“Man, this is alpine AF,” mused Michelle as we stepped into our incredible campsite that Kyle had found, with views of Mount Stewart, larger than life, on our doorstep. Goats frolicked all around us, their little hooves rat-a-tat-tatting on the granite. The air was piney fresh and a light breeze ruffled our sweaty hair.
Nelson, Michelle, Kyle and I had started hiking from a crowded Lake Ingalls parking lot a couple of hours earlier. Cars were parked down the road. We squeezed onto an empty hillside just as a light sprinkle was pattering the windshield. We had driven through a downpour in the mountains to get there, I was keeping my fingers crossed that the rain was headed in the other direction. We shouldered our packs and after a couple of attempted poops we started up the trail. I was excited to repeat this hike, it was mellow and straight forward and the views were amazing.
As we hiked the sky cleared and the menacing clouds to the west traveled further away from us. The oppressive smoke that had been suffocating Seattle and no doubt other parts of the state seemed to have been scrubbed clean from the air and things smelled fresh. The sky was actually blue for the first time in a long time.
After hiking higher and higher and leaving most of the trees behind we reached the pass and were greeted by Mount Stewart and Ingalls Peak. Directly below us down a short trail was the camping area and we descended into the trees again to hunt for a spot. It took us a while to find something satisfactory and legal but eventually we did and it was worth it – probably the best spot in existence, tucked away on a little island of trees, with its very own perfect rock outcropping for sitting and dinner eating. We called it Snagland and we loved it very much.
After camp was all set up we headed to Lake Ingalls. The lake hadn’t been visible from the pass and in order to get there we descended further down a little valley, crossing a babbling brook and remarking at many amazing wildflowers. Down there the trail cuts into the alpine meadow like a sandy little stream bed, directing our feet like a flow of water. Then the trail climbed up steeply, threading through large boulders and getting lost in the constant erosion of snow melt. We chose durable surfaces and headed up until finally we reached another small pass and to our surprise the lake was right below us, only a couple of feet away.
There were plenty of people stretched out on the grass shores directly below the pass so we clambored our way around to the right, climbing over rocks until we found a pleasant little cove for swimming. A rock outcropping dipped directly into deep clear water, perfect for lake jumping, and tiny trout darted between the dark blue and clear aquamarine of the lakes edges. We all started by dipping a toe in, except Kyle who launched himself off the top of the jumping rock.
The water was ice cold, cutting straight into your bone marrow and making everything ache in a way that was medicinal and healing and good. We all shrieked and gasped and oped and closed our mouths like fish gulping for oxygen until finally our bodies had numbed and we couldn’t feel anything anymore. Once we had adjusted none of us ever wanted to leave the water. Nothing was ever going to be that refreshing ever again so we held onto the cold and the silky smooth water molecules as long as we could. The wind felt warm on our skin when we finally stepped back onto the shore and we were all content to air dry. Afterwards I felt cleaner than ever before, my skin tingling. After checking our watches we agreed it was time to head back to camp and enjoy dinner.
Back in camp we were all set to do just that – with water heating to a boil for Nelson and Michelle’s dehydrated meals and our mac and cheese waiting patiently. We were all giddy with delight, skin clean, cozied up in hats and downs, a little crisp breeze nipping at our noses and the incredible hulking Mount Stewart turning pink right in front of us. Then, suddenly we heard a distant buzzing, moving closer and closer, like a giant swarm of bees! Michelle, who is terrified of bees snapped her head around in our direction, eyes huge in terror and we all swiveled our heads this way and that, trying to suss out the sound maker until suddenly, zipping around a bank of trees came a drone.
Our reaction to it was almost instinctual. After a momentary pause in which we all stared at it in disbelief we let out a group cry of disgust. And then, I am proud to say, we all proceeded to defile its view. While I resorted to a cool middle finger, Michelle gave it a bare cheeks show and Kyle, ever the gentleman, whipped his pants down and swung his genitalia around at in like a lasso. The drone buzzed on, unfazed by our antics. Although they were fun, we settled down when we realized they weren’t having quite the impact we had hoped for. The drone hovered, oppressively.
