Monday, December 8, 2014

Adventures in Wonderland: Solo Trip, Final Day

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” 

I woke pretty early the next morning, or maybe I never went to sleep, I'm not sure. I know for sure I listened to the rain pour on my tent hour after hour and wondered how long it would take before I simply floated down the mountain side. Several times an ominous drip fell onto my face when my over-saturated tent just simply couldn't keep another drop from falling inside. As soon as the light of day overtook the soggy darkness of night I decided the best thing would be to brave the inescapable wetness and get the rest of my journey over with.

It was going to be a short day, only four miles, and for that I was extremely grateful. The last two miles would be in familiar territory as I headed closer to Sunrise where my van was parked, and where I had hiked so frequently over the last couple of summers.

The rain continued as I packed up camp. My bag was heavier than ever, and I had to completely surrender to the fact that I was just going to be hiking wet. There was no other choice. There is something to be said for the peace that comes when you surrender yourself to circumstances that are out of your control. Once I did just that, I can honestly say that despite the cold and wet conditions I truly enjoyed my final stretch on the Wonderland Trail.

From Granite Creek Camp I made my way through the dripping and foggy woods to the silent meadows. The sound of my feet on the muddy path was the only sound that could be heard. The wildflowers bowed down to the weight of the rain and everything was green. The positive aspect of hiking in the rain is there was not a bug in sight. No mosquitos looking for a hot meal, no bees flying circles around my head.

A little over a mile from camp I reached the ridgeline that I had been ascending to since I started out that morning. I couldn't see Rainier's summit due to the fog, but the views where breathtaking nonetheless. There was a stillness that was unlike anything you experience at home. The clouds morphed slowly over the surrounding hills giving me glimpses of distant peaks. I felt like I was in the  Lord of the Rings movies with the sweeping views of treeless, green panoramas with rocky outcroppings dotting the landscape. It was beautiful, it was all mine.

Before I knew it, I found myself at a familiar crossroads. The Wonderland Trail came to a point that met up with at least four other possible trails. Walking up to that spot I could finally say that I had hiked every trail that broke off at that one point. As I stood there memories of former hikes flooded my soul; my treasured solo hike to the Burrough's Mountains, the hike with beloved friends up to Fremont Lookout, the hike with my children to Frozen Lake and I remembered clearly the day only a month prior that I stood in the same spot with a terrible dread in my heart wondering where my ten year old could be. The day that fog covered the mountain and Hunter, along with two sons of a friend, disappeared as they hiked ahead of us. For three hours we searched, we yelled, we split up and gathered as many people to help us search as possible. For those three long hours in weather even worse than that which I found myself then I prayed, I begged all the angels on that mountain to keep them safe. They did, he was found only moments before a full on search was organized.

I continued hiking, happy that I knew exactly how far I had to go. I knew this part of the trail so well, every rock was familiar, every turn predictable. I passed the large rock that I huddled behind with Samuel and my niece, Ava as we tried to keep the biting wind from passing through our clothes and into our bones the day Hunter went missing. The memory of that day stayed with me for the rest of my trip. The feelings I experienced then, flooded my mind as my feet squished in my wet socks. I was so excited to be almost done! About a mile to my van, I began to be throughly chilled. My body shivered in an attempt to keep warm, but being soaking wet from head to toe, it seemed an impossibility.

I saw human beings for the first time that day only fifteen minutes from my van. It was a husband and wife and they had just begun their hike. As I past them I overheard them talking about how they had forgotten their camera and the wife was telling her husband he needed to go back and get it. All I could think was, 'For crying out loud, who hikes in the rain for fun!!?' I couldn't decide who I felt worse for, the man who had to retrace his steps in the rain or the woman who had to stand and wait. I hadn't even thought about taking pictures that day, and for that reason I don't have a single photograph of my journey that day.

Finally, I reached the last stretch, the 'staircase' of rock and gravel that led down to Sunrise Visitor Center. The end was in sight! I began to quicken my pace, I'm not sure you could call it a run with my wet clothes, my heavy pack and my blistered feet but I felt like I was flying! As I reached the parking lot, I used the restroom and headed to my van praying that it's battery wasn't dead. Anyone who knows me, knows that it would not be a bit of a surprise if something went wrong before I got home, it's just my luck, it always has been.

The sight of my headlights blinking when I pushed the button to unlock my van told me everything was okay. I breathed a sigh of relief, started up the van and turned on the heat as high as it would go.  A white plastic trash bag filled with clothes waiting to be taken to the Goodwill was in my trunk and I dug through it to find some dry clothes to change into. As I drove off the mountain at 9:10 AM wearing pink fleece pajama bottoms with penguins all over them and a stained oversized Seahawks T-shirt with no shoes or socks I thanked the good Lord for keeping me safe. I thanked Him for the beauty of His creation that I was allowed to share in.

Stuck in a dorky smile that could not be erased, with matted, wet hair and wind burnt red cheeks I was on cloud nine. I completed what I had set out to do just over a year ago.

         "...If you can dream - and not make dreams you master;
             If you can think - and not make thoughts you aim;
             If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
            And treat those two impostors just the same; "

Triumph and Disaster; sunny days and thunderstorms, there is beauty in it all. I have learned to never let the difficult moments in life negate the precious moments and to appreciate the great moments for what they are; glimpses of Heaven. Tiny glimpses of Heaven is what I saw on the trail that took me on a circular journey of 93 miles around Mount Rainier. Where will I see Heaven next? In the smiles of my children? In the laughter of a friend? Yes. Everyday I will try to see the foretaste of that Paradise which we were all made for.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Adventures in Wonderland: Solo, Day 2

The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right.
-Mark Twain (a.k.a. Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass)

I love Mark Twain, which is the reason I know that he also, at one point in time, went by the pen name Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, but that's off the topic.  On the second day of my solo trek to complete the Wonderland Trail, however, I prayed that the lightning that struck the mountain during the latter half of that day's hike, would not be "distributed right".

