Lunch at Swan Lake was the goal, and how pleasant it would be. We were climbing out of a valley, that wasn't socked in snow, freezing cold to the point of icicles forming on our eyelids, it was a temperate day. Well temperate for the weather we had been experiencing lately. There was still a little nip to the air you could taste as the mountains whispered their snow filled words off their slopes to you in the valley. Yet, that is all it was a whisper, not an exclamation of what was to come. So, we set our sights on Swan Lake for lunch, only a few more miles, only a few more thousand feet of elevation gain, what could possibly change so drastically in a few miles? Well, lets us take you with us to Swan Lake, where we pictured Swans bathing in the sun curious at the visitors into their domain, and maybe one or two would proclaim in excitement at the weary hikers into their domain! All we met was snow, peanut butter (disgusting!), and more hypothermic moments!
Where are the Swans?! Well we will create Ice Swans in our minds!
Honestly we knew there would never be any actual swans this time of year at the alpine lake named Swan Lake, but it was a pleasant picture nonetheless. To reach Swan Lake on the GDT, you first drop into the bottom of a valley if going northbound, and then begin your climb up towards Numa Pass. Swan Lake is about half way up your climb, about 3,000-4,000 vertical feet higher than where you were standing in the valley. Yet, we did not believe it was high enough to reach the threshold of pure alpine travel, where all we had been meeting was snow fields, ice, and hypothermia, and it did not even appear this way until the very last .1 - .2 miles!
Right off the bat, we want to let you know, we personally are not a huge fan of lunch on trail. We enjoy the camaraderie and beauty of lunch spots, but not so much the act itself. We feel more sluggish after a lunch break regardless of terrain and environment. Also, lunch for us in the past few weeks on the GDT, had been nothing but discomfort and pain. When we would stop for lunch the blood would begin to cool in our bodies, the life giving blood that had been keeping us "warm" or at least above the threshold of a frozen hiker-kabab! Compound onto this the fact that our last resupply only had the option of Peanut Butter for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, our distaste only grew. Yet, we were trying to keep an open mind! It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, there was only minimal amount of snow pockets upon the ground as we continued our climb. We were not excited about lunch per-say but we were pretty excited for a rest. A rest in the sun, a rest at a lake, a rest without shivers, shudders, and frozen breath. It appeared we would be gifted with this, and we were excited to not have to bounce from foot to foot at lunch.
Love the smile and the people at lunch (especially that beautiful smile and amazing hiker and person) but not the peanut butter..EW!
The trail up to Swan Lake climbs the ridge of a mountain range as it continues its journey up towards Numa Pass. There was nothing in front of us besides lively green colors, waterfalls, and sunshine! It was so beautiful. As the trail became steeper and steeper to cut directly up the mountain, the sun began to slip behind the clouds. We were bummed but not too depressed, it was still quite temperate, and after all it was just clouds they would pass. We had about a mile left until we reached Swan Lake, and had done most of our climbing and were still not yet in snow! We were overjoyed! Even though we had believed it would remain this way, the confirmation as we got closer was freeing, since we had been fooled so many times before by this trail! We sang, we joked, we even hiked without a shirt towards that beautiful lunch break! Before we go any further let us look back at those hikers in their happy ignorance, bumbling beauty, and the thawing life rays of the sun on their bodies that had been frozen for so long. Let them have this moment. Let them feel the sun upon their faces one last time. Let us remember them as they were in this moment as tears of happiness streamed down their faces, until those tears would shift into icicles and frozen pain. We wish we could have let them stay in this moment forever, but sadly they had their moment, their fleeting warmth, and let us plunge them back into reality now, the reality of the snow, ice, hypothermia, and the worst of them all, peanut butter!
Everything changed within the last .1-.2 miles, the last 1,000ft. It was as if a switch had been thrown over the world, a curtain had been pushed aside, as the first foot crunch in snow sent a shock wave to snap our hikers back into reality. Let us leave third person now and get back into those bodies and sad souls of the hikers, as we continue to tell the story. We looked around us as the first step of snow forced us back into reality, and all we saw was snow. No path, no trail, only more and more snow! Swan Lake was not much further but all that was in front of us was snow. We now knew why the sun had been blocked by clouds, it was not an unlucky event, this valley never saw the sun! Each footstep brought us closer to lunch and deeper into the reality of knowing it would be another frozen lunch "break". When we finally arrived at Swan Lake, nothing was free from the blanket of winter, even though we were in summer! Well, we needed to dry out our gear, and we had agreed upon this break spot with our hiking partner, so here we would unpack, sit, contemplate life, and mostly freeze.
Swan Lake Crunch Lunch!
After about 20-30 minutes we finally heard the crunch of our companion across the snow. At least we think we did, we had been frozen to the bench we sat upon for awhile now, and had become one with the cold, we did not know where our body started and the bench began, it felt like we had been fused. We chattered away with frozen teeth about this being Swan Lake, and how there were no swans, no sun, only ice! They agreed as they settled in to "enjoy" another calorie inhalation that had been deemed our lunches lately. We only sickly looked at our jar of Peanut Butter, and cried more inside, as we took a tentative spoonful, and then burst into tears in our hearts as it touched our lips. What was anticipated as the perfect lunch spot, while still beautiful in a sense, had become our normal lunch again, only chewing on cold and ice in summer!
Let us leave those two hikers again to their popsicles of Peanut Butter, to their huddled bodies upon the bench for warmth and for love, and let us glance around the winter land they had entered again. Let us look to the sky and see a hail storm was moving unbeknownst to them to their location, and would hit them as they climbed onto Numa Pass exposed again to the biting wind and now hail. Let us look down the other side of Numa Pass and see what was coined "A Giants Game of Pick-Up Sticks" as we see the massively downed trees for miles they would have to crawl underneath, scramble over, and occasionally be poked in extremely uncomfortable places by. Let us now look further, further past this only one mountain, and see that they had only winter ahead of them for the next few hundred miles, only colder, wetter, and more hypothermic moments. So, let us leave them again in their happy ignorance as they freeze upon the bench at Swan Lake. Let us let them have their "break" as they shiver against each other, but smile and kiss with the love of being together on this journey. Let us leave them to their bench overlooking Swan Lake, because honestly their backsides may have been frozen to it. Let us let them take in the "rest" and calories because they are going to need it. Yet, maybe let us also look back to them and while there is a scene of snow, shivers, tears in the heart from Peanut Butter, let us also look past this. Let us look around the shimmering light around the two of them. Let us see the happiness deep within their hearts. Let us see the smiles on their weary faces. Let us see the love shared and grown between each spoken and unspoken moment. Let us leave them to Swan Lake, where even without sun and light, they were basking in warmth and light from each other, and could not be happier!
Warmth from within, warmth around these two weary and cold hikers, warmth felt in every frozen step.
With the false promise of Swans on our minds, and love in our hearts,