High Country Puddles

Mount Adams from High Camp, 6900'

"You know, I thought maybe it was just that the fly wasn't guyed out properly last night, but I'm not so sure anymore, Marut. I'm pretty sure your tent has a leak."

"I don't know what you are talking about. This tent is perfectly fine. I'm warm and dry. What leak?"

I look over to find Marut, still snuggled in her red & yellow cocoon of a sleeping bag, giving me a sideways, facetious, ear-to-ear grin.  She knows the tent leaks, she just doesn't care. It hasn't interrupted any aspect of her immediate reality, and she's right, although we are *technically* lying in our second puddle of the trip, we aren't actually wet. Yet.

These are the moments, in backpacking, that I love. It's hard to describe why they are great, especially sitting in a puddle at 6000'. Maybe it has something to do with the narrowing down of reality from one moment to the next and how you will deal with the hurdles in between. It's one of the reasons Marut is a good friend- she's the antithesis to my Type A/Planned Personality. She embodies Not-Sweating-The-Small-Stuff. So, I plan the trips, and she keeps me grounded in the moment.

But her tent still leaks. And I know she knows it.

I don't particularly like backpacking in the rain. I don't mind hiking in the rain or running in the rain, but that's because I know I can get warm and dry at the end of the day. Eyeballing the NOAA forecast and any number of other site forecasts, the weather prediction ranges from chance of showers to a quarter inch of rain. Weathermen are like physicians, apparently, and rarely agree on the diagnosis.

We started up the Killen Creek trail sometime close to 2pm under dry skies. Huckleberries and catching up on life slowed our pace, but we also weren't in any particular hurry to get where we were going. We had no particular plan- we were just here to explore and gambling on the weather holding. Neither of us had ever been to Mount Adams- realistic for Marut who's only been in Portland for about two years, but ridiculous for me because I've been here for seventeen. Adams has been on my to-do list for years, I just never made it up there, I guess because I assumed it was further. We made it to the trailhead from Portland in a little over two hours, which isn't much further than other hikes I take. So, time to start exploring Adams. 

Marut and Adams introduction, Killen Creek Trail

As we gained elevation and over the course of the next two days, I started to kick myself- Hood's friend to the north has really, really gorgeous and expansive alpine meadows. The sprawl and scale of the lupine up here (in season, now all to seed) must be breathtaking.

I've heard the scale and scope of the mosquitoes, in season, is pretty breathtaking too. Which may explain why I haven't been up here before.

Our goal was High Camp, a stark, high alpine meadow set at 6900' below the looming face of the Adams Glacier. It is the kind of place I absolutely love. On the ascent, the trail was steep and rocky in places, the footing poor, and I wasn't digging the idea of coming down it in a rainstorm. We continued up, sending good thoughts out into the universe for the weather to hold. The landscape became more barren, the only sounds the wind hugging the rocky ridgeline and pikas chirping in alarm at our passing. Upon cresting the final ridge, the meadows of High Camp suddenly spread out before us, harsh, surreal, the realities of this area stunted by weather and detailed in miniature. 

Kinda steep...following cairns to High Camp

hoofing it up to High Camp (photo by Marut)
It was phenomenal. I can spend days in this kind of area, just watching the mountain and exploring the nooks and crannies of the high places of the world. Cut off from civilization, alone, wandering windswept landscapes, the ceiling of heaven pressed down upon me. 

final traverse to High Camp

Adams and the clouds would flirt the entire trip


the meadows of High Camp, Mount Rainier in the distance

Marut, watching the evening mountain & cloud show

The Show flirting with the Adams Glacier

Overnight, in the calm before the storm, I woke to hearing the massive splitting, thunderous crack of icefall from the Adams Glacier. The sound was humbling as it ricocheted down the valley. Places like these high meadows reinforce the perspective of how small I am in the world, and how insignificant, overall, society and civilization are against the fundamental physics of the natural world.

At 3 AM, the deluge began. Damn the weatherman for being right and damn my stubborn soul.

There were moments where I think it was only the courtesy of our body weight and the tent stakes that held us in place while the bean sidhe of Adams smashed the sides of the tent. Interestingly enough, thanks to earplugs and her Not-Sweating-The-Small-Stuff approach to life, Marut slept through the entire storm [<= insert major envy here].

