"It's not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?"
-Henry David Thoreau
Leaving Indian Bar was difficult because the beauty of our surroundings compelled us to want to stay forever. The sun shone on our tent and we were engulfed in the tint of green light. The color of the tent was the same color of the moss that adorned the evergreen boughs that speckled the hillside we camped on. The sight of the sun's light was deceptive to one hoping for warm morning air. Outside it was cool and crisp.
My second night's sleep was restless. I woke several times wondering what time it was and once on account of hearing some nocturnal animal in the near vicinity. Breakfast left a lot to be desired. It sounded so good: scrambled egg hash with peppers, onions, sausage and potatoes. It was of the freeze-dried variety and eating the eggs was like eating sponges, the rest was a watery soup-like texture that was hard to stomach. Emily had oatmeal and I envied her like never before!
Before we left we filled up our water supply at Wauhaukaupauken Falls, then we began the steep ascent on a 'staircase to heaven'. Stairs made from dirt and logs led us out of the valley as we climbed and climbed and climbed into the surrounding hills. We stopped frequently to turn around and let the view permeate our spirits. All around we saw evidence of those mountain goats I saw the night before, but this day we saw none.
Upon reaching the top and entering a beautiful meadow, we were treated to 360 degree views of Mt. Rainier, the Cascades and the jagged teeth of the Tatoosh Range. The air smelled of wildfire, however, and a haze obscured our view of the gaping peak of Mt. St. Helens. The wildflowers were in full bloom though and were such a joy that we stopped for a break to soak in the beauty. In the distance we could see how far we had come and Indian Bar Valley was merely a speck in the grand scheme of mountain bliss.
Slowly we began our descent into high alpine meadows that led into a few trees, soon into low alpine forests and eventually, after what seemed like forever, we began to come into forests with trees that rose far above the shady, forest floor. We hiked in silence. My mind wasn't silent, however. I found myself, as I'm sure Emily did, making ways to help the miles pass by more quickly. Praying the Rosary became, for me, a way to make every painful step seem manageable. "Hail Mary...full of grace..." the words were like a metronome helping my legs keep pace to the music of my own breathing.
Aside from prayer, I thought a lot about my children. Around every corner I pictured them bounding off the end of fallen old growth cedars, hanging from endless branches and poking their noses in the holes of rotting trees that could be none other than abandoned gnome homes. Although I was thrilled to be accomplishing a long held goal, I missed them like crazy!
Before long, we reached the Box Canyon area and Stevens Canyon Road. Civilization!? It was an unexpected sight. As it turned out it was a popular place for people visiting the Park for the day and as we emerged from the woods we both felt like indigenous forest people. Here were people well dressed in their slacks, khaki shorts and Hawaiian button down shirts. They were stepping out of their sports cars to take pictures of the deep waterfall and scenic overlook. In contrast, we were dirty, stinky and carried everything we needed to survive on our backs. Some people definitely looked at us with question marks in their eyes.
|Looking into Box Canyon from the bridge.|
The Wonderland Trail passed through Box Canyon itself, or rather, over it. We stopped on the bridge and gazed at the Muddy Fork Cowlitz River that raged over one-hundred feet below us. The fascinating part is that the canyon was no more than 25-40 feet wide making it quite a deep, narrow slot that continued for a quarter of a mile. Just on the other side of the bridge we wandered off the trail into the scantilly treed woods that sat right at the edge of the cliff. The roaring water gave us a soundtrack for our lunch break that day. I plopped my pack down next to me and sat on the bedrock. Emily declared I was too close to the edge and refused to join me so near the drop off and so, lost in our own thoughts, we enjoyed a solitary meal. My lunch of German sausage, fruit snacks, and nut mix never tasted so good. I ate my food and drank my water in silence, the loud river below flooded my thoughts.
|Time for food and reflection at Box Canyon.|
Once again my kids came to mind, this time I was glad they were not there. I would have been a nervous wreck with them sitting anywhere near where I was at that moment. My feet dreaded the inevitable fact that we had to keep going, and my body screamed, "NO!" as I heaved my pack back in its place.
