Saturday, August 31, 2013

Day 5: Nothing Happened Today. Except....

Sunrise over the North Puyallup River.
Even here, you can see the sun straining
to push through the fog in the distance. I felt
certain the fog would burn off quickly!
It didn't rain during the night--which actually surprised me--but I did wake up to fog. The fog felt different than the fog from the evening before. It used to feel thick and wet, but this fog felt more light and wispy and I had a feeling it was just a thin layer that would quickly burn off as the morning warmed up. I had no proof that this might happen, though--just my gut. The fog definitely felt different, though. Before it was dark for foreboding, but now it seemed light and even playful. I could almost sense the clear blue skies that I suspected lurked just a few hundred feet above me.

From the North Puyallup Camp, the trail climbed about 3,000 feet in less than 3 miles--another steep, exhausting climb. Definitely a morning warm-up exercise! As the trail climbed, the fog continued to thin until I did start seeing peeks of blue sky here and there. Yes, the weather had definitely taken a turn for the better.

The trail finally broke from the steep ascent at Klapatche Park. Cresting over the ridge, I finally left the fog behind, but I could see puffs of it hovering in the valley I climbed like it wanted to climb higher up the mountain but didn't have the energy to do so. After the long climb up, I felt the same way. =)

And the view! What a view! Mount Rainier loomed high above Klapatche Park while Aurora Lake filled the foreground. Spectacular. I stopped to rest and just admire the view. Nobody else was around, and I liked it that way.

At the edge of the lake, I could see thousands and thousands of fat little tadpoles wallowing in the mud. I'd never seen so many tadpoles before, and they looked so fat! I found myself intently curious about these strange little creatures. When I approached the lake's edge, they started freaking out and frantically tried wriggling away. I couldn't even see the tadpoles in the churning water anymore, blinded by the reflected morning light of the now-disturbed water. I always seemed to remember tadpoles being pretty good swimmers, but these fat things were slow and awkward. Any bird that liked to eat tadpoles could have had a buffet of epic porportions!

I rested and ate some snacks for about 10 minutes when the group of five or six guys I shared the campground with the night before arrived and made themselves comfortable at the other end of the lake. The quiet serenity I had been enjoying was gone, and I was a little disappointed the guys had got up the mountain as quickly as they did. I would have preferred a little more alone time at this wonderful place.

Berries on the trail. (I don't know what
kind of berries these are, but feel free to
leave a comment on the blog if you do!)
So I hefted up my pack and continued onward. At this point, the trail stayed largely above treeline for several miles and the killer views continued. Around each bend in the trail, over each hump in the trail, I'd be surprised with one incredible view after another. I felt grateful that I didn't have to do this section through bad weather--it would have sucked to have missed all these views because I had hiked through a day earlier.

The largely flat trail then turned a corner and almost immediately plunged 2,000 feet back down a hillside, this time to cross the South Puyallup River. Back in the trees, the views largely faded.

At this point, I needed the use of a restroom, and for purposes a little more serious than a leak behind a tree. All of the campgrounds have outhouses available, though, and there was a campground next to the South Puyallup River (which, not surprisingly, was called the South Puyallup Camp). My topo map showed a campground right on the trail, but I was a little disappointed to see that it was actually a couple of hundred feet off the trail. Ugh. But a couple of hundred feet off the trail wasn't terrible, so I entered the campground and another sign pointing to a toilet another 600 feet down the South Puyallup Trail. Another SIX HUNDRED feet?! Ugh.

Well, I was committed now! So I continued following the trail when I walked right up to an impressive basalt wall that looked a heck of a lot like Devils Postpile which I immediately recognized. I had been here before. I had seen this wall before on my previous thru-hike of the Wonderland Trail. It wasn't actually on the Wonderland Trail and anyone who didn't stay at the South Puyallup Camp would likely miss it completely. I didn't stay at the campground myself, but I had hiked out to the Marine Memorial Airplane Crash Monument a couple of miles down the South Puyallup Trail which is when I saw this wall the first time, but I had completely forgotten it was there. It's not shown or labeled on my topo map. The only reason I found this wall again was because I needed to poop!

I found the toilet, around a large rock, and had to laugh. Talk about your hole in the ground. It wasn't an outhouse--it was a toilet. Nothing more than the toilet. No walls for privacy. Fortunately, though, it was the middle of the day and absolutely nobody was in the campground. I dropped my pack at the junction for the toilet--just to let people who might be coming up the South Puyallup Trail that the toilet was occupied, and I did my thing under the giant, beautiful wall of basalt. A throne with a view! =)

As I climbed the slope up from the North Puyallup River,
the fog seemed to rise with me! And hey, I think I see
a little sun siting the side of that mountain!
From the South Puyallup Camp, the trail climbed again, although not as steeply as the previous climbs, eventually breaking back above tree level and to more jaw-dropping spectacular views. How many more jaw-dropping views can a person experience without their head exploding? It's a good question, and I felt like I was getting close to my limits. =)

This time, the trail headed up the Emerald Ridge--and let me tell you, anything called Emerald Ridge--you know there are going to be some great views. The trail approached near the Tahoma Glacier where the rocks turned a brilliant red in color. The geologist in me guessed that there was a lot more iron in these rocks than other rocks I'd been seeing, but I'm not really a geologist. The colors were incredibly vivid and mesmerizing, though.

