Backpacking Mt. Rainier ~ 14 Days

CHAPTER 15~ MOWICH LAKE

The following is a prelude to Video Episode 10 you can either click here to watch the video or read through and click at the end.

Video Synopsis: Taking you high across snow fields to the beauty of Spray Park. Lisa says goodbye to Shannon with a backpack boogie send off. Runtime 9:04

My first experience with Mowich Lake happened when I was about 18. When you’re 18 you do just about anything.

Mowich Lake with a Glimpse of Rainier

Mowich Lake in the 1970’s

Living so close to Mt. Rainier, we frequently would camp up at Ipsut Campgrounds. Back then you could simply drive your car into a camp spot and just spend a night or two. The ranger would be around in the evening to collect payment for the spot usually sometime around evening supper.

Back 45 years ago we had rustic equipment. An old nylon tent that leaked was always accompanied by a blue tarp to over hang in the trees so it didn’t get too damp. At each corner of the tarp you would place a rock and gather the ends of the tarp forming a ball so you can wrap your cord around it then hoist it to a tree. Our Coleman camp stove had to have a few pumps to pressurize the tank and then there was our Thermos brand ice chest that kept things cool for most of a day. 

Keeping things simple, the main thing I remember is collecting our own wood to keep warm, which is taboo now, then trying to light wet wood and twigs that steamed because they were so soggy. With little control of the environment we would wake up to cascading water inside the tent mixed with pine needles, an unsettling alarm to get up to. I was always cold.

The experience I remember most hiking on the Wonderland up from Ipsut Campground was a very steep climb that lead to Ipsut Pass. From there you follow the ridge about 1/2 mile leading to Mowich Lake. 

That early summer we decided to take on the 2800′ elevation gain early in the morning before heat caught up with us. 

This trail starts out lovely and passes Ipsut Falls then takes a sudden sharp uphill grade full of switchbacks through the forest. What kept me going this particular day was the thought of this beautiful blue pristine alpine lake glistening in the sun above. I was reeling and ready with my swimsuit bikini top under my halter top. With an extra pair of jean cutoffs in my bag, I couldn’t see bringing a towel because I was just going to bask on the banks until I dried out in the middle of a secluded paradise. 

My thought was I might even just take my clothes off all together, and take a little dip, no one would be there.

The first few miles we made our way easy enough. No one owned trekking poles back then. My hiking boots were tough girdled leather uppers with stiff hard soles. By the time we made it to a clearing where the pass began, we knew the last 1/2 mile would either condition us or kill us straight up to the sky.

What stood before us was giant boulders and loose rock that we ended up climbing on all fours to make our way. It was a scramble. No longer did the trees shelter us from the heat of the day that already lapped at our heals. Needless to say it was tough going and slower than we had predicted.

When we made it to the saddle we celebrated our accomplishment and walked our way along the ridge to Mowich seeing the remainder of a beautiful hot day and glistening lake ahead in our minds eye.

As we caught our breath our conversations started again. In the distance only sounds if faint breezes swayed trees above and low humming noise coming from very far off in the distance. As we continued, the faint noises became slightly louder in a low rumbling tone. 

That sound was the sound of cars. A complete caravan of cars headed to Mowich Lake in the dust and music that trailed behind them.

At that point I remember falling to my knees and crying out, “I could have driven the car here!” Dust and people accompanied each and every car. Cars piled up in the parking lot, jockeying for positions, people chewing dirt but still smiling to be outdoors in a party of serenity.

My souvenir was not being able to sit for a week after that hike and there was the continual moaning that went along each time I squared down, “I could have drove, ohhhh,”

The road below to Ipsut Campground is closed and now the only was into the campground is on bike or foot. 

And for the really brave person, you can drive the 11 miles of chuck holes if you dare.

Just remember your towel and some repair tools if your car disagrees with your decision and preemptively revolts.

Cataract Valley Campground, Seattle Park, Spray Park and Mowich

After the Big W our camp for the evening was at Cataract Valley. Shannon reminded me she had stayed here before in her earlier trip around The Wonderland and it was one of her least favorite camps mostly because of the fog they had encountered.