After my night time talk with my camp 'friends', I decided that I would take it easy the next morning. I would sleep in, eat my breakfast slowly and savor every minute of the morning before I began the eight mile hike to Granite Creek Camp. I'm not sure what changed that plan, but it didn't quite pan out that way.

I woke several times throughout the night feeling something outside my tent. I barely heard anything but I could feel footsteps not too far away. I will never know exactly what it was but I sensed it was deer or some other hoof-footed animal. It must have been a busy night for the critters because I once woke to a noise on my tent. I couldn't sleep until I found out what that was, so I lie there awake, eyes fixed on the thin flap of material that kept me safe from the prowling wildlife. Just before I was about to drift off to sleep, the mystery was solved.  I saw the silhouette of a small mouse run a circle on the door of my tent before it got down and scattered away.  That was pretty much the end of my sleep for the night and since my phone died the previous day, I had no way of telling what time it was. Still dark, that was what time it was.

I drifted off to sleep only to feel like moments later my eyes were opening to daylight. I lie there relishing the fact that I was on nobody's schedule but mine. Soon, nature was 'shouting' however and the knowledge that I had to walk right next to the guys camp and use the 'toilet' practically in their "backyard" made me feel much less sociable than when I arrived to camp. Nonetheless, I did just that and then quickly packed up, ate a granola bar, and bid them a friendly farewell as I began the long ascent to Mystic Lake.

I was forewarned that I would be hiking uphill for quite sometime, and they weren't exaggerating!  I climbed onward through a forested hillside with a  series of long switchbacks.  I reach several small meadows bejewled with wildflowers of all colors. Several small creeks played the soundtrack of that beautiful soothing music that only nature can get just right.

About 2.5 miles past camp, I reached Moraine Park. This was
a place as close to heaven as many of its residents would ever get. Chipmunk, pikas and marmots abound. They frolicked in the meadows chock-full of alpine wildflowers. They basked in the glow of warm sunlight upon large boulders, and they ducked in and out of holes alongside the trail's edge. The trail leveled out and it was a brief respite from what had, so far, been a mostly uphill hike.

My path continued to take me through ups and downs in meadows that were buzzing and busy, with both it's own residents and several groups of day hikers who were visiting Mystic Lake.  On several occasions I was warned of an upcoming family of bears consisting of a mama and two cubs. I looked forward with a bit of anxiety to the wild sight, but it wasn't in God's plan for me to see any bears on my solo portion of the Wonderland Trail.

At 3.6 miles from camp I arrived at Mystic Lake. Just before I approached the lake, however, I began to see out of the corner of my eyes what I thought were grasshoppers leaping from my path in fear of getting squished. But on closer examination I discovered they were little tiny brown frogs. The path was very dry and I had yet to see water, so I pondered over the fact that there were so many (at least a couple dozen) small amphibians on the trail. They were fun to watch but hard to photograph as they were nearly camouflaged on the dusty path.

My fellow campers at Dick Creek told me of a bustling lake with picnic-ers and skinny dippers. Upon my arrival, however, I fortunately found a place of serene solitude. Not a soul in sight, a peaceful silence fell upon my ears and I relished the beauty around me. I looked forward to taking in all the lake had to offer, for me, a place to set my pack down and soak my tired feet. The sun was warming and the lake was cool but not cold.

I took off my boots and tucked my socks inside them. Hiking up the knee-high leggings that I wore under my skirt, I slowly walked on the soft sand that settled at the bottom of the lake. The water was crystal clear and as I moved pollywogs quickly swam away. I walked ever so slowly, not wanting to break the silence that surrounded me and not wanting to intrude on the lives of those that called this place home. Fish jumped from across the lake and a few feet away a salamander swam toward me. I watched closely with fascination and joy. It felt like I was surrounded by God Himself.

Soon, my stomach grumbled for food and I sat down for a bite to eat. My appetite was next to nothing but by the noise my stomach was making I knew I should probably eat something. All I could manage to eat was a few pieces of beef jerky and several Bit o'Honeys. I'm not sure why, when I was expending so much energy, I had such a lack of desire to eat (heavens knows quite the opposite is true when I'm home).

I knew I couldn't stay here forever, and the thousand of just hatched dragonfly babies, (at least that's what I diagnosed them to be) prompted me to move on. I dried my feet, bandaged my blisters, heaved   Violet back in place and started out, rejuvenated and prepared for the second half of my day's trek.

Less than a mile after leaving the lake, I came to the first water crossing of the West Fork White River. As a crow flies, I wasn't far from where I acquired my backcountry camping permit just two days prior. I didn't know how far I was from a road, however, because all the roads nearby had been washed out by the 2006 floods. In fact, as I hiked, I traversed some of the flood damaged terrain. The trail itself had to be rerouted at some point and looked like nothing more than a rocky wasteland, the path marked by a line of stones.

The 2006 floods carved the landscape around the W.F. White River
Site of a former forest fire.