Then, once again, another plunge--this time to Tahoma Creek. Another suspension bridge spanned Tahoma Creek--the most freakin' awesome suspension bridge I'd ever seen in my life. I remembered this bridge and was looking forward to meeting it again. =) I don't know how high above the river the bridge crossed, but looking down, it seemed like it could easily be a hundred feet high. It positively soared over the Tahoma Creek below, and it was the same unstable, bouncy design of the suspension bridge that crossed the Carbon River and only wide enough for one person at a time to cross. I walked across it deciding to take a video with my camera to enjoy the moment. When I reached the other side, though, I realized I had no photos of the crossing, so I walked back a second time taking photos. But then I was on the wrong side of the bridge, so I had to cross a third time.

If there's a bridge that should be crossed three times when you reach it, this is the one. =) But I still had miles to do, so onward I continued....

The trail climbed steeply again--nobody would ever accuse this section of the Wonderland Trail of being flat or easy!--until I reached Indian Henrys Hunting Ground, a wide-open meadow bursting with wildflowers. A 0.6-mile side trail led to Mirror Lakes, and I went ahead and followed it because hey, I needed more miles for Hike-a-Thon, the views were awesome, and I still had plenty of time in the day to do so.

Klapatche Park, with Mount Rainier in the background and
Aurora Lake in the foreground. You can see the fog trying
to climb out of the canyon just on the other side of the lake.
(That's where the trail climbed out from.)
The lakes themselves I found somewhat disappointing, though. Oh, they're nice lakes--don't get me wrong--but I expected something particularly special since they had gone through the effort of actually constructing a full-fledged trail to them. They were just ordinary lakes, though. Not particularly large. No reflections of Mount Rainier in them--the trees around the lakes blocked Mount Rainier from the reflection. Just two rather ordinary lakes. I'll take it, but maybe my expectations were too high. I expected to be overwhelmed, but I wasn't. They were nice views, though. =)

Another old patrol cabin was located just off the Wonderland Trail, and I stopped there for another lunch break. It had a nice bench I could sit on, and the wall of the cabin to lean back on. The cabin was closed without any rangers nearby, but the cabin still made a good place to stop to rest.

I rested for over an hour, then pushed onward. The trail led through Devils Dream Camp, which I deliberately avoided when getting my permit because I had heard horror stories of how bad the mosquitoes were at this campground. I did stop briefly when I noticed one of the campsites had a note attached to it saying it was closed due to dangerous trees, so naturally I had to go into the campsite to check out these dangerous trees. =) That one-minute stop, though, was all it took for me to get a dozen mosquito bites. Those horror stories were definitely true!

I stopped briefly a second time at a small waterfall on the far side of the campground to take photos and got a dozen more mosquito bites for my efforts.

Yeah, I was perfectly happy to leave this campground behind and head to my destination for the night: Pyramid Creek Camp. For all I knew, the bugs might be just as bad there, but I know the bugs were bad at Devils Dream. I'd rather go with the campsite I don't know than the horror I do know. =)

Thousands and thousands of these
fat little tadpoles were along the edges of
Aurora Lake.
Pyramid Creek Camp only has three campsites to it--a relatively small site. A group of four or five older women filled one and a single guy who stuttered was in the last one. I was a little fascinated by the stuttering man. I've never really talked with a full-blown stutterer before, but I found him a little inspiring. He was hiking alone, but the lack of companionship didn't hold him back from doing the trail anyhow. And even though he obviously had to know he stutters, I was glad to see that it didn't seem to inhibit his desire to talk at all. =) He asked me about my soda can stove, and what I used as fuel for it, and we chatted for a bit by Pyramid Creek where I cooked dinner. (It was a much nicer setting than those claustrophobic campgrounds.) Eventually he left me to head back to camp and I soon followed after my dinner was done.

I set up camp in the one site that was still empty. This time, I didn't set up my tarp. The skies were clear and the last forecast I saw (which, admittedly, was five days earlier) showed clear sailing for the rest of the week.

At the bear pole, I tried to hang my food bag. I tried for about ten minutes, but I couldn't get it up there. This bear pole was higher than the others I'd seen, and the higher the pole is, the more difficult it is to get a weighted bag up it. The pole that was provided to hang food bags seemed unusually short as well, bent into a wide, awkward curve. And finally, the pole in the ground wasn't very stable. It kept swinging in circles. So I tried for ten minutes trying to get my food bag up on the bear pole, but I just couldn't do it. After about ten minutes of trying, my arms were painfully sore from the attempt and I knew it wasn't going to happen. This bear pole was defective. I'd just have to sleep with my food.

Which didn't actually worry me at all. I hadn't heard of bears being a problem in this area and sleeping with my food is pretty normal in the backcountry. I'll use bear poles and bear boxes when they're available, but I've never worried about when they aren't.

The sun set, and I crawled into my sleep bag and read my Kindle by the light of my headlamp. It was getting quite dark when a stranger popped his head into my campsite and said hi.

I was taken a little by surprise. It wasn't any of the girls from the first campsite, and it wasn't the stutterer from the last campsite. Who was this guy saying hi to me well after sunset?

"Hi," I answered in reply. "Can I help you with you something?" =) I didn't know what the guy wanted, but I felt pretty sure he wanted something.

I really enjoyed watching this fog moving around in the canyon
behind the lake. It would gust upward, caught on a wind current,
then drop back down into the canyon. It was as if the
fog and the sun were in an epic battle--but the sun was winning.
And he told me his story--he started hiking that morning from Nickel Creek. "Holy cow!" I exclaimed--you came a heck of a long way!" I didn't expect to cross Nickel Creek for two days, and I was hiking a lot further and faster than most people.

