Earlier in the week, I had asked an avid outdoors friend, Guylaine, about backpacking information in Mt. Rainier National Park. She gave me some tips and also suggested that I join her on the Copper Ridge Loop which she was planning later in the week. I did some research on wta.org and other sites. Wow – this trail seemed to be fantastic. I told her that I’d go!
One major (and potentially showstopping) hurdle was obtaining the permits for the various campgrounds along the 4-day trek. There are numerous backcountry campgrounds along the route and the Park Service requires all permits to be obtained in advance – by a maximum of 24 hours prior to beginning the trek. Thankfully, Guylaine was able to drive up to the Glacier, WA Ranger Station and got permits for 3 key campgrounds we would use along the route. Without these, we would have had to either abandon the trip or do partial segments of the overall loop. Guylaine’s ability and skill in obtaining the permits was a major accomplishment!
I had about two days to get organized. I already have most of the key gear. What I needed was a good system to hang my food (to keep it out of reach of animals overnight) and the food, itself. A stop to REI ensured I got everything I needed – and then some.
Friday after work, I drove the ridiculously jam-packed I-5 north out of Seattle. At some points, I was going zero mph! After four hours of driving, I pulled into the Chair 9 Restaurant/Bar in Glacier, WA. Guylaine had been waiting for me there since it had Wi-Fi. I ordered a Kulshan IPA and a veggie pizza. At the bar, we sat and talked with some of the locals and enjoyed our beers and pizza. After eating, we found a little spot along the side of a forest road just off Hwy 542 to set up a quick overnight camp….nothing fancy, but it would get us by until morning when we’d drive to the Hannegan Peak trailhead.
Saturday morning, we drove to a nice little picnic area about 5 miles from the trailhead, made breakfast and got our gear ready. By 9:30 we were at the very busy trailhead. There must’ve been 30-40 cars there. Part of them were due to a WTA work party which was underway. The rest must’ve been fellow backpackers out on the trail.
We set out to climb the gentle 4.6 miles to Hannegan Pass. As we headed up, various folks were coming down off the trail. The weather was great – although the avalanche chutes were rather hot. Once we gained a little bit of elevation, we had views of Ruth Mt. and Mount Sefrit. Ruth is 0ne beautiful wide glacier-clad mountain. Water running off the big glaciers on top of Ruth feed into Ruth Creek which carves a lovely valley along which the trail follows.
About half-way up, we began to encounter flies. This would be a theme of the trip. At various points, I’d have 20-3o flies on my pant legs, more on my arms, more on my shirt, more on my face and more on my head. Thankfully, they didn’t bite too much. They were more annoying than anything else. However, if I stood still for more than a few seconds, I’d be completely engulfed in them. I can see how they’d drive a person crazy.
After a couple hours, we made it to the Hannegan Pass where several other hikers were eating lunch and resting. After getting some trail updates from some other hikers, we set out towards Hannegan Peak which was another 1.1 miles and 1200 feet elevation gain away. A hundred feet or so from the Pass, we dropped our big packs and packed our lunches and some water into small day packs for the climb. Hannegan Pass isn’t a technical climb, but it is pretty steep. I was so glad to have the big pack off my bag for a while. All along the way up, various hikers were coming down. Some of them day-hikers, others seemed to be backpackers. Everyone swatting flies away from their faces. The close we got to the top, the better the views became.
Towards the top, a couple of snow fields were just off the trail. The high mid-day sun was being fully reflected off the snow. We got to the top and walked around just taking in the outstanding views of the myriad North Cascade peaks. It seemed as if the mountain peaks went on forever. To the west were drop-dead gorgeous views of Mt. Baker and Shukshan. What a great place to camp for the night! Indeed, a lone tent with a young couple inside were at the very top of the peak.
We found a place to plop down our bags and scarf down lunch. I had packed a bagel with peanut butter packets, apple chips, and trial mix. We gazed out directly over the mountains to the west. Soon, a guy emerged from the tent and ambled down to the snowfields which we were admiring. He started building a snowman and kicking and rolling in the snow. I imagine people used that snow to boil for water. I wasn’t sure why he needed to build a snowman in it. Still, we tried not to pay attention to him as we munched on lunch and took in the mountain scenery.
