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Posts Tagged ‘Mt. Rainier’

Since we had gone straight day after day of long hauls from Timberline Lodge, we decided to take a half day out of White Pass, partly because Dead Animal cooked us such a huge breakfast that we had to lay back down to digest it.  We lounged about, trying to find more things to pack and repack and more and more things to eat.  A thru-hiker always has room to eat food to avoid carrying it.

Eventually, Dead kicked us out of his campsite on Leech Lake and we set off uphill through an amazing amount of horse shit probably due to the close proximity of a horse campground and Mt. Rainier.  Only half an hour in, we found Caveman and Slosher sitting on their packs.  They told us their sad tale of having to bypass the Mt. Adams fire that had choked our lungs and dried out our noses.  The hitch was not easy on a road seldom used and took them all the way into Portland, then it involved a train and a bus.  They had spent an entire zero day in transit around the fire and had to miss Goat Rocks because they could not get to the dirt road that Dead Animal had found Hop-a-long and me on.

After we caught up, we all plugged on up and over the long slog of a hill.  Hop-a-long had gotten ahead of me and managed to stop exactly when I wanted a break too and there we found none other than Snow Turtle and Agassi! We had not seen them since Ashland and had followed their footprints for just over 500 miles.  Some of that time we knew we were only hours behind them, their footprints so fresh and clear.

We all pressed on after getting some delicious swampy lake water.  Of course, just after we bothered to treat it and headed out, an unmarked stream surged by under a broken bridge.  The trail would mock us for getting crappy water when better water ran not too far down the path.

Eventually, we surged downhill toward the Bumping River Ford.  The name really said it all and when Hop-a-long and I looked at it, we only found a rather difficult rock hop and log shimmy that had a nice sketchy area right in the middle.  At that point, my stomach took over and I waded right through the icy water hoping my sandals would not freeze overnight.  Hop took the route of gyrations and managed to maneuver it well enough to stay dry.

Great campsites laid right off the trail.  We picked our spots and settled in for the night listening to the water soothe us to sleep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy sandals definitely did not dry by the morning, but they did not freeze.  I saw this as a positive start to the day.  I had packed up a little before Hop-a-long and set off to a nice morning climb of 2,000 feet to the top of a beautiful ridge where the trail danced around the boundary of Mt. Rainier National Park.

On the climb, I began hearing the strangest noises which I had never heard before.  Pausing to listen, a great big bull elk with gigantic antlers ran away from me about 40 yards ahead with his harem of female elks.  Then I remembered Agassi and Snow Turtle telling me it was elk mating season and to stay away from the bull elks.

Their mating call had guttural grunt sounds followed immediately by a high-pitched whistle sound.  You could certainly hear it for quite a long way, I will give them that.

Hop-a-long caught me at the top of the climb gazing at Mt. Rainier through more smoke.  We passed two side trails closed for forest fires as we meandered down the other side of the ridge.  The smoke hovered around the base of Rainier giving it the illusion of floating on top of the land.

Dead Animal had said he would meet us at road 471 if it was open around lunch time and we pushed to get there, motivated by our stomachs.  A few miles out, he came hiking toward us with good old PBRs.  They don’t give that blue ribbon to just any beer!  It hit the spot.

The three of us passed Dewey Lake which reflected it’s surroundings like a mirror with its glass-like surface.  Before long, we were at the parking lot and cutting up peppers and onions to saute on the Colman stove Dead had in the car.  We began eating as much as possible again while Snow Turtle and Agassi joined us.

After a long break, we climbed anew.  The higher we went, the less people we saw.  Just how we like it.  Hop-a-long and I took a breather by yet another Sheep Lake and looked at our sleeping options for the night.  Much too early to stop, the next guaranteed campsite was 8.5 miles further and we seemed to contour ridges the whole way there intersecting many other side trails coming up from the valleys below.

We decided to take our chances and try to camp in whatever saddle we hit around dark o’clock.   The trail stayed high and exposed with sheer drops down to the valley.  Maybe only a foot wide, we kept our eyes ahead and followed the lines of the hills where the trail took us.  Hop-a-long stopped in a saddle and we scoped it out.  We found two spots, but nothing ideal.  The sun had set and dark rolled in blanketing the contours.

Cooking and chatting, we watched a forest fire on the ridge directly across from us and the last helicopter dump water on it before night.  When the stars came out, the fire shone brighter and we saw whole trees flare up brightening the area so well we could see the contents of the valley between the flames and our camp spot for the night.

The morning took us up and down contouring and contourin,g finding a path high in the hills.  At the marked campsite that we did not reach the night before, we found Scout, a thru-hiker neither of us had met before and he joined us.  We all hiked together and chatted when the trail did not climb steeply until we hit Urich Camp.

