No words: Cedar Mesa Part 3

Cedar Mesa 4

No Words: Cedar Mesa Part 3

Camp 2:37pm

This is the Utah of my dreams.  Everywhere I look is blue sky and orange sandstone.  Tonight, my camp is purely on slickrock.  I’m surrounded on all sides by enormous cliffs, hundreds of feet high.  A cool, clear stream flows just outside my camp.  Now I have the rest of the day to sit and contemplate the cliffs with plenty of tea to drink.  I’m sitting in the shade of a juniper.  The tea tastes extraordinary.  It feels blazing hot in the sun, but in the shade it is perfect.  A raven croaks above.  The breeze blows the hair on my arms and legs.  Clouds on the horizon now.  Big puffy white clouds.  They’re the first clouds I’ve seen.  A lizard sits on a rock nearby.  He’s eyeing me with caution.  Oddly enough, he’s now coming toward me.  I can now see that his sides are red.  His underside is green.  I suppose he’s hunting.  I don’t make a move.  Then, for no apparent reason, he darts off across the rock.

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To be bathed in this much silence all at once is pure indulgence.  This type of pure silence is so rare elsewhere.  Silence amplifies sound.  When there is no sound to amplify, silence amplifies everything.  When there is a sound, let me just say WOW!  I think I hear a gunshot, only to find it is just my cooking pot ticking in the heat of the sun.  I think I hear a whole family coming up the canyon, only to find it’s only a small flea buzzing by.  I hear laughing and it’s the distant crying of a raven floating on the wind.  But it’s mostly the lack of sound that’s so loud.  One must experience this to understand what I mean.  The mind can naturally sit still, because this type of silence is so captivating, that the mind focuses on it.  Yet it is simultaneously focusing on nothing.  Source is let in.  Now it is all I feel.  Life force energy surrounds me as well as everything around me.  The air buzzes.  This buzz can actually be felt through the body.  The light becomes intensified.  Colors more vivid.  But instead of harshness, I feel love.  Love that is difficult to contain.  Can I love too much?  What will happen?  And so I turn down the volume just a bit, more out of instinct than fear.

When the breeze picks up, I move out into the sun and sit on a rock.  The sun feels exhilarating on my back.  Clouds getting thicker on the horizon now.  Gratitude.  “You’ve waited all your life for this,” I tell myself.  Nothing else I know of is as dramatically beautiful as the Utah Desert.  The Greater Canyonlands.  No words.  No words.  No words.  No words. . .

To be continued. . .

Stepping into the mystery: Cedar Mesa, UT Part 2

Cedar Mesa 2

Stepping into the mystery: Cedar Mesa, UT

Night 2

The frogs are even louder tonight.  They sound like chanting.  To me, this seems fitting since I’m camped in a canyon surrounded by ancient Indian ruins.  Today brings more ruins and petroglyphs than imaginable.  This place was a village.  Around every corner, more cliff dwellings come into view.  Each more elaborate than the last.  But it’s the petroglyphs and pictographs that I find most interesting.  What are these strange animals, figures, and spirals about?  A flying camel?  A man with a frog head?  More arrows, hand prints, centipedes.  Visions from dreams, or just elaborate doodling?  Figures to ward off evil spirits, or to appease the gods?  We’ll never know.  But this is what makes them so fascinating.  I’m irresistibly drawn to them.  They seem to have a life of their own.  Like guardians of the canyons.

The frogs have finally stopped for the moment, but I can still hear the bats, sounding their sonar as they hunt for mosquitos.  Very few this time of year.  The air feels cooler than last night.  I think I’ll sleep in my tent tonight.

Cedar Mesa 3

Morning.