After maybe half an hour or so, we decided to head down to our big packs and get back on the trail since our campground for the night was still 6.2 miles away from Hannegan Pass (which was 1.1 mile down from the peak).
Back down towards Hannegan Pass around 3 PM, we found our big backpacks and strapped them back on for the journey to camp. At .8 miles down from the Pass, we entered into the North Cascades National Park (the Hannegan Pass and Peak sections were inside the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest). The drop from the Pass was rather steep. At various times, we stopped to give way to those climbing up – as they have the right-of-way on narrow trails. A couple folks had bug nets around their heads. Not a bad idea considering the vast number of swarming flies.
Upon entering the National Park, we took the right-fork and headed down the Chilliwack Trail towards U.S. Cabin Camps. By now, we were deep in old-growth forest. We didn’t have too much fear of losing light, but we knew that getting to camp and setting up our tents were a priority. We did filter some water, though, at the Copper Creek Camps area – where the trail cross pretty Copper Creek. In the creek were a few people bathing themselves. We dropped our big packs and walked up stream a bit to filter water – thereby avoiding their body washing residue from entering our drinking water. From Copper Creek, we still had a final 2.6 mile push to get to our camp. By now, my feet were killing me. This would be another theme of the trip – my, apparently, too small boots. Previously, I’d only done day-hikes in my boots – and without a 40 pound pack on my back. However, I realized on this trip, that my toes kept rubbing against the “toe box” of my boots thereby causing some pain and abrasion.
Around 5:30 or 6, I finally arrived at the camp. Guylaine had already scoped out a spot for us. Well, it was the last spot (out of 3) remaining due to a Boy Scout group which was also camping that night. I set up my tent and joined Guylaine at the nearby Chilliwack River to filter some water in the river. Then, I soaked my feet and washed up a bit. The refreshing and super cold water felt so good. It really did help in easing my swelling feet.
Back at our tents, we decided to do freeze-dried meals since it was fairly late and we were exhausted (no dishes to wash with freeze-dried cooking!). Guylaine got some water boiling and I poured some into my Himalayan Lentils and Rice meal. We each had brought some wine so we sat on some logs and enjoyed the wine with our meals. It was a lovely night. The bugs had died down by the time we ate, so it was very comfortable. It also didn’t get too cold that night. We laughed and talked and just enjoyed the night. The other campsites were far enough away that we didn’t even hear nor notice the Scout group. By 8:30, we hung up our food bags in a tree. And, around 9 PM, I was out like a light. What an exhausting long and wonderful day. We had hiked exactly 13 miles! That’s quite an achievement
The next day was a short day, so we slept in to about 8 AM – which is rather late when backpacking! Guylaine got the water boiling so we could make breakfast and coffee/tea. I had a huge bowl of oatmeal with some nuts and dried-fruit and a Starbucks Via coffee. After breakfast and breaking camp, I visited the vault toilet which was actually quite nice. I was expecting to use a trowel for bathroom visits during the trip – but each campground had very nice vault toilets which were very comfortable.
We took off around 9:30 or so and hiked through some fairly thick overgrowth. At some points, we had to practically bush-whack our way down the trail We soon saw two young men who were working for the National Park Service. They were doing some much-needed trail maintenance and were very friend. At .5 mile from the camp, we approached a cable car which was built to cross over the Chilliwack River. The Scout group was already there and half of them had already gone across the river. One of the Scout leaders asked us to go ahead and get in the cable car to cross since they would be taking some time. We thanked them and happily accepted his offer. It also was convenient for us since they helped us pull the cable car across the river.
The tiny cable car holds one person and one pack. Guylaine went across first. Once on the other side, the Scouts pulled the car back to my side of the river and I hopped in. Scouts on the other side and the Scout Leader on my side all helped pull me across. When I was in the car, I barely needed to pull myself thanks to the strength of the Scouts and Guylaine helping pull me across. It was quite an interesting way to get across the river. I’d never before encountered a cable car crossing while hiking.
