Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Here's the list (with some brief comments):
END Stumptown high-top trail runners Great shoes. 96 miles and only one tiny blister.
Tilley Airflo LT-6 hat - portable shade. Nice styling. Great hat.
Smartwool long sleeve microweight crew - I never believed all the marketing jazz about wool keeping you warm when it's cold and cool when it's warm. I'm a believer after this trip. In fact, I went out and bought a microweight short sleeve wool shirt almost as soon as I got home for summer hiking.
Mountain Hardwear Canyon pants
Platypus bottles (one 1-liter, one 2-liter)
Jetboil PCS - I'm constantly amazed by this gadget. Three of us shared one stove for five days and didn't even kill one fuel canister.
Rain Gear (Patagonia Rain Shadow jacket and REI Ultralight rain pants) - Didn't need them on this trip. I would have needed them if I didn't take them. Such is life.
Sea to Summit bugnet - I bought this bugnet for the trip. Worth every dime for the two hours a day that the bugs swarmed us at camp.
REI Minimalist bivy sack
Integral Designs 8x10 siltarp
Golite Adrenaline 40 sleeping bag
Katadyn Hiker water filter
Rite in the Rain mini journal and Inka pen
Maps printed on Adventure Paper
Light My Fire Spork - too short to eat out of the dehydrated backpacking food pouches. I've replaced it with a long-handled spoon.
Thermarest Trail sleeping pad - heavy but worth it. At least until I feel like spending 150 bills on a Neo Air.
Bandanas (x2) - I always carry bandanas. So many uses.
Contacts (as in corrective eyewear) - I'm mixed on contacts. I wore them for this trip and they were great. I've switched back to glasses, but that's a topic for a different, separate post.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Quote of note:
In the end it is a very old thing we are doing, walking vast distances along the surface of the earth, drinking from streams, and laying under a pine tree on thick duff. What could be better than this simple life?
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Friday, August 21
Projected mileage: 18.9 miles
Elevation gain/loss: 5500 feet gain/1600 feet loss
Dan and I both woke up before his alarm actually sounded. Dawn hadn't broken yet, but that didn't matter. I'd had a good night of sleep. Even though my knee was really stiff from the day before, I was ready to hit the trail and get to Sunrise. Dan made a desultory attempt to wake Jason and decided to let him sleep since Jason still slumbered quite soundly. Dan and I ate breakfast by headlamp. We started breaking camp around Jason, quietly. Jason woke up about 45 minutes after us and started a pot of coffee. After coffee and breakfast and pumping water, we got on trail just before 7 a.m.
We headed up the trail along the Carbon River towards the Carbon Glacier viewpoint. Some clouds had rolled in overnight and they obscured any views we might have had along the way. I thought the clouds might presage a storm around Rainier. Walking 18 miles through a rainstorm and whiteout on the north side of a mountain famed for "making its own weather" held little appeal. We all had decent rain gear. Dan had his GPS. I had a full set of maps and a compass. The trail was well marked and easy to follow. I had no doubt we'd make it to Sunrise today, I had just hoped to have some more of the great, sunny weather we had enjoyed for this last leg.
We marched along in the mist towards Carbon River camp. Around 7:30 we hit a trail detour that pushed us left across the river. Apparently the trail had washed out further north from us. We picked our way across the wide stony river bed and kept walking up the ridge. We shortly found another suspension bridge leading back across the river (to our right) towards Carbon River camp. We thought about playing on the bridge and getting some pictures, but a large group of backpackers was coming across. And we wanted to get to Sunrise. So we kept trucking up the trail toward Dick Creek Camp. We filled our water bottles again just after 9 a.m. And we rinsed some of the sweat off. And Dan finally cajoled me into a muscle pose.
And the clouds still hadn't lifted.
We did break out above the clouds by 10 a.m. on the ridge to the east of Carbon Glacier. The marine layer filled the valley below us, so we missed seeing the biggest glacier in the lower 48.
