October 1, 2008

A Season of Backpacking

I intend to log more items here than I have over the last several months. I’ll start with this summary of my backpacking season.

It started during a favorite month for hiking: May. During May’s first weekend, a couple of Mountaineers and I hiked up to the beginning of the big patches of snow in the Elwha River, in Olympic National Park (ONP) – all told, 16.5 miles one way. (We were more than a little tired at the end and not much less tired the next day.) We had good weather (which means no rain, even a little blue sky) and saw lots of wildlife, which is why May is such a good month. There were several bears, lots of deer, a few elk, a pair of Mergansers, several Harlequin ducks, an eagle, hummingbirds, a Hairy woodpecker, and lots of song birds.

I extended Memorial Day weekend to hike the 24 miles of the wild Olympic coast, starting at La Push and exiting at Cape Alava to Lake Ozette, accompanied by three Mountaineers. This stretch of the ONP coastal strip is easier than the southern portion in that there are few required bluff climbs, but harder in that the footing is quite difficult. There were almost no stretches of sand, but we walked on every variety of rock you can imagine – rough, smooth, hard and soft, big and small, settled and slipping, sticky and slippery. This is a wild and beautiful coast and a good place to see bald eagles (and the occasional bear on the beach).

A month later in June, three of us Mountaineers hiked up the ONP’s Hoh River trail in the hopes of seeing Mt Olympus’s Blue Glacier from Glacier Meadows. We had good weather and a beautiful hike, but the creek crossing in the second avalanche chute stopped us. It wasn’t that the chute was steep, it was more that the creek banks were too unstable to safely cross. So, we hung out in the sun and headed back down, ready to return for another go as soon as we could. Maybe next year.

The highlight of my season was the trip along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Harts Pass, in the far North Cascades, to Manning Park in British Columbia. This trip was organized by another Mountaineer leader, who couldn’t make the trip due to injury. He did, however, drive the four of us who weren’t injured to the trailhead. That’s generosity and that’s commitment. We had wonderful weather for all five days and the scenery was stupendous. This part of the PCT spends a good amount of time actually very near the crest itself, traversing ridgetops surrounded by the peaks of the North Cascades. Part way along, we fell in with a group of hikers who had been taking trips into the wilderness for the past 16 years, supported a string of good-sized donkeys. We also met a man near the end who had just completed the entire Crest Trail in several installments. The end of this trip, at Manning Park, offered an unusual opportunity to eat a meal in a restaurant, which we took advantage of twice, not to mention an afternoon beer on the day we arrived.

What should have been the highlight of the year (except for the weather) was my last backpacking trip: completing the last 33 miles of Mt Rainier National Park’s Wonderland Trail, from Longmire to Mowich Lake. I hiked the other 60-odd miles a few years back. My wife and I took the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 19, off to drive my car to Mowich Lake and then drive her car to Longmire, where we stayed in the National Park Inn. It’s a nice little inn with a good restaurant. That afternoon was pretty nice, with sun and some dramatic clouds showing off the Mountain. During the night, however, it started to rain and didn’t stop until early Sunday morning. I did enjoy the hike, but I never saw the Mountain again – I rarely saw the next ridge; nor was I dry until I changed at the end of the hike. Even without the views, I could see that it is a very dramatic stretch of trail, lots of ups and downs (10,000 feet over the distance), bridges over canyons and rushing rivers, or logs precariously perched over braided channels in broad debris beds.

I’m already thinking about the places I’ll go next year.

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