Golden Lakes to Mowich Lake: 9.5 miles, +2329/-2300
Golden Lakes was one of my favorite campsites, because it was beautiful. And also because it was not the site of any weather-based trauma. We slept cozily in a quiet, spacious site just off the water, and woke up to blue skies and sunlight streaming down on the lake.
Our morning began with five or six miles of descent, but except for a few large downed trees blocking our way at various points, the trail was wide and easy to walk. We passed a few other sets of folks heading uphill, including The Six-Day Girls, still going strong. We chatted all the way down the mountain — amazing what being properly fed and rested will do for one’s mental state — and the miles kind of flew by.
At the bottom we traveled through a wet, loamy, mossy fairyland full of ferns and tiny brooks. The views after our climbs were truly spectacular, but I also came to really love the river valleys that we descended into, so soft and peaceful.
Crossing the North and South Mowich Rivers was fun — they’re big and twisty so we crossed several different streams, sometimes using log bridges and sometimes hopping across rocks.
The rivers were running fast and smoothly, too silty to be good water sources but beautiful to walk along and over. We hit South Mowich River camp just after noon, and decided to celebrate our speedy morning hiking with a long lunch break there.
This camp was a magical, perfect place with a three-sided shelter set in the middle of endless soft moss and sunshine. We exploded our packs and lay all of our still-wet gear and clothes out in the sun everywhere, took off our shoes and socks to air our feet in the warmth, and enjoyed an enormous lunch in the shelter. As I recall, I ate an absurd amount of food here; we would pick up our last resupply that evening, so there was no need to ration anything in my pack at this point.
Finally, we packed up and somewhat reluctantly began a four-mile ascent to Mowich Lake. On the way up, Cyn pointed out a dead bird on the trail. It had wasps crawling around in its skull. “Dang,” I said. “NATURE.”
Cyn had not been looking forward to this climbing portion of the day, so I suggested something I’d read about in Carrot Quinn’s book on thru-hiking the PCT, which she calls “second-hand movie” but I called Trail Movie. It involves one hiker telling, in as much detail as possible, the entire plot of a movie. This also works as Trail TV, and Trail Book, and so on. Cyn wasn’t quite convinced. “Well, just try. Do an episode of Gilmore Girls. Do ‘Rory’s Dance.'” So she did, and it was pretty fun, and then we realized we’d climbed that whole time without taking a single break. What! Trail Movie was officially A Game Changer. Next we did Finding Nemo and had a grand time with all of the voices (I laughed for 20 minutes when Cyn did Dory’s blue whale dialect). Then, because we’ve gotta be us, we did the first episode of this season’s Hannibal, describing in loving detail every curl of Gillian Anderson’s hair. [For reals. I don’t think this technically counted as Trail TV because we were like, “What was that guy’s name?” “What was Hannibal doing?” “Now I’m going to recount every detail of the dress Bedelia was wearing.” –Cyn] And then, suddenly, we looked up and saw two people just above us on the mountain carrying paddle boards. This meant we had to be only a few steps from Mowich Lake, which is primarily a car camping area. It was just after 4.30pm — we were delighted to arrive so early and feeling so fresh.
(Trail Movie, we determined, works so well because it is quite entertaining and mentally distracting from the physical task at hand, but also because it requires hiking slowly enough to be able to talk the whole time, which makes for a more sustainable pace overall. I cannot recommend Trail Movie highly enough. Cyn would like me to note that the only drawback to Trail Movie is encountering other hikers just when you are, say, speaking in blue whale.)
Mowich Lake camp was a strange place. As a car camping area, it has special amenities such as slightly improved privvies with locking doors and their own Purell dispensers, bear lockers instead of poles, and many picnic tables. However, it also has car campers. I have been a car camper; I have nothing against car campers in general. But it was pretty jarring, after seven days of quiet solitude and relative simplicity, to suddenly be surrounded by enormous tents spaced only a few feet apart, with no privacy at all, watching people drag coolers and laundry baskets to and from their cars. There was one car camper group that had a cat on a leash with them, which I found fascinating. That cat was ridiculously chill. All of the backpackers clustered together in one corner of the campground: two pairs from our rainy night at Klapatche Park (Ethan and Katie, who the next morning had seemed so totally unfazed by the storm, and a father/son duo who were very fast hikers and had a big satellite phone with them!), plus another pair who kind of kept to themselves, and Cyn and me.
I picked up our resupply bucket from the patrol cabin. So. Much. Food. I laid everything out on the picnic table and we decided exactly what we would consume over the next three days. Then we added a few extra snacks as insurance, and got rid of the remaining food by (a) donating to our fellow hikers, (b) returning to the bucket so it could go in the free box, and (c) eating on the spot. Cyn set off to return the bucket while I filtered water, and at the patrol cabin she met two guys from Wisconsin who were hiking a shorter loop that intersected with Mowich. Midwest solidarity!
As usual, all backpackers had finished dinner and tucked ourselves into our tents before dusk. The car campers were on quite a different schedule, talking and laughing into the night, which prompted a few hours of grouchy whispers in our tent. “Oh my god, it is already 8pm, shut up and go to sleep!” [We did a reverse version of this in the morning, where all the backpackers were up and making breakfast by six, while the car campers grumbled sleepily about who was making all that noise so early in the morning. -Cyn] But in truth I also had trouble falling asleep because picking up our last resupply marked how soon our trip would be over, and I already felt sad and reluctant to leave. –Toby