Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Backpacking Eagle Creek: Day 1

Ever since our last (and first) backpacking trip back in July of 2007 (the one where I looked like a dweeb), we have had the itch to get back out there and rough it in the wilderness for a few days. Back in 2007, Jonathan and Chelsea were busy making final preparations for their wedding, so this year was their first introduction to backpacking. We did a warm-up trip a few weeks ago on nearby Bells Mountain Trail (which I have not yet posted a trip report for - bad me), and everything seemed to be shaping up well for our trip.

There were two obstacles, however. The first was caused by this year’s late snowmelt, severely limiting our route options. We were originally considering a route near Mt. Rainier, or out in the Goat Rocks wilderness near Mt. Adams, or something up in Olympic National Park, but those areas are still under substantial snowpack, and since we weren’t too keen on packing out the necessary gear to deal with those conditions, we opted for a lower-elevation hike out in the Eagle Creek wilderness in the Columbia Gorge.

Our route for day 1 - Eagle Creek trailhead to Wahtum Lake (borrowed from Jonathan)

I have to admit, I was a bit bummed to miss out on the mountains and high-alpine scenery, but Eagle Creek has a reputation for being an incredibly scenic hike, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed!

The second “bummer” was Christopher injuring his ankle on the Fourth of July and consequently being unable to join us on this trip. We’re praying he’ll heal up quick, and are confident he will be joining us on our [myriad] future excursions!

There was a third “almost-bummer” too. The night before we began, I realized that I didn’t have a Northwest Forest Pass, which would be a requirement for us to park at the trailhead area! Panicked, Cool as a cucumber, I called around and found a little general store that opened at 5:00am and sold the passes. Then Jonathan figured out that my America the Beautiful National Parks pass would work just fine. I wish they would make things a little bit clearer sometimes, don’t you?

Day 1 - Thursday

Contrary to popular report, I did not “sleep in.” Hitting the alarm and giving myself an extra 20 minutes of sleep was a perfectly intentional act! I guess it did result in us running a bit late though... :)

We were up around 5:00am on Thursday morning, with the intention of getting to Jonathan and Chelsea’s place by 6:00. But I was busy pulling together last minute details and finishing my packing, so after eating a hurried breakfast and making a much-needed cup of coffee, we hit the road a bit behind schedule. It turns out that J and C pulled the sleepy-head card too, so it all worked out.

I weighed my pack at about 33lbs. (I think), without my camera, which added another 3lbs. or so. Ouch! How do people manage to pack only 20lbs. for a 10-day trip?! Oh well, my Black Diamond Quantum pack is pretty comfy, and is no problem for my muscular frame (don’t laugh!).

We arrived at the trailhead around 7:30am, and decided to park near the fish hatchery/campground area so our cars would be under the watchful eye of the camp host, and would be less likely to be targeted by thieves. I left a gold coin on the dash just to test the security... just kidding. ;)

Most people just hike the Eagle Creek Trail 7 miles in, returning the way they came. We continued past 7 1/2 Mile Camp and took the Wahtum Lake trail cutoff to begin our loop.

But I know you’re not here to read this stuff. You just want to look at photos, so here they are with captions.

DON’T READ THE CAPTIONS!!!! There, now you’ll actually read them…

Looking down on Eagle Creek.
Looking down on Eagle Creek

Forested hills along the route.
Forested hills along the route. This photo is so "Gorge-ous." :)

Mike - fun meter still pretty high. :)
Mike's "fun-meter" was still soaring at this point.

Hiking the cliffs along Eagle Creek Canyon. I wouldn't want to be there on a busy weekend with traffic going both directions! (Notice the metal cable strung along the rock).
The cliffs along Eagle Creek Canyon.  I wouldn't want to be there on a busy weekend with traffic going both directions! (Notice the metal cable strung along the rock).

