Saturday, October 13, 2012

This is a Test (Part 2)

Concluding the saga of my late September Mount Rainier National Park hike...

One thing I've never forgotten about backpacking:  I sleep different on the ground than I do in a bed.  Tonight I am laying on full-length not ultralight Therm-a-Rest.  Maggie has a three-quarter ultralite Therm-a-Rest and a Ridgerest  for her feet.  My challenge is to find a comfortable position that doesn't stress my right hip or left shoulder.  I feel the day's hike in my hip, sore but not painful.  I managed not to aggravate the tendonitis in my shoulder.  My feet are sore and tired.  Today was the first trail test for my new boots.  They did fine.  No blisters or hotspots.  I sleep on and off.

We have the fully buttoned up this first night.  I don't ever fully close my 20 degree bag and am comfortably warm.  I'm up at first light to stretch, relieve myself and make the trek to Pyramid Creek for morning breakfast water.  The morning is cool enough for me to bail back into the tent for another hour or so until it's warmer.  I'm out around 8:30.  Maggie's scoots on to my long pad so I can grab her Ridgerest for a sitting pad.

The temperature is around 40 degrees and is warming as the sun begins to filter through the forest canopy.  I am wearing all of the layers I brought for warmth and am reasonably comfortable as I make coffee, write, eat breakfast and do other small chores.  This site is near perfect.   It is one of three at Pyramid Creek Camp and by far the best.  It is farthest from the trail and offers the finest of camp lounging opportunities:  a log for making a backrest out of my pack, convenient rocks for draining pots, a flat space for stove and places to put everything in reach without having to get up.  I spend considerable time just sitting there, looking into what feels like infinite forest, watching the day slowly brighten.

The site has a good space for one tent.  Two solo hikers in one-person tents could possibly fit in the space but it would be tight.  One other site nearby is much better for multiple tents.  None of the sites are visible from one another.

Pyramid Creek Camp has a pit toilet that during our perfect weather stay offered a grand view for the hiker taking care of necessary business.  In less accommodating weather, the experience may differ.

 The Throne
The View

The site's biggest drawback is the distance to water.  Pyramid Creek is about 30 meters down the Wonderland Trail, not that far really but not readily convenient.  The water is gray-brown with glacial silt. That means decanting and extra long iodine treatment.  Yesterday's backtrack across Pyramid Creek showed us a clear side stream flowing into Pyramid.  We plan to water up there on the way back from today's day hike

Our original plan is to hike three miles to Indian Henrys Hunting Ground.  The reality of our  slow pace and late start changes the plan to climbing the switchbacks along Fishers Hornpipe Creek to where the Wonderland Trail crosses the creek on its way to Devils Dream Campsite.  The climb is long, steep and slow.  The day has warmed up well.  I am hiking in  nylon hiking pants and a long-sleeve polypro t-shirt.  The forest seems to deepen as we climb.  Maybe it's just the growing sense of being removed from the rest of the world--no internet, no media, no telephone, no machinery; just us and muscle power, small and puny compared to the natural world into which we walk.

The trail levels out at the top of the switchbacks and begins a traverse toward Fishers Hornpipe Creek.  We've heard the rushing water much of the way up and caught a few glimpses through the forest.  We reach the crossing and find a good spot for a break.

We amble back the way we came, taking in the forest along the way.  Happy to be here.  Happy to not be in a hurry.  Knowing that camp and comfort await not far down the trail.  Remember, I said "leisurely".  I meant it.

Back in camp I make make dinner.  Last night was the quick boil water for instant mashed potatoes and salmon.  Tonight the menu is more complicated:  mac and cheese with tuna.  Simple enough, though.  We're done with chores before sunset and take a few moments to watch dark slowly rise from the forest floor as the light fades.  In the tent, I leave my side door open so I can see the forest throughout the night.  The bug netting on the door is so fine that I wake up thinking the door is fully open.  I think the open door helps me sleep better this night.

The morning is much warmer than yesterday.  I am out of the tent at first light.  This morning I figure out that I can add the ultralight Therm-a-Rest to the Ridgerest sitting pad for extra comfort.  Once again, I watch sun light up the forest.  For the I-don't-know-how-many-th time, I remember why I am here and rejoice in my good fortune.