At the time we rolled in late in the afternoon, we began our search for we thought would be the best spot. The first two sites, unoccupied, looked like they had just melted out of snow and appeared damp. As we grew closer to the creek, we found an ideal spot next to water, the bear pole and a happy couple just across the way. 

We pitched our tents and I hardly remember dinner that night and fell asleep early putting away the long day. Day 10 had been a rough one.

Morning sunrise breaks around at 6 am in August in the Pacific Northwest and like clockwork we were up having our breakfast and gathering our tents up. The reality of this being the last day for Shannon was setting in on her. 

Our last day would include over Seattle Park, to Spray Park and then our final day at Mowich.

Lisa at Cataract Valley Camp

Seattle Park

DAY 10

Day 10 to Seattle Park we come across more downhill assisted trail runners. As we attempt to merge to one spot it’s impossible. The trail is so narrow and only a deep rut uphill. Shannon and I step off and stop to avoid doing trail damage. At this point we know if we don’t the runner will step off and then run down the sides of the trail trampling the little plants that have taken a half century to get to the size of a peanut. 

At this spot at tree line, the trees start to look like they are growing sideways because of the snow and wind they carry with them as they stretch toward the sun. It truly was one of my most favorite areas so far. The mountain in the background, creeks babbling and cascading, a few rock challenges, snow, 

Lisa Crossing Marmot Creek
Seattle Park 
Glacier Skiing at Flett below Observation Rock

The snow at Seattle Park still exits in August and the insects appear so excited for the opera of spring to begin, they want to carry us off in their ecstasy. At the rocky outcropping painted orange as a monument to Seattle Park we see backcountry skiers heading to glacier ski probably around Flett Glacier and just below Observation Rock. This the glacier the professor my grandmother admired so well was named for. At this point a few day hikers emerge from the opposite direction telling us of a mama bear and cubs just over the next hill. 

We’ve grown accustomed to seeing bears but ask for exactly what was seen, eyes on, not just someone said they saw a bear and decided to pass information on.

Happy but sad, my last day with Shannon. 

Spray Park

Rainier from Spray Park

Along our way we are bear aware but mostly we see day hikers at mid day traveling from Mowich Lake. We start to get a lot of questions at this point. Where have we been, how long have we been out here, etc. Our big backpacks are tell tale of our adventure. I notice other tell tale signs, like white lines at the crease at inside of my elbows due to grasping poles and an uneven tan line and my legs look chiseled and sinewy.

The original Wonderland Trail would have not taken us through Spray Park but instead down to Ipsut Campground and back up the Ipsut Pass to Mowich. Many “Wonderlanders” now choose the Spray Park alternate. 

The last time Shannon was there it was foggy and that is what many encounter here but I have been here enough times day hiking to know the beauty of a blue bird day. 

I hope her last day was her best.

The Backpack Boogie

The Backpack Boogie Video Episode 10

Dehydrated Mushroom Stroganoff

Dehydrated Mushroom Stroganoff

Backpacker’s Mushroom Stroganoff  

                      Modified recipe from Susan Seutter

This recipe is absolutely delicious and super easy to make and rehydrate.

1 Whole Onion Diced

2 Cups Sliced Mushrooms

2 Garlic Cloves

2 Cups Spinach

1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

1 tsp. Hot Hawaiian Sea Salt

3 Tbsp flour

1 Can Coconut Milk (save out 3/4 C for flour mix)

2 Whole Bay Leaves

1 tsp. Pepper

1 Scoop plant based Protein Powder Vanilla Organic

Add onion and garlic to pan, on medium heat, saute’ until onion is clear and caramelized. 

Add approximately half the can of coconut milk, mushrooms, spinach, and seasonings. Stir   until well combined over low heat.

In separate bowl add remaining coconut milk and flour, shake or whisk. 

Turn up heat to a simmer and add flour mixture stirring until stroganoff thickens. 

To Dehydrate:

Using parchment paper. Scoop out stroganoff until about 1/4 thick on racks. It might take 4-5 racks.

Dehydrate for 8 hrs, rotating racks and breaking pieces into smaller chunks.

Dehydrate until the chunks are uniform and crumbly.

Place each try in one ziplock freezer bag and freeze.

To Rehydrate:

Boil water, add 1/2 C to each ziplock, seal and place in bowl. Add more water for desired consistency. 

