Friday, September 13, 2013

Wonderland Trail: Day 2 Cataract Valley - Sunrise

My permit said I was headed to Granite Creek for the night which meant I only had to go 12 miles. The elevation profile showed a bit of down, a massive 3000' climb, a big descent and then another big climb. I had heard flat was basically nonexistent on this trail and it sure was seeming to work out that way.
There had been some thunder overnight and I had seen a few flashes of lightning, interspersed with light rain all night. I had lots of condensation in my tent and the beginnings of a puddle (nothing like camping on a super hard packed surface). So the night was spent desperately trying not to touch my tent walls and packing up was a very damp affair. Looking out into the world from my tent I saw mostly mist, but a small square of blue sky had me hopeful.

officially on the trail now...

very cool suspension bridge
(I believe over the Carbon River)

handy, but man does that thing sway
look the carbon glacier!
Oh wait no I can't actually see it at all...

The climb after the Carbon River was no joke. All I could hear was rushing water and I saw a whole lot of white. I did manage to get squeaked at by a number of pika's which was pretty entertaining and eat y fair share of huckleberries. Long ways to the top for sure, I talked with a couple I had met the day before at Cataract, they had ended up a bit farther than me at Dick's Creek. They said they were headed to Granite Creek to so it looked like I knew at least two of my neighbors.

It sure felt like I was climbing big mountains but its always nice to catch a glimpse of where you are, yup big mountain. No Rainier though.

Over the top of the ridge line and down towards Mystic Lake, and gloriously sunny breaks in the clouds.

Mystic lake was an especially nice treat because the sun broke through the clouds for a good 15 minutes. I stopped to eat and unfortunately was completely chilled and back in a cloud before I had finished even one tortilla. 

Crossing Winthrop Creek was neat. Very otherworldly trek through mist and crashing water. Loud and strange.

Back to climbing and my first actual look at a glacier up close. The Winthrop glacier is right on the trail as you head up toward Granite Creek. 

More misty climbing and then it was 1 pm and I was at camp. Hmm okay then I guess an early day? I set up my tent and lay out my stuff. It had stopped drizzling and even though there was no sun I thought maybe stuff might dry at least a little. As I was sitting there puttering around the couple I had met the day before arrived. We had passed a ranger on the climb and while I had just chit chatted they had thought to ask if they could change their campsite to a farther one so their day could be longer. Darn why didn't I think to ask? Apparently with the weather folks were cancelling their permits and sunrise had an open spot for them. An extra 5ish miles but at 1 pm that's almost perfect. They invited me along to share their campsite, they figured no harm in having two tents in one site. I said I would meet them there as they headed up the trail and I crammed all my stuff right back into my pack.
As I made it to the ridge I felt like I was missing some great scenery. It seemed like a perfect place for epic views, rocky and open but I saw white...

best view of Rainier all day...
Some insane lucky moment had the sky clearing just a bit as I made it up the ridge toward Frozen lake. Look mountains!

Up on the ridge was a large group of people. At least 7 or 8 of them huddled around talking. Turns out they were a group out on a guided trip. As I was talking to them the PCT came up and one of them said, oh wait one of our guides hiked last year too! The guide turned to me and laughed saying I probably had no clue who she was, but it was Threshold! Oh the small world of the PCT and the internet. We had exchanged a few words online and while I never hiked with her I definitely knew who she was. It seemed perfect that I had left Granite Creek and had gotten to see all these lovely ladies. 

looking down toward Sunrise Camp

The place was pretty empty and after setting up camp I decided to walk over to the Sunrise Ranger Station/trail head with Stephanie and James. That was the closest water and they had cached food there plus I had heard rumors of a hiker box. Its always fun swapping food and I was curious what the place looked like. As far as the food caching goes you can mail stuff to the park or physically drop things off at multiple locations along the trail. Lack of planning (must be mailed 2 weeks in advance) and an incredible lack of desire to drive any additional distances meant I was carrying all my food. So we headed off on what felt like a very long gravel road (its actually just a little less than a mile from the campsite but whatever). Basically landing me a 19 mile day, not to shabby.
Sunrise is pretty nice. There is a giant lodge, a visitor's center that closed for the season 9/1 and a few other buildings including a giant bathroom with running water and hot hand dryers (ah the luxury when its cold and damp outside) and a big metal box full of people's food caches and a hiker box. The weather report tacked to the info board says over 4 inches of rain tonight, lovely. After loitering a bit and grabbing some snacks (chocolate peanut butter and a mountain house dinner, why yes thank you) we headed back. The sky was becoming more ominous and while it wasn't actually raining thunder started rumbling around 6pm and was putting everyone on edge. I spent the rest of the evening hanging out with Threshold's group talking about hiking and plotting future CDT plans. At 8 it finally started to rain and get dark, my cue to huddle in my tent and pray for better weather.

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