Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 2: The Small World Syndrome

Sunrise at Shadow Lake.
I slept in late. There was little reason not to. I figured I had an eight or nine mile hike to Mystic Lake for the afternoon--far shorter than I would have preferred. How was I possibly going to fill up the rest of my day?

While eating breakfast and pondering my shortness of water, I remembered my map showed Shadow Lake right next to Sunrise Camp. It seemed like water should be readily available! The sign upon entering camp just said that drinking water wasn't available, but it suddenly occurred to me that their definition of drinking water might not be the same as my definition. They probably think drinking water comes out of a pipe. I'm perfectly happy to drink out of creeks, streams, lakes and such.

So after eating breakfast, brushing my teeth (using no water all all--I just didn't have any extra to spare!) and packing up camp, I headed the wrong direction on the Wonderland Trail to check out Shadow Lake.

And as far as water sources go, it's about as bad as you can find in Mount Rainier. It was a stagnant lake. No fresh water flowing in, no stale water flowing out. The lake was clearly very shallow, which meant the water was probably relatively warm. It would not at all surprise me if people swam in the lake quite regularly. I wouldn't want to drink that water even if I did have a way to treat the water but--as most of you remember from my previous postings--I generally don't treat water in the backcountry.

In a nutshell, my opinion of the water as a source of drinking water was pretty low. I did not want to drink this water, but beggars can't be choosers. I filled up my Nalgene bottle with it, just in case, but hoped to find a stream or creek soon to replace the water with something better. I smelled the water, which smelled fine, and took a taste, and it tasted fine. Nothing about the water struck me as obviously bad so I'd drink it if I had to, but I was definitely going to replace it just as soon as I could.

Then I headed back to the campsite and started working my way counter-clockwise around Mount Rainier.

Right outside of camp, I passed a bear trap. I saw the bear trap when I arrived in camp, but it was already starting to get dark and I had trouble getting decent photos of it. In the morning light, however, I finally got a better look at the trap. Later I would learn that the park authorities were trying to catch a bear named Scruffy. Apparently, Scruffy hasn't actually done anything bad, but he's getting a little too comfortable around the people at Sunrise Camp and they want to move him somewhere where he won't become a problem bear. There was another bear they had already caught and relocated, but Scruffy seemed to be smart enough not to take the bait and they haven't been able to catch him yet.

Wildlife on the trail!
In about a mile, I passed the first small trickling stream, coming out from a snowbank that had yet to fully melt and I dumped out the water from Shadow Lake and replaced it with the snow water. No problem. =)

The trail climbed a short hill up to Frozen Lake, which--so far as I can tell--is the only lake in the entire Mount Rainier National Park that actually has a fence around it to keep people out. This is a special lake, though--it supplies all of the water to Sunrise. While I can't be 100% certain of this, if I had to guess, I bet they don't even treat the water from this lake. It looked like good, clean water and undoubtedly they've tested it to make sure it's safe to drink--but I suspect their tests also showed that it also didn't need any treatment at all before being used at Sunrise. Clean water doesn't need to be treated, after all. =)

But that's also why it's so important that this water stay clean. They can't have tourists throwing trash in it, or hikers washing their clothes in it, or people swimming in it. So there's a fence that's been erected around it with signs warning that it's a domestic water supply and that people should keep out. Other than that, however, it's a pretty little lake.

I had a few options to fill my day, and my first one was to continue what I did yesterday--hiking some of the myriad of trails in the Sunrise area even if they didn't lead in the correct direction, and immediately past Frozen Lake there was a junction to the Fremont fire lookout tower, 1.3 miles away. One way. Round trip, I could add about 2 1/2 miles of hiking to my day and perhaps see some really fantastic views at the end. It was a fire lookout tower, after all. They tend to be situated in places that have some pretty darned good views. They're pretty useless if they don't have some good views! =)

So I trekked out to the fire lookout tower. Part of me wanted to leave my pack behind--this would be an out and back trip and why carry a heavy pack out there just to carry it back? But I took my pack--it had food that I couldn't leave unattended. Can't have marmots or bears riffling through my pack while I was gone. Above tree line, there wasn't even anywhere for me to hide my pack from unscrupulous hikers who might wander by. So I carried my pack in its entirety to the fire lookout.

