Alpine Lakes Traverse: Part II

37 lakes in 9 days by jason hummel


Camp at Jade Lake. Photo by jessy hummel

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DAY THREE: La Bohn Lakes, Cloudy Lake, Opal Lake, Emerald Lake Lake Ilswoot, Locket Lake, Jade Lake

I awoke early, and took up my camera, a digital SLR. Having never shot digital, I was excited to not be confined to the limitations of film speed. I had worked hard to afford a Nikon D200. A nice set of flowers provided a healthy victim to practice with. Even though the perfect morning light was gone, I expected to work with what I had. Some pictures have an appeal beyond the perfections that many photographers dwell on. There's something in the composition and place, and that's what I like to see. I'm sure many would agree, and sure I like perfect photos too.

Jessy soon joined me and we surveyed the mines and lakes. The lakes were especially nice, even with the visual destruction that the miners levied throughout. Those visualations help remind me of the importance of protection, more so than if this place had never seen a pick and shovel.

After photos, we readied our gear. Our day was to be a short one. I had thought of climbing Mount Hinman, but really decided that I would save it for another time (we would come back later that summer and climb it). Instead we found the climber's path to La Bon Gap and set our packs down at the lowest point. On the map, La Bon Lakes were just above, and so was better water than Chain Lakes had. We also wanted to scout the best way down from the pass into Necklace Valley. In hindsight we should've done more scouting, but the lakes were pleasant. We would all break up and explore on our own. I found curious Ptarmigan, which provided me with a photo or two.

When we met up again at the smallest of the lakes, we filtered water. There was floating ice near one side and half the shore was snow covered. Other than water, there was also entertainment. Egged on by Jessy, Josh and Christy were convinced that jumping onto an iceberg was a fantastic idea. Why wouldn't it be? Jessy and I ready video and film just in time for the show, and what a show it was. They jump on just as planned. Christy first and then Josh. Perfect, if they had jumped right back off, but their celebration lasted too long and the berg floated away from shore. Jessy and I grinned as we watched them come to the realization that there was no way off, no other way back to shore other than by swimming. Their whining was paramount to the gut busting hilarity of the situation. Imagine them perched with their buttes on the ice and feet in the air, 'It's too cold, man.' This followed by their touching the water and shrilling "Oh my god it's COLD!!!" Let alone the pleasure of watching them actually swim for it.

Time did come to go, and we returned to our packs and climbed down snowy slopes. This may have been the wrong way, as we went over the lowest pass as far climber's left as you could get. I'm pretty sure now the route continues by La Bon Lakes. Nonetheless, steep snow would lead us to a rocky rib, which we followed down as far as we could. The terrain ahead didn't look very safe with big packs, so the others backtracked and found a safer gully, while I continued. At first it was just to scout to see if the way was safe for the others. When I realized that it really wasn't, I didn't want to return the way I had come. What I had gotten myself into was a classic trap. As a climber I look at certain things as easy, but without the tools of a climber they really aren't. I've fallen into this trap, especially in summer, a few times. This time my trap was down climbing steep hard snow in tennis shoes. That snow led to rocks which would not offer a pleasant cushion. Normally, I would just downplay this, but it may teach someone a lesson. It did me.

Afterwards, I traversed around and climbed up a gully that the others were in, and carried Christy's pack down. Once we returned to my pack, we filled up on water before foot skiing the last few hundred feet. Again, Jessy and I were bemazed to be entertained once again. First Christy, who I warn before I leave to watch thin snow, neglects to heed my advice. Her first step gives way and she falls backwards. All we can see is her feet and all we can here are her laughs. Next comes Josh who, full water bag strapped to his pack, notices it slip out. He watches it skip down the snow until it smashes into rocks and explodes.

Some more foot skiing and we are finally in Necklace Valley.

