Sunday, June 12, 2016

Wonderland Trail - a week improving the trail

The Carbon River - on my way to Ipsut Creek campground
The Washington Trail Association sponsors "volunteer vacations" on which people like me can volunteer time and effort to improve the hiking trails in Washington State. I decided to join a trail work crew that was going to improve the Wonderland Trail in Mt. Rainier National Park. The volunteer vacation is a week-long adventure, camping in a wilderness location and making friends with people who are like-minded. 

Each day of this trip, I tried to document what it was like, what I saw, what we did as a team. Hopefully you can see fun it can be to be in some of the most beautiful places on earth, and how rewarding it is to improve the experience for others as well.

Overview map showing where we camped and the nearby trails

Sat June 4, 2016

Ipsut creek flows into the Carbon River, which is fed by the Carbon glacier on Mt. Rainier. I was lucky in that I live less than an hours drive from the meeting place at the Carbon River entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. There were a lot of people parked along the road when I arrived, but fortunately I saw a young lady standing by her car which had a Washington Trail Association (WTA) sticker on it. She said that we would be meeting at the Rainier National Park service utility building just up the road. So I returned to my truck, drove through the gate and parked at our meeting place. 

The Mt. Rainier National Park (RNP) ranger, Zack, had everyone fill out waiver forms, which I did while finishing my lunch. Our WTA leader, Austin, arrived and gave us permission to start hiking to the Ipsut Creek campground, which was five miles away. Everyone left their packs since the RNP ranger would shuttle them to the campsite for us! Sweet!
Old growth forest
The hike was through old growth forest and it was amazing to look at those monster trees towering above me. The "trail" was actually a continuation of the Carbon River road, but was closed due to washouts. The afternoon was really warm, probably in the low eighties. I regretted not bring my water bottle, which was in my pack. Regardless, I arrived at camp no worse for wear, and began helping unloading gear and supplies from the shuttle. 

I got to help set up the cook tent and assembled the cook stove. I felt so much more confident having been on a prior work party a month ago. 
Our cooking area and cooking tent. Kevin is sitting at the table. Jen is setting up inside the cook tent.
I found a nearby camping spot and set up my tent. 
My campsite nestled in the trees
Everyone helped with fixing dinner, which was spaghetti and meatballs, fresh green salad and garlic bread. We all introduced ourselves. I think this is going to be a great group to work with. The sun hasn't set yet, but everyone is tired and we all headed to our tents to rest. 

Sun June 5

I was up by 5:30 and prepared my pack with the items I would be taking with me today. I carried two and a half liters of water since it is supposed to be in the eighties today. 

We had pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Everyone also packed a lunch. We met Zack, the NPS ranger, at eight and had a good discussion on the safe use of tools. 

We hiked up the trail for only five minutes before starting our first task. A small stream had washed out the trail and old bridge. We improved the trail down to the stream and put in large boulders so hikers could rock-hop across. 
We improved the trail down to the stream bed

We also improved the trail up the bank on the far side.

Moving rocks to use as stepping stones across the stream. Also improving the trail up the other side.

By ten, we took a break. I walked up to Ipsut Creek Falls, which were awesome!

We joined the Wonderland Trail and my next job was to repair the trail tread in an area where a huge tree had fallen and a rock slide had destroyed the trail. I had to gather load after load of rocks and build up the trail where a small stream made the trail muddy. 

We stopped for lunch as the day grew hotter and hotter. As I was finishing, several groups of day hikers passed by and thanked us for our work. That made my day!
Taking our lunch break.
By mid afternoon we cashed our tools and took a look at our project for tomorrow. There is an enormous washout caused by the Carbon River. 

Back at camp I took a sit bath and washed my work shirt. I put it back on while it was still damp, which felt great in the afternoon heat. 

Dinner was couscous with chicken and vegetables. We also had a slice of cantaloupe. It's only 7:30, but everyone is tired and headed for their tents to rest. 

Mon June 6

I was up by 5:30 and enjoyed hot chocolate and coffee before breakfast. As early as I get up, there is always hot water and coffee ready. I helped fix French toast and bacon. I cooked the leftover egg mixture, so technically we had eggs too. 

