Monday, October 19, 2020

Day 60: Strolling along Baker Lake

August 8: It rained a bit during the night, but it was very light and very short. Since I had a mere 7.5 miles to hike today--and I expected it to be mostly flat and easy--I also slept in late and lingered in camp relaxing until 10:20 in the morning. I had hoped the weather would improve, but my hopes were dashed like a gazelle falling prey to a pack of jackals.

It was a dark and gloomy morning! On a clear day (allegedly), Mount Baker would be seen towering over the far side of Baker Lake.

The day's hike was uneventful. I didn't pass very many people along the way--it was too far away from trailheads.

And I arrived at Anderson Point at about 1:30 in the afternoon. It was an absurdly short day and crazy early to quit, but it was the last backcountry campsite until a very long road walk started in a mile or two. I didn't want to camp on a road, so I quit for the day at Anderson Point.

I was immensely disappointed to find the campsites crowded with tons of people, though. Squatters! It looked like most of them hadn't moved the whole day. Probably hiked out the 1.5 miles from the trailhead yesterday with all sorts of luxury items (I'd never seen so many fold-up chairs or giant tents at a backcountry site!) with plans to spend the whole weekend here. It seemed a little unfair that actual hikers get left with scraps.

Eventually I settled on a location facing to the south at the edge of a cliff. It was well away from the main crowds of people (and barking dogs), and a rather nice location with commanding views of Baker Lake--but the location was rather small, definitely unofficial and completely exposed to the wind which was strong.

During the afternoon, the skies finally cleared up with lots of sunbreaks, but the wind continued and caused me to spill my dinner when a wind gust blew it over. It wasn't a big deal, though--just an example of how annoying the wind was.

A little after sunset, the wind finally died down and life was good. =)

This was an interesting find along the trail and, perhaps, a sign of the times. This bottle of hand sanitizer was just resting on this rock in the middle of the trail for no apparent reason. And I found it exactly like this--sitting upright as if it was intentionally placed there.

Just in case you wanted to know what a backcountry toilet looked like. =)

This was the view late in the afternoon from my campsite. =)

Friday, October 16, 2020

Day 59: The Baker Lake Stroll

August 7: It rained a bit during the night, but I had known that was a possibility and rode it out from under the safety of my tarp.

But I slept in surprisingly late, not waking up until 7:00am. I had been tempted to take another soak in the hot spring. I didn't hear any activity from it with the partiers from the evening before long since having gone to sleep. They'll probably be sleeping in for several more hours given how late they were up. But given how late I woke up, I decided to forgo it.

Baker Hot Spring was a lot quieter and nicer in the morning.

Instead, I ate breakfast and packed up to hit the trail. I swung by the hot spring to get photos of it in the light of day rather than the blurry photo I took late the evening before. Only one of the Russians was soaking in it at the time, an older woman who had been there the night before but seemed oddly out of place among all the other younger Russians that had been partying. We chatted for about 10 minutes, and it was a nice conversation. The kind I would have enjoyed last night, in fact.

Then I waved goodbye and hit the trail. By this point, it was already 8:30am. 'Twas a very late start for me! I must have been more worn out from yesterday than I realized.

Today's hike was a positive cake walk. The trail followed what appeared to be an old forest service road, well-maintained and largely flat, before emerging onto an actual forest service road to Baker Lake.

At this point, it was a long road walk--probably close to 10 miles--alongside Baker Lake. The road was mostly gravel but quite busy and although several paid campgrounds were nearby and nearly deserted, the free lake-side camps were packed full with hoards of people.

The views were nice and the route was easy, but I found the traffic a major annoyance.

If Baker Lake didn't exist, the PNT would probably cut right through the middle of it to the other side, but it did exist so the route went around, swinging around the east end of the lake before resuming its westward march.

Baker Lake

The gravel road ended at a large parking lot near the east end of the lake, where I was able to throw out my trash and use the pit toilets.