A snowmobile cabin, we went inside and sat on benches which was a nice comfort and change of pace.  It had one of few PCT trail

Plaque outside of the cabin

Plaque outside of the cabin

logs and we all read the whole thing, writing our own notes at the end.  We still took long middle of the day breaks left over from breaking the desert heat at the beginning of the trail.

When we eventually cruised on, we passed many small logging roads, snowmobile trails, and a large burned area.  The dead trees still stood tall, but brilliant, bright green and red underbrush had gotten a solid foot hold.

Then, up in the distance, we saw a bright blue Neon and saw Dead parked on the side of a larger, well-kept logging road.  He gave us giant apples, the size of two fists put together and beer.  He took it as a challenge that Tahoe’s 76 year old friend was going to figure out the logging roads, so he did too.

We decided to have him slackpack us a few more miles to the last logging road he could get to and we’d find a campsite out of something.  When we finally got moving on that plan, we watched the weather start to turn and the smell of rain filled our noses.

As we crossed through the mess the logging companies left, we watched the fog and drizzle come up over the ridge from the west and plunge off the other side into the valley to the east.  It surged with such intensity that I thought the fog would reach all the way down to the stream below, but it disappeared into thin air not long over the ridge.

We found tolerable campsites off the side of the road where we were not getting too wet.  On the plus side of the rain, it cleared the smoke out of the air which sent all of us into coughing fits occasionally.  It gave us a few days respite.  However, my motivation decreases dramatically in the rain.

Small burned area

Small burned area

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Once we managed to make giant poops after eating so much, Hop-a-long and I chased Lush and Man Party down and found them on the top of the climb.  We knew we had to make time in order to get to White Pass on the two days of food we brought with us.  From the top, we could see how the trail swung around in a giant backwards “c” towards  mountains that looked massive and super cool.  Those mountains we had heard about since leaving California: Goat Rocks.  Super psyched for epicness.

Artwork from Team All-Dead

Artwork from Team All-Dead

Plunging into the trees, we kept up a great pace through the backwards “c” toward the climb up to Goat Rocks.  After many miles, we stopped right before dark and conveniently, right before the next climb to grab our headlamps and manage to stomach a bar to up our energy.  I enjoy climbing at night because it seems less strenuous since I can’t see exactly where I’m going other than up the trail.  With a careful eye, it’s quite meditative and peaceful at night.

As we climbed up, we did slow ourselves a little bit to make sure of our footing because we could tell we were contouring narrowly and nothing really seemed like it would catch our fall for at least 50 feet down.  Eventually, we came to a drainage which signaled we neared a “campsite.”  I put campsite in parentheses because many campsites marked in spots such as this on a climbing contour often are a.) not big, and b.) not that great.  We banked on some water there after thoroughly scanning half-mile’s notes, yogi’s notes, and the data book which frustratingly don’t correspond often.

We got a trickle of water just enough to fill water bottles with an ounce of patience and a decently flatish area.  Better than we had hoped!  Crashing out at as soon as we cooked dinner, we knew we had to be up and at it early to make 26 miles over Goat Rocks to White Pass.  Despite eating to capacity and beyond at lunch, we had reached the 17 miles after lunch to match the 10 before lunch to make a whopping 27 mile day.

Pumped for Goat Rocks, we began early with cameras ready.  We ran into many people out doing the same section we planned on doing in a day and a half in four days…oh the luxuries of not thru-hiking.  Most of them we managed to get off with minimal conversation except for Mark Trail who dutifully took our pictures and gave us a head count of all the thru-hikers ahead of us by day for three or four days back.  Talkative dude with a large external frame pack and dirty girl gaiters.

We continued going ever upward toward some of the most amazing views since the High Sierras.  The higher we climbed, the better views we saw.  At a small plateau, a side trail went off and we saw some artwork from Team All-Dead with No Amp and Bone Lady.  It made Hop-a-long and I chuckle, then continue forward.  The PCT actually crosses the very tip of the Packwood Glacier not much further on which just looked like a small snow field.

Mt. Adams and the fire to the south

Mt. Adams and the fire to the south

For a good amount of time we could see Mt. Adams smoking to the south and Mt. Rainer in all it’s majesty to the north.  The last push, we knew we were in for it when the PCT split: a hiker PCT and an equestrian PCT.  Just like in Crater Lake, the hiker PCT went straight up, no questions asked which – the equestrian PCT contoured over to the ridge we would later descend.  We gawked at it for a minute and determined the equestrian PCT more sketchy, especially if more snow covered the area.

We took an hour early lunch break on top, despite having gone only 8 miles to savor the view and what so many people had told us about with such fervor.  Truly amazing are the only words to describe it.  The trail followed a knifes edge down for miles along a ridge cutting in between two deep valleys teeming with snow melt streams and green plants galore.  Rainer framed it to the right climbing twice the height that we found ourselves on top of.