I followed several more footbridges over glacial debris and the power of the great volcano was evident through all my senses. Even with my eyes closed I could feel its great capacity to build...and to destroy. A cool wind blew down off the flanks of the mountain and falling rock and ice could be heard as I approached Winthrop Glacier. The weather began to take a turn for the worse. Most of the day it had been pretty sunny with a slight bit of overcast, but dark, ominous-looking clouds had been building.

The trail began to climb again as I hiked away from Winthrop Glacier. I stopped to get my rain gear out, so as to not have to change in the rain. It was coming for sure. Growing up in Western Washington one knows without a doubt exactly how much time they have before the drops start falling, and I knew it was soon. I put my rain pants on over my leggings, stuffed my skirt in my pack, covered my pack with a plastic garbage bag and before I was heading uphill again it began to rain. Not a light sprinkling, but giant juicy drops that splattered when they hit. Almost as soon as the sky began weeping, the clouds began to fight. Lightning bolts were hurled and thunderous words were spoken. I prayed that the storm would pass as quickly as it did the day before. I'm not one for confrontations and this one was particularly intimidating.

My prayers must have been used for other purposes that day, however, because the rain continued falling....ALL. NIGHT. LONG. The thunder and lightning stuck around too.

The way turned steep and alternated between dense forest and brushy creeks. I simply kept putting one foot in front of the other getting more and more wet as the miles passed. The trail that had been bone dry when I started just one day ago now had little streamlettes running down its center. I kept telling myself, "Just a little further and you can snuggle down into your warm sleeping bag with dry clothes...and...warm coffee...and....sleep until the sun comes back out." I reached camp 4.6 miles from the sunny memory of Mystic Lake.

The campsites were soggy mud holes and the thought of getting my tent out and setting it up made me want to crawl into a bear den and cuddle up with the family.  I went from campsite to campsite looking for one with the most tree coverage and the least amount of mud. The third one I came to was actually under a huge tree and the ground around the tree was relatively dry. Perfect! I began to set my tent up but as I did, puddles began to form on the ground around me. In the frustration of the situation I made mistake after mistake in setting up my shelter and it seemed to take forever. Finally, I took off my wet outerwear and climbed inside the tent, backpack and all.

I changed out of every item of clothing I was wearing, and with so much gratitude that I still had dry clothes in my backpack, I put them on and climbed deep inside my sleeping bag. Coffee was completely undesirable as that would require heating water on my the rain. Sleep was all I wanted, sleep and warmth.

Well, it rained and rained and rained. Oh, and did I mention that it rained with thunder and lightning storms ALL. THROUGH. THE NIGHT! Sleep was evasive as I lie awake dreading that my tent would begin leaking or my camp would be flooded. Several times I was startled out of "almost sleep" by a cold droplet landing on my face.  The thought of next day's hike being short and final was the only thing that kept me sane.

Mystic Lake

Winthrop Glacier, up close and personal

Last picture of Rainier's summit before the weather turned bad.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

I am Supermom!

My kids often ask me, "Mom, if you could have any super power what would it be?" They always give me certain boundaries, however, such as: I can't have the 'power to have all powers, and I can't have something boring like "the power to take a nap whenever I want" (which is one I'd really like!). I usually rack my brain and almost always tell them I'd like to be able to fly.

Lately though, I've been thinking to myself that I'd really like to have the power of Disney's Elastigirl from The Incredibles. Here are some of the ways it would come in handy for me:

  • When I finally find a sweater that I like at the mall and realize all the sizes that are bigger than extra-small are hung dang near the ceiling, I wouldn't have to wander around to find someone who could come and use the special hanger-grabbing, ten-foot pole thingy.
  • When I'm at Mass during the school day with eleven Kindergarten and First Graders I could do things like; pass the children two pews up from me a tissue, get them to the right page in their prayer books, wake them up, tell them it's time to kneel, warn them to get their fingers out of there noses...all without leaving my pew!
  • When my kids get into a bickering match while I'm driving in heavy traffic I could stretch one arm all the way to the back of the van and slap each one along side the head before they even knew what hit them.  They'd be so shocked that they'd bond in a shared moment of creepiness and the bickering would come to an end....forever!
Those are just a few ways Elastigirl's power would help me. Yes, that is the power I want. It's just so much more practical than least during this stage of my life.

In all seriousness, I have a friend who frequently calls me Supermom (Leah H!!). I usually brush off her flattery because, most days, I feel anything but super. One thing she said to me, at least five years back, however, has stuck with me to this day. After calling me 'Supermom' and me scoffing at the title, she said, 
"No, really. You know why you are Supermom? Because you get FIVE little kids to bed every night and FIVE little kids out of the house in the morning! That's quite the feat."
She said it with such genuine sincerity that the thought has never left me. Yes, they are older now and, in some ways, things have gotten easier, but she was right, I AM Supermom, dagnammit!  Every mom knows that simply getting out of the house is an enormous task.  Now, Leah is about to have her third child and she, too, is a Supermom, as are all moms that take on the task of raising adults. That's right, adults. We are not raising these little humans to be children, but respectful, caring, responsible adults...and that is super.

I might fly one day. Across the seas to far off lands....

But for now, I will find my power in....naps.

"Dinner can wait, just give me ten minutes....please?"

Monday, September 1, 2014

Adventures in Wonderland: Solo Day 1

" No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength." ~Jack Kerouac

Setting out on the trail with my huge backpack felt foreign and familiar at the same time.  Before long, however, it was as though I had never left (minus the blisters and wet clothes). Since we were near an easy access area, there were plenty of day hikers to join me the first couple of miles and for that, I was happy.  The trail started out gently climbing up and down for about 1.5 miles in a forested canopy before I reached the first of many great views; Eagle's Cliff.

