It was time for my annual break-in-the-boots, brush-off-the-dust, late spring trek up to Stonewall Pass. My hiking buddy Mike happened to be dog-sitting for a friend so the three of us headed up Stoney Ridge Trail in the Trinity Alps Wilderness; me, Mike and a dog named One. We had the trail to ourselves. Aahhh, solitude.
Hiking is a carefree experience for me; I generally leave my thoughts locked in the car and hit the trail with my mind light as a feather. This though, is my first wilderness hike with dog responsibility. I begin to fret as a list of potential dog-death scenarios scroll through my mind, things I never worry about. Do bears attack dogs? What about cougars? I might not be up for this onerous dog responsibility.
Me: “So Mike, how much would you say your friend likes this dog? I mean, would she be really upset if something happened?”
Mike: “They are in love.”
Great. Just great. And now I am noticing the dog looks thirsty. Is his tongue turning blue? Do dogs die from dehydration?
Stoney Ridge Trail starts its wildflower explosion several weeks before most other trails, and continues to “wow” well into late summer. I hike up several times a season to see the changing colors. On this day we enjoyed a profusion of dogwood blooming up the wet canyons, wild white iris, bright pink phlox covering the ground, and a riot of delicate little pussy ears. While I paused to admire flowers, One the dog pawed and sniffed every hole in the ground. Oh dear. Snakes. Wasps. This is a dog-crisis waiting to happen.
Stoney Ridge Trail has long exposed stretches where the sun is unrelenting. But here and there the trail tucks deeply into shade. My favorite first-snack spot is at one such respite where a sparkling spring crosses the trail making a wet and welcome oasis. Even a boring energy bar tastes good in this special place.
Onward. As we gained elevation, the vibrant red of Indian Warrior jumped into the mix along with the deep purple of a few scattered delphiniums. We started to catch glimpses of Granite Peak and Middle Peak as we switch-backed our way up the ridge. And then suddenly, without warning, the trail opens up to Red Mountain Meadow and we were spilled into green. And there, in the middle of the tiny meadow is my favorite tree. While I enjoyed some quality tree-hugging time, One the dog headed out to the wallows where he romped in the mud and splashed joy all over Mike. Um… dog-death by drowning?
We didn’t stay in the meadow long because we had our eye on the prize. It’s a steep, rocky half-mile hike from here up to Stonewall Pass. The dark clouds had moved in and we were hearing thunder in the distance. We wanted to get to the top and down before the lightning storm. We hiked upward through a sea of ankle-high white anemone and once again, even after dozens of treks up this trail, we were fooled into thinking that we had arrived at the top. We’re there! Nope. Two more switch-backs to the real top.
And there it is. This is why. This time of speechlessness when all we can do is simply stare. Lining the horizon are Little Granite Peak, Sawtooth Mountain, Siligo Peak, and Gibson Peak. While cloud shadows danced on Sawtooth, and One the dog buried his entire head in the snow for some dog-reason we cannot fathom, but will surely cause a dog-death-avalanche, we muse that here we are, absolutely alone at the top of the world while there are probably 50 people camped around Deer Lake just one drainage over. We soak up the gift of solitude.
On the hike down, we were treated to the first lupine blooms, which had not been there on the way up. Ever changing. We made it to the truck with nary a dog-death incident. A good day indeed.