This year, I have managed to wangle an invitation to Seattle with Bobby to go along on his annual hike in the Cascades/Olympics with Joe Jack Davis, his old buddy from Rice. Joe Jack graduated in 1966 and went on to medical school in Dallas, so he and I just missed each other in Houston. I almost managed to snag a reservation on American to fly out non-stop to Seattle on October 18 for $400, getting in at the same time Bobby arrives from DC, but by the time I hit the ‘Purchase’ button, the price has gone up to $900. I end up flying U.S. Airways and having to change planes in Philly. My flight from La Guardia to Philly leaves an hour late because of fog in Philly – everyone voices the hope that departures from Philly will be equally delayed, but when I arrive panting at the gate, they are about to close the door and leave on time. As I take my seat, I reflect that my backpack is unlikely to have made the connection, and when I find myself in front of the carousel in Seattle, this feeling becomes a certainty. The lost baggage folk are very unwilling to make any promises, but they do say that the next flight from Philly gets in at 9:30 that evening. Will they deliver my backpack out to Bremerton as soon as they have it? Probably not – it’ll have to go out the following morning. I plead for special treatment – my whole trip will be wasted if I don’t get have my pack by crack of dawn tomorrow so I can accompany my friends into the mountains – I weep and wail and gnash my teeth. They say they’ll do what they can.
Bobby and I take the airport bus out to Silverdale where Peggy picks us up and takes us out to their house, which is located on the water, looking west at the Olympics. It is a location to die for. Peggy and Joe Jack like it pretty much, but they are bummed because (i) they now have a neighbor where there used to be none, and (ii) there is an unsightly development on the far shore which used to be all pristine forest. So much for progress. My heart bleeds for them.
View of the Olympics from Joe Jack's deck.
When Joe Jack gets back from the hospital, we discuss the trip. The forecast is fairly crummy – wet and windy – and Joe Jack calls around to see if there are any areas that are likely to be spared. The consensus seems to be that the eastern slopes of the Cascades are likely to be somewhat drier, and so we decide to drive to Leavenworth tomorrow, stay the night in a hotel and then set out up 8-mile creek and hike up to Lake Caroline the next day. After that, we can proceed on up Windy Pass, weather permitting.
I go to bed after failing to get any useful news on the fate of my pack but at 2:30 in the morning there is a great banging on the front door and there it is, none the worse for wear. Whew! Thank you, U.S. Airways!
On Thursday morning, our fourth hiker, Ron Dionne, joins us and, after some footling around, we finally weigh anchor and are off. The weather is grey and drizzly but the views are spectacular. Leavenworth turns out to be a little faux Bavarian town on the eastern slopes of the Cascades with restaurants with names like ‘Der Chow Haus’. The hotel we stay in has an alpenhorn on display which is hauled up to a balcony above the dining room every morning so that the owner of the place can toot on it. It is all very charming.
Late Thursday morning, we set off. We drive out of town to the 8-mile creek trailhead where we start out on foot. The weather is grey and drizzly and chilly but there is no major rain. The trail slopes up gently and I am powering myself along with the aid of my new trekking poles. We go a couple of hours and stop for lunch by a little pond, one half of which is ringed by yellow leaves from the cottonwoods that have all been blown over to that shore. There are larches all over the place covered in bright gold needles – very pretty. Straight ahead, the trail goes up to 8-mile lake and then the mountains rise steep and dramatic up to the high country. We head to the right and up the slope to the top of the ridge, which is over 6,000 feet. The trail is still good, although it has become much harder work. As we go, the rain gradually turns into sleet and then, by the time we reach the top of the ridge, snow. The wind gets very blustery and we all feel a bit short of breath.
Over the other side of the ridge is Lake Caroline, a lovely Alpine lake. We poke around a bit and find an excellent spot for our two tents. I elect to share with Ron, leaving Bobby and Joe Jack together in the other tent. Ron and I seem to have a strange synchronicity of gear -–he pulls out his tent, which is the exact same Sierra Designs that I have. He also has my water filter, headlamp, stove and other stuff.
Once we stop hiking, the temperature seems to drop precipitously. The snow, which has not really been sticking on the ground, begins to stick. I quickly change out of my shorts and into my warm pants. After a little while, I realize that my warm pants aren’t warm enough, and so I haul out my rain pants, which I haven’t worn for years. To my horror, I discover that they no longer fit over my butt, although after a lot of embarrassing huffing and puffing I am able to drag them on. Another case of mysterious spontaneous garment shrinkage that seems to occur more and more frequently as one enters middle age… (Not that Joe Jack or Ron would know anything about that.)
Joe Jack starts boiling some water and we prepare freeze-dried meals that are just the ticket. Afterwards, we note that it is only seven o’clock, but getting colder, so we retreat into the tents. Joe Jack proclaims that it is not necessary to hang the food, and so he just deposits it on a rock some way away from the tents. (In the morning, I find that his confidence was justified, although the reason seems to be that he and/or Bobby emit such ear-splitting snores all night that the wild animals are too terrified to come near us.) Ron and I chat about our families until we drift off to sleep. My sleep is intermittent, as it is whenever I try to sleep on the ground. At some point, I realize I am too cold to sleep, but drift off again before doing anything about it. Later, I awake needing to pee but decide to spend a couple of hours feeling uncomfortable before heaving myself out of the tent. My boots are frozen and I have to climb over Ron to get to the exit, but when I get out, I find that, looking down the valley to the east, there is some blue sky and the sun is just coming up. Spectacular and definitely worth the wait! I pee and go back to sleep.
After 14 hours in the tents, we struggle to wakefulness and emerge into the chilly air. The early promise of the day has faded and it is once again grey and there is little visibility. About two inches of snow have fallen and we discuss the plan for the day. Windy Pass is another 1,000 feet higher up and probably got its name for a good reason. The trail will be hard to follow because of the snow and the footing may be treacherous. We decide that it would be dangerous to go on, and so we loiter around the lake for a while, take some pics, and then start on down the way we came. The clouds are low and there are moments when they clear away, providing tantalizing glimpses of how nice the day could have been. We get a good look up Asgard Pass, which is the route we had originally intended to take up to the Enchantments had the forecast been better, although the trail guide has a rant that goes on for several pages about what a stupid route it is – too steep, dangerous, nasty, brutish and short. Perhaps next time we’ll take the long way in.
By the time we reach the car, it is getting late and we consider staying over again in Leavenworth. However, we are unable to get suitable rooms so Joe Jack bravely drives us all the way back (4+ hours) to his house while Ron sits up front and engages him in conversation to make sure he stays awake. Bobby and I snooze in the back.
On Sunday, we all go out to Dungeness spit, which is a sandbar pointing up into the straights of San Juan de Fuca. Ahead we can see Mount Baker, looking very snowy and volcanic, sticking up into the sky and behind us are the Oympics. Bobby, Joe Jack and Ron spend their time checking out the birds while Peggy and I admire the driftwood. It is a pleasant, low-key day.
On Monday, Peggy takes Bobby and me into Seattle. We look into some shops and end up at the Space Needle.
Looking south, towards Ranier
The weather is finally spectacular, and the observation platform has marvelous views of the town and mountains, including Baker, Glacier Peak and Ranier. The biggest attraction, however, is a building near the base of the Needle that is being demolished by heavy equipment. You can see the whole thing quiver every time the big ‘dozer whacks it on the roof and every now and then a big section will collapse, to the cheers of the crowd.
Watch those 'dozers go!
Finally, on Tuesday, we head back for the airport. Ranier looms large off the highway. I say goodbye to Bobby and head on back to the big city.
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