Day 3 – Mystic Campground to Cataract Valley Campground
1720 Feet Elevation Gain
2800 Foot Elevation Loss
I slept poorly last night and woke up a little cranky this morning. It was gusty and chilly and I was sore and couldn’t get comfortable. I packed up camp and ate breakfast by Mystic Lake, which improved my mood somewhat. It’s hard to be cranky when you’re eating breakfast by a gorgeous lake.
I hiked out of the Mystic Lake area over Carbon Pass with a spur up to Old Desolate. The peak wasn’t that terribly exciting, but I like the name. It sounds like something right out of The Hobbit.
I hiked down from the pass and into Morraine Park. The Morraine is a lovely alpine meadow with stunning views of Mt Rainier, assuming the weather cooperates. Today the mountain was mostly socked in and I only got an occasional glimpse.
Morraine Park with Peek-a-Boo Mt. Rainier
After the Morraine, it was a long downhill slog all the way to the Carbon River Suspension Bridge – a total of almost 3000 feet elevation loss. The path was rocky and uneven, and I went slowly. Even still, I rolled my ankle a few times and was saved by my hiking poles from going down harder… except for one time when I landed hard on my right knee. I already had a scab on that knee from a hike in Leavenworth the previous weekend. The scab ripped open and soon blood was all over the place. Sigh. Thankfully I was not stingy when it came to packing bandages in my first aid kit, so I cleaned myself up and went along my way.
My Wonderland Battle Scar
Halfway down the descent, I came to Dick Creek Campground and stopped for lunch. The path down to the creek is a bit steep, and so a rope was provided to help get up and down the slope. It was a bit tricky with a 30 lb pack on but I managed.
Rope down to Dick Creek
Just past the creek crossing, the vista opened up and Carbon Glacier was revealed in all its frozen glory. I had never seen a glacier before. I had always assumed a glacier would be white. This one was grey and dirty and covered with rocks. Muddy water flowed out from beneath it to form the Carbon River.
And then I realized that I had seen a glacier yesterday but didn’t realize it. Winthrop Glacier! That’s why water was spouting out of what I had assumed to be the ground. It made a lot more sense when I realized it was a glacier I was looking at and not a rocky cliff.
Eating Lunch Overlooking Carbon Glacier
Just down from the glacier, I crossed the Carbon River Suspension Bridge. That was a little unnerving. The whole bridge swayed as I walked across it. However it was not nearly as scary as my second suspension bridge crossing later my trip. You’ll just have to keep reading my blog, dear reader, to find out what happens!
Carbon River Suspension Bridge
After the bridge, I parted ways with the Wonderland Trail in favor of an alternate route through Spray Park.
I hiked up a mile and a half to the Cataract Valley Campground through a pleasant shaded forest. On the way up, 6 guys in matching green “Wonderland 2016” shirts passed me. The guy in the front told me he liked my hat. “Nice rainbow pony!” he said (clearly he can’t tell the difference between a unicorn and a pony) and be asked me to wish the guy coming up last happy birthday, to which I obliged.
Cataract Valley camp is nestled in the woods. Unlike all of the other camps I’ve been to so far, it doesn’t have some scenic feature nearby like a waterfall or a vista of Mt. Rainier or a lake. But it’s strategically positioned half way up the hill so you can break up the hike into smaller sections. I was the second person to arrive, and after a little sleuthing found a great spot nestled back away from all the others (it always pays to check out the entire campground before committing!) and set up camp for the night.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I realized I was completely oblivious that it was September 11 when I hiked this stretch of trail. Half the time I didn’t know what date it was at all during this trip. A very freeing feeling.