I don’t often get out for solo hikes, not because it’s scary but because most of the time I’m with friends. Whenever I decide to go on a trip, it’s second nature to me to shoot a text to one of the handful of people I often hike with and ask them if they’re interested in joining me. Sharing experiences in the wilderness with friends is one of my favorite aspects of the outdoors, but every time I take a solo trip I’m reminded of how refreshing taking time for myself is.
I made a last minute decision to head up Dip Top Peak in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I had been up to the peak last summer as a day trip, but knew I wanted to summit again with sunset and sunrise lighting, so it was an easy choice. The 10 miles to Jade Lake went by relatively quickly with some minor annoyance when I accidentally went up the wrong gully and had to bushwhack through some steep brush. I ate a quick lunch by the lake before heading up the gentle snowfield up to Dip Top Gap, the colloquial name for the col that separates Jade Lake from Mount Daniel.
By 5pm, I had set up my bivy about 200 ft below the summit with clear views of Jade Lake and Daniel, but it was no time for resting as I hiked up the final bit to the summit. While none of the rock exceeds class 2, the exposure on the little summit ridge is pretty surprising. I was pretty early for sunset, so I hung out and soaked in the views around me. Earlier in the week, I had done Mt. Maude with my friend Mitch in the Glacier Peak Wilderness which was currently experiencing heavy wildfire smoke. Thankfully, the winds cooperated and I had fantastic views all around. Mt. Rainier lay nestled between jagged peaks far to the south with a light haze below its summit. Glacier Peak was visible to the north along with Sloan Peak.
I’ve been asked by friends if I would still enjoy hiking without my fancy camera. The short answer is of course. I sat on the summit for three hours before sunset arrived in pure bliss. I had no book, no company, nothing to occupy the time but the mountains around me. The longer answer is that photography itself is actually enjoyable to me. Social media has made getting that “perfect shot” a priority for many people, and of course I enjoy being able to share stunning photos with my friends and family, but more than that, the process of framing the shot, waiting for the perfect lighting, and wondering what surprises nature has in store at the particular moment I hit the shutter are all part of the allure of photography for me. It’s difficult for me to actually separate photography from hiking. Would I still hike and climb without my camera? Absolutely. Would the experience be different. Of course, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.
Finally, the sun began to set and bathe Mount Daniel in its golden light. I sat up top for another hour before descending back to my bivy spot and cooking dinner. Despite being so high in the alpine and knowing there were no other humans and large animals around, the stillness of the night was still a little creepy. I set an alarm for sunrise and decided I would check out the summit again in the morning.
When my alarm went off, I poked my head out and saw some low-lying clouds in the distance. Soon, I realized that I was witnessing for the first time in my life a full-blown cloud inversion. I’m not sure why, but I decided to hang around my bivy spot and cook breakfast and snap some photos of Jade Lake rather than head up to the summit. In retrospect, I should’ve high-tailed it up there as quickly as possible since the views from up high were absolutely jaw-dropping. A sea of clouds stretched as far as the eye could see with spires of granite rising up amongst them. Truly, this is one of those sights I will never forget for as long as I live.
I stayed on the summit for about two hours before reluctantly beginning my descent. The way down was fairly uneventful except for the fact that I somehow ended up having to bushwhack yet again on my way back down to Marmot Lake. The 10 miles back to the car went slowly, but I was still riding my summit high and even the summer heat couldn’t break my mood. I’m pretty sure this is a location that I’ll be returning to year after year, even as I turn my sights to new and more exciting peaks.