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? =)


Anne Bonny said...

That suspension bridge is AWESOME! Those look like tadpoles to me, but I'm not exactly a tadpole expert.

Anonymous said...

I believe those berries are Red Elderberries.

Yosemite MJD

Anonymous said...

That Klapatche Park photo is a stunner! One for the 2015 Calendar, Ryan!

Yosemite MJD

strollerfreak - Mel said...

Late to the party, but I sure hope I'm not the only one who read through this and thought, "I hope Ryan posts a picture of the potty." :-)

Mary said...

"Hazard trees?" Is that anything like hazardous trees? Come on, Forest Service people! Let's employ correct English!