Once on the other side of the river, we got our packs back on and set out for our camp which was a mere 4.2 miles away. At 1.5 miles we came across a Y intersection with the trail to the right headed off to Grqybeal Campground and Whatcom Peak – which is where the Scouts were headed.
Guylaine and I went to the left towards Indian Creek campground. We were on some of the furthest and remote stretches of the entire trip. For the rest of the day and night, we only encountered 3 other people who were headed in the opposite direction. Due to the remoteness of this section, trail maintenance had not been as frequent as earlier sections. Hence, we had multiple huge blow downs to either climb over, under or around. This really slowed things down for us – thankfully, it was a short day.
Still, some of the primitive old growth forest was just absolutely beautiful. I kept stopping to just take in the beautiful forest and ancient trees.
By mid-afternoon, we got to the very beautiful Indian Creek campground. There were three sites in this camp and we chose a nice one with a fire ring. We set up our tents and walked to the nearby Indian Creek to once-again soak our feet and wash up. The water here wasn’t quite as freezing as the Chilliwack River the previous night, so I was able to soak my feet for longer. It sure felt good! We also filtered water and found a nice tree to hang our food sacks.
We decided to have pasta for dinner. Guylaine had brought some pasta, sauce, and even some veggie meat. She cooked it all up and it was delicious! I ate ravenously. After dinner, Guylaine boiled some water to do the dishes and we packed the food and dishes up prior to relaxing for a bit.
The bugs were kinda bad that night, so we collected some wood and built a fire. The smoke seemed to keep the bugs mostly away. We sat back and enjoyed our wine in the very quiet and beautiful forest. By about 9 PM, we had put everything away and were sound asleep in the tents.
The next morning would be a major day, so we got up at 6 AM and quickly got to work. We ate breakfast, broke camp, and were on the trail by 8:15 AM.
Back on the Chilliwack Trail, we encountered lots more blow down and no people. We really were in a very solitary quiet part of the loop. It seems many people didn’t venture this far east due to either lack of permits or the desire to only do a partial loop (for example, from the trailhead just to Copper Lake and back). We were on a mission, with permits, to do the entire loop.
About .8 miles from the campground, we came across another junction. This one, however, was completely obscured by a major blowdown. In fact, the signs marking the junction was blown to the ground by a huge fallen tree.
We navigated around and over the blowdown to head onto the Copper Ridge Trail. After another .5 mile or so, we came to the Chilliwack River, once again, which we had to cross. This time, however, there was no handy cable car nor even a bridge. We had a choice to either ford the river or cross a big fallen log which was conveniently lodged over the river. Not wanting to take my boots and socks off to ford the river (and threaten my blistered sore feet), I decided to hop onto the log and walk gingerly over it to the other side. As I did this, I looked into the perfectly crystal clear blue water and found hundreds of huge salmon swimming upstream towards the end of their life journey. I didn’t realize this river was a major salmon stream – nor have I ever seen such a wild salmon stream this far into the mountains.
The Chilliwack River empties into the Pacific via the Fraser River up in British Columbia, Canada. Hence, these beautiful salmon enter from the Pacific south of Vancouver, up the Fraser River into rural southern British Columbia, break off into the Chilliwack River, cross the U.S. border and then swim towards the trail where I was. It was really was a special treat to see these beautiful creatures getting ready to spawn before they died. Something remorseful and yet joyous about it.
We still had some ways to go – all up hill – so we didn’t spend too much time watching the salmon. After we both crossed the first branch of the river, we bushwhacked our way through more overgrowth and then had to cross another branch of the river over sets of logs and rocks. It was rather a perilous journey – especially considering we were carrying our big backpacks.