We did see some marmots though. Bold as brass, too. They just sat there 10 feet from the trail on a big boulder and watched us. They seemed to say, "Why are you here. This is our meadow. You should be moving on now." The marmots were the biggest wildlife we saw the whole trip.
We made Mystic Lake in good time around 11 a.m. We ate lunch by the river. We lounged around (as usual) but we didn't soak our feet today. Or our shirts. The temperature felt cooler than it had the last few days. The breeze moved air as we walked through the trees. Even on the sun exposed portions of the trail we felt comfortable. Shortly after Mystic Lake, we strode along on huge moraine-like ridges on the west side of the Winthrop Glacier. Less than an hour after leaving Mystic Lake camp we crossed Winthrop Creek and started climbing up towards Granite Creek camp.
The trail gave us five or six places where we could witness Winthrop Creek being born from a hollow in the Winthrop Glacier. We stopped every time and marveled. I mean, how many times do you see a river springing to life from its source?
Barely an hour after that we climbed into Granite Creek camp. The trees gave us lots of shade. The breeze kept us cool and hadn't failed since we broke out of the cloud cover. The sun had dried us out and gave us clear views all the way round. We paused only to fill our water bottles and then continued upward. We stopped for a longer break at a saddle at just over 7000 feet and looked around. In a scant 200 or 300 vertical feet (at most), we'd gone from woods to exposed grassy slope to bare rocky ridge. We sat on stone bleached to a gleaming white by the sun every summer and scrubbed by snow every winter.
As we rested, Dan barely choked down an energy bar. He sounded like he wanted to throw it up. So we talked about food. Fantasized, really. Mexican food. Greasy and full of cheese and guacamole and sour cream. Huge, sizzling platters of it. And accompanied by beer. Dan said something about "frolicking with tacos" before he trailed off into incoherent mumbling. We started down from the saddle toward the last valley between us and Sunrise. We dropped 500 feet into a bowl that would lead us to Berkley Park (to our North) if we chose. We chose not to go that way. We hit the trail to Frozen Lake about 20 minutes after leaving the saddle. The sign there gave us great news: 2.3 miles to Sunrise.
We moved along at a good clip from there. Dan led the way, literally running for 15 minutes. We topped our last rise of the trip and saw Sunrise below us, with cars and buildings and day-hikers and tourists.
We stumbled down the last incline and lined up shoulder to shoulder for the last 10 feet. Dan and Jason and I crossed from the trail to the parking lot together, simultaneously. Dan howled out a primal yell to celebrate. Jason gave a little whoop and crouched down and kissed the pavement. I just smiled and shook hands with the boys.
We did it.
Just like we said.
One step at a time.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Thursday, August 20
Projected mileage: 15.8 miles
Elevation gain/loss: 2400 feet gain/4800 feet loss
I am always amazed at how much better I feel after a good night's sleep. We woke up late-ish for us somewhere in the 6 a.m. hour as the bugs started making themselves known. I felt energetic and ready. Despite the buzzing squadrons of bloodsuckers, we took our time with breakfast and packing and getting ready to walk. Dan had a heel blister on one foot that decided to peel open when he checked on it. He taped it up with some neosporin and bandaids and duct tape followed by moleskin and more duct tape. The patch job took about 10 minutes to perform and lasted two days.
We started walking about 8:20 and almost immediately started a 2000 foot drop toward the South Mowich River. My left knee started complaining towards the end of this descent and didn't shut up for the rest of the trip. Apparently all this descending did not agree with it. We took a longish break before the South Mowich and got some fresh water and chatted with another hiker. He was heading for Mowich Lake and then he was out. He'd made it round the mountain in 7 days. He was sporting a pack even smaller and lighter than ours.
We arrived at the South Mowich about a quarter to 11 a.m. The river had a lot of sass and the log bridges seemed pretty low compared to the volume of water flowing. The last footbridge we crossed actually had the current washing against it and occasionally slapping over it. A tongue of water licked out and soaked my right foot as I crossed, almost like a reminder that we don't control the rivers any more than we control the glaciers or the rocks.
