Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wonderland Trail: Day 3 Sunrise - Indian Bar

The weathermen didn't lie, that was a crazy night. After 8 the rain started in earnest and while it got a little lighter sometime in the early hours it never stopped. I think the thunder and lightning stopped around 2 am but sleep was pretty minimal. I would wake up, stare at the lightning, and my steadily wetter gear and once again look at my watch. At least if I'm hiking I'm doing something.

It was finally light enough to head out. The plan was to get down the 3 or so miles to White River where there was a ranger station and hopefully change up permits so I could have days more to my liking.

That's Rainier, at least as much of it as I was going to see while I hiked down towards White River. I got down there and was surprised to see 4 hikers milling around in the rain. They had camped there the night before and stayed somewhat dry sleeping on the porch of a building. Man was I jealous. After chatting trail for a bit one of the guys turned out to be a section hiker and offered me a lift to the Ranger Station. After stalling for a bit James and Steph showed up and both James and I ended up getting a ride. I thought the station was 0.5 miles away, nope way farther than that. I was super glad for the ride and the rangers were very accommodating. We both were able to make at least one change to our permits. Back in the car and after a bit more repacking back on the trail.

Looking up the White River
Apparently the bridge over White River had just been completed the day before. So we got to avoid a mile and a half road walk and enjoy a brand new bridge. That's one raging river, glad to be the first to enjoy a great new bridge.

And then it was time to climb. I've heard that the very best camps along the trail are Summerland and Indian Bar. Lots of people even recommend a very short day as the two sites are only 4.5 miles apart just so you can stay at both spots and enjoy what many swear are the best views on the mountain. My hike would take me up 2000' to Summerland and then up another 1000' to Panhandle Gap and then all the way down to Indian Bar. I was crossing my fingers that I would get at least a few glimpses of the supposedly spectacular scenery.

mountains peeking out

waterfalls as I climbed

and the trail heads somewhere up there, looking out from
Summerland seemed nice. The sky cleared just enough for me to get a peak of where I was headed and within 5 minutes I could once again see only a few feet in front of me. There is a shelter at the campsite and I took a short breather and snack break as I chatted with another hiker. The climb was definitely a long one and it was a much appreciated break from the rain under the small roof.

Looking back towards Summerland

and Summerland is eaten by a cloud
The trail enters rockier territory, passing giant glacial creeks and looming ridges. I couldn't believe my luck. Was that a spot of blue sky? Would I actually be lucky enough to see a bit of what surrounded me? I'll admit the blue spot made me giddy and after taking about a zillion pictures I pretty much skipped up the rest of the mountain.

negligible snow, easy time over the ridge
and it's gone...
over the top and into the mist
As I traveled on I passed over countless streams, through meadows filled with the small flowers and an abundance of marmots. Occasionally I would glimpse snowy shapes on my sides but I'm really not sure what the heck I was looking at.

marmot traipsing across the land
The trail made one last jump up and after a short snowy pass it was back down I went. I could hear thundering water but see nothing. You could tell where people stepped off for viewpoints by well trodden bare spots but I only saw white.

It felt like I was heading down the spine of a ridge but I'm not sure.

Down and down the trail went, wet and mysterious I felt like I must be getting closer. I was in a hurry to get to basically no where so I took my time. Mumbling songs like here comes the sun and I've got high hopes. There were also about a million delicious berries which caused me to stop every few minutes, in other words a slow trek down.

And then I was at the bottom. My knees thanked me and I dreamed of setting up my gear and drying even a fraction of my stuff. I was dripping wet and walking along a glorious river on Mt Rainier. I was enjoying my day a surprising amount but definitely tired. I headed up to the campsites and very slowly trudged around. Those campsites are spread out! And required way more climbing than I felt up to. I finally picked a spot and set up my tent in the drizzling endless rain. I picked the biggest spot I could find because Steph and James were planning to camp with me. While we had been able to make a few changes to our permits nothing had been available that night and the ranger had said it would be just fine for them to camp with me. So I needed space for 2 tents. 

Finally there
I paced around, ate some berries and got impatient. I was simply to wet to want to hang out in my tent and bored hanging out alone so I decided to explore. Across the river was the group site, shelter included. I thought maybe whoever was staying there for the night would let me hide under its roof for a bit. The group sites are part of the reserved system too, so no first come first serve luck. Just crossed my fingers and hoped they were friendly.

Don and Dave were sitting in the doorway. Turns out they had the same thought as me, but had found the place empty. We decided to kill time and beg the group to let us stay when they got there. An hour or so later James and Steph stumbled in looking pretty rough. They were cold and beat, apparently they got no small break of blue sky and uplifting spirits and were pretty down. Steph didn't even talk the first hour she was so worn out. Finally warming up a bit and spreading out gear at 7 pm we decided to call it, no one was coming and we were staying in that shelter. 

It was glorious. The fireplace was built over but it was still dry after an entire day of rain. It was fun spending time getting to know folks, Dave and Don have decided I should have a second career as a motivational speaker. Apparently I was still obnoxiously cheerful after such a hard day and seemed genuinely happy to be on the mountain which no one else could figure out. The other 4 were all plotting how to bail. I  was still hopeful, the storm was supposed to clear sometime in the early hours and I was praying for sunrise.
Honestly I had a great day. My gear was wet, my shoes were literally dripping water the entire day but I was grinning like a loon. The marmots made me smile, I loved the climbs and even in the mist it was all gorgeous. I am so lucky to be out here, not even a chance I'm bailing. 

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