This morning I arose with the sun, or shortly there after, which is an anomaly for me, a night owl who is more likely to see 2:00 AM than six—even seven—in the morning. I wanted to get a good hike in before a long day on the road. The alarm went off at 6:01am and by 6:50 I had rolled out of bed, dressed, refilled water bottles, stowed everything for the drive, cranked Anita’s top down, driven to the trailhead and began climbing the switchbacks from George Lake, just out side of Mammoth Lakes. By 7:30 I had hiked 1.75 miles, climbed close to 1,000 feet and arrived at Crystal Lake’s glassy water nestled beneath granite cliffs and spires.
As a photographer I am always thinking about light. A scene might be breathtaking to the viewer’s eye but will not photograph well—lighting is key. For this reason I am infatuated with the golden light of afternoon as the sun falls in the sky and the sunrays lengthen. Midday light is flat. I have known that the blue light of morning can also be magical and for a brief period this morning before the sun snuck beneath a layer of clouds I saw that light—crisp as the morning air, soft and cool. Sadly it snuck away before I reached the lake (the diffused light of cloud cover is another thing altogether). Seeing this light cast a new color upon the mountains I love made me want more of it—perhaps another love affair is beginning.
Everyone knows that early morning call of a full bladder. While camping, the desire to relieve the pressing urge is combatted by the frost lingering in the morning air just outside the warm cocoon of down. Rolling over to fall back asleep only works so many times before you can toss and turn no longer and must run out quickly and, with great relief, water some lucky tree. From years of backpacking I know this dilemma well. I know too, the frequent rewards of being out as the last stars fade away: mornings can provide an immense stillness that casts upon lakes a perfect reflection of the surrounding mountains and forests. Water without a breath of wind rippling across it yields mirror images so perfect it’s difficult to tell which is the reflection. These are moments to cherish for even the slightest breath or stirring of a fish can break those images. I got lucky on my hike: the air over Crystal Lake hung in perfect stillness.
Perfect in nearly every regard, Jackson is the worst companion when trying to enjoy and photograph such perfect stillness. His draw to the water is undeniable; it pulls him with an invisible force, no matter what the weather, or the constituents of the body of water—river, lake, puddle, ocean, scum pond, as long as it’s wet. Luckily he knows the word ‘wait’ and will do so to allow me to get a shot or two in but eventually…
I am a firm believer in breakfast. No matter the hour, at the first stirring of consciousness my tummy growls. I am less enthusiastic about being breakfast. One of the thoughts that passed through my head at 6am trying to keep me in my warm bed was: there will be mosquitos. So I was not surprised by their presence but rather by their numbers and intense ferocity. I also learned that mosquitos are hip to the concept of photobombing.
If no one is there to see you, is your outfit ugly?
Desperate times call for desperate measures and swarming mosquitoes are a sure recipe for desperate times. I re-arranged all layers of clothing I had to create the best barrier between my flesh and the probing proboscis of hungry female mosquitos[*]. Style has never been a driving factor in my life, and against itching bites I will wear anything.
Hiking 4 miles at an elevation above 9,000 feet is more effective than any cup of coffee, but a well-earned second breakfast afterwards is pretty divine.
Do it again?
Perhaps…later in the season when a good cold snap has killed off the masses of bloodthirsty insects. I could have sat and stared at the lake a good while longer but the high-pitched whine of mosquitos sent a preemptive itch through me. Yet, the solitude was incredible. I passed one man on the way up. He was hiking to the crest; told me he’d done Dragon’s Back yesterday and looked down on the crest, now he was going to look the other way. He told me that Jackson was the happiest dog he’d ever seen and that he liked to get an early start. I saw no one else. We were alone at the lake. On the way down I passed a half dozen people on their way up and when I reached the trailhead at 8:30 a group of 10 was heading out. Maybe, just mayble while out camping, this night owl may start rising with the early birds.
[*] Only female mosquitos bite. Both male and female mosquitos mostly feed on fruit and plant nectar but females need the protein from blood to help produce viable eggs.