We serve over Idahoan dehydrated potatoes. 

Dehydrated Chicken and Rice Curry Recipe

I look for recipes that can easily be chopped into equivalent sizes for dehydrating. I added diced and cooked chicken breast after making the main recipe then dehydrated the regular way by rotating racks and breaking the meal into small pieces. It took a bit less time than the 8 hours shown. After the dehydration process, I placed the separate racks into one zip lock bag and put them all in the freezer for storage.

Far Into The Northern Loop Trail

Far Into The Northern Loop Trail

The following is a prelude to Episode 9 Video. You can click and watch here or read and click the link at the bottom.

Video Synopsis: Episode 9 finds Lisa and Shannon covering the most mileage of the entire trip with over 6600′ vertical gain and 6600′ vertical loss. Lisa finds trail miles are a lot longer than regular miles as she pushes across the Carbon River Suspension Bridge with still another uphill climb with epic scenery hardly ever viewed. Runtime 12:25

The Big W– Where the Boots Meet the Trail

We plan to leave early, breaking down camp before breakfast around 6 am. The decision last night was to get to bed early, put a few miles behind us and to cross a sketchy river crossing at the West Fork of the White River in order to enjoy breakfast stretched out in the early sunshine. 

Shannon titled this day the BIG W due to the elevation loss, gain, loss and then gain again. Her title made it simply understandable of the amount of miles ahead of us this day. 

Planning ahead, if the miles wouldn’t challenge us enough, the West Fork of the White River crossing known to be hazardous, and the elevation gain and loss certainly could. Reports of years of downed timber and limbs and blow downs strewn everywhere, we wanted to put this section behind us early. Recent reports had been good that the foot bridges were in place and stable so our positive outlook remained optimistic.

Remote and seldom maintained by the park due to limited access to get trucks or machines to the area, rangers and crews on foot carry chainsaws and hand tools to do the work Mother Nature and her forces push at them each winter. I remember seeing a trail on a map that continues down the east side of the West Fork of the White River. Just as we start heading west to cross the map showed further north leading to the boundary and possibly a forest service road that is used to maintain the trail crossing.

Other than that, this portion of the Northern Loop is an often overlooked by backpackers as a must do. Most prefer to go on The Wonderland running inside and closer to the mountain. 

Early Morning Hike to the West Fork of the White River

Along the southern ridge we could see the deep valley below with the West Fork of the White River. We survey the river towards then up towards the mountain leading to the Winthrop Glacier. The forest floor exploding full of bright green foliage and yellow wildflowers. Around the corner of the ridge, the trail now down switches back and forth and back and forth and back and forth with long easy switchbacks lasting miles.

This forested section appears very dry comparatively to the other lush areas of the wet landscape of Rainier. The dropped needles on our path look dry and hardy. There were minimal trickles and creeks spilling across the trail, which made the trail a gradual slopped descent to the river. The trees still towering above were smaller in size and meek in girth. We saw no one as The Northern Loop is very much isolated as predicted compared to The Wonderland Trail. 

Shannon at the south ridge looking over to the West Fork of the White River

Hearing the river below as we near the crossing, then seeing it before us, helped push our mental state through the delta of silt. This hard to find trail has been diverted several times over the years and it could take some bushwhacking and common sense. My thoughts were how difficult the navigation must be in the snow early season or depending on the time of day or the time of year. 

When we see the sign to the crossing, indeed showing there is a way to continue north to the park boundary, we have already started picking huckleberries and eating them. We imagine fairy gardens on logs and are entertained by the mushrooms and moss that could be hiding little people.

Breakfast of fresh huckleberries and oatmeal

Breakfast at the West Side of the West Fork of the White River

I’m sure Shannon would agree this one of the nicer places to have breakfast. We pull out our stoves, take off our packs, boots, coats, and bask and enjoy our little outside diner complete with fairy gardens, water features and the sights and sounds of the morning.

Van Horn Creek and Falls

At Van Horn Falls we come across two men who appear dressed in street clothes. They seem as startled as we do. After seeing no one for hours, imagine coming across two younger men out in the middle of no where. We stop to filter water and a brief hello to survey the falls.

