Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Day 2: The Secret Waterfall

July 17: I woke up with the sun--in other words, much too early. Not only does the sun set late this far north in the early summer, but it rises early as well!

I laid around in my sleeping bag for a couple of hours reading my Kindle and killing time. My permit allowed me to go a measly 5 miles up the trail today, an annoyingly small distance. I would have preferred a campsite about 15 miles up the trail--or even 10 miles would have been nice--but those campsites were allegedly already full when I got my permit. It was baffling to me, though, considering that I was the only person who showed up to this campsite the previous night.

My view during breakfast. Not a bad place to camp....

In any case, it meant I had a measly 5 miles to do today and I expected a great deal of boredom to set in. I had prepared by loading my Kindle with half a dozen library books--not that I could possibly read that many books in a single day, but at least I'd have options to switch between books if I got tired of reading the same thing all day. I also downloaded a bunch of videos to watch on Netflix but with limited battery power, I couldn't depend on that lasting the whole day!

The morning was overcast and gloomy and would stay that way the whole day. Eventually I got up and retrieved my food bag from the cables and ate breakfast at the cooking area. Actually, I took about 15 steps outside of it to the lake's shore and watched the views while eating breakfast. No signs of moose or any other large mammals this time.

After breakfast, I thought this might be the perfect time to give my bear spray a real test. There was nobody around and likely wouldn't be for hours, and I could spray the bear spray over the water where it would disperse in the air and water leaving no evidence of my experiments.

According to the label on my bear spray, there was enough in there to shoot it for about 7 seconds into a 30-foot cloud of eye-watering pepper spray. Obviously, I didn't want to use up the spray--it was for my protection, after all! But I wanted a sense of how it worked. How hard did I have to press the trigger? How far was 30 feet? Would there be a kickback?

There was a fierce wind blowing across the lake so I positioned myself where the spray wouldn't blow back into me and pressed the trigger for a fraction of a second. It didn't shoot out as far as I expected. It seemed like it was closer to 20 feet than 30, but maybe I'm just not a good judge of distance! The cloud that came out was noticeably orange which I thought was interesting.

It was fun and gave me something to do, for a little while, at least! Then I lounged around killing more time and eventually grew bored enough to put on my pack and start walking the trail.

I caught up with a couple of hikers at the next campsite who were still breaking down camp. It seemed like nobody was in a hurry to get going this morning! And I happily sat down to chat with them for the sheer lack of anything else better to do.

I caught up with another couple later in the day who raved about seeing a giant grizzly print on the trail. Directly on the trail! They were walking in the same direction as myself and I wondered how I missed it if it was directly on the trail. Maybe it wasn't as big or obvious as they claimed? But the woman pulled out her camera and showed me a photo of the print and it was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen! WOW! She said it was as large as her face and you could clearly see the print in the mud down to the individual claws at the end of each toe. I was almost tempted to turn around and walk back to look for it. I had time! I could probably walk all the way to my campsite tonight, then back to where I started the day, then back to camp again if I really wanted to.

But it I couldn't make myself walk the wrong way on the trail. If I knew the print was just a few minutes back, I certainly would have, but it seemed like it was quite a bit further back than that. But holy cow, what an amazing photo. I was so envious. I wish I had seen the print, and I slapped myself for missing it. I certainly kept my eyes open for bear prints after that--especially in the muddy areas!

But I never found any. =(

I didn't find any grizzly prints, but I did see a puny little snake! =)

He looks scarier if you zoom into his face!

I reached a junction in the trail about a half-mile before my campsite, and rather than follow the trail to my campsite, I decided to turn off-trail and visit Mokowanis Lake located less than a mile away. The destination was another campsite--an absolutely beautiful campsite located right on the shore of the lake. I was a little envious. I'd be camping at the Mokowanis Junction campsite--a landlocked campsite notable for nothing in particular.

I took a lunch break at the lakeside campsite. The cooking area was located directly on the lake shore so I didn't even have to break any food rules to eat on the shore. =)

After lunch, I read my Kindle for a bit then packed up to hike to my own campsite.

The campsite I wish I had....

I took a brief stop at a bridge crossing a creek where there was a nice view over a lake--another lake--and I suddenly remembered seeing on my topo map a waterfall. It was somewhere near this junction, on this trail. I didn't remember seeing a waterfall on my hike out, but how could I possibly miss a waterfall?!

I pulled out my topo map and took a closer look at it and White Quiver Falls appeared to be on the west side of the trail where a creek crosses the trail and empties into the lake on the east side of the trail. Like the creek I was standing on!