After a leisurely morning, we are on the trail heading out. Crossing Kautz Creek we get the view of Mount Rainier that we did not have walking in.

But mostly we walk through forest as we descend from Rampart Ridge.

 And then we are done.

cross-posted at Speed of Foot 

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Friday, October 12, 2012

This is a Test

Or more correctly, a story about a test:   my first backpack trip since 2007 and Maggie's first in maybe 8 years.  Also my first since developing arthritis in my right hip.  For these reasons I wanted  a leisurely hike, something we could do easily if given enough time.  I chose Longmire to Pyramid Creek Camp on the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park, all of 3.5 miles.   We'd base camp there two nights and day hike in between.  Take our time.  See how it all works out.  The trip was September 25-27 in fine, fall weather.

The hike in is not hard but not exactly easy.  The trail is very good  and climbs steadily from Longmire over Rampart Ridge for the first couple of miles, following some steep switchbacks.  Some effort is required.  We take our time, which offers much opportunity to fully immerse into the surrounding forest.  As I climb I am increasingly removed from the world of pavement and commerce.  I remember why I make this kind of effort.

After Rampart Ridge the trail drops into Kautz Creek, gradually at first, then more steeply a through the forest until it scrambles down into the creekbed.

The creekbed is wide and rocky, filling the remains of a glacial valley with runoff from the Kautz Glacier on Rainier's southwestern slope.   At first glance, it looks like hardly any water at all.  Up close, the water runs strong and fast in channels spanned with log bridges.

As we begin to climb out of the creekbed, we spot a small bird, an American Dipper, darting about on the rocks at waters edge, pecking occasionally and pumping up and down on its legs.  Most amazingly, it simply runs into the pools and swims across string currents.  Coming out of Kautz Creek the trail climbs slightly as it crosses a broad divide between Kautz and Pyramid Creeks.  Pyramid Creek Camp is located about a half mile after Kautz.  The divide is forested glacial till with no major elevation change.  About the same time we hear Pyramid Creek's roar we reach the campsite turnoff.  At the same time we spy upon a moss-covered glacial moraine, almost glowing in the late afternoon light of sunny day.

So enchanting and fascinating is this sight that we miss the small sign and side trail into Pyramid Creek Camp and proceed along the trail.  The trail crossng at Pyramid Creek is our first warning that we'd missed the camp.  A brief exploration of the terrain on the other side of the creek (if somehow, this is maybe a last channel of Kautz Creek) confirms that judgment.  We backtrack, find the side trail into the camp just by the glacial moraine and set up.  It's later than we planned but we are in the tent before dark with all chores complete, to include hanging food on the bear pole using an eight-foot length of conduit.

(to be continued)

cross-posted at Speed of Foot

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Monday, October 08, 2012

The Long Fall

Western Washington has had an extended stretch of dry, sunny weather.  One week into October we still enjoy sunny days with highs in the low to mid 70's.  This year's late September trip to Mount Rainier was nothing but pleasant weather.  Three years ago, a visit at this same time of year included snow and wet weather.  Long-time residents remark that the weather is unusual.  It's the longest stretch of summer-fall weather I've seen since moving to Olympia five years ago.

It is not my first experience with such weather.  I arrived at Fort Lewis in mid-September 1970 in similar weather which lasted well into October when the dark and wet began in earnest.  I have fine memories of that pleasant weather while it lasted.  I recall, too, hoping that it would last for the duration of my infantry training.  October dashed those hopes and gave me a new appreciation for warm and dry, an appreciation that I've never lost.

Still, those fine, sunny fall days left an impression that led me back.  By the time I finally made it here, I knew that those memories were not the reality I would encounter.  My reconnaissance trip to Olympia in December 2005 made that very clear.  I think spending all those years in Arizona must have given enought sunlight to appreciate the dark and wet that comes here eatch winter.

The forecast indicates that our run of late summer weather will end in a few days.  No matter.  I'm ready for the coming of the Big Dark and the wet weather it will bring.

But I will bask in the sun when it shines.


Sunday, October 07, 2012

This Land is Mine

A darkly humorous and all-too-accurate, bloody history of territorial and historical claims to Palestine and the Levant. 

(h/t:  Alternate Brain)