It’s probably just above that next ridge. There are only so many times you can hear that phrase before it loses all meaning and becomes white noise. And it’s not the pleasant type of white noise that helps lull you to sleep. No, this is the grating, obnoxious kind that causes you to ball up your fists and grit your teeth. We were about six miles up a seven mile hike into the Trinity Alps.
There were a few spots that leveled out, giving our screaming lungs a brief respite, but most of the trip was a constant incline, a continual climb up 4,000 feet of rock and earth. I had been running a few times a week as of late, but my legs were not at all prepared for this sort of hill climbing. My quads were on fire, but the end point was still above the next ridge…probably. The only thing that drove me onward was the realization that the incredibly sweet, horribly fit group of college kids we had run into on the trail were gaining ground every time I slowed or stopped. It isn’t that I needed to beat them, but that I didn’t want them to beat me.
This was supposed to be our “easy” backpacking trip. We had goats! Real live pack animals to help carry the load and have nonsensical conversations with. There was Olaf, stubborn and big, with white and brown coloring and the best floppy ears; Rocky, all white with a timid, yet somehow shifty stare; and Red Bull, a black and brown, sweet little meanderer. Red Bull was good enough to not always be tied into the train, so sometimes he hung out in the back of the pack with me (clearly my favorite). They not only helped carry our gear, but they also were the perfect trail-mates, posing for pictures and listening to our babble without complaint.
I’m not sure if it was my excitement over having goat buddies or my general lack of experience, but I had made a litany of packing mistakes. We had pets with fun little vests to carry things, so for food I had packed steaks, twice baked potatoes, sausage, cheese…the list should stop here, but it doesn’t… tri-tip, French toast, veggies, bread…you get the picture. Then on top of that I decided that I would pack some of the heavier items I wouldn’t get to bring on longer trips…a chair here, a cot there, extra clothing…again, not my best thinking day. Turns out, goats can’t actually carry enough to warrant these choices, maybe a few luxuries, but definitely not the treasure trove I had amassed. My pack wasn’t nearly as crammed and heavy as last time, but it wasn’t a light little cloud on my back either. E: There is so much I want to snark about on this packing list, but I will concede that those twice-baked potatoes were DAMN tasty!
I fought through the fatigue with my standard mishmash of obscenities and self-deprecation until I finally made it over yet another ridge, where the goats were sitting on the grass with smug “What took you so long?” looks on their faces. Damn you, Olaf. Your sass is noted. It wasn’t the end of the trail mind you, just a flat meadow housed inside a cup of red smooth boulders. I devoured something delicious Emily must have handed me as we watched Denita labor her way up to our grassy little oasis. I’m sure that the contrast of the white and red rock faces towering around us was breathtaking, but my exhaustion didn’t really allow for a lot of reflection or appreciation. At least there are pictures. Ah, pretty. E: It WAS pretty! This area is unique in that it’s the convergence of two areas of the Trinity Alps – the White Trinities and the Red Trinities. If you’re into geology (we actually ran into some avid rock hunters on this trip), this is a very cool place to check out.
I was under the impression, DENITA, that your goats would hoof it at a leisurely pace. However, our mountain man and goat-whisperer Dustin had been working them like crazy. There were four goats when the training started, but poor Henry didn’t quite make the cut and had to become a pet goat for the season. D: They have two more legs than us so there’s that and he had been working them pretty hard, but I swear they were A LOT slower the last time I went!!!
Bottom line, their speed and stamina were substantially greater than advertised. E: Goats: 1, GGitW: 0 They lumbered on without stopping, while I needed a substantial amount of rest, which sometimes involved just lying down in the middle of the trail (ignore the smiles, delirium must have set in). D: Ignore the vomiting, altitude sickness must have set in
After another series of ridges, we finally, FINALLY, arrived at the ridge we had been talking about for hours. Though I didn’t believe Emily at first when she yelled back “this is the ridge, for real this time”, the view immediately reassured me that our forced march was over. Looking down at the meandering switchbacks to the first lake of the weekend, Deer Lake, was a beautiful and welcome sight. The goats seemed unimpressed.
