Monday, June 7, 2010

Before and After

Before our backpack trip up Ingalls Creek in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, I tried to impress upon Brian that we were entering the rainshadow and the weather would be better than Seattle's wet and drippy climate of early June. It was hard for either of us to believe as we encountered rain in Cle Elum, rain on Blewett Pass and, finally, rain at the trailhead. When our packs were all loaded up, our boots on and our rain jackets zipped, there was no more procrastinating and we left the dry car for the wet trail. After a few minutes on the trail, I was heating up and, noticing the rain had stopped, took off my jacket as Brian did the same. After a couple of miles, we were both down to t-shirts and pants, enjoying perfect hiking weather.

Wildflowers seem to shine in rainy weather with moist petals and leaves. At first, we saw mostly Lupine and different colors of Paintbrush, including yellow, a species native to the area, but then out came the Balsamroot and lilies and lots of other varieties, one of the best flower shows around. We hiked in about 6.5 miles while everyone was hiking out from the Saturday overnight stay and we felt confident that we would be the only ones spending the night. We hoped we were right due to the next person we saw on the trail.

We had set up our tent and were preparing for dinner when we saw him. The first thing I noticed was that he had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Then I saw he was wearing a dirty jacket that might have been made out of cotton canvas. But it was what he was carrying that really got my attention: a duffel bag nearly 3/4 his size was carried on his right arm and a 5-gallon water jug in his left. He moved slowly, passing our site heading downhill, not saying a word. Just when we began to wonder what was going on, he walked back up the trail where he had come from. The next time we saw him, he was pulling something with a rope behind him – it was a suitcase with rollers but the rollers weren't rolling and he was dragging it down the trail. He looked at us and gave a nod. Brian and I quickly came to the conclusion that the bags were full of marijuana, that he was growing it up the trail somewhere and was now harvesting it and, with his rate of progress on the trail (which we estimated at 2 hours per mile), would have to hike all night, making his 20-yard load transports to get back to the trailhead by dawn with no one seeing him. Except that we saw him. Was he armed? Was he meeting someone at the trailhead who was armed and would wait for our arrival? We tried to be logical, figuring it would be too much trouble to eliminate us, but it still made for an uneasy night with fitful sleep and way too much listening for footsteps.

During the night, we had a visitor, but it was of the rodent variety. Something was nibbling on Brian's backpack, outside under the eaves of the rainfly. Brian knocked around the walls of the tent but still the gnawing continued. Then a noise emanated from him that was so guttural, so primal that it made me laugh, then cry, so that between the two of us, every mammal and rodent should have cleared out a 1-mile radius from our tent. Every one except the rodent gnawing on Brian's pack. He eventually got out of the tent with a headlamp and turned our site into daylight so that the little nocturnal beast went scampering away (but not before it also sampled my backpack, boots and our cooking supplies, though no damage was done).

After a crazy night of sleep and antics, we woke to blue skies. We could see mountains and rocky peaks! The sun shone on us while we ate breakfast. We hiked out and re-took all of the photos we had taken the day before, when the peaks had been enshrouded in clouds and fog.

Then we ran into him again on the trail. Brian and I agreed to say nothing as we passed but the guy with the duffel, water jug and rolling suitcase that was being dragged started to talk to us. I think it's fair to say he was chatty. He said he was hiking 25 miles and that there was 10 feet of snow at Stuart Pass near Lake Ingalls, way back up at the headwaters of Ingalls Creek. He sounded amazed as he stated he stood atop 10 feet of snow up there. We commented that it was a late snow year, wished him well and moved on. Our fears of being shot at the trailhead subsided as a new assessment of the guy was taking place. He was a hobo without a train, a mountain traveler, moving by the only means he was able and with the only equipment he had: a duffel, water jug and rolling suitcase.

After our fears were soothed, we enjoyed all the flowers, the views, the sunshine and the roaring of the creek, taking our time to return to the trailhead, this time not out of fear of what would happen there, but because it was so enjoyable.

See the full photos here.

Postscript: through posting this to my Facebook page, I have found out that other hikers have seen this guy, whose name is Robert. He appears in trip reports as far back as 2004, like this one at NW Hikers. If you run into him on the trail, he is harmless and probably has seen more backcountry (at a snail's pace and in duplication) than most people.

1 comment:

beck said...

Sounds like a GREAT time, Louise!
The photos are awesome. Will you take me along next time? Please?