We did stretching exercises before heading up the trail. Our task today was to build a trail through a washed out area. 
We had to build a trail down into the washed out area. This is what it looked like before our work.
I took a "before" and "after" picture. We had to build a ramp from the existing trail down into the washed out area. That meant moving extremely large rocks down the unstable bank. One of the team members, Kevin, was using a peavey to leverage a large boulder. The hook slipped from the rock, and he was thrown off balance. He rock-hopped down the bank as best as he could, but fell down at the bottom, jamming his leg and skinning his knee. By noon he was in pain, and Austin had him and two others go back to camp. He may have to go home if he can't continue to work. What a bummer!

We spent the rest of the afternoon moving rocks to make a good trail through the washout. Jack and another fellow from the Rainier National Park service were also working to clear fallen trees from the trail. 
What the trail looked like after we moved the boulders and graded the trail.
It was another beautiful and warm day, but somewhat cooler than yesterday. Back at camp, I did my usual wash up and lazed around until it was time to make dinner. I helped prepare and cook salmon. It was delicious along with pan-fried broccoli with fresh garlic and basil pasta. 

Tomorrow we will likely clear more trail through the washout. It also might be the last sunny day of this trip. 

Tuesday June 7

I fell asleep quickly last night, but woke up just as it was getting dark. I thought it was already morning! I felt foolish when I finally looked at the time and then nestled back into my warm sleeping bag.

We had egg and sausage muffins for breakfast and did stretching exercises before heading up the trail. 

We repaired the approaches to several foot bridges. Our next task was to try to widen the trail along some protruding rocks. The problem was that the river had washed away next to the rocks and it was a thirty foot drop into the snarling water below! 

There's not much trail left below the rock outcropping. We widened the approach trail and started working on the rocks.

We used a pick and pry bar to break away the rock. Hoes and shovels were used to widen the trail. The trail here is not in perfect form, but it is much better and safer. 
We picked away at the rocks and made a small ledge. It still needed more work.
By mid-afternoon we moved up the trail to a point where a rock slide covered it. We had to move rocks and make a path through.
The rock slide across the trail. We needed to widen the tread and move lots of rocks.
We finished half of the work before quitting for the day and heading back to camp.

Kevin felt better, but was heading home. He caught a ride with Jack, the NPS ranger. We all said our "goodbyes". Everyone was so sad to see him go and hoped that he would recover quickly.

Dinner tonight was steak, mashed potatoes and pan-roasted asparagus. I prepared and cooked the steak. The entire meal was wonderful!

The weather forecast is for a chance of rain for the next several days. We put up the rain fly on the cook tent and rigged a tarp over the eating area. 
We rigged a rain tarp over the eating area and put the rain tarp over the cook tent.
All in all it was a great day. 

Wednesday June 8

On a Volunteer Vacation, Wednesday is our day off from trail work. 

I decided to hike up to Mowich Lake, which is about five and a half miles away. The difficulty, however, was an elevation gain of 2700 feet in three and a half miles to reach Ipsut Pass. 

I left camp at six. The trail follows Ipsut Creek and is up, up and more up. It took me two hours to get to the top. It was so steep in places that I could only do one switchback before having to pause to catch my breath and rest my legs. 
View to the north from Ipsut Pass
From Ipsut Pass it was a gentle downhill to Mowich lake. There were still patches of snow around the lake, and only one tent in the campground since the road to the lake is still closed. 

Mowich Lake. It is ice-free, but there were still snow banks in shady areas around the lake.

I saw two deer as I ate my lunch at one of the picnic tables. 
Deer crossing a small pool in the stream flowing from Mowich Lake
I was fortunate in that the weather was mostly sunny. There were also pretty flowers growing along the trail. 
Blooming flowers along the trail from Mowich Lake to Ipsut Pass
I got back to camp at 11, and quickly washed up. The sky was filling with clouds and a cool wind was beginning to blow.  After doing a few camp chores, I snuggled in my sleeping bag for a short nap. 

One of our crew, Steve, had not returned by five, so Austin and Ed rode bikes down the road to find him. Fortunately he was already on his way back and everyone was accounted for from the days' activities. 

For dinner we had pulled pork sandwiches, fresh green salad, and pan fried broccoli. It was wonderful! 

Thursday June 9

I awoke to cloudy skies, but no rain! Yay!

