Soda Peaks – Ch 2 Up the mountain

It was nearing 4:30pm as we pulled into the parking lot. There were several cars, which is never a good sign, and a group heading up the trail. Soon, we were completely alone. “Mat, you brought your headlamp with you, right?” I asked. “Yessir” was the reply. “Oh good, I think I forgot mine.” We tightened our shoelaces, threw our packs on and headed down the trail. The trail, a well graded track, gently undulated as we steadily climbed for a few miles, giving those unaware a false sense of what lay ahead. 

We were surrounded by the sweet pine smell emanating from the surrounding forest, with the occasional gust of wind rushing through the tree’s. I knew what was coming. A steep, relentless climb. Our speed would reduce to a measly 1 mph, and we would be gasping for breath every few hundred feet.

The last time I was up here was in 2017, it was my first hike after a years-long break from backpacking. It was absolutely brutal, I had carried old gear from my youth, and an entire package of firestartersI This time I returned with Mat, as a training hike for our Sleeping Giants trek. A hike that would be relentless as well.

Soon we passed by the only campsite at the lower elevation; it was small, only a single tent would fit. Surrounded by logs, long dead on one side, and the other side was bordered by the creek. It was the epitome of what a forest camp near a creek should look like. I was hoping it would be empty as it was our Plan B if the tent sites near the lake were full. 

My heart sank as we came to the site, it was occupied. The occupants were a father/son duo; I smiled. Fair enough, I hope they enjoyed it. We continued to push on. We had yet to reach the massive climb.

I hadn’t taken more than 20 steps before I had to stop and catch my breath. Gasping for air I forced myself to take a deep breath, hold it, then let it out. Trying to slow down the intake, and regain my composure. We were only about halfway up the first climb. “How much elevation do you think we’ve gained?” Mat asked. Knowing the reality that we all love to think we’ve gone farther than we actually have, I decided to low ball my response to a nearly unrealistic amount. “Oh at least 100 feet” I responded.

We arrived at one of the flatter areas of the trail and took a break. Mat broke out his sour candies and meat snacks, and I munched on some trail mix. It was nearing 6pm by this time, and we only had a few miles left to go. Not a big deal, we’d make it in plenty of time. With a sigh, we lifted our packs and continued to trudge up the mountain.

A familiar smell gently wafted, invisibly in front of my nose. I inhaled deeply to confirm; smoke. Smoke from a campfire was wafting through the air, gently descending down through the tree’s. We weren’t far now, our pace quickened knowing that our brutal exercise was nearly complete. As we crested the hill, the trail split, Mat headed off towards a campsite that was filled. “Hey guys, thanks for making a fire for us!” he called out casually to the group. Three dudes were hanging out, and having a great time. They took Mat’s comment in stride and we ended up in a full blown conversation. They didn’t have any space there for us to set up our tents, so we moved on.

We hiked as much as we could around the lake, which wasn’t much, and only one other tent site existed, and it too was already occupied. There was one last option, head over to the yellow tent that was visible as we contoured around the lake. Mat made it over there first, and struck up a conversation with Karen and Todd. They were by a campfire, and their tent was in an awkward position about 100 feet away. There was a sign that said Day Use, and another that said No Camping. It was about 8pm by this time, and now we had nowhere to set up our camp. 

I would have liked to set up camp just past the signs, but seeing as how Karen and Todd were there, I didn’t argue the fact. With a heavy sigh Mat and I headed back down, we knew this was going to be a challenge as earlier I had realized that I didn’t have my headlamp with me and we were certainly going to be walking in the dark in another two hours.