Sunday, August 19, 2012

Buckhorn Wilderness Backpacking: Part 2

Part 2
Signage and the Olympic Range from Marmot Pass

Mt Constance in the distance
Shadows over the Olympics
This feeling of bliss consumed me down the path for another few miles. On the hike to the next campsite, I got to look lustfully at the north face of Mt. Constance, the hardest climb in the Olympic Mountain Range. With its craggy peak and nearly vertical climb, I realized my climbing skill is still a few years off until I can tackle this beast. I was consumed the whole hike down to Boulder Shelter with looking for the best route to climb this peak. Our next camp area was in the valley and had numerous campsites and one manmade shelter. 

A hiker relaxing in Boulder Shelter
Boulder Shelter is not much more than a roof, 3 walls, a table and a bench, but after the heat of the day, it was a glorious source of shade in an otherwise shade-less valley. While the shade was good for a few minutes, soon we realized that flies also like the shade. We set up camp back away from the trail, laid out by the tent and again talked about life, relationships, hiking and work. Getting along is important when this far from people, and we were getting along quite well.

Me, relaxing outside Boulder Shelter
                As the day progressed at Boulder Shelter, the other campsites soon filled up with Washington Trails Association workers and small groups of hikers. We ate dinner, chatted with our neighbors and decided to call it an early night so we could wake up around midnight and take a look at the night sky, free from and all light pollution.  This plan seemed perfect, and would have been had we not been woken up by a gentle growling outside the tent at 1030pm.

                I have been camping all over the county and have had all sorts of animals use the path by my tent as a highway or a food stop, so this was somewhat normal for me. However, the guy I was with, a first time backpacker from a large metropolitan area was not used to this. As we lay motionless in the tent, he whispered and asked what I thought it was. Now, there was a good chance it was a black bear, as they are fond of some of the plants we were camping near. However, the last thing you ever want to tell someone who is slightly scared is that there might be a bear just feet away with only nylon between them. I listened for a few seconds and determined that, by sound and weight, it was probably a mountain goat eating some foliage by our tent. I wasn’t sure, but it just didn’t give off the sounds that one would expect from a bear, well, aside from the growling/snorting sounds. I told him I thought it was a goat and that once it left the area, we would make a lot of noise and venture outside. We waited about 20 minutes and were finally back to silence.

Our camp: see what it was eating?
                What greeted us was not only the most beautiful sight I have seen in nature, but also a hilarious shock. First, as we unzipped the tent and talked loudly, we heard a noise in the bushes and glanced over, blinding anything in the area with our headlamps. In the light, I saw 2 eyes gleaming back at me, then, through the brush, I saw the rest of this beast’s body.

As it stepped forward, I couldn’t muffle a laugh from leaving my mouth and soon I was giggling as a doe, as in deer, skipped away into the darkness. I turned off my headlamp, and just out of curiosity, glanced skyward. This is where I was left breathless. In the valley where Boulder shelter is located, you are in a bowl, surrounded by 7,000ft peaks all around. However, to the west, the mountains are far away, leaving what they call in Montana, Big Sky.

What my GoPro saw...not even close to what my eyes saw 
Mountain Goat and Kid
Above us, looking like the best photo shopped picture of all time, lay the Milky Way galaxy. We stood back, astonished by the view and feeling so very insignificant. Up high above us unimaginable worlds might exist and here we were, in this small valley in the corner of NoWheresVille, Olympic Peninsula. I tried to take a picture with my GoPro camera, but the camera I needed was sitting on my bedroom floor. It didn’t matter though, because the view we saw can never be matched with photography. As I put my camera down, knowing that the picture would be pretty useless, we were greeted with the rare sight of the International Space Station coming into our view. Large and reflecting light like no other satellite could, we watched the ISS drift back out of view and leave us to our unspoiled view of the universe. Feeling amazed at the view and silly from being scared by a deer, we retreated back to the tent and fell asleep.

The next morning we got ready for our long day of hiking. Back up the pass, past the lake and down to the Tubal Cain Mine camping area. As we beat the morning sun for most of the ascent, we rounded a corner and nearly ran into a Mountain Goat and her kid. They watched us for a few, probably laughing, as we slid across a snowfield with a thousand foot slope on one side. After crossing safely, we continued our trek with great views of wildflowers above the tree line. Soon, we dropped down into the trees and after a few hours ended up at our final campsite.

B-17 wreckage from 1952
We waited for a church youth group to finish packing their camps, as they occupied all the sites, and soon were left alone in the wilderness once again. As we set up the tent and debated about using the fire pit, another group of hikers soon arrived and we decided to take a day trip to an airplane wreck located in Tull Canyon, just about a mile from Tubal Cain Mine. Hiking without the packs, we made it quickly up the brutal hill and arrived to see the remains of a B-17 Bomber which had crashed in January of 1952. Wheels, wings and other aircraft parts were easily visible, but between the heat and the mosquitos, we decided to return to camp and start some dinner.
Campsite at Tubal Cain Mine

That night, all the campers in the area got together, ate marshmallows, drank white wine and star gazed while talking about life, the universe and everything. Life was good, and this was a perfect way to end a backpacking trip.

Just 3.5 miles from the car, we woke up early the next morning and arrived at the car by 930am. I was home to Olympia by 12:30 in the afternoon, jumped in the shower for the first time in 4 days and started day dreaming about the next time I am lucky enough to lead a tour out in the woods with amazing people to share amazing, life changing views with.

Until next time,
Happy hiking,
The view from the top is always worth it!
Douglas Scott
 Exotic Hikes

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