Next step: down, down, down.  The ridge dropped drastically on loose rock and scree and the trail did it’s best to wind ever so slightly to take a wee bit of the edge off, but the trail still lost something like 900 feet in 0.6 or 0.7 of a mile…absurdly steep for the PCT…even for the AT, that’s steep.  Hop-a-long managed to go down faster, but took enough pictures that my knees could moderately keep up.

Once the equestrian bypass joined back up, the trail went along the very edge of the ridge with several hundred foot drops to either side.  I thanked the wind for being mild that day.  We found the super sketchy part that Mark Trail had warned us about and cautioned us to stay together for.  The trail had literally been washed out for about six feet or so.  The trail was already no more than 8-10 inches wide, but in this spot, fine scree just shot hundreds of feet down.  Hop-a-long jumped it after some debate while I fished a foot around in the scree to test it’s stability.  Upon finding a solid rock in amongst the unstable mess, I put my weight on it then fished around with the other foot for something else calmly, but surely.  I found one, weighted it, then got to the other side.  Not something for those timid of heights, that’s for sure!

Looking down to the knifes edge and Mt. Rainer

Looking down to the knifes edge and Mt. Rainer

We dropped off the knife’s edge for a hundred yards or so and made a very tight contour in some dense rock and then we were back on the ridge going up and over several small bumps.  Finally, when the ridge petered out, the trail wrapped around and veered east down into a green valley.  We crossed many snow melt streams that were clear as day, but came from pink snow, so we waited until we found a decent looking one and filled up on water since most of our information said water could be iffy later on until White Pass.

Continuing down for what seemed like eternity, we finally began to go up again to hit the top of another ridge before descending to White Pass where Dead would have dinner.  We both wished we had allotted ourselves more snacks because the demanding terrain had increased our appetites.  The trail found every way to wind around natural features that it could, taking us the ultra scenic route.

Near the top of the last ridge, Hop-a-long came up upon a herd of mountain goats and got some great pictures of them.  I was just about two or three minutes behind and the last one had disappeared into the bush right before I got there, but she was super stoked about seeing the giant giants.  So there really are goats in Goat Rocks!

Getting to the road just after dark, we stumbled around trying to find the campground which looked super obvious on the map.  The map failed to make a horse campground separate from the real campground and we figured it out after half an hour of stumbling around dodging horse shit to find Dead Animal and dinner!  We also found Tahoe’s friend Ed in the adjacent campsite as another surprise.

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Mt. Hood and extending ridges.

I thought Mt. Hood was pretty neat from the south side, but from the Timberline Trail and the north side, I found myself stopping and just staring at the mountain in utter awe.  The gigantic ridges that sprang from the bases of glaciers shot out all around it, making Mt. Hood oddly resemble a spider with a central part of mosquito-eating awesomeness with huge legs extending outward.  To get to the Timberline Trail, we had climbed up on of those leg-like ridges to the Lodge.

Built in the 1930s as a CCC project, the architecture was something so admirable, even someone who knew very little on the subject had to stop and say “wow.”  Huge full, old growth trees made wide pillars supporting the structure surrounded by incredibly intricate carvings on banisters, railings, the ceiling and everywhere.  This is where we hung out while the wind ravaged the trees and the rain obscured our view of the beauty surrounding us.  The weather did clear somewhat in the late afternoon, but the wind refused to die which made the air temperature very uncomfortable.  When we heard about a bunk room deal, a “chalet” that the employee’s all seemed to call formally, we took it and it averaged out to be $15/person with five people sleeping in it.

So, we drank more beer, ate more buffets, hot tubbed, and relaxed at the end of our ten mile day.  We hikers took over the hot tub after dinner and only three other people stayed in, probably because they thought we were all crazy and they found us amusing.  At least the feeling was mutual because two of them, a father-son duo, told us all they had plans to climb Mt. Hood in the morning and found it weird that the company had second thoughts about renting them gear.  We had reservations as well, which we voiced very vocally and making sure they had enough sense to figure out when they were completely over their heads and needed to turn around.  We also tried to hammer into their heads that there was no shame in turning around.  Neither of them had ever done any mountaineering or even handled an ice axe.  They kept asking us where the route went up the mountain since they had not though to pick up a map or even do internet research of the various summit routes.  They worried me.

In the morning, we had a lazy start eating buffet breakfast, sleeping in, packing and repacking.  It helped that we had to vacate the

Into the Tunnel

room by 11am so once again we had to return to vagrant status of bumming space in the open lounge near the bar.  Hop-a-long, Dead Animal and I examined the maps and decided that despite leaving around noon-30, we still had time to slackpack 18 miles and meet Dead at the next road crossing where we hoped to find a small spot to camp for the night.