Then I finally escaped the road walk to find myself on the Baker River Trail. The trail crossed the Baker River over a large suspension bridge, and once again I found myself disappointed that the bridge was solid and didn't move much. I liked the bouncy suspension bridge designs more. =)

As I moved further away from the trailhead, the number of people thinned out and I started enjoying the hike more.

I finally arrived at Noisy Creek Camp where I stopped for the day. I could hear children shouting and a dog barking at the far end of the camp so I set up at an empty location near the entrance.

Next door, a woman who appeared to be camped by herself said that I was welcome to use the bear box in her campsite if I wanted to. I think the bear box was meant to be available for everyone who camped in the area, but it was located in her campsite and it would have otherwise seemed intrusive to walk into it to access the box. I was happy to use the bear box, though, if for no other reason than to protect my food against rodents from getting into it.

We ended up spending much of the evening chatting with each other--the quiet kind of evening I had wanted the night before, in fact. Her name was Valora--or at least that's what it sounded like. It was a name I had never heard of before and I didn't ask how she spelled it. Her job teaching dance, if I remember correctly, was on hold because of Covid-19, so she was spending much of the summer traveling. Her boyfriend was from the Bellingham area so they were visiting the Pacific Northwest for a month or so, although he was busy for a few days so she decided to backpack during that time on her own.

When it started getting dark, though, she retired to her tent and I retired to my tarp. Overall, it was a pretty nice day with my main complaint being the busy traffic on the gravel road along Baker Lake.

The morning was wet from the rain during the night.

This seemed like such a weird place to cut the tree, don't you think? I'd have expected they cut the tree further back so it didn't stick out over the trail. Or maybe not cut it at all since it was so high and easy to walk under. It's like they cut it for no good reason at all, though. It didn't "clear" the trail, but it wasn't really in the way to begin with either, so why bother?

The paid campsites appeared to be largely deserted as far as I could tell.

Swift Creek--I forded this river just yesterday! (Today, I crossed it again, but this time it was over a bridge.) It's an interesting thought to think that if the current had swept me away and drowned me, that my body would have passed by here and ended up in Baker Lake.

Baker Lake

Most of the day's walk looked like this: in the trees along a gravel road along the shore of Baker Lake.

I took a lunch break next to this creek.

Baker River

The Baker River trailhead was packed with vehicles!

Baker River Bridge

View of the Baker River from on top of the bridge that spans it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Day 58: Risking life and limb for a hot spring!

August 6: During the night, there was an extremely light sprinkle, but when I woke up at around 6:00am, things were more-or-less dry. But it wasn't to last. Within a half hour, a steady rain had begun. A cold, wet and miserable rain.

The weather forecast I had seen yesterday predicted rain throughout most of the morning, though, so it wasn't a bit surprise. And I decided to try waiting it out. The weather was expected to improve during the afternoon, and I only needed to hike about 7 or 8 miles to reach my planned destination for the night. Even if I didn't start walking until after noon, I'd still have plenty of time to reach my destination before sunset.

I spent about 20 non-stop hours under the tarp.

Assuming, of course, that the trail wasn't in too bad of shape, but that very well might not be the case. The sign at Heather Meadows suggested overgrown conditions and bushwhacking. I wanted to finish the day at Baker Hot Springs and spend the evening soaking in the warm waters, but it wasn't the end of the world if I didn't make it.

So I read my Kindle for hours on end and practiced reciting all five of the long poems I had memorized to kill the time.

When noon came and went, I was disappointed to see the rain still falling. Another hour passed with no change. But! By around 2:00, the rain had started to taper off. Two o'clock was also my "you gotta get going--rain or not" moment.

So I finally ate breakfast (I hadn't until now, not feeling especially hungry laying around doing nothing) and packed up everything under my tarp. I also packed in case the rain returned, making sure everything that needed to stay dry would stay dry.

And finally, at around 3:00pm, I finally emerged from under my tarp after about 20 non-stop hours stuck underneath it. It felt so good to finally stand up!

