Monday, February 9, 2015

Mount Rainier and Wenatchee National Forest

The sun was going down as we arrived in Mount Rainier National Park, but that didn't stop us from hiking a bit more before finding a campsite. First we wandered a short distance on the Silver Falls Loop, and took in views of the beautiful, mossy forests and turquoise waters.

Next we meandered over to the Grove of the Patriarchs to see some ancient, giant Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars.

Crossing the Ohanapecosh River.

As the light was fading, we found a place to camp.

Our campsite the following morning, with the sun streaming through the trees.

9.28-30 A grove of alder trees nearby, drawn in the early morning before sunrise.

We returned to Grove of the Patriarchs one last time before leaving the park.

After looking over the Ohanapecosh River one last time, we turned around to head back to Grove of the Patriarchs. Just then, a little boy about to cross with his mom started jumping on the bridge. The mom tried to stop him. "Don't do that... I don't think they want to jump too." And then she immediately added, "Oh yes they do!" as we joined in the fun with him. The boy was completely ecstatic to not be suppressed in this moment and screamed for joy!

Steam rising off some fallen logs.
Clouds of spores spewing forth from mushrooms when squeezed.

We retrieved our packs and walked back to the highway that runs through the park. Not much later a man named Pierre, of Brussels, Belgium, picked us up. He was doing electrical engineering research in Seattle at the time, and was taking a break to check out some of Washington's parks. Pierre brought us up to Chinook Pass, at the border of Mount Rainier National Park and Wenatchee National Forest. This is where we would get back on the PCT.

A still life of a delectable, Washington-grown honey crisp apple, which was 
a wonderful treat as we walked along the PCT on a warm, sunny day.

At the edge of a parking lot we saw Giggles, Jukebox, and Spreadsheet sitting at a picnic table, their belongings sprawled out everywhere. They were taking a break, and told us that they had been there for hours. After being coated completely in dew the night before, they were drying off and enjoying the sunlight. As we walked away, Freebird and I joked among ourselves that they would probably camp at that exact picnic table that night.

Naches Peak.

As we ascended the ridge, we played leapfrog with a couple and their corgi named Bella. The couple cheered us on, as they like to do for all thru-hikers they see. As I was filling up water at Sheep Lake, I crossed paths with them yet again. They were concerned for me being out in the cold weather that night and pointed the way to lodging and food at Crystal Mountain ski resort, which was accessible somewhere up the trail. That was sweet of them to recommend, but we opted not to go.

Sheep Lake.

A peregrine falcon soars overhead as we follow switchbacks up the ridge.

Sheep Lake below.

Once we reached the top, we were greeted by Giggles! He must have passed us while we were having lunch at a meadow just off of the trail. He had found some cell reception at that spot, so he was lagging behind from the others and making phone calls. While chatting with him yet again, we took in spectacular views of Rainier and Adams to our south. Meanwhile, other hikers continued to walk up the trail and pass by us. Each time, Giggles would exclaim, "Welcome to the top!" We then continued northbound as Giggles made another phone call.

As we were nearing a potential campsite, Giggles came up behind us quickly. We heard his singing before we even saw him! He went speeding off, trying to catch up with Spreadsheet and Jukebox. When he wants to move, he can really walk quickly!

Alpenglow in the distance as seen from our campsite at sunset.

Waking up to the same view but different lighting the following morning.

Freebird conversing with a butterfly.

Now that we had heard from others about the weather forecast and the approaching snow and rain, I wanted so much to go to Crystal Mountain. I wanted to hide away in a comfortable lodge and eat at their restaurant. Freebird emphasized that they may not be open this time of year, and it would be a long walk down the ridge and all the way back up just to go check. I prayed for a sign. Right after doing so and just before the turn-off to the resort, a hiker named Trickster who was heading southbound told us that the upcoming Urich Cabin was clean and restocked with wood. After making sure he wasn't tricking us, we thanked him for the information!

Filling up at a spring.
Nearby the spring was this golden meadow. We ate lunch while admiring the view, but finished rather quickly. The clouds were blowing in, the sunlight was fading, and the temperatures were dropping. We needed to stay on the move to keep warm! After filling up our water bottles one more time, we packed up and left.

Minutes later, the snow began... the first snow I witnessed on the trail. Just some light flurries.

Then the snow changed to a light rain, so we donned our ponchos once again.

It was indeed a magical walk through the rain. I laughed at myself for being so scared earlier. 
How could I have missed out on an experience such as this?

We came across some Chicken-of-the-Woods, a fungi that Freebird had been telling me about since we arrived in Washington. It grows on dead trees, especially fallen logs, and is very filling and rather delicious, with a slight taste of chicken. I'm not very fond of mushrooms, yet I adore the taste of Chicken-of-the-Woods. We cooked it into our dinner that night.

Some elk grazing in Government Meadows. We could hear their bugling for miles.

We arrived at Mike Urich Cabin, located on the edge of Government Meadows. After filling up completely on water in a nearby stream and making it indoors, the heavy rains hit. Perfect timing! Much thanks to Trickster for leading us here! 

Checking the cooler for "trail magic."
Snojammers Snowmobile Club built Urich Cabin back in 1992, and they continue to maintain it to this day, providing chopped firewood for the hikers. Thank you to those who kept it stocked for us! While it poured outside, we stayed for three days in that cabin, keeping the fire going in the wood-burning stove. (Thank God for Chicken-of-the-Woods as well, which we needed more than we had previously realized, if we were to stay here for that long.)