But he continued on saying that he spent a little too much time at Longmire. His permit was for Devils Dream a few more miles down the trail, but it was already getting quite dark and he was exhausted and wanted to know if he could share the campsite with me.

"Yeah, sure, no a problem!" I said, meaning it. I wasn't even using half the available space I had available, and if he was by himself, that was certainly no hardship for me.

In introduced himself as Scott and we chatted some more, swapping war stories from the trail as he set up camp. "You're lucky you stopped here for the night," I told Scott. "The bugs at Devils Dream were awful!"

"Oh," I said, suddenly remembering. "I couldn't get my food bag hung on the bear pole, so I'm sleeping with my food tonight. If that bothers you, I figured you should know about it now."

It didn't bother him any, though, and he continued setting up his tent.

He'd gotten into his tent when a couple of women from the first campsite headed to the bear poles with flashlights in hand, and I raised myself up to my elbows to watch. I wanted to see if they could get their food bags up there. =)

They struggled for a couple of minutes, and I could hear them laughing at their failed attempts. Finally I shouted out at them, "Don't worry! I couldn't get my food bag up there either! But I'm really enjoying the show you're putting on trying to get your food bags up there!" They laughed at my observations, and continued trying to get their food bags up for a few more minutes.

Tiger lily
Finally, they left back to their camp, unsuccessful. Scott couldn't watch what they were doing from inside his tent, so I was giving him the play-by-play. "They're headed back to their campsite now. I'm not sure if they've given up, though, or if they're going back for reinforcements or to come up with a new plan."

A few minutes later, the women returned to the bear pole and I watched, fascinated now. What would they do differently this time around?

Through the darkness, it wasn't easy to see what they were doing at first, but then I saw a rope looped over the end of their pole and I immediately figured out what they had done: They were hanging their food bag from the bear pole with a rope--just like they would if they hung their food bag from a tree with a rope. They couldn't loop their food bag onto the bear pole, but they could get a rope over it easily enough.

"That's brilliant!" I shouted out at them. You go girls! =) And I told Scott what they were doing.

They finally managed to get their food bags up on the bear pole and shouted back at me that they'd help me get my food bag up on the pole if I wanted it. I actually did have some rope in my pack and could have done the same thing had I thought of it, but I didn't have any qualms about sleeping with my food and I was already in bed for the night. I really didn't want to get out of my sleeping bag, so I turned them down. "If the park authorities want me to hang my food bag from the bear poles, they need to fix the bear poles!" I shouted back. =)

Then quiet settled across the campground and everyone started going to sleep. I read my Kindle a bit longer but eventually turned it off as well and headed off to the dream world as well.

In completely unrelated news.... August is once again here, which means it's time for the annual Hike-a-Thon drive! Amanda and I are trying to raise money for the Washington Trails Association which does some great work building and maintaining trails in Washington state, and please, if you can help us out, even if it's just $5 or something, please do so! Sponsor us now!

This year, I've decided that anyone who sponsors me will be in the running to win an autographed copy of my book, A Tale of Two Trails about my exciting adventures on the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Trail. For anyone that donates at least $40 to the cause, I'll send you a free autographed copy! The catch is.... you have to sponsor my page. Yeah, Amanda and I are a team, and everyone likes her more, but we also have separate accounts and I'll only be looking at those who donate under my account. So if you donate $40+, I'll mail you a free copy of my book. If you donate less than $40, I'll put all of your names into the proverbial hat and choose one at random who will get a free book. =)

That $40 also can give you a membership to the WTA which includes a subscription to the Washington Trails magazine. A book, a magazine subscription and all for a good cause--just $40! =)

St. Andrews Lake

Glacier lilies were so thick in places, they turned some meadows completely white!

These basalt cliffs reminded me a lot of Devils Postpile.

A throne with a view! (But without a lot of privacy!)

Mount Rainier with the reddish Tahoma Glacier coming down.

Views along the Emerald Ridge are fantastic!

Sights like this can erode your confidence (pun totally intended!) about how safe some
of these trails might be to walk on. =)

This was the ugliest viewpoint of the entire trail today. Really! =)

The suspension bridge over Tahoma Creek.

Look at my tiny little shadow far below! =)

And, just in case you'd rather see the video I took on my first time across....

Waterfalls are so common on Mount Rainier, I'm not even sure
they bothered to name this pathetic little thing. =)

Indian Henrys Hunting Grounds
I found Mirror Lake a little underwhelming....

Patrol cabin at Indian Henrys.

This chipmunk seemed to express an interest in thru-hiking
the Wonderland Trail. =)

Campsite at Devil Dream that was closed.

So of course, I had to peek my head into the campsite to see what tree
they were talking about. Probably that dead one, coming up from the bottom-right
corner of this photo, huh? =) This is also a perfect example of why I hate
almost all of the campgrounds on the Wonderland Trail. They're in these
claustrophobic tree clusters. I want to see sky, people! Give me skies! =)

Pyramid Creek. Looks like it's a lot bigger than a mere creek to me,
but what do I know? =)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Day 4: A Drab, Dreary Day

I'm all packed up and ready to start hiking for the day.
Can you figure out where our tent was set up during the night? =)
It rained for most of the night, which eventually tapered off and stopped by morning. Technically speaking, the rain had stopped, but everything was still exceedingly wet from a thick fog. Leaves from the trees continued to drop tree snot on everything below.

It would have been a good day to sleep in. Except--this would be my longest day yet of hiking at about 15 miles to the North Puyallup Camp, and this section of the Wonderland Trail is infamous for having some of the most strenuous climbs and drops of the entire trail. I really couldn't linger too long at Mowich Lake. I was going to need to get hiking.