Although the rain had finally stopped, the air was thick with moisture and the ground and vegetation was soaked with water.

Swift Creek

I was a bit apprehensive about the trail ahead. My maps showed two potentially dangerous river crossings, but my guidebook mentioned a third one that could potentially be dangerous as well. And it described an overgrown trail that has had little maintenance in the last several years. It might be rough going.

On a nice note, however, the trail I had explored a bit yesterday turned out not to be the PNT at all. In fact, it wasn't a trail at all as far as I could tell. It looked like a trail which is why I followed it, but it ended up petering out into nothing a few minutes up the route because it wasn't an official trail at all. The trail I needed to follow was across Swift Creek and, much to my delight, was obvious.

Which isn't to say that it was in good shape. It definitely was not and was very overgrown in areas and required navigating a multitude of blowdowns, but at least I could see the trail and didn't have to do any route-finding.

The trail was also slick with mud due the rain, and I fell into the mud on more than one occasion. Stupid mud!

The first 'scary' creek crossing, I was relieved, was nothing of the sort. My guidebook warned that it could be "thigh-deep" in a heavy snow year (and it was a heavy snow year, and I was very early in the thru-hiking season since I started at Harts Pass rather than Glacier NP), but I was able to cross the creek by rock hopping. I would say that I didn't even get my feet wet, except they were already soaked from brushing against the vegetation along the trail. (I had, however, put on my waterproof socks which kept my feet warm but not particularly dry.)

The first 'scary' creek crossing wasn't so bad.

But I will say--if the water really had been thigh deep, I would have turned around right then and there because the creek crossing was located at the top of a small waterfall. If you slipped or fell, you'd immediately be thrown over a waterfall to one's death. So I was happy that this crossing wasn't a big deal.

You definitely didn't want to slip and fall
because you'd end up at the bottom of this waterfall!

The second 'scary' river crossing.... was definitely scary. This one crossed Swift Creek which, as its name suggests, was rather swift and generally speaking, about waist deep or higher in most locations. The rain all morning certainly hadn't helped the water levels.

I passed a sign pointing to a ford alternate, and I scrambled down the steep slope to check it out. It looked...bad. I decided to continue on to the main crossing and check it out. If it looked worse than the alternate, I could always backtrack and return to the alternate.

I was stunned when I reached the primary fording location to see a zip line installed! There was a sign warning not to use it because you needed authorization, but it seemed so unfair that there was a safe and simple way to cross such a dangerous creek crossing, but we weren't allowed to use it!

And it's not a matter that I wanted to "follow the rules." It was just that I didn't have the equipment to cross with the zipline. I didn't have a harness or rope that could hold my weight. There was just no way that I could use the zipline to cross the creek with the gear I carried, and I desperately wanted to do that! Why would they go to the effect of building a zipline that nobody can even use? It made no sense to me! It's like they were taunting us!

With the zipline not available as an option, I searched a little bit both up and downstream looking for the safest place to cross and saw something a little way downstream that looked like it had potential.

See the zipline crossing over the creek? It kind of blends in with the trees, but it is visible in the photo.

I waded along the shallow water at the edge of the creek for a closer look, and it still looked like the best option available. It seemed to be no more than about waist-deep at the deepest, and if the current swept me away, there was nothing that looked particularly dangerous further downstream that would kill me. (Such as a waterfall or more difficult rapids.) It was still a dangerous crossing, but I felt confident that it wouldn't kill me. Probably. =)

I did take a few extra precautions, though. I moved my camera and other gear into ziplock bags that were well-secured within my pack. And, most importantly, I took the SPOT device off my pack and attached it directly to myself. If I did get swept downstream and had to ditch my pack, I'd be in a world of trouble. I'd be soaking wet with literally nothing but the clothes on my back. And if I ended up in that kind of situation, having my SPOT device wash downstream with my pack wouldn't do me any good at all. My SPOT device was my lifetime to help, and I'd definitely need it if such a situation developed.

