The featured image above: a grand sunrise vista from lower on the ridgeline that Jackass Pass is situated upon (the last hurdle before the Cirque itself) – this section being the only place you can be in the morning when you’ve missed the legitimate trail (as commonly occurs), nearly one mile back, and had to precariously navigate the gnarly labyrinthine boulder field in nil pre-dawn light on the way there, instead. But SO worth it, given the sense of trying adventure you gain as such. Below is said boulder field.
Now, it might not seem like a big deal looking at these images (or perhaps it does – I don’t know your experience level), but the giant boulders that become prevalent just 70 paces ahead of this fellow are the only ones you get to scramble on. A mere continuation of the talus (albeit big talus) in the foreground would be preferable, but, once again, ADVENTURE (!) – or at least worry, that you will fall off some big sheer rock into the freezing water below, because you are incredibly unbalanced with days of gear in your pack. It’s actually all quite doable when you take a good hour to amble slowly about the obstacles, paying heed to the “cairns” (quotes added because a windfall-susceptible singular stone or two atop a giant boulder is a bit unassuming) that will surely help guide you out. My suggestion: take the middle road, and do it on a test run without your pack beforehand.
But let’s go one photo back in time:
This image was taken the prior evening from a perfect backcountry campsite just below the outlet of Arrowhead Lake. Temple Peak is seen to the left. The cirque here is not actually an extension of the Cirque of the Towers, but standalone; and, it surrounds Big Sandy Lake far below – a destination for most hikers, because it is 6 miles from the trailhead and scenic in its own right (which I’d exemplify in imagery if not for an unfortunately lost photograph). It’s a slow 2.5 mile huff up to here from there, through various trails-cum-streams and tight squeezes through alpine bush. A tad confusing at times, too, hence the whole missing-the-legit-trail thing. Most everyone we encountered had done that. If you’re about .4 miles below Arrowhead Lake and you come across what seems to be a wash, coming straight down the hill from your right, that converges with what seems to be your trail, more reasonably continuing straight ahead… choose the path to the right (the road less traveled, apparently). Unless you like adventure! Heh.
But anyway, we had decided to make our trip into the Cirque a day hike instead, so that we could explore with speed the great swath of land therein. Instead of packing our gear over the pass, then, we grabbed the camp spot that was tucked up next to a bunch of krumholtz and a huge boulder – all great wind protection (a necessary thing at this elevation) – and relaxed until the wee hours of next morning (4:45am to be precise).
Our trek up to the pass, implicitly detailed already, was actually refreshing. Envigorating. And it lead to a real treat just over the other side.
Alpenglow up here is right in your face. You can almost feel the warmth radiating off the peaks, in sensorial juxtaposition to the psych-out you get, in otherwise midsummer atmospheric daytime comfort, from seeing the snow still around or feeling the heavy and cool breezes course through the high valley and around your body. Breakfast (and especially instant coffee) just doesn’t taste any better than this.
Below? Another boulder field!! No worries, though: this one is not nearly as intimidating, because the rocks are half the size or smaller, so you are never encapsulated in view-blocking mineral monoliths. And just below that boulder field…
You can camp here? Aaahhh! Perhaps next time, when I take the legit trail. I spoke with the same fellow featured in the boulder field image, the morning I took this shot. He came down from his camp in the Cirque here (ahead in the trees below the cliffs to the right) to shoot some images of the waterfall, as well, and told me that the Milky Way stretched across the sky the night before and touched two groups of mountains on either side, giving him a great opportunity for some panoramic astrophotography. Jealousy. I hope he’s reading this, and shows me his pictures (I gave him my blog address).
Far below this waterfall, along its streamway that splits into many, which are again fed by even more from surrounding hillsides, and which altogether then re-merge into one big feeder, is Lonesome Lake.
What a swimming hole! I was tempted, but I was also tormented by mosquitos that would, in all likelihood, have bespeckled me on my way in and out of the water, leaving me with a hate for bad life decisions afterwards. And here is yet another stretch of cirque, to the right of Pingora Peak (which is usually the right-most mountain in most landscape images of the Cirque of the Towers). So much to explore! I could literally spend a week in this area. And I hope to do so in the near future.
I was on this trip with my wife, seen here. She and I made up our minds on what to explore next – a hard decision because we weren’t sure if we would have another day to come back into the basin, and we had just a couple of hours before it would be about appropriate (weather and hunger wise) to start heading back out towards our high country camp. A higher vantage was in order. To the right of this image, and about half as much higher, was just the one.
It was probably another hour of hiking until we got to this spot. It was a wandering through forest and stone, with no trails to be found. Just the way I like it. The one above looks East…
…and this one looks North-northeast. Back down from this upward-wandering, and closer to the Cirque now, there was an opening:
It was the perfect view for a wide-angle lens to take in, offering up a sense of scale with the mountains over Jackass Pass (the slope about halfway down the mountain on the left of the frame), and distance covered from there. It’s probably another hour of off-camber hiking to reach that point from this vantage.
After dinner (quite a while after dinner, given the lateness of summer sunset), we got an even more colorful evening alpenglow than from the night before.
I suppose it was a parting gift from the heart of the mountains, because a storm rolled in that night. The winds roared around the peaktops above us, giving us chills not because of the cold but because they sounded less like wind and more like spontaneous waterfalls crashing down the cliffs around us. It rained for a time. Our shelter was up to the task, fending off the unwelcome aspects of both elements.
The storm subsided in the early morning hours and returned at mid-morning, just an hour after our well-used bodies allowed us to arise. So we had just enough time to eat, pack up, and start on our way before the rains fell on us for the 2.5 miles back down to Big Sandy Lake. They broke for the remaining and flat 6 miles back to the trailhead and returned with a vengeance, casting lightning all around the various cirques. There were plenty of hikers packing in that day, most of them surprisingly without knowledge of the weather forecast (which we were hoping to glean, given our desire to stay one more day). I suppose our gamble was best. As I note in other entries: such a thing is still fortuitous because it lets you save some of the splendor for another time…
*Brendan Bombaci holds the Creative Commons Copyrights to all images on this blog. See his Flickr portfolio @ http://www.kairologic.com to see exact licensures.