July 31- August 1, 2009.
This summer’s theme: failure. Each summit I went for, each goal I attempted, was thwarted for some reason or another. This time, the easy-going Mazama climb to Gilbert Peak I showed up for was turned back by wildfire just a few miles from the trailhead. Rats. After much debate and debacle, three team members and I decided to make an overnight trip to Goat Island Peak, a scramble in Mt. Rainier National Park.
Rick, Dan, Elizabeth and I bid adieu to the other Mazama group members at the Ranger Station and drove to our jumping-off point. Late in the afternoon, we finally arrived at the Fryingpan Creek trailhead, which was packed with cars. Heading off towards the Summerland backcountry camp, we gently ascended along the well-graded Wonderland Trail. Now this, I thought, would be a fabulous backpacking trail. There were sections I could have driven my car down. Following Rick’s speedy pace, we made good time. The air was thick with bugs, and it was very hot. Shortly before we left the Wonderland Trail, Elizabeth decided to head back to the car to avoid the bugs. Now down to three, our motley crew plowed through the brush off trail and meandered towards the creek.
The source of the Fryingpan Creek is, of course, the Fryingpan Glacier. The streambed is a wide pile of somewhat unsettled rock and debris, with some water running down the middle of it. In places, the stream runs narrow,deep and fast. In others, the stream fans out and weaves through the debris at a somewhat mellower pace. The three of us scoured the creek for an adequate place to cross. This took a very long time, as the hot summer sun had caused much snow and ice melt on the upper mountain. Eventually we found a spot that would do, and we took turns testing the stability of each rock as we hopped across the river.
Once on the other side, we had to find a way up to the ridge, and locate a good camping spot. After some poking around we angled up through steep meadows to a saddle. Across the other side of the ridge was a clear, unobstructed view of the east side of Mt. Rainier. Although our tent spots were not very flat, they were fabulously beautiful. After setting up the tents and changing into comfortable shoes we had a tasty pasta dinner and soaked in the views. The glaciers were awesome to look at. Long moraines stretched far into the distance, telling a story of even larger glaciers in Earth’s past.
The night was warm. My sleeping bag seemed excessive. I was happy to get up at sunrise and take some photos, before returning to the tent and napping for another hour. We ate breakfast and started up the ridge around 7:30 am. After negotiating a small, dense, thicket of trees, we arrived on a broad, rocky, dry ridge that disappeared into the horizon. It was a lovely walk among hardy wildflowers and piles of volcanic rocks. By 9:30 we reached the summit, after reaching the tops of at least two false summits (we think). The end of the ridge drops off into a wide, forested valley that leads back to the road. The rocks on top of the summit were teeming with flies; it looked like the rocks were alive. We spent a short time here, eating and sipping water, before returning to the tents.
We packed up and debated our return route. There was a rocky gully leading straight back to the stream that we decided to follow. Crossing the stream was, yet again, a careful affair. Dan gracefully crossed over as soon as he could, then disappeared into the brush. Rick continued down the stream until out of sight, looking for a better way across. I was kind of in the middle, not wanting to go too far downstream just to have to walk back. Once I reached an impasse along the streambed that would have forced me back up into the forest I decided to choose a crossing location.
To me, streams can be deceptively challenging to cross. What looks perfectly do-able from far away becomes a raging monster once confronted directly. Rocks are wobbly when tested, water is deeper than anticipated, and the thought of getting my perfectly dry, cozy boots soaked with water makes me apprehensive about plopping them near the stream. Eventually, I found a wide spot in the river that required several moves to get across. Twice I dunked my boots in the stream and once I thought I was going down for sure. At this point I had no idea where my companions were. Once safely across, I scanned the area looking for signs of humanity. Nothing.
I contemplated my options, drank some water, and took some pictures. Then I noticed Rick, on the other side of the river, walking back upstream. He hadn’t found any where to cross! We waved to each other and he continued walking back the way we came. I kept him in sight, mostly because I thought I might need him to help me navigate back to the trail and just a little in case he slipped or needed me for something (ha!). After thirty minutes or so, Rick and I were reunited on the edge of the stream. After a very short bushwhack through thick shrubbery, we found ourselves in an open meadow with a clear shot back to the trail. Once we reached the footbridge over the stream, we found Dan relaxing in the sun. Now that the hard part was over, we had the easy 4 mile or so walk back to the car.
But that wasn’t enough excitement for one day. We had one more demon to face before driving back to town. That demon: Naches Peak.