Icy Black Lake awaits at the end of a five-or-six-hour hike on a snowy trail

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Nora the Schnauzer briefly tests the ice at Black Lake, near Anthony Lakes.

A steady breeze soughing through the fir and spruce trees kept total silence at bay.


I looked across the 15-foot-wide sheet of thin ice at Black Lake and understood the name’s origin.


The water, reflecting the dark evergreens lining its shores, looked black.


I called Nora the Schnauzer back when she stepped onto the ice, heading east.


"You fall in, and it could be bad," I said.


Thinking she could be thirsty, I removed the camera bag, unhooked the drinking tube of the so-called "hydration system," and shed the pack.


I opened the water container and set it in front of her nose. She sniffed the water, looked at me and walked away.


I shrugged. Having offered water, I couldn’t make her drink.


I fished one of her treats from the pack and said her name. She looked at my hand and hurried back.


The snack disappeared with limited chewing.


After two hours in the snow, she deserved a treat. I moved a cold PowerBar from the pack to my pocket to warm it.


The thermometer tied to the camera bag said 34 degrees (at about 7,200 feet altitude).


Thick ice covered a tiny stream we had passed. I saw no thawing anywhere.


Yet, I heard running water under the ice in some spots. And water, with icy filigree at its edges, trickled over some rocks.


For much of the summer, I had pondered a hike around the 8.5-mile Elkhorn Crest Trail, for the reputed knockout scenery and to photograph the mountain goats.


Finally, I decided to go before snow scotched the idea until next summer.


I had checked the Internet for the Anthony Lakes ski area’s report of snow conditions before leaving home. None lay on the open slopes.


Some, however, lay in the woods.


Oh, well.


We had arrived at Anthony Lakes with a 30-degree temperature before 9 a.m.


I stopped at the official trailhead parking area for the Elkhorn Crest Trail.


From a map found on the Internet (http://www.oregon.com/Hike_Anthony_Lake), I deduced that parking on the south side of Anthony Lake would cut about half a mile from the last leg of the hike.


It added the half a mile to the first leg, of course.


Anyway, we parked beside the lake. Nora dashed about in the scattered patches of snow while I geared up with two cameras (including a long lens and a wide-angle lens), the day pack and the bamboo walking stick.


Ten minutes later, with snow almost over my boots in the shadow of Gunsight Mountain, I thought of the gaiters.


We had nearly equal distances back to the car on the 1-mile trail around the lake.


So, we circled the lake, and I took photos of the looming mountain with its thin blanket of snow.


Then, with the gaiters over my boots, we headed out again.


Nearly halfway around Anthony Lake again, we headed east on the trail to Black Lake, a mile away according to the sign.


The snow grew deeper on the ascending shady trail, but Nora’s excitement failed to wane.


She sniffed among the bushes, and I passed her. In a minute she galloped past me, her ears flapping and her feet kicking up snow.


She led the way when I paused to study deer (or goat?) tracks in the snow. When I looked up, a camouflaged man stood less than 10 feet ahead.


He cradled an expensive hunting rifle with a telescopic sight across his chest with his left hand.


Startled, I stepped back, breathed again and apologized for Nora as she stood against his leg and tried to pull off his glove.


He rubbed her chin with his right hand.


"That’s OK," he said. "My dog loves my socks."


He said Nora had run up to greet him on the trail.


I asked if he’d had any luck.


"I’ve seen deer tracks, bear tracks, cougar tracks and squirrel tracks with squirrels in them," he said and chuckled.


But no deer and no goats, he said as he peered over his rim-less glasses.


He had been to Black Lake. He said the trail didn’t get any better.


As he left, he suggested that I keep Nora close lest a cougar grab her.


"You need a walking stick," he said.


Darn!


Yes, I did. I’d left mine at the car when I fetched the gaiters.


Drat!


We moved on, and I called Nora back when she wandered too far ahead.


The trail split, and we climbed half a mile up to Black Lake.


As I said, it looked black.


When we came back, we turned east again, and south, toward Dutch Flat Saddle, three miles away.


We didn’t make it. Too much snow with icy footing.


After another half an hour, we headed back.


We came out at the parking area half a mile from the car at 12:22.


After a pause at the car, we started up the steep half-a-mile trail to Hoffer Lakes. I figured it would take a half hour.


More than an hour later we reached the lakes, walked around, took photos and headed back.


Slipping and sliding, we reached the car one more time in 18 minutes.


Overall, we spent five or six hours on snowy trails and walked less than four miles from the car.


With Nora in the sun-warmed car, I pondered our outing while water boiled for hot chocolate. It was probably a good thing that we didn’t continue walking around the mountain.


It could have taken two days.


Or more.


Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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