Then we started the "death march to Mowich." We started a 2000 foot climb on a wooded slope to reach Mowich Lake. As usual, the trees kept the air still which kept the air moist which made us feel sticky. Mowich Lake and it's campsites and parking lot greeted us at 1:40 in the afternoon. A real building for toilets. Trash cans. A parking lot. And a lake. We hopped into the lake and cooled off and ate some snacks. We soaked our feet. We drenched our shirts, as usual, for extra cooling on the hike. We got to lose our trash from the last two and a half days. We lounged around for almost an hour before we left the lake and headed up to Ipsut Pass.
The pictures of the trail descending from Ipsut pass can absolutely not give you an idea of how steeply the trail drops into this drainage. The trail had good tread but it was very steep. My knee started complaining again and proceeded to yell at me all the way to camp two hours later. After we dropped 2000 feet into the valley, the angle of the trail slacked off to a quite pleasant grade. We tracked along this until about 5:30 when we rolled into Ipsut Creek camp.
Ipsut Creek camp is a little odd. It used to be a car camp until a big storm washed out the road just past the bridge and (maybe at the same time) a sinkhole took down the stone building used by the rangers. The camp still has post for garbage cans with the animal proof lids, but no actual garbage cans. Water faucets sprout out of the ground in a few places but they don't give any water when the handles turn. The pit toilet building is fully stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Weeds are taking over the parking lot. Moss grows on some of the former amenities of the park. It's creepy. Dan said he got the heebie jeebies here.
We did play some rummy. And we did get to sit at an actual table to eat our dinner. Dan ate two mountain house meals (about 1600 calories for those of you at home) because he felt like he was running low on energy. We each had two good pulls from Jason's flask and finished off the Tuaca he brought.
Then we sacked out early.
Wednesday, August 19
Projected mileage: 19.8 miles
Elevation gain/loss: 6000 feet gain/4700 feet loss
Wednesday started well. We all slept well and had a good breakfast. Camp came down quickly and efficiently. Once we had pumped our water for the first leg, we got on the trail by 7:15 a.m. We made it to the next camp two miles up the hill named Devil's Dream by 8:15. Soon after, the close forest of the ridge opened up to meadows and meadows of alpine wildflowers. And marshy ground. And so, lots of mosquitoes and biting flies. The bugs kept us moving quickly past Indian Henry's Cabin (now a Ranger Patrol Cabin).
After Indian Henry's Cabin, we ducked back into the forest for almost an hour until we got to Tahoma Creek and the suspension bridge. Concrete pilings. Metal bars holding wooden slats in place all suspended by two towers and lots and lots of cable. This was cool as hell! We took turns marching across. I went first and enjoyed the bridge bouncing with each stride. My steps seems to create more bounce at either end and to have less wiggle in the center. I stopped and let Jason take my picture. Then Dan tromped across and gave a double biceps "pump" pose. The Jason started across. I had forgotten that he was afraid of heights until right now. He took a step and stopped. He waited for the bounce to dissipate and then took another step. He got faster as he crossed and became confident that the bridge would not, in fact, drop him into the river below. He even handed off his camera to Dan and marched back to the center of the bridge to get his picture taken. This moment really got us stoked.
We marched back into the trees for a little longer and climbed up to a ridge-line. The ridge-line trail turned rocky. The trees grew smaller. Soon, we strode along an old moraine towards Emerald Ridge. The sun had started cooking us as soon as we popped out of the trees. We started moving a little slower as we got closer to the toe of the Tahoma glacier. We made it up and over one last rise and started trucking down the "backside" of the Emerald Ridge. We had more and more shade. We had good views of the end of the glacier and the very, very orange rocks piled up on it's end. Soon we found a great shady spot with big rocks and cold water for lunch about 12:25 p.m.