There are so many lakes squeezed into such a tiny area, I can see why it was called Necklace Valley. Cloudy, Jade, Emerald, Opal, and Ilswoot were the only ones we explored, although it would be very easy to visit more. With over 700 lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, you are always sure to be just a hop-skip away from your very own pearl (alluding to the name Necklace Valley). Right then, we were more interested in finding a camp. Along our path we hadn’t seen a lot of people, but the valley was crowded, and we wanted escape. We found that escape at Jade, where a camp was found right next to the trail. This wasn't ideal, thus the sarcasim, but for all the detours of the day, our time to run around and find a better place was fading too fast. We gave up, and left further searching for the next day. We figured we'd find a better place then. Now we needed rest. No more swimming today.

Now how about those scars of mine I mentioned earlier in the story. These would come while cooking a feast of kings for everyone. We had hauled over a nice rock and placed it right outside the door. I had a view of the lake, and the sunlight was beginning to fade. I was in a hurry to rest. My body was inside the tent, parallel to the door with the stove just outside. Trying to juggle the work while the others were walking, I reached for a box of noodles around my pot of water. It was boiling over the top. As I was bringing it back to pour it in, my arm bumped the handle. I've gotten lucky with stove incidents in the past. That time, a fuel line burst, and lit a friend on fire. He had 3rd degree burns on his hands. I also had fuel on me, but moved quickly enough. This time, I wasn't as quick, and the stove was just inches above my leg. The pan landed and the water washed over my thigh. I thought for a second that I'd be fine, even as the skin began to peel away, but then it wasn't so fun. I was really quiet that night. Any of my friends know that when I'm quiet, that's not good.

Five months later, scars serve as a reminder to be careful around a stove.

I let the others finish dinner while I wrapped my leg and rested. We had no bandages, or anesthetic left, so I would worry about infection throughout the trip.

Showy Sedge. Ptarmigan.
Monkey Flowers. Christy at a tarn above La Bon Lakes.
Josh and Christy with Chain Lakes below. Jason with Chain Lakes below. Photo Christy Kinney.
Happy sailing!!!
On our way down to Necklace Valley. A Cairin looking at Little Chief mtn.
Looking down at Necklace Valley.
I'm guessing the correct route down to Necklace Valley is behind us.

DAY FOUR: Ilswoot Lake


We had nothing planned but rest and relaxation for DAY FOUR. The only work of the day was to find a good camp, which appeared at Ilswoot Lake. The water's of milky opalescence attracted us, along with the boulder jumbled shore at the south end of the lake. It was here where we fished, bringing over pot and pan, salt and pepper, oil and spatula to fry up our catch. We all caught fish, some we threw back, but a few we kept. Jessy gutted and I cooked very carefully.

Otherwise, we swam periodically throughout the day, maybe rolling over to get something else to eat. As for swimming, not all of us are fans of water. Josh definitely isn't unless it is warm, and usually the last one to go in. Jessy, on the other hand, is the exact opposite and Christy was a junior Olympic diver. She loves water. As for me, well, I'm not a fan either, but I am malleable. Jessy spots these cliffs that he was set on jumping off of, but not alone (thus he twists my arm). They are at the end of the lake. Steep brush and trees lead down to the top while rock drops straight into the water below. Again, the water's color was amazing. I felt like I was in an island lagoon.

Christy and I eventually hike around the shore. We brush and branch rappel to a safe purchase, led by Jessy who had already jumped and climbed back around. It was thrilling hopping onto a branch suspended above the water and leaping off. The little brother always knows how to push us to do what we otherwise wouldn't. In the end, we get more fun than we had expected. That's what great about Jessy. With him I never know what I'm ganna get, "...life's a box of chocolates."

After jumping I decided to walk the shore back around while the others swam. They jump off a big boulder to get back in the water. Jessy does fine but Christy doesn't clear a rock ledge and jams her toe. It didn't look good and we thought the end of her trip would be the next day - that turned out not to be the case. After a few days her toe would numb, just like mine would and just like Jessy's did. Only Josh would be left off the injured list, but that would only last until DAY SEVEN.

Lunch. Cutthroat.
Jessy standing above the cobalt waters of Ilswoot Lake. ?
All of us. Back to front: Jessy, Christy, Josh and Jason. Christy resting.

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