Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Day 150: Ridge Above Milk Creek to North of Suiattle Pass

With Glacier Peak to the east there was no morning sun in our camp. We took advantage of the prolonged darkness to sleep in. Even without the morning sun's warming rays, the morning air was comfortably warm, hinting at a less than comfortable heat to come later in the day.

The trail followed the ridge, traversing across the steep grass and heather covered hillsides until we were directly beneath Glacier Peak. Water poured from the mountain in a multitude of streams, with no traces of the glacial silt that clouded many of the larger creeks and rivers. Next to the streams, bright colorful wildflowers still flourished. Elsewhere, however, the flowers were clearly past their prime, the lupines faded and wind blown, the wooly pasqueflower seed heads balding.

The trail dipped into the forest as we descended to Vista Creek. Moss carpeted the forest floor, which also housed a rich undergrowth of ferns, berry vines, other green plants, and fungi. Streams and creeks cascaded over mossy rocks as they fell to join Vista Creek (2,877 ft).

The trail from Vista Creek seemed to meander as it followed the Suiattle River downstream to the new bridge, about three miles down from the old one, which was destroyed in a flood.  The new section of trail was gently graded and passed through beautiful, old-growth forest. But the reroute added an additional five or six miles not included in the "current" edition of the Data Book, putting us further behind schedule.

By 7:30 p.m. it was getting dark and we still had not reached the top of the climb out of the Suiattle River canyon up to Suiattle Pass (5,990 ft). Using headlamps, we continued switchbacking up the trail. A tan frog hopped away from the light into the bushes as we approached. Farther ahead, two eyes steadily reflected my headlamp back at me as I recognized the outline of a large doe.

Reaching the pass, the trail opened to reveal the dark outlines of the mountains and a night sky lit with countless stars. We dipped briefly into the forest, then dropped into a steep canyon strewn with humongous boulders.

Climbing out of the canyon I heard a low growl followed by a sharp bark. I froze. Two eyes reflected my headlamp ahead on the trail. Then I heard a man's voice, calmly reassuring us that the dog would not bite. Continuing up the trail, we found the source of the voice, a man cowboy camped in the middle of the trail.

Dan, a southbound section hiker, had decided to camp on the trail after finding the last camping space occupied because the trail traversed a steep hillside and there was no other flat ground. After he warned us that the next flat camping would be several miles ahead, we decided to join him. Placing our sleeping pads end to end on the trail, we quickly fell asleep, the only time in my life I have slept ON a trail.

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