I was taking some of our gear to Amanda's car in the parking lot when I saw a group of people wearing a bunch of suspiciously red shirts that looked not unlike the one Amanda wore--the shirt from the Hike-a-Thon--and I took a closer look at the people in the group and definitely recognized a couple of them. One of them I even knew the name of off the top of my head--Kara. I'm not actually sure what her official position is at the WTA (does it matter?!), but almost all of my interaction with the WTA tends to be through her.

So I wandered over to say hi. =) How many people that I knew was I going to bump into on this hike?! First Sarah from the Camino, and now a group of Hike-a-Thoners! Although admittedly, I was less impressed with this coincidental meetup. It's not exactly a huge shock to discover people from the Seattle area involved with the Washington Trails Association doing a hike at Mount Rainier. You almost expect to bump into them! =) In fact, we did bump into other Hike-a-Thoners (hello, Kristin and Christina!) when Amanda dropped me off at Sunrise who had just gotten back from a day hike. I didn't know them or even recognize them, though--just their shirt that gave away their WTA affiliation.

But I didn't know about the organized hike that was happening today. Actually, for all I know, I might have had an email about it sitting in my inbox--I hadn't checked my email since I started my hike. I might have gotten an email about it before I even started my hike but just deleted it without really reading it if I saw the date overlapped my Wonderland Trail hike.

So finding them was still a surprise--even if it wasn't a shocking one. =)

I joked that it would have been more convenient had they postponed the hike for another week until the next Saturday. That's when I'd be coming off the trail at Mowich and I didn't actually have a ride off the mountain! This weather is awful anyhow! "Yep," I said, "you should definitely come back and do this again next Saturday."

I finished putting stuff back into Amanda's car then walked back to our campsite and told Amanda that the parking lot was filled with a whole group of people from the WTA, on a hike to Spray Park. (The wildflowers were awesome, I told them! I would know--I saw them just the day before. Although the weather was certainly a lot better the day before.)

It wasn't raining, but the fog was
thick enough to keep everything completely wet.
Amanda ended up going down the trail with them a bit to take their group photo while I continued packing up my backpack. My backpack would be gaining a lot of weight today--five days and four nights worth of food to get me back to the food cache I hid back near Sunrise.

Amanda eventually came back, my pack was packed, and the rest of the gear was stored in the back of Amanda's car, and it was time for me to head back off. Amanda had to go back to work and I charged down the trail alone.

The trail was in pretty good shape and dropped about 2,500 feet down to the North and South Mowich Rivers. I took a quick break at the bottom, eating some snacks, then started the 2,500 climb back up to Golden Lakes.

This section of the trail was grueling. The trail climbed a steep series of switchbacks that had nothing on a StairMaster! I found a good rhythm getting up the mountain, but I sweat profusely during the climb despite the cool temperatures. Whenever I passed anyone going in the opposite direction, I'd cry out something to the effect, "For the love of God, please tell me the top is near!"

I put some real emotion into that cry, and it wasn't entirely faked. =) I was also more than willing to stop and talk to anyone who would give me an excuse to take a break from my climb. I could have rested at any time, but I felt compelled to keep pushing myself and not actually stop to rest until I reached the top or died--whichever came first. Unless I had someone to stop and talk to, then I was willing to take a short breather. =)

Two girls headed down the mountain stopped to talk. They didn't tell me their names, and I didn't ask for them, but I asked the usual questions about where they started from and how far they were going (started at Longmire and were planning to hike completely around the mountain).

I told them that I was headed to the North Puyallup Camp, and they said that there was a nice river just beyond it to watch the sun set or whatever. Almost all of the campsites on the Wonderland Trail are horrible, claustrophobic things, so I took the suggestion to heart. I'd check it out--definitely. Maybe I'd even eat dinner there if I liked it. =)

Just idle chit chat, and as we started to continue on in our separate directions, I made a passing comment about "see you on the other side of the mountain!"

The shelter at the South Mowich River camp. That would be a
nice place to set up camp during a rain storm!
In theory, we would almost certainly cross paths at some point on the other side of the mountain. In practice, it's more hit and miss. Maybe I'd be off on a side trail as they hiked by on the Wonderland Trail. Or maybe they'd be eating lunch at Sunrise and I decided to skip it pressing onward to camp. Or maybe they got into camp early in the afternoon and I'd walk passed their campground to the next one later in the day. There's a lot of ways you can pass people going in the opposite direction without knowing it, so I didn't really mean that I'd definitely see them on the other side of the mountain--just recognizing the possibility.

But the one girl seemed surprised at the thought. "Yeah, I guess we will!" The surprise in her voice kind of amused me. I guess she hadn't really thought about the logistics about how hiking completely around a mountain would work before. =) I wouldn't be the only person they may bump into--anyone hiking in my direction who started within a few days of when they started were distinct possibilities. But now I found myself really wanting to find them on the other side of the mountain. I wanted my "prediction" to become true. =)

I'd already left them behind and I started trying to figure out the math of where we would likely cross paths. I suppose if I thought fast enough, we could have compared permits and figured out exactly what day we would cross paths again. For all I knew, we might even be sharing a campground on the other side of the mountain on of those nights. But it was too late for that now, so I mentally started trying to think out where we would likely pass. I figured three days from now--I was hiking pretty fast at this point. Maybe four days if they were going slow. But three days would put me somewhere around Summerland, I figured. Perhaps a little sooner, perhaps a little later. Not a lot of side trails in that area to lose myself on, so as long as they weren't in a campground I passed by, the chances of meeting them on the trail were fairly good.

