July 20th, 2018
Waptus River mm2428 to Magical Mountain camp mm 2404
Distance: 24 miles
It was another day that finished magnificently. I was on trail at 0645 am and moving upward. A million swichbacks brought me 2500′ higher to the top of an unnamed pass and a million more right back down. I spent the whole morning (5 hrs) going 13 miles just to cover 3 miles, as the falcon flies.
The trail passed a series of creeks and one large stream that had to be forded because the bridge had been swept away. It was a two-wet-feet deal but I dived right in. There were a few others there who were really concentrating on the crossing. They might have wondered why I didn’t even hesitate but all the fords so far have been simple relative to the ones I did in NZ.
The trail entered a burn area that was hot and dry. The air temp was still pretty cool so it was not too bad. Then tons more climbing, another 2500′. At least I passed a really cool waterfall at Delate Creek and pretty Spectacle Lake.
I had passed several groups of backpackers going south and about 12 people going north. That was in the morning. I lost count of all the people going north in the afternoon because it was such a steady stream. Then I realized it was Friday and many must be the weekend warriors off to an early start. I was nearing I-90, the main portal to Seattle.
I was tired from all the uphill, with more to come, but I didn’t want to make camp where I was. I had stopped to load up on water and was swarmed by mossies, as usual. It was 5 pm and there was a long, exposed traverse with no apparent campsites for another 3 or 4 miles. It was perfect weather though, so I figured it would be nice to do the traverse in the late afternoon light.
It was more than nice. The trail wound along the north-facing slope of the Chikamin range. It was one of those stunning but not-for-the-faint-of-heart trails carved out of the sides of mountains, with steep drop-offs and rock slides. I forgot about my feet and tiredness and was just in walking bliss. I passed under a series of pinnacles called the 4 Brothers.
Then Mt Rainier came into view to the south and I was just in awe.
Looking back at the traverse I just did.
I came to the west end of this 2 mile stretch, near Huckleberry and Chikamin Peaks. Just when I didn’t think it could get any better, 3 mountain goats appeared on the trail. One was an adorable fuzzy white kid.
I couldn’t get too close to them to take better pictures but I got a good look with my own eyes. I would later spy them heading up over Chikamin Peak, across impossibly steep ‘goat’ trails. What a life these goats must live, going anywhere they want in these rugged mountains.
Just after the goats, I found a beautiful campsite high up on a bluff. I had views of the sunset over the western mountains and further, the Pacific ocean (using my imagination). Plus the alpinglow on Rainier and the range that I just traversed. Also the goats heading up the mountain. And there were no mossies!!! While eating dinner, I couldn’t decide which way to face. It was all so beautiful in 360 degrees, so I just kept shifting around.
My other thru-hikes have all had one signature magical mountain moment that I recall above all others. On the Colorado Trail, it was the night I spent camping at the top of Elk Creek canyon in the San Juans. In NZ, it was the night at the playing fields overlooking Mt. Cook. On this adventure, it may just well be this evening.
It’s hard to describe the moment of watching the sunset on this night. I had been going to bed well before sunset most nights but felt the pull to stay up for this one. It was the slowest I’ve ever seen, agonizingly and heartbreakingly beautiful. I was in such awe that it hurt. I feared that I’d never be blessed with another moment so perfect, so what was the point of going on? Such dark thoughts in a moment that was also so enlightened, I wasn’t sure what to do with these feelings. Go to bed, that was what.
I reluctantly went to bed and slept a fitful sleep because it had gotten so cold. There was a chill, damp breeze blowing, stealing all the heat from my tent all night. But it was a small price to pay for the magic.