Saturday, October 1, 2011

By Gully, We'll Beat the Storm!

Ron takes my pack to the bottom of the cliff.
You can see the rope still attached to it.
We left last time with a cliff-hanger--our struggling heroes, Ron and I, looking over a small cliff hanging over the South Fork of the Toutle River, wondering how safe it would be getting down.

I suggested that we could lower our packs with rope, then we could navigate the treacherous scramble unencumbered. Ron pulled out some rope and went down, making it look easy. I threw our trekking poles down to him first, then lowered my pack which he grabbed onto and moved it to a safe spot. I had to be careful lowering my pack--I didn't want to lose control of it winding up with rope burns on my hands or knocking Ron out with it. =) I put on my gloves to help alleviate the rope burn problem, and wound the rope around a tree and my arm a few times to spread out the frictional forces slowing the backpack's descent, and it went well. I repeated the process with Ron's pack--which felt quite a bit heavier than my own pack, but then it was encumbered by the weight of a wedding dress that my pack didn't have. =)

When all of the gear had been lowered, I released the rope and lowered myself down into the ravine. We'd made it. Well, we made it down, at least. We still had to get back up the other side, but it wasn't nearly as vertical as the way down. Yep, we'd be fine.... =)

The river looked just wide enough that jumping across would be difficult and I decided to plow right through getting my feet wet. Ron, on the other hand, saw a small rock in the middle of the river and figured he could use that to get halfway across, then hop on to the far side. I wished him luck, but secretly, I wanted him to fail. I took out my camera and prepared myself in case of failure. I was going to make sure him falling into the river was going to be well-documented.

Ron thinks he can cross the South Fork of the Toutle River without getting his feet wet....
He made one large step to the rock, then stopped--straddling half the river. I wasn't sure if he'd have enough momentum to get the other foot onto the rock or not, and backing up would not be an option anymore. He floundered around, but eventually pulled himself up onto the rock. "Very good, Ron," I thought, "but that was the shorter step." And he barely made it.

Okay, you got one foot halfway across. Now what? =)
Ron tested the depth of the water ahead of him with his trekking pole. It appeared to be about knee deep. Not dangerous, but deeper than where I crossed the river. Once again, he took another large step to the other side of the river, and once again stopped--straddled halfway across the river. And once again, he floundered around for awhile, clearly trying to get a grip on the situation.
Woo-who! You made it halfway! And didn't even overshoot and
land face first in the river. Good job!

Click! Click! Click! I was working my camera hard.

"Come on, Ron! You're gonna go in! Just do it and get it over with," I shouted, encouraging him. If I was not around to encourage him, who would? =)

Yeah, deep right there, isn't it? Well, what are you going to do?
He continued floundering around, for nearly two minutes, before he finally pushed himself off the rock....

...and his one leg went into the river. Yep, no avoiding it. His other leg made it to the shore, however, and he seemed pleased that he only had to get one foot wet crossing the river.

Are you going to stand there all day like that? Oh, go on, just put your
foot in the water and get it over with. =)
We quickly scrambled back up the other bank--which was a heck of a lot easier than going down--and found a side trail to Sheep Canyon. Our guidebook suggested a good campsite could be found in that direction, so we followed it to a beautiful site along a creek. When we arrived, two day hikers were there--where they came from, we weren't sure. They suggested that they were going around Mount St. Helens clockwise, but clearly they didn't have enough gear to go completely around the mountain.

Ron makes a valiant attempt at crossing the river, but alas, he's going in....
Unfortunately, my camera can only take about one photo every three seconds and
he was already out of the water before my camera was ready for another photo.
So this photo of the toes of one foot in the water is the last one I got before
the afternoon's entertainment was over.
They didn't stick around long, though, and Ron and I set up camp. I laid down and rested. I was tired. Woke up early, hiked long and hard, and the crossing of the South Fork of the Toutle River wore me out. I was exhausted. Ron went off to take more pictures of himself in his wedding dress as I napped.

Ron climbs out from the gully, which was
considerably easier than getting into it!
The campsite was nice, but I complained to Ron about there being too many trees. I wanted to sleep under the stars--I love sleeping under the stars--and we had finally cleared the blast zone and were now surrounded by giant trees everywhere. I would have been thrilled to stop and camp before leaving the blast zone--that Toutle River crossing pretty much marks the boundary of the blast zone--but all camping is strictly prohibited in the blast zone. Nope, if we had stopped earlier, we'd have been camping illegally, and I do try to follow the rules when I can. But still, I would have preferred a campsite out of the trees. Ron seemed to love the trees, however.