So I attached it securely to myself. I unbuckled the belt on my pack, the better to ditch it if I got swept downstream, then stepped into the river.

The water level grew deeper as I approached the center of the creek. First to my knees. Then to my thighs. The current pulled against my legs, trying to sweep my feet out from under me on the slippery rocks. I faced downstream, the better to keep my balance against the water pushing against the back of my legs.

As the water level deepened, I could no longer see the bottom of the creek through all the sediments and turbidity in the water. I started poking the ground ahead with my trekking pole to get a sense of how deep it was before moving a foot. And I'd make sure my foot had a good, solid footing before repeating the process with the other one.

I was taken by surprise when my trekking pole started vibrating violently, humming. I'd never seen (or rather heard) that happen before. I knew immediately that there was some sort of resonance going on, and images of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge being ripped apart came to mind. It seemed unlikely that the trekking pole was going to fly apart like that, but it would have been catastrophic to lose a trekking pole at this moment and I gripped the trekking pole in both hands like my life depended on it. Because... it did, actually.

There was a large boulder in the middle of the creek, and I maneuvered myself in front of it bringing me relief against the swift current. I was still in thigh-deep water, but the boulder broke the current which surged around both sides of the boulder. I had a chance to release the death-grip on my trekking pole and catch my breath and figure out what I would do next.

I probed the water ahead with my trekking pole, still unable to see the bottom of the creek and discovered the ground under the water sloped a bit, and I had a choice between a shallower route with a faster current or a deeper route with a slower current. I wasn't sure which was the better option but finally decided on the shallower but faster current. It appeared to be about knee-deep and although the current was faster, I felt good that I could keep my footing and make it across. Although the deeper route had a slower current, it wasn't slow. It seemed more likely to carry me off.

I took a death-grip on the trekking pole and stepped out of my safe-haven. I could feel my feet slipping on the creek bottom, and I tried to wedge it into any crevice that my feet could find.

The distance across this fast current of water was only a couple of feet, but it was the most terrifying part of the crossing. I took one step, then another....

And finally, the ground rose and I was through! I took a few more steps behind another large boulder in the river which left a shallow pool of calm water behind it and I shouted with joy. "Yes! I made it! I made it! YES!!!!"

I shouted this, while still standing in the creek. I wasn't actually out yet, but the dangerous part was behind me. At this point, I was standing in maybe 8 inches of calm water. A small kiddie pool of water on the bank of the river.

The shoreline was covered with thick brush and vegetation, so I tried to climb up the large boulder to get out of the creek and found it surprisingly difficult. Eventually I managed, being careful not to slip and fall back into the kiddie pool.

Once I was safely on the other side, I took off my pack and rearranged things again. I pulled out my camera which had been stowed away, and returned my SPOT device to its place on my pack.

Then I continued the hike.


The last potentially dangerous river crossing I wasn't too concerned about since my guidebook said that there was typically a log bridge set up that one could cross on. I hoped that was the case because I really didn't want to do something like this last river crossing again!

And, I'm happy to report, there was, in fact, a log bridge to cross. A cable had been stretched across it to give hikers something to hold onto for balance, but it was a little unnerving to walk across it. The river itself, Rainbow Creek (if I remember correctly), was just as bad as Swift Creek and maybe worse. You definitely did not want to fall into it. But the log crossing was rather high--a fall off of it could potentially be deadly. And the while there was a cable to hold onto, it was very loose and it didn't provide a lot of support. 

I crabbed walked across the log, taking little steps and taking my time. It turned out to be a lot more unnerving that I expected. Not as bad as actually fording the river! But still... not a pleasant experience.

And a short while later, I found myself at the Swift Creek trailhead.

At this point, I veered off trail toward Baker Hot Springs, which was located about 0.6 miles off trail. I normally wouldn't want to walk that much off trail, but for a hot spring, I'd do it!

And I finally arrived at my destination at about 8:00 in the evening. It was by far my latest arrival into a campsite so far this year, but I was a little disheartened with I found about 10 people already soaking in the springs. I passed the trailhead for the hot springs on my way here and there were only two small cars in the parking lot and I couldn't figure out where all these people came from. Surely they couldn't have all fit into two small cars?

