Aspen Butte with MaryI’ve hiked through the Mountain Lakes Wilderness a couple of times. The first time was on July 25, 1999 with my youngest daughter, Mary. She was only 14 at the time and insisted on coming with me even though I told her it was going to be a long difficult 17 mile hike. She was not to be deterred and insisted she could do this hike with no problem.
We started early from my home in Medford and I decided to hike from the Varney Creek Trailhead. We easily found the turnoff and arrived at the trailhead when it was still early and cool. It didn’t take us long to get moving on the trail and everything went along easily. Mary was enthusiastic and we kept a good pace going. Soon we reached the basin circular trail and took a little break. So far so good, but we had only come about 4.5 miles.
We turned left and continued climbing through the wilderness past Como Lake and then to a little pass above Harriette Lake. There were a couple of forest service employees working on trail maintenance here and we socialized for a few minutes before heading down to the lake. Mary was still doing well, but we stopped for a long break, ate most of our lunch and rested for at least a half hour. I asked Mary if she was still up to the task. I told her we were going to have to climb up to Aspen Butte now and gain about 800 feet in elevation. She wasn’t as enthusiastic as when we started, but she wanted to continue.
We followed the trail around the lake and then headed up. There were still patches of snow on this side of the lake and we had to cross several of them as they lay across the trail. Mary’s pace was slowing considerably now but she followed me up. We climbed up to the saddle where the trail to Aspen Butte takes off to the south and Mary was done. She announced she was tired and that we could head back to the car now. Unfortunately, we were at the furthest possible point away from the car and it didn’t matter if we went back the way we came or continued long the trail to complete the loop.
I decided to let her rest while I scurried up and tagged Aspen Butte. It didn’t take long and when I returned, Mary was more than ready to get off the mountain. A few mosquitoes had been bugging her while I was away. I decided to complete the loop hike and headed down towards Clover Lake. The trail here had been chewed up by herds of horses and we lost the trail a few times. It seemed like it took forever to get down to Clover Lake and then we had to climb up to another pass next to Whiteface Peak.
I thought I was going to lose Mary here, the climbing was tough on her and she struggled. The mosquitoes were coming out in swarms now and they were attacking mercilessly. I had some mosquito repellent with me, but it was some cheap stuff that didn’t work well. Where was my 100% pure DEET?
Fortunately it was downhill from Whiteface Peak pass. The trail goes between Ebb and Zeb Lakes and this is really mosquito hell in here. Lots of water, a warm day, sweating, and too tired to run. The mosquitoes had a field day on us. I pulled out my GoreTex and Mary put on the coat, zipped up the zippers, and pulled the hood tight around her face. She would rather die of heat stroke than bleed to death from mosquito bites. Onward we trudged at about 1.5 miles an hour. Slowly we made our way to Varney Trail and then turned towards the car. Did I see a glimmer of hope in Mary’s eye? No, it was total contempt for me for bringing her on this expedition to hell.
We arrived back at the car 9.5 hours after we left. Mary had 47 mosquito bites.