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.