After hiking another 1.5 miles we came to a sign that pointed to Maple Creek where we would be camping for the night. It said only one mile left! We were beyond happy and so ready to be done walking for the day.
Along the way we ran into some women who were out for a day hike. They were excited to talk to us and hear all about what distant hiking was like. I felt like an imposter. Here it was only the third day of my first backcountry backpacking trip and people were asking me what it was like as though I knew what I was doing. Yet, every mile, every turn was something knew and I was learning as I went. Nonetheless, we answered their questions and exchanged joyfull conversation but it was when they offered us fresh, cold cherries that they won a spot in our hearts forever. Never were we so grateful as we were then!
That "mile" was the longest mile we'd ever walked. We were both convinced that the sign was wrong. At last on the southeast side of the Wonderland Trail, we reached the buggy lowland river camp. We were so exhausted that we stopped at the first site available, site #2. Then we decided on #3, but after being attacked by biting flies we settled on site #4 which was sunnier and overlooked a small meadow. As it turned out, there were tons of bugs here as well. We set up the tent as soon as possible making sure to be careful not to let the bugs inside.
Neither of us could stand our own stench so we decided to head down to the creek to bathe and clean our laundry. Maple Creek was freezing but Oh! so refreshing. The sun warmed our backs and the cold water numbed our blisters. Once everything was cleaned with biodegradable, Ph neutral citronella soap we laid our clothes out on rocks to dry. We sat on the rocks, feet in the water, and flapped a towell across our shoulders back and forth to keep the hungry flies from landing. We talked, imagined, and laughed until our stomachs hurt and our eyes watered. It was beautiful and one of the most enjoyable experiences so far.
Back at camp, the dang bugs swarmed! We hung all of our clothes or laid them on rocks to dry. While making dinner, Emily noticed that my pants looked like they were crawling with flies. It turned out they were crawling...with ants! This had to have been my worst nightmare. I am quite seriously myrmecophobic...inexplicably fearful of ants! I think it's the very thought that all the ants in the world outweigh all the humans, not to mention the uncanny intelligence for such small brains....it's just a thing to be feared, trust me. And at that moment, hundreds....no exaggeration, were crawling on my pants! Ants IN MY PANTS!
I kept my distance and prepared to leave my pants right there for some pant-less backpacker who would appreciate them. As we ate, the constant army of ants marching over my pants just a short distance away, we noticed that soon they were completely gone! Perplexed, we moved closer to figure out where they went. They were completely gone! We couldn't believe it, and yet, I still wanted nothing to do with the pants. Dinner complete, we began cleaning our dishes when what to our wondering eyes should appear?!!! Thousands of ants climbing back onto my pants this time each one with a small white larva in tow!!!!! Now fear was replaced with fascination. We inched our way closer and even tried unsuccessfully to get the whole escapade on camera. We crouched down and watched until, just as before, the millions of ants were out of sight!
When they were gone again, we stood there dumbfounded. It would be my luck that of all times an entire society of ants would choose to move their nest it would be the time my pants lie in their line of pheromone! After that, I hung my pants on a tree branch overnight in hopes that they would be creature-free by morning.
We locked ourselves in the tent by 6:05 pm. I wrote in my journal and fell fast asleep.
Pictures from Day 3
|Amazing view from the Cowlitz Divide|
|Hazy skies fom a wildfire somewhere near the Park|
|Taking in the view at the Cowlitz Divide|
|Sunbathed Maple Creek|
|Hiking the steep trail near the Cowlitz Divide|
|Sun shining on the Mouse on a Stick wildflowers.|
|The Wonderland went along Stevens Road under a tunnel near Box Canyon.|
|Definitely one of my favorite wildflowers in the Park!|
|Wildflowers adorn the foothills of Mt. Rainier|