I opened my eyes. Gone were the starlit skies and stark moonlit snowscape. The sky had turned a lush blue and the blinding glare from the rising sun made my eyes squint. I slowly peeled out of my sleeping bag and began the task of packing up my tent. I slid my feet into my frozen boots and carried my Jetboil down to a slender trickle of snowmelt flowing beneath the frosty field of snow. On the return to my campsite, I retrieved my food bag from the nearby thicket and took stock of its contents. Oatmeal, trail mix, candy, hot chocolate, tuna, ramen, and several packets of instant mashed potatoes were all I had for the next week. I started up the Jetboil to heat up water for oatmeal, and went back to packing up my gear.
The girl came over shortly after eating her own breakfast, and we compared maps and plans. We would try to make it to the base of Goat Rocks Wilderness if we could – about 18 miles ahead of us. We quickly did one last walk-through of the campsites, making sure that nothing was left behind, and then started on our journey.
We came around a bend, and while the girl was filling up her waterbottles at a small stream, a small flash of movement caught my eye. I peered upwards at the rocky ledge above and saw the source of the movement. A large tawny creature, about 6 or 7 feet, with a tail, was slinking along the ridge. It stopped and it’s pointed ears twitched as I pointed it out to the girl. I grabbed my ice axe (loaned to me by an elderly gentleman in Trout Lake) and bear spray and waited for it to leap down the embankment and rush us. Yet, the Puma concolor couguar, also known as a cougar, puma, or mountain lion, disappeared into the trees beyond the ridge. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, and after the beast had left, I let out a nervous breath. From then on, one of us always scanned our backtrail and the trees, never knowing if it was following us (they can have a range of a 10 square miles to upwards of 300 square miles).
We continued on beneath the shadow of Mt. Adams, till we began to descend into a dusty, dry piney landscape. The snow had disappeared, giving way to dry brush and the buzz of flies under the blazing sun. We came upon a place known as the “Lava Spring,” where we eagerly re-filled our water bottles. The small shrieks of pikas reached our ears as they scurried around, chirping, and eating leaves.
We kept moving until were once more in a lush, green forest dotted with clumps of snow. Mosquitoes began to drone incessantly in our ears, and I was forced to don my raingear in the sweltering summer heat, just like back when I was in the Indian Heavens Wilderness. The girl bade me to go on ahead and establish camp, so I left at a trot, with a black cloud of vampires in the air behind me.
In the distance, the snowy (and mosquito-free) peaks of the Goat Rocks Wilderness jutted upwards like a scene from Tolkien’s writings. Loud whoomphing sounds tremored through the nearby thickets as a ruffed grouse boomed out its mating call. Grasshoppers, startled by my approach, jolted off the path. Onward I traveled.
The trail began to wind downwards into the lush forest of mossy, gnarled trees defiled by bear markings. At the bottom, I came across the two older men who had bunked next door to me back in Trout Lake, both of them inside their tent, taking shelter from the mosquitoes.
Eventually, I reached the designated place near the Walupt Lake trailhead to set up camp after an exhausting day of trekking up and down the mosquito-filled trail. I set up my camp next to a crossroads in the trail and ate a packet of tuna for dinner. Small scurrying noises startled me, and I watched as several chipmunks ran by my tent, scolding me for camping so close to them.
Right around dusk, I heard a much larger noise coming down the trail I had just been on. I grabbed my bear spray, and called out, squirming around in my tent to get ready for whatever was coming down the path…
End of Part IV. Continue to Part V.