Notoriously my favorite holiday due to the close proximity of my birthday, July 4th had a totally different, yet exhilarating feel this year.  Cool, crisp air, a silent campground and sleep filled creases welcomed my rested eyes the morning of Independence Day.  While the scenery was much more captivating than my previous July 4 mornings, the same urge hit me as I started to mill about…I had to pee!  Walking to the bathroom armed with bear spray was quite the new experience.  All around me I heard creatures stirring to life.  Is there anything better than daybreak in the great outdoors? 

It was not my early morning venture to the bathroom that caused my camping companions to wake, rather a very upset little squirrel.  In the bushes right outside Brooke and Matt’s tent sat a squirrel shrilly screaming at invaders; the invaders being us.  It was just a bit before 6AM, when I saw Matt reach out and throw a pebble into the bush.  Unfortunately, this did not help matters.  The squirrel wanted to be heard.  Embers were simmering silently in the fire ring, so Dustin stoked it to produce a little heat for us.  After a bit, the squirrel gave up his protests and retreated to the trees.

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With no clue as to our plans for the day, we had a leisurely morning around the wildflower filled camp.  Dustin tied some flies, us gals checked out the atlas and we all indulged in some pancakes.  Thomas Lakes, after much atlas scanning, seemed to become our destination.  Around 10 AM, we packed up and headed out of Avalanche.

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After a brief stop in Carbondale, Brooke had to go get Dustin out of the Fly Shop, we drove to the trailhead.  Magnificent views accompanied our climb to our hiking destination.  Steadily we drove higher and higher as the drop offs became steeper and steeper.  The guy at the running shop told us this was one of the most popular hikes in the area, and the amount of cars at the trailhead backed up that statement.  Unsure of the hike that awaited us, excitement and apprehension filled our group.  While packing up, we noticed a man with a fly pole.  Hoping to find out a lay of the land, we asked if we needed our waders.  He assured us we did not, and we dropped the extra weight.  We made alternate plans in case Brooke and Matt didn’t make it up the mountain.  Armed with heavily loaded packs, Dustin and I each had 6L of water plus all our hiking equipment, Brooke and Matt bade us good luck and good bye.  Dustin and I hiked on ahead of them.

IMG_0974   Our destination: the base of the peak

IMG_0977 At the trailhead

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Once we were into the hike for a bit, to be quite honest, neither us nor B&M thought they would make the entire journey.  We climbed a little shy of 3000ft over 4 miles of rugged trail.  I had the time of my life.  Dustin and I soaked up all that nature had in store for us that day.  We stopped and enjoyed every spectacular view.  Our eyes and senses feasted on the meadows, aspen forests, alpine forests, alpine creeks and wildflowers.    Along the way we met a group laden with backpacks hiking down the mountain.  They recommended to us a great spot to camp once we reached the lakes.  Ultimate privacy and access to our own little lake is what they promised awaited us.  Needless to say, we were quite enthused to find this little piece of heaven atop the mountain.  Everyone we met told us our destination was just about another hour hike.  About 2.5 hours in we stopped for lunch, and plopped our butts on a downed tree.  Lunch was scrumptious, and provided us with enough fuel (our pancakes were long gone) for the rest of the hike. 

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 Turquoise water appeared through the trees, and excitement bubbled through us.  We were close!  A feeling of this is what I was meant to do washed over me.  Without question, I find such happiness when I experience all the wondrous works of nature.  We weaved along on the trail until we found the spot that came so highly recommended.  Once we saw it we knew why.  Hands down this was the most incredible camp spot I have ever seen.  We dumped our packs, and set up camp in a hurried fashion.  I must confess, disappointment lingered in the campsite.  Turns out, in true Colorado resident form, the guy at the trailhead lied to us.  Waders were definitely required to fish these lakes.  Bank fishing was nearly impossible.  Now, I will not say I was pouty, but I was rather bummed that I would not be able to get the most out of my hike to Thomas Lakes.  I did resign to make the best of it however.  Dustin and I hiked, off trail mind you, to one of the three lakes to try our hand at a little fishing.  Storm clouds billowed around the peak, and made us question our trip to the hidden lake.  I decided to just take in the scenery, and let Dustin try his hand at hooking into a native cutthroat.  No luck found him though, and the brewing storm encouraged us to get back to camp.

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During the hike back to our camp, we interrupted a little sexy time for a couple.  Assuming the isolation at the top of the mountain permitted them ample time to get frisky, they were more than a little perturbed when we passed by their camp.  Still giggling about our intrusion, I heard a familiar “Hey!”  Turns out my pink buff served the purpose I thought it would all along.  Brooke saw my pink head bobbing through the trees, and those powerful forces of nature cooked up some perfect timing for us to reunite with our friends.  Albeit exhausted, they made it up the mountain!  I cannot tell you how proud and excited I was.  To wake up my birthday morning camping in this breathtaking spot with my best friends were the best gifts for which I could ask.  The hike was grueling for me, and I am in pretty good shape, but it was worth every burn in my quads.  Threatening skies flirted with us all evening.  Dustin and I tried to go fish another lake, but were warned by Mother Nature to get back to camp.  On our way back, we ran into a young woman filtering water.  She informed us of a canoe that we could  use to get out on the lake.  I felt a renewed excitement about fishing.  After tossing around the idea to try again, we felt the first sprinkles.  Smarter minds than mine prevailed because the sportsman’s tarp was already over the camp kitchen.  Rain provided the soundtrack for our evening meal, potato soup all around.  Dinner was salty, but tasty.  Contentment filled me as I laughed with my friends while enjoying dinner.  We all know each other so well, and as Brooke pointed out, it is so funny to watch things fold out between us just the way know they will.  Rain continued through the night, but even the chilly rain could not keep a smile off my face as I drifted off to sleep. 

IMG_1026    Spending my last few hours of my 20’s waiting out a storm

IMG_1027 Best campsite, ever!

Still smelling the pines,

Stephanie

Written by Stephanie Mullins

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