I continued my climb up the steep slope. If the steep slope wasn't exhausting enough, the overgrown sections of trail made it absolute misery. Although it still wasn't raining, the thick fog condensed on the plants and brush next to the trail which rubbed against my legs and shoes absolutely soaking them. The bottom half of my body looked like it had been rained on.

Crossing the South Mowich River on a footbridge.
It was miserable.

I finally climbed up the last switchback and the trail leveled out and started following a ridgeline. So easy to walk! In could practically run! Not with my pack on, but wow--it felt good to finish with that climb.

I continued on to Golden Lakes where there was a ranger cabin next to the trail. The cabin wasn't open and there didn't appear to be any rangers nearby, but the porch of the cabin was covered and dry and I immediately declared a long lunch break on it.

My topo map showed another five miles or so to my campsite for the night, which was all generally flat or downhill which meant I should be able to cover it very quickly. Looking at the time of day, I figured I could sit around and rest for a solid three hours and still make it to the North Puyallup Camp by 6:00. I'd been making excellent time! Part of the reason was because everything was so darned wet I didn't want to stop in it, but apparently I was healthier than I gave myself credit for too. =)

So I took off my shoes, ate snacks, kicked back, and read my Kindle. About an hour later, a father and son arrived coming from the opposite direction and we chatted for a bit.

Then I hear a patter against the roof. I looked up at the meadow and saw rain. A steady, constant rain. It wasn't a wet fog anymore--it was actual rain. That was the most dispiriting thing I'd seen all day. Ugh. I so did not want to hike in the rain.

I had gotten a bit bored sitting around the ranger cabin for about two hours and had been thinking of pushing on, but with the rain, I delayed my departure.

A half hour later, though, I was ready to keep going--rain or no rain. The rain had died to the slightest of drizzles. I wasn't even sure if it could be called a drizzle--it might have been really fat fog that was sinking towards the ground. It was still too wet for my taste, but nothing I could do about that now!

Remarkably, the further I walked, the more the clouds went away. I even saw my shadow peek out once!

It might not have been raining, but brushing up
against stuff like this was just as bad as rain!
When I reached the North Puyallup Camp, I immediately recognized it. I had stayed at this campsite before on my previous thru-hike of the Wonderland eight years earlier. After that much time, I didn't really remember which campsites I stayed at or what each one was like, so in a lot of ways I felt like I was hiking the trail for the first time. But I immediately recognized this site. I'd spent some time here.

I walked a bit passed the camp and the trail passed some impressive stone walls that were clearly once part of a long-abandoned road until it reached a small bridge crossing the North Puyallup River. The two girls were right--the view here was wonderful! And much nicer than the claustrophobic campground.

It still looked like it could rain, but it wasn't now and the rocks around the river had even mostly dried so I sat down in a dry area and started cooking dinner. I didn't want to linger with dinner, though--just in case it did start to rain again, I wanted dinner to be done!

Dinner was great, though. It didn't rain. But then I headed back to the campsite. I needed to set up camp before it started getting dark. With the thick clouds overhead, I expected darkness to descend much earlier than normal.

The campground and three campsites to it, and only one of the sites was already filled with about five or six guys. I chatted with them some, but none offered for me to pull up a proverbial chair so I continued deeper into the campground and set up camp. I really wanted to get my tarp up anyhow--just in case the rain started. It certainly looked like the rain could let loose and I should be prepared.

I hung my food bag on the bear pole--after asking the group of guys where the bear pole was. Somehow, I completely missed it at the front of the campground when I first walked in. "We did too," one of the guys told me. Ah, well, at least I wasn't the only person to suffer from temporary blindness. =)

One of the Golden Lakes.
A second time I chatted with them a bit, but once again, none of them suggested that I take a seat and join them, and after I ran out of idle chit chat, I headed back to my campsite, crawled into my sleeping bag under the tarp and started reading my Kindle. My day was done.

In completely unrelated news.... August is once again here, which means it's time for the annual Hike-a-Thon drive! Amanda and I are trying to raise money for the Washington Trails Association which does some great work building and maintaining trails in Washington state, and please, if you can help us out, even if it's just $5 or something, please do so! Sponsor us now!

This year, I've decided that anyone who sponsors me will be in the running to win an autographed copy of my book, A Tale of Two Trails about my exciting adventures on the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Trail. For anyone that donates at least $40 to the cause, I'll send you a free autographed copy! The catch is.... you have to sponsor my page. Yeah, Amanda and I are a team, and everyone likes her more, but we also have separate accounts and I'll only be looking at those who donate under my account. So if you donate $40+, I'll mail you a free copy of my book. If you donate less than $40, I'll put all of your names into the proverbial hat and choose one at random who will get a free book. =)

That $40 also can give you a membership to the WTA which includes a subscription to the Washington Trails magazine. A book, a magazine subscription and all for a good cause--just $40! =)

The Sunset Park Patrol Cabin at Golden Lakes. I hung out under the porch for
about 2 1/2 hours where it was actually dry! =)

I leave the dryness of the patrol cabin for the uncertainty of the trail at large.
(You can't really see them very well, but the father and son I spent the better
part of an hour chatting with are hanging out under the porch as well.)

These impressive stone walls were obviously created for vehicular
traffic, although they are clearly no longer around this part of the trail.
I learned that the road to this point kept washing out. The cost of
continually having to fix the washouts eventually became to much
and they turned the old road into a hiking trail where things stand today.

