Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Lemonade Hike

It is a rite of passage at camp.   Described falsely at the front desk as "a moderate 2 mile hike" and accurately elsewhere as strenuous and steep*, it starts out almost quaintly with a hidden little trail post behind a tiny woodland church just off the shore of Fallen Leaf Lake.    As you pass quickly through ferns and lush trees, chatting amiably with your companions at how nice it is to be out of the city and away from it all in nature, the greenery suddenly drops away and you find yourself clambering up shale and slippery rock switchbacks in full sun.

Hike to Angora Lake at EveryTrail

Breathing becomes labored, despite weekly kickboxing sessions, and pleasantries go by the wayside.  Another switchback.  No shade.  Still climbing.  Man, this sucks.   Pant.  Pant.  Turn sharply.  Climb.  Wipe brow copiously.  Steal sidelong glances at companions to make sure everyone else is just as miserable.   Cover exhaustion quickly with call to admire view of the lake way below you, sparkling in the relentless sun.  Turn. Climb. Pant.  Now want nothing more than to reach shade of giant boulders and scrub pine far above.   Regret bacon omelet.  Reach shady part.  Rejoice fleetingly, as switchbacks continue unabated.   Recall too late that you are heading for Angora Ridge, and that the word "ridge" is rarely applied to gently accessible hilltops.  Another great photo op seems to be in order.   Pant.

Eventually, blessedly, the path levels out, trees thicken about you and a breeze springs up.   The crowd is once again conversational, almost jubilant with the achievement of gaining 1000 feet of elevation in about a mile and a half.   You are super hiking ex-suburbanites.   In fact, "mountaineers" might not be putting too fine a point on it.   Your steps are cushioned by a layer of pine needles and soft earth, comfy and cool.   The path curves, and abruptly opens out to reveal...

A parking lot.  A bathroom.  Toddlers with inflatable rings around their middles.   Dogs on leashes.  Couples with coolers, beach chairs and picnic baskets.    Something between blind rage and dejection brings tears to your eyes.

"People drove here?  Are you KIDDING me?"

One of the many signs of civilization you will see in the parking lot.  Probably the only U.S. Forest Service sign in the country to utilize the international symbol for lemonade. 

You cross the asphalt, joining the stream of families heading up the gently sloped sandy trail, feeling a bit ridiculous in your dust coated socks and perspiration-stained clothes.

But it hardly matters anymore...the switchbacks, the heat stroke, the oxygen deprivation all behind you now.   Just ahead is a gorgeous, deep blue alpine lake beneath a granite mountain peak.  A sandy beach with a few scattered cabins dotting the shore.   And a shingled wooden hut with a swinging screen door where a cheerful older couple greets newcomers with a smile.

"Oh, my!  Looks like you had a long hike.  Good for you.  So, will you be having a glass or a pitcher today, folks?"

A pitcher please!

The Famous Angora Lakes Lemonade

Plenty of fresh mountain spring water

Boil equal parts water and sugar together for 5 minutes in a small saucepan, remove from heat, and allow to cool completely.  This makes a simple syrup that can be used to sweeten drinks of all kinds.  Feel free to make ahead and keep a supply on hand in the fridge.  When someone wants lemonade, squeeze the lemons right then.    Strain, then combine lemon juice, simple syrup, and ice cold spring water.     The proportions will vary based on the number of servings you're making, the flavor of today's lemons, and your personal taste, but when you get the mix right, it will be the best, most refreshing drink you've had in a long time***.

To enjoy fully, drink when completely wiped out and elated at the same time, preferably at a lakeside table outdoors on a crystal clear day. 

* I quote: "Clark Trail. Strenuous. Elevation 6420' / 7470'  For the more adventurous, this strenuous hike can provide some solitude. Traversing through loose shale up a steep grade, the trail ends at Angora Lakes."   The trail is also next to last on a list of South Lake hikes "in order of difficulty."
** This year, I confess, we drove the kids up on our way out of camp.   Mother nature was not happy that we cheated, and made it snow just as we got out of the car.   In August.  We still drank every last drop of lemonade.

*** When we asked for the recipe, the Angora lady was kind enough to share their process with us, but she did insist that the real secret is the alpine water.   Unless you get your water from 7500 feet above sea level, results may vary.

Note: Image with view of Fallen Leaf Lake from this website.

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