Mom said it looks like an Angel hovering  above, I'm sure it was!

Mt. Rainier from Eagle's Cliff

First chance to take my pack off and cover with myself with bug spray. It was the perfect place to take a break.

I left Eagle's Cliff having formed a trail 'friendship' with a woman who was hiking with her grown son. In my opinion, trail 'friendships' don't require you to even know the other person's name, but there is a bond in having shared the same experiences; in crossing paths on more than one occasion, in offering to take each others photo, in understanding the burning pain that we each endure in our legs and lungs and in not judging one another for the sweat dripping off our brows. I never knew her name, but I was grateful for her presence.

I left the cliff and headed further on down the trail. It was very forested and provided some great shade for an otherwise pretty warm day. At an intersection of Spray Trail, I got a little confused (the actual Wonderland Trail is way better marked than the Spray Trail alternate route). A sign pointed one way to Eagle's Roost Camp and the other way to "Water". That was all it said. It didn't mention that 'Water' happened to be one of the most gorgeous falls on the whole trail! I didn't need water yet so I went toward the camp thinking the main trail went that way and passed by the camp. What I found were some tents tucked quietly into the woods and a stinky, nasty toilet. Anyone who has read my previous posts about the Wonderland Trail might remember that when a sign reads "Toilet" it usually points you in the direction of a wooden box with a seat on top....that's it. Although, I could have made use of the "facilities" at that time, I just couldn't bring myself to sit on top of a box that was infested with giant flies....a tree was more preferable.

At that point, I realized I should have headed toward "Water". I hiked the steep trail back to where I had come from. Rounding the path, I could hear rushing water and I headed in that direction. My 'friend's' son who I saw at Eagle's Cliff passed me going in the opposite direction and he let me know the falls were "Awesome!" Climbing down some steep rocky steps, I reached Spray falls and was taken back at the beauty that I could never quite capture on camera. The falls began to descend 400 feet above and it pooled several times before falling again. Like a tiered wedding veil it fell in different levels. High above I could see how, if you could access the area, you could pass under the falls and view the world from behind it, for that however, I had to use my imagination. To my delight, there sat my friend, silently enjoying the mist and the cool wind that came up from far below. There, too, we offered to take each others picture:

In front of the beautiful Spray Falls
Hessong Rock
After leaving the refreshing mist of Spray Falls I hiked about 0.5 miles in the forest before the trail began to break out into meadows and open clearings. The trail still continued onto higher elevations. The outcropping of rock called, Hessong Rock could be seen from the northwest. It looked like a fortress in the distance, all it needed was a moat.

All around me I could see where perhaps only a week ago, the wildflowers may have been at their peak, but now most of them looked tired, and dried up. Erosion preventing stairs had been built into the dirt with logs and I climbed them methodically. I met people frequently with a friendly greeting usually spoken in passing, but I remember passing one couple in particular, and the man exclaimed, "Welcome to flower heaven!" I guess the Bear Grass that was still in full bloom was pretty and the occasional bright Indian Paintbrush were spectacular in and of themselves, but I thought to myself, "I'm not sure I'd call this 'flower heaven'." I agreed, however, and said, "Beautiful!"

But as I continued climbing to elevations where the snow had taken longer to melt, the flowers popped in vibrant color from every direction. They crowded the path and covered the meadows. The brightest pinks, and the deepest purples were highlighted by the sun. The passer by had been quite accurate in saying that this was flower heaven. It was the most fragrant 1.5 miles I've ever hiked. It was here that my backpack was christened, "Violet". 
"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." -Mark Twain.
This quote came to mind in the meadows of Spray Park as the fragrance of so many flowers filled my senses. Forgiveness is something I realized I was working through on this journey, and my backpack seemed to crush me at somehow, in the jumbled and mixed up way my mind thinks while I am hiking, Violet got her name.

Finally, I was able to give my lungs and legs a break as the trail crested upon reaching an elevation of 6,400 feet. It was in this barren area that I lost Spray Trail. Permanent snow fields abound amidst pumice and talus stones....not a tree in the near vicinity. My joy at being able to hike downhill at last was overshadowed by the fact that I had no idea which hill to hike down. I wandered in confusion trying my best to scout any sign of previous hikers footprints. I saw a few here and there, but nothing that led to anywhere specific. I scanned the panoramic scene around me for the usual winding trail, but saw none. The air was unusually still for such an open ridge, there is almost always a breeze coming up from somewhere, and the sound of silence was deafening. I felt like I was on the moon. Not a person in sight. At this point I decided it was time to call on my Heavenly Companion to guide me in the right direction. "Holy Guardian Angel, lead the way, help me find the trail!" I pleaded with anxiety beginning to rise in my chest. "PLEASE!"

With that final plea, almost instantly, my eyes focused on a bird almost completely camouflaged by the rocks. With a little research, later on, I discovered it was a White-tailed Ptarmigan. I hadn't seen it before, although it felt like I had been wandering the same area trying to get my bearings. She stood only feet from where I was, as still as could be. I stood still also, a little in awe. I stared at the bird for a moment as she held her gaze in a fixed direction. Wondering why she wasn't moving, or even looking in my direction, I looked to where she was looking. That was when I saw the hiker, himself almost camouflaged by his surroundings. He was carefully coming down from a steep rocky decline on the other side of a snow field. I whispered a prayer of thanksgiving as I knew my cry for help was answered. I snapped a few pictures of the bird (and the babies she was hiding with her) and headed in the direction of the hiker.

