Some people cross things off lists – we live in the age of the bucket list. Do it. Cross it off. Move on. But when I find love and beauty in a place, I want to go back and cultivate that love, build a relationship, greet the beauty with a smile, and bask in its reciprocation of joy. Lake Blanche is one of those places for me. I don’t know how many times I have been to Lake Blanche. A lot, but I never counted. Still, if I could go again tomorrow, I would.
The first time I went to Lake Blanche, I thought it was an impossible hike. Three miles – all of them relentlessly up the south side of a steep canyon. It was Dave who lured me into this hike, a boy two years my senior on whom I had a mad crush as only a 16-year-old can have. Tall, lean, sophisticated with a glorious red mop of curly hair on top. He was a hiker. I was not. But if Dave was, I wanted to be. I just didn’t have any idea what that really entailed. I thought I was in great shape. I was a competitive swimmer. I had been a Girl Scout. I had been to camp. I had hiked. But I hadn’t done any significant elevation gain. Lake Blanche was a slog for me.
To be honest, I can’t remember all that much of that first trip, other than Dave and being winded. We hiked, I whined a bit. We got there, and things changed. The raw beauty of the high alpine blue above and below the vertical, glazed peaks, within the shiny red-rock-rimmed basin widened my infatuation.
Though I can still see Dave in my mind’s eye, I was probably only with him three times after we hiked to Lake Blanche. It wasn’t that I was less of a hiker than he wanted. No, I could have risen to that challenge. But I couldn’t give him what he wanted. My mother’s voice was too loud in my head, and he could get it elsewhere. What Dave started, in the end, had nothing to do with him and everything to do with Lake Blanche. Since that first hike, every person who has ever meant anything to me has been to Lake Blanche… or at least part way to Lake Blanche… with me. It was a requirement. Though some didn’t make it, everyone I really cared about had a chance – male and female.
Hundreds of people do make it to Lake Blanche. The trailhead is a short drive from Salt Lake City. Nevertheless, this place seems to me to belong to me, to be part of me. It’s not that I mind sharing it, I don’t. But it still seems like mine.
As I approached my 60th birthday, I began to freak out. But I also began to think about how I would like to celebrate what seemed to me to be the real beginning of the end. Immediately, I knew I wanted to go to Lake Blanche, even though I had made the pilgrimage, which now requires a plane flight and at least an overnight stay, just a few years earlier.
It was mid-October, not prime time for a Lake Blanche hike. But the year of my 60th birthday, winter had not arrived yet, though in other years when I wanted to spend my birthday this way decades earlier, it had, and I was thwarted. But this year, it was a stellar autumn day, the kind that makes taking award winning photography a whole lot easier. And I was with Art, my husband, and the absolute best of all the people who have gone to Lake Blanche with me. There were very few other people on the trail, only a handful. And there were still enough autumn colors to remind us of the dazzle of fall. Art led the way, establishing a pace that would have made Dave wither. But I kept up.
Even though you deserve the wonder, I can’t recreate it for you. Now I realize, despite my dedication to this place, I have not paid enough attention. I’ve been in too big a hurry. I can tell you that the trail starts at the bottom of the canyon, near the creek, shaded by evergreens. I can tell you about the field of yellow daisies, daisies that rise four feet into the stellar summer sky if you go in July or August. I can tell you about the view that opens up across the canyon and the first time you can see the peak on the far side of the lake tempting you to believe you are almost there when you are not. I can tell you about the smooth reddish rock where you can sit while you eat your lunch and marvel at the alpine wonders, and about how much I always just wanted to linger there a bit longer. But I have not been an attentive lover. I have lived too much in my own head, not paying mind to my surroundings as I should have. I have squandered opportunities to really know this place in a deeper way. And now at 62, there’s not a lot of time left. The knees are failing. The years creep by, and Lake Blanche is no longer in my back yard. But she is still there, and she would never deny me another chance. I must go again soon.