I looked upstream and saw nothing that I would call a waterfall. A few rapids in the water, but definitely not a waterfall. I walked down the trail a bit, taking a close look through the trees and behind me when I spotted the edge of an actual waterfall! I didn't see a trail to it, or any sort of signage. The trees blocked most of the view. If I hadn't been looking for it, I would never have even noticed. I didn't notice it during the hike out to the lake!

I did see what looked like a small game trail heading in vaguely the right direction for the waterfall so I followed it for a better view and... well, it was a waterfall. Not an impressive one, but it was nice. I decided to take another rest break to kill some more time. I dropped my pack next to a log and sat down, admiring the view, eating a snack and reading my Kindle.

The secret waterfall....

About a half hour later, I felt a drop of water on my cheek. Rain? Yeah, rain was in the air. I better pack up and push on to camp. I did not want to walk the last half mile to camp in the rain.

I rushed to camp to find... absolutely nobody had arrived. Not yet, at least! It wasn't especially late in the day so I wasn't entirely surprised that I was the first to reach the campsite. I only had a measly 5 miles to do to get here, after all, although I extended it another mile or two with my off-trail visit to a lake and a waterfall. But still, it was a very short day.

It hadn't started raining yet--not a real rain--but little drops of water that seemed to float in the air were pelting me in earnest. Like a thick, wet fog. At the cables, I dropped my pack and quickly hung my food bag, annoyed at the delay in setting up my tarp.

Then I rushed around the camp checking out the individual campsites. I settled for one under a beautiful, giant tree. I hoped the tree would shed water outward when it started to rain and act like a rain cover of sorts. My tarp should do the job as well, but the less rain that reached my tarp, the better!

I got my tarp up and minutes later the rain started coming down in earnest. Just in the nick of time!

I pulled out my Kindle and started reading. It was much too early for dinner, and anyhow, I didn't want to cook in the rain. Hopefully it would die down later and I could make dinner then.

It was during this time when I went to grab my water bottle for a drink that I realized that one of my water bottles was missing! I knew I had it at the waterfall--I drank from it there--so I had to have lost it somewhere within the last half mile or so. But where? I really didn't want to search for it in the rain. Maybe another hiker behind me would find it and carry it into camp? A guy can hope!

It was maybe an hour or two later when I heard talking at the front of the camp. People! The rain had slowed down into a light sprinkle so I pulled on a rain coat, pulled out my umbrella, and left the safety of my tarp to chat with them. People!

The new arrivals were a couple of women who turned out to be from Seattle. They had started hanging their food bags on the cable but their rope got stuck on another rope that had already gotten stuck high on the cable. They complained that their rope was too short--they didn't realize how long it needed to be to reach up and over the cables so hanging their food was problematic. Getting the rope stuck didn't help matters either.

One of the women started climbing up the tree, eventually freeing their rope and cutting down most of the other rope that had gotten stuck up there as well after I assured them that it wasn't mine and they were welcome to have the extra rope if they wanted it.

What to do when a your rope gets stuck in a tree? Climb the tree! (Those are my food bags hanging on a cable in the background. Their food bag isn't up yet.)

They tied the two ropes together to make a longer, easier-to-use rope for their own food bag and eventually got it hung, then they wandered off to select a campsite and set up camp.

I had asked the women if they had seen a water bottle on the trail, somewhere within the last half mile or so but neither of them had seen it. I felt the most likely location that it fell out of my pack was at the waterfall--probably fell out of my pack while I was putting my pack on after taking a break. But it could have fallen out of my pack at any time after that and rolled off the trail or something.

The rain had stopped, though, so now was a good time to look for it. I figured it was less than a mile to the waterfall and back--my worst case. And I wouldn't even have to carry my pack! I could probably make the round-trip trek in 15 to 20 minutes!

But I hoped I'd find the missing water bottle a few minutes from camp and save myself the extra effort.

It was, in fact, near the waterfall where I found the bottle. Not at the waterfall, but rather on the short game trail between the main trail and the waterfall. I was glad to have my water bottle back and equally glad that I hadn't accidentally littered in the backcountry. (Not this time, at least!)

I returned to camp and my tarp where I killed some more time, then I returned to the cooking area an hour or so later to make dinner. The rain had mostly stopped, but it looked like it could start again at any time so I brought my umbrella and rain coat--just in case.