North Puyallup River

The bridge over the North Puyallup River.

Cooking dinner on the side of the North Puyallup River.
Hamburger Helper--yum! =) Notice the rock my foot is on
has actually managed to dry on this otherwise very wet day!
(I'm also sitting on a dry section of the rock as well, even if I'm
cooking on a wet, dirt section.)

Home, sweet, home for the night! =)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 3: The Spray Park Detour

Mystic Lake at sunrise
Despite the ferocious storm that blew in during the night, by morning, it had blown back out and I woke up to sunny, blue skies. That weather--it can change in an instant! This time, it changed for the better.

However, weather forecasts again had called for a 30% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. The clear skies, I was certain, wouldn't last. But maybe, if I were lucky, it wouldn't actually rain. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. =)

The girls I had camped with seemed fascinated with my tarp, amazed that I stayed dry overnight. I flipped half the tarp over on the other half to give myself more headroom and light now that the rain had long since stopped, and the square area that my tarp kept dry contrasted strongly with the wet ground around it.

I didn't longer in camp very long, though. Today would be my longest day so far on the trail--I figured about 13 or 14 miles, and I knew there would be a steep plummit to the Carbon River then a grueling 3,000-foot climb up to Spray Park before descending again to Mowich Lake where I planned to meet Amanda. Today, I wouldn't have to figure out how to kill the hours of the day before making camp. And if I finished early in the afternoon--that would be great. Maybe I'd beat the rain, if there was any.

The girls lingered in camp, though. They only had a leisurely 6.7 miles to the Granite Creek campsite. They'd probably be there in three hours if they rushed, and I'm pretty sure they had no intention of rushing. =) They also hung out their sleeping bag bags to dry. When they arrived, they didn't realize that bear poles were used to hang food, and they didn't have a suitable bag for hanging their food. They improvised and started using the bags that their sleeping bags came in to hang their food, but it meant that those bags had gotten completely soaked during the night, so when I left, they were moving the bags from tree to tree trying to chase the few rays of sunlight that penetrated the trees to dry them out before packing up their sleeping bags.

Moraine Park
I told Sarah that I couldn't wait to find out where we might cross paths in some far-flung unlikely spot again. Truth be told, I really don't think that would happen a third time, but I like the idea of thinking that sometime next summer, I'll be off thru-hiking the Colorado Trail or something and unexpectedly cross paths with her a third time. (If that did happen, though, I might very well start playing the lottery!)

The trail drops steeply by the Carbon Glacier--another glacier that's difficult to see under all the rocks and other debris, but it's also the glacier that gives hikers the best views from the Wonderland Trail. It's the thickest glacier on Mount Rainier--about 700 feet at its thickest. It's hard for me to imagine a layer of snow and ice that's 700 feet thick. This glacier is thicker than the highest point in Florida--TIMES TWO! Think about that for a minute. If you could set this glacier down at sea level right next to Florida, the glacier would be twice as high as the highest point in Florida!

It's also the lowest glacier in the contiguous United States descending as low as 3,500 feet above sea level before it comes to an end.

But, most important for hikers everywhere, it's also the glacier that the trail approaches the closest to. The trails, I suspect, are routed deliberately to stay away from glaciers that can hide dangers such as crevasses. And anyhow, I'm sure the constant moving of the glacier would cause trail maintenance issues on a near daily basis. =)

So it's one of the more visually interesting glaciers to admire, which I did a lot of. I had to be careful to actually stop on the trail then look at the glacier, though. It's easy to start looking around at the incredible scenery and just walk off a cliff if you aren't paying attention to the trail!

The Carbon River was roaring--issuing forth from a large cavern at the bottom of the glacier, a teeming, cloudy mass of water. If you sit and stay still, you can hear giant boulders in it being batted around, and even feel the earth move when one of those giant boulders crashed down the river. You can't see the boulders in the cloudy water, but you can definitely hear them and feel them as they move the ground like a series of small earthquakes.

A wonderful suspension bridge crosses the Carbon River here, and when I arrived, I had to wait as another person walked across from the other side. It's a narrow bridge and only wide enough for a single person, and the tread is anything but solid. It bounces around with every step.

A trail blowout! But this one was rather easy to get around.
As the person got closer, I realized she was wearing a ranger's uniform, and I bet that she was going to check my permit. Which wasn't a problem--my permit was good, but I just knew she was going to check it.

She arrived at my side of the bridge and we talked for about a minute or so, then she asked about my permit. Ha! I knew it! =) I pulled out my permit which she looked down to read which was when I noticed she had on a Crater Lake baseball cap. It looked old and well-worn and the words "Crater Lake" were actually pretty hard to read, but it was definitely a Crater Lake cap.

She finished looking over my permit and made a comment about my going around the mountain 1 1/2 times, seemingly with a bit of surprise. I guess most people just go around Mount Rainier once. The 1 1/2 loop I was doing was probably quite unusual.

But I was more curious about that Crater Lake cap, so I asked her about. "Why are you wearing a Crater Lake hat?" I said, smiling. "Isn't that like.... treason or something?"

The ranger, whose name I never did catch, seemed to laugh it off and said that she had lost her Mount Rainier hat but that she really needed a hat with a visor out here to keep the sun off her face and took what she had. And then followed up with the fact that almost nobody ever seems to notice that the hat is for Crater Lake.

