Stick People

We admit it – we’re “old school.” We dipped into our piggy banks to pop for the latest ultralight gear. But, the trekking pole obsession escapes us. I can count on one hand the number of hikers we saw without poles – and that includes the two of us. We saw some hikers handle themselves and their poles very well. But, we saw others use them in less-than-safe ways, perhaps extending them beyond their abilities and fitness level. At worst, we saw hikers use them in ways that put them in precarious and off-balance positions that could easily become disaster with the shift of a rock, or a slight shift in balance.

But, then again, maybe we are missing the point. It will be worth the investigation when we get home.

Last Lake

After the scramble down the class III spot, the rest of the descent to Minaret Lake was uneventful. We are clearly losing altitude, as the vegetation is lusher and trees taller. We find a somewhat secluded camp spot up from the lake, but near the creek. We are not far from the descent route from Cecile Lake, but the trees and creek noise screen out most of the traffic sights and sounds. As before, the clouds are gathering, so the tarp is rigged, but then rolled back, ready to set up in case of real rain.

We both rig up our fly rods, but whatever we cast: Adams, hare’s ear, even a Griffith’s gnat, the fish are not impressed. It sprinkled a few times, but not enough to warrant a retreat to our camp.

It is our last night in the high country. We have loved the landscape and the route. It provided a challenge, but not so much that it was scary. The pace might have been slow, but it was well suited to the weather, which went well beyond the classic Sierra afternoon thunder showers.

We tuck ourselves into our bags and hope the sky clears for one more starry, starry night.

Top of the Trip

At 10,240 feet, this is our last high spot – the rest of the trip will be downhill from here. Cecile Lake is beautiful and austere. There is very little cover here – we are glad we camped below at Iceberg Lake last night.

We paused at the top for drinks and snacks. A pair of hikers caught up with us. We are entertained by their electronics – one is texting his wife, the other seems to be mapping every thirty steps on his GPS. We’ve gone “old school,” only carrying two USGS topo maps and a compass. (Although, the compass was totally unnecessary since the topography is dominating and obvious.) There is an obvious fitness difference between the pair, and the less fit of the two appears to be using his trekking poles to compensate. From our observations, though, his use of the poles is actually putting him in more precarious positions, causing him to extend his body and loaded backpack into awkward and off-balance positions.

We trail the hikers through the talus along the edge of Cecile Lake and discuss the options for the descent down to Minaret Lake. The crest of the saddle at the outlet of Cecile Lake is littered with lightning-struck snags and dead wood – a testament to the area’s exposure.

The pair drop off towards Minaret Lake while we stop for a snack to discuss our options. This is the other spot with challenges, according to previous trip descriptions. We drop over the top, and then I hear Steve say, “Here we are – the class three spot.”

I hurry to look over his shoulder. “That’s it?!” I exclaim. It’s maybe an eight or nine foot slot, with spots that look like they will serve fine as hand and foot holds. Steve scrambles down, and I then hand my backpack down to him. I also scramble down, with a long stretch for my foot. But, not scary. Not barely doable. Seriously. That’s it?! I didn’t even stop to take a picture because it was so unremarkable. Sheesh!

Ascending to Cecile Lake

This day has the two parts of the trip that give me the most trepidation: ascending to Cecile Lake up the steep, less than stable slope, and the class 3 section descending from Cecile Lake to Minaret Lake.

We planned an early start – we knew others camped at Iceberg Lake would be on our same route, and we didn’t want to be caught in a dicey place if the weather shifted. I was up at dawn to try to catch the morning glow on the Minarets, but the broken clouds dampened the colors.

There seems to be several routes marked by cairns on the slope, and several times we found ourselves in between routes, and other times we were on the routes. The climb was not as difficult as anticipated, especially with the snowfields gone for the season. We were soon enjoying the reflection of Clyde Minaret in Cecile Lake.


Iceberg Lake is a perfect reflection bowl for the Minarets, a series of towering fin-like spires. The clouds were beginning to gather again, and the campsites were plentiful. The snowfield expected along the route up to Cecile Lake is not present this late in the season, so there is no need for an afternoon crossing. All factors lined up for an overnight stop at Iceberg Lake.

As the clouds gather and darken, we see three hikers descend the route down from Cecile Lake. They stop near our camp: it appears to be a son in his late 30’s, with his parents, in their 60’s. They have enormous packs. Steve checks in with them. They tell him that they are a day behind already, and hope to descend down to Ediza Lake. It’s clear that they are tired and stressed – not good for high country travel. And, we are amazed to see them pull out hardware like a three-legged stool, to rest on, and eat conventional (bread and meat) sandwiches. It’s no wonder that their packs are large and heavy, and evidently not matched to the fitness level of all of the party members. Rather than stay put, the trio moves on down towards Ediza. We hoped that they made it to shelter when it started to rain again.