If you look carefully you will see her two little chicks!
 "Boy am I glad to see you! The trail was looking a little sketchy here." I said as I greeted him

"Where are you headed?" he asked.

"Dick Creek."

"Not tonight, though, right?" he said.

"Yeah.....why?" I was getting nervous.

"Are you supposed to be on the Spray Trail?"

"Uh-huh." Now I was really nervous.

"Oh, that's down there," he said, pointing in the general direction I had come from. "Right now you are on a climbers trail. If you keep heading in this direction you'll just keep going up. A buddy and I have cross-country permits for two nights to be out here."

A long story short, he got me started in the right direction and I eventually found the trail again. In the end I met another trail "friend" and realized the true care of my own Guardian Angel.

After finding the trail, I did indeed begin to descend. The tell-tale sign of a change in elevation evolved with the drop of every thousand feet or so. Somewhere between 6000 and 5000 feet elevation the trees began to appear again. First, the tough but scrawny and wind-shaped sub-alpine fir, then the mountain hemlock and soon I was back into the shadows of the tall Douglas firs and cedars....and thankfully so!

No sooner had I reached the cover of the forest canopy did the groaning and growling thunder tear apart the cocoon of silence that I had been wrapped in as I hiked the last two miles alone. Now, a sense of fear set in. The sky had become much darker and the storm, according to "Mississippi" was only four miles away...then three miles...and two. I was so grateful that the storm held off until I was off of the open and desolate top of Spray Park. Every flare of lightning had me holding my breath and counting, "One Mississippi...Two Mississippi..." and every crackle of thunder made my heart race. One thing I noticed as different about being in a storm in the mountains is that the sound of thunder, while retaining the low grumble I was familiar with, had a specific sound of true electricity...a cracking, popping sound like when you place the red wire of jumping cables on the positive terminal of your car battery.

I prayed that evening....hard. I begged St. Philomena, whose feast day it was, to make the storm go away and to keep me and all those on and around the mountain safe. I don't remember how long the storm lasted, but it did move on. The sky lightened and I felt not even a drop of rain that day.

The guide book said, "from Cataract Valley Camp you will begin the seemingly long descent of 1.6 miles to the Carbon River below." That is where I was when the storm ended. The author wasn't joking when she said 'seemingly' long. That was the longest 1.6 miles I had ever hiked, especially with the knowledge that once I reached the Carbon River I still had 1.2 miles to go! At Cataract Creek, I stopped for water and to my surprise I happened upon an older couple who were doing the same. I was so happy to see other human beings, but I left not really considering our encounter a 'friendly' one. The woman spoke not a word and the man spoke plenty for the both of them. He ranted on and on about how, 'there was NO WAY that was only 8 miles from Mowich Lake,' (I agreed) He threw off his pack, kicked a few rocks and was too worked up to even sit down and relax before his final stretch. He acted out exactly what I was feeling inside and on top of it all, twilight had set in and it was getting dark fast.

I didn't say much, purified my water and continued on my way. When I reached the Carbon River a woman was waiting at the junction for the couple I had encountered. She told me they were her parents. I confided my nervousness at having to hike over a mile in the dark and laid subtle hints hoping that maybe I could set my tent up at their site. She didn't take the bait, so I hurried on my way.

I reached a place that I used to love to hike to as a teenager, the Carbon River suspension bridge. But on account of being in a hurry, having to pee and the fact that the sun was quickly dipping below the horizon, crossing the bridge was actually a little nerve wracking. The sound of the rocks grinding under the angry Carbon River mimicked the rumble of thunder from earlier that day. I hurried across as quickly as I could considering that, as I swayed back and forth, I was trying to hold onto the cables and my trekking poles at the same time.

As is the usual case when you reach a river valley, the only way to go was up. So I put on my headlamp and began the rocky climb... the sound of the rushing water my invisible companion. I knew that if it wasn't dark I could see the massive Carbon glacier; the lowest reaching glacier on Mt. Rainier, but all I could see was the rough, stoney trail five feet in front of me. I sensed that to my left was a steep, rocky hillside and to my right an increasingly long drop to the river trees to break a fall. The air was dry but a cool breeze blew toward me from glacier itself. Besides the sound of the raging river, I could hear occasional chucks of ice breaking off and falling from the glacier. It was an eerie sound coming from the raven-black abyss.

I was exhausted. Fear was no longer with me as I sat down on a rock that jutted out from the hillside. I leaned against my backpack and closed my eyes. The sounds, the refreshing cool air, the blackness of night, it was all comforting and, in the mind-set of fatigue, I seriously contemplated just sitting there and falling asleep. I may have done so if I didn't see what I saw next. Above and ahead of me I saw a flashing light. I knew someone was trying to let me know it wasn't far to camp. I gathered my energy and continued on. It still seemed  like quite awhile before I began to hear the lovely sound of a nearby creek. That "bubbling brook" sound that they try to capture and jail inside a CD to help people relax. Once I heard that, I knew I really was near! Upon reaching Dick Creek I saw the light flash at me again. I flashed my headlamp back to let them (whoever them was) know that I had seen them, then I quickly filled my water bottles and found my way to camp.

I said thank you to my fellow campers and then set up my tent. After laying out my sleeping pad and sleeping bag I crawled out of the tent and went to talk to my neighbors. Them were three 20-something men from Boise, ID. We conversed for about half an hour about the hikes we had been on and the hikes we all had ahead of us. They were traveling in the counter-clockwise route around the mountain and were able to tell me precisely what I had to look forward to, and I did the same for them. We joked, laughed and relinquished the moment and when I went to bed that night, I realized that I had made some great trail friends who, like the last mile I hiked that day, could possibly remain faceless due to the mask of night.