Nothing but the sounds of birds, and pristine desert silence.  The air is a still 45 degrees.  I make tea and oatmeal and sit for a while.  Looking at my map, I realize I’m camped directly beneath a large ruin.  No camping at the ruin or the surrounding bench my map clearly states.  Whoops.  Although I’ve seen no one, I pack up tent and sleeping bag anyway.  Now I’m no longer camping.  The morning ensues.  No one comes by.  The huge sandstone wall behind me is completely lit up in sunshine but my “camp” is still in the shade.  I should go and inspect the ruins.  But instead I continue to sit in silence.  Plenty of time for poking around old cliff dwellings.  For now, the morning silence is thrilling enough.  I think of the cliff dwellers.  Waking up each morning with the sun.  A symphony of birdsong.  I think of their breathing.  How it must have been slow and deep.  I think of their eyes.  Peaceful, yet alert.  Their hearing as sharp as cats.  Perhaps even with the threat of attack at any moment, peace of mind must have prevailed in a place like this.  Predator and prey have always been the natural order of things.  Like the birds, who wake up each morning with song, yet build their nests high up in the trees.  Far from danger.  They live in the present moment, yet have the common sense to protect themselves from harm.  Is it for the fear of fire that we do not put our hand in the flame, or is it simply because we do not want to get burned?  We don’t live our lives in constant fear of fire.   We just have the common sense not to put our hand in it.   Perhaps these cliff dwellers simply had the common sense to build their homes high up on the cliff walls, away from danger.  Like the birds.  Living peacefully and happily in this place of immense beauty and solitude.

What purpose does fear really have?  People have fear in times of war and depression and in times of peace and prosperity.  What purpose does it really serve?  Is fear really ever based on reality, or on some imagined future situation that never arrives?  Is fear simply a disease (dis-ease) of the mind?   We fear losing our jobs.  Losing our money.  Losing our possessions.  Losing our loved ones.  Our friends.  We fear our own annihilation.  But do we need fear to survive in this world?  Do we need fear to keep us safe, or just common sense?  Is fear serving us, or is it sabotaging our lives?  Did these Indians leave their cliff dwellings due to real threats, or did their own fear finally drive them to madness and mass exodus, leaving these pristine desert canyons for a fear that was only in their heads?  Much has been written about this.  All theories.  The truth remains a mystery.

The sunlight has finally reached me.  The air turns from cool to suddenly, exhilleratingly warm.  Perhaps it’s time to go poke around some old Indian ruins.

To be continued . . .

The ancient people: Cedar Mesa Part 1

Cedar Mesa 1

The Ancient People: Cedar Mesa, UT

The cottonwood trees have barely started to bud.  It’s early spring in canyon country, but the weather is warm.  Sitting in the shade of a cottonwood, I prop up my tired feet, recline in my camp chair, and sip tea.  I took the first campsite I could find near water.  This canyon, which I have decided to not name to protect the many sensitive artifacts and archaeological sites contained herein, started out with abundant water, large pools, and waterfalls.  But after several miles, the water disappeared.  For 2 hours I walked with a quarter cup of water sloshing around at the bottom of my bottle.  But I knew there would be water.  HAD to be water.  Thanking mother nature once again for always taking such good care of me, I drank heartily from a clear, deep spring coming right up from the ground.  The sweetest water imaginable.  No filtering required.  This water traveled through miles of sandstone to get here.  Purified by Mother Nature herself.

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This is a special place.  A canyon 50 miles long consisting of extra thick walls of sandstone and more Anasazi cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, pictographs, kivas, potsherds, and other artifacts than anywhere else on in Utah.  But the beauty of this place is that you have to seek out these ruins yourself, hiking many miles and sometimes many days to find them.  There are no signs, no guided tours, no roped off viewpoints, and no crowds here.  Here you discover the ruins on your own.  Many times off trail.  Hidden among alcoves and down unnamed canyons.  The early people thrived here for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.  I can see why.  Here, I suppose, they felt protected from their enemies, living high up the canyon walls.  They chose south facing walls providing the warmth of the sun in the winter and shade in the summer.  Living in this place of undeniable beauty, they raised children, hunted for food, and did their daily chores.  Passing the time They made beautiful pottery and adorned their walls with artwork that still exists today.  These petroglyphs (etchings) and pictographs (paintings), decorate the orange sandstone walls around their houses and throughout their canyons.  How fitting is it that along with their cliff dwellings, which blend into the surroundings so well they are often overlooked, their artwork is the only surviving mark of their existence in these canyons.  They are gone, but their ART survives.

