Sometimes last-minute, totally random adventures are the best. Summer arrived late in Washington, and I was faced with an absolutely fantastic stretch of good weather…and no one to play with. JK volunteered to dayhike somewhere with me and then leave me to my own devices before picking me up a couple of days later. I decided on an area we rarely get to explore, since dogs (even Wellies!) aren’t allowed – Mount Rainier National Park.
I randomly chose the Northern Loop Trail from my guidebook, and scored walk-in permits for the exact two camps I wanted.
I started out nervous. I’ve backpacked solo before, but only for one night…and on a trail I already knew. This trip would cover all sorts of new ground for me.
JK accompanied me as far as Skyscraper Mountain, then released me into the wild on my own. I loved it. Going at my own pace, stopping wherever I wanted, strolling past flowers and glaciers and marmots and, oh, that big volcano.
I moseyed on up to my first camp by Mystic Lake and had dinner (ugh, those Mountain House meals are way too big for one person) and a swim before snuggling up with my Kindle in the tent. Bliss.
Right before dawn, I woke up to the sound of bugling elk (I didn’t know this until I asked the ranger “What’s the animal that sounds like a cross between a coyote and an elephant?”) and the oh so familiar nauseating pounding of a migraine – the aura must have occurred while I was sleeping, so it was too late for my medication to be effective. Ugh.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the climb up to Yellowstone Cliffs that day (or the 16-mile hike out the next day), so I spent some time looking at my maps to find a bailout option. In the end I decided on a very easy downhill day to Carbon River Camp, then keep following the Wonderland Trail out to Mowich Lake the next day – via Spray Park or Ipsut, depending on how I felt.
Luckily the ranger patrol cabin by Mystic Lake was manned (and handsomely so). The ranger radioed in to change my permit and to get someone to contact JK to tell him to drive to Mowich instead of Sunrise. Thank you, ranger man!
Now I just had to stagger down to my next camp. I lazed around with the myriad marmots (and mosquitoes) along the way, but spent most of the miles worrying about crossing the Carbon River on the evil suspension bridge. I had seen photos of the Tahoma Creek suspension bridge before, and assumed that this one would be just as horrifying.
Fortunately I needn’t have worried; the bridge was fun, even for a weenie like me. Huzzah!
I made it to camp at 1 PM, no other humans in sight. I collapsed in my tent and spent the rest of the day reading, sleeping, drinking as much water as possible and trying to eat something.
The next morning I woke up feeling so much better. I felt hung over from the migraine (or maybe it was from all the drugs), but good enough to chose the high route over Spray Park.
The day started off with over 3000 feet of elevation gain, so I decided to wear my Merrell Pace Gloves – I had brought them to use as camp shoes – to lighten the load on my feet. This worked brilliantly; even in my sickly state I felt great during the climb. I think I can thank those shoes for making me feel so light on my last TNAB, too.
Soon enough I made it to Spray Park and was greeted by bug swarms of biblical proportions – I finally got to show off my fashionable new headwear – and lots of dayhikers. Clearly I was getting closer to civilization and the end of my journey.
I tried to freshen up and wash off the trail grime by swimming in Mowich Lake, but when JK arrived to pick me up he assured me that I smelled as if I had hiked the entire Wonderland Trail. And I really do wish I had. I loved the trail, bugs and migraine and all. Next year, perchance?
My friend just posted this on Facebook and I found it fitting, given the title of my post and all:
”Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”