Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Copper mountain via Wagonwheel attempt

Wagon Wheel Ridge
(I saw a small plane buzz this ridge today)

This was the only clear day this week and maybe my last chance to try to get up Copper Mountain before the snows hits the high country. 

 I started at the Wagon Wheel Lake trail head in Olympic National Park at 10am.  I was dragging this morning and I kept second guessing myself, I wondered if I had the energy for this demanding hike today.  I was really dragging and not feeling too good. 

There is too a lake
My GPS battery was going dead fast, but I thought I had spares; still I turned off my track log to save battery power.  I knew that if I did not have spares I would not be able to do this hike, I really needed my GPS. 

I developed a hot spot on my heel that demanded attention.  Perhaps I should have hiked in trail runners.  Did I have enough water for the trip?

Foot first aid about 1,500 feet up in elevation gain

I felt I was moving slowly, I have one and two hour waypoints for when I did this hike in 2009 and 2012.  At the two hour mark in my hike I was 600 feet below where I had been in 2012 two hours into this same hike.  But I made it to the lake in 3 hours and I feel that is pretty good time.  Whenever I can gain over 1,000 feet an hour I feel that I am doing okay.

Once I reached the lake my route was unclear.  All I knew was go to the right climb to 4,900 feet and then follow the contour until I could see the saddle.  I went back to where the trail splits at the outlet stream and crossed the stream low and to the right.  I found there was a bit of a trail going around the lake and there are actually some very nice campsites right on the water on that side of the lake. 

 Soon I found what I thought was some flagging that I must be marking the route to Copper Mountain. Alright!   But was it really flagging or was it just a bit of fall color?  It turned out to be flagging.  YES!
Shortly, I lost the flagging and the route started getting really slippery, steep and rough.  I did not like this rough route but I enjoyed the fall scenery and I found three large Hericium species mushrooms above the lake. 

Since I was so far from the last flag, I decided to look at my GPS.  It was hard to see in the trees, but my GPS was telling me that I was heading up the wrong ridge.  Sometimes the GPS is a bit wonky so I spent some time making sure I really was going up the wrong ridge. 

lost a lot of time wandering
 The GPS was right.  I had to turn back and find my way to the correct ridge in the thick forest filled with slippery blowdowns and other hazards.  After turning back I found the flagging again.  I had gone an extra 1/3 of a mile out of my way thanks to this error.  I had also lost about 45 minutes, floundering in the brush. 
Shortly after regaining the correct route, I came out into a small flat opening and I stopped there to change my GPS batteries.  I was relieved to find that my fresh batteries were good and I was set for the trip.  I don’t know what was wrong with the first set of batteries, they were freshly charged when I put them in.  I sent my first SPOT message that actually went through at that point.  I found out later that my trail head SPOT message never went through.

Once I refound the flags I did not lose them again, but I was moving slow and I got to thinking, what if something happens and I have to hike back through this section in the dark?  What if I can’t see the flags?  So I started way pointing every flag I saw.  I used the “diving” symbol as my waypoint.  This turned out to be a very good move. 

The route pretty much followed the contour of the slippery hill side until it came out onto a semi-open meadow.  At the meadow the flagging stopped and there were no cairns.  I was completely on my own for route finding.  I could look to the left and see wagon wheel ridge laid out below me.  It felt good to see wagon wheel ridge as that was the place I used to stand and look over at Copper Mountain.  I was now finally on Copper Mountain. 

The meadow was very pretty and smelled so alpine.  The fall colors were nice and the lighting was pretty.  I was happy to be in a place of such beauty.  I feel so lucky to live in a first world country and to be able to spend the day hiking in the mountains instead of starving to death in a USA controlled slum.

Wonderful smelling mushroom (Russula laurocerasi)
I decided to work my way up a talus field.  It felt nice to be on big solid rocks after spending so much time in the woods on slippery little logs.  I worked my way up to what I thought was the saddle under the summit.  Ahead of me I could see some peaks in the fog.  I was worried about finding my way back as the fog seemed to be moving in fast.  I took some waypoints and turned around often to look at my route back out.  At  first I thought the peaks in the fog were on the other side of Lake Cushman.  The mountains can really play havoc with one’s perception.  

Once on the saddle, I was happy to find that the little rock above me and behind me was the summit.  Alright!  But how to get up there?  What time was it anyway?  It was nearly 3pm.. dammit, the sun was going to set in 3 hours and 20 minutes. 

 I decided to make 3pm my turn around time as it takes me two hours to get down from the lake to the trailhead and I was going to have to do some hiking and brush crashing just to get back to the lake. 

 But that did not give me enough time really, so I decided to make 3:15 or 3:30 my turn around time.  I could handle hiking out in the dark for the last ½ mile or so.  But then I remembered I did not have my dog with me and I’ve never hiked in the dark without my dog.   So set my turn around time at 3:15, knowing that I may have to hike out in the twilight.

I thought this might be the summit and tried to go up
it on the right towards the back
I started up the slippery scree to what I thought was the summit.  The going was tough, the route was not clear and I was nervous. 