We had breakfast burritos, a tortilla with eggs, sausage and cheese. We hit the trail just before 8, and had a two mile hike to our worksite. We had to finish clearing the rock slide from the trail and make the trail tread wider. 

We then headed another half mile up the trail where there had been an enormous rock slide caused by erosion from the Carbon River. The rocks looked like they could slide again, and appeared to be an accident waiting to happen. We carefully walked by them and headed into the river rock scree. We crossed a branch of the Carbon River on small logs. Jack, the RNP ranger, joined us and showed us where he planned to put in a more robust log bridge. Our task was to clear a trail through the jumble of boulders. 
We moved boulders to create a trail across the rock scree in the flood plain of the Carbon River.
As if on cue, it began to rain. I donned my rain gear as I began to move rocks. Some of the boulders were enormous, so we had to use a pry bar and muscle power to maneuver them out of the trail. Every so often we stacked a cairn to mark the way. It took all afternoon to clear a path to the next branch of the river. 

There was now steady rain as we headed back to camp. My shirt and pants were damp, even though I was wearing rain gear. I changed into a dry shirt and put on my down jacket under my raincoat. I really wished I had another polyester and nylon shirt to change into. 

We all gathered inside of the cook tent, which was warmer due to the cook stove. I was rather depressed about the rain, and still felt chilly due to my damp pants. However, after snacking on chips and salsa, my spirits lifted and eventually everyone worked together to make dinner. By bedtime the rain had let up somewhat, and I snuggled into my warm sleeping bag with a smile. 

Friday June 10

The last day of work. The week has gone so quickly!

It rained most of the night, but for some reason I had a restful sleep. Perhaps it was a combination of the river and the rain. 

For breakfast, we had scrambled eggs and English muffins with melted cheese. We did a few stretching exercises, led by Stephen. He does a great job explaining which muscles are being affected, and he is very enthusiastic. 

The group split into three teams. Jen, Stephen and Steve worked on cleaning the water bars on the Ipsut Pass trail. Austin and Hannah worked on the Wonderland Trail, trying to create a safer tread where the river had washed away the trail leaving a thirty foot drop into the roaring torrent. Ed and I hiked back up to the rock slide and improved the slope of the trail. 

It took Ed and I a couple of hours to drag more rock and gravel. It looks much better now. 

We then walked back down the trail, doing some brushing as we went. 

We helped Austin and Hannah break away rocks, making a pathway in the rock wall above the river. Although it is still dangerous, it is much safer than before. 
Still widening the trail near the protruding rock.
I put together a short video showing how we blasted away at the rocks trying to make a decent trail that was safer:

Back at camp, I was able to air out my sleeping bag in the sun for about 15 minutes before the clouds gathered again. 

It began raining an hour before dinner, and even hailed for a while! I'm so glad we have a covered eating area. 

For dinner, everyone helped to make chili with onions, olives, cheese, sour cream, avocado, and quesadillas with cheese. On the side we had a green salad with tomatoes, avocado, celery and carrots. 

We consolidated the food in the cook tent and did some pre-cleaning and packing for our trip back to our cars tomorrow. 

This has been an awesome experience! I just love working and camping in the forest, helping to make the trail experience better for everyone. 

I was right when I said several days ago that this was a great group of people to work with. 

I had a blast!


Austin gave the group several riddles to solve. We spent a lot of time talking about them and finally solved them. 

Riddle #1:
A man wanted to catch the bus, and to do so, had to leave in exactly 45 minutes. The man didn't  have a clock or watch. However, he did have two ropes of equal length. He knew that if he lit the end of either rope, it would burn to the other end in exactly one hour. The ropes, when burning, burned at varying rates. How did he manage to leave in exactly 45 minutes?

Riddle #2:
There are four people who need to cross a dangerous bridge at night. They only have one flashlight which must be used to cross the bridge. One of the four is very experienced, and can cross the bridge in 1 minute. The second is less experienced, and can cross the bridge in 2 minutes. The third can cross the bridge in 5 minutes and the fourth takes 10 minutes. They can only cross the bridge two at a time, always carrying the flashlight. When the pair crosses, they move at the rate of the slowest person. When across, someone must come back across with the flashlight. Explain how the entire group can get across the bridge in 17 minutes.