Saturday, September 25, 2010

Icicle Ridge, Day 3: A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

An "upper level disturbance" moved into the North Cascades late on Day 2 (you can see the clouds rolling in on Snowgrass Mountain in the background behind Lake Mary, above), and it started raining in the backcountry. Little did we know what was to come.

That morning, while Kelly slept, I checked out the nearby "Wallowa toilet." Wallowa toilets are basically unhoused pit facilities placed in strategic locations (read: near some campsites) in the wilderness. As a former wilderness ranger, I have -- as you might expect -- seen most of the Wallowa toilets on the Lake Wenatchee District.

Some have spectacular views. My favorite is at Lake Sally Ann on the Pacific Crest Trail, where you can meditate on Mt. Rainier and Mt. Stuart while on the pot.

On the right is our wilderness ranger crew -- (from left, clockwise) Kelly Tjaden, Martha Witt, John Mitchell and Heather Murphy -- installing a new Wallowa toilet in Spider Meadow on the Phelps Creek Trail back in 1979.

In any event, back to Day 3, which started out wet; it would only get worse. As we trekked through Mary Pass (behind Lake Mary, below), it began to hail. By the time we arrived at Ladies Pass, it started to snow -- in August. Of course, we were at 7,000 feet above sea level.

This is where I came to understand the meaning of the term: "the mountains make their own weather." The clouds funneled up toward Ladies Pass at an incredible rate of speed, blasting us with wind and pelting us with hail, snow and rain -- seemingly all at the same time.

Descending into upper Index Creek, the foul weather abated temporarily, but as we climbed toward Carter Lake, I cried "uncle." We stopped at Carter Lake, even though our goal for the day had been Lake Augusta. We were both cold.

We set up camp, cooked dinner, had some cider with vodka and called it a night as a light snowfall continued until dark.

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