Today is supposed to be a shorter day, mileage-wise, but 15 minutes after we start around the lake, we come to a steep uphill. At the top, we get a great view of our lake and last night’s campsite but it’s only 8:00 a.m. and it’s already hard.
Yes, we get up at 6 a.m. on the trail so that we can make breakfast, break camp, pack camp and hit the trail by 7:30 a.m. We learned after the first night that we’re better off pumping our 7 liters of water at night instead of in the morning – it takes a long time to filter that much water.
The trail book is very confusing, making it seem like the first time we get great views, we’re at the top of our ascent, which turns out to be very far from the truth. More ups and down follow until we’re on what the book calls the “quartzite highway,” stretches of beautiful smooth rock. In some ways it’s a lot easier to walk than the mud bogs but it’s also really hot and since we’re traveling due east into the sun, it’s very hard to see the blue blazes on the trees.
A word here about blazes – aka trail markers. La Cloche is marked the entire way with blue blazes. If you’re following a blue blaze, you’re on the trail. If you’re following a yellow blaze, you’re headed to a campsite. That’s it. No other options, which is nice. Pretty much everywhere else Walt and I have hiked, a “blaze” is a paint mark, either on a tree or a rock. Trails are blazed in such a way that if you are standing alongside one blaze, you should be able to see the next one on the trail ahead. On this trail, that’s also the case but these aren’t painted blazes, they are plastic discs nailed to the trees. The best part about these discs is that they have a little arrow feature (see picture below) that tilts in the direction of the trail.
In some sections, the trail is so obvious, you can’t believe you’d ever miss it. And then you do, because water run can off so strongly that it creates a “trail” through the woods and before you know it, you’re not seeing any more blazes. We’ve made it a point to back up to the last known blaze and walk slowly forward until we’re sure we see the next blaze; it’s the best way to keep from getting lost.
While we very much appreciated the arrow feature on the blazes, what we found difficult is the refusal to use paint on the rocks. In the U.S., the painted blazes will just be sprayed on rocks instead of trees in areas where there are no trees but it’s not possible to nail a plastic disc to a rock. So while there are cairns (little rock pyramids) in the rocky sections, you have to scan the open ridge to find the next blue blaze nailed to a tree. It made for some slow going over several sections. I tend to go first when we hike and I’m usually pretty good at blaze-spotting but there were dozens of times on this trail when I would just stop and say “see anything?” or “Walt, I don’t see a thing.”
With his greater height, he was often able to spot a cairn and/or a blaze that I couldn’t. It definitely slowed us down.
Every time we took a break (and there were lots of them), Walt would ask to see the map so he could figure out where we were and I would check the trail guide to see what it said. Sometimes we could make a pretty good guess but since neither our map nor our guide gave us exact elevations, we could only tell “we have to go up/down a bunch” and we never really knew what was coming next.
Eventually we come to the side trail for Silver Peak, the highest spot in the park, which is an extra 1 ½ miles (plus elevation) each way. With barely a word, we bypass this detour, a: because it’s hot and we’re already tired; b: because there’s a nearby access point and day hikers come in droves to do Silver Peak. We don’t really need extra work, can’t imagine the views are going to be that much better than the ones we’ve had all to ourselves.
Through a low, buggy section, which nearly drives me mad since either I’m sweating off the bug spray faster than I can reapply it or the bugs are oblivious to it. I keep blinking small no-see-ums out of my eyes and swatting around my head.
Soon though, we hit our campsite. It’s only 1:30. The day is beautiful. We are situated on a rock above Silver Lake and it is just lovely.
Walt has a brilliant idea: since we are into camp early and since we’ve packed extra freeze-dried dinners, why don’t we fire up the stove and have a dinner for lunch instead of our usual protein bars?
Freeze-dried chicken and mashed potatoes have never tasted so good!
After lunch, Walt takes a snooze in the tent while I play solitaire on a rock and listen to the bullfrogs nearby. We are happy and content. This is why we hike.