What a stunning landscape! First, the pictures, and then I'll tell you all about it. Because priorities.
There weren't a whole lot of flowers blooming yet, but the scenery was stunning all the same. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT or Trail #2000) and criss-crossing side trails are all melted out, or quite nearly so. The side trails are not in the greatest shape, damaged by wind-throw and heavy erosion, but the PCT itself is largely fine. I made it as far as Bumping River (halfway between White Pass and Chinook Pass) where I stayed Thursday night. I then turned back south and wound my way about the Tumac Plateau - following Twin Sisters Trail #980 east as far as Twin Sisters Camp, then back to follow Potholes Trail #45 south, turning east towards Penoyer Lake along Cowlitz Trail #41, then southeast along Shellrock Trail #1142 to Long Lake, southwest to Dumbbell Lake on Trail #1142A, south along Cramer Lake Trail #1106, and finally west on Dark Meadow Trail #1107, arriving back at my truck at the end of a very long second day.
I had thought to stay two more nights in the W.O.D. - but the bugs were so bad they literally chased me out of the wilderness. I feel like a greenhorn for it, but it's the truth. Never, in all the years I've been backpacking, have the bugs been so intolerable as they were on this trip.
The first day was not so very bad - low 70's, clear sky, slight breeze occasionally. The new bug spray I was trying out, Picaridin 20%, seemed to be about as effective as DEET; mosquitoes that landed weren't inclined to bite very often. I sweated a bit, however, and over the next few hours, its effectiveness waned. I reapplied, and reapplied again as the day wore on. Making it to Fish Creek was a relief, as I was at the end of my day's hike, and darkness would be coming on in a few hours. With darkness, I thought, the bugs would go away. I was wrong. There might have been a couple of hours in the very deepest part of the night were they weren't about. I dunno, I was asleep.
The next morning, the bugs were back in force, although to say back indicates they went away. They obviously hadn't. Maybe they sleep, too, though I find that unlikely. That kind of evil doesn't sleep. I set off up the trail, back the way I came, bound up hill for the Twin Sisters Trail #980. Climbing gently toward Twin Sisters Camp, there were plenty of interesting rock formations, meadows, puddles, ponds, small lakes, medium sized lakes, and eventually, after a couple of miles, two large lakes. Twin Sisters Camp is perched on the northern shore of the Little Sister, alongside the outlet stream. This made a nice, sunny, and (most importantly) breezy place for lunch.
While I ate and rested, I eyeballed Tumac Mountain, but was saddened to realize I wouldn't be making that climb. The north face was still quite snowy, and the section of trail visible from the lake was snow-bound. I decided then to bail on a night at Apple Lake - the idea of crossing Mosquito Heaven, and dealing with the bugs for two more nights made up my mind. I would stay at Dumbbell, and cut it a night short. To head any further east would simply add to my distance on the hike out, as Tumac was my shortcut out of Blankenship Meadows and Mosquito Valley.
I decided to take the scenic detour to Dumbbell Lake, and headed back for the Potholes Trail. What a mess that trail is! Heavily eroded, flooded, huge mud pits - I had a blast! There were many interesting potholes, strangely enough, many serene meadows, and every tree was a perfect slender spire of a Christmas tree.
As I continued along the Potholes Trail toward the Cowlitz Trail, the bugs got a bit thicker, then a bit thicker again. By the time I got to Penoyer Lake, standing still long enough to take a picture was, well, out of the picture. Forget pausing for a snack. Taking the time alongside a stream to pump water was a logistical battle. Pump, swat, swipe, pump, slap, pump, swat. Repeat until water jug is full.
Arriving at Cowlitz Pass, I was reduced to swinging my bandanna in the air to create a breathable space. Dropping down toward Long Lake, I was getting a bit irritated, not to mention weak from blood loss. The Picaridin was increasingly ineffective, and I found myself swatting, slapping, and wiping the bugs off my face continuously. The black flies bouncing into my ears and eyes was about to drive me to distraction.
I paused at Dumbbell Lake long enough to snap two photos, and rushed on. I would have started jogging, or trotting, or whatever thing it is that panicked beasts do, but I knew that instead of sitting down to dinner and a relaxing stretch-out in the hammock, I would be hiking another seven miles - through these bugs. If I moved any faster, I wouldn't have the stamina I needed to get back inside my bug-free truck. If I moved any slower, I wouldn't have the body fluids to support life. It was a dark, dark time. Mostly because the bugs had gotten so thick, but also, because I had lost all hope and sense of self.
Eventually, as I made my way down off the plateau along Clear Creek drainage, and back to White Pass along the Dark Meadow Trail, the bugs thinned. Slightly. I was interested to notice that on every light colored surface near the ground - be it a rock, or stick - it would be coated in black flies. As I passed, they would rise up to find a way into my ears and eyes.
I knew I would be tired by the time I got back to my truck - and boy was I! I pulled out of the White Pass North parking area at 8:00 sharp, to find that all convenience at the pass had closed, and there was no hot food to be had in Packwood (except Cruisers, yuck!), so I foraged junk food at the gas station, and bombed down the highway home. My legs didn't give me grief until I attempted to get out of the truck. Calling the husband on the phone from the driveway to bring ice-packs is a bit humiliating, but it was that, or sleep in the driveway. The shower at the end of the day sure was bliss.
Images taken on a backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail, from the White Pass summit north to the Bumping River, June 30, 2016.