Two things I was grateful for as I lie inside my sleeping bag that night: 1) although it had rained a bit on my fellow campers that day, I didn't see a drop of it (thank you St. Philomena!) and 2) if Mystic Camp was available when I went to get my permit I would have had 3.6 extra miles to hike that the dark!!

Bear Grass
My favorites, Avalanche Lilies; my 'cheerleaders'.

Indian Paintbrush
Really cool outcropping of shale.

Yes, Flower Heaven, indeed!

One of the snow fields I had to cross going through Spray Park.

The arrow points to the "Mowich" or deer head that the Natives named the lake after.

It's looks a lot brighter in this picture than I remember it. Shortly after I crossed the bridge it began to get dark.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Adventures in Wonderland: One Year Later

 “There are things you do sometimes, actions that you take by obeying sudden impulses, without stopping for even a fraction of a second to think, and then you spend the rest of your life either lamenting it or thanking yourself for it. They are rare, unique, and perfect moments.”   - Irene Gonzalez Frei 

I didn't plan on this trip. Maybe in the back of my mind I wanted to accomplish it while my kids were at their dad's this summer, but in the forefront of my mind I could only think, "It's not going to happen, I've got too much to do to get ready for school."

But then I had to tell the kids, "Goodbye." Thirteen days they would be at their father's house, in which time, according to them, he was getting remarried. The night before, I wrote them all a personal letter letting them know that I loved them and would miss them. I felt melancholic but okay about the whole thing. Then when the time came for me to drop them off, I kissed them all goodbye, and watched as they got buckled into their dad's vehicle. I waved farewell and drove off. Halfway home, the waterworks started. I was not okay with this! Not all of them were okay with this, and yet, that is how the state says it must be. Divorce is like a wound that won't heal. Oh, it scabs up frequently and you may not feel it for a long time, but every now and then it rips open and hurts anew.

I arrived back home, wearing sunglasses to conceal my puffy red eyes, and got online. My dad came into the room and asked if I was okay. Why is it that that question alone can force you to show the truth that you try so desperately to hide? Tears fell onto my cheeks and my glasses no longer hid the evidence of my previous breakdown. Trying to be as sympathetic as he knew how, Dad said to me with a smile on his face, "Well...we could get drunk!" I love my dad, and that didn't sound like a half bad idea, but the first thing out of my mouth surprised even me. "Or you could drive me to Mowich Lake tomorrow so I can finish the Wonderland hike!" "Really? You want to do that tomorrow?" he replied, surprised.

I'm not even sure where that came from, but now that it was out of my mouth I wanted to follow it through. I immediately left for the Carbon River Ranger Station to see about getting a 'first come first served' permit. I intended on staying just one night, hiking two full days. Upon talking to the rangers I realized (due to the campsite that I needed being booked) I would have to do it in two days. This would actually turn out to be quite a blessing as I learned later on. So I headed back home, permit in hand. It was already about 7:30 pm when I began packing my backpack. By nine I was in bed.

I haven't even worn my backpack since I got home from hiking the Wonderland Trail last year. I wondered how my body would fair after not having trained like I did last year. It didn't matter now, everything was set to go.

When my alarm went off at 6 o'clock the next morning I lie in bed thinking, "Maybe I don't want to do this. Is this a good idea? Why am I doing this?" But I got a hold of myself and forced myself out of bed. The plan was for Dad to follow me to Sunrise so I could drop my van off. Then, I would drive with him to Mowich Lake and he would drop me off. On the way up to Sunrise, doubt began to creep its way back into my mind, the same nervous feeling that I had the first day of last year's hike crept into my gut. I drowned them out with some happy John Denver tunes. The sun was bright and the day was warming up quickly. It had been sunny and dry for weeks, but a chance of thunderstorms was predicted for the next day or so. I was banking on the chance that they wouldn't happen.

Everything went smoothly as far as dropping my van off. I held onto the prayer handle of Dad's truck until my knuckles were white as he rounded the curves of the steep Sunrise Road on the way back down. I'm pretty sure I drive exactly the same way, but being the passenger is a whole other story! I apologize now to anyone who may have ever driven down that road with me behind the wheel. As we reached the bottom, just before exiting the park, Dad noticed his brakes were smoking. The unmistakable smell of overheated brakes filled the air. But worse than that, the truck just didn't drive the same....something was wrong. "There's no way I will be able to take you to Mowich Lake." he told me, disappointed. I already knew, however.

Dad got on the phone (as soon as we had cell service) to AAA and I began calling around to find someone who would be willing to come out of their way to pick me up and take me to the lake. Finally I reached my brother, Lonnie. With a cheerful, "Sure, I'll take ya!" we hung up and met at Wally's Drive-In in Buckley. Thank you Mom and Dad for giving me so many siblings! Amongst all of them I was bound to find at least one who would be willing and able to take me.

By one o'clock, I hugged Lonnie and my sister-in-law, Julia 'Goodbye'.  I was ready to start hiking the 9 miles from Mowich Lake to Dick Creek Campground via Spray Park. Spray Park is an alternate route that many Wonderland hikers take for its unmatched beauty. Last year, I was dead set on hiking every step of the Wonderland Trail and our route was planned differently. Now, however, I was more interested in the scenery than being able to say I actually walked every ounce of trail on the Wonderland, after all, I would still be able to say I walked a complete circle all the way around the great and majestic Mount Rainier.

