From Longmire parking lot to Klapatche Campsite
We stepped out of the car after a long and slightly misty morning drive down to Mount Rainier National Park. Josh, Molly, Kyle and I stood in the Longmire parking lot, eying the clouds above us and eating the last of our respective breakfasts. I strode off towards the visitor center to pick up our permit. The ranger behind the desk noted my confirmation email and looked up at me, “Got some pretty big days out there.” I nodded.
Our itinerary was ambitious, not necessarily by thruhiker or PCT standards, but when you aren’t hiking every day of the week busting out multiple 20 mile days, especially along a trail famed for its constant elevation gain and loss, isn’t an easy task. I carried our permit back to the car where we all gathered around the truck and weighed our packs. We had decided not to cache any food drops along the trail so we would be carrying all four nights, five days worth of food the entire 92 miles it would take us to get back to this very parking lot. My pack weighed 29.8 lbs. 11.9lbs of that was snacks. I knew already we had way too much food, but it had been too long since we had been on a longer backpacking trip – Kyle was panicked we were going to starve.
Our friend Molly and Josh had slightly heavier packs but we had helped them keep their pack weight down by loaning them our other Zpacks tent along with our Zpacks double quilt that we used on the PCT (don’t worry, it’s been washed since then). We, meanwhile would be using our new Enlightened Equipment single quilts we bought earlier in the summer. With a dependable 20% chance of rain forecasted for each day and highs in the low fifties for the entire trip I think all of us were feeling a tad bit nervous about the lightweight gear. It might be a cold couple of days. I reminded myself we are mountaineers as I shouldered my pack and we all turned and looked across the parking lot. Here we go!
One of the running jokes throughout the trips was this: everyone would ask me what the day looked like, I would look at our Wonderland Guthook App’s elevation profile and then I would say something like, “Well, we start the day with an up, and then we will go back down, and then we will go up again and then while we are up top we will do a little up and down and then…” But before I could finish describing the day everyone would say, “And then up and then down and then up and then down.” There really was no point in describing it. If there was a down it would be pretty immediately followed by a massive climb. And that was how we started our trip – with a climb up to Indian Henry.
We climbed up past Pyramid Creek, where Kyle and my brothers and I hunkered down in a massive storm last time we were on the Wonderland, and past Devils Dream and all the while we climbed deeper and deeper into a cloud. I was just waiting for the first drops of rain when instead we burst out of the trees and into a gorgeous park and the clouds started to clear, showing jolly blue patches of sky, high above. We all laughed in surprise and delight and immediately took to eating blueberries as we skipped along the trail up to Indian Henry. In the meadow the rangers cabin looked ridiculously idyllic and we got glimpses of the lower glaciers on Rainier behind it as the clouds swirled. All too soon we were headed back down.
At the bottom of the descent we crossed the first of two suspension bridges on the trail and up we went! Climbing again until it was clear we were on an old moraine and again the clouds began to break and we could see the barren, alien like landscape of the Emerald Ridge area. Kyle and I were delighted – last time we were on the Wonderland this entire area had looked like the inside of a cloud and we had been drenched, looking at nothing but our feet as the pounded the trail.
But now we could see a side of the mountain we had never seen before, a crumbly wall rising out of the surrounding ridges with a splash of glacier butting up against it looking like a wave of white water, frozen in time. We all oo-ed and ah-ed as we made our way up to the ridge proper and on the other side we were greeted by a tumble of orange rock and a raging river, down in the valley below. Marmots lazed around in a field behind us and we were all awestruck by how fifteen minutes of splendor can make everything else utterly worth it.
From there it was down and then back up (see what I mean) to camp and that last up was pretty brutal. The three behind me were powering themselves along by picking blueberries as they went, I tried to just focus on my pace. We had been warned that the lake at Klapatche was little more than a pond at this point so we would need to get water ahead of time at St. Andrew’s lake. The clouds were still swirling and while we were getting beautiful lighting and views we were also still worried about rain. We finally made it up to St. Andrew’s lake and stopped to grab some water which turned out to have tons of tiny red creatures swimming in it. We didn’t have much of a choice so we loaded up our bottled and bladders and hiked the last .8 to camp. We threw our backpacks down in the first site we found and collapsed. Day one had not been an easy day.
Luckily we had a delicious dinner of mac and cheese to fill us up and we managed to get the tents all up and a tarp over Molly and Josh’s sorry excuse for a tent (at this point that Zpacks tent has been through far too much to be water proof) before it started to rain. And rain it did. We fell asleep to the sound of rain on the cuben fiber roof above our heads and I snuggled down into my quilt, praying it would stop before morning.