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Hike of the Week: Walking on water

March 9, 2012

Fantastical ice formations show up all around Convict Lake whenever the winds get ferocious enough. Here, the ice is three feet tall, draped over the edge of a piece of wood. Photo/Wendilyn Grasseschi

The lake shoots waves against the rocks on the shore, coating them with fantastical ice shapes, sending the spray hard into my face. 

The wind is coming in over the mountains to the west like an ocean storm, roaring through the marble spires of the Sevenhah Cliffs, crashing against lake and red fir and rock and willow. The sound is immense, huge, like the biggest roar of the biggest lion imaginable. It roars and bellows and cries and laughs—an uncaged animal prowling the ramparts and ravines.
 
I move away from the sanctuary of my car and zip up my coat, call the reluctant dogs (their ears pinned to their heads, their eyes slits against the wind) and head toward the trail.
 
Someone clocked the wind this morning at the end of winter and beginning of spring at 120 mph over the ridge of Laurel Mountain at the back of Convict Lake. It’s not that here, but it’s not far off, either.
 
I stumble my way up the trail on the right side of the lake, breathing through the soft down and nylon of my coat hood tied tight around my head, listening to the roar through the fabric buffer. I push into the wind, bent forward, watching the ground. It takes all of my strength and skill to keep my feet on the ground.
 
I push on, into the storm, looking up occasionally to see the winging wind blowing white spindrift into the indigo sky above Laurel and Mount Morrison.
 
But mostly I just trudge forward, eyes to the ground to avoid the grit and sand exposed to the wind by this drought winter.
 
I walk another half mile and then I do what I have come here for.
 
I turn around.
 
I unzip my coat and open my arms wide, facing home, the wind at my back. My coat billows and blows, my arms become down wings.
 
I jump straight up as high as I can now, into the moving air. The wind catches me, picks me up off my feet, skips me over rocks and logs and granite, and sends me flying, flying.
 
I land hard, the wind grabs hard and laughs hard, then picks me up and I’m off again, running, running, wings spread.
 
To my right, the wind has sculpted the soft and mobile icy spray into gargoyles and griffins and dragons and giant winged creatures I’ve never seen except in a dream. It coats the rocks and willows and rose bushes two and three feet thick, shimmering, limned in light. I drop down to the lake and scramble up on top of a huge, ice-covered rock. Balancing on the top, I sit, then let go and slide down, down, to another rock and another and then to the lake, skidding across two-feet deep ice, walking on water, facing the spray shooting off the breaker rocks until the cold wet forces me to turn around and head back up to the trail.
 
The sound here, of the indigo-black white-capped water rushing and crying and crashing against the soft-edged ice sculptures and hard rock, adds to the roar of the wind.
 
I continue down the trail, skipping one, two and three feet at a time on the back of the wind, landing, then flying once again.
I make it back to the car breathless, laughing.
 
I open the car doors, one at a time, and load the dogs. I shut the doors, turn on the engine and bask in the heat and stillness and comparative silence, before turning the car east and heading home.
 
Go on.
 
Get out there.
 
GETTING THERE
The Convict Lake trailhead is seven miles south of Mammoth on U.S. 395. Take the Convict Lake road to the west, drive the mile and a half up the road past the resort and restaurant and park at the parking lot. 
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