the true stories
I was the prettiest place I had ever seen. I had to share it somebody. In those days of the early Eighties, it was like pulling teeth to get people out of the city and into the Garden. I returned three or four times solo. I had no map, no water bottle, no gear and knew not the names of the places I passed through. I had a walking stick and an Englishman's cap.
I have always been aware that places have had many names superimposed over the original names given them by successive waves of inhabitants. I usually liked to give my own names to places I loved and this place was no different. It was situated up the Squamish Highway, East of Pemberton, through the Mt. Currie Reserve, East of Lillooet Lake and near another lake.
There are some fair sized mountains in this area and multiple glaciers. There are spent volcanoes whose only traces are chimneys of black friable rock. The area is within the Coast Mountains, so it is clad in rich robes of cedar, fir and hemlock. Long fluorescent strings of moss drape from branches and the caw-caw of the city crows is replaced by the eerie croaking of ravens proper.
I had been driving by just looking around one sunny day and I saw a small sign announcing a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. Intrigued, I pulled off the highway and went to check it out. There was a few parking spaces and a couple of brown bear-proof garbage bins. I saw a few people slamming their car doors shut and tromping off into the forest.
I decided to have a peek. Along the first half-hour I found a wonderful stick. The kind of stick my son would have called a “Moses Stick.” Shortly after I had rounded a semicircle of trail, through the branches I saw the loveliest stretch of turquoise water that I had ever seen up to that point in my life. I stood in awe and was breathing in eagles and exhaling evergreens, such was my state of rapture.
I continued on well behind the others and after an hour or so, I was treated to the sight of a second lake. This one was slightly larger and a different impossible shade of ice blue. I laughed out loud. The sight was invigorating and worth a good meal in the energy it imparted to me. I made my way ahead in wonder.
If you haven't guessed, I did find a third lake and it was obviously the most beautiful of the three sisters. I sat and looked at it for some time. The day was good and I decided to continue up trail. I began to notice the trees were shrinking. After not too much farther, I was in a rock-scape. All the green was downhill now and ahead was a massive yellow rock covered for the most part with thick white snow and dirty ice.
I was on the tongue of a scree slope of suitcase-sized boulders that led up to a crack which afforded access to the ice world not far above my position. There were several peaks and one spot where huge chunks of ice tumbled down in the sunshine, melting as they went, into a brand new creek of rushing ice water which subsequently formed instant lakes where there had been none. I scrambled pretty far up the scree just for the sheer joy of boulder hopping.
The first time a piece calved off I was sitting by the small lake formed by this phenomenon and watching climbers skittering across the rotten ice to reach the western peaks. The noise was of a kind that I had never heard and thus could not process at first. There was nothing in my memory bank to hold it up to and thus no handy box to put it in and slap a label on.
As I watched, tons of ice became gallons of water and raced downhill to double the size of the lake I was sitting next to. I had to race away sideways to avoid getting a good soaking. I slaked my thirst and said thanks to the Creator for allowing me to watch and I headed on down. On the way I discovered that the three little sisters looked different from every angle and in every kind of light.
I tried to put into words what I had seen when I got back to town. Three friends of mine were recent immigrants from Quito, Ecuador and I described my find to them. They were city boys, but the mountains were in their DNA and after some cajoling I managed to get their parent's permission to take them to see this beautiful place.
The following weekend I loaded up Juanito, Francisco and Carlos and a few snacks into my truck after jettisoning the pipe-fitting gear. After a tearful leave-taking and some cumbia music on the cassette-deck, the fellows were ready for an adventure. They had never spent many hours away from their parents, it simply wasn't their way of life. The guys were ranging in age from early twenties through to late and mid-teens.
Francisco was the middle child and we called him “El Gato”, due to his keeping silent most of the time and his aloof manner towards the ladies. Carlos was the philosopher, the eldest and very close to my own temperament and outlook on life. The baby was Juanito. A genius from birth who would lie to you just to see how much you would believe. If you called him on it, he would confess but he never ceased to wind complex yarns of deceit for the sheer pleasure of tripping up the gullible.
He had a romantic, poetic soul and would happily translate for me when my Spanglish failed me in a deep conversation with his parents. He also had a jolly streak, loved practical jokes and was absolutely loyal to his friends. We called him, “El Negro” due to his being several shades darker than his brothers and possessed of curlier hair. All three were consummate Latin dancers, gentlemen and caballeros of the seventh magnitude. They called me Miguel or “El Cheroki” by turns.
On the way up the highway I tried to describe for the boys what they would be seeing when we got there. They spoke of their home mountains and rivers. After about four hours or so we were parked and putting on our packs. I planned to stay overnight down at Lillooet Lake where we could sleep in comfort on the lake shore at a place I knew.
