In the morning, the pressure to move fast had dissipated with the clouds. The sky dawned clear, Knifepoint’s ramparts absorbing and reflecting a blood orange alpen-glow. I watched from the tent door, curled snugly in my quilt. Apparently the original German word can be equally translated as ‘glow’ or ‘smolder’. Alpen-smolder. That fits, too.
When we arrived at the still-shadowed pool at the base of the Glacier, it was covered in a mosaic of the thinnest ice, tessellations of crystalline panes. It was beautiful, and also hopeful…as though overnight it still struggled valiantly (and futilely) to heal itself. We contoured the pool and stood, toe to toe, with the Knifepoint Glacier.
Spikes on, we stepped up onto the ice- captivating patterns spiraled beneath my feet. A honeycombed, crunchy layer of refrozen melt topped depthless clear ice, white bubbles and black gravel frozen in abstract constellations. A whole universe, suspended, right there, below.
Atop the steepest angle of the ice, we paused on the flat snow shelf to delayer in the insistent, ricocheting sun. The steepest snow loomed above, but sun cups appeared, offering stable mini-steps, an unexpected boon. At one point I paused to gaze around, a look down as it were, and was immediately gripped with a sense precariousness. My mind clamped back down, now too tense to move fluidly, until I gained the first tail of talus that signaled the flattening of the pass, and heaved a sigh of relief. Give me tedious scrambling on mostly settled rocks all day.
The top of Indian Pass was bare of snow, and opened over the Indian Basin, flanked by the Harrower Peak and Glacier complex to the left. Another inspiring view, brimming with more tantalizers for exploration. Maybe I will just move to this range, live here, survive on meltwater and columbines and wild onions and hand caught trout and simplicity and sunrises. I would gladly hide stressed, every day, from storm threat, if it meant not having to face again the travesty grocery shopping has become.
I squeezed out a text to our contact. “Top of Indian Pass. Should still make it out tonight.”
We started down. The descent went fast, the ridges and peaks behind us- The Divide- quickly drawing away until they were a backdrop only, the intimacy of being among them an ephemeron already fading.
Tundra reappeared, and grass, soggy and squishing. Flowers winked up and thickened. Then trail coalesced, blazing forward unambiguously.
The Indian Basin featured lake after lake, with perfect granite shores. In full sun without the constant threat of clouds the air sizzled, warm enough for a quick skinny dip in one of said lakes- quick being the operative word, as the water must have been a half degree above freezing.
The rest of the day reeled by in a determined march. A quick stop where the creek dropped over a series of cascades for lunch, picnicking on a flat rock in the middle of the water, happened to be just below the entrance to Titcomb Basin; at 0 for 2 an elusive destination for us, for a future trip.
Island Lake was as gorgeous as our last visit- the destination of my only previous visit to the Winds, a single overnight for Prana’s birthday 3 years ago when we’d camped on its shore, exhausted by ten miles of trail.
“Whew, we are in way better shape than 3 years ago,” Prana observed, as we paused after the stiff uphill from Island Lake.
“Thank goodness,” I said wryly, thinking how in 2 weeks we’d repeat the 3 day push of this weekend, times 3 in a row, with close to 5,000 feet of elevation gain (and equal loss) most days.
The last 10 miles was a long, long grind. Still beautiful, still flowered, but we were mostly back in the trees and the mosquitos. And the people. Quite frequently we stepped far off the trail, as most other people seemed either completely unconcerned, or to have completely forgotten the new social etiquette of not mouth-breathing on strangers. The other detail that magnified the grind was the fact that, much to my surprise, the talus had not bothered my troublesome ankle; but apparently pounding down mile after mile of hardpacked trail following 2 days of talus hopping, did.
We paused in the early evening light at Photographer’s Point to spread out the overview map and try to match some of the peaks with their names; even still, the last several miles stretched interminably, until finally, at 7:45, we tagged the car.
“We did it.” Prana high-fived me. We sure did. Look at that.
This time (unlike last time) the car started, the transmission worked. As we rolled out of the parking lot, I scrambled, “Wait! Stop!”
“What is it?”
“Service.” I shot a text to Mark: ‘Made it out.’
Then I googled: Pizza Pinedale. And placed a jumbo order.
It was ready for takeout by the time we’d gassed up.