I first learned of my friends plans around mid week. I was doing my usual prodding around to get someone from Missoula to visit me. One friend responded that they were going back packing. I was all in and prepared the rest of the week to join them.
Friday I promptly left work and went straight home to throw my back pack into the car. My plan was entirely WAY to ambitious and that very fact made it exciting. I would drive to the Holland Lake Trailhead and hike up to the upper lake which was a nice 2,000 feet above its larger brother down below. The tricky part is that I wouldn’t arrive until after sunset. The drive over was fantastic. It is always great to get out on the open road with no one around but a beautiful sunset on the horizon.
The hike up was reportedly 7 miles according to a forest service sign that had a pair of panties hanging from it. I laughed … what a funny way for them to leave me clues. However funny the comedy was only in my mind. Who knows how and why a pair of undies got hung from that sign. To make things even more odd was a pair of house cats sitting at the sign post.
I approached the adventure as an imaginary race and busted up the first thousand feet. My heavy load started to bite into my shoulders and my neck began to ache. I slowed to a pace that would get me up to the other lake around 3 AM … perfect. Too bad I couldn’t hike all night. Just to see if I could do it. And of course to impress my friends.
The moon was out full so everything lit up beautifully. The Mission Mountain Range in the distance with the big lake below. it was quite beautiful. it was almost like a cloudy day in black and white. Silvery moonlit rocks towered over my head and I turned my head lamp off to enjoy the complete solitude. My mind drifted to expectations of what I would find when I got up to the lake and how the weekend might progress. I only knew one concrete detail. Meet them at the upper lake. I wondered if they were up sitting around the campfire. My pace quickened.
The GPS said 5.6 mile at around 1:30 a.m. and I started to stumble my way up the rocky switchbacks. I started thinking that maybe I didn’t want to hike all night. But I knew that was just the sleep monster talking. I was just over a mile away so thankfully the anticipation kept me going.
Suddenly I spotted eyes in the forest. I swung my headlamp over into its general direction. It was definitely not a bear or moose. I let out a sigh. The next thing to figure out is if it was a cat or a wolf … a wolf highly unlikely. Just then a reflective strip from a tent caught my eye. I quickly aimed the light back onto the trail in front of me. I didn’t want to wake up its inhabitants. I mean at 2 a.m. they could be quite pissed. I noticed in the distance a large flat surface. I was at the lake!
Quickly realizing I may have just found my friends so I turned off my lamp and approached slowly. The dog didn’t bark and I suspected it was kind of freaked out or maybe just waiting for the initial blindness from my light to go away. I didn’t want to bother anyone so I turned to go hang my food. That is when he started barking. Soon I realized it was Norman’s dog and I walked in to greet him. I quickly hung my food, put up my tent, and drifted off to sleep.
I awoke out of deep sleep to a grunting, almost hog like, sound. I quickly realized something big was sniffing at my head through the tent. For a few moments I froze but then I decided that I better make a move for the bear spray. I counted to myself …. 3 …. 2 …. 1 ….