WONDERLAND TRAIL, Day 2, Cataract Valley – Mystic Lake, 8/5/2012
The morning sun woke us up at 6:30 a.m., and it was surprisingly warm already. So warm that even a downhill walk under a thick canopy of trees produced sweat. Various berry bushes could be seen along the trail, but their fruit was far from being ready for our consumption.
After an easy 1.6 miles the trail spitted us at an intersection with Carbon River Camp. We took few minutes to check it out, as we later did with all the other camps, and found it being a pleasant place, located nearby a creek and a waterfall, with sites 1 and 3 being especially nice.
From there it was not far to the first suspension bridge on our route, followed by the first serious incline. More exposed the trail was, and the sun baked relentlessly us all the way up. I haven’t felt more sluggish in a long time, it’s amazing how quickly heat can effect one’s hiking abilities. The views were of Carbon Glacier and stretched up the valley, topped with a view of Rainier itself. There was an interesting contrast between the dirty look of the glacier and the spotless beauty of the volcano overlooking it.
At last, after 2.5 hours and 2 snake encounters the trail eased up a little and led us through MorrainePark, another meadow dotted with lilies and lupine. There we saw him – a second bear of our trip. A cinnamon one this time, much bigger than the one in spray park, he roamed the meadow at the head of the valley. He was too far for a good photo, and we had no intention to go any closer, so for a few moments we cherished the view, and then faced the very last uphill part of the day, a short but steep switchback section making us huffing and puffing as we slugged our way up.
When we reached Mystic Lake, a sugary scent of wildflowers carried across the meadow. We found the same scent at various parts around the mountain, usually when it was calm and sun touched the blooms, and every time it made us stop and soak it up, for its sweetness was one of the simple pleasures we came here to seek.
0.4 miles separated us from the camp, and as we stepped through a denser area, I turned to Dave to warn him of upcoming snow patch. His interest seems to be laying somewhere behind me. I turned to see what caught his attention, and froze half way in my turn as I found myself facing another cinnamon bear. His proximity, barely 20 feet from us, made him the closest bear I’ve ever been cautiously near to.
He looked at us, as if he was considering whether we would make a worthy snack, then he moved, luckily the opposite direction, and before I unfroze and reached for my camera, he was nearly gone in a dip behind a bush. It was incredible to watch how animal of his size could vanish in such a short time, making nearly no noise.
That evening we decided to have dinner by the lake, and as fate would have it, on our way there, we met a ranger, who invited us up to the patrol cabin where there was a view of Mt. Rainier, and supposedly a good rock/ice fall show about sunset time. He also mentioned the bear was now in the meadows on the other side of the lake. We took an opportunity of that information and headed to see if a safe photo opportunity would arise. It did, and after a while of waiting, we scored some good shots.
The mosquitoes were present in the area, and even higher up from the lake, when several groups of backpackers gathered at the patrol station, they swarmed and bit relentlessly. Here with a view of sunset colors reflecting of Mt. Rainier, we met a group of 4 backpackers from Florida, and a group of 3 ladies, all of whom we had the pleasure to share the next two days of our journey with.