Chickenfoot Lake and Pip Squeak Spire

August. How did that happen? My slower summer pace is quickly picking up, the To Do lists are accumulating, my space is overrun with school supplies. It appears I have once again entered that other dimension where I continually search for the ever elusive Time. When I sat down to write about our last Sierra trip I was surprised to realize that two weeks have come and gone since we climbed Pip Squeak Spire. I could have sworn just yesterday I was lakeside, reading a book, hunting for wildflowers and watching the sunrise. Fourteen days have slipped through my grasp since I stood on that rocky ridge gazing out at a sea of granite peaks in a state of amazement. I love those moments. In those moments, Time does not elude. In fact, in those moments Time doesn’t even exist.

Since we both had a Friday off, we were able to take our time, pack our bags and enjoy a leisurely drive north up the 395 to Tom’s Place and then up the road to Mosquito Flat. We were planning to backpack to Gem Lake, set up camp and the next day perhaps, maybe, possibly climb Bear Creek Spire? We knew it was a lofty goal for this particular point in time, so we were keeping our options open.

The packs felt heavy right from the start. At some point in our quest to minimize our gear and lighten our loads, we had realized that when it comes to food storage, maybe old school is best. We usually hang our food in a nice, lightweight (though not exactly “proper”) kevlar bag. We rarely carry the bear canister anymore, but decided it would be wise to heft it along on this trip. Little Lakes Valley trail is a well traveled one and I imagine the bear folk are well aware of that. It’s been so long since we used the bear can, I hadn’t realized (until I was packing up) that my go-light-slim-down-girly-girl backpack was not made to accommodate the big black beast of food storage. So, I had to figure out a way to rig it up, strap it on top, tuck it somewhere…it was awkward, to say the least.

Despite my scrunched up, lopsided, tipping over, very uncomfortable load, it was a joy to be on that trail again. We love Little Lakes Valley and that trail is so scenic! That stretch alongside Long Lake is one of my favorite postcard views. Come to think of it, I could probably create a nice little photo time lapse of myself meandering that stretch of trail over the years. It’s a well loved trail and it’ll lead you to so many beautiful places!

As I mentioned, we were planning to camp at Gem Lake, a beautiful little lake tucked away in the valley a bit aside from other more prominent lakeside camp destinations. However, after logging not so much mileage with our heavy, lopsided loads, we came upon the sign to Chickenfoot Lake and made an immediate left, leaving the main trail to park it at this conveniently located lake. And we were so pleased with our impulsive decision.

It proved to be a beautiful and perfect location to set up camp and chill for the remainder of the day. After a lengthy period of hunting and indecision, we finally agreed on the perfect little spot tucked amidst a cluster of pines with a window view overlooking the lake. We got to work setting up camp, then set about our individual wanderings, ponderings and puttering.

The lake side was littered with wildflowers, so my first order of business was, of course, socializing with the flowers and the insects (unfortunately, this included the mosquitoes, but they were few and kept a comfortable distance).

After getting acquainted with the local flora folk, I found the quintessential reading nook, sat back and enjoyed my book. And then I took to needle and thread…yes, this girl will whip out her felt foodie project anywhere! Every proper mountain girl has a backcountry sewing kit.

I was so at peace and relaxed, tucked away in my little mountain nook enjoying the solace of my activities. And while I puttered about, my hubby snoozed and wandered and pondered tomorrow’s goal: Bear Creek Spire. Is it a go or a no? Back and forth, back and forth. What to do, what to do? After listing and discussing alternative goals, we decided to sleep on it and see how things stood in the light of the rising sun.

Clearly, Bear Creek Spire, illuminated just so in the morning light, was irresistible. But with the hubby wrangling a stubborn injury and myself being outta shape and outta practice, the third class route we planned would be a challenge (and perhaps not a wise one) with the altitude and a few fourth class moves to spice things up. As we hiked along, we began to rethink our decision.

Climbing up to Cox Col was tough for me.  Sometimes I forget how steep those slopes get! I was slow, my legs were wobbling and my lungs were heaving, but I did alright topping the col. And what a view! Well worth the effort. Looking out at Lake Italy, a small speck in a sea of granite giants, I experienced one of those moments of utter humbling. Suddenly, The Bear looked so far away and the ridgeline so imposing. But I’ll give it a go…gulp…if you’re up to it. Thankfully, hubby agreed it may not be wise to push the limits, so we settled for Pip squeak.

He may be a pip squeak in the shadow of The Bear, but he presented a nice, solid third class ridge for us to navigate. Not to mention, a summit block whose tippy-top was just out of reach…the big tease. I usually face a huge mental challenge when climbing third class routes, especially when it’s exposed and I’m out of practice.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed scrambling this rocky ridge. I felt alive with the sensation of fingertips on granite, the rhythm of movement and the flow of breath. And the challenge. Not just the physical, but the mental, spiritual and emotional challenges you face when you meet yourself out here, in this sea of granite giants.

It was a good climb and we returned to camp feeling a little whooped (speaking for myself, of course). Tired and hungry, we packed up camp and reluctantly left our beautiful little valley of lakes.

Go on now, reach for your own rocky ridge.  Find your rhythm.  Embrace your challenge, whatever it may be :)

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