Day 02: Watkins Meadow to Snow Creek Cabin
Last Rays of The Old Setting Sun
A short distance off to my right, the sparkling aurora of a fiery sunset renders every last tree in black silhouette, threatening to singe any carelessly-wielded retina in its path. Ignoring the spectacle (with restraint), I continue to lead my team across a snowy bald and into the woods on its far side. Taking care not to trod upon and upset the ski-tracks laid down by earlier trekkers, I blaze my own path through the hard packed snow, which, incidentally is not very deep at all- maybe six inches, a foot tops.
Moments later I espy a plume of smoke rising quaintly through the trees just ahead. The cabin. And apparently somebody’s already here. Here’s hoping it’s not some rule-stickling park ranger with an itchy ticket-writing finger, I think to myself; but whatever- there’s nothing for it at this point but to just proceed to the cabin and hope to be well met by its occupants. At any rate, the cabin is open to the public; so it’s not as if we’re going to be turned away by some gun-toting, knee-slapping yahoo whose dentures sit abandoned on the kitchen table while he goes all Yosemite Sam on us at the front door, spouting off at the mouth and hopping back and forth from one foot to the other, as if barefoot on hot coals. Still, we would have far preferred to find the place unoccupied; but the fact that it isn’t is by no means a surprise, nor is it even necessarily a problem.
We all claimed earlier to have accepted the perils of sneaking our dogs up into the back-country; and here, possibly, will be our test of just how much we really meant it. And whether or not it was worth it.
Happiness Is a Warm Cabin
Deeming it socially unsportsmanlike to just cavalierly swing the cabin door wide open, potentially blindsiding some good decent folk with the sudden barking of strange dogs, in the process yanking them violently out of what will surely up until that point have been a reverie of unrivaled peacefulness, I drop my pack outside in the snow, get the girls to hang onto the hounds for the moment, and step into the darkened breezeway of the wooden cabin, turning on my headlamp to light the way.
Easing open the inside door of the cabin, my eyes are met with total darkness, my nose with that half-charming/half-stifling musty atmosphere characteristic of such small wooden abodes, and my face with the heat of a healthy wood-fire, burning vigorously behind the doors of one of those old-timey cast-iron stoves that you never see anywhere- ever, I step up and in and give a perfunctory holler of “Hello?”, though it’s no more than a token gesture; for it’s plainly obvious that there is nobody inside the cabin at the moment. They can’t have gone far, though. Judging by how tightly the stove has been packed with axe-hewn wedges of ponderosa pine, it can’t have been loaded up much more than ten or fifteen minutes ago.
A quick look around the cabin’s interior: the three downstairs rooms and the two upstairs, reveals a pair of occupied bedrooms, complete with bedrolls, sleeping pads, and the haphazardly-distributed contents of a pair of backpacks, which hang from the wooden crossbeams fortifying the gabled roof. Returning to the lower level, I open the glass-paned windows and swing the wooden shutters outward, folding them back against the exterior wall of the cabin, thereby flooding the room with what little natural light remains to the forest outside. Even rapidly-waning, nearly-exhausted daylight, however, is a hell of a lot more useful than the utter blackness of the shuttered cabin.
Minutes later, the team- dogs and all- is assembled in the combination living/dining room of the cabin, expeditiously unloading our packs, sorting our gear, and hoping to get our shit out of the communal living space before what’s-their-faces return to find their quarters significantly diminished from what they’d been just a short time ago.
Open House Walk-Through
Downstairs, one half of the cabin’s footprint consists of the small living/dining area, which contains a wooden kitchen table framed by a pair of matching benches made from sawed-off tree trunks, another wooden table in the corner, an ancient bookshelf containing various board games- some familiar, some too old to be familiar, a visitors log with entries dating back as far as 1930, and the aforementioned wood-burning stove, with its iron outflow pipe disappearing into the ceiling above. A pair of heavy-duty, industrial-sized cook-pots sits atop the stove’s two large circular burners, each one about half-filled with water. Small amounts of pine needles and loose twiggery float on the surface of the one; and in the other, chunks of melting snow crystals bob like miniature icebergs. I dip a finger into one of the pots: warm, but not hot.
Apart from the living/dining room, the far rear corner of the structure houses an exceedingly modest, yet adequate kitchen, with a gas-burning cook-stove grill, a large sink (without running water), and some shelves filled with mugs, silverware, and plates, all of which might very well have been pillaged from the dining room of my old elementary school cafeteria.
The near corner of the downstairs level contains a tiny, windowless room, with a pair of cast-iron cots, stacked as bunk-beds, just barely squeezed in between the claustrophobic walls.
Outside the cabin, half-buried in the snow near the edge of the forest some 25 or so yards away, sits a pit toilet constructed of slapped together sheets of thin metal, with an inconveniently-located leak in its roof, which perpetrates its own personalized version of Chinese water torture upon the trembling knees of any and all who endeavor to sit on its cold metal seat.
Ducks in a Row
Preferring to be prudently pro-active over obliviously lazy, I consolidate the waters of the two large pots, and head out to the breezeway, holding the newly-empty pot. The cabin’s breezeway is a dark, drafty, dirt-and-stone-floored space housing a retractable steel ladder, a wooden chopping block made from a sawed-off tree trunk, various saws, axes, and shovels, and a generous supply of chopped and stacked firewood lining the deep back wall. I pick up a wood-handled spade, go outside, and commence the aggressive dislodging of large chunks of frozen snow from the unsullied supply covering the cabin’s slanted roof, most easily reachable at its low-hanging eaves. The white blanket of snow sits atop the small cabin as white frosting on a chocolate cake, imbuing the scene with an idyllic quality that seizes my attention for a moment, sending my mind off on a contemplative tangent, before returning it to me, allowing me to regain my focus and resume my snow-fetching duties. Employing the business end of the shovel as a beaver-tail of sorts, I tramp the snow down into the giant cauldron, packing it as tightly as I can. That task completed, I haul the pot back inside and place it back on the stove- an investment in future cooking and drinking water, both of which we will need shortly. After all, the day’s efforts have left us with some healthy appetites, to say the least.
A lantern hangs from the ceiling in the main room of the cabin. I fire it up, flooding the room with a soft, evenly-distributed light, a pleasing contrast to the isolated beams which, issuing from our headlamps, have provided the bulk of our artificial light since our arrival at the cabin. Lowering my aching bones onto the wooden bench by the window, I twist off the cap of the plastic bourbon bottle and take a big harsh swig. Wincing and gasping through a veil of pitiless heartburn, but no less content for all that discomfort, I scrape my filthy shirt sleeve across my chapped, perforated lips, and hand off the heinous elixir to Robin, who repeats the ritual, albeit with less pussy-ass squirming. Glancing about the room, at last feeling a measure of relaxation, my eyes are drawn to a tiny wooden shelf affixed to one wall. The shelf is oddly adorned with a row of little rubber duckies- a cute touch, the meaning of which cannot even be guessed at at this time.
A moment later, Katherine steps outside to let the dogs do the dog thing; and as soon as she closes the inner door and opens the outer breezeway door, the report of barking hounds, mingled with Katherine’s by-now-very-familiar apologetic damage-control voice, tells me that the cabin’s other occupants have returned from their wayward rovings.
Now the evening will either turn awkward and uncomfortable, or it won’t. Depending.
I don’t know. But it’ll be fun to find out, won’t it?
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Next: (Chapter 05)