Soon, we were back on the trail and very quickly hit the switchbacks. Normally, I can hike pretty well up switch backs, even steep ones. However, since I was carrying the big pack on my back and my feet were killing me – I dropped back. Guylaine would patiently wait for me at various locations to see that I was doing OK. Then, we agreed that she would go ahead and get to our camp so she could try and climb up Copper Mtn which is a major climb beyond our camp. It wasn’t part of the main trail system – though several people climb it to enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. I was not in any condition to scale that mountain (especially considering it was more of a backcountry route-finding scramble rather than a hike along a maintained trail).
I encountered a few more blowdowns which required some minor route navigating off the trail. I also stopped at various occasions to just sit and admire the truly glorious old-growth forest surrounding me.
With my feet killing me, I stopped at various places in the forest to rest and take in the beautiful old-growth forest. Some of the gigantic trees around me were centuries old. I tried to think of all the world events which have occurred in their ancient lives.
After a couple hours of hiking up and up and up, I started to see some views of the surrounding mountains and Chilliwack River Valley which I had just climbed. After being in the old growth forest for a couple days, it sure was nice to see the alpine views. It really was a motivation for me to continue climbing.
I broke out of the forest and put my pack down for some lunch – another bagel with peanut butter, apple chips, and trail mix. Hundreds of flies eventually discovered me and insisted to share my lunch and swarm my ears and face. Pesky creatures. Thankfully, they still weren’t biting.
After lunch, I put my pack back on and climbed some more. Eventually, I started to see a good-sized snow field in the distance. I was hoping I didn’t need to cross it. As I approached, I noticed the trail dipped down below the snowfield with cairns marking the route in the very rocky section below the snowfield. I carefully negotiated my across the rocks as I looked around at the views and straight up at the looming mountain above me.
From the snowfield, the trail climbed a bit more and then rounded a beautiful cliff to head in a westerly direction. I was now truly on the ridge.
The steep climbing had stopped and the trail was now more of an up-and-down route along the mountain ridge. It was truly a beautiful place. I kept pulling out my iPhone and my camera to take some photos of the trial and the mountains. My mind kept wandering between the pain of my feet and aching body to the majestic and glorious mountains all around me. It was quite a wonderful sensation. I’d never seen such a beautiful place, yet I was suffering immense pain.
At one point, I had to take my pack off to rest my shoulders and feet. I just sat and soaked in the views.
I hobbled around taking some photos thinking how beautiful this place must be at sunrise and sunset. If I was close enough to the campsite, I thought, maybe I could come back at sunset for a photo shoot. After a while, though, I knew I had to get packing since it was getting mid-afternoon and I wasn’t _exactly_ sure how much more milage I had to go.
I went another maybe 1/2 mile or 1 mile and then rested again. I tell ya – I sure was exhausted. I joked to myself about setting up camp here on the trail. Sure enough, I put the pack back on and kept meandering along the trail. I passed through beautiful park-like meadows with gorgeous rock formations.
Onwards I went – slowly and nearly crippled with pain. It was pretty hot in the direct sun and the bugs were pretty bad, too. Yet, I kept going. I found a shady spot under a copse of trees and took another quick rest. After a minute or two, I heard “Brian?” and saw Guylaine approach. She had come out to find me as I was taking so long to get to camp. I must say, it was very thoughtful. She got to camp a couple hours earlier – but not with enough time to safely hike up Copper Mtn in daylight. She scoped out a nice mountain-view campsite and set up her tent and the stove. She had her pack and offered to take some of my load. I asked how far we had to go and she said “Half an hour”. I thought she said “Half” – as in, we’re half way from the start of the day…to which I couldn’t believe. I was incredulous that I had only gone half way and she re-iterated “Half an hour”. I knew I had another half hour left in me, so with her motivation, I picked up the pace and followed her through a small creek crossing at the base of a beautiful waterfall and through some more park-like meadows to our campground.
At the campground, I immediately took my pack off and just sat on a log for a few minutes. We had gained a lot of altitude during the day and the mountain views from the campsite were just incredible. Guylaine went to filter some water at the nearby Copper Lake while I rested and then set-up my tent.
I slowly unpacked my backpack and got my tent and sleeping gear prepared. Gosh, the hard ground sure did hurt my knees as I clambered around to blow up my air-mattress and spread out my sleeping bag. It took me a while, but I managed to get my tent all set up in a beautiful location. I rested a bit more and Guylaine came back with some water.
