Chinook Pass Loop

I knew going in that this trip would be a stretch. I haven’t done any hiking this summer, and I’ve only managed a few trail runs. But it was important for me to get out there & hike. I knew that if I needed to, I could spend an extra day; my goal was to get the entire loop done in one day.

I was mostly packed & ready to go, so I was able to leave the Tri-Cities around noon on Friday. I weighed my pack before leaving, and not counting the water & my InReach satellite communicator, my pack weighed around 25 pounds. That’s quite an accomplishment for me – down from 37 pounds which seemed to be my norm.

I drove through a rain squall as I approached Chinook Pass, so I decided to bring the umbrella I keep in the truck. I hadn’t packed rain gear & the only thing I had along that line was the 3′ x 9′ sheet of Tyvek I use a ground sheet and a trail skirt to keep water off my legs. I’ve been considering adding an umbrella to my trail kit, and now I have. (Although I will likely switch out my ‘thank-you gift’ Nature Conservancy umbrella for a trail umbrella designed to repel both the sun’s rays & the rain.)

Leaving the trailhead

I hiked in about seven miles on Friday. I didn’t see another person after leaving Tipsoo Lake. (Despite the rain & low clouds, there were a lot of people at Tipsoo Lake.) The map did not lie – the East Side Trail passes numerous waterfalls. You’ll get no soaring views of Mount Rainier, but you’ll be accompanied by babbling brooks & plunging waterfalls along the way.

I’d packed dinner – chocolate coconut peanut butter & a banana in a flour tortilla – and I ate that along the trail. That meant I could delay finding a campsite until later in the evening. I found several places that were acceptable, and then decided that seven miles was enough for the day.

This trip was my field test of attaching the sleeping bag underquilt using Velcro. It worked, but not very well. One patch came off the hammock. After the second night, I decided to give up on this method and go with sewing hooks onto the sleeping bag. The first night I my back was a little chilly, so I decided that I’d try out the Zrest sit pads with my Zenbivy. (I stuck Velcro on the Zenbivy & the sit pads.) I was much warmer the second night, but I am uncertain how much of that is due to using the sit pads.

This was also my first stoveless trip. After getting out of the hammock, I mixed up my morning mocha: a teaspoon of instant espresso, a couple tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, a tablespoon of sugar, and 1/3 cup of coconut milk powder. I added a cup of water & shook it vigorously. It was delicious, but a bit too sweet for me. (Next time, I’ll halve the sugar.) I put another half-cup of water into the container, swished it around, & drank that water to “clean” the container, and then put my granola & coconut milk powder in the container with a cup of water to start it rehydrating. I packed up my camp & got back on the trail.

I decided I’d stop at the Grove of the Patriarchs because I figured people would ask me if I’d seen it & then express their dismay that I hadn’t. It turned out to be a nice place for second breakfast. There was a group of four adults in the same area I was. One of the women offered to take a picture of me in front of a couple of the trees. The man asked me about my hiking trip. Another woman in their party looked very familiar to me, and as I talked to the man he seemed familiar, too. I told the woman she looked familiar, and she told me her name — it was Justice Stevens of the Washington State Supreme Court. I interviewed for a clerk position with her when I was in law school. We chatted a bit more, and later it dawned on me why the man seemed familiar, too: he’s Brian Harnetiaux. Then-judge Stevens & Mr. Harnetiaux taught a class I took my last semester of law school.

The low point on this loop is Silver Falls; its elevation is about 2200′. And then the climbing begins. My thighs were tired from the descending, and my knee was achy. The climbing gave those parts of my body a break & shifted the burden to my glutes. Oh, my poor glutes!

On my way up, I encountered a NPS ranger who was on her way down the trail. She asked if I was planning on camping at Three Lakes. I told her I didn’t know, that it depended upon how far I made it. She told me that there’s only three campsites at Three Lakes & they’d already been taken. And this was when I learned one must have a permit to camp within Mount Rainier National Park. I mentioned that I hammock camp, which has a much lower impact on the area than a tent does. She again noted that permits are required, but added that there most likely wouldn’t be another back country ranger in the area, and that the border between the park & the wilderness area – under the control of the US Forest Service – is in that area & “who knows what their rules are…” (I do: they have very few.)

I was underwhelmed by Three Lakes. I don’t understand the appeal at all. I stopped there to get some water, use the backcountry toilet, and then headed a bit down the trail to find my campsite safely outside of the park’s border. One nice feature about Three Lakes is the food bag pole: Mount Rainier National Park has a lot of black bears, and although my food bag is bear-resistant I decided it’d be nice to utilize the pole to ensure my food wasn’t close to anyone’s campsite.