Most of them spoke Russian to each other as they drank beer and vaped and I was immensely disappointed. I just wanted a nice, quite evening enjoying the sounds of nature--perhaps a quiet conversation with whoever else was there. Attending a Russian party all night wasn't my idea of a good time.

But still, I was here so I stripped off my clothes and got into the water. Everyone else wore bathing suits, but maybe they'd give me extra space if I were naked. ;o)

Lots of Russians at the hot springs this evening! (Not all of them are in the water when I took this photo, so the group was actually larger than this photo shows.)

Then they pulled out speakers that they attached to a phone and started playing loud music. Ugh.

I couldn't even participate in the conversation with them because they preferred speaking Russian to each other. All-in-all, they basically ruined what could have been an absolutely wonderful evening.

Later in the evening, a few more people arrived to join the party, and a little after it got dark, I pulled myself out and set up camp nearby. Once I was in my sleeping bag and away from the party, my mood improved even though I could still hear the party going on in the distance.

Since it was already quite late at night, I skipped a cooked meal for dinner resorting to a few snacks. Then I brushed my teeth and headed to sleep. I was exhausted!

I took this photo after one of my slips and falls into a puddle of mud.

This rocky section of trail was slow going!

The last 'scary' river crossing at least had this improvised log bridge to help hikers across. A much better option than fording this creek!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Day 57: Strolling along the Mount Baker Hwy

August 5: I had a wonderful night at my campsite at the trailhead. I had been a little concerned that camping at a trailhead would be an annoyance with lots of people coming and going, but after sunset, absolutely nobody came or went and I had the site all to myself. Ironically, I probably would have been more disturbed by others if I had camped at a site further up the trail because there were a lot of other people camping out there! The trailhead I had all to myself! =)

Just beyond the washout, the road was packed with parked vehicles! They were lined up along the side of the road for nearly a mile! But my campsite at the trailhead was completely empty of campers, much to my surprise and delight. =)

I woke at what had become my normal time (about 6:00am) and hit the trail around my normal time (about 7:00am), but unlike on my previous days, today was a long day of road walking.

I started with a 5-mile gravel road, Hannegan Pass Road. When I first started walking, the road wasn't particularly busy with about one vehicle per mile driving up to the trailhead.

Beehives along the road walk. They even put an electrified fence around it! Probably to keep out those pesky bears wanting to steal honey. ;o)

When I passed the Goat Mountain trailhead, I saw a note asking for people to text how many vehicles were in the two nearby parking lots to a number and I thought, does that mean my cell phone works here?! So I pulled out my phone, turned it on and surprise! I got service! 

I went ahead and texted the number of the vehicles (4), and it replied asking if I was willing to answer a few additional questions. It almost felt like I was having a conversation even though I knew everything was automated and pre-programmed. How many people were in my party? (1) How many vehicles did my party bring? (0) I wondered if that was an answer that they had planned for....

I checked the weather forecast and was disappointed to find that rain was supposed to begin during the night and into the morning. It was the first hint of bad weather since re-starting this hike. The 8-day forecast I had checked before leaving at Ross Lake showed no rain at all, but that was 7 days ago. The skies today were clear and blue and there was no hint of rain, but I knew better now. I was glad to know about it too, even if I wasn't excited about it.

I also noted some new bugs had showed up on Atlas Quest, but none of them appeared so serious that it couldn't wait a few more days until I made it into Concrete. Today I did have an opportunity to get off the trail if I needed to. I didn't need to, however, and had planned to hike through without getting off. My hiking through plans were still a go!

I continued my trek, taking a short rest near Ruth Creek a little way before reaching the Mount Baker Highway. The traffic on Hannegan Pass Road picked up throughout the morning, perhaps averaging three or four vehicles for each mile I walked.