Mt. Rainier from Seattle Park

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Adventures in Wonderland: Day 8, The Journey Ends, But it's Not Over

Mowich Lake (final destination)

I'm not sure if, in speaking the above quote, Mr. Gardner meant the "wilderness" of soul where one feels small and insignificant and completely helpless when left to his own devices, or if he meant the literal wilderness, such as that in which Emily and I woke up the morning that we would begin the final leg of our journey. Either way, I'm not sure I've have ever prayed so much in my life as I did on that mountain. When we hiked in silence, I hiked with my Lord and our Mother, Mary. I prayed us over a snowy mountain pass, up miles of tedious ascents to sub alpine meadows, through dark, low lying forests, over log bridges that crossed raging and angry waters of fresh glacial melt, over a high hanging suspension bridge, on unsteady ground with views of river valleys far below, and most of the way around this beautiful thing I like to call, "My Mountain". I felt I had been given inspirations, consolations and a greater appreciation for many things I used to take for granted, because of this, I am certain Mr. Gardner had to have meant the literal wilderness that we have been blessed with in our National Parks.

Shortly before dawn I awoke to the most unusual sound. It was loud and not like any noise I had ever heard before. Then I heard it again, and again. Each time it got farther and farther away. Emily lie there listening too. We guessed an owl? No, we have heard owls before and this certainly wasn't an owl. Other than that, however, we hadn't a clue. As we lie there we heard people from another camp site guessing at what the unknown animal could have been. They didn't seem to know either (now, however, after looking up animal sounds online I think it was most likely a fox).

As the sun came up (yes, we think that bright yellow light which we hadn't seen much of in two days came from the sun) we remained inactive as we tried to figure out where to begin. Everything we had was damp- from our clothes to our sleeping bags to our backpacks. I ended up wearing what I wore to sleep simply because it was somewhat warm. We found our driest socks and wrapped our feet in plastic bags before we stuck them in our wet boots. All the blisters on my feet had been renewed by the wet hike the previous day, so I knew it was going to be another painful day of hiking. Then I put on my wet fleece jacket and damp gators over my pants. Before packing all our wet gear I grabbed a bite of soft pita bread spread with almond butter.

Golden Lake near where we camped.
Leaving camp, we checked out the great views that we had read about in the guide book. We were able to take one last semi-blocked view of Rainier's summit and we could see Golden Lakes from campsite #4. We were above 5000' elevation and looking down it was obvious that we would soon be moving into the clouds as we descended into the Mowich River Valley. Today's hike began much like yesterday's ended; in wet, soggy blueberry bushes and wild bleeding hearts that hung over the narrow path that was the Wonderland Trail. Again, the blueberries were delicious and with the sun shining, the wetness wasn't such a bother. Soon, though, we descended into the forest, dark and damp, it reminded me of the The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy was afraid of the lions, tigers, and bears (resist the urge to say "Oh my", please).

Looking down at the fog over the Mowich Valley.

The forest was silent and ghostly in the fog.
We had about 5 miles of downhill switchbacks. To bide the time we counted 36 in all!! We played a silly game to keep track of what number we were on. For the eighth switchback we challenged ourselves to name the eight Beatitudes. For the 17th we named seventeen Presidents. We ended up naming twenty-one things we were grateful for, sixteen different types of trees, ten Commandments and many, many more. It made the miles go relatively quickly and our minds got a workout as well as our legs.

At the bottom we reached the Mowich Rivers. John H. Williams wrote that the Mowich Rivers were given their names by Native Americans after seeing the figure of a deer (or "mowich" in the Chinook language) in the rock and ice on Rainier's northwest flank. Now, over one hundred years later the deer head can still be seen today. We were unfortunate that the weather was foggy and didn't get to see the deer head that Mr. Williams wrote about. 

We crossed over the river twice. After the second crossing we ate lunch. I had been feeling an uneasy squishiness in my boots for awhile so I sat down on a rock and took off my boots. Even with the plastic bags on each foot I could wring out a steady stream of water from my socks. It felt good to sit and relax on the warm rocks, however, Emily was anxious to get going and, all too soon, we hefted our heavier than usual wet packs back in place. As usual every great downhill ascent was followed by an equally great uphill climb. The way up and away from the river valley was steep and the forest was dark and damp. We climbed into the clouds but our exertion kept us warm.

I loved observing all the different mushrooms and tree fungi and looking at the fallen giants. I imagined what it was like the moment some of those large trees toppled over. Emily and I hiked at different paces and alone, each lost in our own thoughts. I was somewhat sad that I wouldn't be completing the whole 93 miles in one trip but my discomfort trumped that disappointment and I began to look forward to a long hot shower. We didn't pass many people but I felt keenly aware of my stench when we happened upon other hikers.

We had three miles of uphill trekking and it was a tough go! I would take uphill climbing over downhill any day, but this day seemed to last forever! By the time we arrived at Mowich Lake it was raining pretty hard and there was no real shelter to stay dry. The original plan was to set up our tent and stay the night, but at this point we would be going home. We waited for our friend, Aaron, to pick us up. When he finally got there he may as well have been Santa Claus. He brought some freshly made Subway sandwiches that we devoured as though we hadn't eaten in days. We weren't exactly starving, but we were seriously craving fresh food!

