Our last hitch as the 2013 Wilderness Ranger Corps began with a grim forecast: rain and more rain. Despite the rain, we were excited to be heading back to the gorgeous Mt. Baker area to finish up some trails we could not get to on our last visit. The town of Glacier has plenty to offer cold and wet hikers and we knew that whatever the trail would throw at us, there was always the coffee shop waiting to bring us back to life with tea and hot chocolate.
The story of this last hitch begins with an act of heroism by one member of the crew. Our first day saw half the crew heading to Yellow Aster Butte, a hike that had been cut short by thunderstorm on the last hitch, while the other half tackled Tomyhoi Lake, a popular fishing and horse camping spot. It was at a campsite next to Tomyhoi Lake that crewmember Thomas Gingrich solidified his status as Hero with a feat of bravery. While assessing the site, Thomas found a rain jacket lying on the ground. When he investigated further he disturbed a colony of vicious wasps hidden underneath. Thomas was stung several times before escaping, only to realize that he had dropped the chalkboard and the team’s remaining supply of chalk next to the rain jacket. Our chalk and chalkboard numbers were dwindling and we could not afford to lose any more of these crucial supplies. Putting the mission of the Wilderness Ranger Corps before his personal safety, Thomas went back for the chalk and chalkboard, getting stung several more times. On behalf of the entire 2013 Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Wilderness Ranger Corps: Cheers, Thomas.
The rest of our hikes in the Mt. Baker area were thankfully free of insect attacks and rainstorms. Some of the crew made friends with goat hunters on Cougar Divide and others got a little lost on Skyline Divide. We all rejoiced when the clouds parted to give us brief glimpses of Mt. Baker and toasted what we knew would be some of our last mouthfuls of delicious huckleberries.
On the Rainbow/Lava Divide trail, half the crew learned that bear hunting requires a great deal of patience and the occasional nap, while the other half tackled fierce winds to finally conquer the mighty Ptarmigan Ridge. We all returned to Darrington and prepared for our final hike: Goat Flats. 22 miles of possibly unmaintained trail to be completed in one day hike. The plan was simple: Alex and anyone that could keep up with him would hike ahead, equipped with radio and Trimble, until the end of our assigned trail, at which point they would turn around and begin assessing any campsites. The rest of the crew would assess as they went and when they met up with Alex everyone would turn around and hike out.
Fueled by Sterling’s delicious breakfast, we started the hike with gusto, hiking quickly through the easy beginning sections with Alex cruising ahead. However, a few miles in, the trail crested the first ridge and dissolved into the bushes. What was a well-maintained, easy-to-follow trail quickly became a confusing bushwhack through thick stands of young pine trees and over giant fallen logs. We were following a chain of mysterious colored flags left by previous hikers that only seemed to lead the trail through the most difficult patches of forest, but these petered out and eventually disappeared altogether. With no discernable trail to follow on the ground, Alex pushed his way through the underbrush and made it to Saddle Lake before having to turn back, while the rest of the crew struggled on top of the ridge. Without even making it through half of the 22 miles, the crew turned back, not wanting to bushwhack in the dark. Not exactly the best hike to go out on, but all the bushwhacking was definitely a memorable bonding experience. The scenic vistas and beautiful views we’ve seen have been amazing, but we’ll also remember the teamwork of starting fires or picking huckleberries or navigating through thick brush. The last hitch was a fitting end to an incredible season.