I noticed a new food bag hanging from the cables and wondered who had left it. I hadn't seen or heard any other hikers sneak in to camp, but clearly they had. The two women from Seattle came out just before I did and were already whipping up their dinner when I arrived.

We chatted for a bit, but they weren't very talkative. It seemed like they weren't really interested in chatting or getting to know me which disappointed me immensely. It was lonely out here by oneself!

After they finished dinner, they headed back to their tent. After I finished my dinner, I decided to look for the mysterious new person who had sneaked into camp. I decided it was probably a single person based on the size of the food bag. If it belonged to two people, then they weren't going to be in the backcountry or more than a day or two! I found an unknown tent set up in another part of the campsite and all was quiet inside.

"Hello?" I asked softly, not wanting to wake anyone up if they were taking a nap or something.

Nobody was asleep, however, and my guess about it being just one hiker was incorrect. There was a couple inside the tent, and they unzipped their tent to introduce themselves. They guy got out of the tent to talk and we chatted for about five minutes or so. He had a light shirt on and was clearly getting cold exposed in the chilly air--I knew this conversation wouldn't last too long.

The girl stayed in the tent, occasionally offering her commentary from the warmth of the tent. They seemed like they would have been fun to chat with more--I got more conversation out of them in 5 minutes than I did with the two Seattle women during the course of an hour during dinner. But it started to rain and the guy ducked back into their tent and I rushed back to my own tarp.

Which is where I stayed for the rest of the evening, reading my Kindle until I fell asleep.

It's called bear grass.
So much mud! So few bear prints....

Monday, October 28, 2019

Day 1: The Pacific Northwest Trail

July 16: Amanda pulled into the parking lot on the left side of the road. The noontime sun blazed overhead. A few hundred feet ahead lay the Canadian border. We wouldn't be entering Canada--not today, at least--but we could see the checkpoint ahead. After a few days of driving from Seattle (which included a little sightseeing along the way)--about 11 hours by car according to Google--it was time to walk home. It would definitely take a lot longer than 11 hours to walk home, though! According to Google, it would take 204 hours, but their suggested route does not follow the PNT for almost the entire distance.

The PNT begins a stone's throw from the Canadian border. (Don't throw stones at the border patrol, though. They might arrest you.)

We were at the northeast corner of Glacier National Park, the Chief Mountain Trailhead. It marked the eastern terminus of the Pacific Northwest Trail, or the PNT. Not to be confused with the Pacific Crest Trail which runs from Mexico to Canada. It seemed like most of the time I told people I was planning to thru-hike the Pacific Northwest Trail, they ask questions like if I planned to start at the Mexican border.

No, the PNT runs about 1,200 miles from Glacier National Park to Olympic National Park never veering very far away from the Canadian border. From the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean! It is a national scenic trail, one of only nine in the United States and the fifth one I would be attempting. Many who have done it have said it is the wildest, hardest and most scenic route of them all. We'll see....

I was starting fairly late in the hiking season and my biggest concern was if I could make it over the Olympics before the first winter storms struck. Worrying about snow in July... *shaking head*

The trailhead was packed with vehicles and a few other hikers who were coming and going, but none of them appeared to be out for the long haul. I didn't expect to see many other thru-hikers on this trek. From what I learned online, it seemed that maybe--in a good year--a hundred hikers might attempt a thru-hike of this trail, and most of them probably started hiking 2 to 4 weeks before me.

The weather was nice. It had rained earlier in the morning but now there were mostly blue skies. Rain, however, was still in the forecast later in the afternoon.

Amanda took photos of me getting my gear together and at the first sign marking the trail. I was disappointed to see it listed as the endpoint of the Continental Divide Trail--which it is, but it's an alternate ending point rather than the primary one--and nothing at all was mentioned of the PNT which was the actual endpoint. That sign needed updating!

Amanda and I said our goodbyes, and I turned around to take my first few steps on the trail. I only made it about 20 seconds down the trail where I found a large signboard which included a giant symbol marking the Pacific Northwest Trail. Now that's what I'm talking about! Amanda was already heading back to her car for the long drive home so I took a selfie with the first PNT marker.

The first PNT marker! Most of this trail is unmarked so these were always a nice surprise whenever I found them. =)

The trail was mostly in the trees, but flowers abounded everywhere and whenever I entered a clearing, they spread out into thick carpets of color. The Rocky Mountains soared high in the distance. It was nice. It was comfortable. A little humid, perhaps, but not overwhelming.