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Archaeologists say these ancient cliff dwellers seemingly left all at once.  Perhaps these enemies, real or imagined, finally got the best of them and drove them out.  Or perhaps they were driven out by drought or famine.  For whatever reason, they moved on.  Now here I am.  Poking around their little stone houses, many still intact after thousands of years.  Here I am camping in their canyons they used to call home.  But instead of fear, I feel safety.  I have no enemies to fear deep inside these canyons.  I carry no weapons and camp on the canyon floor.  I feel only peace as another couple walks by my camp this morning.  A friendly hello is all that is exchanged.  But we live in different times.  Safer times.  How often it is that I think to myself, if I could pick any time to be alive on this planet, I choose now.  Now is the best time.  This of course works well, now being my only available option.  But we live in a time of relative safety and abundance.  Of course I am speaking only of my country of residence, the only one I know.  For those of you who don’t agree, I simply invite you to turn off the evening news.  Better yet, turn off the TV entirely.  Get rid of it.  The way I see it, there has never been a better time to be alive than right now.  And since now is all you have anyway, why not enjoy it to the fullest.  Sure, there is poverty, theft, violence, hatred, greed, and so on.  But these things have always existed.  These things are not new.  The media is new.  The Anasazi didn’t need the media to tell them there were enemies lurking around every corner.  This was their reality.  Fighting was a way of life.

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After dinner, I walk up a side canyon and discover, almost immediately, a large area of ruins on a south facing cliff.  In fading light, I climb as high as I can and reach several lower structures.  Potsherds and corn cobs are scattered about.  Petroglyphs and pictographs adorn the walls.  Some resemble bighorn sheep.  Deer.  Others are more otherworldly.  Visions from dreams perhaps, or gods, or demons.  Then there are three arrows.  Arranged vertically.  All pointing down.  Down towards what, I do not know.  Several handprints.  Small like a childs.  Over a dozen structures can be seen from where I sit.  The highest ones cannot be reached.  It’s likely these are the best preserved.  Sitting high on this sandstone cliff, I feel close to these people.  A sort of empathy for them.  That the love in my heart is the same as the love in theirs, if that makes sense.

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As it gets dark, I walk back down the canyon.  To my camp.  Frogs are now croaking loudly as I pass by a stream.  If you are ever in need of water, just wait until dark and listen for the frogs.  There you will find water.  Their sounds echo off the canyon walls, filling our canyon with a symphony of sound.  A lullaby I imagine will sing me peacefully to sleep.  Tomorrow I feel should be a very good day.

To be continued . . .

HWY 1: North of Fort Bragg

Fort Bragg

HWY 1: North of Fort Bragg

The waves keep coming in.  One after another.  Traveling thousands of miles to get here.  Looking out over the blue horizon, I ponder the vast wilderness of the Pacific Ocean that lies before me.  Sea, sand, and sun.  It’s another world to me.

We arrived here this morning after spending the night in a deep, dark redwood forest.  Now we cannot seem to get ourselves to leave.  We’re seated on small grassy bluff overlooking miles upon miles of rocky shoreline.  Granite pinnacles and spires line the rugged coast and the waves keep coming in.

Ribbons of perfect rollers, one after another, just keep coming in.  There is no one else on this rugged section of HWY 1 this fine Monday morning.  The only sounds we hear are the waves.  The occasional cry of a seagull.  And more waves.

A fine mist floats in from the coast, providing constant moisture for hillsides of velvety green grass and dripping ferns, all glowing in the late morning sun.    The air temperature a perfect 72 degrees.  And the waves just keep coming in.

How long to stay at a place like this when there is no schedule.  No obligations of any sort.  No timelines.  An hour?  A week?  But thinking about it at all seems absurd, even vulgar.  We’ll stay until we leave, and that’s that.

“A million dollar view”, I say to Valerie.

“Priceless”, she says back to me.

Agreed.  I cannot think of the finest hotel in California that could offer a view more perfect than this one.

A vulture soars high above the shoreline, but parallel to us on our bluff.  From our perch, our terrace above the sea, we can hear the swoosh of wings as this magnificent bird flies by at eye level, not 10 feet away.  Over and over, he buzzes our perch.  Moments later, a flock of black and white pelicans cruise by.  Nine of them altogether, in single file line, headed up north I to some secret fishing spot, I suspect.  And the waves keep coming in.