Van Horn Falls

A Mountain to Climb

Still continuing on The Norther Loop Trail, we begin the steep ascent next to Redstone Peak, a mountain range to the north and slightly west of Rainier. Beyond will be Lake James, Lake James Camp then a range with jagged mountain peaks with names like Sluskin of Native American legend, dotted with lakes. 

Lake James

Seemingly uninhabited, Lake James I read feeds the Van Horn Falls. The lake looks shallow as the beach sides are also shallow. The lake I’m sure fills with grasses and the sunlight reaches the soggy bottom. 

Lake James Camp was on our list to stay but it was “full”. We find that most of our trip has shown full campsites on paper but there must be a lot of “No Shows” because we see no one at Lake James and hardly no one on the trail either coming or going, person, squirrel, bear or ranger.

Lake James

Sluskin

The Sluskin Range is named for the Native American, Sluskin who guided the first successful ascent of Mt. Rainier by Hazard Stevens and P.B. Van Trump in 1870. The mountains are named, The Chief, The Squaw and the smaller ones papooses. 

History reads the name Sluskin was used in several generations after the Stevens and Van Trump summit as well. Native Americans from the Yakama Nation were given hunting rights and treaties were carried when they frequently hunted at Yakima Park adjacent to the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainier. Recounts of rangers coming into camp are now part of the park’s history. 

My family has its own ties to the Yakama Nation. My great-great Uncle being the only non-native buried at Ft. Simcoe, Nathan Olney. 

Fire at Redstone Peak

As we head from Lake James we notice a tall peak to the south. Large boulders have fallen all around. Trees appear lifeless, limbless and scorched at the trunks. 

I spend the better part of a day researching the fire here. At the time of this writing the only mention I can find is there was a fire here and the next mountain over at Grand Park at some time in the 1960’s. 

Fire remnants at the foot of Redstone Peak

The trail is a steep gain to a beautiful alpine meadow where wildflowers are blooming and another perfect spot to bask in the sun contemplating lunch. 

We stop near the top of Van Horn Creek to rest our feet and get lunch in this lovely picnic spot perfect for a break.

Across this area to the Natural Bridge, Crescent Lake and mountain, was the some of the most beautiful scenery on The Northern Loop. It felt like being in the Alps or at least the opening scene of The Sound of Music. Wildflowers, alpine lakes, craggy mountains topped with snow, meadows, walls of andesite, and easy trails made this section just after lunch a needed break to the uphill along Van Horn Creek. 

Crossing down the backside of Windy Gap the switching back over 5 miles went quickly with the Carbon River Glacier ahead of us then back up to Cataract Valley Camp.

Lisa looking back at the dead trees east towards Redstone Peak 
Sluskin Range, Windy Gap and Independence Ridge

Yellowstone Cliffs

Towering to the North of Windy Gap the Yellowstone Cliffs emerge create a hidden spot in the wildflowers to have another backcountry camp. We take a short tour of the camp, with the signs of one group who appeared to have camped there. 

This is where the trail descends 5 miles downhill to the Carbon River.

We literally saw no one the remainder of the day as we went across the Carbon River Suspension Bridge. Most hikers would have been at camp by now but our had been long and arduous. A solo woman hiker who didn’t speak to us, probably because she had equally as long of a day, was going to Carbon River Camp as she turned downhill. The sign at our junction pointed us up where we encountered a couple who encouragingly told us Cataract Valley Camp wasn’t too far after a long, long day.

Carbon River Suspension Bridge

The upper part of the Wonderland trail here became heavily used. The steps up were rocky and steep, worn by boots and people. Coupled with my legs not wanting to move at the end of the day, my backpack felt heavier and my trekking poles were a blessing that gained me additional help up.

As we crossed the Carbon River we gave our thanks and said our good-byes to the lovely, peaceful, serene spectacle that was The Northern Loop Trail.

Video for Episode 9 You can click and watch.

Wildflowers of Berkeley Park, Trail Running and Sustainability

Wildflowers of Berkeley Park, Trail Running and Sustainability

The following is a prelude to Video Episode 7 Wildflowers of Berkeley Park. You can click here to play video or read and watch at the end.