A bear trap! Looks like we didn't catch any bears overnight, though.
The trail climbed slowly, mostly following a ridge towards the lookout tower. It definitely wasn't the strenuous climb I had out from White River the day before, for which I was glad. =)

And the views! As expected, the views were absolutely incredible. Mount Rainier stood out high, towering over everything else in the area. In the distance, I could see a large, flat meadow that looked like a top of a mountain had been sheered off. I wondered about the geology of that feature, but a quick glance at my topo map identified it as Grand Park, and that my hike would take me along the edge of the park on my second loop around the mountain. I'd see that area up close and personal in another week or so. =)

Quite a few day hikers had already arrived at the fire lookout, one of four still left around Mount Rainier. This one was built in 1934 by the CCC. After WWII, aerial surveillance become the primary mode of fire spotting, but a sign outside did say that this fire lookout was fully equipped and still used occasionally. It wasn't being used when I arrived, though. While visitors could climb the stairs to the balcony around the lookout tower, the door to the cabin inside was locked tight.

I hiked back to the Wonderland Trail. On my way back down, two day hikers approached me, and they stepped off the side of the trail to allow me to pass and looked back at Mount Rainier looming over us. It was a spectacular view. Absolutely spectacular. A solid 10 out of 10.

So I joked, "Don't worry, the views get much better further down the trail!"

They laughed, and the woman joined in, "Yeah, this view sucks! I don't know why I'm wasting my time out here!"

Frozen Lake is the water supply for Sunrise.
We continued on in our respective directions, and that started becoming my ongoing joke for the rest of the day. Heck, even most of the trip. "Don't worry," I'd assure people who were standing at some jaw-dropping view. "The views get better further down the trail!"

If they beat me to the punch and made a comment about how wonderful the view was, then I'd reply with something like, "Yeah, well, I suppose it's okay if you like wide open views and large expanses of snow, ice and rocks filled with some of the thickest wildflower displays you'll find anywhere, then yeah, I suppose it's a nice a view." =)

But really, the views were nothing short of spectacular. The Wonderland Trail got its name for a reason--it's not just a marketing gimmick.

At an unnamed pass (so far as I know, it has no name) overlooking Berkley Park, I stopped to cook my dinner from the night before. I had plenty of water now and still way too much time to kill. I needed to keep slowing down!

With that task done, I took a second detour off the Wonderland Trail to Skyscraper Mountain. Any mountain named 'Skyscraper' is bound to have some good views, and I was told that some well-worn social trails lead directly to the top. Normally, I don't like following social trails, but even a volunteer ranger I met suggested I make the climb, so I did. In fact, I caught up with another volunteer ranger who was already at the top when I arrived. This trail wasn't on any of my maps, but it was definitely a well-traveled one!

I took more photos, joked more about the views from Skyscraper Mountain being "okay" if you like that sort of thing, and eventually headed back down to the Wonderland Trail to continue my hike.

I arrived at Mystic Camp--my destination for the night--a little after 6:00 in the afternoon. Perhaps a little earlier than I would have preferred, but not so early that I'd drive myself crazy with boredom figuring out what I'd do for the right of the afternoon. Mystic Lake was another quarter mile up the trail and after I picked a campsite and claimed it, I figured I may as well walk up to the lake and make dinner there. The campsites tend to be claustrophobic places, hidden in trees and not at all like the kinds of places I like to camp. I'd rather camp at the lake, but camping there was prohibited. But it didn't mean I could make and eat dinner up there while watching the sun set over Mystic Lake either. Frankly, the only thing I wanted to do at the campground itself was sleep. The rest of the time, I'd rather be at the lake. =)

The views were okay, I suppose, if you like stuff like wide-open
views with large sheets of snow and ice over big mountains. =)
So I arrived at the campground and started looking around for an empty site. Clearly, I was one of the last people to arrive, which kind of amused me since I had still managed to arrive a whole hour than I would have preferred. So the first few campsites I saw were already filled. I headed deeper into the campground, finding more campsites that had been filled. Then I reached a creek and the end of the trail.

