Wednesday, January 8, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 13 — Deer Creek to Purple Lake

As I cooked breakfast the boys made up songs and sang them at the top of their lungs, banging on bear canisters for drums and dancing on top of a large, rounded boulder.  We spent the morning climbing steadily southeast, peaks of the Mammoth Crest to the north, the land south of us dropping more than a thousand feet into the Cascade Valley.

In the early afternoon we stopped beside a playful creek, which ran down the rocky mountainside from Duck Lake.  Pam’s feet had gotten steadily worse, and she doctored several painful-looking blisters while I filtered water and the boys built stone bridges for ants to use if they wanted to cross the stream.  We lingered for a while, letting our feet enjoy a moment of freedom from their boots and watching birds that flitted around the stream.

When we finally pushed on, the trail led us up a steep slope before we finally crested a ridge and dropped a couple miles to Purple Lake.  All in all we’d hiked eight miles, and the boys had been strong.  Purple lake was picturesque, surrounded by steep, forested slopes and sheer cliffs except at its outlet.

After dinner as dusk set in the boys and I walked quietly down to stand beside the lake.  Dozens of fish jumped to catch insects, gently disturbing the water’s looking glass surface, which reflected the peaks all around, their faces of stone turning purple and mellow as the sky darkened.  After a while we spotted a bat, darting low across the lake to catch bugs, and as night drew closer more bats emerged, until they darted all around, sometimes flying within several feet of us.

The bats and the stillness of the lake electrified Noah and Kai.  They were quiet and watchful, whispering excitedly to each other whenever a bat drew close.  We stood there until it was too dark to see, watching the world do what it has done for thousands of summer nights at Purple Lake.

“I really love this,” Noah said at one point.

“Yeah, I’m really getting into this,” Kai echoed.

And I smiled.

In the tent that night, after we’d read about Bilbo and the dwarves making their way towards Smaug the dragon, I reminded the boys of a Ken Burns documentary we’d all watched about Lewis and Clark.  I’d been thinking about our conversation the day before, about whether or not we’d continue past Lake Edison.  “Do you remember how in their journals Lewis and Clark often talked about how hard things were, all the struggles and how they missed home.  But in the end, it was the greatest adventure of their lives, right?  They had all these great memories and experiences, and they could be really proud.”

The boys nodded.

“I think maybe this trip is kind of like that for you.  It’s hard, but I think sometimes when we really push ourselves past what’s comfortable, that’s when we have a chance of making the best memories of our lives.”

They didn’t say much, but I left it at that.  I didn’t want to push, but I hoped it was a message they would walk away from this summer really understanding—that they could grind through difficult things, and often if they did they would come out on the other end with good feelings, lasting memories and a true sense of achievement.  It’s a lesson I hoped would carry over someday into their adult adventures, careers and relationships.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.