Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wednesday: Summit - Happy Camp

Miles: 8
Elevation gain: 2800 feet
Animals: bear scat, ptarmigan

Pete had advised us all to get an early start over the pass on Wednesday. Mr. X and I were up by 5 and ready to roll. We quickly ate our oatmeal, hot chocolate and whey powder and then set off.

Pete had also advised us that the streams were running ankle deep so we again hiked in crocs. The trail continued to be rocky intersperced with muddy spots. At one point a motherly woman gasped, "Just where are your hiking boots!"

route up to the Scales

We scrambled over rocks, crossed a few streams and then arrived at the Scales. Rather that sit with everyone in the wind, we hunkered down behind a hill that supported an old tram tower. We ate a snack, filled our water bottles and finally pulled out our boots.

We quickly crossed the first snow field and started our ascent up the golden stairs. The stairs are actually boulders piled on to each other that seem to go straight up. We four wheeled it up and just when I was getting scared we hit fog, so I couldn't see the bottom - perfect, it didn't seem so far up then. After about 45 minutes of scrambling/climbing we came to the first false summit. This was a good place for us to catch our breath and look at some of the destroyed shoe leather, tramway hooks and other assorted "artifacts".

Finally we summitted in the fog, with the wind howling. I spotted the US memorial to the Stampeders and we continued on to the Warming Shelter. Mr. X thought it was hilarious that the Canadian flag was flapping in the gusting air, especially because the fog was so thick we couldn't see what it was until we were right next to the building.

I was feeling pretty cold so we went into the shelter to eat lunch - chili mac. Mr. X grabbed our pot, stove, fuel and then we discovered that the warden had provided us with hot water! What a treat. She gave us a trail update too, explaining that the snow fields were fragile so be cautious on them and that the one going straight down to Crater lake was particularly troublesome. A fellow hiker who'd been on the trail before said that he'd helped a lone hiker get airlifted out last time at that particular spot...

As soon as we hit snow on the trail, Mr. X and I strapped on our Yak Traks/Get a Grips. The wind was still howling and visibility was about 40 feet. It was a steep trail and the group of teenaged girls were marching half steps to stay upright. We sauntered by; they were not particularly pleased. Near the bottom of the hill, POOF, the fog blew away and we were greeted by the incredible alpine scene. Crater lake was brilliant blue. The rocks were silver in the sun, the vegetation red and yellow and green. Simply breathtaking.

We trucked along, amazed at the colors, the warmth of the sun. This, I decided, was what I came for: the dramatic change in ecology that one experiences on the Chilkoot trail. Where just a few hours before we were in a temperate rainforest, now were seeing the tops of the mountains, and soon would see a rain shadow. We had crossed the Continental divide and were now hiking beside one of the headwaters of the Yukon river. I was elated.

After two hours of traveling in this incredible landscape, I started to feel sick. My stomach hurt and I was having trouble regulating my temperature. We found a beautiful spot to sit down and I rested while Mr. X took pictures. After another hour of hiking we came into sight of Happy Camp and I agree with other hikers that Happy is an apt name. Mr. X spotted a ptarmagin on the trail, pausing to avoid startling the animal we soon saw seven of the birds. After snapping few pictures, we stashed our food in the Food Cache and found a spot to pitch the tent.

It was while helping Mr. X with the tent that I felt my foot begin to cramp and I immediately knew why I'd felt weird earlier; electrolytes. I had bought a bunch of bananas before the trip to make sure my potassium stores were stocked, but the bananas had never ripened - I mean really not, they snapped like twigs, Alaska produce eye roll - and I had had to toss them in Skagway on Monday. Fortunately this had been a concern of mine early on in the trip planning and I had packed some Pedialyte (powdered Gatorade would have worked too, but Pedialyte is more potent). I started to feel less strange pretty quickly after dosing myself and following a dinner of stroganoff and Ramen, I was ready to start hiking again. We didn't, but I felt I could have.

crystal clear river water

Mr. X took some pictures of the camp while I enjoyed the view of the mountains around us. Bugs were not a problem at Happy Camp since a steady gusty wind blew all night. The wind also blew moist clouds past us dampening things up a bit. The vegetation was more abundant here than at the pass. There was heather and moss on the riverbank and seven foot trees in the camp.

By 8 pm, camp was quiet and Mr. X and I had settled down to read in the tent.

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