They say the adventure begins where the road ends. How about, the adventure begins where the trail becomes buried in snow? That’s what Ruffwear Ambassadors Brianna, Keith, Dagwood, and Bucket discovered over the Fourth of July weekend. Instead of bailing when their plans encountered an unexpected hitch, they embraced a new perspective on one of their favorite places. And of course, they had a blast.
A New Look at an Old Blue Lake
Photos and Story by Brianna Madia
We knew that Idaho had a big snow year. How big, we weren’t sure. We didn’t look it up. Because it wouldn’t have stopped us anyway. We’ve been backpacking to the same lake in the Sawtooth Range of Idaho on 4th of July weekend for the last 3 years, and we weren’t about to stop now.
So, on Friday night we packed up and headed north away from our warm desert comfort zone and the hustle and bustle of fireworks and parades and crowds. We always wanted to make this summer holiday a little more dog friendly, and for us, that means wilderness. That means free-roamin’, life-lovin’, lake-swimmin’, chipmunk-chasin’ wilderness.
We drove 7 hours north from Utah, stopping for cheap gas station food and singing along to folk covers of pop songs while our dogs, Bucket and Dagwood, hung their heads out the windows. You know you’ve successfully made a tradition for yourself when you no longer need directions…when you say things like, “we’ll pass that little breakfast place and then turn onto the dirt road where we almost hit that deer.” We arrived at the trailhead around 1am and climbed into the back of our van to sleep.
The morning was cold and we scrambled to pull thick jackets out from storage boxes and shove them into the bottom of our sleeping bags. When we finally found the courage to emerge from our sleeping bags, we grabbed our packs, chugged a few gulps of warm flavorless coffee from a JetBoil, and hit the trail.
The lush and vivid foliage surrounding overflowing streams and rivers was the first telltale sign of a heavier winter than we’d ever witnessed here. We could see snow-covered peaks through the treetops that had always been stark granite-gray in years prior. We’d glance at each other from time to time, knowing we were mentally tallying the number of layers we had brought in our packs and breathing a sigh of relief for the mere existence of nanopuff jackets.
Meanwhile, Bucket and Dagwood relished the cool air and freezing streams, chasing each other joyfully from bank to bank, dipping their head to gulp huge mouthfuls of rushing water before lifting their chins to watch a bird or squirrel scamper up a waterside tree.
We arrived at the final stream crossing before a steep set of switchbacks to find that the stack of logs we had used to cross over last year had been completely washed away. In its place was a raging river.
The dogs bounded through unscathed, as we slowly took off our shoes and rolled up our pant legs to wade through. The biting cold of the water became almost unbearable at the half-way mark, but a few moments in the warm sun on the other side brought life back to our frozen toes quicker than we thought.
A couple hundred yards ahead, the uphill portion began, and the trail ended…or rather, it was buried under 3 feet of snow.
The next few hours were spent slipping and sliding and clawing our way up over a frozen mountainside until we reached the lake. The lake we had spent the last 3 Fourth of Julys swimming in and floating in and camping next to…the lake whose particular color of blue we dreamed about all year.
But when we rounded the corner past the last of the thick pine trees, we found ourselves virtually standing on a glacier. The lake was frozen solid entirely with several feet of snow still weighing heavily on the ice beneath it. It was shocking…but breathtaking. We managed to find one small circle of dirt on a high point where the sun had done its fair share of melting and that’s where we set up camp.
With no other choice, we proceeded to bust out the pool float and the sunblock and the sandals and have ourselves the summer vacation we had planned on.
We floated in tiny glacial-blue pools, and slid down snowbanks, and watched Dagwood walk clear across the lake the other side. In retrospect, it was an absolute stroke of luck to see one of our favorite places in such a different light.
Perhaps if we had arrived to the same old blue lake, it wouldn’t have been such an adventure. It wouldn’t have been such a hilarious turn of events. It wouldn’t have gone down in my memory forever as the Fourth of July we spent on a glacier.