After I made camp, I came back to the area near the pole to eat my dinner. This was my first cold-soaked dinner and it was quite good. I rinsed out the container, drank the water, and deposited my soaking container & spork in my bear bag. I then hung the bag on one of the three prongs on the food pole.

One of the three campers approached me and asked if I usually hung my food & if I had a bear bag rope. Yes, I said, thinking he was asking because he wanted to hang his food bag. “Well,” he said, “I was just thinking that because there are three campsites and three spots on the pole that maybe you should go ahead & hang your food somewhere else.” Huh? I told him that I’m sure that it would be fine, but that if when he hung his food bag it appeared that it wouldn’t be fine, I asked that he simply tie my bag to the pole with a good, stout knot. I explained that my bag & the cord are made from Kevlar & they’re bear-resistant, so they’d be fine if they weren’t hung.

“Oh no,” said the woman with the guy who’d been talking to me, “we don’t want to do anything with your bag.” THEN WTF IS YOUR PROBLEM?!?, I thought. It then dawn on me that this guy was assuming that he had a proprietary interest in that prong on the pole, that somehow I was a squatter and had no right to use the food pole.

Clearly, this guy is new at this. No where where bears are a problem would a concerned hiker suggest that only someone with a permit should be able to use the bear lockers, trees, or poles. That bear pole is essentially a safety device to keep both bears & humans safe. The ironic thing? There were a couple of guys camped at the next lake — I was camped between the two lakes —  hung their bear bag well away from their site, but very close to mine. They also used the toilet, but I’m not sure if Mr. Self-Entitled complained about that as well.

I believe trail magic is real, as I’ve been both recipient and giver. This guy may not know what trail magic is, but he currently has a score of -5. The next morning I decided to get my bag & get out of there to avoid any problems. I saw one of the other hikers I’d chatted with the previous evening and told her of my exchange about the food bag pole. She agreed the guy was being ridiculous.

Sunday left me with about a 13 mile hike. The first stretch was more climbing to get up to the Pacific Crest Trail, and the PCT took me back to the trailhead. It was a long, hard day. I’d been lying in my hammock, feeling my leg muscles ache. I knew the climbs would be hard. On the plus side, unlike the Laughingwater Creek Trail, this section of the PCT is gorgeous. I was treated to my first view of Mount Rainier a short ways before the junction with the PCT, and the mountain made regular appearances. There at the junction I could see Adams, St. Helens, and Rainier. The wildflowers were glorious. Even when I was miserable, the trail was pretty special.

Mount Rainier from the junction of the Laughingwater Creek trail & the PCT

nOverall, I’d call this trip a success. I need to take a good look at the amount of elevation gain & loss I covered and my pace, but I think my body can handle another attempt at Section J next month. (I plan to keep hiking & get in some trail running in the interim.) The cold-soaking was a success. I’ll try it again in a subsequent weekend hike, but doing it for a week will be the real test – especially if it’s cold. I will use two separate containers – one for sweet stuff, one for savory – as I’m not confident of my ability to clean the container well enough to remove all trace of flavor. (The hint of balsamic vinaigrette in my morning mocha was off-putting.) 

These shoes are officially dead

I will put a lot of intention into meal planning. Two reasons: One, I want the best calorie to weigh ratio possible. Two, I want to be carrying the right amount of food. I don’t mind arriving at the end of the trip with an extra day’s food — I’d rather have a little extra than not enough, especially on a longer trip when calorie deficits can mean impaired muscle repair — but I don’t want to have too much & I don’t want to have to put much thought into it on the trail. I’ve been in the “I’m too tired to eat” place. Cold-soaking is easier because there’s no cooking, but that also means the meals have to be good enough to entice me to eat even when I’m exhausted.

While I’m pleased with my 25-pound pack weight, I’m going to try to get it low enough that I can use a frameless pack that’s been sitting in our garage unused. Going stoveless dropped a couple of pounds. I’m going to quit carrying the hydration bladder. It’s convenient, but it leaked a bit this past weekend. With down sleeping bags, I don’t want the risk of getting them wet because of a hydration pack. I’m going to switch to two 1-liter SmartWater bottles. I’ll need to sew a pocket for them on the side of the pack, but that’s easy enough. I’ve resisted using the SmartWater bottles before because I may need to filter water more frequently, and that means more frequent stops. Thus, another change: instead of carrying the water filtering stuff in the backpack, it’ll go in a waist pack. The waist pack will also help me bring down the weight of my backpack to a load appropriate for a frameless pack (25 pounds).  The waist pack will hold the water gear and other things I may need throughout the day like food. My thinking is that the weight will be on the waist belt, not my shoulders, meaning the load will be fairly comfortable. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating — thus, I must go hike!

I hope to get out for another 3-day hike in a couple of weeks. Time to start planning that!      

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