It was July or maybe August and for this part of the world, it was hot. We set off up the trail and Francisco immediately came alive wielding his camera.
“Hey, Miguel, Quat the hell is thees theen?”
“That's a banana slug.”
“Jijo de la Gran Puta! Ees so freekin beeg.”
“Carlos, look a thees! So cute one.”
“What do you guys call that ground squirrel in Spanish?”
“Cheroki, thees leetle guy ees call ardilla.”
Juanito took point and soon we heard his emotional summons through the evergreens.
“Hey, you guys, just like Cheroki said, the primero lago. Que bonito! Que lindo!”
We hurried alongside and the joy of witnessing their joy was just as good for me as the first time I saw the same view. The way the trail was cut, the view was obscured until the last possible moment. After swatting bugs and wiping sweaty eyebrows, to stumble on this jewel and hear the call of a loon from the reeds was the stuff of magic itself. A crisp, moss-perfumed breeze carried a welcome drop in temperature.
We carried on up to the second lake and it had the affect I had anticipated. The boys were seeing Canada for the first time and they were falling in love with it. Crowded basement suites and Kraft slices melted on Sunbeam Bread seemed as distant as the moon and of no consequence in the scheme of the universe. We were singing in Spanish on the way to the third lake.
“Las Calenas, con sus caminas, me hacen delirante.” (Those Cali girls, the way they walk, it makes me delirious.)
Each lake sat at a higher elevation and beyond the third lake, the tree line was reached. We paid our respects to each lake in turn and we all agreed that the third was the prettiest. Juanito made a solemn announcement that by the authority vested in him as an Ecuadorian explorer, the lakes should from thenceforth be known as “Las Tres Perlas.” None of us disagreed.
We pushed onto the scree below the glacier and I was showing them where I had seen the ice falls the year before. Everyone was fairly tired and all hands were snacking on whatever they had brought. The sky began to gray up over the massive snowy rock in front of us as if to lend embellishment to my descriptions. It began ,with bewildering rapidity, to snow with a vengeance.
They boys untied their sweaters and put them on. We all did and it didn't help. Soon we could scarcely see each other at a distance of five feet.
“Boys, we best get going down before we can't see the trail. We'll come back up again another day.”
We started down and Juanito ran ahead and waited for us.
“Look you guys, my tracks are already covered weeth esnow!”
We came to his position and noted that he was correct. Ours were filling in as fast as we laid them down. We paused ever so briefly to look up at the glacier. It was gone now, totally obscured by wind-driven snow. We all began to trot downhill praying that we would be able to discern the trail under the growing coat of white. Whenever the terrain allowed we ran headlong trying to make altitude go away.
The familiarity of the third lake brought some cheer to our hearts but the storm worsened as if warning us not to celebrate til we were off this mountain. By the second lake we had been running, stumbling, laughing and swearing to keep warm and needed a short break. Francisco wandered a very short distance away from the three of us and looked at boulder standing at the outflow of the lake.
It had a cap of snow steadily growing where the water didn't touch. He called us over.
“Cheroki, Quat kine of track ees thees?
Upon examination and after blowing a bit of snow out of the depressions, I came to the conclusion that it was a cougar print. It was also less than three minutes old! I could feel its eyes and ears on us as I explained to the boys that if you could draw a pentagon around the print, it was a type of lobo. If you could put it in a circle, it was a type of gato. This one was the size of a beer coaster.
We scouted with our four pairs of eyes and found only two other tracks that were barely visible. Both were near water.
I told the boys that now we needed to sing, stay tight and carry sticks. Also we needed to get running because she was getting dark. The snow worked a blessing here because it helped augment the failing light. We chanted all the way to the first lake and each time we paused to catch our breath and take our bearings, one of our party would spot a few fresh tracks.
I tried in vain to spot the cat. It was maddening. No one ever got a glimpse of that felix but the tracks would always be there just a few feet or so behind and slightly off to one side. It was fairly dark on the easy bit from the first lake to the parking lot. For the last kilometer the snow changed to rain and by the time we made the truck we were facing quadruple cases of hypothermia.
We roared off into the night shivering down to the first flat spot on Cayoosh Creek that ran alongside the road. It was much warmer down here but we needed to dry out. Soon, we had a big bonfire of alder blazing sparks to the night sky. We rigged our clothes on cottonwood sticks before the fire and watched them steam dry. Off in the bush we could see eyes. Probably deer.
As we huddled around on boulders in our birthday suits the rain passed and the stars came out as only they can in the wilderness. We dressed up in our smokey clothes, put out the fire and made our way to Lillooet Lake and had a simple camp set up in no time. After supper we talked till the firewood we had gathered was no more than twinkling coals, the whiskey was gone and the food was exhausted. I don't know if the fellows ever made it back to the lakes.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.