Our eyes start to get heavy as the sounds of the ocean become all-consuming.  The outgoing tide seems to be taking with it all of our thoughts and cares.  What little we had to begin with.  A soft ocean breeze brings in the salty scents of the sea.  And the waves keep coming in.  And the waves keep coming in. . .

 

Vegas Desert: Mount Charleston, NV

Mount Charleston

Vegas Desert: Mount Charleston, NV

An exceedingly bright light ascends into the night sky.  I watch it split into two lights.  Then four.  Then eight.  A UFO?  Some strange military operation?  Could be.  The Nellis Air Force Bombing and Gunnery Range lies perhaps 40 miles from here.  I’ll never know.  A full moon illuminates a forest of Joshua trees.  Hundreds of them surround our camp.  Suspended in motion.  Some seem to be running.  Others dancing.  They’re a jolly bunch.  Moving in imperceptibly slow animation.  Down in the valley, some 50 miles from here, I can see the glow of Las Vegas.  A fiery ball of energy, pulsating through the desert night.  A poignant cocktail of order and chaos, good and evil, God and man.  I find it to my liking.  Its strangeness lies somewhere outside the bounds of what we would call “normal society”.  On the fringes of our culture.  A place where freaks feel right at home.  With freaks, I include the rattlesnakes, the scorpions, the vultures, myself, and you too, if you feel so inclined.  All is welcome. That is, all who are willing to live and let live.  To embrace the obscurity of colorful coexistence.  In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, “Just another freak, in the freak.”

 

Freedom Is. . .

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Freedom Is. . .

Sitting in the sparkling high desert with the endless horizon stretching out to all sides and the freedom to walk in any direction.  My future unwritten.

A freedom so pure that I can taste it, smell it, hear it, feel it in my bones.

This freedom is only temporary.  For until I can survive off the land such as the raven, the gecko, or the band of wild burros I see before me on the horizon, I am still bound to the world of money, and will have to go back to work once again.  But the impermanence of the situation only makes it sweeter.  I chose this freedom.  It was not handed to me.  I didn’t stumble into it.  No.  Freedom doesn’t just come knocking at your door like some long lost cousin, you must go and find it.  You must unravel your life.  Derail your routine.  Step outside of the great machine sneak out the back door.  Into the blinding light.  Into pure potential.  Pure possibility.  And take a step forward.  Not looking back.  Soon the bewildering blinding light begins to lose its harshness as your eyes begin to focus.  And you find yourself being born again, into a new world.  One you had forgotten existed.

It’s a beautiful planet we live on.

Go out and see it NOW.

Before it’s too late.

 

Beauty: Ansel Adams Wilderness Part 5

Ansel Adams Wilderness Dusy Basin

Ansel Adams Wilderness Part 5

We are camped at 11,400 feet.  Snow clings to the north facing slopes from a recent storm, the first of the season.  But the temperature is warm, and the breeze has died off, so we admire this grand scenery in perfect weather.  This particular basin is called Dusy Basin.  The hike to get here was over 7 miles of rough terrain requiring a climb up and over Bishop Pass.  We have decided to spend the day here in this basin dotted with dozens of small turquoise lakes sparkling in the noonday sun.  From this granite outcropping high above these lakes, I can count over 40 peaks, all of them above 12,000 feet in elevation.  Large unbroken smoothly polished granite dominates the landscape.  The pine trees are widely dispersed at this elevation allowing for immense unbroken views from just about any location.

Today there is not a cloud in the sky.  The breeze, when it blows, brings with it suggestions of winter, hints of snow, and a slight coolness from the north.  But it’s not winter yet.  This is Indian Summer at its finest.  Warm, clear, bug-free days, and crispy nights with temperatures dropping to about freezing.  Our down bags keep us toasty warm at night.  During the day all that is required is a fleece shirt.  Never too hot, nor to cold, we can wander this alpine paradise at will, frequently resting on her polished domes of granite, warm from the brilliant sunshine.  Gone are the crowds of summer, and in their place, golden brilliance of fall silence.

