| Isolation Angels
Peaks: Isolation Peak | Mahana Peak
Tale of the Tape: 17.2 miles and 5230 vertical
Partner in high-altitude crime: wooderson
"Those afternoons. Those lazy afternoons..." - Jack Kerouac
So we were in Wild Basin last weekend digging the crisp air, tired leaves and calm serenity of Indian summer. There were endless tarns and waterfalls, miles of desolate trails, warm butter sunshine and a skyline filled with high-altitude booty. All in all, it was a pretty slick way to spend a Saturday.
The trailhead is empty at 7 A.M. No cars. No tourists with questions. No rangers. No rules. We shuffle across the lot and take in a bear warning sign. It is too light to use a headlamp but just dark enough for some animal or man-beast to be lurking in the trees, ready to rock my world. I spent my childhood neck-deep in horrorshow exploits (Bigfoot, Manson, Night Of The Grizzlies…) and still pay for it to this day. I casually keep my eyes peeled as we hurry up the trail.
Copeland Falls. Calypso Cascades. Snow in the trees and ice on the bridges. Ouzel Falls. A trail-runner appears out of nowhere while I'm taking a piss. Typical.
We enter an area ravaged by wildfire years ago. There are burnt, splintered trees on both sides of the trail – fresh and shiny black, like they smoldered up until last night. One is barely standing and looks like it would fall if I whispered in its ear.
Views of Meeker, Longs, Copeland and Alice. We pass the turnoff to Ouzel Lake and begin the two mile slog up to Bluebird Lake. There is just enough frozen snow on the trail to keep things interesting. A backpacker appears having spent the previous night at Upper Ouzel Creek. We chat without stopping. Snow conditions. Overnight temps. People. Bears. And then he is gone.
Bluebird Lake sits 6.3 miles from the trailhead and is worth the price of admission. We snack on orange gumdrops and nuts and chocolate by its lonely quiet shore. This is a special place. We check the map, size up our route and press on. Cairns appear and disappear for a while but there is no real trail to follow.
Lark Pond and Pipit Lake. A long grassy alpine meadow leading to a small boulder field. Talus hops and geologic scat. Slow going. Posthole frustrations, sweat and foul language. A hint of fatigue arrives on the scene.
Isolation Lake at 12,000 feet. It is frozen, smooth and glassy-eyed. We find a sunny slab of rock, stretch out, feast, and then take a snooze. I don't think I've ever eaten lunch in a more peaceful setting. I want to stay but know I have to leave. We pick an ascent line. Maybe 750 feet of vertical. Textbook class 2 blues. There is snow all the way up to the saddle but it is not continuous. Out come the gaiters.
The worn soles of outdated leather boots. Hidden rocks below unknown depths of snow. A slip here and a stumble there. Grind the ankle. Jack the knee. Not enough consolidation to warrant the microspikes. Don't break your neck, kid.
We reach the saddle and peer down into the western lands. 100, maybe 200 feet to go. The ridge to the top is more of the same but perseverance wins out. The summit is blocky and choked with snow, the north face sheer and dizzying. We take photos and note the temperature and wind speed (39 degrees, 7 mph). I don't feel like excavating the summit register so we jet.
A slow, steady descent to a broad bench around 12,100 feet. It feels good to be on grass again. We're checking out Mahana Peak but also thinking about parking lot beers and handfuls of potato chips. The clock is ticking.
Papillon: If we hit this we'll probably walk out in the dark.
Wooderson: We've left a lot on the table this year.
Papillon: Shouldn't take more than forty minutes round.
Wooderson: Let's go.
We climb straight up. The snow is a pain in the neck. I check every foot placement with my trekking pole. Sometimes there is a rock under the surface, sometimes there is a hip-deep void. We top out but do not linger.
It's now 5 P.M. and I'm splashing my hydration bladder with a liter of Bluebird Lake's finest. We have 6.3 miles to go but there is solid trail the whole way back. The sun has given up and begins to slumber behind the continental divide.
We reach Calypso Cascades as night falls and pass an elderly couple, the 3rd and 4th humans we have seen all day. With headlamps on, we hoof it the last 1.8 miles back to the trailhead where I drop my pack and crack a beer. The parking lot is pitch-black and utterly abandoned.
These are great days we're living.
The task at hand
Lunch at Isolation Lake
You were my queen and I was your fool, riding home after school...
Mahana, the next objective
The final push
Isolation from Mahana
Nothing left but the long walk home
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):