Wednesday, September 09, 2015
When the going gets tough, the tough go. . . backpacking. To begin the story, in late August we dropped my younger son off at college somewhere in Washington State (that is his story to tell, not mine ). As I was in dire fear of returning to an empty house, no offense to my husband, two cats, uncounted fish and two turtles (but they live outside in the summer), I immediately took off backpacking with my older son. Washington state was seemingly at risk of burning down due to some major forest fires and we had to dig a little deep to find a place to go that actually wasn't burning, wasn't lost in lung-crippling haze and made sense for a three night hike. We came up with Mount Rainier National Park which is an amazing place by any standard. It was, however, a choice with complications, since backcountry permits are hard to come by and require advance reservation or showing up at a ranger station first come-first served. The latter plan worked for us although getting to the station by 8:30 AM was challenging for my son who likes to sleep in. Finding available camp sites was a bit hit or miss. In fact after we picked our itinerary, with me stating over and over--I can't hike 10 miles in one day--we lost a site as the ranger was filling in our information. The itinerary we picked was challenging, in fact a bit more challenging than I realized as there was far more elevation loss and gain each day than I anticipated. I don't hike quickly and at 54 my knees aren't great but I try hard. Our first day we hiked from Mowich Lake through Spray Park to Cataract Campground. When planning this trip we didn't realize we were hiking over a relatively high pass. Mowich Lake is at a reasonable 4929 feet and our first campground was at a similar elevation. The bad news is that we had to gain 2500 feet in elevation and then lose about the same. So much for my knees! In hindsight, I also carried too much water, and of course all our food that first day. Certainly, at times fatigue hampered my enjoyment of the view and there were moments I worried we wouldn't make camp before dark. Seeing Spray Park again was a memory-laden milestone. We hiked there when I was a child and it is a place I will always love. However, back in the day, the wilderness was less populated and the rules were laxer or non-existent. We were able to camp in Spray Park and wander at will, checking out the flowers and small ponds that are everywhere early in the season. Now you are prohibited from leaving the trail due to risk of damage to the fragile meadows and there is no camping in the meadow area. So we raced through, scoped out the views (which are amazing), huffed and puffed our way up a ridge and then down again to Cataract Campground. After Spray Park there were very few hikers on the trail and we largely had the place to ourselves. I lumbered or stumbled in to Cataract at around 7 PM with plenty of light to spare and we set up camp. There was only one other party there, a group of women around my age who seemed to have some sort of backpacking reunion going. We commiserated about the toilets (nastiest I have ever seen and an advertisement for holding it for a few days), they shared some excess food with us and we got camp set up, ate and slept. The camp was heavily wooded, no views to be had but quiet except for a snoring neighbor--sigh, isn't that why you go to the woods, to get away from all that?--but it was home for a night. I sure miss campfires! Getting up in the morning and boiling water over a camp stove is not as nice a way to beat off the morning chill. Flickr.
Posted by Sarala Kron at 11:11 AM