(The toe of the Tahoma glacier)
We all felt a little dehydrated from the last three hours of effort so we lingered over lunch. We soaked our feet and our shirts. I drank almost two liters of water just during lunch. We got moving again at 1:15 p.m. and dropped down to the big rapids of the South Puyallup river. We crossed the river and started climbing once more. The landscape changed again. We could see tree-covered ridges running away west of us. Wide open meadows ran down to tree line from where we walked. The air didn't move, though, and the moisture from the grasses and flowers turned into stifling humidity. After more climbing and more traversing over the verdant sights for two and a half hours, we reached St Andrews lake. It was smallish, but clear and cool and wet. We pumped some water. We jumped in and went swimming.
After St Andrews lake, we had a short rise and then started dropping again towards the North Puyallup. This felt like a long three and a half miles. We didn't actually reach North Puyallup until 6 p.m. Dan's GPS read 18 miles so far. That couldn't possibly be right. Eighteen miles meant that we should almost be to camp, and we were staring at a trail sign that told us we had five more miles to go to reach Golden Lakes. At least two hours to camp with a climb the whole way and the sun fading.
(Looking down into the North Puyallup from the bridge)
We started moving up the slope. I put Dan in front and he set a fast pace. We moved fast. And made good time. But we were back into the trees and the air was still and humid and stifling again. We had to stop frequently to mop up sweat and catch our breath. We finally broke out of the forest sometime after 7 p.m. We felt close to our campsite, Golden Lakes, but we weren't. Dan's GPS said we were close to camp, but (except in that weird scale of maps on GPS screens) we weren't. We kept hiking up a ridge for what felt like another hour. We would top a rise and find more rise. We would turn a corner and find another bend.
My shoulders hurt from the heavy load of food. My feet hurt from the almost 60 miles we had walked. I was sweaty. And tired. And ready for my dehydrated chicken fettucini alfredo dinner. And the trail kept winding to the right as the sun kept falling on our left. And finally we topped a rise and found no more "up" on the other side. A lake glinted in the trees just a little way down from us. Almost there! But no. They named the camp Golden Lakes (plural) for a reason. We passed five lakes on the final leg to camp. But finally, finally, finally at 8:18 p.m. we rolled into Golden Lakes campsite and threw down our bags and started setting camp. I was truly bone weary that night when I finally crawled into my sleeping back and stared at the stars for many minutes, almost too tired to fall asleep immediately.
(As a quick aside, Dan's GPS showed 24.8 miles of travel for Wednesday. So surely I had miscounted the miles on the trail map when I did my figures, right? I'm not so sure now. I checked the trail map again and get the same 19.6 miles. The national parks service elevation profile map makes the distance to be a bit longer, but still not 25 miles. Even better, on day 5 we compared the mileages on trail signs to the recorded mileage on Dan's GPS. We found that the GPS was adding about 25% to the distance travelled, but not entirely consistently. So I'm not sure how many miles we did on the 19th, but I am positive that it was the single hardest day of hiking/climbing that I've ever experienced!)
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Tuesday, August 18
Projected mileage: 14.4 miles
Elevation gain/loss: 3200 feet gain/2500 feet loss
We slept in on Tuesday and took our time breaking camp. We didn't get on trail and marching until 8:30 a.m. We planned Tuesday as a short day anyway; we needed to stop in at Longmire Wilderness Info center to grab our cached food before we headed on to Pyramid creek to camp for the night. We made good time all morning and hit Reflection lake at about 10:30 a.m.
We didn't stay long and kept trucking down the trail until we hit Narada Falls. Neither Jason or I had ever seen Narada Falls, and it's one of Dan's favorite waterfalls. So we took a little 0.1 mile detour to hit the viewpoint. Now there's a parking lot at the top of the falls so people can just drive in and walk down the the falls. The viewpoint had a lot of people and a couple of young children shouted "Look! Hikers!" as we came up the trail. This amused Jason greatly.
After Narada Falls we stepped down the trail and got to Longmire about 1:45 p.m.. We'd done about two thirds of our daily mileage and didn't have far to go to reach camp (3.5 miles and 1500 feet). So we spent some time at Longmire snacking and napping and drinking lots of water. Dan and I soaked our shirts through with water from the faucet. That wet wool shirt felt so good as it went on!
After almost two hours of immobility, we strapped up and headed up the trail. Again, we made good time. We crossed Kautz creek and made camp at Pyramid Creek by 5 p.m.