We both went back to the lake to soak our feet and take a bird-bath. The water was even warmer than Indian Creek the night before, so I soaked my feet for quite a while. I also took a handkerchief to wash my face, arms, hair, legs, and armpits. I felt so sparkly and clean the little bird-bath. The sun was setting behind the mountain surrounding the lake and the cool weather sure felt nice compared to the hot sun I experienced hiking up the trail that day.
Back at the camp site, a short walk uphill from the lake, Guylaine set out getting some water boiling for dinner. I had a freeze-dried chili to eat and she made some mashed potatoes with salmon. I cracked open my final 500 ml container of wine and we both sat and enjoyed our delicious meals and wine while we watched the sky turn dark. The bugs were especially bad at this campground and we were both amazed that the mosquitoes were out well after dark. We both swatted away the bugs as we saw the huge nearly full moon take over the sky. There wouldn’t be much star-gazing tonight since we were both so exhausted and also since the moon was practically full (the next night was a full moon).
We didn’t have to worry and fiddle with hanging our food since bear lockers were conveniently located near to the campsite. This was a fairly popular backcountry campground (all three campsites were booked that night) so the Park Service had installed bear lockers for food storage.
At about 9 or 9:15, I was in my tent and zonked out to sleep ever so soundly in the beautiful cool air.
The next morning – the last of the trip – we awoke at about 6 AM again. I packed up my air mattress and sleeping bag before crawling out of the tent in the nice clean mountain air. Already, the mosquitoes had found me. Guylaine was also breaking down her tent and swatting mosquitoes. It was amazing that the bugs had awoken so early and took no time to find us.
Guylaine got some water boiling for breakfast and coffee. We sat and enjoyed the view before setting out. We had another long day ahead – our final day of the trip. 11.9 miles to the trailhead! After getting our packs together and on our backs, we trudged out of the campground and hiked the jaw-dropping gorgeous trail towards an old fire lookout perched 1.2 miles away. The park-like meadows and views of the peaks were just dazzling. I couldn’t get over how beautiful it was. After a few minutes of hiking, the lookout finally came into view. It was up on top of a lovely ridge right along the trail. Guylaine marched ahead of me as I absorbed the views.
About 1/4 mile from the lookout, I heard a scramble just off the trail down the slope of the mountain and a black bear scampered off in the distance. It was a beautiful animal – classic black looks with a brown snout. I was completely safely out of the way the entire time – plus it was rapidly headed away from me once it heard (or smelled) me. I never was really scared – though I did yell “Bear! Bear!” all the same. And, as I walked along the trail up towards the lookout, I talked out-loud to myself – just in case the bear decided to head back to the trail. It all happened so quickly I didn’t have time to take a photo.
I noticed a person wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and a white hat at the lookout. Guylaine was also nearly to the lookout. By the time I got up to it, she was talking to the white-shirted figure… man who didn’t have a permit to camp at any of the camp-grounds on the loop, so he decided to encroach and camp at the look-out, itself. This is something which is forbidden according to the Park Service. Apparently, though, people still decide to take advantage of the situation and camp there regardless of their permit status. We talked to him for a bit before wandering over to the lookout building. It was locked so we couldn’t go inside. However, the interior was nicely appointed. Spartan, for sure. Yet, quite quaint and comfortable for the ranger stationed inside it during the summer. Nearby were two men who had set up their stove and were boiling water for coffee. We chatted with them for a bit before looking around at the utterly amazing scenery of mountain peaks.
Shortly, though, we had to descend down the trail as we had a lot of ground to cover. Not only did we have to get to the trailhead, but also to drive the 2-3 hours back to Seattle (pending traffic). As we hiked down the trail, Guylaine was a great coach and urged me to continue along at a good pace. I was struggling with the pain in my feet and shoulders. I also wanted to stop and look around and take photos. There was a bit of time, it seemed, to do that. Before we dropped down back into the trees, I absorbed as much of the scenery as I could and took some photos. I didn’t want the scenery to end. Sure, I wanted my pain to end – yet it was such a remarkably beautiful place that I could have just camped up at the lookout. I imagine the sunsets and sunrises are absolutely brilliant! Maybe for another trip (well, I won’t encroach by camping at the lookout, but I’ll go with a fresh pair of feet).