I could easily understand how most people would miss it. The words were pretty faded and the only reason I noticed was because she had her head down to read my permit and I had nothing better to do at the time than read every word on that was on her head. =)

Fields of lupine!
We continued on in our respective directions, which for me meant crossing the galloping Carbon River suspension bridge. Some people, I suppose, might find the bridge a bit harrowing since it feels so unstable, but it wasn't actually all that high and I may have taken some deliberately heavy steps just to enjoy the bounce in the bridge. =)

From there, I quickly detoured off the Wonderland Trail and onto the Spray Park Trail. It's a detour that I think most Wonderland Trail hikers actually prefer. Both lead to Mowich Lake, but Spray Park is a land of incredible views and some of the most incredible wildflower displays you'll ever see. The Wonderland Trail option goes through some virgin forests and is nice, but to be honest, Spray Park steals the show. Unless someone is really a purist about thru-hiking the Wonderland Trail and won't accept any deviation from it, everyone does the Spray Park option instead. (Don't worry, though--because I'm going 1 1/2 times around the mountain, I'll be doing both options before this hike is over! But for the first time around, I'll be following the Spray Park route.)

The climb out from the Carbon River was grueling. Up and up with barely a break. As I neared Seattle Park, the clear skies became partly cloudy. The first sign of afternoon thunderstorms? I didn't know, but it did give the views an even more dramatic look than they otherwise might have had. I took, quite literally, hundreds of photos around Seattle Park and Spray Park.

The trail finally leveled out a bit until I reached a jaw-dropping vista. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. And thank goodness I was finally at the top of the climb. I was exhausted, but what a great finish!

I was looking down into a deep canyon, but I had the presence of mind to stop and turn completely around to admire the surroundings behind me as well. Where Mount Rainier would be if it wasn't now socked in with clouds.

Which is when I noticed it. Two small dots, moving across a snowfield.

Son of a.....

I just love this photo of Carbon Glacier. That long, heaped
pile of rocks is actually the glacier grinding its way down
the valley. It looks like a river of dirt and rocks, but
it's actually a river of ice and snow covered with a very
thin layer of dirt and rocks. =) It's the only photo I got
where the glacier actually looks like a river flowing
down a stream bed!
I couldn't believe it. They were people. People! Which meant two things, neither of which made me happy. First, I wasn't at the top of the trail like I thought--I still had more uphill to tackle. And second, they were crossing a rather large snowfield, and I so did not want to tromp through snow. I had no snowshoes or microspikes or anything to handle snow. I was never so disappointed to see two people I didn't know on the trail ahead me. It was a severe blow!

I admired the views a bit more, then picked up my pack and followed the trail out. It led upwards, where I intersected the two hikers who had just finished crossing the snowfield. This was no mere patch of snow--it was an entire field of it. I couldn't see where exactly the trail went, although plenty of people had certainly left a clear scar across the surface of the snow where I'd likely catch up to the trail on the other side.

I slugged through the snow, which wasn't actually too bad. No postholing, but it was still a very "two steps forward, one step backward" kind of climb which is annoying in its own right. At the top of the pass, the trail magically reappeared from under the snow, but it didn't last long before it was swallowed by another snow field.

I don't think it even took a half hour to get through all the snow, but eventually I did reach the top of the trail and started descending again, safely out from the snow and back into meadows filled with dazzling displays of wildflowers.

Eventually, the trail headed back into the trees and started descending in earnest. I took one detour of the detour to Spray Falls, which somehow I had always missed on my other visits to this area. This time, I wasn't going to miss it.

This is the terminus of the Carbon Glacier. The Carbon River
gushes forth from those caves you see at the bottom of the
glacier (which are probably more than 10 feet tall, even if
they don't look especially big in this photo). And because
the terminus ends in a cliff like this, it's the only place
you can really see any snow and ice showing through
from under all that rock and dirt.
That trail led about 1/10th of a mile off the Spray Park Trail and ended at a creek with a partial view of a spectacular waterfall above. Only a partial view, though, because a group of tall trees rudely blocked the rest of the view. What I could see what stunning, but it just left me wanting more. I wanted to see all of the falls! Not half of it!

I looked at the creek and boulders in front of me trying to decide if it was safe to cross--the other side of the river certainly would have better views, although I wasn't even sure if that would get the trees completely out of the way or not. But there was a lot of water coming down that river, and it didn't really look all that safe to cross. I probably could cross it, but it would be a stupid thing to try. Later in the season when the water level was lower I might have given it a try, but no.... probably not a good idea to try it now.

Then I noticed what looked like a social trail climbing as close to vertical as you could get up the edge of the river without needing technical equipment. It didn't look well-used and appeared a bit sketchy, but it looked like it headed directly into the patch of trees that blocked my view and, presumably, went through it to the other side where the views would be completely unobstructed.

"Yes," I thought, "That trail is definitely doable!" Normally, I don't like to encourage social trails, but after one of the volunteer rangers had suggested I hike up Skyscraper Mountain on a social trail, it occurred to me that they don't actually mind them in some places. The meadows are filled with signs about not going off the main trail, but there was no sign warning people off from this social trail. And it certainly wasn't going through a sensitive meadow habitat.

Yeah, I could do this trail. =) I left my pack where it was. This social trail was going to require the use of my hands just as much as the use of my feet, and I didn't want a heavy pack throwing my weight around.

I scrambled up the slope, grabbing at roots and trees, climbing over tree falls, and eventually into the grove of trees that had been blocking my view to a viewpoint just outside of it where I finally got the unobstructed view I was looking for. Absolutely incredible! Yes!

