Thursday, October 8, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 149: The Mystery of the Murdered Mice


DAY 149
September 20th, Saturday
2504.6 to 2523.3

We woke up to a bright sun and a blue sky, which reflected in Lake Sally Ann with intense color. One of our sleeping pads was leaking again, so we took some time to patch it (an arduous process that involved inflating the pad and submerging it in the lake to look for bubbles than indicate where the leak was). Because of that, we got a pretty late start. 

Lake Sally Ann in the morning light

The sun was downright hot today, a huge but welcome surprise to me, and we walked over mountains and through huge fields of huckleberry bushes. The mountains were jagged on top and smooth on the sides, plunging into valleys sometimes marked with snake-shaped streams. We saw the section hiker, Frank, again today, and he took every opportunity to point out where he was more experienced or more wilderness-savvy than us (“Oh, you camped at Sally Ann Lake? I never camp at lakes— too many mice.” “What do you mean, you haven’t put huckleberries in your oatmeal? You should gather them throughout the day so you have enough.”).

We stopped at a little pond called Reflection Pond, which was flanked with huckleberry bushes, for lunch. We still had peanut butter and graham crackers, so we made homemade “Pop Tarts” by topping the graham crackers with peanut butter and a bunch of huckleberries. Yum! Frank hiked by and we did give him credit for encouraging us to incorporate the berries into our diet more, although we did this grudgingly.

Now we hiked on, headed toward a ridge that would take us to Red Pass. The angle was steep and the trail cut a flat path across it. As we walked across the narrow strip of dirt with an extreme slope to our left, I once again marveled that anyone would be brave enough to ride a horse on this trail.

The views were nothing to complain about, though: the horizon was lined with jagged peaks, including Mount Rainier, and the landscape about was riddled with autumn-blushing huckleberry fields and huge moraines and a few gleaming glaciers. They didn’t call this the Glacier Peak Wilderness for nothing.

video


We paused and I took a short video on my camera, trying to capture the scope of this wilderness. Then I tried to turn my camera off— and it wouldn’t. I messed with it for a while, but it refused to cooperate. Zach looked at it and fiddled with it, then sighed and handed it back. “It’s stuck,” he said. It wouldn’t take a photo or turn off.

So it turned out that I have no photos of possibly the most gorgeous section of the entire PCT. Of course. Zach tried to take some pictures on his phone, but the lens was scratched so they came out hazy. There was nothing to do but allow my battery to drain to force the camera to turn off, and then pray that it would work again when we rebooted it.

In the meantime, we hiked down to Red Pass, a nook between the mountains with the Rainier view on one side and a huge green valley on the other. Frank was sitting here, looking like a model out of Backpacker magazine, grinning and nodding at us like he was responsible for the view. “Of all the passes I’ve hiked in Washington,” he said, “Red Pass is one of my favorites.”

We smiled politely, then headed on. As we descended the other side, Zach muttered, “Frank wants to be the hiking sage.”

“I know,” I said. “At least he’s nice, though.”

The trail descended back into the tree line, and soon we were walking through a forest of close thin-trunked conifers. 

Zach looked through the map and began worrying, since there was practically no camping marked on it, with some huge climbs in between. “I just don’t want to get stuck hiking into the night because we can’t find a place to camp,” he said, eyeing the mileages worriedly. I told him not to be concerned, but it was true that I hated night-hiking, especially if we were going to be going over other ridges like the one we’d crossed today.

The trail led us across a vast open area, on the slope of a ridge of mountains, threaded through with little rushing streams that cut across the path. We could see the winding ribbon of trail delving along the shoulders of the mountains into the distance, and hurried along them, pausing every once in a while to gather water or snatch a huckleberry snack.

When we delved back into trees, and after much debate, we paused at an established trail camp, a dusty stretch of ground among the trees with a little trip over a hill taking us to a gray glacial-melt stream to gather water. We had only gone 17 miles today, but we were about to tackle a big climb, and it was getting later in the afternoon. Finally we agreed that we would take a relaxed evening and worry about the climb in the morning— that had worked out well last time we tried it.

We worked together to set up camp, then Zach went to gather water. As I got out our cooking gear, I looked down on the ground, and started— there was a mouse. It was dead, and when I poked it with a stick, it was still limp, like it had died recently. I thought back to Zach’s comment about feeling like these damp mushroom-riddled woods were giving him plague, and decided that I would quietly dispose of this mouse without telling him. I used two sticks to pick up the tiny body and throw it away in the bushes.

Zach returned and we began getting our dinner ready. As we did so, Happy Feet hiked by. “You guys are stopping already?” he asked, laughing.

Feeling slightly insecure, we laughed back. “Yeah, we’re lazy. We don’t want to do that climb until tomorrow.”

“Whatever works!” Happy Feet said. He grinned, but he wasn’t judging us.

A few minutes later, Frank came hiking up. He laughed with the kind of tone that is usually reserved for comedic actors winking at the audience through the fourthwall. “You’re stopping here?” 

“Yup. We’re lazy.”

Frank smiled smugly. “It’s only three miles to the top of the climb.”

“And 2000 feet,” Zach said. “We like to do climbs in the morning.”

Frank snorted. “You guys crack me up.”

I choked back yelling, “And you didn’t walk 2,500 miles to get here, so wipe that smile off your face!” Instead I smiled.

Still chuckling to himself, Frank hiked on.


We needed more water, so I left to get it. It wasn’t easy, involving scrambling on a field of driftwood to try to get the milky-colored water from the torrent. At last I returned, a bit water-splashed.

Zach grimaced as I walked up. “Guess what I found?”

“What?”

“A dead mouse.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling guilty. “I’m sorry, I thought I threw it away.”

“What?”

“I found it earlier and tossed it into the bushes.” I pointed.

Zach shook his head. “No, I found it over there.” He pointed to a different spot.

“Wait, so there were two dead mice here?”

Zach and I looked at each other, feeling like we were at the beginning of one of those epidemic horror movies, when the plague that nearly ends humankind begins with something small. 

“Okay, that’s kind of horrifying,” I said. “Did yours have any teeth marks on it or anything?”

“No.”

“Mine neither.”

“Huh.”

I looked around at the ground and the rotting logs, and everything seemed to be covered in plague. Gingerly I sat down, suddenly self-conscious about getting dirt on my hands (for the first time in five months).

Zach had made mac n’ cheese, and ladled us some bowls. We ate, then stood up to wash them. I looked down at the ground, and squeaked. 

“Another one!” I said, pointing at the tiny dead mouse on the ground.

Three dead mice. Zach and I looked around uneasily, then washed our hands in GermX (which we almost never did except after bathroom breaks) and dove into the tent.

Many days later, we learned the probable cause of death for these mice: FIG JAM had apparently been carrying mousetraps with him because the mice kept eating into his backpack. But the true killer may never be known!

Since it wasn’t even dark yet, Zach read a long chapter of The Silmarillion. Then we cuddled up, relieved that it was a warm night, and fell asleep.


~~~

2 comments:

  1. When my camera gets stuck ON, I just take the battery out.....Frank

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    1. That makes sense. I can't quite remember with our camera, but I think you need a little screwdriver to get the battery out… we charged it with a cable so the battery was tucked away. I'm still mad at myself for not figuring out a way to keep it working, though. ;P

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