We didn’t need to win the permit lottery to hike the Alpine Lakes because we got out there early in the season when snow was still packed down on the trail. We pursued our climbs car-to-car, leaving the trailhead before dawn and returning after dark, relying on our headlamps, the trail, and a little luck to get us home.
We also set our pace over some of the less transited trails where you don’t need a permit, where you have to gain the summit of your climb to drink in Dragontail Ridge or any of the shimmering tarns, which remind us that more glaciers were once here.
I remember setting up camp among several strands of the same creek that blasted with early season snowmelt, somewhere between Upper Snow and Temple Lake. It was after midnight, and we had been hiking in the dark for three hours, our eyes strained from searching out the trail. We ate barely cooked spaghetti and made extra for breakfast, which would come in just a few hours. We were cold and still sweaty when we climbed into our sleeping bags. I lay awake for some time, letting the fatigue fall away from my body, meditating on the water rushing around us, listening to my friend breathe in the tent beside me.
This memory glows like sunset light through the golden larch. It would be one of the last times I would travel as Anna’s companion through the mountains, though I could never have known that. She passed away a few weeks later while climbing in the Sawtooth Range. For this reason, I am all the gladder we stole those moments away, that we made space in our lives for each other and for being in the places we loved.
- Summer Hess