(The last three pictures are Jason and Dan and I crossing Kautz Creek)
The biting flies and mosquitos came out in force. Despite them, we had a relaxing dinner and even had some time to play rummy. We had started a game on Sunday night. At the end of three hands, we decided that the winner carried the cards and the loser bought the first round of beer when we finished the trip. Jason won.
So Jason got to carry the cards. Dan had one really bad hand at Pyramid Creek. He got stuck in last place and faced the possibility of buying beer for me and Jason on Friday.
I'll try to make this brief and entertaining. I'm not the best action writer but I hope to share a little bit of the fun that Dan, Jason and I had walking the Wonderland Trail.
Sunday, August 16
Dan and Jason roll up to my house about 6:30 in the morning. We load up my stuff and goof off for a little bit before we hit the road. I kiss Dev goodbye, pat the dogs one last time and then we roll out of town in Dan's car. The drive is uneventful. We're all relaxed since we don't start hiking until tomorrow (Monday). We chat about our gear and set up. We speculate on the hardest day. I bet that Day 1 is going to be the worst. Dan and Jason both vote for Day 3. We keep running over the gear list and itinerary as we roll up I-5 and near our turn off.
Finally we get to the park. No fee. It's the last no fee day for the fee free weekend on National Parks. Excellent. We drive up to Longmire Wilderness Information Center. The patient ranger helps us sort through our paperwork. Jason doesn't have his paperwork. No permit. We're sweating it. The ranger and Jason keep going through the book looking for his permit. And they don't find it. So they check the computer (which had been down to this point) and don't find him there either. They had rejected his permit application so he wasn't on file. The ranger added him to Dan and my permit since each camp would easily fit all three of us. So we logged in our cache and left three and a half days worth of food at the ranger station.
We started the long drive to Sunrise for our first camp. Generally this takes about two hours. We didn't feel rushed and kind of moseyed along. We wanted to stop at Paradise but there was no parking and the crowds were crazy. Instead of waiting for the shuttle we just kept driving. We stopped for a couple of view on the way to Sunrise. There was no parking at Sunrise either. So once again we got back into the car and drove. This time we went to White River Campground and established our last civilized night for five days.
We drink a couple of beers. We cook up some spaghetti and beef and sauce. We gorge ourselves. We sleep. in a big tent on air mattresses.
Monday, August 17
Projected mileage: 24.8 miles
Elevation gain/loss: 4400 feet gain/7830 feet loss
Morning rolls around too soon. The sun's not up yet but the alarm rings us out of our slumber. We pack up camp by the light of headlamps and drive back to Sunrise at 6400 feet on the northeast side of Mount Rainier. It's not crowded this morning. We can find parking. We sort our gear again. Jason brews up a tub of coffee in his Jetboil. We look at each other and the mountain and our coffee. We swallow the last but of caffeinated goodness, rinse our cups and strap in.
6:45 am and we are finally doing this. Months of anticipation building to this moment. Planning, obsessing even, for this trek. And it starts with a step. One step. Anticlimactic and momentous. We decide that the motto for this trip is "One step at a time." Trying to wrap or heads around 93 miles of walking is just too hard. One step at a time. We'll get there bit by bit. One step at a time.
So every trip has at least one piece of gear break or malfunction. It's sort of a law of outdoor adventure. And it keeps things interesting. Not even one hour into our trip, we pull up to the junction that puts us on the Wonderland Trail for real. It's 7:22 am. I pull the camera out of my waist pack and fumble it while trying to turn it on. And I drop it.
I drop it onto the extended lens.
The camera's out of commission. "Dev always hated this camera anyway," I say to myself after I finish cussing a blue streak. At least we have Jason's camera still. So we can keep taking pictures. And the added bonus is that we got the major gear failure out of the way very early in the trip.
We make pretty good time after the breaking of the camera. We stride right along and through Sunrise Camp around 7:45 am. We circle back down the White River Campground about 8:55 am and took a break.
