Again we woke at dawn, the dim light visible through the tent’s screened panels. The wilderness area averaged less than half an inch of rain in the month of August, so we weren’t worried about again leaving the fly off the tent.
My sleeping bag was rated to 40 below, and we referred to it as the Thermal Nuclear Blanket because it doesn’t matter the temperature outside, the person inside remained warm. The nights weren’t getting that cold, dropping to temperatures in the fifties, I think. But by the time morning came around, the Thermal Nuclear Blanket had done its work, and I was ready to get out of there. Andy stayed in his bag reading The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison while I got up and made my tea over the camp stove.
As the sun rose, the light changed on the mountains that surrounded us, and I again went to our vantage point of South Sister and Broken Top to take pictures. Our goal that day was to get to Moraine Lake at the base of South Sister. According to the map, the topography was going to be challenging.
We ate our granola and packed camp, leaving out before any of the other sites. They were still out stumbling around in long johns, trying to make coffee as we shouldered our packs and hit the trail.
After yesterday’s epic exhaustion coming into Park Meadows, we had devised a plan. At designated points along the trail, we would stop and eat, regardless of how good we felt. We had three sets of elevation to get through, two passes, and then a steep downhill. We would stop at the third bench and eat, regardless of what time it was.
“At mile 18.6 is the Green Lakes Pass, the high point of this hike at 7000′. These is some really nice alpine scenery with great views of the Sisters. Many places that you could camp, but no drinking water, and it’s pretty exposed if the weather is at all bad. There’s a shortcut from here over to Camp Lake Camp Lake [sic] to Green Lakes Pass Off Trail.”
Granola stuck to our ribs pretty well. The first rise was easy, and when Andy announced we were on the first bench, I was surprised. How could we have succeeded our first milestone so early? We trudged up our second incline, and again, when Andy announced the second bench, even he second-guessed. But we climbed. When we hit the third bench, we received an amazing view of the lakes below us. It was clear we had made our elevation, we were at the highest point of our loop: 7000 feet.
It was 9 am.
We looked at each other, trying to see if either would give permission to keep going, but no, we dropped the packs. Neither of us were hungry, but we dug out the gorp and water anyway. The moon was still setting against South Sister, so we took turns taking pictures of it and the view of Green Lakes below us.
To be honest, we kind of felt like bad-asses for getting there so quickly when we had been trying to go slow.
After the obligatory snack, we started our descent to Green Lake. We began to see more people: solitary hikers, horses, and even a few running clubs. The running club was made up of young men, all lean and nimble. I was a little jealous–I wanted my body to be that fit and light, as if our bodies were sports cars that we could trade out when the tires needed rotating.
Past the lakes, we saw even more people. The running club passed us again, and then a women’s running club came by as well. There were older couples, and more people on horseback. One person was fishing in the stream that we followed. The map showed a greater intersection of trails and closer trailheads. But still, there were so many people that it kind of blew our minds.
The great thing about long hikes is when you hit your rhythm. When your brain doesn’t register that you are even walking. It’s just doing its thing, and you are in tune with the people around you. I liked hitting our stride. So when we got to our last turn-off, where the Moraine Lake Trail joined up with the Green Lake Trail, I was almost disappointed.
This was our designated lunch spot, so even though it was early, we sat and ate more gorp. A few other trails came together at this point, and a parking lot was not far off. It felt like we were sitting in a shopping mall, not the woods. In a way, with our dirty clothes, big packs, and dusty boots, I felt really out of place. Everyone else wore slim camelbaks for water, and clean, freshly colored technical hiking shirts.
We hit the road pretty soon after. I led, and as usual, I walked us too fast. We hit some more inclines that took us by surprise. But we hustled up those, the crowds thinning out some.
Then we were at Moraine Lake, our destination. It was barely noon.
We looked over the designated campsites. Some people had pitched their tents illegally directly next to the lake, but no one seemed to care. Andy chose us a site removed from the lake with a good vantage point for the trails going in and out, as well as those setting out to go up South Sister.
We decided to wait until tomorrow to climb the volcano, as planned. It was late enough in the day that we would be in the midst of the worst of it during the hottest portion. Besides, the trail up the volcano was unprotected, so the beating sun would be our worst enemy.
Instead, we made camp, refilled our water at the lake. We laid our sleeping mats out in the sun and lounged, Andy with his Invisible Man, me with Mary Stewart’s The Hollow Hills, a bag of gorp and a Nalgene full of cold water between us.
When we got bored, we used the binoculars to spy on the other camps. Some people were skinny-dipping in the lake. There was a dog out there swimming. At least thirty people came and went through the area.
Wind kicked up, covering us with more dust. I wetted my hand towel and tried having a bath. The ash on my legs from the first day of hiking where I had rolled my pant legs up seemed like a permanent stain. No amount of scrubbing would take off the dirt coating my calves. I gave up, and we played cards and asked each other dumb questions about our childhoods.
We’d been together for twelve years, so we knew quite a bit about each other’s early lives. Dinner was early, and we were once again in bed before the stars came out.
Day Three Statistics
On trail: 7:50 am
Off trail: 12:30 pm
Total miles: 8 miles
2 portions Granola/powdered milk
3 cups Gorp
1 White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clif bar (our favorite)
Mountain House Mac & Cheese freeze-dried entree (very creamy, but not that tasty. Wish we’d brought the mini Tabasco I’d bought before we left)
Mountain House Apple Crisp freeze-dried dessert (this was absolutely delicious. I highly recommend.)
Water: 6 liters