Mowich Lake to Ipsut Creek: 5.4 miles +171/-2700
While Toby ended Day 7 feeling reluctant to leave, I had a little trouble walking away from all of those cushy looking, climate-controlled cars the next morning. But we had a short day ahead of us, only 5.5 miles and mostly all downhill, so I couldn’t possibly bail on that. I think what I really needed was just a zero day. But that realization didn’t hit me until Day 9.
We woke up early, made our last hot breakfast since we had time, and drank coffee and hot chocolate. By that point, we were often postponing hot drinks until we got a few hours of hiking under our belt. It helped us leave camp earlier in the morning, which boosted our morale since we had often hiked 2 miles by 9 or 9:30. And then we had a nice long-ish break to make and sip our drinks, which was rejuvenating. [Also, I learned that early morning hiking is definitely my favorite. Even though it means more spiderwebs to walk through if you’re the first ones on the trail in the morning. I really enjoyed hiking in the cool, quiet morning air and I think we both felt mentally and emotionally strongest in the mornings. –Toby] But on this day I think we weren’t planning on breaking much at all. Since we had knocked out six miles of downhill in under three hours two days before (which is not that fast compared to other hikers, but it was really fast for us on this trail), I wasn’t even sure we’d have to stop at all before we hit camp.
While we were eating breakfast, Toby and I were shooing off some aggressive birds that were trying to get our food. [In addition to the lack of privacy and the noise, this was a major downside of staying in a car camping area. The animals here were totally habituated, sneaky, and fearless. –Toby] I also noticed that they were very interested in my socks, which I had laid out the night before in an effort to dry them out. I watched as a couple of birds approached my thin liner socks and pecked at them. It is a pretty good marker of how disgusting we were at this point that the birds thought my socks might actually be food. Toby said maybe I should put them away and I said, “No it’s fine. No bird is going to fly off with my socks.” Of course, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, not thirty seconds later another bird hopped up to my liner, grabbed it in its beak, and took off into the trees. Toby and I stared in stunned silence for a minute, and then I just started laughing. What else was there to do, really? I looked briefly around the edge of camp in case the bird had dropped it immediately, but I was not about to go traipsing through the woods to look for it. I still had three liners left, and we only had three days ahead of us.
We broke camp and I went to the Patrol Cabin to leave one of our fuel canisters, which we wouldn’t need, for other hikers while Toby filled up on water at Lake Mowich. The lake was not as glassy and clear as it had been the night before but it was still beautiful. We hiked along it for about half a mile and then turned away for the another half mile, hiking through lush green woods on a wide flat trail.
It wasn’t long before we got to Ipsut Pass. And holy crap the views from the top of this thing. I don’t even have words. Toby and I just stood there with our mouths open, gasping at all the beauty before us. I was consistently amazed over the course of this trail not just by how much beauty there was, but by how many different kinds of beauty there were. There were some things that we came to expect – the mossy forest, the mountain meadow (my personal favorite) – but many of the passes and ridges were completely unique and breathtaking. This was one.
We started what was a very steep descent, taking our time during the first hour to pick our way over rocks, take tons of pictures, and stop and look around a lot. As with a lot of our steep descents, I felt grateful that we were doing the trail going clockwise so that I wasn’t climbing this instead, though of course we had had some equally brutal ascents of our own (*cough* St. Andrew’s Park *cough*). After about an hour, though, we started feeling frustrated. The path was becoming very overgrown, and the trail itself was rocky and lose so that we were often stumbling along, unable to quite see where we were putting our feet. There were also bees all around us; we rarely saw them but we could hear them and the constant buzzing was making me anxious. Add to that that while our blisters were better, we both were having major swelling in our feet and ankles that was causing a lot of structural pain, which the downhill and uneven trail were exacerbating. I was, as usual, more cranky about this stretch of the trail than Toby was. And here is where I feel like an asshole because I was in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and I let myself get so grumpy with our slow progress and the trail conditions.
But after an hour or two (I had really stopped keeping track of time at this point in the trip) of steep declines we were back in the woods on a wide, soft trail with only a mild downhill slope and I decided to readjust my attitude. It also occurred to me that I might need a snack – I didn’t often actually feel hungry on the trail, but noticed that a snack helped my attitude and energy. (Goth Guy had given us the advice to eat before we felt hungry and he was very right that this was a good strategy. But also my appetite just didn’t kick in the way it usually does.) So we just parked on the side of the trail for lack of a better place to stop and shoveled some trail mix into our faces.
We got back on the trail and I was still trying to talk myself into a good mood when suddenly I felt a very sharp, painful sting on my arm. I slapped my arm instinctually and when I took my hand away I saw a yellow jacket still hanging on. That was the end of this hike for me. I swore ’til I was blue in the face and maybe cried a little (it really hurt, folks) and grumped about the irony of having walked through swarms of bees with no stings, only to be basically attacked out of nowhere by this rogue yellow jacket. Toby gave me some anti-sting swab which helped only for about two minutes but was enough for me to calm down a bit. But sadly, the rest of our hike was just me in a funk trying to get to camp as fast as possible.
And we did end up arriving around 1:30. Ipsut Creek camp was beautiful. It used to be a car camping spot but they closed the road and now it’s just for campers who are hiking in either from the Wonderland or from a park entrance five miles out. But it is still spacious, with lots of tree cover but also open ground, with a river running right along the edge of the camp. And there were the bonuses of a bear locker and picnic table with each campsite (it’s amazing how much of a luxury it was at this point to sit on something other than the ground). We were the first ones there but our feet were killing so we took one of the first spots we saw. I switched to camp shoes immediately and got to work putting up the tent while Toby went off to Ipsut Falls to get water, which was how we divided chores most nights. We also lay all of our stuff out that was still wet from Terrible Day; Ipsut Camp was the place where everything finally dried, and that to me felt like a huge relief, like we were finally able to put that day behind us.
[Just a note about Ipsut Falls — it’s a lovely place. I spent maybe half an hour there on the rocks in total solitude, filling our water bladders, washing up with my bandana, and listening to the cold water flow past me. By the time I headed back to camp, I felt completely refreshed physically and mentally. Water is an amazing thing. -Toby]
And then we just had hours and hours with nothing to do. How unusual! I brought my kindle on this trip, thinking there would be much more down time than there was. But between hiking nine hours a day on average; the hours it took to both break down and set up camp, filter water, eat, etc; and sleeping 10 hours a night, we really didn’t do much sitting around. Finally I broke out my kindle and spent most of the afternoon reading Kim Gordon’s memoir “Girl in a Band.” Toby spent some time looking at our maps and trail notes, and journalling about the last couple of days. Somewhere in there, Wisconsin Guys appeared. I hadn’t known they were staying at the same camp, and I was happy to see them again. They had spent half an hour the night before asking me questions about the Wonderland trail and telling me about all the amazing trips they had done. I had gotten used to seeing some familiar faces each night, but since we had fallen out of sync with the other thru-hikers we had met, it was nice to see someone we knew. We chatted a bit, and then Toby and I “made” dinner (couscous with dehydrated veggies and chicken, parmesan cheese, and some olive oil), and I interviewed him while we waited for everything to hydrate. And then it was time for lots and lots of sleeping to cap off our rejuvenating stay at Ipsut Creek. –Cyn