I have never seen a drone in the wild before and I have to say, it was terribly off putting. It felt so creepy and weird, like big brother was watching us, like we were in the Hunger Games, like robots had taken over the Earth. Plus it felt illegal because it was. Drones are not allowed in wilderness areas. We decided to give the drone owners (we assumed the guys in the campsite above us who we couldn’t see and who may not have known we were there) a couple of minutes to leave us alone before saying something. But after twenty or so minutes of the drone continuing to invade our privacy and solitude and space I stomped out of camp to confront them.
Before I got up to where they were perched I tried to take a deep breath and put on a friendly face. No need to be riled up, just going to share some information with some guys, just going to educate the public on something they may not know about! I crested the top of the rocks next to their campsite. The guy manning the drone controls looked at me coldly out of the corner of his eye.
“Uh hi! I just wanted to come up and let you know we were camped down below, kind of right below where you are flying your drone. Uh, we weren’t sure if you knew there was anyone down there, we are pretty well hidden.”
The guy grunted, “Yeah, I didn’t know you were down there.”
“Oh okay, cool! Well I just thought I would let you know. Also, not sure if you knew that drones are illegal in wilderness areas. I mean, I just wanted to make sure you knew because you could get a big fine if there is a wilderness ranger out here, just so you know.”
Then he took his eyes off the controls for the first time, looked me up and down, and said, “Thanks mom.”
I was a little shocked and after a mumbled sorry I fled the campsite. Nelson was just approaching as I came scampering down the rock to provide backup but I informed him none needed. The drone buzzed a little while longer and I stooped down and scooped up a rock, feeling the roughness of it on my fingertips, wondering how good my aim was. I dropped it. I was already afraid we might be murdered in our tents, no need to add property damage to the list of offenses I had committed against our neighbors. We traipsed back into camp to share the drone flyers reactions with Michelle and Kyle.
And then, not five minutes later, we got our sweet revenge. We sat, enjoying our dinner in newfound silence when who should walk into our camp? A wilderness ranger. I nearly choked on my mac and cheese but managed to get out, “Oh my gosh, I am so happy to see you!” The wilderness ranger looked shocked and admitted, “Almost no one is ever happy to see me.” I didn’t hesitate, “There are two guys in the camp above us flying a drone.” The wilderness ranger then shared with us that he too had heard the drone and was looking for the perpetrators. We had no qualms about pointing him in the right direction. We all kept our fingers crossed that he slapped them with a fatty fine.
It is one thing to not know the rules. It is another thing to be a dick about it when someone tries to help you learn the rules the easy way. I was thankful that the drone flyers would be learning the rules the hard way. Our done experience has definitely made me rethink whether we should ever own a drone. I am a LNT nut and I firmly believe part of LNT is treading lightly on the land. That includes decreasing your impact whenever you can, not just on nature, but on the animals who live there and the other humans who are enjoying it. I don’t know that I could ever feel comfortable flying a drone in the woods, on a mountain, in the desert, by the ocean, unless I was 100% positive that there was no one else around or that they wouldn’t care. I would love to hear people’s thoughts on the subject. All know is that the drone made me feel icky, and I never want to cause someone to suddenly feel icky when they are surrounded by so much splendor.
After the drone incident was over we had a lovely night. We played boggle and watched Mount Stewart try on different colors. Goats stalked us every time we went off to pee and then rushed into lick the rocks. Finally it was getting dark and cold and we retreated to our tents for a cool nights rest. I snuggled down into our quilt and sighed a deep sigh of comfort and happiness. In the middle of the night it rained for a bit, cooling things off even further, and in the morning we woke up to misty clouds rolling through the valley.
Our hike out was the most refreshing experience ever. It felt like fall was in the air and rainbows were appearing on every mountain top. The cool breeze put a pep in my step and made my heart beat a little faster, while the sun warmed by face. We waved goodbye to the little Lake Ingalls valley and to Snagland and to Mount Stewart and set out for home.