Metlako Falls
Metlako Falls. We almost didn't go see this waterfall because the sign
read "1.5" miles. We thought that meant it was 1.5 miles to the overlook,
but in reality it was just around the corner! The sign was referring to our
total distance traveled so far.

Zach - fun meter reading, high as well.
Zach's fun-meter was up there too

Daniel sporting his new birthday backpack.
Daniel, sporting his new birthday present - a new backpack. Some of you know that I'm a sucker for internal frame packs, but this thing is nice, and is especially handy when you need to strap things to the exterior of the pack.

Lower Punchbowl Falls.
Lower Punchbowl Falls

The ever-popular Upper Punchbowl Falls. I like the low angle I was able to achieve with my Gorillapod here.
Upper Punchbowl Falls - as picturesque as I had imagined. One note if you ever visit this waterfall: go back along the trail to Lower Punchbowl Falls, and avoid the innocent-looking "shortcut" trail from the upper falls. It's miserably steep.

Lichen and moss blanketing a talus slope.
Moss and lichen on a talus slope


This lichen and moss looks positively ancient!
This slope next to the creek looked positively ancient!

Sign indicating that we're about to enter an area affected by forest fires back in 1902. It's fascinating to see the forest change before your eyes as you hike along the trail. Elevation, as well as natural disasters, really shape the character and variety of the trees and undergrowth.
A sign indicating that we're about to enter an area affected by forest
fires back in 1902. It's fascinating to see the forest change before your
eyes as you hike along the trail. Elevation and natural disasters
really shape the character and variety of the trees and undergrowth.

One of the numerous creek crossings we encountered.

Wild Snapdragons, I believe. Pretty!
Wild Snapdragons. One bit my finger, but thankfully I know First Aid. ;)

Trees, lots of trees

The tunnel blasted back in the early 1900's, which allows the trail to pass behind the falls.
The tunnel behind Tunnel Falls, blasted back in the early 1900's.

Looking up through the cascade at the surrounding cliffs.
130 feet of water cascading down just inches away from the other tunnel opening.

Both openings of the tunnel. Pretty cool, in my opinion!
See the two tunnel openings? Pretty cool.


New firs growing up amid the older trees. It's a neat contrast!
New firs growing up amid the older trees. I love the contrast!

Mike again. His fun-meter was nearing a reading of
Fun-meter readings began to plummet, resulting in various reactions. Mike was beginning to lose it. We all were, kinda'. :)

The lake at last! Some of us (who will remain unnamed) began composing sonnets and odes to the lake... Yeah, we were happy to drop our packs after about 14 miles and 5,300 feet of climbing.
Wahtum Lake, oh the sonnets penned for thee! The lake at last!
Some of us (who will remain unnamed) really began composing
sonnets and odes to the lake... We were happy to drop our
packs after about 14 miles and 5,300 feet of climbing.

My Marmot Titan 2-person tent, pack, and miscellaneous gear and food. It amazes me how you can literally live out of a backpack for several days, no problem.
My Marmot Titan 2-person tent, pack, and miscellaneous gear and food.
It amazes me how you can literally live out of a backpack for several
days, no problem.

We seized the first available campsite, and it worked out nicely. We were very close to the lake and were able to scrounge enough twigs to build a modest fire to ward off the evening chills.
We seized the first available campsite, and it worked out nicely. We were very close to the lake and were able to scrounge enough twigs to build a modest fire to ward off the evening chills.

Thus concluded day one of our expedition! We travelled 14 miles, gained 5,300' in elevation, and were on the trail for most of the day, but once I made some supper and tea, I suddenly became a very "happy camper." In my next post I'll run through some of my gear (including my ultralight, homemade alcohol stove), and give you a summary of day two.

1 comment:

Jonathan and Chelsea said...

Sweet pix, bro! "Happy camper", ahahahaha. A sweeter sight 'twas never seen, than Wahtum Lake! It's so serene. I rhymed a rhyme, oh what a crime... ;) - Jonathan