with a view that could give eagles pause.
We figured we would hike in from Echo Lakes, locate this gem, enjoy the landscape for an evening and wander on home. But every adventurer must leave something to chance. For me, I’d gambled on the chicken club from Lira’s Grocery in Meyers. This is a hearty sandwich: fried chicken strips, bacon and all the toppings, including the very dicey addition of jalapeños. It’s the kind of sandwich that can buckle a hike. Luckily, my stomach is in very good condition.
I suppose I made other minor wagers. Bringing a hammock instead of a tent is a potential game-changer, as is forgoing rain gear. Without waterproof boots this time of year, hikers in Desolation will find themselves tiptoeing through snowmelt. My companions and I did. Not checking the weather forecast was probably an oversight. There was also the lack of appropriate cooking utensils. Cold Chef Boyardee does not go down well in the rain.
As we topped the ridge near Lake of the Woods, the storm built above us, fanning out over Lake Aloha. The breeze began to gust. The sun disappeared behind the concrete gray. We hustled onward towards Desolation’s Zone 33. We hoped there would be enough time to set up camp before the beast really let loose on us.
We deduced the approximate area of our turnoff and picked our way to the small lake. It was indeed beautiful. The view rocketed out from its eastern edge and little separated the bowl-like body of water from spilling over the precipice. The water was a deep blue-green and perfectly clear in the shallows. A bank of snow, pocked with sun cups, crumbled into one side.
There’s a certain nuance to preparing for backpacking. You’ve got to anticipate the conditions and refine your load. As we readied camp, I found I was prepared in more ways than not. I had a spare footprint for cover, a stylish blue emergency poncho and a pack towel. I was ready to do battle.
We decided to truly experience this storm, we’d climb a nearby crag and stand our ground. I had visions of John Muir hugging the top of a bucking pine tree in fierce winds. “Nature has always something rare to show us,” Muir said. We wanted a show.
At the top, we hunkered by a round cairn of hundreds of flat granite chunks. The sky got darker and the thunder rumbled. A few drops of rain splashed down. We saw a burst of lightning to the south. The wind sucked into the storm. Then, the peak of the anticlimax arrived. The sun came out again.
We fell asleep on top of the ridge. The next day we swam in Aloha Lake and wondered what adventure we could embroider next time. A cloud of mosquitoes answered our queries. We ran out of Desolation, swiping and smacking and cursing that big gray genie.