“BEES!” screamed Kyle, “RUN, RUN, RUN!” I turned around in time to see Cameron doing what looked like a high knee jig before Nelson pushed me from behind. We all sprinted up the trail, the boys yelling profanities and flailing their trekking poles. When we finally stopped I was amazed at my own luck, all three of them ended up with multiple bee stings and Nelson was still fishing a bee out of his sock as we checked each other to make sure the coast was clear. Kyle didn’t really remember if he had ever been stung by a bee before so we had him down two Allegra before moving on to Klapatche Campground.
Klapatche is supposed to be one of the most beautiful parks on the trail but our visibility was down to fifty feet, tops. We huddled under a scraggly tree and took a break. But soon the wind picked up and since we were all wet, either from sweat or rain we pushed on after only a couple of minutes. The rest of the day was rather uneventful. I tried to keep everyone going with stories of trail magic on the AT, we stopped to poop at South Puyallup which had a privy located next to some crazy column rock formations, we filtered water and we headed over Emerald Ridge which is supposed to have spectacular views but we could only see the earth dropping away sharply next to us into mist.
It was on top of Emerald Ridge we encountered a bit of a conundrum. The trail continues skirting the cliffs to the west but it looks as if there was recently a land slide or some sluffing because parts of the trail are missing. One misstep and you would end up somewhere down below. To the east, heading away from the ridge was a small social path, which we followed after I investigated the sluffing trail and determined that it was too dangerous. The social path turned out to be a new trail that was being cut but it looked like the trail crew had left half way through because it ended abruptly and blue flags showed where future trail would be built. The flags followed the contour of a very steep slope, but the run-out looked favorable over the other option so we followed them off trail to where they met back up with the Wonderland trail. Crisis averted.
The last climb of the day (at that point we had already climbed up to Klapatche, down to South Puyallup, up to Emerald Ridge, and back down to Tahoma Creek) up to Indian Henry started with another suspension bridge crossing, this one even longer and taller than the last. There were signs about closed trails due to damage from flooding, which didn’t surprise us because there had been rumors of an outburst flood on Tahoma Creek, but from the bridge the river looked very far below us. Once we were all across we gnawed on some jerky and basically sprinted up to Indian Henry’s. We had been holding out all day for this spot because we knew there was a ranger cabin up there and we were hoping, fingers crossed, that it had a dry porch where we could take a legitimate break. To our delight, when we finally reached the cabin, we were greeted by Ranger Dave who one upped our request to sit on his porch and invited us inside to warm ourselves by his fire. We stayed for over an hour, drying out and eating way too many snacks, getting the park gossip and sharing our miserable day with him. As we gathered our things up from the porch we even caught a magical glimpse of the mountain as the clouds parted for a split second, only to swallow the glacier and rock up a second later. After we left we decided that Ranger Dave was actually Rangel Dave, half ranger half angel.
Ranger Dave had suggested we push on to Pyramid Creek Camp, two miles further then we were planning on going, because it was a newer campground and the sites were likely to have better drainage. It also put us closer to Longmire the next day so we could get in early and start drying out our stuff. We accepted his challenge and rolled into camp to harder rain than we had experienced all day. We all stood around looking at each other, paralyzed by wet and cold. In some incredible acts of willpower we got our stoves set up under a tree that offered a facade of rain protection and managed to get dinner cooked. Nelson, Cameron, and I were shivering violently and had to stop cooking to do jumping jacks to keep warm. Once dinner was eaten we threw the dirty pots and everything else into the dry sacks, hung them up, and set up one tent at a time as efficiently as we could to try to keep the insides dry. Once the tents were up we threw in our dry gear, stripped down naked, and leapt into the tents where we took turns drying ourselves with our tiny microfiber towels. Eventually everything got set up and we were in our warm sleeping bags, condensation spattering down on us as giant rain drops pounded the tent from the outside. None of us slept well that night.
In the morning we woke to the sound of quite. The rain had stopped. We all made our way out of our tents, trying not to scrape up against the ceiling which covered in beaded condensation. Once out of the tents we stood around staring at each other again, unsure of where to start packing up because everything was wet and, as Kyle yelled at the trees, “COVERED IN FUCKING PINE NEEDLES!” But despite things still being wet, and now very dirty, the smiles were back. As always the day before seemed like a terrible joke and the future was looking brighter. We stuffed everything into our packs willy nilly and headed to Longmire.
It was an incredibly easy and fast hike into Longmire. Once there we picked up our buckets, spread all of our things out across two picnic tables and hoped it would dry despite the cloudy skies. Wet clothes were taken to the bathroom were we attempted to dry them under the weakest hand dryers I have ever used. I got some weird looks from the tourists who wandered in and out as I washing my pot in the sink and fluttered my underwear under the dryer, but you learn to lose your dignity in trade for dryish clothing. We wrote Rangel Dave a thank you letter, giggling as we sealed it up. After a couple of hours things were drier, the weather was clearing and we headed out towards our next camp, Maple Creek.