Every single campsite was full. Every. Single. One. Son of a bitch! There's a squatter in the campground! I had a permit which meant that one of those campsites was supposed to be reserved exclusively for me, and it was taken! Hmm.....

I stood there, trying to decide what to do. Sleeping at Mystic Lake didn't seem like such a bad idea. If a ranger busted me for it, I'd just show them my permit and say all of the campsites at the campground were full. Not my fault.... It didn't seem like a bad option at all. =)

Another hiker saw me standing there, thinking, and asked me what was up, and I told him that all the campsites were full. He introduced himself as Matt and said he'd be willing to take me in. He was hiking by himself and the campsite had enough room for two tents, so there was plenty of room for me to squeeze in.

I have to admit, the thought did occur to me that maybe this was the squatter. Maybe he was being so nice because he knew he was actually camped in my site? But I didn't ask him that. I just agreed. I didn't really mind sharing a campsite with someone--at least I'd have someone to talk to this way during the evening. =)

I threw out my ground sheet, mostly just to mark my position, then picked up my pack and told Matt I planned to walk up to Mystic Lake to make dinner and watch the sun set.

We started walking out from the campground as two girls started walking into it, and one of them waved to Matt saying, "Hi, Matt!"

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "This view sucks."
Don't worry, though--the views
do improve further up the trail! ;o)
I whispered to Matt, "Do you know these girls?"

He whispered back that he had camped with them a couple of nights back.

"Are they troublemakers?" I asked, jokingly. "Because they look like troublemakers."

He looked at me with a wry grin and said, "I'm not sure. They might be."

Which made me laugh, then the girls arrived in front of us and our hushed whispering had to stop. They explained that they were down in the group site, four of them, and that they were going to have a sing-a-long later in the evening and that everyone at the campground was welcome. They even had music sheets printed up.

One of the girls suddenly started starring at me intently, thinking hard, and I suspected she must think I look familiar and was trying to remember from where. I took a closer look at her, but she didn't look at all familiar. It wasn't entirely impossible for me to bump into people I might have met on this trail. Other hikers, or perhaps people I met while working trails with the WTA, but absolutely nothing about this girl looked even remotely familiar, so I was pretty sure I didn't know her--but she obviously thought I did look familiar.

"Do I look familiar?" I asked her.

And she paused for a half second, then asked, "Did you hike the Camino last year?"

If my jaw didn't drop open with shock right there, it's because I was too stunned to drop my jaw.

"How the heck did you know that?!" I exclaimed. "Did we.... met on the Camino?"

Before the words even left my mouth, I knew it was a stupid question. Obviously, we must have met on the Camino. That was no random guess! But I still didn't even get a tingle of recognition for this girl.

Then I asked a better question, "Where did we meet on the Camino?"

She seemed to think about that question for a bit, and I wasn't sure she even knew the answer, until it clicked in her head and she said, "There was a girl looking for you on the trail!"

The trail to the Fremont Lookout tower slowly climbs up the ridge.
You can see a small dot near the end that's actually the fire lookout.
And that's when I finally recognized her. We stayed in the same room at an alburgue, and when I had introduced myself as Ryan from Seattle, she got all excited because she had heard of me already--that a girl (Karolina) was looking for me on the trail and she wanted to deliver that message. And I was happy to learn that because I was still looking for Karolina and wanted to find her, and I had asked where (and when) she had last seen Karolina, but she never had met Karolina. Nope, she'd just heard from someone else that Karolina was looking for a "Ryan from Seattle." And I was disappointed that I didn't have a new lead on Karolina, but still kind of amused that a complete stranger who had never met either of us was passing information between us anyhow. (She got a brief mention at the time in my blog at, although I never mentioned her by name since I'm not sure I even got her name at the time. We probably only talked for all of about 10 minutes.)

It was a stunning coincidence--bumping into someone I first met in Spain of all places while hiking the Wonderland Trail. Talk about a small world! I bet 99% of the people who do hike the Camino have never backpacked a day in their lives and never will which makes it an even more amazing coincidence to bump into the same person in such two very different contexts on a totally different continent.

"How did you remember me after such a brief encounter?" I asked her. It's not like we had talked for very long.