After about 15 minute of that I realized this was not the summit and perhaps those peaks “on the other side of Lake Cushman” were the summit.  So I followed the contour back to the saddle and realized that yes indeed one of those peaks was the summit and the fog was now gone, so I could see them clearly. 

 I also realized that I was out of time.  I did not feel tired at this point but I knew I must be very tired after gaining 3,200 feet on the trail and another 800 feet brush crashing and talus hopping.  I knew I had to turn around.  I was so close, and yet so far.  I had made it to 5,000 feet, I sent a SPOT and started looking for the way down.
On the way back to the start of the flagging I skipped the talus field and  ended up going through some terrible brush and was really not happy about that.  I got soaked from head to toe.  I was so glad I had way pointed the last flag though.  I was getting tired and my judgment was suffering. 

Eventually I found the flagging and started back down to the lake making sure I always had a flag in sight or on my GPS.  I was so glad that I way pointed those flags!  There were several times that I could not see a flag and was not sure where the next flag was, and each time my GPS waypoints were a great aid.  A few times I was afraid I was going to get hurt on the slippery slope that was covered in fallen logs and slime.

Finally I reached the last flag that I had way pointed and I could not see any other flags but I could see the lake, so I knew I was not going to get off route again.  Well that’s what I thought anyway.  My route back down to the lake was terrible.  I was on really steep terrain, I was slipping and sliding all over the place and falling down a lot. 

Stupid things kept happening, my pack cord got caught on brush twice.  My trekking pole got caught in the brush above me and it took some doing to get in undone while I stood on the steep, slippery slope and tried not to fall.  Then my feet went under a huge Douglas-fir log on the slope.  I stepped against the log to brace myself on the hill but instead of being braced my foot and leg went right under the log.  I hyperextened my bad knee a couple of times too. 

More Hypomyces lactiflorum
I was not happy, I was tired and I was a bit scared and I wondered just how long it was going to take me to get down to the lake that I could see.  I ended up on some cliffs above the lake and I had to back track a bit through the devils club, but finally I found my way back down to the shore but not to the trail. 
I worked my way over logs and through devils club until I found the shore trail and then I lost the shore trail and worked my way over slippery logs and devils club until I found the trail again.  At 4:20 I found the actual trail that goes back down to the trail head.  Okay, I had exactly two hours before sunset, 3 miles left to hike and 3,200 feet left to lose.  I was very tired, but I figured I could do it as long as I walked steady and was careful not to get hurt.
On the way down I jogged a bit on a level section then I walked on the downhill sections, but once I hit the steeper downhill sections my good knee began to protest.  I decided I was going to have to take a break.  I had not had a break all day.  The closest thing I had to a break was when I stopped to change my GPS batteries and send a SPOT message.  So here six hours into my hike I took my first break.  I ate a power bar, plugged in my headphones and played a good game of “oh no, it’s lost, It’s lost, it’s gone, I forgot to pack it , now I’m doomed” in regards to my headlamp.  Then I found my headlamp and I sat down for about 2 minutes before I headed back down the trail with my music plugged in.

Lobster mushrooms next to Ranger Station
I hiked slow and steady on the way out.  I did not hike too slow, just slow enough to feel safe.  I did not want to hurt myself or  give my knees too much of a pounding on the way out.  When I saw the old mine shaft I knew I was going to make it out before dark. 

  I stopped and picked two lobster mushrooms near the bottom of the trail and I hid them in my pack so I would not get risk being interrogated by a Ranger.  I would rather have just carried them in my hands as time was running out and did not want to have to stop and take off my pack.  I made it back to my car at 6:15 just 5 minutes before sunset.  The woods were starting to get dark but it was still very light at the lakeshore.

Chanterelles next to ranger station
I was very tired and I had to pee, so I drove to the ranger station and used the outhouse and then I walked out to the bridge and sat on a bench.  On the bench I peeled off my soaking wet boots and soaks and put on  my crocks for the drive home.  I saw that one of the bottom lace holders had ripped out of my boot.  No more Hi-tec brand boots for me!   I was stiff and sore and staggering around like a drunk.
I got home at about 7:30 .  There had been quite a bit of drama in my house while I was gone and I used up the last of my energy dealing with that drama.

The school had decided that my 8 year old daughter was going to go to  school with a  trench coat and a machine gun and they suspended her for one day.  Okay, okay that's not exaclty how it went, but close enough.  What a messed up world we live in with easy acess to guns and SSRI anti-depressants fueling school shootings and getting innocent little girls suspended for innocent little comments.  Is it grade school or is it the line for TSA?  Sheesh..

8.5 miles 4,100 feet elevation gain 

Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus moss

Rough skinned newt on trial

Avalance chute on the way up

Lake on way up

I did not pick this

I did not pick this one either


Mount Pershing and Washington

Looking back to where I emerged from the woods so I could find my way back


Soaked and dirty from brush crashing off route


I thought I was on THE saddle, I was on a saddle alright,  but not THE saddle


Last flag I found on the way up

Avalanch chute on the way down

Handy place to sit

Western toadlet

Track and elevation log


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