We set off into a beautiful arena of blue skies and sharp mountain lines and excellent photographic moments.  It seemed as though we never had enough time to take a picture of Mt. Hood from each angle possible.  We realized quickly that we would have to keep moving to make it to Dead’s car and the rest of our stuff at a decent hour.  The terrain did not seem too terribly difficult on the elevation profile but in reality, going down off of one ridge, crossing a large stream, then going up the next ridge and repeating that over and over got tiring.  Some of the ups and downs were 1000+ feet each drop and climb.  The glacial melt water that came down off of Mt. Hood also presented interesting challenges.  Quite a few of them stopped us for a few moments to assess the best way across without a.) getting wet, b.) getting swept down stream over large rocks, and c.) getting to a spot on the other side where we could move toward the trail since some possible ways across would end in a small 10 ft vertical cliff that we couldn’t shimmy up.  The Zigzag river was the worst of those instances.

After several exhausting climbs, we went down, down, down, and took a short alternate that went to Ramona Falls.  It was a 2.1 mile swap for 2.1 miles of PCT with roughly the same elevation gain and loss, so we deemed it a worthwhile adventure.  It most certainly was magical in essence.  The falls themselves covered an entire wall that loomed above us and the water thinly cascaded down, almost vertically making a sheen that glimmered in the light that poked through the trees.  The area was visually water-rich and was completely green save for the water itself.  Moss grew everywhere and in so many varieties that both Hop-a-long and I stopped several times to examine certain strains we hadn’t seen before.  The moisture held in the air and we breathed in the freshness that emanated from the moss.

Getting back to the trail, we had another adventure.  We had to cross the muddy river that stretched wide and full of glacial melt water.  Supposedly, we would hit a horse ford first and had the option of going upstream a quarter-mile to where a bridge might or might not still exist.  We trekked up a bit, but saw no signs of anything promising except for two very large trees spanning the width of the river.  Relatively easily crossing them like balance beams, we got almost to the other side, but we found no fantastic way around the large root system that came up with the larger of the two trees except to scale some of them and pass between two large roots.

Once we escaped the roots, we had a sharp 1000 foot climb and then down to Lolo Pass where Dead waited patiently for us.  The climb had switchbacks, but after climbing over all the ridges, it seemed more difficult than it actually was.  Apparently, people tend to cut the switchbacks there because we saw giant signs saying “PLEASE DO NOT CUT SWITCHBACKS” at their beginning and end.

We found Dead Animal and Tahoe drinking beer at Lolo Pass and Hop-a-long and I immediately jumped on dinner preparations since the climbs had sucked all our energy and fat stores right out.  Drinking some good old PBRs and double stuff Oreos held the hunger off while we sautéed up some onions and peppers with soy chorizo and crammed all in tortillas.  Then ate two a piece.

Tunnel Falls

Looking at the maps, we saw we could do a 30 mile day into Cascade Locks, the last town on the Oregon/Washington border if we took the Eagle Creek Alternate (which we fully intended to do anyway).  We set our alarms for an early 5:00am and set off by 6am.  We grumbled because it was cold and dark, but we moved to stay warm and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

The first 14 miles blew by, pun intended.  We reached a high point where supposedly, we should have gotten a fantastic view of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainer, and Mt. St. Helens, but the wind whipped up something fierce there and it was all either Hop-a-long or I could do to walk straight and half-run, half-get-blown down the trail to the trees where we could breathe and walk straight.  So much for that view!

Luckily, that meant we had just about reached the Indian Springs “Campground” where the alternate began.  We finally took a decent sized break…more than five minutes and searched for the trail.  The abandoned campground was blatantly obvious, but the side trail was not obvious in the slightest.  We re-read and re-read Yogi’s characteristic two paragraphs of directions and eventually we stumbled up the stream she mentions and blocked by a considerable amount of foliage was the sign we were looking for.

We crashed down the “trail” which really was a hiker-user trail that was not maintained to link the PCT with the Eagle Creek Trail.  I had to slow down considerably due to the steepness and not wanting my knees to give out on me.  Hop-a-long bombed down and waited for me at the first waterfall.  I was not about to have sore knees at the beginning of a 4,000 foot decent to the Columbia River.  The connector trail took out 2000 feet of it in just under two miles, then the Eagle Creek Trail (heavily used and very popular due to close proximity to Portland) took us down another 2,000 feet over several miles past a large array of waterfalls.

The entire trail was constructed with dynamite and had lines to hold onto since it ran the side of a gorge and the side dropped anywhere from 30-70 feet.  Tunnel Falls was the most neat; it had a hole dynamited out and we walked through it, behind the waterfall.

The best part: Dead Animal came hiking up with two pizzas (right side up in one hand) for Hop-a-long and I.  We were so hungry, we sat and ate it right there.  The three of us then meandered down to his car and then over to Shrek’s where we met some usual characters and some unexpected ones.

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