Kindness of strangers. Beware of that. It will get you to do things you never intended to do. They just cannot help themselves. They are everywhere pointing, advising, probing. Like when I try to keep up with Natalia hiking to the Ice Lake. I am clearly having a bad hiking day. Huffing and puffing I am dragging my body up. And up. These are real mountains. Not like Green Mountains in Vermont. Or Catskills. Or Adirondacks.
We started kind of late and I am a bit worried about getting back before it gets dark. When Natalia inquired in the BLM office they told her 90 minutes. Which we thought we could do in 1 hour, since this is usually how it translates. Strangely in the States all the hiking trails, if they are marked at all, only have lengths. Unless something changed recently in Polish mountains they give you times. So the trail might be 2 hours in one direction and 1 hour on the way back. Here 2 miles can mean anything from leisurely 40 minutes stroll to leg killing, lung emptying, sweat producing 2 painful hours. Which is what we are in the middle of now. And we are already hiking/climbing for over an hour and there is no lake in sight.
It's not like the view is not pretty. Alpine valley, green meadows, waterfalls, pinkish peaks on the horizon. Finally we see someone coming down. I try to compose myself to be able to utter perfunctory hellos and howareyous. The guy cannot be older than 20 and - of course - not looking tired at all, stops by and smiles encouragingly as we hike passed him. He wants to know how much longer we intend to go up. I look at my watch and it seems we have to turn back soon as the sun is getting close to setting. I tell him that. His body language changes. We should not give up now he says. We absolutely have to go to the lake. That's what I was worried about. Kind strangers. They mean well. He proceeds to describe the lake, how blue it is, how serene and perfect the valley looks from up there. So now I know, we'll have to hike up. I resist the urge to push the kid over the edge of the trail. He looks compact but might be stronger than he appears and I am not known to get into a fight with people like that. So I thank him profusely. Yes. We will check it out. Even if we later get eaten by bears and marmots. Do marmots eat hikers? I know bears do. They must. How else can they grow that big?
Natalia wants to know how much longer. 10 minutes she asks. The guy smiles. More like 20 I offer. He says: if you go really fast. And then he proceeds to run down. Run! So exactly 40 minutes later, 2 hours and 2500 ft after we left our car (this is probably our personal best by the way) we arrive at the lake. And it is worth it. Might be less dramatic than Tatra's Marine Eye. But Tatras are my first love and no other mountains will ever compare. But it is just as the stranger described. Impossibly blue - which has to be the result of some mineral salts since the sky does not look blue at all. Impossibly calm. Large. I wish we could stay and admire.
Switchbacks on the way back are not easier. At least one does not sweat that much. There is more wildlife to be seen but not many hikers so I cannot take my sweet revenge and send them up to face the certain death. It takes us nearly as much time to get down as we climbed.It gets dark right after we get into the car. We don't dare to try any roads out of Silverton in the dark. They actually close the highway to Ouray after 8pm: supposedly to fix it but probably they don't want anyone to end up in the unprotected canyon.
So thank you all the perfect strangers we've met on the trails this summer. We would not do it without you. There is only a minuscule chance we will ever meet again: you can sleep in peace.