I started to fall and couldn’t right myself. With 40 or so pounds on my back, my center of gravity was off and I fell face first into the dirt. Fortunately, the dirt was soft and except for a ruddy face and smudged sunglasses, I was fine, just tired and a little embarrassed. We were at the end of a 4-mile hike from Lily Pad Lake to Gem Lake on the third day of our backpacking trip.
With its plentiful campsites, several small beaches and its clear, blue water, Gem Lake is a popular destination; and while we found the lake idyllic, others did too. Their tents hidden behind boulders and lodgepole pines, we caught an occasional flash of red or green and heard swimmers yell as they dove and swam, a dog barking excitedly.
Electric blue fireflies flitted around us as we relaxed on the warm rocks, talking and reading.
We slept without a rain fly that night and gazed at the stars through the screen of our tent.
With our 45-pound packs on our backs, we began our journey about 8:30 a.m. and set out on the Crabtree trail in the Stanislaus National Forest before entering the Emigrant Wilderness.
We climbed up and down steps made of granite, stopped briefly for a view of Camp Lake then up again and down a dusty switchback trail.
It was hot, our packs were heavy, and after a water and lunch break, our conversation stopped and we headed up again, each of us concentrating on the next step as our packs dug into our shoulders.
After 5 miles, we arrived at Lily Pad Lake, named for the abundance of lily pads on its surface.
After setting up our tent, we grabbed our water bottles and headed for a large granite rock by the lake. We slid into the water, the lily pads preventing us from swimming but allowing us a small space to cool off.
Refreshed, we joined our group for a Leave No Trace presentation by a volunteer of the Emigrant Wilderness and Stanislaus National Forest. We learned that the seven Leave No Trace principles are: 1) Plan Ahead and Prepare; 2) Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces; 3) Dispose of Waste Properly; 4) Leave What You Find; 5) Minimize Campfire Impacts; 6) Respect Wildlife; 7) Be Considerate of Other Visitors.
On a large flat rock against a pink sky, one of our fellow backpackers spontaneously led us in yoga exercises. We fell asleep that night tired but relaxed.