Saturday, July 4, 2015

Willow Lakes Backpacking Trip - June 2015

Upper willow lake in the Eagles Nest Wilderness at sunset with the Zodiac Ridge reflected in the half frozen waters
Upper Willow Lake at sunset - Prints available

The Willow Lakes area is kind of a hidden gem located deep in the Eagles Nest Wilderness of the Gore Range mountains north of the town of Silverthorne.  The hike in requires 9 miles and 2k ft. of elevation gain one way with a full pack on if you're going to stay overnight.  This kind of distance eliminates a large percentage of the population from ever being able to even reach the lakes which, in my opinion, makes it a little more special. 

My brother, Zach, Josh and I had complete solitude all 3 days of our stay.  Most of the trail was clear  and dry until near the lakes where there was rushing water all around due to the heavy snowfall this spring.  The lakes still had quite a bit of ice on them. We camped right at treeline at the upper lake where the Zodiac Ridge dominates the scene.

The rocky side of Red Peak at upper Willow Lake

Red Peak at sunset

The first morning Zach and I rose early to catch sunrise on the lower lake as the wildflowers were blooming.

sunrise on willow lake with wildflowers and the Zodiac Ridge in alpenglow near Silverthorne, Colorado
Lower Willow Lake sunrise - Prints available

My brother and his buddy left that morning.  Zach and I stayed back and did some fishing.  We could see brook trout swimming right up near the shore.  I went to get my lures from my pack and...Oh NO!  I forgot them at home!  Afraid that I was going to have to eat ramen noodles for the rest of the trip, I found a safety pin and fashioned it into the shape of a hook.  We couldn't find any bugs or anything to use for bait so I just threw it out there in front of the fish to see if they would be interested.  I caught one right away!  No bait.  No lure. Nothing but a gold piece of metal.  I couldn't believe it.  We had enough fish to make a nice lunch within about an hour.  You could probably catch fish in those lakes until you got tired of catching fish.

makeshift hook made from a safety pin

Later that afternoon I hiked up high on the south side of the basin to see the views.  I was wondering if a climb of Red Peak was possible from the Willow Lakes side.  The answer is yes, but it's a long way.  Once I reached a class 3 wall I decided I better not start any climbing in the middle of the day on a route I know nothing about when my only partner is my dog.  Don't get me wrong, the temptation was there!

Gore Range mountains deep in the Eagles Nest Wilderness with Willow Lake, Mount Silverthorne, and the Zodiac Ridge
Gore mountains from the northern flank of Red Peak

Grays and Torreys in the distance from later that evening

I returned the next morning for a sunrise at the same unique location from the previous afternoon.

Same angle (almost) at sunrise

"Call 911"

We did not stop at all on our hike out.  I also did not eat or drink very much that morning.  It was 75 degrees when we reached the truck.  We got in, cranked up the AC and started back toward Silverthorne.  All of a sudden my face and arms started tingling.  The tingling started spreading up my arms.  I pulled over and looked at Zach, who looked at me like, "What are you doing?" Soon, I couldn't feel or move my hands at all and the numbness was spreading into my chest and abdomen.  My heart was racing and I was struggling to breathe.  I told Zach, "Call 911!"  There was no phone service.  He jumped in the driver's seat and quickly drove down the hill to a gas station where he could make a call.  I was about to pass out afraid I was having a heat stroke or heart attack or something.  I don't remember a whole lot of what happened from here other than focusing all my energy on breathing.  The EMT's arrived and told me I was hyperventilating and having a panic attack.  They helped slow my breathing until my heart rate started dropping.

Once the feeling returned to my arms, I thanked the paramedics.  Then I thanked Zach for handling the situation so well.  Then I thanked the Lord for watching over me.  I also felt the need to apologize for the event.  It was a bit humiliating.  I have never had a panic attack before and was a bit confused why it even happened.  I didn't feel any anxiety or stress.  In fact I was feeling relief that we were done with such a strenuous hike.  I'm guessing that elevation, dehydration, lack of sleep, fatigue from hiking all week, the heat of the day, and malnutrition, all contributed to the cause of the stress on my body.  Thankful to be back to normal, we stopped at Wendy's and had some burgers before our drive home.  I'll be getting my heart checked out by a doctor before I go hiking again, just to be safe.

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