When my friend Cori asked me if I wanted to hike with her 90 plus miles around Mt. Rainier, I immediately said "sure." Lately, I seem to make decisions that border on the extreme. I bought a bike, so then I decided I should do the STP. I wanted to go on a trip, so now I'm spending 94 days alone in Southeast Asia. I had only been backpacking for one weekend in my life, and that was three years ago.
Our friend Jolahna joined us, and we began preparing for the endeavor. We had a couple of planning meetings to look at maps and guide books and some of us went on a few prep. hikes. (Cori decided to do the hike off the couch, because she's insanely hard core.) Jolahna took care of almost all of the food preperation, for which I shall be forever grateful!!!With the help from many friends (THANKS!), I got geared up and ready to go backpacking.
We started out our trip early, and gathered those last minute items that it's so easy to forget about---like cheesecloth. (We used it to strain food from our containers after washing them so as to leave no trace of our humanness in the wilderness.) We headed to Wilkeson, a tiny town, and I ran into this strangely familiar forest ranger, who I later found out went to high school in Chehalis. We applied for reservations for camp sites a long time ago, and were denied. Ultimately, in person, getting permits was easy. We were thrilled to get the final green light, and we were on our way.
Our spirits were really high as we set out, and we saw a really great waterfall right off the bat. Our packs weighed over 40 pounds, but that didn't really stop us from hiking pretty quickly. (1.5-2 mph, I think). Plus, our packs gradually got lighter, and we gradually got stronger. We always spiced up the hiking rotation, which was nice. I envisioned being the slow lady who said things like, "I'll just meet you guys at camp." But, that didn't happen either (yay!). On our first day, we passed a tired group of hikers, and their guide said that he wished they hiked like us. Later, after our water filter broke, we traded that group a chocolate bar for iodine tablets. They nearly wept with joy.
There were quite a few people on the trail during Labor Day weekend, but the numbers thinned out as the week progressed. We met some fun people on the way, and everyone seemed excited to be doing the hike. One particularly fortunate connection we made was on Day 3. Peter, this Swedish hiker, had this great friend Bill who hiked in about 1 mile from the road to meet him with 2 steaks, 6 burgers, potatoes, pickles, and fruit. They gladly shared with us, and we went to bed happy campers with full bellies.
Another funny person was this older guy we met moments before we started the hike. He grilled us at the car. This guys passion for backpacking was profound. He was like, "so, uh, what stove are ya takin'?" "What kinda packs do ya guys have?" "What route are ya headed? (Clockwise). It was almost cute. Almost.
On the average day, we hiked about 6.5 miles. Some days we did 10, some days we did 4.5. There were some obscenely steep sections, and we just had to put our heads down and keep going. Then, there were steep downhills, which are hard in their own way.There were also a lot of nice, flat sections. I think that this trail accomodates a lot of different hiking abilities.
I hiked with Cori and Jolahna for just over 60 miles, and then met up with my family at a Ranger's Station in Longmire. Cori and Jolahna continued on. It rained and snowed on them, so they hiked 15 miles a day to get the heck back to the car. (nice job, ladies).
I really liked being out backpacking for so long. I liked the rituals and simplicity. Get up, make breakfast, pack up camp, walk, eat some berries, walk, walk, eat trail mix, walk, have lunch, walk, set-up camp, make dinner, play rummy, ready, go to bed. We had everything with us that we needed.
The trail is really easy to follow, and we often had signs indicating how far it was until the next camp site. The campsites had marked spots for campers, and tall poles to hang your food on so bears and chipmunks leave it alone.
Cori and Jolahna are fun to be with. We spent a ton of time together, and we all really enjoyed each other. I loved that. I thought we'd be ready for 'alone time' by the end of day 2, but that didn't really occur.
I learned a lot while backpacking. Jolahna is really knowledgable about plants. Cori knows a lot about outdoor recreation, so I'm now converted to non-cotton clothing and titanium sporks. I didn't know much about reading a map, and now I do. I contributed to the group by sleeping in late and reading out loud. I like to think that I was really good at hanging up the bear bags, too. I took the book Angels and Demons, by the guy who wrote The Da Vinci Code. I'd like to take this moment to attempt to dissuade you from reading that book. I mean, I read it all, but still, it's baaad. I read a bit of it out loud to C & J, but then we switched over to a book that Jolahna had. Her book was a collection of essays about people's connection with the land. Well, let me take that back. One of the essays was about people's connection with land (Canada, tundra, Frst Nation people.) The other two essays we read as a group were about a) the history of the rubber industry, which was obscenely boring, and caused everyone to go to sleep except the reader, and b) a movie made about a Napoleonic military man who fell in love with a wild cat. Kind of wierd. So, out of the dozen or so beautiful essays about people/land/etc., we read about rubber and a wierd guy. Actually, it wasn't that bad. I just like to give Jolahna a hard time...
One cool thing about the hike (besides the obscene amount of 80's music constantly running through my head) was the variety of the views. Since we were constantly changing elevation, we could see alpine meadows, rock fields, old growth forests, glaciers, rivers, animals, and more. It made things interesting, plus it was cool how the vegetation changed with the elevation.
There were a few (2?) walk in/drive in camp sights that we hiked through while on the trail. At one point, we had to cross a road after being in the woods for a few days. Jolahna said that she was feeling like how she would imagine a deer or elk would feel while walking across the road. Like, what the hell is this doing here? At one of the drive-in campsites we passed through, a woman asked me if there were any trails with views of Mt. McKinley. Ummmmm, no.
It only seems fair to take a moment and discuss how amazingly good we were at Leave No Trace. We did everything possible to avoid having an unethical impact on the wilderness. That translates to me eating food that dropped on the ground, drinking the water (no soap) I used to wash my oatmeal bowl with, etc. We were champions of Leave No Trace. I must pat our backs for that.
In all I spent 8 days walking around the mountain. It was awesome, and the night before I left Cori and Jolahna, I felt like I was a kid being pulled out of summer camp a few days early. That feeling definitely changed after I heard about their extreme weather, but I would like to go back and complete the remaining 1/3 of the hike next summer. Any takers? I'm also completely up for any other hiking trips that you might invite me on. :)
PS I have tons of fabulous pictures thanks to Cori, so I can show them to you when I see you next.
PPS I didn't shower for 8 days!