Our original destination of Relief Reservoir and Emigrant Lake was strongly discouraged by the park ranger. "Your trails will be impossible to find, they're under two feet of snow," he said, "and unless you're extremely good with a map, compass, and snow shoes, I don't recommend it."
His further recommendation was to head south and enter the Emigrant Wilderness at Cherry Lake. The elevations there are approx. 2000 feet lower and the assumption was that the snow would be less of a factor. After some last minute research, I called in our wilderness permit for a 2 day 1 night trip to Styx Pass - out and back from Cherry lake.
Tim and I had both missed our annual group backpacking trip earlier in the summer, so we were cramming this one in between an autumn storm and our busy fall schedules.
Let's just say that by the time we were done, we had figured out how we should have begun. However, the finished product was not only self supporting, it was also functional.
As darkness approached, we stopped construction long enough to collect firewood and establish a fire ring. (Don't tell anyone that we created a new fire ring in the wilderness.) As Tim prepared a fire, I put the finishing touches on our shelter.
Dinner was typical backpacking fare and delicious as all well-earned meals are. The wind swirled over the pass. We burned the fire high as we pulled on layer after layer. When we ran out of layers we ducked into our shelter and crawled into snug sleeping bags to wait out the night. We both slept soundly. I woke only briefly every few hours, and heard the constant pattering of the rain-fly against the hard packed snow. I woke very early and noted with some confusion that I could see starlight. I'm no Eskimo, but I'm fairly certain that igloos do not have stars. The small hole we had left in the center of the roof had enlarged, and the windward side of our shelter was pocked by holes growing larger by the hour. The wind was wearing away at our protection. I emerged from my dreams long enough to recognize the potential for alarm, but in a half coherent conversation with Tim, we decided that the gains (staying snugly inside our sleeping bags for another hour or two) far outweighed the risks involved in a total collapse of our structure.
At 5:55 am I awoke to a new sound. Silence. The wind was gone and the forest was completely still. Extracting myself from my North Face cocoon, I crawled under our now motionless door onto an icy moonscape. In a moment as black and cold and still as any in the day, I stood outside our beleaguered cave and felt more than saw the immensity of our mountain.
I restarted our fire from coals and quietly watched a competing flame spread across the ridges far to the east.
Birds we had not noticed the previous day now heralded this great awakening. I put on water for tea.