"You're wearing the same clothes," she told me.

I looked down at my clothes. The shirt I wore was for the Hike a Thon last year, which was the same shirt I was wearing now. I had a new Hike-a-Thon shirt for this year, but it had long sleeves and I wanted to wear a short-sleeved one, so I just reused my shirt from last year. And I wore the same long-sleeved shirt I had used to cover my arms from sunburns that I used on the Camino. And the same pants. My shoes had been replaced, but it was the exact same style since I really liked these shoes. Same hat. Even the same glovelets to protect the back of my hands from burning.

"But the handkerchief is different!" I said, just because I'm an argumentative kind of guy. The handkerchief I had hanging from under my hat and protecting the back of my neck from sunburns was plaid, but I used a green one with turtles on it featuring the state parks of North Carolina on the Camino. Definitely a totally different handkerchief. *nodding*

"But you did have a handkerchief on the Camino, right?"

The Fremont fire lookout tower. (You can see Grand Park
in the distance. We'll be going by that next week!)
Yes. Yes, I did, I admitted. I really did look almost exactly the same now as I did on the Camino. Of course she'd recognize me!

I was still stunned at the coincidence, though. I think everyone else was too! Even Matt seemed tongued-tied at the bizarre coincidence. She couldn't remember my name, though, so I introduced myself as Ryan. I couldn't remember her name either, so she introduced herself as Sarah.

They asked if we would join them for the sing-a-long, which was why they came out to the individual campsites in the first place, and I said I would after I headed up to Mystic Lake to eat dinner. They also went on about their being four of them in a giant group site with tons of room, and I asked if it would be okay to join them for the night. Not that Matt didn't seem like a nice guy, but a group site with five people left more room per person than an individual site with two people. And, if the whole sing-a-long thing didn't finish until well after dark, I wouldn't have to stumble back into camp in the dark--I'd already be in camp.

They said that wasn't a problem, so I headed back to Matt's site and packed up my ground sheet. Glad I hadn't unpacked more than I did since it made repacking very quick. Then I hiked up to Mystic Lake and made dinner while watching the sun set.

The whole time, though, I just kept thinking about the amazing coincidence of bumping into someone from the Camino. It's a small world, indeed!

After dinner, I headed back down to the group site, and I was the first person from the individual sites to arrive. The other girls had already set up camp at one end of the group site, and I worked to set up a place for myself at the other end of the group site. Eventually, more of the individual campsite folks started showing up.

Inside the fire lookout tower. (I actually took this through a window
since the door was locked.)
Two of them, a father and daughter, I had met at Sunrise Camp. I had set up camp in the site next to them, but I didn't meet them until morning since they had already gone into their tent for the night before I even arrived at the campsite. Apparently, I had startled the daughter when she woke up in the morning to find me camped next door. =)

The others I didn't know at all, but it sounded like they had been hiking around on the Northern Loop where I hadn't been yet.

The girls had the lyrics for several songs printed out which they gave out and they started singing. Most of the songs I didn't even recognize--music really isn't my thing--so I wasn't even sure how the tune for many of the songs went, and I wound up mostly just listening to the others singing. Which was fine--it was a pleasant diversion. =)

As the skies grew darker, we noticed the first flash of lightening in the sky. The last forecast I saw predicted a 30% chance of thunderstorms, so this wasn't a big surprise. We couldn't hear the thunder, though, and we could still see some stars through the trees overhead, so we didn't worry too much about it. As the night progressed, though, the lightning started flickering more often until it seemed like a constant, steady strobe light that made my hair stand right up. Only one other time had I ever seen anything like that was a night on the Appalachian Trail. It felt like a scene out of the Twilight Zone then. This time, I watched the obvious flickers of lightning eventually grow into the strobe-light kind of feel so I knew it was lightning this time, but it still gave me an eerie sense of deja vu.

As the lightning grew more intense, we could also start hearing it. First very faintly, but growing louder with each passing minute. The storm was definitely getting closer. I hadn't set up my tarp--not yet, at least--and I hoped the storm would fade away before it's full force and fury hit us. I really didn't feel like setting up my tarp in the dark when the rain started. When I first arrived, the sky was so clear, I had written off the 30% chance of thunderstorms as not going to happen. I was now second-guessing that decision.

