Monday, November 11, 2019

Day 7: Mount Wam Fire Lookout Tower

July 22: I got my earliest start yet on the trail--6:30am! The bugs in the morning were absolutely horrid which helped spur me along. Just moving down the trail helped keep them at bay. Also, I was low on water and wanted to reach the next water source ASAP. The earlier in the morning I hiked, the cooler it would be and the less water I'd need until I reached a creek another 4 or 5 miles away.

I hadn't traveled more than a mile or so when I reached the Gibraltar Ridge Fire--or rather, the ashes it left behind. It was a 13,000 acre fire from two years earlier and left a wake of destruction in its path including the trail I was hiking on. The trail was badly eroded in places and countless blowdowns blocked the trail. My fast pace slowed to a crawl and despite the early morning, the sun pounded down on the barren terrain.

Despite the lack of trees, the bugs still seemed to thrive. I lost the trail several times in the ashes and grew increasingly thirsty but rationed my meager water supplies. The terrain was absolutely brutal and I struggled the next few miles while cursing the trail gods.

The Gibraltar Ridge Fire left countless blowdowns across the trail severely slowing down my progress.

Hours later, I made it out of the burn area but the trail veered wildly off what both my map and GPS showed, and I started having doubts if I was heading in the correct direction. It's not like this place was covered with countless trails, though, and as long as I headed downhill into the valley with Blue Sky Creek, I knew I'd be fine. I continued on, down a steep slope when the trail veered back toward the creek and once again agreed with both my map and GPS. I wondered how they made these maps because it seemed clear to me that nobody had actually walked this route with a GPS when they made them. It seemed like they looked at an empty topo map, picked two points where they knew the trail was located and drew a straight line between them.

And then finally, I heard it--a trickling of water ahead. The creek was near! It wasn't the creek, but it was a tiny stream flowing toward the creek on a tributary, but that didn't matter. It was water! It looked good! It was refreshingly cold!

I dropped my pack and immediately drank an entire liter of water. So good! So good!

I filled up with water. I'd be near water throughout the rest of the day so I didn't have to carry more than a liter at a time now.

The trail soon crossed Blue Sky Creek at which point it followed an old, abandoned road for several wonderfully flat and easy miles with a gentle downhill slope. I made good time along this stretch.

I took a nice, long break at a trailhead where the trail intersected with a forest service road just before beginning a 4-mile road walk on the moderately busy gravel road. In the hour or two I walked along the road, 12 vehicles passed me. One stopped to offer me a ride but I turned him down. I wasn't going to miss any of the trail. Not even a stupid road walk. This would be the only person I'd talk to the entire day. I didn't see a single hiker (or bicyclist) the entire day.
I didn't see any other hikers on the trail, but I did see this deer during the road walk!

Near the end of the road walk, a light sprinkle started. Argh! It wasn't so hard that I pulled out my umbrella, but my pants and shoes got completely soaked from the overgrown trail conditions once I got back on real trail. The light sprinkle was enough to get the vegetation sufficiently wet to soak me as I brushed through it.

My goal now was to reach Foundation Lake, which I knew had campsites nearby and plenty of water. The trail climbed steadily upwards but except for the overgrown conditions, it didn't slow me down much.

When I reached the lake, the bugs were awful and the lake looked stagnant and I reconsidered stopping here for the night. If I picked up plenty of water, I could hike another mile or two to the summit of Mount Wam which had a fire lookout tower. At the very least, it would likely have fewer bugs and a better breeze. Ideally, it would be unlocked and I could camp inside of it. And if I made it there, I would officially complete my first 20-mile day. I had had a 19.7-mile day and a 19.5-mile day, but technically hadn't completed a 20-mile day yet. The summit of Mount Wam would put me at 20.3 miles.

Foundation Lake was buggy and stagnant.

My guide book did say that the lookout tower was available for rent but I hadn't made any reservations because I wasn't even sure when I would get here when I started hiking a week before. The door was locked, though, and people who rented the tower to sleep overnight would get a key or combination or something. That was the impression I had. Maybe if people were camped inside, they'd let me join them?

I decided to make a go for it. If I couldn't camp inside the lookout tower, I'd camp somewhere nearby.

