Camp Lake, Emigrant Wilderness (Day 156)

Today was the first of a three-day backpacking trip with my swim buddies—Angie, Arwen, and Sheila—and our families. I had booked a permit for Desolation Wilderness last fall, a place Kevin, Eliza, Hazel, and I backpacked a couple of years ago. We had such a spectacular trip that I came home and booked it again for the following year. When that trip was canceled because of wildfires, I rebooked for this June and invited the swimming gang to join us. Visions of swimming around Lake of The Woods danced through my head.

Hazel and Eliza swimming in Lake of the Woods July 2020

But a few days ago, as we were attempting to get organized for the trip, we realized there was still snow on the ground in Desolation Wilderness with the potential for more on the way. It suddenly seemed like too much for our group, several of whom were skeptical about the whole notion of backpacking. We scrambled for other ideas and that’s when I remembered a backpacking trip in Emigrant Wilderness to Bear Lake that my family had planned to take, but had to cancel when Covid closed everything down. 

So we rerouted and headed to Emigrant Wilderness in the Stanislaus Forest, which butts up against Yosemite and shares that wilderness’s glaciated granite terrain speckled with lakes, meadows, and pine forests. It was raining when we arrived at the Crabtree Camp trailhead, but even the most skeptical of us shed our reservations when we stepped onto the path; smitten by the smell of wet earth and pine trees, the sounds of rushing water, the misty shroud of clouds through which the forest looked magical. 

As is often the case on unfamiliar trails, especially when carrying a heavy pack, you feel like you’ve walked many more miles than you actually have. Our plan was to stop for lunch at Camp Lake, which was about two miles in, and when we arrived at a body of water, I assumed this small, mossy pond was our destination.

We reunited with the kids who’d hiked ahead and were sheltering under a boulder eating their lunches and joined them for some soggy food, getting progressively wetter as the rain intensified. 

By the time I started walking again I was getting chilly and began to dread my swim. I pictured arriving at Bear Lake cold, needing to set up camp before I did any swimming. I imagined no one was going to want to go with me.

So what a delight when we turned a corner and arrived at the real Camp Lake. Nestled amongst boulders the still water mirrored the pine trees and glowed with a greenish silvery light.

“I’m tempted,” Sheila said. “I’d love to swim in the rain.”


Soon we were stripping off our clothes and sliding into the clear, cold water. Cold, but not too cold. It was impossibly clear, pristine, and fresh, and swimming around naked in the rain in the middle of all that beauty was an incredible feeling.

We swam for nearly a half hour and could have kept going, but we didn’t want to risk getting too cold. The rain stopped for a little while and the sun came out making the lake gleam like it was filled with jewels. An exquisite yellow bird with a flash of red alit on a branch hanging over the water and it seemed as if we were in paradise. 

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