With August vacation and a graduating daughter, we had two weeks to experience some of the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Our original plans involved an Olympic National Park loop, the Wonderland Trail at Mt. Rainier National Park, and a Glacier Peak circumnavigation. This was an ambitious schedule based on everything falling into place, including the weather. Such was not to be, but we did manage to get to all three areas. In the process I have been testing some new UL gear which I will write about later.
Olympic National Park: The Grand Loop
This hike was to be our warmup hike, traveling 45 miles and 12,500' elevation over the course of 3 days. As a full time swimmer my daughter is in excellent shape, but we needed to get her hiking legs going. This hike was sure to do the trick and we got a late start from the trail head of almost 10:30 AM after driving to the Park and waiting in line to get permits, then driving to Obstruction Point trailhead. The first day was difficult with an itinerary that took us up over 3 passes, starting with Grand Pass. We had scoured this area in 2011 during our marmot survey so the terrain was familiar. However, once we went over the pass and started down to the Cameron Creek area the rest of the hike was new terrain. Bugs were voracious on this entire hike, even being swarmed by bees on the third day, but 'tis the season so you just have to deal. One of the best pieces of gear we own is my own B4, enabling us to at least enjoy rest stops with a respite from the mozzies and flies. After 3 seasons of use these have proved invaluable and the most useful piece of DIY gear I own. The low point of the trip, as far as both trail conditions and bugs, was along the Cameron Creek trail but we were rewarded with the stunning views of the upper Cameron Creek basin. We were able to avoid steep snow slopes at Cameron Pass by skirting the snow to the left, cresting above the pass with an easy descent to Cameron Pass proper. By now it was pushing 8 PM and we still had one more pass to go over, Lost Pass, but this one was mild and we broke out the lamps just as we arrived. The remainder of this day involved a very steep nighttime descent to the Dose camp, all the while followed by our "pet" deer until I finally shooed it away at the campsite.
Day 2 saw us again with a late start, taking us in the heat of the day over Gray Wolf pass but rewarded with incredible flower fields, unreal green moss near Cedar Lake, and landing late in our campsite at Gray Wolf camp. This was the second night we spent camping with no one else around. Day 3 started earlier at 7:30 and included 5500' of climb to Deer Park, followed by the highest alpine ridge walk in ONP. Using old beta we were surprised by the inoperative water pump at Deer Park but were saved by "water angels" who gave us a 1.5 liter bottle of ice cold. The trip ended with our vehicle in sight over the last 2 miles and some of the best flowers of the entire hike.
However, my daughter's wide feet were a problem in that she was dealing with blisters on this entire hike, and foot and shoe problems would be a worry for the rest of the vacation.
Mt. Rainier: Wonderland Trail
Armed with recovering feet and new, wider shoes, we headed to Mt. Rainier National Park to do a 4 day Wonderland Trail hike. We figured this itinerary, although tough, would be the perfect balance of longish days but not bordering on a sufferfest. We figured 20 miles on the first day and over 20 for the remaining 3. My intimacy with this trail was certainly a factor in planning this itinerary. Armed with the exact permits that we wanted on a walk up basis (the ranger there said she has only denied one person in 5 years a permit because they were completely inflexible) we hit the trail at Longmire, heading CW with perfect weather. The day progressed superbly, with a lunch stop at Indian Henrys (thanks to the B4) and the transition over Emerald Ridge, past the South Puyallup, and up to St. Andrews Park. However, just as we were cresting that last climb, Cassie had a sharp stab of pain in her hip and we both knew all too well that the problem was with the shoes, probably changing her gait enough to translate to her hip. We took a considerable break at St. Andrews Lake where I cooked up dinner and dessert, then we gingerly proceeded the short distance to Klapatche Park and enjoyed a superb sunset, with the mountain reflecting in Aurora Lake, still bloated with water at this time of year. Cassie experienced a shock when she ran into a couple that asked her "are you Cassie"? Turns out they have purchased and/or watched just about everything I have done. I must admit it is a pleasure to run into someone who actually appreciates the "labor of love" that was my recent Wonderland Trail Series, but such a small world that we would meet on the trail. Needless to say some lively conversation ensued with Anita and Jim from Chicago and we left Klapatche Park with a smile on our faces after this meeting. Cassie was testing her hip the entire time and ended our 20 mile day at the North Puyallup camp, still undecided as to how to proceed. Of paramount importance was avoiding injury or exacerbating her condition with an impending Sierras orientation hike for college and college swim team. The decision was made the next morning to not risk further injury so the bail plan was to hike out on the North Puyallup Trail to the West Side road and take this gentler way back to the main drag, where I could access the vehicle. This would still entail 15 miles of hiking but the grade was more conducive to protecting her feet and hip. Alas, when we finally arrived at the parking area for the West Side road Cassie was done so she found a spot in the woods and I proceeded to run (left the pack and just brought a water bottle) the remaining 3 miles of the road to the main road. Then it would be a cinch to hitch a ride the 6 miles up to Longmire and acquire my vehicle, right? Wrong! Despite pleading looks I estimate 35-50 cars passed me with nary an offer. At one point I decided to start running again as hoofing it all the way back to Longmire was becoming a looming necessity. Finally, 2.5 miles from Longmire, a nice couple from Calgary picked me up and deposited at my vehicle. Thank goodness for the Canadians! Eschewing getting my wash, drink and snack on, I tooled back to where I left Cassie. It had been nearly 2 hours since I left her in the woods, not a proud parenting moment. However, we drove back to Longmire and (after a thorough cleaning and clothes change) enjoyed a surprisingly good meal at the Longmire Inn before driving home. Total mileage for me on this trip was 38 miles, for Cassie 32.
