Description: Holly Lake, 13.0 miles RT, 8 hours, 2900 ft total climbing, STRENUOUS

I work at 5pm every day this workweek but one. That means I could sleep in ’til ten, laze til lunch, and laze til it’s time to head into work. Or… I could wake up early and actually get a good amount of hiking in. Yesterday I chose the later.

My roommate had just hiked Holly Lake the previous day, and described it to me that night. I liked the sound of the scenery, length, and elevation gain – it sounded challenging but doable for my time limit. I set out all of my hiking things, set my alarm, and slid onto my keychain the borrowed key to a friend’s car.

The next day (Tuesday morning) I was at breakfast at eight, where I made a PB&J sandwich and filled my liter-and-a-half worth of water bottles. I drove to the String Lake trailhead and began hiking at nine.

Sure does look short on the map!

Holly Lake is a portion of one of the most popular hikes in the park – the Paintbrush-Cascade loop. You head up Paintbrush Canyon and come back down Cascade (or vice versa). You’ll hike about 20 miles and climb 5,000 feet overall. That hike is on my to-do list, probably for an overnight trip.

As I left the shore of String Lake and ventured onto the feet of the mountains, the elevation gain was constant yet gradual.

Non-human tracks!

Something large skittered away in the woods as I passed, and that reminded me to make a little noise, since I was hiking alone and my roommate had just seen a bear on that hike the day before. I did have some borrowed bearspray with me, just in case.

Along String Lake

The day was perfect. Cloudy, so not too hot, yet it never rained or even threatened to. Some friends that had hiked Holly Lake several weeks before said they had to turn around due to the large snowfields. I encountered only one notable patch of snow, and had to hike on it for no longer than 70 feet.

Me. Pre-sweatiness, messy hair, weary look, and sunburnt neck.

I took the trail at a leisurely pace, enjoying the day and hiking alone. I paused at one spot and took a couple pictures of myself with the self-timer. I had not seen a single hiker yet, so there was no one but the squirrels to watch me dumbly scurrying back and forth.

Still jumping onto the stump – the camera was too fast for me!

What kind of smile is that? Forget this, let’s move on..

Log-sitting. Note bearspray.

And posing with large walking stick

More posing with awesome stick

Than two elderly ladies came up the trail, so I bade a hasty farewell to my walking stick that had so grandly volunteered to pose with me and continued marching down the trail, trying not to look as though I had just been doing anything silly, such as taking pictures of myself…

The ladies and I played a bit of leapfrog as we snapped pictures of wildflowers. After passing through the Paintbrush Camping Zone the scenery began to change, becoming more open, rocky, the mountains stretching above on both sides. Jackson Lake appeared below in miniature.

Brief Snowfield

Jackson Lake.

Signal Mountain Lodge?

As I reached a rocky section and was beginning to wonder just how many miles I had left, I met some hikers that had camped overnight and were on their way down. The first group gave me an estimate of 2 miles to Holly Lake, the second group guessed 1 1/4 miles. I had set a goal for myself, that I would not eat lunch except at Holly Lake. And as 11 o’clock and then noon came around, my stomach and my mind were grumbling. A mile and a quarter! What a joke. Just around the next bend? Riiiiigghht.

My legs were feeling pretty drained, but finally I came to a signpost that told me I had another half mile to the lake. I can do this, I told myself, and continued on. By now I was pretty much just plodding. One foot in front of the other – I didn’t let myself stop. The scenery was beautiful – open, lush greenery made inviting banks for noisy brooks that curled and wandered.

So many brooks, so much green

I passed by the three rangers I had seen earlier. They were lounging on the grass, munching on lunch with their boots and hats off. My feet told me to stop in this paradise, my mind stubbornly insisted I would eat lunch at Holly Lake and nowhere else.

It was the longest half mile ever.

12:30pm, I reached Holly Lake.

Not too amazing compared to the things I had just hiked past, but very peaceful.

I began to walk around the lake to scout out a good place to eat, but met with a large swarm of bugs. I hastily retreated back to a rock by the lake that was warm and amazingly comfortable.

Hurrah for food!

I only wish I had packed two PB&J! Regardless, the food tasted great and my legs were glad for the rest.

The two old ladies made it to the lake only a half hour after me.

My stomach filled and my legs rested, I washed my feet off than laced my boots back on and began the hike down. Glorious downhill! I am thankful that I am young and my ankles & knees give out minimal complaints. I know, I know, I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

I hardly took any pictures on the way down and saw little of note except for a fox trotting across the trail with what looked like a dead rabbit in his mouth. Accidentally took the wrong fork during the last mile and had to backtrack a bit, but still made it back to Signal Mountain in time for a quick shower and 10 minutes of chowing before… work! I worked from 5pm-11pm in the Trapper Grill.

So, except for perhaps an hour and half for driving and mealtimes, I was constantly on my feet and moving from 9am-11pm. My legs ached throughout my shift and my stomach hurt since I did not have time to eat enough. For the first ever since being here, I came back to my dorm room after work, brushed my teeth, changed into pajamas, and went to bed.

This morning I slept in and woke slightly sore, slightly sunburnt on my neck, and slightly the wiser as to how much I should physically do before work. Am I glad I did the hike? Exceedingly. Will I do it again? Mmm… maybe once my memory of certain parts of it fades a bit more, leaving only the memory of how beautiful it was. 😉

What am I doing today before work? Nothing!! 🙂

The rest of the pictures are below.

Sorry for the blurriness in the macro pictures – my camera has to be coaxed to focus and even then… probably due to when I dropped it in the snow during Muir. 😛