At 6.30 am I woke up. Rather, I was woken up by the ladies in the tent next to us who seemed to be unable to whisper their conversations. About 7 am a handful of coyotes added to the morning sounds, howling to each other for 10 minutes or so. Maybe they were wanting the ladies to be quiet too. It was nice to listen to the coyotes, anyway. After dozing a little more we got up around 8 am. It was a bit chilly last night and there was frost on the plants when I retrieved our food from the bear-proof cache. Today we decided to leave our tent here and hike to Nicomen Lake and back, about 18 km round trip.
We set off at 10 am to the sounds of booming grouse. Maria carried her converted waist pack, and I carried my mostly-empty (apart from all the water) pack. Just as we left the campground, we turned to look for a view and there between the trees was Mt Hozameen. OK now I knew where I wanted to be standing to catch sunrise! :-)
The trail headed up the slope away from the campground, into open meadows and meandered through small copses of subalpine fir. At one of these we startled a male grouse calling (a deep whoomf, whoomf, whoomf sound) and displaying his colours. We stopped to watch for a minute or two before wandering on through the flowers. Here, there were patches that really showed the differences between the wet and dry regions – lupines, orchids, paintbrush, and mountain daisy, compared with, well, grass and dirt :-) One of the most abundant plants along the trail was Indian Hellebore, highly poisonous according to the book, which is a little unsettling as it grows to almost head height. As we approached one patch of these we came across a young white-tailed deer stag which edged away from us up the slope before bounding off.
As with yesterday, the views were spectacular and panoramic: we could even make out Mt Baker. We came to a nice shady bit and the trail headed downhill (note to self – we’ll have to come up this again later). Maria spotted another grouse which flew into the tree as we got nearer. At the bottom we crossed a small but rich meadow and headed uphill again, out into the open. The trail levelled off and we reached a plateau, complete with the odd tarn here and there (some of them had dried up already). This was ground squirrel territory again and we could hear them peeping to one another. We had our closest wildlife encounter a bit further up the trail when a startled ground squirrel decided that it had to get to its burrow, which was behind us. So it just ran straight at us (ferrets and trouser legs came to mind), over my boots, over Maria’s boots and into its burrow. Phew! That was a close call! :-)
We were now getting the occasional view to the east, but it wasn’t all that pretty given all the logging operations going on :-( Clearcuts, logging roads and cutblocks galore. It was easy to see where the park stopped. A few minutes later we had our next wildlife encounter – a lone hiker ;-) He’d camped at Nicomen Lake the night before and said he had it to himself. He also said he’d seen a bear on his way in yesterday but not near the campground. We carried on and at 12 noon we reached Nicomen Ridge above the lake. Excellent views either side of the ridge, thanks to the steep drops down into the valleys. We braced ourselves for a steep descent to the lake but even taking it quite easy we were still there by 12.30 pm. Now we had the luxury of a glorious long lunch break! Our plan was to be back at the top of the ridge for 4 pm to make sure we got back to the tent at a decent hour.
And so we sat at the edge of the lake for two and a half hours, soaking up the sunshine and generally relaxing. We had brought along our swimwear but there was a cold breeze blowing across the water and we made do with cooling off our feet in the water and watching the trout jump. It was so quiet, so peaceful – there probably wasn’t another person for 5 miles or more in any direction. Beautiful. I had developed hot spots on my heels (I was breaking in new boots) so before we set off I tried a method that some people swear by: duct tape. Apparently it stays in place better than normal plasters (except it doesn’t really…).
Eventually we tore ourselves away from the lake and began the climb back up to the ridge. We got back to the top almost as quickly as we’d got down to the lake! Still, we were glad that the trail levelled off. It was 3.15 pm: 45 minutes ahead of time. As we walked back we startled not one but a whole family of grouse, sending them shuffling off through the heather and into the trees with an explosion of feathers. The rest of the walk back was a steady wander through the meadows and up through the trees. The sun was very hot and I was starting to feel it, but we kept drinking water and gatorade (yuck but it replaces some of the salts lost in sweat). And we were the only people on the trail. We didn’t meet anyone else until we were 5 minutes from the campground, where we bumped into 2 guys heading for Nicomen Lake, complete with fishing gear. They were happy to hear the fish were jumping and were obviously looking forward to a nice trout or two for dinner. They still had a bit of a hike ahead of them (it was 5 pm by now), but they were just hoping to make it by 9 pm. I wonder how they got on.
By 5.15 pm, we were back at our tent. More people had arrived during the day and every site was now taken, but they kept on coming. The newcomers were doing their best to find camp sites that were not on the meadows, but a couple of people had nowhere else to go. It was really busy – the food cache was full to bursting. We set about cooking dinner and after we had cleaned up we went to get water. On our way back we spotted someone we knew. Tim from the Wanderung hiking group was leading a hike on the Heather Trail this weekend and we had wondered if we would run into them. We chatted for a bit and went back to our tent to make some hot chocolate. By now it was after 7 pm and starting to get cool already. With hot drinks in hand, we wandered back over to where Tim and his group were camped, and spent the rest of the evening chatting with them. We found our way out to a beautiful spot and watched a wonderful sunset. Tim took some lovely photos which are on his Flickr page. The moon was also hanging around over the nearby peaks and made for a stunning sight. The sky got darker, the air got cooler – time for bed.