We woke bright and early the next morning planning another long day that would cover about 16 miles--slightly more than halfway around the mountain. Our goal for day two was to loop as far around the mountain as possible and set up camp as close to the restricted camping zone on the other side of the mountain.

Immediately, the trail climbed up the South Fork of the Toutle River, gaining all of the elevation we lost the day before and then some. On the climb, I saw a pack resting by the side of the trail, alone and abandoned. Hmm... Yep, there it was--a bare butt, about 30 feet off the trail, facing in my direction. The morning constitutional. I decided to push on without saying hi. It probably wouldn't have made anyone very comfortable to be surprised by me walking up behind him. =)

Climbing back up above tree line, looking across
the canyon with the Toutle River.
Another couple of hundred feet up the trail, I found another hiker sitting on the side of the trail. Obviously, the hiking companion of the fellow doing his business in the woods. I sat down on a nearby log and introduced myself. They were going in the same direction as us, around the mountain, but they started at June Lake and intended to finish their hike this afternoon. They camped right next to the river crossing which is why we never saw them at the site we camped at, but they must have been behind us on the trail or we would have seen them after crossing the river. Hiking in the same direction, I expected we'd be crossing paths with each other most of the afternoon.

Several minutes later, the companion joined us, and I swear to God--he looked just like an image of Jesus. Long, brownish-blonde hair with a full beard and mustache. But the thing that really got me was the staff. He didn't carry a hiking pole or a stick improvising as a hiking pole--he carried a staff! Except for the technical clothes, he looked exactly like the images of Jesus you see just about everywhere.

"Holy cow! I just caught Jesus taking a dump!"

I kind of felt sorry for these poor,
lonely flowers in the morning sunlight.
I kept my thoughts to myself, however. Well, these thoughts, at least. =)

And if this was Jesus, then I must have been talking to one of his disciples this whole time. I wonder which one.... They all kind of look the same to me.

Ron walked up mere seconds after Jesus. I left camp before him and had a several minute head-start on him. Now that he was caught up and Jesus was done taking care of business, all four of us continued the relentless climb up the mountain with Ron and I pulling ahead of Jesus and Disciple.

The trail finally reached treeline at which point it stopped climbing elevation and started following the contours around the mountain again. The next mile or so was wonderfully flat with great views above treeline. I expected this terrain to last several miles, but much sooner than I expected, we were once again crashing back into the woods and down the mountain along a big canyon. Clearly, the trail was headed to a better place to cross safely, but I was annoyed. My map didn't show this detour down the mountain again. I think there was a reroute--a trail clearly used to go straight at one point but had been rerouted down the mountain. When did the reroute happen? How long was the reroute? We didn't know. We already had a long day of hiking planned, and this reroute was not making things any better for us.

Another gully to traverse. These gullies were really starting to annoy me....
Ultimately, the reroute probably took us a good one or two miles out of our way, and once again we had to scramble through the gully at the bottom of the canyon. Nothing near as challenging as the South Fork of the Toutle River, but an annoying detour no matter how you looked at it. Once we crossed, we headed back up the other side and returned to the treeline. ARGH!

We didn't see any cairns marking this route across the gully, so Wassa Jr
starts to build one himself!
The next couple of miles were absolutely wonderful. Green grasses, and the first hazy sighting of Mount Hood to the south. The walking was fast and easy, and the trail crossed by a few patches of snow. SNOW! *shaking head* Snow.....

We passed a few more day hikers along the trail, all of them warning us about a storm that was headed our way. Which wasn't a surprise--the last time I checked the weather before leaving Seattle, there was a 60% chance of rain Sunday. Today was Saturday--the first day of fall and last day we could expect nice weather. But it seemed like every day hiker described the impending storm as growing larger and worse with each passing hour. The first day hiker described, "Rain tomorrow." The next day hiker described a "storm" headed our day. Then they were describing a "big" storm. And then a "huge storm." Yeah, thanks for trying to cheer us up, folks! =)

Wow--what a view! This is what I live for!
Ron asked me if I thought it was just scare-mongering. Probably some of it, but there was definitely a change coming. That's what the weather forecast I saw said the day before. Probably lots of rain, but I didn't otherwise think much of it. Rain isn't fun, but it wasn't going to kill us either.

At the next trail junction, I saw two hikers sprawled out, resting. These two, clearly, were not mere day hikers. They had packs the size of Texas. I saw three large boxes of Wheat Thins resting outside of one of the packs, and the one fellow had a ZipLock bag of what appeared to be Jelly Bellies. If I had to guess, there must have been at least five pounds of Jelly Bellies in that bag. It was enormous!