I carried some new gear with me for this trip. I was in grizzly country and the rules here were different than everywhere else I had hiked. Bear spray was highly recommended, so I carried a canister of it on my belt. I also purchased an Ursack, a lightweight, bear-proof container. Those were my defenses against grizzlies.

In Glacier NP, I expected to see plenty of people along the trail, but once I left the park, I knew the trail became a lot more empty, remote, difficult... and dangerous. So I carried a couple of new pieces of gear for that as well. I bought a SPOT device which could send my location to a satellite overhead and included an emergency button that would allow me to call for help if I suffered from a life-threatening situation. In Glacier NP, it wasn't necessary, but I knew on the more remote regions on the trail, it would be the only way I could ever get help. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that, but it was still a useful device since it allowed friends and family to follow my progress in near real time over the course of the trail. There was no way for them to contact me, but they could check up on me and make sure I was still moving along the trail.

And my last new piece of gear for this hike was a GPS. I still had the trusty map and compass which I intended to use as my primary form of navigation, but for this trip, I would carry a GPS to help with navigation. I could also use it to track the exact route I walked which I would later be able to import into Walking 4 Fun.

The Rocky Mountains are gorgeous!

It didn't take long for that to come in handy, either. I had been hiking for barely a half hour when I passed a group of several hikers going out in the opposite direction and one of them, exhausted, asked how far they had left to get to the trailhead--not believing her companions that said they were "close." I pulled out my GPS and told her, "I have traveled 1.63 miles from the trailhead."

This excited the woman greatly. I wasn't just guessing the distance to the trailhead, or even estimating it. It was calculated by a high-tech device listening to billion dollar satellites in the sky! The trailhead really wasn't very far!

The trail today was pretty easy. It went downhill a little from the trailhead then stayed mostly level the rest of the day. My goal for the day was 8.7 miles to Cosley Lake--not a mile more, not a miles less--a requirement set by the permit I carried. That distance wasn't difficult, especially over this almost flat terrain--even with the 10 or so days of food I carried on my back--so I took my time. I stopped frequently for breaks, chatted with other hikers along the trail, and enjoyed the scenery.

Late in the day, I reached a suspension bridge across the Belly River. The suspension bridge looked like something built decades ago and could fall apart at any moment, but for the time being it was still holding up. It was a rickety bridge, though, bouncing wildly with every step. The walkway didn't just bounce up and down, either. It also rotated from side to side like it wanted to push you off! The only thing to prevent someone from falling was a thin, metal wire on each side of the bridge to grab onto.

Part way across I had to stop and wait for the bouncing to go down before continuing on. It was awesome!

Rickety bridge across the Belly River.

I took a break on the far side of the river, eating a snack and admiring the river when a ranger hiked across and checked my permit. I asked her if she had seen any PNT thru-hikers lately, and she had seen some, but nobody recently. She also reminded me that no food or other smelly items were allowed in the campsite. Ever. There was a place to hang food bags at the front of the campsite, and a place to cook meals--and those were the only two places where food was allowed. No food was to ever enter the sleeping areas. She asked if I carried a bear canister. I didn't--a bear canister wasn't required except in the Olympics and was far too heavy for me to carry voluntarily! But I did tell her that I had an Ursack--not that it was necessary in Glacier NP since they always provided a place to hang food at each campsite. She said the Ursack didn't have to be hung up since it was bearproof, but that I should explain to the other hikers why it was okay for me to tie my food bag at ground level but they could not. =) Which makes sense... if someone didn't know what an Ursack was, they might think I was flouting the national park rules or worse, copy my example with a bag that wasn't bearproof.

I continued hiking as the clouds blowing in grew bigger and darker and I hoped I would reach camp before any rain started.

But I hoped in vain. It started sprinkling before pouring buckets for about 15 minutes. I pulled out my umbrella which helped, but from the waist down, I was completely and totally soaked.

Then the rain stopped as quickly as it started. The sun even peaked out again at times.

By the time I reached camp, I was mostly dry. I hung my food bag over a cable strung between two trees for that purpose then entered the campsite proper. I was surprised to discover that none of the sites had been occupied as of yet. As late as I arrived in the afternoon, I was sure I'd be the last person showing up. So I selected a campsite near the middle near the shore of Cosley Lake. It was a beautiful location with a scenic lake surrounded by dramatic mountains.

View from my campsite over Cosley Lake.

I set up my tarp--rain was still in the forecast and it felt like it could rain at any time--then sat down on the shore of Cosley Lake just admiring the views. And that's when I saw it. A black dot, on the other side of the lake. And it moved! It was an animal! A bear, perhaps!