Down the trail we went – passing by the beautiful Egg Lake and Silesia campgrounds. We encountered many more people on our last day. Certainly, we were on a rather busy part of the trail compared to the previous two days when we saw only 5 people – not including the Scout group from two nights before. As we approached people, I would stop and talk to them. They were interested in what we had done and where we were headed. Everyone had challenges with their permits. Everyone also had to re-plan their itinerary due to whatever camp-grounds they could get with their permits. After hearing all the stories from the hikers, I realized how fortunate we were to have gotten a great permit with campgrounds that allowed us to complete the whole loop.
Once we had gotten back into the trees, I put my big camera away and tried to keep up with Guylaine. My feet were really really sore by now. Every step seemed to mash my toenails into my toes. I absolutely need to get new backpacking/hiking boots that had room for my toes. My shoulders were also rubbed raw from the pack on my back. And, my body was just generally utterly and completely sore. As we passed the Hell’s Gorge area – a huge scar ripped out of the mountain due to massive washouts, we noticed some pretty wild flowers. We stopped and took some photos of the flowers with Ruth Mtn in the background before trudging on downhill towards the Boundary Campground and back into the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National forest.
At Boundary Camp, I stopped to rest a bit knowing that we had a steep .8 mile climb back up to Hannegan Pass. The climb was just as rough as I had imagined. Along the way, numerous other folks were headed down to start their journeys. I stopped and talked with most of them. Everyone was interested in the route we had done, where we stayed, what the conditions were like and so forth. I was happy to tell them all about it. I told Guylaine that I felt like a grizzled veteran after the previous 3 1/2 days of hiking!
We ascended up to Hannegan Pass which was significantly less fly-ridden than a few days previously. In fact, there were no flies at all. We took our packs off and enjoyed a nice lunch while talking to an older man who was out on a day hike. He turned around and went back to the trailhead while we finished lunch. Soon, we put our packs back on and descended the last grueling 4.6 miles to the trailhead.
About a mile from the Pass, we met the WTA work party. I stopped to talk to the various folks doing important trail maintenance. A couple of them were digging a massive rock out of the trail. I told them I hadn’t noticed it on the way in a few days earlier. One of the men working on it laughed and told me that he’d never ever forget that rock. It sure did seem like backbreaking work to get it dug out and off the trail.
Guylaine went on ahead of me past the WTA folks. I very very slowly ambled my way down the trail. The last couple miles were steeper than I remember coming up. Then again, I had a fresh pair of legs and feet when I came up the trail. And, my body wasn’t nearly as sore and broken. It had also gotten rather hot and I stopped a few times just to take a breather, rest my feet, and get some shade.
Finally, about 5 PM, I got to the trailhead. I made it! I trudged down to my car and took the pack off my back. Guylaine had gotten herself organized and was going to soak her feet in a nearby creek. It took me a while to get my gear organized. Once I had gotten things together, I set out with the air-conditioning at full blast to meet Guylaine at the creek. She had finished soaking and was headed back to her car. I decided to not soak my feet. Somewhere on the trail that day, I had developed a cut between two toes on my right foot and I truly didn’t think I could walk down towards the creek. We decided to drive into Bellingham to get some beers at Kulshan Brewing company and some food.
At the brewery, I had a beer and a pizza. We talked about the trail and the highlights. After an hour-and-a-half or so, we got in our cars to head back to Seattle. As I drove back, the sun was setting over Boundary Bay – what a gorgeous sunset! And, once I got south of the Chuckanut mountains, I could see Mt. Constitution over on Orcas Island and the gorgeous Olympic Mountains beyond. What a beautiful drive home to cap off a truly amazing backpacking adventure!