Video Synopsis: Now on the Northern Loop Trail, Episode 7 takes us through Berkeley Park wildflowers and a lovely creek that meanders parallel and gives us perfect background music to a relaxing and lovely day. Runtime 6:55

Day 8

Headed for the Northern Loop Trail, we leave Sunrise Camp directly to the cache to resupply for the next 3 nights and 4 days. It is already getting warm with the extra weight but most of Berkeley Park is downhill.

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We meet several groups of people enjoying the brilliant wildflower display that makes this hike so delightful in August. Like Summerland, a hill that blooms from the bottom up most of the month of August. As if planned for us our coming, the entire hill was in bloom.

I think about how each lovely arm on the north side has been nothing short of a showcase. To the far northeast of Sunrise the seven lakes glisten next to path below the Sourdough Ridge an intense blue. Forest Lake with a peek into a past glacier with enormous rocks chiseled and carved with water and freezing temperatures, the last remainder of time past. Then down the Huckleberry Creek area, a lovely jade green forest and spa camp. Now the Berkeley Park trail, showing off every color it can in a buzzing fury of insects.

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We aren’t at Berkeley Camp long when a couple a long way from home arrive at camp. Berkeley Camp is a small camp like a bed and breakfast and you must walk by other sites to either go to the pit toilet or to filter water in the creek, making it impossible to avoid the other campsite.

While hanging my food at the bear pole, we exchange greetings and have a short one-sided exchange about plans. I never say too much that wouldn’t make me feel safe as a female in woods. The couple proceeds to tell me about all their forthcoming accomplishments, together they are hiking The Northern Loop, then the man was going to run around the mountain by himself supported by a commercial group he had paid that would help him. There is nothing humbling in this exchange. That means, a commercial company helps him finish, feeds him, sets up his tent, gives him encouragement, praise, food, shelter, and whatever else it takes to allow him bragging rights.

We pick a site, the one with the stump kitchen, that gives us a little forest cooking table and logs to sit on and carry on with our routine of filtering water, organizing the insides of tents, and decide to have an early evening since tomorrow is a long day.

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stump kitchen

Running the Wonderland

First, I want to say I am a runner. My runs have been at the most half marathons and 5ks. I run all winter and early spring to train for hiking season.

The last few years however, there have become more and more of supported groups of ultra runners on the Wonderland Trail. Most backpackers have something to say about them in forums on the internet. At times it seems they do not get along with one another.

While I am all about creating access to the wilderness and believe trails are for everyone. I also believe trail runners, like hikers and backpackers do cause an impact to the environment and need to adhere to trail etiquette. Since trail runners can finish so quickly with assistance, they also need a way to marshal their numbers with a permit system.

There are truly only a few really stellar endurance athletes that can run The Wonderland Trail without someone by their side or close by. My advice is if you cannot run over 100 miles at sea level do not attempt this, use it as a training ground in order to tromp the vegetation, scare the critters and ask backpackers to step off the trail or if they have an aspirin or ice pack.

The fact that runners can do this quickly means they don’t need a permit to be there. Companies that get paid good money, get away with sending literally hundreds of people to the trails.

It goes without saying , furthermore we will have nothing left of the fragile alpine meadows with this kind of attack by humans.

Trail runners also have a long way to go as far as etiquette.

On more than a few occasions during our time up a hill with heavy backpacks, we were forced off to the side. One young lady with nothing but her shorts and tank top, telling us how much she loved the wildflowers as she made her way down the narrow path through the meadow. My thought was if you have two men on the sides of you, assisting you, you do not respect the wildflowers.

Another time I was approached from behind and elbowed to make room and move. The excuse came later after the two runners could finish and get their breath.

Then there is the occasional runner who doesn’t even step off trail and stop, they just run down the meadow, or up the meadow, avoiding the trail all together.

I truly hope they do stop to look at the scenery. I truly hope they stop to appreciate the beauty of a wildflower and mostly I truly hope they advocate to protect it now that they’ve seen it.

Trail runners need to start a permit system and adhere to a code of environmental ethics and we must be respectful of one another, above all respectful of the environment that has no voice.

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Watch Video Episode 7 Wildflowers of Berkeley Park.

