Before we continue, we check into the interpretive cabin, that also doubles as an Emergency Shelter. Inside you will find a box of blank heavy unbleached recycled card stock, “post cards”. They are doing a “post card project”. You address a postcard to yourself, and write a note on it to memorialize this hike. You also check a box, allowing the Park Service (US and Canadian) to use what you write on the card, as they are making a movie/video from the post card project. In a year, they will mail the self addressed card to you. It serves as a reminder of your accomplishment and hopefully it will conjure up fond memories. Will you feel the same about the trail in a year, as you do now?
Our note to ourselves was somewhat reflective. It went something like this, ‘I don’t know who’s crazier. The Stampeders, who did it for gold and the hope of prosperity, or us who did this for “fun” and the challenge.’
We look across the bowl that awaits us. Just like ascending required us to stow our trekking poles and to crawl on all fours, descending required the same. For the most part, we scramble down practically on all fours to the still remaining patches of snow.
If you are smart, you unpack your poles, so as to not slip and descend any faster than you’d like. That is, If you ARE smart! At one point I chose to glissade (on purpose), as walking was too stressful. I actually got to do it twice, as the first time my pee rag became dislodged from my pack…at the start of my glissade, of course.
I considered leaving it up there, however it would have been cruel to do so. I pictured someone strolling into camp wearing said bandana, excited about their find…only to thank them for picking up my pee rag. Down, down, down we clamored to Crater Lake. Finally on “flat” ground, it is so hot, we consider taking a swim. In some ways I wish we had, but it looked, “ice cream headache” cold.
We met the Canadian Ranger on her way up to the Warden’s cabin. She got a kick outta me sliding down the snow bank, twice. “Gotta act young, to stay young”, she said. ‘You got that right!’, we agreed. We have now descended into a giant bowl, and look back from whence we came. The terrain ahead of us is wide open.
We weave our way across what feels like the surface of the moon. Pristine, azure blue, bodies of water lie before us.
Several more can be seen in the distance, making for colorful “puddles”.
Water flows under our feet, in sheets and ribbons, originating from cascading water falls and streams off the towering mountain ranges in the near distance.
Early on, we give up trying to keep our feet dry and walk unabashedly through the often icy cold water, preferring to “walk them dry”. In hopes it provides some relief to his agitated right foot, we take the time to stop and “ice” Paul’s foot.
Thick and stubborn stacks of compressed snow (ice), defy the blazing sun, refusing to give way to the inevitable “ice cups”.
Evidence of vast snow fields, recently evaporated drifts, as well as “stubborn” snow, flank us on either side as we traverse this remarkable land. We imagine the Stampeders doing this in winter, and dragging or mushing their goods across snow covered ground and frozen lakes. We imagine the treasures we would find if we were to dive in these standing bodies of water…an underwater archeologist’s paradise.
What’s left of what once was probably a robust saw mill lies rotting in the trail. It’s the only artifacts we will see today.
As we walk along, Paul is limping and trying to stay off the ball of his foot. Every sharp rock and uphill is near torture for Paul. I, on the other hand, am happy as clam, namely because the seriously rocky part is OVER, it is currently bug FREE and most definitely BEAUTIFUL!
My celebration, of course, is entirely too soon. While it is still beautiful, the rocks and bugs return, if only to annoy us.
We wind up and down and over rounded granite, through flattened scree and lingering snow fields. I play our path from Sheep Camp in my head, and think, ‘If we could speed this up, it would be an awesome roller coaster ride!’.
When the rounded rocks and scree turn to decomposed granite, and vegetation starts to appear with regularity, we can’t help but assume that we must be getting closer to Happy Camp. Wilderness “chickens” (aka. grouse) scurry between the sharp boulders. We hear them call out to each other, like a rousing game of “Marco- Polo”.
Some stand like sentries over their broods and watch us pass. Little do they know, that if we were starving, we would have bopped them on the head and be feasting on a “chicken” dinner. Alas, we came sufficiently prepared. They will live to “cluck” another day. The grouse serve as a nice distraction for Paul and the painfulness of walking. His slow pace however allows me to linger behind and take as many photos as I’d like without annoying him. Soon he calls out to me. “Dee, you gotta see this!”. I scurry up to him and he points down to a sign. We both start to laugh.
“Happy Camp 2 miles”. Gotta love it! As always, when you’re more than ready to done, it’s always 2 more miles!
From here we practically skip down the trail to the raised platforms of Happy Camp, and the cool shallow river that flows alongside it.
Once we choose our site, we filter water, bathe and actually soak for nearly an hour in the river’s refreshing waters. It is at Happy Camp that we bask in the company and conversation of several other hikers we have been “hopscotching” with since the beginning . We have a rousing conversation with Russ, Trudy and Heidi. Lots of laughter ensues. Russ is another one of Paul’s “brothers from another mother”. We learn that we will all to be on the Saturday train back to Skagway, and that Lindeman City is our next stop, a short 5.5 miles away. We head to bed, amazed at how tired we are after only 10 miles. Not that they weren’t hard miles, but really? 6- 10 miles, daily, is nothing for us at home. We finally must be getting old or something. Our kids would agree that we already are OLD! Darnit!