Rock Mountain to Sheelite Pass
Monday, September 4 We awoke at first light, somewhere around 6:15. Andy reported 29 degrees outside his tent, but Tim, who was camped in a small draw below us, reported 20 degrees in their vestibule. Any way you cut it, it was frosty. The tents, having melted the snow which had fallen on them, were wet, and would require more than a bit of sun to dry them out. While there were scattered clouds, it was mostly blue sky that greeted us, so maybe things were looking up. I think we all felt like cold blooded reptiles, seeking the sun to get our blood circulating. We spread out wet gear out in the spotty sun (spotty because the campsite was partly in trees) on rocks and anything else that was semi-dry. The snow on the ground was pretty crusty, so we knew it had been cold. I got out and took a few photos. This would be the closest we would get to the Canadian border, which was less than a mile to our north. It seemed like a great excuse to take some pictures.
No one seemed to be in much of a hurry, as the prime activity seemed to be drying wet gear. Susie and I pulled out of camp around 9:40: later than we normally do, but while we knew the day would be long in distance, there would not be too much climbing. So far, the Boundary trail was in great shape. The amazing thing about the trail is that it has so little climbing on it. Of course, to maintain its elevation, it spends a lot of distance slabbing around mountain sides. We passed through high meadows, with great views of forested wilderness to the south and west. We could see Remmel Mountain below the building weather, and the canyon formed by the Chewack River. Pretty neat. The first climb comes about a mile and 3/4 from camp, on a shoulder of Haig Mountain. It is only 450 feet. We came upon George near the top of the climb, sitting on the side of the trail, about 90 minutes into the hike. I could tell something was not right. I asked him how he was doing, and he said he was going to turn around. He said that yesterday had been hard for him. (George, since his first bypass surgery, has really been impacted by the cold. It seems hard for him to keep his energy level up at low temperatures. Yesterday had been cold, and with the morning temps and the weather building, and a 10 mile hike today, followed by a 8.5 mile hike tomorrow, all above 7000 feet, it would be too long until he could really rest. He simply did not want to be that tired.) Today would be a longer hike, and tomorrow longer than yesterday. He expressed to us the desire to keep Ray from trying to follow him. Ray tends to want to take care of people, and gets concerned about 70+ year olds being on their own in the wilderness. I told George that I would do everything short of physical restraint of Ray to keep him from turning around. I also told him that while I understood, I was disappointed, mainly because I enjoyed spending my vacation with him, and now I wouldn't have that chance. We shook hands and parted ways, George heading back to the place we had camped last night.
We caught up with the rest of our crew at Dome Camp. (marked on the topo map. Click here for interactive link to TopoQuest.) It is a lovely little spot. They were just finishing up lunch, and as George predicted, it took some effort to keep Ray from turning around. We all explained to Ray that George was a big boy, and that he could take care of himself just fine. I also pointed out that if George had a problem with his heart, there was little Ray could do for him, other than hold his hand and wish him well. A tough thing to say - or write - but true nonetheless. The rest of the crew hoisted their packs, while Susie and I finished our lunch. The sun seemed to be getting increasingly scarce, and as such, the air seemed much cooler. Susie and I put a few more clothes on, and enjoyed the sweeping vistas which were still visible under the cloud deck. We could see showers around us, but nothing had hit us yet. We rolled along the well graded trail, chatting and pointing out various features of the terrain. It felt great to be in the western mountains, and not having to gasp for breath. I could feel some degree of performance decrement, but it was hard to discern if it was due to pack weight, lack of oxygen, or age creep.
There were a few folks on the trail - I guess more than I had expected to see. Clearly, the Pasayten has been discovered. Although there are not a lot of hikers in the east that have heard about it. When I would say I was headed to the Pasayten, they would inevitably say "Where?" We ran into a couple on the east side of Bauerman Ridge, with very small backpacks, who had camped at the tungsten mine - probably 7 miles or more to the west on the trail, whose objective was to hike out all the way to the Iron Gate trailhead, which was probably 13 or 14 miles from where we were chatting. It was after 2 pm. I shook my head in marvel, and asked them to say hi to George as they passed north of Rock Mountain. (George later reported a steady stream of folks dropping by to say hi, from messages being sent back by our crew.) The flat area on the south end of Bauerman ridge is the last place to camp until a ridge a half mile east of Scheelite Pass, so while it was nice to look around (even with snow pellets hitting us pretty much steadily), we had to press on. The clouds to the west seemed to be darker than earlier in the day, and I knew in my heart we would have a wet evening ahead.
The trail moves along pretty well, and we began the 400 foot descent to Sheelite Pass a bit after 3:30 pm. We could hear a lot of hollering down in the pass area, and as we got to the actual pass, which is in heavy woods, the rest of the crew was sorta coming up to see us, with this expression on their face to the effect: Where the HELL is the campsite???!!! Ok, it was more than an expression. They had fanned out into the pass area and claimed that they were unable to find anyplace to camp. There seemed to be a sense of disappointment, to the effect: How could I screw up and just pick a spot that had looked flat, and call it a camp. I was a bit rattled by the crew's inability to find a suitable spot, so I dropped my pack, a bit before 4 pm, and went off in search myself, after confirming that my notes - taken from the book Hiking the North Cascades - that there really was a campsite here. I dropped down through a small draw, and saw some red marking tape on a tree, and then another piece of tape about 20 yards further. I figured I was on to something, Sure enough: I quickly came to a large flat area, that while it had not been used much (there was no fire ring), it was clearly a campsite. A walk of about 150 meters across a dried up marsh gets you to the edge of one of the small tarns. I whooped to the rest of the crew, and they started their way down off the trail. I would imagine that earlier in the summer, it would be really buggy, but with the temp already into the low 40's, at Camp 2 (10U,713,190 East, 5,429,763 North), bugs were the last thing on our mind.
Susie and I set up our tent, in one of the many flat areas, and I headed off to the pond to take a bath. OK, to rinse off. About halfway through my "bath," it started raining. This slowed the process of bath and laundry considerably. I ended up just putting my boots on my bare feet, and carried water back to the tent, to heat it so Susie could take an in tentia bath. The drizzle went on, and it seemed like the best course, was to dive into the tent, put on some warm clothes, and cook dinner right outside the tent. Sue did not want to put up the tarp, so she and Andy and T&D cooked in the rain, which is not as much fun as it sounds. Makes for a quick dinner. Susie and I made our homemade version of Santa Fe Black Beans, Chicken and Rice, which was spicy and hot, and filling. I pretty much handled the cooking chores, since I was sitting closest to the door. The rain let up a bit after dinner, and I went out to "secure" camp. Not much securing was required, since we had pretty much thrown most of our stuff inside the tent. It usually ends up being Susie's chore to organize all the gear, while I am outside doing manly things - like getting water, going to the bathroom, and bathing. It felt like the temperature was falling, and indeed, snow was beginning to mix with the rain. Another lovely nite. I'm told it quit about 8:30 pm, but I had drifted off to sleep by that time.
© Roger A. Jenkins, 2000