An Indescribable Sunrise at Mt. Rainier

An Indescribable Sunrise at Mt. Rainier

The following is a prelude to Episode 6. You can either watch or read the following then watch.

Episode 6 video synopsis: After seeing a big bear foraging at bed time, Episode 6 started with a 4:30 am wake up and eye lock with a big buck. Lisa and Shannon experience the sunrise of a lifetime and end with coffee by 9 back at the campsite by Shadow Lake. Runtime 12:42

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Shannon at Mt. Fremont Fire Lookout, Mt. Rainier

Day 7

Sometimes the wisest choices are made in the most spontaneous moments. This was day 7. We had never planned to get up before sunrise and hike to catch a sunrise. Something beckoned us that we should experience and do just that.

In a headlamp I begin to wake and I call to Shannon in the tent next to mine.

“Hey, Shannon are you up?”

Shannon, replies, “Yes”.

I believe we both said at the same time, “Let’s go.”

And we begin walking after grabbing a few items, to Mt. Fremont from Sunrise backcountry camp.

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Waking to Walking

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Before sunrise at Sunrise
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dawn seeping through
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Rainier to the west still sleeps

Just a few steps out of camp, we are met by a giant buck with glowing eyes at 5 am. It is heart pounding. My senses heighten, I’m cold, I’m shaking off my shivers one step at time, one foot in front of the other. I’ve planned my direction so my gut and instinct finds the way through with my small headlamp in complete blackness. That buck just stood erect in the same manner I did and I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if it wasn’t for his glowing eyes from my headlamp.

Once I warmed up and got my feet under my breath, each step started to quicken as we make along the ridge to the top of Mt. Fremont Lookout right at dawn. The pikas whistles carry from the rocks below. The wind churns the blowing clouds below as I find a few boulders in order to hide away and tuck myself between.

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To the east was the red and orange glow of the sun, to the west and south was the sleepy giant ready to glow in unison with the rising sun. Like gasping for air between holding your breath I couldn’t decide if I should have my camera out, my video out, be turned to the east, turned to the west or just be completely awestruck and sit down and take in every moment so I did them all.

This is when I start to feel completely badass but insignificant. It isn’t about making it to the top or walking so far or doing it in in record time. It is simply about being able to make decisions and pull it together in order to experience life and STOP for a frickin’ moment to realize I am where I want to be and should be and need to be in this moment in time.

When the sun rose, I forgot my discomfort and all that we both could say repeatedly was, “I cannot believe this.”

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You can tell by my face this is one decision I will never regret as long as I live.

We make it back to Sunrise Camp around 9 am just in time to warm up to the real heat of the sun next to Shadow Lake.

Having my coffee and taking a walk around the lake makes for one of the most memorable mornings so far.

Watch Episode 6 video here.

Backpacking Rainier, The Stars of Forest Lake

Backpacking Rainier, The Stars of Forest Lake

The following is a prelude to 14 Days of Wonderland.  You can skip to the video by clicking Episode 3 here or read and click at the bottom of this page.

Video Episode 3 Synopsis: As Lisa continues to dry her gear, episode 3 takes you on several trails on the Wonderland. Through the White River area, to Sunrise. The group meets up with Bob and Wendy for a two day stay at Forest Lake. Runtime 9:25

Day 4

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My bedtime fears have always haunted me. In a demonstrative fashion every sound, sight and sense of movement seems abrupt and larger than life when backpacking and alone in my tent.

Overcoming my slight personality quirk was a mental goal of mine which eventually I hoped to find peace through the night. The first night on my sleeping pad, an old Z mat that I notice is starting to compress, is always an adjustment in comfort so I wrestle with physical more. Then there is the no pillow thing that I use a portion of my backpack that has my clothes rolled up into a ball inside to elevate my head slightly. Next there are more physical challenges, cold feet. I sleep with clean wool socks, I wear the next day with toe warmers or hand warmers or both inside. I also sleep in leggings, a long sleeved shirt, my puffy jacket, my wool hat and zip myself fully into my 35 degree bag. That’s my summer pjs. In Spring and Fall I use a 20 bag and a bag liner. Coupled with weather extremes, hiking demands, carrying extra weight over days, heat all continued to push me to my limits, clothing is a big deal.

