Dan's still in rehab for his latest shoulder surgery and I'm going to physical therapy for my bum shoulder, so we figured we'd do something relatively mellow for Labor Day. Clara's attendance helped us make the right decision of Snow Lake with a possible continuation to Gem Lake if we were feeling good.
The big problem is that it was Labor Day. A Labor Day with fine weather. And it was Snow Lake. You know, the Snow Lake that is one of the most popular trails in the state. Needless to say, for a couple of guys not terribly thrilled by the prospect of fighting our way to and from the lake we decided to get going early.
Dan showed up at 8:30 and we were soon off. It's about half an hour to the trailhead where we found that there were at least 20 cars already there. Holy cow. It's going to be a zoo!
Luckily, we didn't see most of those people. We're still not sure exactly where they went... perhaps they stopped at Source Lake or maybe they were already beyond us and we never caught them... though that's not likely.
Regardless, we charged up the hill on the summer route and in about an hour we found ourselves looking down on Snow Lake. It's a very beautiful lake and a pity it's so close to the freeway and the hordes of people who don't properly appreciate it. Of course, on this day we were part of the problem, but not having seen all that many people we didn't fee too bad.
We dropped down to the lake and spent a few minutes letting the dogs (both Tokul and Juneau) romp in the water and Clara to sit in some mud and drink a bit of milk. Soon, though we decided we should get up and head to Gem Lake which was only another couple of miles and 900 feet higher.
The trail wound around the lake to join with the trail down to the Middle Fork. We could see the trail switchbacking down a steep slope into the valley as well as the high mountains way up the valley. A little bit of research might have been able to tell me if we could see the area of the Dutch Miller Gap where Nick and I had been just a few weeks ago, but I'm far to lazy to do that.
Instead we continued on the trail to Gem Lake. We came around a corner to see the lake, but that couldn't be it. It surely wasn't two miles. A woman was coming down the hill and she also thought it was Gem, but after checking the map we declared it was just the far end of Snow Lake.
The trail wound up the hill past numerous tarns, some of which had running water bubbling up at an alarming rate. We had bundles of great views of Snow Lake as we climbed and just when we lost sight of the big lake Gem Lake popped up in front of us.
Gem Lake is a gorgeous little lake. It has steep walls almost all the way around the blue green water. At the outlet there was a little bit of vegetation and some large flat rocks where we could sit for lunch. The dogs splashed about and Tokul swam. Juneau almost, but not quite, got into the water for a swim, but at the last moment decided he'd just whine instead.
When we left we met two small groups coming up to Gem Lake. A little while later we passed another couple of groups. Then more. Perhaps 10 groups in the two miles between Gem and Snow Lakes. As we rounded the corner to Snow Lake we could hear screaming and laughter as people played in the water. When we started to climb out of the lake basin the hillside above us was dotted with people coming down. We thought the hike from the ridge down to the parking lot should take no more than 45 minutes, but it took over an hour thanks to all the time we spent yielding to uphill hikers. Ugh. Even the parking lot was packed solid.
In spite of the billions of people we saw the hike was great. The lakes were spectacular and the weather was great. Next time we'll likely come up from the Middle Fork (a longer trail, but not heavily used) and maybe go up to the Wildcat lakes which are beyond Gem Lake. No offense, but I hope we don't see you on the trail. (Unless you're with us, of course. :)