I wasn't looking forward to the Mount Baker Highway. I'd be following that paved and relatively busy road for 8 miles, so I took a break just before it with the intention of hiking through the highway portion as quickly as possible with a minimal number of breaks.

Although the road walk was unpleasant, I booked it up the highway at a relatively quick speed and pushed out 12 miles before noon.  The Mt. Baker Highway was all uphill too, climbing thousands of feet in elevation.

Happily, there wasn't any snow on the highway. Not that I expected any in August, but the Mt. Baker Ski Area (which the highway does pass) does hold the world record for most snowfall ever recorded in a single season at 95 feet (29 meters). That's a heck of a lot of snow! 

The Mt. Baker Ski Area currently holds the record for the most snow in a single season: 95 feet (29 meters) during the 1998–99 season. But there's no snow now!

Speaking of the ski area, all of the buildings in the area were being worked on. Workers doing some sort of work on the ski lifts. Another building I saw being painted. Another one was surrounded by vehicles doing other kind of work I could only imagine. It was definitely maintenance season at the ski area. I was a little disappointed about this because I thought that maybe I could walk behind one of the buildings to get off the road for a break along the road walk, but the workers thwarted that plan.

The road walk ends at Heather Meadows which was packed with seemingly hundreds of day hikers. I could understand why--the views there were expansive and gorgeous! But the hoards of people I could have done without.

The views around Heather Meadows were fantastic! This is Mount Shuksan.

I stopped again for another break at the Lake Ann Trailhead where I finally escaped the masses of day hikers of Heather Meadows before beginning my long descent toward Concrete. From this point, it was almost entirely downhill (or flat) all the way into Concrete which I expected to reach in another three days.

I passed one set of hunters walking around with their riffles. I was surprised to see them--I didn't realize that it was hunting season--but as it turned out, it was bear hunting season and they were hunting bears.

I reached the junction with Swift Creek Trail having completed over 18 miles--and it wasn't even 5:00 in the evening yet! I was pretty happy with my progress and was tempted to push onward a bit more and get some more miles in before the rain arrived, but decided to stop. I didn't want to overdo it, and I wasn't sure if there were better campsites available further up the trial within the next few miles. 

The trail junction itself would have made a wonderful place to cowboy camp, but knowing that rain was in the forecast, I selected a location hidden among the brush that was less exposed. I also looked for a location where the ground wouldn't send a river of water under my tarp nor pool to form a water bed under my groundsheet. It was supposed to rain, so I picked my location accordingly.

I felt good. My feet weren't causing me any trouble, and everything had been going according to plan since I hit the trail at Ross Lake, but I was a little concerned about tomorrow. My guidebook mentioned three potentially dangerous river crossings--and rain overnight definitely wasn't going to make them any safer! I also scouted up the trail a bit and found it very difficult to follow about 5 minutes up the trail.

Tomorrow, I was certain, was going to be a pretty miserable day and I wasn't looking forward to it.

Goat Mountain Trailhead

A citizen science project! Which I was happy to contribute to. =)

The Mount Baker Highway was the worst part of today's hike, but that didn't mean there weren't any views or flowers that could still be enjoyed. =)

Glad I didn't have to carry chains! =)

Mount Baker Ski Area

Lots of work being done on the ski area structures.

Even the ski lifts were getting some sort of work done on them.

Mount Shuksan in all its glory!

There were lots of people around Heather Meadows, but I did a pretty good job of cropping out most of them from my photos. =)

The part I dreaded was the section that reads: Take the Swift Creek Trail toward the Baker Lake basin but note that creek crossings along Swift Creek Trail may not have trail bridges in place. Stream depth fluctuates depending upon snowmelt, recent rainfall and time of day. The Swift Creek Trail through hike to the Baker Lake basin is not recommended for inexperience backcountry travelers, as orienteering may be challenging and terrain more difficult to navigate.

Even though the late afternoon was still clear and beautiful, I knew the weather forecast called for rain starting in the night so I set up my tarp. All set! But I was dreading tomorrow....