In every direction, I can see weeks of blissful exploration.  But right now, sitting here on this bluff, just the knowing that it’s all out there is enough.  I’m content with their simple existence.  That is the point of these trips.  Not exploring every canyon, or climbing every peak, but simply allowing them to be.  Witnessing their existence.  Verifying that such beauty really does exist.  I must see it form myself.  Breathe in the crisp mountain air.  Walk upon her delicate tundra, and feast my eyes upon a beauty that is beyond comprehension.  For within this level of beauty lies a commanding sacredness so overwhelming it stops me dead in my tracks, like a love struck teenager falling to his knees in lust and love over a high school beautyqueen.  An infatuation dominating my very existence.  And here I am.  Overindulging myself.  Bathing in her essence.

To know her is to become her.  Submit to her.  Be devoured her.  Infusing my every pore with her beauty.  I float back to camp drunk like a bee returning from a field of spring wildflowers.

 

On the road again.

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Ok readers, thank you for your patience.  I know it’s been a while.  Valerie and I have been in Florida taking a vacation from vacation.  After a month spent relaxing on the white sand beaches of Siesta Key, eating fresh fish, and drinking margaritas, we are very happy to be back on the road again.  Soon we will be heading into the most beautiful deserts in the world.  But for now, let’s continue where we left off.  In the Sierra Nevada Mountains. . .

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From Dawn To Dust: Ansel Adams Wilderness Part 4

Ansel Adams Wilderness 2

Ansel Adams Wilderness Part 4

No planes, no boats, no semis, no Fed Ex trucks, garbage trucks, diesel trucks, air conditioners, construction vehicles, busy highways, generators, motorcycles  or helicopters this morning.  Nothing today.  But the wind.  The distant howl of a coyote.  My breathing.  But I breathe carefully, slowly, as not to disturb this rare, pure alpine silence.

We live in a noisy world.  It’s no wonder we are cursed with the plague of incessant thought.  But even the muddiest of waters clear when still.  Silence is becoming a rare commodity these days as our world becomes increasingly polluted with noise.  So much that when we finally escape to a place of pure clean silence, it hits us like a freight train.  The same way the hysterical noise of the city hits me like a freight train when I return from a wilderness trip.  But we become used to it.  We develop selective hearing.  Narrow our attention spans.  Or tune out completely with headphones, iPhones, laptops, video games, and television.  Why wouldn’t we?  How else to escape?  What’s the alternative?  Ultimate insanity?

So we tune out.  We turn on our device.  And turn off the world.  And in doing so, we tune out the beauty and perfection of this miracle we were born into.  We do this without even realizing it.  Then one day we feel that something is missing if our life but we can’t put our finger on it.  We have everything society tells us we should have, but still we feel unfulfilled.

If we are lucky, one day we experience a moment of clarity.  Possibly on a beach in Hawaii, on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or high up in the John Muir Wilderness.  We realize that we’ve been sleepwalking through our life.  “My God, where have I been?” , we say to ourselves.  And in that moment, perhaps if only for a second, we see that everything, absolutely everything, is beautiful.

“Be still, and know that I am God” (PS 46:10)

In that moment, we know that everything IS God.  The mountains, the deserts, the oceans, the rolling plains, and even the cities all covered up in asphalt and concrete, all of them God.  But we have forgotten.

Through all of the noise, how could we possibly hear what the Earth is so patiently trying to teach us?  Now something as natural and pristine as wilderness has become our most precious commodity.  The one true church.  A place we can always come back to.

In the words of John Muir, “Going to the wilderness is going home.”

For many, just knowing that wilderness exists is enough to set the mind at peace.  Just knowing that it is still possible to hop in the car, drive 2 hours, 6 hours, 12 hours, whatever it takes, escaping into a land that is still pure and free.  Free to all who seek to rekindle that empty space inside themselves and bask in the presence of holiness.  Heaven on Earth.  God.  Source.  Christ.  Buddha.  Allah.  Whatever name we choose to use for that which cannot be described.  The place where we all come from.  And will always return.  We realize that the only constant is change.  There is life.  Then there is no life.  Then there is life again.  Over and over and over again.