After several full days on the trail laying down to sleep came well received but not without some mental challenges still.

It took me 4 nights to shake my bedtime fears even with Carrie and Sandy as my part-time tent mates.

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Meet Carrie

Oh my goodness my friend, Carrie saved my bacon. Carrie is neither self centered or self serving. She is a giver and an emitter of happiness with her golden locks, continually in tune with the feelings of others.

Wise beyond her years plus, with the added bonus of being a kick ass athlete, I hope some very deserving man comes to realize the drive in this woman. Drive, wisdom, determination, smart, understanding and knows her character, can I say more.

Carrie is just as passionate about nature and a true adventurer as myself. I love this woman for just who she is even if it was a bad day for her which I wonder if there ever could be, as she always is turning checking to make sure the rest of us are right behind her and happy.

Letting go of fear and breaking through to awareness was magical for me, as our group spent the first of two at Forest Lake. In the morning light, I discovered a lovely reflection in the lake. The air was calm and wonderful, reflecting the surrounding hills and forest. It seemed there was a forest both in the lake and I was surrounded with green. More than likely the reason a brighter person than myself had named it Forest Lake.

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Even more magnificent was the lake at night. Standing at the shore after midnight and before the moon had rose, were billions of stars reflected below within the heavenly waters. I do not know what woke me that night, at that particular time, coaxing me to the shore but, I had to go see if the reflection at night was equally as spectacular at day and was curious if a reflection of the moon would emerge in the lake as well.

I remember standing for a while, and in this way, realized the show above and below me moving in a semi circular scene ever so slowly with my face pointed upward. Turning my back and walking few steps to my cozy tent, I realized the hard evidence in the scene. It was grander than life itself in the mirror of the lake. The remainder of the disappearing world was suspended, floating in the heavens on this very tiny ball called earth. That night when it was simply me and the sky and the lake, the rest of world the evaporated and disappeared and then so did my fears.

In essence perhaps my biggest fear was not what I couldn’t see and what was lurking at me with glowing eyes hidden behind some tree. My fear was based on a perceived feeling of anxiety triggered by being alone. I’m sure whatever critter it was that chewed several holes in a nice silicone bowl Wendy had cooked in that first evening, really could care less about me and more about if we had left a morsel or crumb around for them.

I understand the critters but how do you explain my hot mess and where it comes from.

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Lisa, Wendy and Bob

We like a good charcuterie and my thanks this evening for good friends and wonderful locations.

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Walmart charcuterie at Forest Lake during a pandemic.

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Carrie and Lisa
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Wendy, Lisa, Carrie and Shannon work on Yoga stretches

Forest Lake felt like an outdoor spa. It had the cold plunge pool, and an even colder one with fountains and water features. This was our Yoga studio with all our mats.

Carrie’s mat doubled as a top layer to our sleeping bags as Forest Lake Camp is 5,660′ elevation so it became chilly at night.

Episode 3 Video Forest Lake Day 1

Forest Lake and Swimming

The following is a prelude to Episode 4 Video of 14 Days of Wonderland. If you want to watch the video click here or read and click the link at the bottom of this chapter.

Video Synopsis: Mushrooms and Lake Swimming continuing into day two at Forest Lake and a trek along Huckleberry Creek looking for fungi as well as a refreshing swim in Forest Lake. Runtime 7:28

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Meet Bob and Wendy

Bob and Wendy arrived at Forest Lake ahead of the rest of us. They had met up with a man who had commandeered our already reserved camp spot complete with personal outdoor toilet, bear pole and fresh-running Huckleberry Creek for our water source.

He was compliant about picking up and leaving and did not know that you needed a permit to stay at all backcountry camps in Mt. Rainier. There was some discussion later with some friends of mine who said you used to be able to camp any where, no permit at least 1/4 mile off trail. I’m still uncertain about that one because there is quite the process to get permits and it is an extremely protected area. In an emergency, I read if that is the case and only the case.

Regardless, Bob and Wendy are a delightful, fun couple. Bob an avid cyclist and bicycle attorney and I hit it off quickly. I bike pretty much all summer every where. Wendy, a former high school art teacher and I also hit it off quickly. I am a retired elementary teacher. Both Bob and Wendy spent two nights with us at Forest Lake.

