When the high country is still snowed in and the forecast looks unpromising:
Low-Elevation Deciduous Rainforest!
Oscar and I convinced Amanda that she should join us on a long-weekend jaunt through the northern bit of the Mt. St. Helens National Monument, the little blocky extension of the Monument that wasn’t blasted away in 1980 and allows dogs. The weather didn’t look promising, but it’s July and that means it’s Summer Backpacking Season, so we packed our overnight kits and ignored NOAA. Amanda bought a box of plastic garbage bags in the last town before the trailhead for insurance. As it turns out, the weather was fine. But there’s only so much you can do with plastic bags for water-laden brush and the Cascadian dew point.
The weekend plan was to hike a loop around the Goat Creek drainage, spend a night at Deadmans Lake and a night near Tumwater Peak, and add a little out-and-back to see how the wildflowers were faring on Goat Mountain. This route is featured in Douglas Loraine’s Backpacking Washington guide book as Trip 24.
Oscar and I hiked into Deadmans Lake last summer from the other direction, along the spine of Goat Mountain. That trip was a hot, rollicking jaunt through acres of wildflowers that ended with bugs and bugling elk. This trip was the opposite of that one: good, but different. Since I hadn’t hiked this part of the Monument, every step was like being on a first date: little delights in every nook and cranny, surprises after each successive climb and descent, every corner something new.
After a couple miles of moist traversing through delightful Ewok habitat in the mist on Trail 205 (Goat Creek Trail), we bore right at the junction with Trail 218 (Tumwater Trail) and continued up to Trail 217 (Goat Mountain Trail), climbing some 2,000′ through a series of stunningly beautiful waterfall-laden drainages.
The ridge that comprises the Goat Mountain Trail was windy and cool. Oscar and I loped off down the ridge, climbing first and then descending to Deadmans Lake a couple of miles later. Amanda, who was a slower hiker than me on the uphills (attributable to the 15 extra pounds of gear she was carrying – including the 2-pound tripod that I so conveniently got to use), caught up with us about halfway down the ridge. Gravity was no match for her gear-laden inertia and sturdy knees.
We squished to the shores of Deadmans Lake and staked a lovely campsite on the northwestern side of the lake. I pitched my tent and then wrung out my socks, a torrent of brown water cascading through my fingers. In an effort to save weight, I had left camp shoes at home. (On an unrelated note, check out Andrew Skurka’s blog post entitled “Stupid Light”.) I didn’t want to ruin my dry pair of camp socks, so I put my feet gingerly back into my wet socks and soaking wet trail shoes and went to mope by the shores of Deadmans Lake until dinner.
It was a long, cold night. The nighttime temps hovered in the mid-40s and my low R-value summer sleeping pad was no match for the conductive nature of the moist ground. I tossed and turned with cold feet, cold hips, and cold shoulders. In the morning, I found that I had wrapped all of my extra clothes around myself in a motley configuration – my hat on my feet, my down vest around my waist, a soggy little dog zipped in the sleeping bag.
The tent was soaked with dew, inside and out. Everything was moist. My socks, optimistically tucked into the bottom of my sleeping bag the night before, were just as wet as they were when I put them to bed. I don’t even want to talk about my shoes.
After breakfast, we put on our wet, skanky socks and shoes and squished up the Goat Mountain Trail to the saddle for some potential views of the Mount Margaret Backcountry and to check on the wildflower bloom. The clouds and sun battled for control as we wandered through the wet meadow grasses to take photos.
We perched on a rock outcropping and took off our shoes to let them dry a little in the morning sun, but it was really an exercise in futility. Back on went the socks and shoes, and back down through the wet brush to Deadmans Lake for a quick nap before packing up and heading to our second camp beneath Tumwater Peak, 6 miles north.
The largely-viewless ridge walk to Tumwater Peak (Trail 218) is little traveled, which meant that we saw lots of wildlife scat, busted up a lot of spider webs, and cleared away a lot of branches. The trail becomes very faint at points and was a little difficult to see in the duffy groundcover. There are a couple of steep grunty climbs and not enough remarkable rock outcroppings, views, or meadows to classify the trail as the “delightful ridgewalk” described in the trail guide, but it didn’t have wet brush or grass to walk through, so I was ecstatic. My feet were finally transitioning out of jungle rot state. More of a high-country fan, Amanda was less thrilled with the forested monotony.
We dropped to a little tarn at the base of Tumwater Peak and set about trying to find a place to camp. There are very limited options and we ended up in a less-than-optimal location, but it worked. Oscar and I went exploring over a minor ridge and found a long-abandoned hunters camp, complete with creepy tattered blue tarp covering up some unidentified lumps. (Rule #37: Never lift up a creepy blue tarp in the woods. The outcome cannot be good.)
The Tumwater tarn dries up after the snow melts and turns into a meadow. But it held plenty of water and was a nice little place to spend the night on this mid-July evening. It was prime frog habitat and this perhaps accounted for the fact that there were no mosquitoes or flies around.
As night fell at this higher-elevation camp, I put on all of my clothes and made a small smoky fire, which I sat coaxing for the next couple of hours to help dry out our socks and shoes. This resulted in drier socks that now had a smoky, chipotle funk instead of straight-up nasty sock funk. Oscar went to bed early, which meant that Amanda had to stay up and help me pick up my dinner, which I had dropped onto the forest floor. (Note: pine needles – not a good pairing with chicken ramen noodles)
Before going to bed, I made some modifications to my sleeping system so that I wouldn’t be cold. I put my pack under my feet for insulation. I put my sit pad under my hips for insulation. I put a liter of hot water in my bag to pre-warm it. I opened my ages-old mylar emergency blanket and wrapped it around the pad (not quiet). The dog camped out in my footbox, nose in the funky socks.
All of the interventions work perfectly. I was so warm that I was able to get up in the middle of the night to spend an hour photographing the Milky Way from the middle of a very wet meadow – with Amanda’s packed-in tripod.
The next morning, we hiked the final six miles in a cloud, steeply dropping 2500′ through hemlock and fir forest to the lush (wet) understory of the Goat Creek drainage.
With several major stream fords ahead of us, I decided that there was no advantage to keep my moist socks from becoming completely sodden. I forded the creeks in my trail shoes, oozing and sloshing the final two and a half miles back to the car. Amanda prudently changed footwear to ford Goat Creek, swapping out her trail shoes for Chacos.
Until the last crossing, when she joined me in solidarity, deftly splashing through a cold mountain cascade in her socks and trail shoes.
Soggy shoes, friends forever.