Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Day 55: Cable cars and Whatcom Pass

August 3: I woke up to gray skies, and it would stay that way for pretty much the entire day. The first couple of miles followed Little Beaver Creek downstream, crossed on a small bridge, then back up the other side of the trail basically making a 2-mile loop that returned me back to the campsite located a stone's throw on the other side of the river. It was annoying to walk so far to cover such a small distance as the crow flies.

The trail also hadn't seen maintenance in a while. Pretty much ever since leaving the shore of Ross Lake, areas were overgrown and blowdowns occasionally blocked the trail. It wasn't super bad, but annoying at times.

In one clearing, I felt a few drops of rain, ever so slight. If I had been hiking under the tree cover at the time, I wouldn't have felt it at all. I stopped to make sure all of my gear that needed to be in waterproof bags were properly stored in my pack, but the rain stayed away and I never needed my umbrella.

The trail started with a relatively gentle grade, but there was about 1 mile of trail that climbed over 2,000 feet to Whatcom Pass which was exhausting to get up. I needed a few breaks and it probably took me at least an hour to make it up to the pass.

The switchbacks were relentless, but some areas followed a slope so steep that I got a little nervous on the trail. One slip or trip and I could easily fall a thousand feet to my death! Retaining walls had been built to help shore up the slope, but some of them looked sketchy and held in place by nothing more than some thin wires. Was this really the best route they could find over Whatcom Pass? Who were the brave individuals that created these retaining walls on such an exposed location? The trail was an engineering marvel in my book, but I was anxious to get it behind me.

Once I made it over Whatcom Pass, the trail descended for pretty much the rest of the day, losing all that hard-fought rise in elevation. But at least the descent was down a much lower grade over a much longer distance.

I took an hour-long rest at Whatcom Camp, just past Whatcom Pass, and couldn't help but note that there wasn't snow anywhere. Not even the smallest patch of snow. The first time I had called the ranger station to get a permit, I had wanted to camp here and they warned me that the snow here was still thick and that I should have an ice axe and be prepared to camp on snow. I wound up getting off the trail for an extra week when I had the foot trouble, but I had a hard time believing that the trail went from requiring an ice axe to there not even being a patch of snow in just a week. I think the folks at the ranger station were working with old data.

Bridge over the Little Beaver River.

I was glad that snow wasn't a problem. Doubly so for the climb up to Whatcom Pass which was a little sketchy even without snow!

Just past Graybeal Camp, it appeared that there was severe trail damage due to Brush Creek overflowing at some point. There was no trail at all at times and I ended up following cairns that previous hikers had created. And the logs blocking the route slowed me down considerably. It probably took me a half hour to travel a quarter-mile through that area, and it was definitely the worst section of trail I had seen so far this year.

Near the end of the day, I reached a cable car across the Chilliwack River. A cable car! That was exciting! =) I think the last (and only) time I ever used a cable car was during my 2009 hike of the West Coast Trail. They definitely aren't very common! So it was fun to finally get to use another one. =)

While putting my pack into the cable car, a water bottle fell out onto the ground below. Argh! So I scrambled down the slope to pick it up again, then tried again. 

The rope to pull oneself across the creek seemed a little loose and it felt like I had to pull it for a minute before I got the slack out and started moving.

Eventually, however, I made it to the other side. The platform on the far side of the river was raised well above ground level and required going down a ladder. I threw my trekking pole down since trying to hold onto it while descending the ladder would have been difficult, then followed down the ladder before picking up my trekking pole again.

And that was that. The one and only cable car of the PNT was now behind me.

I hiked a bit further up the trail to U.S. Cabin, the last campsite of my permit. After tonight, I'd be free to camp more-or-less whenever and wherever I wanted. I couldn't wait to be released from the oppression of the permit!

Whatcom Peak

Whatcom Glacier

During one of my snack breaks while going up Whatcom Pass, I found this apple in my pack. Usually I eat apples within the first day or two of getting on a trail because they're so heavy, but I 'lost' this one in my pack and forgot about it until I just discovered it. It was it was a nice surprise to eat a fresh apple today! Kind of a do-it-yourself trail magic! =)

This retaining wall going up to Whatcom Pass didn't give me a lot of confidence.... It looked like nothing but a few small wires were keeping the hillside in place!

Each of the horizontal logs up the hillside is a switchback, so you can actually see about 8 switchbacks heading up to Whatcom Pass in this photo!

The trail climbed about 2,000 feet in just one mile--extremely steep! Less than an hour earlier, I was at the bottom of this valley.

Hello, Mr. Toad!

Tiger Lily

It was pretty obvious to me that a recent mudslide piled up at these trees just below the trail.

This stream was the source of the mudslide cleaning out the creek down to the bare rock.

The trail through this area had appeared to be completely wiped out by flooding on Brush Creek. The trail itself was invisible so I started following cairns.

There's a trail somewhere across that river and behind those trees. If only I can find it....

This particular blowdown gave me a way across the creek without getting my feet wet! =)

Brush Creek

A ford or a cable car? Decisions, decisions.... Of course I'll take the cable car! Who wouldn't?! =) Okay, besides people with horses. Horses have to ford.

And this this the cable car across the Chilliwack River.

Hikers get in the cart then pull themselves across using the rope.

I dropped a water bottle overboard while putting my pack into the cart, so then I had to retrieve that before making my way across.

The platform on the far side of the river was elevated well above the ground.

And the one and only cable car of the PNT is officially done.

My campsite at U.S. Cabin. There was no actual cabin, though. (None that I saw, at least!)


Wise Wanderer said...

There's a single cable car, right? If someone comes along wanting to cross but it's on the other side, do they pull it back over to their side to use it?

Ryan said...

Correct. Most cable cars tend to hang out in the middle of the cable just because gravity pulls them down to there. So it doesn't matter which side you come from--you have to pull it back to your side.

And if there's a bunch of people wanting to cross (more than 2), you'll have to wait your turn to get across.

Mary said...

I think I'd choose to ford rather than use that cable car! How often is that inspected for wear and tear and safe operation? Nope. Can't do it. Luckily, I'll never face that decision!

GG said...

Mary, generally I'd agree with your sentiment, but this one runs on a metal cable that appears to only slightly smaller in diameter than that of a chairlift at a ski area.
Also it looks to be quite new.
The pully rope looks to be the weak point in that it looks like hemp rope.

Yes, I'd still be a bit nervous, but walking on wet water is just so last BC.

Anonymous said...

Tear any apples in half with your bare hands recently?

Ryan said...

I can't say that I've done it recently....