Snow, for Pete's sake! Snow!
I stopped and introduced myself, learning that they had just started their round-the-mountain hike that morning from the Climbers Bivouac, heading clockwise. I probably wouldn't see them again, unless it was on the opposite side of the mountain.

Ron caught up quickly and we chatted for a bit before they moved on. Ron and I rested a little longer--we intended to take a break here even before we knew about the other hikers. After they left, Ron turned to me: "Did you see the size of their packs?!"

And I couldn't help but laugh. Yes, I noticed that before I had even said hi. "Did you see the three--THREE!--large boxes of Wheat Thins the one fellow had? And the entire box?! They didn't even repack it!"

I wondered if they had ever been on a backpacking trip before. They had some of the largest packs I've ever seen--and I've seen a lot of people with over-weighted packs before. Ron started referring to them as the Wheat Thin Boys, and that became their nickname--unbeknownst to them--for the rest of the trip. =)

The ancient lava flows I found rather easy to walk on, but the going was slow.
The trail quickly cut into some old lava flows--large, broken rocks where we often lost the trail. The trail was marked by large plastic poles and wooden posts along these sections, and we'd scramble over the rocks from one pole or post to the next. It was beautiful, and while hiking along it was slow going, but it was easy going too. The rocks were solid and generally didn't jiggle or move, and my shoes stuck to the rough surfaces like glue. No slipping on these rocks! But the going was slow, and I was growing increasingly frustrated at our time. We left camp later than I expected. The detour on the trail slowed down the next segment. And now this. At the rate we were going, I was growing increasingly concerned that we wouldn't make our campsite until after sunset.

Wooden posts marked the trail through the lava flows, and
Mount Adams rises in the background.
Not much to do about that except push onward.

I started growing increasingly concerned about the lack of water. My topo map showed half a dozen streams crossing the trail, but they were all dry when we passed. I wasn't terribly worried--while I had originally planned to fill up with water at any creeks we passed along the way, I knew with absolute certainty we could get water at June Lake--slightly more than halfway through our hike for the day. But it was a quarter mile off the trail, and I didn't want to walk a quarter mile off the trail for water.

Somewhere, a forest is burning.....
We looped around the south side of the mountain, passing Jesus and Disciple multiple times along the way, then they'd pass us again. In the distance, Mount Adams rose above the horizon--majestic and towering above everything around it. Between Mount Hood and Mount Adams we could see a wildfire burning out of control. Exactly where it was we didn't know, nor did any of the hikers we passed. I wondered if it was burning on the PCT--perhaps somewhere near Indian Heaven, but I never did learn the source of the fire. The wind blew the smoke from the fire in front of Mount Adams, creating a hazy and less-than-perfect photo op. Drats.

You'd be surprised at the number of snakes we found along the trail. I saw four of them!
This is the only one I got a photo of, however.
Finally, at Swift Creek, we reached a drinkable water source. We would not have to make the extra side-trip to June Lake for water. *whew* We stopped to eat lunch here, then continued on.

Near the junction for June Lake, I noticed the clouds coming in. A thick layer of them, blotting out the entire blue sky to the west. The storm was a coming. And it was coming in faster than I expected.

Swift Creek, going over a cliff.
Onward we pushed, trying to reach camp before dark. The clouds raced over us, pushing to the east, and I noticed some of the clouds in the distance were actually dropping rain. Occasionally, I felt a drop of water hit me. It wasn't raining, not yet at least, but for the first time that day, I wondered if it would rain on us before we even reached camp. According to the weather forecast I last checked, the chance of rain today was zero percent. ZERO! My pack was not prepped for rain. My camera and wallet weren't in ZipLocks. My clothes bag wasn't in a trash bag. My book and magazines weren't waterproofed. I wasn't prepared for rain, and this sudden turn in the weather was a problem.

Beyond the June Lake junction, though, the trail was relatively easy to hike. No jagged lava flows to step carefully over. No steep climbs to slow us down. No more unexpected detours. Which was good... because we were now in a race. We were in a race against the storm, and it was starting to look like the storm was going to win....
The clouds were moving in fast, and we started racing the storm to camp.


Anne Bonny said...

Well, did you make it? lol

Anonymous said...

Just waiting for "The rest of the story" :)

Anonymous said...

What??? No more wedding dress pics?

Anonymous said...

Consider yourself lucky! I got rained on big time Friday night in Indian Heaven with temperatures in the forties all day Saturday.