Clouds at Echo Lake

Day 3, June 17, 2000
Gilmore Lake to Benwood Meadow Creek
16.7 miles
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"Did you get the license number of that truck!?" were the first words out of my mouth.  I felt the previous day's overexertion and high altitude snowshine in every fiber of my body.  Normally I don't wear sunscreen and I suffer only minor discomfort due to excessive sun, but this time was different.  The sun just chewed on my legs and arms (luckily I had managed to protect my ears, face and neck before they got totally toasted).  I applied sunscreen to prevent further burning, but the damage was pretty much done.

Dave took off at about 6:00 and I followed at 7:00.  My experience with the morning descent was exactly the opposite of my experience with the previous evening's descent.  Every step was a joy.  As the trail dropped to Susie Lake it started visiting more north-facing slopes, which meant more snow.  Susie Lake was choked with snow, which led me to break out my ice axe.  The route past Heather Lake was relatively snow free and dazzlingly beautiful.

Maybe it was that beauty that distracted me, but it came to my attention that there was a rock a few feet ahead of me sticking out of the patch of snow I was walking on.  The sun warms these things and all the snow melts out around them first.  Quite a lot of snow had melted out from around this guy.  Hmmm.  I hear water flowing under my feet.  Ohhh sHIT!  Wham!  One second I'm staring blankly at a big rock while panting like a dog, the next I'm flat on my stomach staring at a wall of white afraid to breath, I have a flimsy slab of snow in my crotch and my entire right let is dangling in midair.  Immediately I sprawled out to distribute my weight across as much of the snow as possible, then crawled to the safety of an overhanging tree.  Whew!

After slowing down my heart rate, I counted my blessings and continued on to Lake Aloha.  This gem is one of the nicest lakes on the entire PCT, but, unfortunately, I didn't see much of it.  There was plenty of snow on the ground, so I generally had proof that I was on the right track by following Dave's footprints (Dave rarely gets lost).  I followed his prints back toward Lake LeCont.  It didn't seem right, but I couldn't see his tracks returning.  I knew that if I paralleled Lake Aloha, I'd eventually strike the trail, but I didn't know if the trail was above me, or below me.  Since I don't like losing elevation if I can avoid it, I chose to veer uphill, away from the lake, focused in a direction away from the views.  Needless to say, it wasn't above me.  After that fact was far too obvious, I started back down and finally intersected the trail.  Arrgh, I hate getting lost, especially when I'm drained from the previous day.

The way around Lake Aloha wasn't much easier.  It was flat, but the entire area was covered in snow.  Dave's tracks were difficult to follow and I lost the trail once again for twenty minutes.  Finally I dropped out of the Lake Aloha basin and, thankfully, out of the snow and down to Upper and Lower Echo Lakes, where people own cabins along the water.

By the time I got to Echo Lake Lodge (at 1:50pm, thank you very much), I was exhausted.  Dave had arrived an hour before and had gotten his repacking almost done.  I think the only reason he wasn't completely repacked is because he had been talking to Aaron, a distance hiker like ourselves, and a couple who had just finished hiking a section of the Tahoe Rim Trail.  I was burnt to a crisp and exhausted.  The couple could talk about anything at any time at any length to any one.  That was right about the time a four alarm headache set in.  I extricated myself to call home and buy a big bottle of SPF 1,000,000 with plenty of moisturizer.  I slathered it all over my burns a few times per day and to my delight, the burn not only didn't get worse, but the hotness associated with the burn was alleviated significantly.

Aaron hadn't brought an ice axe and was lucky enough to buy a Black Diamond ice axe from the couple for $20.  With that, we bid farewell to Echo Lake and began the second leg of our trip.  After crossing Echo Summit, we followed a big parking lot to power lines and up to where the trail took off again into the woods.  Most likely culprit for this undesirable diversion: private property.  After Benwood Meadows, we began a steep climb along a creek.  Just as I was about to cross the creek for the first time, Dave called to me from a boulder above.  He beckoned me to camp.  What unexpected joy!  The campsite was great, though it did have heavy mosquito activity.  Little did we know, the best part was the fact that it was 6:00pm and we would be able to hang around camp and talk.  This was the only night that we ever got in before 7:00pm.

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