The heat continued, with forecasts threatening temperatures to 97F, so off we went to the high mountains. Usually, this time of year, you can drive to about 4,000' before you are stopped by snow on any roads other than major highways. I wanted to go to Buck's Lake, a small lake at around 5000' where I used to escape from the heat of the summer when I lived in Oroville. There is a beautiful trail that skirts one edge of the lake, although I very much doubted that it would be free of snow this time of year.
The road was open all the way from Quincy to the tiny village of Buck's Lake. This was good for me, but a very serious indication that the snow pack was much below what it needs to be this time of year. Last year, also a drought year, I couldn't get anywhere near the lake, with snow several feet deep everywhere at that elevation.
A giant mountain of snow from the snowplough blocked the trailhead, so we started out cross country, picking the trail up after about a quarter of a mile. It was mostly open, blocked occasionally by drifts in the shady parts. It was like heaven, and the dogs were in ecstasy, tearing around, rolling in the snow, biting at it, wrestling, running back to me to look up into my face with brilliant smiles. We walked the shore of the lake for great sections, since it was hard going through the snow. I had thought I might never hike this trail again, since when I visit the foothills in spring it is usually unreachable, and in the summer I am unable to get away. In summer there is a section of the trail that is thick with Lilium pardalinum, Camassia, Aconitum and pink Spirea, all growing together in a marshy section. Calochortus nudus grows in the dry sections, with C. leichtlinii on the higher slopes. Erythronium purpurascens grows in huge swathes. This time of year, of course, there is little, but I did find the red saprophytic plant called Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) just poking through the duff in the fir forest.
In summer, there are jet skis and motor boats on the lake, for it is a popular resort, so although my summer hikes were wonderful, I had never experienced the lake as it is in winter, ringed with snow and with no human sound. The magical cry of a loon came drifting over the water, while siskins and chickadees flittered through the branches with their sweet little songs. An osprey was not happy to see us, wheeling up with an alarm cry. Soon we came to a small inlet where once I had swum, my previous terrier, Simon, not being at all happy about seeing me swimming out into the water away from him. Most terriers are not water dogs, and will avoid swimming at all costs. Willie will play in the water (Simon would too) but never get out of depth, while Hannah will not even get one toenail wet. Here is my cove in winter.
There were small flocks of Canada geese grazing on the grassy flats exposed by the melting snow, and on the trail back to the trailhead we found a mound of feathers from a kill. Soon after I saw the distinctive tracks of a mountain lion in the snow. I had never actually seen the prints of a mountain lion, but instantly recognized the shape; very rounded, no separation between the pads, and no nail prints. Nothing like a dog print. Wow! I wasn't nervous, but actually was thrilled, although on our hike the next day I started worrying about a mountain lion snatching one of the dogs. There have been a number of attacks in California, one very near where I live. I don't worry about myself, more about my dogs, since I'm sure a mountain lion would find a small dog just right for lunch.
We had more adventures on our trip, but now that we are home I daydream about that hike while I am taking care of the bulbs. I wonder if the dogs think about it too. I can't imagine why they wouldn't, they were in such heaven there. Our prints are still there in the snow, although we are far away and back to our workaday life. It was an unexpected gift being there again.