Side note: We didn't just start at White River for the loop because there was no long term car parking like there is at Sunrise.
Then we really got into our stride. We crossed the White River over a couple of log bridges and then made a long traverse around Goat Island Mountain. After the traverse we made it into the drainage for Fryingpan creek and started climbing up and up. We passed through Summerland Camp and hit Fryingpan Creek at 12:30 p.m.. We sat in the sun soaking our feet in the frigid glacial melt. I can only keep my feet in for 30 seconds or so at a stretch and then I have to pull them out of the water. After they warm up, then they go back into the water for another dousing. I did this cycle for about 20 minutes. It felt so good. And during this process, I reach into my pack and pull out a 9 ounce summer sausage to share with Dan and Jason. Dan looks ecstatic as he eats his portion. Jason counters my luxury with some mini cheese wheels. Yum!
We suit up about 1:05 p.m. and start the march to our high point for the day: Panhandle Gap at 6445 feet above sea level. And we get there only 30 minutes after lunch. We're marching through bare rock swept clean by wind and snow. Beautiful and barren. Stunning landscapes and awesome views roll out from under our feet on the ridge. We ride the ribbon of trail up and down through several dished basins. We come out of the last depression onto a ridge where we can see the five huge waterfalls that start the Ohanapecosh River by dropping thousands of feet down sheer cliffs from the Ohanapecosh Glacier.
The Wonderland Trail winds down the ridge to Indian Bar Camp, dropping elevation quickly and without much shade. The sunny 1600 foot descent drains all three of us. We hit the camp and drop our packs and find some shade. As Dan wanders off to find the camp toilet, Jason pulls out his Jetboil stove and brews up a triple serving of coffee (he brought a full half pound of fresh ground coffee in his pack!). We sit on the wood bridge overlooking the hydraulics of Waulaukaupauken Falls and drink our coffee and chat with another Wonderland hiker for most of an hour.
The other hiker has been on the trails for 10 days and expects he'll finish in two more. He's on a three month leave of absence from some cubicle farm in Riverside, California. He won't be more specific about his job so I can only assume he doesn't particularly care for his current career all that much. He does tell us that he endured an epic 5 day rain storm the previous week on the trail. He described a heavy, cold and soaking rain that lasted all day and stopped him from most of the side trips. He's happy for the hot and sunny weather we now enjoy on the trail.
Invigorated by almost an hour of rest and a cup of coffee, we jump back on the trail about 4 p.m. and leave Indian Bar behind. We still have a long way to go to make Maple Creek before sun down. We finally reach Nickel Creek camp at 7, and then Box Canyon shortly after that. We've dropped another 2500 feet since INdian Bar. Deep in the Canyon and in the trees, we start to lose our light. Maple Creek sits about two and a half miles away. Dan's starting to slow a little from the long day. So we come up with a stupid plan. Dan has his GPS and will roll into camp at his pace after he rests some more at Box Canyon. Jason and I will hot foot our way down the trail to hit camp, grab a spot, filter some water and get dinner ready for when Dan shows up.
I don't recommend this plan ever. In my D&D days, this was called "splitting the party" and was a big no-no. Turns out, it feels even worse in the real world. Especially when that real world is dusk in the woods in bear country.
Jason and I hit camp after the longest mile and a half I've ever experienced (up to that point). I was cursing under my breath trying top set my tarp up. Once I had that done I was going to take a liter of water and a headlamp and head back down the trail for Dan. Jason had pumped some water and started dinner. I only had the tarp halfway up when we heard a creak-clank noise. A noise like Dan's coffee mug on the outside of his pack. I see a headlamp coming. It's Dan! He flew down the trail and got to camp about 10 minutes after we got there.
So here comes the big confession. When we started out from Sunrise that morning, we headed west out to the Frozen Lake intersection. When we hit the Wonderland Trail and headed south we soon hit another trail junction with a sign pointed to Sunrise... 0.5 miles away. ARRRRGH! We added three miles and an hour of hiking to our day because a stupid navigational error on my part. We really could have used that extra hour of daylight at the end of the day!