Although I didn't know most of the tunes the other hikers were singing, I did tell them that I had one camping super-power that they might enjoy: My ability to recite a few poems such as "The Cremation of Sam McGee." So I did that. =)

When I mentioned that I also knew "Casey at the Bat," one of the girls--Danni, I think it was, said she loved that poem and wanted to hear it too. I wasn't really ready for that, though. It's the last epic poem I memorized, and consequently, it's the one I'm the worst at telling. And I hadn't recited it for at least a good year. Normally, I would have preferred to practice reciting it in my head a couple of times during the day to refresh my memory, but I hadn't done that. I was completely unprepared for that particular poem.

But she talked me into giving it a try anyhow, and I did stumble awkwardly through a couple of places where I had trouble remembering the next line, but overall, they seemed pleased with the results. =)

Eventually, everyone called it a night. The other individual hikers headed back to their campsites and the girls all got into their tents. I offered to tell them a goodnight story, "The Ballard of Blasphemous Bill"--which I did much better than "Casey At the Bat." =)

Then I walked back to my camp to get ready to sleep, but I hadn't even pulled out my sleeping bag before I felt the first drop of water hit the back of my hand. Crap. The rain was starting.

I quickly set up my tarp, attaching one end to the tree at the head of my groundsheet and using my trekking pole to anchor down the tarp near my feet. Then I slipped under the tarp and into my sleeping bag just as the rain really started pouring hard. A pounding rain and a large CRACK! as lightning struck somewhere very close.

Apparently, this marmot decided he wanted to hike
the Wonderland Trail as well!
Now that I was safe and dry from the rain, I enjoyed the thunderstorm. The storm roared through camp with the thunder cracking so loudly that nobody could possibly sleep through it. The blinding flashes of light even with your eyelids closed wouldn't have made sleeping an option either!

I looked out from under my tarp, admiring the lightning show, when I noticed what looked like bright bumps on the ground. With my red headlamp, it was hard to tell what the bumps were, so I turned on the white light and realized that it was hail. It wasn't just raining outside--it was dumping hail on us as well.

After an hour or so, the storm seemed to fade in intensity. The thunder started becoming more distant, the rain started becoming less hard and eventually I faded off to sleep for the night.

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! =)

This was my view during lunch. Yeah, I know, I should
have stopped for lunch somewhere "scenic," but by the time
I got here, I was so hungry I couldn't help myself! ;o)

Skyscraper Mountain--I bet there are some good views at the top of
that mountain! =)

You can imagine my disappoint when I reached the top of
Skyscraper Mountain here and had this for a view. *nodding*

This is a photo of me at the top of Skyscraper Mountain. But just ignore the
view for a moment (which sucks anyhow!) and admire my outfit. I didn't
realize it when this photo was taken, but it's exactly the same outfit I wore
on the Camino--which would become important later in the day. =) Same
shirts, same pants, same shoes, same hat, same everything! Including the
glovelets (which aren't especially noticeable in this photo, but they are there)
and the handkerchief behind my neck.

Winthrop Glacier. The glacier isn't particularly obvious because
it's covered with all those rocks and dirt, but the entire bottom half of this
photo is all glacier with the exception of the trees which are located just
in front of it.

Only at the very end of the glacier where it's too steep to be covered with rocks and
dirt is the snow and ice actually visible. These glaciers are easily more than a
hundred feet thick in places!

This river starts at Winthrop Glacier. You can tell its glacier water because
of the cloudy color which is called "glacial flour."

Mystic Lake. I swear--the views really will get better! ;o)

Sunset at Mystic Lake.

This is Sarah, who I first met while hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain!


Anonymous said...

SO, what do they bait a bear trap with, honey?

PI Joe

Ryan said...

I'm not sure. It looked like they stuffed a sock with something and dripped honey around outside of it, but I have no idea what was in the sock or even if that was really honey on the outside. (Just that it looked like honey!)

Anonymous said...

in Colorado where my mom lives there was a bear that needed to be relocated...they baited the trap with....dried pineapple. evidently bears cannot resist it!

california bluefrog