As we learn more about each other and had said our good-byes to Sheli at Sunrise, I find Wendy absolutely loves shelf fungi and really any mushroom or fungi for that matter. Wendy takes photo ops with fungi any time she can. With that being said, Forest Lake was just the ticket for her.

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On day two we rise, get our breakfast, hang our extra items on the bear pole, and head down Huckleberry Creek Trail. We learn from Shannon at the end of the creek and at the park boundary may have been one of the original entrances to Mt. Rainier National Park.

After 4-5 or so miles we break to have lunch and decide to head back. The trail becomes very overgrown and with many blown branches and logs to cross. Which could be one of the reasons it was a less desirable area for the park to try to maintain.

With all the snapped off trees, this is where the lovely shelf fungus loves to grow and some of those had even blown down and were the size of our hands and as big as our heads.

After returning to camp, we take a much needed swim in Forest Lake, dunk our heads, cool our feet and then are treated to the most delicious coconut cream desert Shannon makes.

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Shannon and Lisa walk Carrie back to Sunrise for a glorious sunset as we say our sad good-byes to Carrie.

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Lisa
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Carrie
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Shannon and Lisa

We complete the evening with forest spa and yoga.

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Episode 4 Video of 14 Days of Wonderland.

River Warning at the White River Crossing

River Warning at the White River Crossing

If finding Deer Creek Camp was like a needle in a haystack, White River Camp was like finding Woodstock.

After our Summerland day excursion, we end back at Frying Pan Creek. The Wonderland Trail continues north a short mile or so jaunt along the highway and crosses the muddy White River. This junction is where we split from Shannon and Sheli so they can get to camp and set-up and so Carrie and I can dance with the cars as we strategically place them at various trailheads.

Earlier in the month however, the footbridge over the White River was completely underwater and the hazard had become so concerning to the park, they placed a detour back to the highway, over the vehicle bridge and then meet back at the White River Campground.

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Meet Sheli

If there ever is awards for Rock Start of Backpacking Sheli has my nomination. It’s a given, backpacking takes mental will and physical endurance but it also takes a lot of problem solving. Like I said earlier, Sheli is the one who had found the sign for Deer Creek that saved us from spending the night off trail. She also gets A+ for tent skills. Her tent could hold up in a hurricane if necessary. Also, she has eagle eyes, so we gave her the spotter badge along with a keen sense of hearing. On a different trip Sheli woke me around 4:30 am with a whisper “Lisa, did you hear that?”, when an early riser porcupine squeezed itself between our tents and scrapped its bristley quills along the walls.

Sheli is also intrepid and unfathomable. Rather quiet at the right times, for example when I’m being stubborn in wet clothes, she was also a perfect person to have along on our adventure.

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Sheli, volunteering to lead crossing the White River
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Late in the day is never a time to cross a river and especially this one but Sheli was the first one out. Footbridges around Rainier are no joke. Many people loose their lives crossing them each year. People use poor judgement, they get thrown off balance, they try to ford rivers that they shouldn’t have forded. My preferred method when there are no handrails is the “butt scoot” where you literally ride the log like a horse and bump yourself up and down using your hands and arms like a pommel horse.

The rule is to always unbuckle your backpack before making a river crossing so if you or when you fall in your bag doesn’t prevent you from saving yourself.

I should have asked the ranger last week the question, why are we in the group camp at White River? It explained try finding a spot or the group camp. As our car and driver fetches any caches at the ranger station, Carrie and I then drive in circles through the haze of campfires, people in shorts, some shirtless.

When we are finally going to make our third trip around the campground, Shannon spots us and flags us over to the “group site” she has made because there isn’t one. Another fine example of the type of problem solving you must take while backpacking.

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As the day draws to an end, I head back home to resupply with my newly shipped rain cover and waterproof gaiters. Another fine example of problem solving in the woods, have someone at home place an order at REI and go pick it up.

Tomorrow I will meet my group at Sunrise for lunch, find Bob and Wendy, say good-bye to Sheli for this trip.

The trip from White River up Glacier Basin around Burroughs is beautiful but a nice elevation gain in the heat. The three find themselves taking frequent stops to gather their courage and strength but the views are worth it.