The final paragraph in my journal, which I wrote while waiting to get picked up at Mowich Lake Campground, goes as follows:
"We did see some beautiful waterfalls before we reached the end of our journey at Mowich Lake. It is cold and rainy and we still have over an hour before we planned on meeting Aaron with our next food supply. He still doesn't know he will be picking us up to go home. And so we wait. At least the rain has stopped....for now."
It feels incomplete to me, and it is. The final chapter waits to be written, but it can't be written until it is experienced. Getting away from the busyness of life and realizing what I was truly capable of, as well as what I was truly vulnerable to gave me a whole new perspective on everyday life. I am independent but I am not invincible. I value the freedom I have to explore and enjoy the population sparse back country, however, I value even more the people in my life who give me purpose.

Pictures from Our Final Day:

I love how this looks like a photo from the logging days of this region.

Morning faces after eight days in the wild.

Chrystal clear Mowich Lake.

Drying my feet before the last crossing of the Mowich Rivers

Did these trees make a noise when they fell with nobody around?

Aaron was captivated by the "Camp Robbers" that ate out of his hands.


Happy to be heading home.
The are some real "fun guys"!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adventures in Wonderland: Day 7, A Change of Mind, but No Change of Clothes

 “What a psalm the storm was singing, and how fresh the smell of the washed earth and leaves, and how sweet the still small voices of the storm!” - John Muir
(Though I usually love John Muir quotes, upon the remembrance of this day his above quote made me want to throw him over a cliff)

Reading my journal entry for day seven brought back every emotion and frustration I felt on that day. Our guide book talked about fantastic views of the mountain reflecting in Aurora Lake and even of sunsets reflecting off the far away Puget Sound waters, we however, had to reach into the deepest reserves of our imaginations to picture those images through the thick whiteness that was all around.

The night before was quite a challenge. The bugs fought us for a dry place to stay and we fought them to keep the tent to ourselves. I wore my maroon woolen hat to bed and remember specifically being in that sweet zone of almost asleep when a drip of water fell directly into my ear. In a fit that was mixed with surprise and irritation I ended up slapping myself on the head pretty hard and after that sleep was quite evasive. I spent most of the night dodging drips that fell, once they condensed largely enough, from the tent ceiling. The rest of the night I spent mentally writing a customer review to the company that manufactured my tent (that night, I was only going to give it half a star of satisfaction, and that half star was only because I would have felt ungrateful for the previous nights when it worked just fine).

The morning couldn't come fast enough. When it did however, it was just as cold as the night had been. The one thing I did not splurge on to prepare for this trip was rain gear. Good rain gear is ridiculously expensive and I thought myself pretty thrifty to purchase a $6 poncho that, when folded, was no bigger than a deck of cards. That was my single biggest regret of this journey. I may as well been wearing a plastic birthday party table cloth covered with My Little Ponies....that is how ridiculous I felt.
'What Not to Wear' Mountain version.

 Luckily, Emily had some decent, if not ideal rain gear, but there I sat in my extra-large poncho and shivered as I ate my warm oatmeal (I think residents of Western Washington should get a discount on rain gear).  We were anxious to get on the trail just so we weren't sitting in the wet camp anymore. Our only reservation was having to pack up the wet tent. Yuck!!  We grinned and bore with the circumstances, however, and soon we were ready to leave.

Right outside of camp we encountered a very narrow trail with high brush on both sides. This brush had been bathed in the previous nights rain and the air that morning was misty so hiking  for the most part of the day was like walking through a car wash. The highlight of the day were the blueberry bushes we hiked through. The taste of those berries beat any I've ever eaten before! I'm not sure if it was because they were nurtured by the purity of the high alpine climate or if it was just that fresh foods had been lacking in our diet, but boy, were they delicious!   We ended the nearly 8-mile day at Golden Lakes. But instead of finding a campground with breathtaking views (with the fog, we couldn't see a lake if it were five feet in front of us) we found the one closest to the toilet. The bugs began attacking us and we were in the tent by 2 pm.

Our waterproof boots were soaked (another customer review was formulating in my mind at this point) and my feet looked like they did when I was kid and would take a bath that lasted until I got tired of playing only to get out and find that my toes looked like little white raisins. We changed into the driest clothes we could find and climbed into our sleeping bags to get warm. I snuggled up and fell asleep listening to the sound of light rain tapping on the outside of the tent. I don't know how long I had been sleeping before the single-most mind changing event took place; I was rudely awoken by some very cold water from my Platypus reservoir leaking out underneath me in between my sleeping bag and my sleeping pad, and therefore soaking both the bag, the pad, and myself!  That did it, I would be heading off the mountain the next day with Emily. At this point, I had no more dry clothes or shoes, not even a dry sleeping bag.

Freezing cold, my teeth chattered and I shivered in a desperate attempt to keep warm. A very true fear of hypothermia set in and I could do nothing but lie on my pad with the only dry part of my bag on top of me. Tears rolled down my face as I struggled with emotions of fear and frustration. Darkness fell upon us and as it grew colder we both worried all the more. Emily and I lie as closely as possible but my body still shivered..not a good sign. I credit my safety that night to Emily's quick thinking and her selfless acts of caring.

Boiling her own water on her portable stove she filled her Nalgene bottle with the hot water and gave it to me to hold closely, she filled another bottle for me to put down by my feet. This did the job of keeping me warm despite the fact that I was sleeping on a wet pad and had only portions of a dry sleeping bag. At some point we just had to surrender the night to God and let Him take care of us, and He did.

Brrr! Nothing like oatmeal on a cold, wet morning.

So thankful to have this girl with me up there!

There is beauty in every situation, sometimes in the most unlikely of all places.