I urge you, do not bring your world into the wilderness.  Leave your world behind.  And go alone.  If you must bring a companion then set the intention beforehand that you are going to church.  It is all too easy to fill the wilderness silence with chit-chat.  If you must talk, keep the conversation in the present tense.  Speak only of the experiences you are currently having.  Not about what you did last week or intend to do when you return home.  Would you talk about those things in a church?  Or would you listen to the sermon.  But here the sermon is not delivered by any man or woman.  It is delivered by the rocks themselves, by the air you breathe, and by the plants, the clouds, and the sky.  Conveying a wisdom so deep and pure that it permeates your very soul, using no words.

Free at last from the incessant noise of our busy world, this ancient wisdom can finally be heard.  It resonates so deeply within us that tears fill our eyes from the love and beauty contained within.  And so we walk.  Slowly down the trail.  Hand in hand with our everlasting souls.  A reunion with our childlike essence.  Clean and pure.  Thoughts drop from our minds like glass marbles, shattering as they hit the ground.  In their place, true love.  This love is all there is.  It’s everywhere.  In everything.  In everyone.  We have always been this pure love.  Always.  It cannot be lost.  It can never die.  Only obscured.  It may hide in the back corner of our being for years, but it never goes away.

Now that our marbles of thought have been shattered, there is nothing left to do but bask in this pure love.  This heaven on Earth that is happening right here.  Right now.  So we breathe it all in.  The mountains.  The sky.  The clean air.  Breathing them in until we become them and they become us.  All feelings of separateness dissolve and we become pure life force energy.

Soon we find ourselves laughing at the absurdity of the notion that we were just a human body and nothing else.  Realizing now that our body could crumble to dust and we would still remain as this love.  This life force energy behind everything living and everything non-living.  For we would still be this dust, nourishing the trees and plants, blooming into fields of wildflowers in the spring.  We would flow with the creeks and the rivers, down through the valley, and into the lakes.  Evaporating from the lakes and into the sky, we would become the clouds.  Raining down upon thirsty plants below, we would flow again down the river into town, filling the wells, nourishing a thirsty child at a soccer game on a hot summer day.  And we go on, and on, and on, and on. . .

City Of Dreams: Ansel Adams Wilderness Part 3

Ansel Adams Wilderness 1

Ansel Adams Wilderness Part 3

This morning we wake to a golden lake meadow with peaks all around us, shining in the morning light.  For breakfast, we make coffee, tea, and hash browns to awake the soul.  It’s windy but our campsite is protected, and so we lazily enjoy the unfolding of the day.  The bears we were so warned about at the ranger station have still failed to appear.  This is our first backpacking trip requiring bear canisters.  Though we’re carrying them, we’ve not even seen a trace of a bear.  After a few hours of lollygagging around the lake, we pack up and hit the trail.

Like kids at Disneyland, we are dazzled again and again as our magic carpet ride leads us through a forest of sparkling granite peaks, domes, and ridges.  Never have I been in awe of such exquisite beauty as this.  Even the trail is made of smoothly polished rock.  We pass cliffs adorned in rich exotic colors of slate, copper, caramel and chocolate.  All worn smooth by slowly moving glaciers that passed by here millions of years ago.  How this amount of concentrated natural beauty can exist is simply beyond comprehension.

Over the next ridge is Emerald Lake, sparkling like a precious jewel set in solid stone.  The jewelry of Mother Earth herself.  Onward we go, through a golden tunnel of rustling aspen trees, singing in the breeze, glowing in the warm September sun.  More lakes appear, each more beautiful than the last as we descend the rugged canyon where the headwaters of the San Joaquin River flow.  Only here, high up in the Sierras, this mighty river is but a trickling stream, cascading down a series of smoothly polished grooves, slides, cracks, and steps through rock the color of charcoal.  Downward we go, 800 feet down until we reach our next canyon, just to start back up again.  But that’s just how it goes in terrain like this.  We climb and descend all day long on a journey not on, but into the Earth.  Here she lies unabashedly naked before us.  We are free to adore her every curve with wild abandon until we are left speechless in a drunken state of ecstasy.  And so we walk.  Silently on down the trail of wonders.  This city of dreams.

Finally arriving at our campsite, we set up camp in a protected little meadow beside Summit Lake.  This evening, the water is on fire with reflected evening sun.  We set up camp and warm ourselves with hot apple cider.  Nothing left to do now but bask in the golden rays of the fading evening sun.  Tonight we will sleep well, as tired and happy backpackers should.