It was a mellow day and the Wonderland Trail passed through the most visited parts of the park near Longmire, Narada Falls, Reflection Lakes, and Paradise. We saw a lot of people who seemed a little confused at our packs and our fast pace. Once we passed through the Reflections Lakes area and started to head down into Stevens Canyon we left the crowds behind and entered back into the relative solitude of the Wonderland Trail. Stevens Canyon was beautiful. The trail passed between open scree slopes covered in young vine maples, alders, and other pioneer species, and then back into forests of Doug fir and cedar, open and uncluttered all the way to the canopy. We could see the Stevens Canyon road on the other side of the valley, winding a similar path to ours. As we got lower and lower we got more and more antsy to get to camp while the sun lasted, so we could dry out the last of our gear and get our shoes off. But as always that last mile lasted forever.
When we finally reached camp our packs vomited out their insides and we hung the tents and sleeping bags on a line strung at odd angles around our camp. I am pretty sure our neighbors though we were insane, every time they came by something disconcerting was going on, like Kyle standing in the middle of the trail itching his butt with his shorts half off, or Cameron gagging on one of Nelson’s farts. We all slept great that night.
The next day was our last big day because our actual last day was a short six miles back to white river. We had been warned that we were in for a doozy of a day. We were traveling from Maple Creek to Summerland, which involved a big climb up to Indian Bar Campground and then another big climb up to Panhandle Gap. We felt up to it and sure enough, it wasn’t nearly as hard as everyone would have had us believe, although pronouncing half the names of the places we would see that day still eludes me. Before you reach Indian Bar you switchback up to the Cowlitz Divide and find yourself wandering along a high ridge surrounded by valleys and peaks on every side and straight ahead of you is The Mountain. To get to Indian Bar you actually descend down into a valley surrounded by barren cliffs that are covered in glacial waterfalls, pouring out of the dirty white ice above. Indian Bar is beyond picturesque. It is nestled in a green bed of grass and heather, right next to Wauhaukaupauken Falls and looking up onto the harsh crevasses and volcanic rock that make up Mt Rainier. We rested at Indian Bar for a little while, letting our legs and bodies gather energy before our 1,800ft elevation gain up to Panhandle Gap.
The climb out of Indian Bar was all stairs for 1,800ft but the views were incredible. Ahead of us was Ohanapecosh Park where hundreds of streams were cascading down and over the lip of the ridge to Boulder Creek bellow. We were too close to the mountain now to see it but we were getting up close views of the Ohanapecosh glacier and the Fryingpan Glacier. Once we reached the park we traversed through it, through areas that are almost always covered in snow but the heat has left bare this year. The marmots were out in force, slumped across warm rocks, not a care in the world. The trail slopes gently up to Panhandle Gap and on the surrounding hillsides were herds and herds of mountain goats.
We crested the gap and our jaws dropped. Before us was the most surprising and foreign landscape, a moon scape meets a mars scape meets glaciers and Mt Rainier and Little Tahoma and pumice and water. It was a landscape ruled by rock, water, and ice, and there wasn’t a plant in sight. Instead bright green rocks that looked acid washed by weather sprouted out of the beige surroundings, and strewn everywhere was red pumice rubble. Small glaciers filled the hollows, clinging to existence as their lifeblood melted away, creating three different lakes all distinctly different colors. One was a red brown, another a golden chartreuse, and the last a deep green tinged by dust and mud. High above sat Mt Rainier, blindingly white and bright blue where crevasses cut deeply across the Emmons Glacier. We could hardly walk for all the staring we were doing. We made our way down from the gap very slowly because every new turn revealed a crazy new rock formation or a new color or a new cloud or a new emotion. How often have people seen what we saw? How often is it not covered in snow? It looked very exposed, surprised to find itself bare without a protective blanket of snow to protect its raw beauty. It was stunning.
Summerland Campground lay bellow, where there was grass and green and trees again. Our campsite had a view of the mountain, which was golden in the setting sun and the ridges cast shadows onto clouds that wisped by. We all gobbled down our Mountain House meals, pleased to have something warm to put in our coats while it rehydrated. From a log we watched the sun set and ate Toblerone. It was sad to be living our last night on trail.
The next morning we woke up early and booked it down the trail, amazed at how wide and flat it was, a soft bed of pine needles. At the Fryingpan Trailhead we continued on the trail to White River, our last river crossing achieved after some tricky rock hopping and with that we rolled into White River Campground. Done. Ninety three miles under our belt (depending on who you ask), dirty, sweaty, happy, and hungry. We headed straight to Red Robin where we ate way too much food, giggled at how bad we smelled, and refused to use the I-pad to order our meal.
It was a trip that had gone above and beyond my wildest dreams. And I cannot think of three people I would have rather done it with. These last two posts have been mostly about the what and the where, but I plan to write one more, about the why and the who. So stay tuned to get a better look into the nitty gritty, the relationships, the laughs, the jokes, and all the farts.