Around 9 PM that night, after finishing dinner, Wonderer walked in the door! He hung up his things to dry, cooked some food, and then we all settled down into the loft upstairs and went to bed. Occasionally we were startled by ravenous mice searching for food. The following night Freebird left them piles of rice and mashed potatoes, and then we had no more issues with them waking us.

Wonderer and Freebird.

Despite the heavy rain the next morning, Wonderer continued north on the trail, determined to get to Canada. We took a "zero day," singing to music on my mp3 player, napping, drawing, listening to the bugling of the elk, and watching the fog roll in and out of the meadow.

That evening I sat on the front porch, sketching away. Here's the result:

9.30.2014 Completed that very evening.

Sunrise the morning of our departure from Urich Cabin.

Something's wrong with this picture...

10.1-4.2014 Also drawn in Urich Cabin. Depiction of the four elements and four seasons.
Amazingly enough, during the last three days, the only thru-hiker that stayed with us in the cabin was Wonderer. So most likely, we had seen the end of the hiker train. The numbers were tapering off as most of the people had already finished at the Canadian border.

Some views of Mount Rainier along the way. In hopes of seeing 360' views of the Cascades and the North Cascades, we next followed a side trail up Pyramid Peak.

The view at the top, looking south at Rainier. Trees were blocking the view of the North Cascades.

According to the map, there appeared to be a path leading down the other side of Pyramid Peak that would adjoin with the PCT. We chose to take this instead of turning around, thinking it would be shorter. Soon there was no more path, just slight traces of it here and there. Clearly, no one had maintained it for years. I didn't want to turn around, so we bush-whacked down the ridge. Yet soon, I was not a happy camper! We had become soaked and cold as we pushed through all of the wet branches. Freebird checked the topographic maps again to make sure that we wouldn't get cliffed-out. It felt wonderful to set foot on the PCT again, but I still felt tired and in a horrible mood.

Then a few miles later, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a vibrant patch of Chicken-of-the-Woods growing on a log. Now I was jumping up and down joyfully, my mood elevated. We picked some more to cook for dinner that night.

A tiny sapling sprouting from a pine cone.

A light rain shower, sparkling in the sunlight.

Sunset that evening.
After the day's adventures I was feeling rather tired that evening just wanted to go to bed. I was willing to set up on the trail this time. Freebird urged me to go farther, and then 100 feet later we found the place! In the morning, when I could actually see that section of trail which I had considered while standing at our campsite, I just laughed at myself.

Trail magic!

With the lovely view of Rainier, the warm sunshine, and the heat radiating off of the rocks, this was the perfect stop for a snack break. As the weather cools with the approach of fall, any sunlight on the trail is greatly appreciated.

I had run out of water. Freebird, sensing I would like something to drink, left his bottle on the trail for me.

A weather station, boarded up but still in operation. Once, a man who lived and worked here would post the daily forecast on the door each morning for the thru-hikers' reference.

A tree once struck by lightning.

A lush spring and pool below.

We walked up a series of switchbacks to get to Mirror Lake and warmed up significantly. A waterfall was plunging forth from the lake, and our path crossed it a couple of times. At both chances, I dunked my head in its waters, something I never thought I would do in Washington at this time of year!

Once we were sitting along the shores of Mirror Lake, we cooled down significantly. We put on all our warm clothes and cooked lunch here. For the rest of the day, we had no more snacks to eat, and we still had quite a distance to hike until we would reach Snoqualmie Pass.

As were leaving, we met Jack and Mary (a.k.a. "Cheeto Chick"), who were about to climb the peak beside Mirror Lake. Jack is a PCT trail maintainer who has a crew of volunteers. We thanked him for everything they do; the trails look great in this area! Near the end of the conversation, we figured out a trail name for him - "Just Jack." He and Mary gave us a king-size Crunch Bar and three tangerines, of course perfect timing yet again. They were even willing to give us another half-eaten Crunch Bar, but we refused because they needed some snacks for themselves!

The trail passed through an area speckled with several small lakes. A mushroom harvester and his son, Henry, were walking about there, picking porcinis. Henry shared with us some of their only snack of Jelly Bellys, while the father taught us what is and what isn't a porcini mushroom. We tried searching for the rest of our trek but to no avail. 

We did come across a huge meadow full of blueberries though, and we picked hundreds of them. I trailed behind as I usually do when blueberries are involved. Up ahead, Freebird met a runner named Tim who advised us to eat at Aardvark that night, and asked us to tell his friend Art who sent us.

The noisy I-90 passing between the Cascades and the more rugged North Cascades.

Just before arriving in Snoqualmie, we came across a dead tree with probably about 100 pounds of Chicken-of-the-Woods growing on it, more than we've ever seen! We harvested about 3 pounds of it, filling a Ziploc freezer bag to the brim.

An old trail sign, before Washington's Cascade Crest Trail became part of the Pacific Crest Trail.

It had been quite a beautiful, memorable adventure through the rain, snow, and sunshine as we completed our hike through the Cascades. Now we looked down upon Snoqualmie Pass, which serves as the gateway to the North Cascades. We decided to take a shortcut down the ski slopes, which evidently several other hikers have done as well, as we observed from the worn path that we followed. We descended down the trail and walked into Snoqualmie Pass, heading for the Aardvark.

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