I filled up with the stagnant lake water which did not excite me at all, but as the trail rounded the lake, I passed a small stream flowing toward the lake--fresh, cold water. I dumped out the awful lake water and replaced it with the stream water. I felt much better about my water supply now!

The lookout tower was located maybe a ten-minute walk off the main Pacific Northwest Trail, and I crossed my fingers that I could camp inside. Please let it be available!

When I arrived... nobody was there. If someone had rented it for tonight, they hadn't arrived yet and it was already fairly late in the day. The trail came up at the back of the tower so I walked around it to the door and there was no lock on it at all. "Yes!" I shouted into the air. Instead of a lock, a screwdriver had been threaded through the holes where a padlock would normally be used. I pulled out the screwdriver and entered the hut.

Mount Wam fire lookout tower

The place was packed with construction supplies. It looked like the fire lookout might be getting a renovation soon. It was a bit run down and a few bugs buzzed around, but it was definitely a lot more tolerable than the bugs at Foundation Lake and the views from here were far, far better! It seemed like I could see a hundred miles in every direction! Looking north, I knew the mountains were in Canada. I was only a few miles from the Canadian border and looked for the deforested line through the trees, but that I couldn't find.

There was a register inside which I flipped through looking for fellow PNT thru-hikers. There was a fellow named Recon 2.5 days ahead of me. Maybe I could catch up to him if he wasn't hiking fast. I had no idea who he was or how fast he was hiking, but at the very least, I had definite confirmation that I wasn't the only person on this trail and he wasn't especially far ahead of me.

I also learned that the fire lookout tower was haunted by a pika named Carl. Apparently, he's quite the character, takes running jumps off the top of the tower and gets into people's food.

I cooked dinner outside not wanting to accidentally set fire to the old, wooden structure. It probably would have been fine to cook inside, but why take the extra unnecessary risk?

The structure trapped heat like a greenhouse and it was comfortably warm as the outside temperatures fell, so I walked around the structure with little more than a short-sleeved shirt and some underwear. =)

I stayed up fairly late reading my Kindle when I noticed a flash out of the corner of my eye. And... was that lightning? I was located in the middle of nowhere, but off in the distance, I saw another flash of light on the horizon. Yep, definitely lightning. I hoped being at the top of a mountain in a lightning storm wasn't a problem. I had to assume that the fire tower was lightning-proof. It had been on this mountain top for the better part of a century and had probably seen its fair share of lightning storms, but it wasn't something I started thinking about until now. These fire lookout towers are safe in lightning storms? Right? Right?! Well, I'd find out....

The sky overhead was still clear of clouds and the stars twinkled overhead. It was absolutely beautiful outside so I grabbed my fancy camera and tried to get photos of both the stars and the distant lightning storm.

Which turned out nice. Not as great as I had hoped, but nice. The lightning lit up the distant clouds so those pictures mostly looked like there was light pollution from a distant city. I really wanted to capture an actual lightning bolt streaking through the sky, but that was not meant to be.

I watched the storm for a half hour or so but it seemed like it was moving across the horizon rather than toward me and I finally gave up and went to sleep.

Hours later, the storm did pass by much closer. Rain hit the lookout tower and thunder rumbled through, but I still couldn't see the actual lightning bolts through the clouds. How frustrating!

Then eventually the storm moved off and I faded back to sleep....

The lightning storm looked like light pollution from a distant town in my photos. And none of my photos turned out particularly sharp either. All-in-all, my night photos turned out be a big disappointment.

More blowdowns through the burn area
The wildflowers bloomed like crazy through the opened canopy, though!

More evidence that there are PNT hikers ahead of me... somewhere. They created a 100-mile marker to celebrate! One hundred miles down, just 1,100 miles to go...
Inside the Mount Wam fire lookout. (Yes, that is a box of wine someone left on the shelf a few days earlier!)
The register warned of Carl, the adventurous pika who haunted the lookout tower! =)
Looking north, I knew those distant mountains were Canada since I was located only a few miles from the Canadian border.


GG said...

I thought you had mentioned Recon from previous forays into the wilds.
No, a new name to you?

Jaxx said...

I think that photo of the starry sky is amazing !!!

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary said...

I love the night skies with so many stars! I see very few stars due to urban living.