We usually hike up the Aspen Grove trail (there’s another trail up on the other side of the mountain), and initially it looked like it would be a pleasant hike, with the cloud cover keeping us nicely shaded from the sun. The hike up to first and second falls was quite enjoyable.
At that point the party consisted of myself and my dad. We were soaked to the bone, and getting pretty cold. We found a space under a tree next to the trail that was dry underneath (amazingly!), and spent a while wondering if it was worth trying to go up any further. I wanted to, but wasn’t sure it would be worthwhile to go much further than the third fall (the one you can walk behind). Dad wasn’t sure whether to go on or toss in the towel and head back down. Both of us had been really looking forward to this hike; my main comment on the whole situation was: “Dang… dang dang dang dang dang dang dang.”
We decided to go ahead and push on–I still wasn’t sure we’d get very far, but we plodded on upward, passing more and more groups of hikers heading down. We were in very think clouds by this time, but at least the rain lessened somewhat. At some points the visibility was around 50 feet. Dad quoted Star Wars: “I think my eyes are getting better: instead of a big dark blur I see a big light blur.”
We got to third falls and the rain picked up again really hard, and then turned into snow. The driest area we could find was in the overhand behind the waterfall (Typically this is where hikers go to cool off from the spray of the waterfall). We waited out the worst of this part of the storm there and munched on some snacks, and for some reason, kept going upward (My aunt apparently calls this kind of thing “testosterone poisoning”). In doing so, we discovered that stopping had been a mistake–it took a while for us to get warmed back up by hiking (“warmed back up” is being used extremely loosely here).
Shortly after this, however, the storm stopped and we got above the lower levels of cloud… and wow… I have never seen scenery like that before. For one thing, the colors were extremely sharp and clear (due to the very recent rain). For another, the lower clouds hugging the cliffs was something I had never seen before like that and it was just astounding.
The movement of the clouds was very much like watching water sloshing around in a pail, only somewhat slower. It would splash up on one side of the cliff, and then go down, and then up again somewhere else. At one point we were significantly higher than the clouds, but they came rushing up the mountainside and “splahsed” right over us.
We did make it in pretty good time to the lake, and the sun actually came out for a little bit. However, we had heard that another storm was on its way, so we didn’t stay there very long–we were both still quite cold, and having got over the initial lip of the mountainside to have a good strong wind blowing on us didn’t help matters much. So we headed back down.
Fortunately, the second storm didn’t come. The sun gradually got stronger and stronger, and there were a couple points getting back towards the trail head where I almost felt warm. There were still a few clouds swirling about the circue, but those got smaller and smaller as we headed down. We actually didn’t spend any time in the clouds on the way down (I think we’re both grateful for that).
This was not the funnest hike I’ve been on, but it certainly was one of the most memorable and striking. I often say that once you get over the lip of the mountain and onto the high meadows you feel like you’ve stepped into a different world–something rather like Middle-Earth. In this case the other-world feeling was so much greater going up the mountainside in the clouds–it felt absolutely unreal. I’m not sure I would have been surprised to see Howl’s castle come lumbering out of the mist.
I took tons of pictures–I’ll try to add some more later, but these are some of the best I took.