The Lake in the Photo
A Mystery Solved by Chance
Story and Photos by Mike Cothern
Just one more lake,” I thought while dropping my backpack to the ground. The storm clouds that had been forecasted to bring precipitation in the form of rain and then snow looked like they might not let loose for a few more hours. My October trip was also the last chance of the season to push deep into the mountains—and it unfortunately held the distinction of being the first such hike. I felt compelled to make the most out of what time remained. Walking into any central Idaho mountain range is cause for celebration, and this basin perched high in the White Clouds had given me plenty of opportunity for that. How could I stand along the edge of an alpine lake beneath a crest of limestone peaks and not feel elevated? And in the last twenty-four hours that scene had unfolded not just once but six times.
Mountain outings often contain an extra reward when the setting enables me to relive a past trip shared with family. These lakes at the source of Big Boulder Creek were only a handful of miles away from another set I had visited with family in the 1970s and then partly retraced on a solo trip thirty years later (see “Surrounded in the Clouds,” September 2012). But the motive for this trip, other than the pleasure of connecting with a wild landscape, came from a different place. I needed to escape. My eighty-nine-year-old mother had died a year earlier, and since that time my wife, a sister, and I had been immersed in the process of settling her estate. At best, the endeavor had been slow and tedious. Throw a family farm and a disruptive sibling into the mix, and the unfinished project had become something to flee from. So I did.