Day Twelve
Trail spring to Sheep Lake

6 miles

Summary: A long ridge walk up to Sheep Lake in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. It would have been beautiful if the sun had been shining.

This was my most miserable day of the entire trip. We started off with just overcast skies and mist. For a while the rain held off as we entered the Goat Rocks Wilderness and got to the junction with the Walupt Lake Trail. From now on, I would not have to look at the guidebook, since I had hiked this section in 2003 with my friend Tim from Alaska.

It certainly looked different with the rain and clouds. Our destination was either Sheep Lake or over Cispus Pass. As we climbed up the ridge to the lake, the weather got worse and worse. Rain was pouring on us. Our shoes and socks were wet, our packs were wet, our clothes were wet. When we made it to the lake, we knew we had to stop.

The first task was finding some sheltered campsite. The first two we discovered were too open to buffer us from the rain. On the north side Chuck and Kevin found a better site slightly removed from the lake in the trees. Because of the weather, I was in no hurry to set up the tent. It would just have the opportunity to get wetter in the rain. So while Chuck and Beth set up their Kelty, I told Kevin that we were going to wait a while. It was a good decision. The place we had been considering soon became a puddle in the rain. We were able to squeeze the tent between two trees in a drier spot when the time finally came to pitch it.

I told the others about other backpacking trips I had taken in the rain, particularly a trip I took in 1982 in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho and a 1986 trip in the Paysatyen in northern Washington. Both times we had built a big bonfire to dry ourselves off and keep warm. What we need was a roaring bonfire, I told them.

We went looking for wood. I dragged back to the site a 15-foot downed log. The other three gave me strange looks. They seemed to be thinking that I'd never get it started and I'd never burn it all up. Then I searched for dry branches still attached to the trunks of large fir trees. These had stayed dry despite the downpour. Last I grabbed branches with pine needles that were scattered on the forest floor.

I'm trying to build a fire in the rain. Having lived in the Northwest for 23 years, I've had some practice at this.

With these materials and the tube of fire starter, I was able to slowly coax the fire along. There were times that I was afraid it might go out, and Beth or Kevin had to hold an umbrella over the small fire, but it started to go on its own. I'd carefully dry branches in its heat before adding them to the fire.

While I was pretending to be a Jack London character, Chuck hooked up the poncho for a tarp in the cooking area. With the umbrellas, the fire and the poncho-tarp, we were doing as well as could be expected. The best development, however, was reports from other hikers that the weather forecast called for improving skies. "How much worse could it get?" I wondered.

As we got ready for bed, I finally lost my temper. I had kept my sleeping bag inside my pack, afraid that if I got it out too soon, it might get wet in the tent. Now that I needed to take it out, it got stuck in the other gear still inside my pack. I couldn't empty out my pack in the rain, so somehow I had to pull the bag out. I used every swear word in the book and probably made up a few new ones before I finally got it out. But I finally made it into the tent and got somewhat comfortable. It was going to be a long night.

We carefully set up our tent under trees and away from any depressions in the ground that would collect water.

Day Thirteen
Day Fourteen
Day Fifteen
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