Starting at Heart Lake (elev. 7455') we hike through the sand-colored meadows among the dead grey trunks of trees burned in the fires that swept Yellowstone in 1988.
The trail begins to climb among scrubby yellow aspens and sea-foam green sagebrush. As we take long switchbacks across the bulbous hillside among the stoic grey sentinels and red-leaved shrubs, our bodies begin to warm. We look up to the grey and frosty summit peaking through the milk white clouds and wonder whether it will be too cold up there where there's snow. - I try to get video of the clouds blowing by the little hut on the summit but only capture never-ending, homogeneous, white sludge shifting from white to off-white.
We continue up into a section of old growth, trees somehow spared from the inferno. It's shady and moist with the sweet smell of firs. The soft needles underfoot give a surprising contrast to the dry, twice-baked rocks and grass just below. I see the first patch of snow. A little thing, only 2 feet long. But it's a sign that we're getting higher and to potentially harsher climates.
Soon we're pressing our footprints into thin layers of virgin snow, leaving proof of our existence alongside that of a turkey and rabbit. The path alternates between pure white and spongy, oozing brown. White, where it was open to the sky and gooey brown everywhere else.
Patches of blue can be seen through the deep green trees. I try again to get a shot of clouds rolling over the summit. This time I capture mostly white but hints of blue - sky blue - shading the scene like one color step up on a paint sample card.
The trees suddenly give way to yellow meadows again as we enter a shallow col. A field of snow-covered rocks cover the hill to our left. The trail turns into a sticky carmel matching the lighter tones of the dry grass - The summit blocked from view by its false as we arc around the shallow dome in a whistling wind.
We reach the ridge and see the West side for the first time. Endless mountains rolling away from us. I point at the dynamic green-blue lake sitting high just a couple miles away. A gem inlaid among its brown setting.
Burned trees surround us again as we traverse the hill. Dense and scraggly at this altitude conjuring images of witches fingers scraping at the sky.
Flecks of white blow by our faces. I turn towards the sky to see the source, but instead find a Christmas tree decorated in white powder. Like the fake stuff from a can, only better. Each needle meticulously topped with white.
Another ridge. But instead of vague notions of our destination, this time we see the thin, womanly waistline arcing straight to the summit. I click the camera and finally get the shot - blue and white speeding by the shack giving the monumental mountain a sense of airy grace.
Excited, we scurry along the thin edge, peering down the steep 1000 foot drop to our left. Christmas trees seemingly nudging us closer to the precipice.
Coming round the mountain we charge up to the top. Our path an ever tightening spiral centered on the summit. We fly through a 30 foot jumble of rocks like the last question on a test we've prepared all week for and lean in as if on rails on a rollercoaster speeding to the top.
I begin to see the world rising up over the crest as if the veiled curtain of the ground on which I stand were suddenly falling away. First the puffy, white clouds, then a couple snow-capped peaks. A few more steps... Then Bam!
Vast lakes, and a sense of height that hits you like the sudden realization that you've fallen in love (that or finding a lost piece of green Mike-n-Ike under the map, under the backpack in the passenger seat of your car). Either way, a scene where you gasp at the beauty.
The mountain on which you stand appears to be in complete sharpness in contrast to the smooth bokeh from the distant view behind it. This is cover shot beauty.
The sun is out in force warming our bodies against the chilly breeze. I pull out Mojo bars, Butterfingers and a stick of butter then proceed to chomp on all. We lay out on the rocky South side like wet rain-fly's drying in the sun. I get up to pee off the mountain (one of backcountry's great pleasures). FASTLAYNE falls asleep.
Later, looking through the lens of the camera I see Heart Lake, a vaguely heart-shaped lake that, upon discussion, more resembles a moose or whale. Next, I peer down to where we camped and spy the steaming pool nearby hoping to find bikini clad women lounging in the crystal blue waters, but only discover orange, heat-loving, extremophile microbes lining the edge.
We take a summit photo and begin to head back down. On rails, through the witches fingers, past turkey tracks and meadows. Down, down, down and a whole bunch of turns.
We hurry because who knows, perhaps a heat-loving extremophile is my kind of woman.
*If you can think of a better final line, please post it in the comments! That was the best I could come up with.
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