Wonderland Trail – Day 4

Day 4 – Cataract Valley Camp to Eagles Roost

4.7 Miles
1780 Feet Elevation Gain
1500 Feet Elevation Loss

What an amazing crazy beautiful day.  I had a close encounter with a bear, I ate lunch at the top of Spray Park which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I spent the the afternoon sunning myself on a rock next to spectacular Spray Falls. Wow.

The morning started with rustling and chewing sounds outside of my tent.  I had seen several chipmunks around my campsite the night before, so I turned on my flashlight and looked around but couldn’t see anything and fell back asleep.  The chewing noises woke me up again about an hour later – this time I looked through my backpack (which was under my tent vestibule) and found a partially chewed food wrapper which I had forgotten to put in my bear bag.  D’oh!  Thankfully there was no damage to my pack. By this time I was solidly awake and proceeded to break camp.

As I hiked out of camp, I happened to notice another camper pooping in the woods just off the trail.  All of the backcountry camps are outfitted with privies, but the one at Cataract Valley was exceedingly hard to find.  I guess this poor camper never found the toilet.  Or maybe he preferred pooping au natural.  Whatever the reason, I was a bit unsure of the proper etiquette required by the situation and deemed that a hearty greeting was probably not the wisest course of action.  I avoided eye contact quickened my pace.

I was really looking forward to the day’s hike through Spray Park, and happily hiked up through the forest and alpine meadows towards the vistas that I knew awaited me.  I amused myself by composing the following haiku in honor of my hiking poles:

Hiking Poles Haiku

Dearest hiking poles
You make the hills less shitty
My ankles thank you

As I was composing said haiku, and my mind was a million miles away, I turned a blind corner and my brain registered that I was looking at a bear cub just off the path, about 10 feet in front of me.  And about a split second later I also registered the fact that his mama was right next to him, eating huckleberries in the meadow. Yikes!

I hightailed it back down the trail about 50 feet, and turned to look behind me. The bear was slowly following me down the trail, not aggressively but letting me know she saw me as she grazed on berries.  I grabbed my phone and snapped a few photos as I hastily continued my way back down the path.

Close Encounter with a Bear

I was pretty shaken up and kept going for about 10 minutes. Then I stopped and considered my situation.  I wasn’t going back up the trail by myself!  No way!  So I stopped and waited for another hiker to come along.  I waited about 10 minutes, and then decided I might not be far enough away from the bear and went down trail a little ways more.  I passed the time by reading about how to handle bear encounters in my guidebook.

Eventually another hiker came along and was happy to let me tag along with him.  He’d seen bears before and didn’t seem too worried.  We hiked and talked loudly together for the next mile or so, past the spot of my bear sighting, but didn’t see any more bears.  Which was fine by me!  One bear encounter in a day is enough for me, thank you very much!

After we parted ways, I continued hiking up through Seattle Park and into Spray Park.  Wow.  Just wow.  I’m so glad that I chose to deviate from the Wonderland Trail and experience such magnificence.

Views of Mt Rainier from Seattle Park

Then the alpine meadows gave way to craggy rocks.  The path became hard to follow at that point, and I had to make my way by following cairns (piles of rocks) to mark the trail.

The Path up to the top of Spray Park

The path crossed over a snowfield just before it reached the gap, with an elevation of 6400 feet.  I followed a little side trail up the hill and discovered a lovely spot to eat lunch.  I was treated to 360 degrees of stunning views, from Mt. Rainier right in front of me to Mt. Baker to the north and numerous other mountains all around me that I couldn’t name.

360 Degree Views at the top of Spray Park

Gratuitous Selfie at the top of Spray Park

I wasn’t in a big hurry today – my hike was less than 5 miles long and I knew I didn’t have far to my campsite for the night. So I spent a few hours up in Spray Park, soaking up the views and feeling like a lucky, lucky girl.

When I started to head back down through the alpine meadows on the other side, I decided that I should be a bit louder on my descent.  A hiker told me that he saw a bear in the direction I was headed and I wasn’t in a big hurry for a second bear encounter in one day.   I passed the time by singing Christmas carols and whistling songs from The Sound of Music and The Fiddler on the Roof.  I also sang every word to The Time Warp rap, which my brother Jonathan and his friend Dorje made up when we were all picking raspberries together as kids. I can’t believe that I remember Every. Single. Word.

Near the junction to Eagle’s Roost Camp, I took a side trail to Spray Falls.  Wow.  What a spectacular waterfall.  I found a rock in the sunshine and perched myself on it, soaking up the rays and recharging my solar charger.  The afternoon sun shone on the falls, creating a rainbow near the bottom.

Spray Falls

My camp for the evening was just another .2 miles down the trail at Eagles Roost Camp.  Each campsite was tucked into the forest.  Mine was the westernmost site, and I was treated to a sunset glowing between the trees.  It’s the first real sunset that I’ve seen on this trip so far, as I’ve now journeyed to the west side of the mountain.

Sunset at Eagles Roost Camp

As the sun was setting to the west, I could see the moon rising to the east.  Mt. Rainier was also just visible through the trees to the east, and glowed in the moonshine.  A truly breathtaking sight.

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