Mt. Rainier: Burroughs/Glacier Basin loop
OK, testing time. We took Cassie to a sports podiatrist. Now armed with custom inserts in her minimalist Altras, she had a 6MM drop in the heel. We were hoping this would fix the hip problem so we planned a day outing as a test. We drove out to the park the night before and truck camped in the parking lot at White River, attempting some star shots with little success but getting up at 3 AM to drive up to Sunrise to get some (what else?) sunrise shots. What a bonus it was after the very chilly morning when I spotted a goat herd on First Burroughs mountain and got some Serengeti like photos against the rising sun. Witness the new Willis Wall banner. After a time lapse of the sunrise on the mountain we continued up to Second and Third Burroughs mountain to enjoy in your face views of the mountain and surrounding areas. This was a highlight of the day and we spent considerable time here, then finally descended to Glacier Basin, trotted the superb new Glacier Basin trail to White River, and climbed back up to Sunrise and our waiting truck with ice cold beverages. Verdict on the shoes: undetermined, some slight pangs still persisted after this 14 mile day with 4000' of climb.
Glacier Peak loop
The circumnavigation was out…too far at nearly 100 miles with no bail out options. We settled on a shorter loop of 50 miles and 13,000' of climb. This time clad with some new, wider trail runners, the foot and shoe issues were finally solved, and Cassie became the strong strider I knew she could. This loop took us over some of the most superb alpine splendor we have ever experienced. Starting at Sloan Creek, we left the North Fork Sauk trail after 2 miles to climb up to Pilot Ridge, and from there stayed high for the entire first day. Panoramic views engulfed us the entire day, with a wonderful stop at Blue Lake. We chose a nice spot off the PCT near Meander Meadows and set up camp for the evening with the intent of watching the Perseid show at its peak. However, as soon as the sun went down we were engulfed in mist and cloud and never a star shone through, despite repeatedly scanning the skies during the night. The wet environment made it hard to get an early start for day 2 but we finally arose and were on the trail by 8 AM. This day can be summed up with endless expansive panoramic views, changing with corners and never disappointing. The hike to White Pass, Red Pass and into the White Chuck basin was one of having to constantly stop so as not to trip while taking in the vistas. Eventually we had to descend into bugville and enjoyed fine tread to Sitkum creek camp, where we stopped for a gourmet meal and went to bed early, anticipating an early start on day 3. The fine, warm and dry evening indeed had us well rested and up at 5 AM, traveling by 6. Now, I won't go into too much detail on the ensuing 5 hours, but it was a classic scenario of inattention, poor planning, and over confidence in how the day would go. First problem, in the early morning light we missed the junction for trail 643...there are no signs, and the trail forks into the PCT hidden behind a nice long log. There are actually signs, as we found out later: sharpie writing on barkless logs. Anyway, we merrily went on our way and took a left on the "trail", which certainly must be the right one, as it simply said "Kennedy Hot Springs" with sharpie writing in red that read "could not find." Anyone familiar with the area knows the bonehead mistake, we took a left on the Kennedy Ridge Trail and ended up at the rubblely mess that used to be where the springs were. The last time I was in the area was prior to the 2003 floods, so I had no up to date beta on what to expect here. After more than an hour of schwacking after finding a good log crossing, I finally found the remnants of a trail. Eureeka, I must be on the Lost Creek trail so after schwacking more around further washed out sections we merrily made our way up the trail, but were wondering why it didn't start switch backing. Imagine our confusion when we reached the junction, now evident with better light and the "trail damage ahead" sign and scribbled writing on logs. Lots of "where the hell are we" and head scratching brought us to a creek crossing that, behold, looked really familiar. We had circled back to Sitkum creek, where 5 hours earlier we had departed. After some discussion we decided that going back down the trail and trying to acquire the Lost Creek trail in that bouldery mess wasn't on the docket. Mileage wise it looked to be about the same (18 or so) to go schwacking or just return to Red Pass and acquire the N F Sauk trail, which would at least take us right back to the car, so off we went at least knowing exactly where we were going. This was a good lesson for me to pay more attention in unfamiliar areas where the signage is poor and actually read the friggin' map.
Epilog: Despite my mindless and inattentive meanderings, this was a wonderful trip to cap off our graduation hikes. Most importantly, the whole foot/shoe issue was solved so Cassie's orientation hike in the Sierras next week should not be a problem. This series of hikes got our legs under us where a 25 mile day was fairly comfortable, easily trotting the last 4 miles in the dark back to the vehicle. I never had to adjust pace for Cassie and perhaps was even slow for her, so she has come into her own and is a strong girl, both physically and mentally. And this time spent was just special, as I send my daughter off to college and starting the next phase of her life. I've been so fortunate to have a teenager who actually likes to spend time with her Dad: does it get any better?