We woke to discover ourselves lying in a puddle, the rainfly on Marut's side soaked and plastered against the tent wall. We ourselves were pretty dry still, thanks to this invention called sleep pads. In the dawn, the rain cleared and sun breaks teased through the clouds. We made the decision to dry our gear, then head down to a lower elevation on the PCT and hunt out a more sheltered campsite. 

This was us- drying the gear- not the windstorm [GRIN]

Heading down from High Camp

Heading down the trail from High Camp, it was evident by the sheer amount of soil and sand and scree deposited on the trail that the route had been a waterfall the night before. No, the mile down from High Camp would not have been fun to walk down in the rain.

Two miles from High Camp, meadow after meadow sprawled before us, we came upon a lovely (if slightly horsey) campsite near a waterfall, surrounded by yet more meadows and a commanding view of Adams. We set up camp, basked in the afternoon sun for a while, then headed onward on the Highline Trail with no intention beyond exploring and seeing what there was to see. Just past Foggy Flats, a lovely meadow on the northwest side of Adams, the landscape changed....more reminiscent of the Sisters than any place I see on Mount Hood-  barren, pumice and lava ridden, life eking out a scramble-hold, tenuous existence. 

meadow...with Adams

more meadows with Adams...

"Camp Waterfall" (photo by Marut)

Upon reviewing the map, I think we were maybe a mile from the Devils Garden (the high point at 7800' of the Highline Trail around Mount Adams) when we turned around. I was feeling queasy and sluggish with the altitude (somewhere around 7000' I always start to feel it) and, more a lover of the pastoral meadow scene, Marut was uninspired by the Mars-like landscape. 

Later, after the long walk back at camp, we would set about doing chores and getting clean (well, Marut more than I, who can brave full submersion in ice cold stream water), and yakking with a group of thru-hikers who were finishing up their day. 

the Mars-like landscape in the vicinity of Devils Gardens, Red Butte in the distance

ominous cloud dance, Adams and its Lava & Lyman Glaciers

the view of Adams, back at Camp Waterfall

Minus one brief shower, the rain had actually held off all day, although the summit of Adams was being treated to an ominous, swirling cloud dance all afternoon. At 10 PM, the rain began again, though more of a soft, Pacific Northwest-y on-and-off drizzle/shower.

By midnight it was clear that the tent was wet again (same spot, on Marut's side) and no amount of guying out the fly helped. A new leak sprung directly overhead of my foot, an excruciatingly slow drippy faucet type leak that plunked the occasional water drop on my sock, right near my big toe.   

By morning, although the floor of the tent was a puddle, as Marut pointed out, our persons were technically still warm and dry. We packed up our gear in a gray, drizzly dawn, and headed out along the PCT through rolling meadows heavy with wet lupine and fog.

In the distance, we heard thunder and, upon turning onto the Killen Creek Trail, 3.1 miles from the car, the sky went black. Then, it began to pour

Killen Creek trail, heading into the thunderstorm. Yes, it was this DARK.

Last year, on a two day backpack with Allison, I almost considered my trail runners retired. Nevertheless, while funky smelling and never quite the same, they rallied to see more hikes. I'm pretty sure the Killen Creek Trail has officially sent them to trail runner heaven.  I've been on some muddy hikes, but the three miles back to the car were like a sandy, muddy, staircase & rock slip-n-slide, filled to the brim with running water and enormous puddles. This is not a cheerful event when you have a tripod and two metal trekking poles in hand and basically feel like one giant hiker lightning rod trying to outrace the thunder in an alpine meadow.  

Somehow, through all of this, we were still in great moods, cheered by two days on the mountain, a good friendship, and non-stop conversation. Wilderness is beautiful, even in the thunder, puddles, wind and rain.  

trail runners officially retiring. Marut's Keens may fare better

** exploring the northwest side of Mount Adams- Killen Creek TH, High Camp, Highline Trail. Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington. ~20ish miles (I'm giving up on estimating elevation gain, no longer important...[GRIN]).


Mary said...

Hmm, a part of the pct I want to explore.

Amanda said...

It's beautiful, Mary. That and Goat Rocks. Your PCT trip sounds incredible- looking forward to the next trip reports!