Looking back, I could see a few people down at the creek where I left my pack. A couple of them looked like some pretty serious photographers with the big, heavy cameras, even bigger and bulkier tripods, and I had seen them trying to take photos of the falls, perched out as far on the rocks as they deemed safe. I had a strong hunch that a couple of them were going to follow me up to the viewpoint I had reached after seeing that I made it okay. =)

From this angle, the sun actually glints off the snow and ice
peaking out from Carbon Glacier. I would not be at all
surprised if that wall of ice was more than a hundred feet tall.
It's truly enormous!
I took the required photos--when you're in a place like this, photos are required! Then I turned around and started working my way back down the hillside. I didn't really like leaving my pack unattended at the bottom where I did. I wasn't too worried about animals or bears getting into it--there were too many people down there for that to be a concern. But who's to say that one of them isn't a thief and might steal some of my gear? Even my wallet was in my pack. They wouldn't have known that, but all the same, I didn't want to leave my pack unattended for too long down there.

So I took a few quick photos then immediately started heading back down again. Near the bottom, as I predicted, I passed two of the photographers already working their way up the steep slope, and they asked me if the viewpoint I was at was misty or wet from the falls. "Nope," I answered. "It's an absolutely terrific, unobstructed view of the falls! Just be careful with your footing.... you slip out here, and you'll likely need to be rescued to get out again!" That was no exaggeration. The slope wasn't technical, but it was steep enough that a slip or fall out here could certainly result in an injury that needed medical attention.

Then I heard thunder rolling down the valley. Lightning. There was lightning somewhere, and it was close enough to hear. Undoubtedly, rain wasn't far behind. I wanted to get to Mowich Lake before any rain started.

I reached my pack, hefted it onto my back, and hiked out quickly. I was in a race now--a race to beat the approaching storm.

I arrived at Mowich Lake about 40 minutes later. I stopped hearing thunder, but the clouds still looked pregnant with rain. Fortunately, the rain continued to hold off and I arrived in Mowich completely dry.

This pika was checking me out! =)
Amanda was already there having already set up the tent and staking out a claim at the campsite. She also brought pizza from Pegasus Pizza--the world's best pizza can be found right in our own neighborhood, along with cold drinks and snacks in an ice chest. This was living the good life! =)

The rain continued to hold off for another hour or so before the first drizzles started, at which point we threw most of my gear into it and cleared the picnic table of anything we didn't want to get wet. The drizzle wasn't so bad that it made us jump into the claustrophobic tent, though--just preparing our gear so when the rain really did start coming down in earnest, we wouldn't have to do anything except jump into the tent.

Which, later in the evening, we eventually had to do. I liked the fact that because Amanda brought the tent, I didn't have to set up my tarp or carry a wet one around in my pack the next morning. =)

In completely unrelated news.... August is once again here, which means it's time for the annual Hike-a-Thon drive! Amanda and I are trying to raise money for the Washington Trails Association which does some great work building and maintaining trails in Washington state, and please, if you can help us out, even if it's just $5 or something, please do so! Sponsor us now!

This year, I've decided that anyone who sponsors me will be in the running to win an autographed copy of my book, A Tale of Two Trails about my exciting adventures on the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Trail. For anyone that donates at least $40 to the cause, I'll send you a free autographed copy! The catch is.... you have to sponsor my page. Yeah, Amanda and I are a team, and everyone likes her more, but we also have separate accounts and I'll only be looking at those who donate under my account. So if you donate $40+, I'll mail you a free copy of my book. If you donate less than $40, I'll put all of your names into the proverbial hat and choose one at random who will get a free book. =)

That $40 also can give you a membership to the WTA which includes a subscription to the Washington Trails magazine. A book, a magazine subscription and all for a good cause--just $40! =)

The ranger who would check my permit is walking across the Carbon River
suspension bridge. You can actually see the bridge "buckle" a bit under
the weight of the person--it's not a very stable platform to walk on!
You can't see it in this photo, but she's wearing a Crater Lake cap. The traitor! =)

Now it's my turn to cross the suspension bridge!

This is actually my favorite photo of the suspension bridge, even though
the bridge itself isn't even in the photo! But you can see the shadow it casts into
the Carbon River, and the big black lump near the left is my shadow. =)

Fungi of the trail!

Not only did the trail keep going up and up, but the clouds
continued to grow more ominous throughout the afternoon.

At this viewpoint, I thought I had finally reached the top of the trail and
my long, exhausting climb was over.

...until I turned around and saw these two people descending the snowfield
behind me. (They actually started up where the fog was and tried
to stay near the edge of the snowfield.)

That small green patch... that's where the view was where I thought I had been
at the "top" of the trail, and I'm now standing approximately where the
two people in the previous photo were when I got their pictures.

Now I've passed the "top" of the trail and get to go downhill! =)

The wildflowers were so thick in places that they quite literally turned the ground
other colors--in this case, yellow!

Even in inclement weather, the wildflowers are still quite a sight to see!

These flowers were trying to use camo to blend in with the snow. =)

Lupines! Lupines! Everywhere were lupines!

This is the view of Spray Falls that most people see. Annoyingly, though,
those trees on the left block much of the view of what is clearly
an incredible display of falling water! If, you know, you like seeing displays
of what gravity can do to water. =)

I, of course, went for the better view, and wound up with this photo.
An improvement, don't you think? =)

This was the first tent I saw when walking up to Mowich, and it looks awfully familiar....

Oh, yeah.... that's just what a hiker wants to see. =)

Amanda checks out Mowich Lake.

The Mowich Lake ranger station.