I jumped up and grabbed my fancy camera--the one with a 300mm zoom lens--and focused on the moving dot far across the lake. It was still hard to see clearly despite the magnification. I took a photo, as far as I could optically zoom it--but I still couldn't tell what I was looking at until I digitally zoomed into the photo. And it wasn't a bear at all--it was a moose! A bull moose!

Even with my 300mm zoom lens, I still had trouble identifying the animal across the lake. If it hadn't been moving, I wouldn't have noticed it all it!

I took photos, but they were terrible photos. The moose was just too far away. I sat back down and watched the moose moving slowly along the shoreline. It appeared to be walking in my direction along the far shore, so every 5 or 10 minutes I would check it out with my camera and could start seeing more and more details as it drew closer.

After a half hour or so, the moose was located almost precisely across the lake from me and, I assumed, was the closest point it would get to me before it followed the shoreline away from me again. Except... it appeared to be entering into the lake. Well okay, I thought, it's probably trying to swim around the sheer cliffs it was about to reach. I could barely see the moose now--mostly just his antlers poking above the water level.

Is that moose getting into the water? He looks like he's entering the water!

And... he appeared to be swimming quite far into the lake. More in my direction than around the cliff. Surely he's not swimming across the lake?!

The moose probably made it about halfway across the lake before I finally realized that yes, the moose was crossing the lake. And, a little concerning to me, appeared to be swimming directly towards me! Moose are large creatures and can certainly hurt a person if they wanted to, and I found it concerning that the moose appeared to be heading directly toward me. I rushed back to my tarp and grabbed my bear spray. It probably wasn't necessary, but I felt it was better to be safe than sorry. I had never used bear spray bear and fumbled around a little trying to get the safety off. Just in case....

Yes, he did enter the water... and he's heading right for me!

By the time I was ready, the moose was approaching close to camp. I could see the gleam in his eye. He wasn't a very elegant swimmer, but he was effective and moving a lot faster than I realized.

As the moose approached the shore, he stopped swimming when his hooves reached the bottom of the lake and walked the rest of the way in toward the shore. Waves of water spilled off his back as he rose out of lake. It was majestic to watch and I was lucky to witness it! I wondered where all the other hikers at this campsite were. They were missing quite the show!

The moose was definitely not an elegant swimmer! He kind of looked like he was struggling not to drown!

The moose rose out of the lake maybe 20 feet away from my campsite and I must have snapped a hundred photos. He was so close, I had to zoom OUT just to fit his head in the camera frame. Wow!

The moose stood there for a couple of minutes, and we just looked at each other--sizing each other up. He didn't seem too concerned or surprised about my presence, but he didn't appear eager to get any closer either for which I was thankful.


Then he trotted off, staying a few feet off shore in about a foot of water, continuing to follow the shoreline westward. I followed his progress for 3 or 4 minutes before he rounded a curve and was out of view.

WOW! WOW! WOW! Best moose sighting EVER!!!! And on my first day on the trail! What other amazing sights would I see out here?!

I'm going to call him Wassa. I call all moose Wassa. Big and majestic! =)

It started sprinkling lightly while the moose and I were eyeing each other and now the light sprinkle was beginning to grow in intensity so I retired back to my tarp. I spent about two hours there, listening to the rain. I started getting hungry for dinner, but I didn't even have any food to snack on. It was in my food bags, hanging on the cables at the front of the campsite. I didn't want to go out into the rain, but I did want to eat. It was a little frustrating. Normally, I'd just pull out my food and cook dinner under the tarp, but I couldn't do that here and cooking out in the open in the rain didn't appeal to me at all.

So I read my Kindle and relaxed... but stayed hungry. I'd eat when it stopped raining. If it stopped raining....

It did stop raining after a couple of hours, and it was even still light out. Sunset came late in this part of the world! So I got up and retrieved a food bag, which I carried to the cooking area and cooked up dinner. Mac 'n' cheese!

By now it was about 8:00 in the evening and still no other hikers had arrived in camp. Where was everybody?! Getting a permit through Glacier NP was kind of a hassle because the park is so popular, but there were still two or three empty campsites here! They should be full! I passed all sorts of people throughout the day, but where did they all go?

After dinner, I returned my food bag back to the cables before returning to camp for the night. No other hikers ever arrived. I had the whole campsite and lake to myself!

Flowers! Flowers! Everywhere!

Gros Ventre Falls
Rainbow over Cosley Lake