Our last trip to the Marbles coupled with this death march has me seriously questioning the necessary criteria for a body of water to be classified as a lake. I am used to vast expanses of water like Whiskeytown and Shasta, but these are about the same size as the ponds I learned to swim in as a kid. Does that mean I can file some sort of petition to reclassify those ponds into lakes and maybe give them fun names? Jessica’s Super Special Lake sounds pretty good to me. D: I think that’s a horrible name for a lake/pond. Well then you can’t swim in it D. While these ‘lakes’ might be small, they still warrant conquering. We set out to find the best jumping rock and take the plunge. Cold, but refreshing! E: Size doesn’t matter, Jess! But doesn’t it though…
We set up camp on a nice bed of grass after a tasty victory beverage Em snuck into her pack. Our first in-camp mission was to try and get the goats to hydrate. After many failed attempts to drag their little noses to the water, Dustin whipped out ‘their’ Gatorade bottle and they promptly gulped in down. So basically, they are holding out for the good stuff and can’t be bothered with boring water from fresh streams and pond-sized lakes. I think these goats are playing us. E: Goats: 2, GGitW: 0
Our hearty dinner of steak and potatoes was probably delicious, but my body didn’t even care, it just wanted to collapse into slumber. The next morning there was a noted lack of enthusiasm. We were all a bit on the exhausted side. However, we only had about four miles to go today. And even though I could see where our intended path went up, up and more up, it was nothing compared to the never-ending up of yesterday. We were pretty much at the top of the flipping mountain, how much more up could there be?
The goats were none too pleased when we packed up. I think they’d grown attached to the tall grass they had feasted on a little too heavily the night before. Denita had to give them some tugs along the way. It was amusing to watch a battle of wits unfold between a tiny woman and three goats that clearly knew they outweighed her. We were crossing a section of shale scree when Rocky, the little white goat, lost his footing. We figured he injured himself because he kept stopping or doing this weird collapse/sit down move. We decided to unload him. Em and I each took one of his side packs. He seemed completely fine after that. In fact there may have been a spring in his step. And at one point I swear I saw a smirk…these goats are definitely working us! E: Goats: 3, GGitW: 0
We hiked up and out of the Deer Lake basin and around the rim before we dropped down towards Diamond Lake. We took it in and then backtracked to the Summit Lake trail. So we have now visited three lakes on the Four Lakes Loop, close enough.
We creepily stalked another group of college kids for the lake’s premiere camping spot and once again had to conquer the lake with a rock jump. I took my time this go-around, and swam the frigid waters for a bit. The cold seeped in and gave my aching muscles some relief. Today’s four miles seemed infinitely easier than yesterday’s seven. We still had switchbacks and climbs, but far less elevation gain and mileage meant we had ample time to nap, enjoy our surroundings, and annoy the goats with love. Red Bull and Rocky were happy to participate in the shenanigans, but Olaf seemed mildly annoyed with our antics. He kept trying to dig beds in the earth. He was clearly pissed about our change of venue and wanted to return to the tall, soft grass. There was a forest fire not too far off and the air had a creepy yellow hue. Another luxurious meal of solid foods, and this time my body was actually interested in consuming it.
As this was the trip Denita was in charge of logistics and timetables, she had decided that due to impending rain (big deal!), she wanted to wake up before the sun and hike out. WHY?! D: Because that’s what I do! Get in and GTFO!!! Good MORNING!!! In my mind this was some sort of cruel revenge for all the camping we had been dragging her into. I thought I would be the reluctant party this year.
It was a long hike out, but I’ll admit I was pretty excited about all the DOWN! It took me a couple miles to wake up, but then I was able to get the hang of the half-hike, half-fall rhythm required to keep up (barely) with the happy morning folks and the overenthusiastic goats (they love going down!). Denita and Emily seemed to be almost skipping down. D: We did skip a little! E: Skipping is the best! People who function well before noon annoy me. D: People with shiny hair that dilly dally through the woods chasing butterflies annoy me.
On the way down my legs weren’t shrieking at me, which gave me the opportunity to soak up my surroundings. Some of the trees were losing their fall colors and the bubbling creek the trail crossed on occasion broke up the silence of the morning. The Trinities weren’t as green and lush as the Marbles, but the hard lines of the granite peaks held a different kind of beauty.
Getting to the car took way longer than I had anticipated and my body was done. Done, done. This trek had been the most physically challenging so far. The last trip I left in a state of zen, and this trip I left in a state of complete exhaustion. I’m not sure if it was the location or my state of mind, but the pay-off on this one just didn’t wow me like some of the others. I did get a little hit of pride from conquering something I definitely would not have tried this time last year. But overall, the best part about this trip was the goats. Hands down! It was like having little horse/dog pets that ate your apples, nudged your side, and gave you annoyed looks when you played with their ears. Adorable little goof-balls that (I am convinced) are smarter than we are give them credit for. Watch a goat trick a grown man into pouring Gatorade into their mouths if you don’t believe me. E: And for those keeping score, the goats easily won this trip.
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