Oh, Lake Mary. I suppose it’s only fair that right around the halfway point of the 52 Hike Challenge (Hike 26) I get slapped with a big dose of hiking reality. Consider this my midway contemplative hike of the Adventure Series, because boy did it make me think.
So here’s the deal. I used to pick hikes that had a big pay off at the turn-around or midway. Apparently I felt the need to reward myself. This hike changed all of that.
I was looking for something in Big Cottonwood Canyon that was short but had some elevation. Since I was going to hike alone I also wanted something fairly heavily trafficked. I settled on the Lake Mary Trail, with the expectation of spending a bit of time at the reportedly spectacular lake before returning down the mountain. Easy enough, right?
Pretty straightforward. Follow the trail. It goes up. Despite having spent a couple weeks in Utah I still wasn’t acclimated to hiking at this kind of elevation so I did need a couple breaks just to keep my lungs from exploding. A little scrambly at the end, otherwise this really was a very nicely maintained trail and easy to follow. I lugged my poor little lungs up the side of this mountain, telling myself all the way that I had to keep going in order to see the magnificent Lake Mary, despite the feeling that I might actually be dying.
Nicely maintained trail. Not easy to miss.
Big Cottonwood Canyon at sunrise
Good morning, Utah
No skiing today
Heading up, into the trees
My favorite early morning activity – looking at trees and mountains
A few wildflowers remained along the trail
Near the top, the path narrows, begins to crawl through some brush and gets rockier
I find it weirdly satisfying to hike under these lifts. You can use a machine to get to the top of this mountain, but I’ma just use my legs.
So here’s where things get interesting. There is no lake. I didn’t know until I arrived back at our Airbnb and could do some investigation that THE LAKE HAD BEEN DRAINED. This lake that I had read so much about and had pushed myself through a kind of miserable hike to reach was simply not there. Ok, there was a puddle and some rocks, but certainly NOT what I had been promised. So, like, now what?
Literally hot and bothered
Big Cottonwood Canyon at sunrise
The A-Ha Moment
I was frustrated and wheezy and sweaty, making my glasses fall off of my face and my temperament generally homicidal. For a minute I let my brain rage about what a colossal waste of time and effort this was. Luckily for me and my brain, something else took over, and I started to question why I was so angry. Why was I out here, anyway? Only to see the payoff at the top? Why wasn’t the hike itself enough of a reward? Why wasn’t the ability to get outside and use my own two feet to propel me up into the sky via a massive rock not enough?
Calming My Brain and My Attitude
As I hiked down (quickly, as I saw the extremely fresh scat of what appeared to be the world’s largest moose on the edge of the trail), I realized that being on the trail really is enough. I had sort of missed the point of hiking in that it’s nothing more than a way to connect with nature, quiet, yourself, friends and possibly a killer moose. All you have to do is go outside and put one foot in front of the other. If a massive payoff is necessary, you’re going to grow tired of hiking pretty quickly.
This hike totally transformed how I think about and plan my hiking adventures now. Sure, I want to see cool stuff when I hit the trail, but that’s not the singular focus anymore. Nature is unpredictable and part of the fun of going outside is learning the flexibility and adaptability required to spend time in nature. So, I challenge you on your next hike to forget about the big payoff or destination and try and enjoy the little things on the trail along the way. If you have a cool experience doing this, let me know.