Mile 2226 to 2247
Ixnay leaves in the dark before us, thinking we will probably catch him. If not we have agreed to meet at the Lava Spring campsite in about 20 miles. Kevin and I pack up and stroll out quite a bit behind him. We have a fair amount of up this morning, going from under 4,000 feet to over 6,000, much of it through previous burn areas.
In one of the burn areas, we come upon a herd of elk. Seeing us the alpha female jerks her head down and back, as if a cowboy riding her just yanked the reigns. She arches her back and flips 140 degress and takes off, leaving only the thundering sound of her hoofs. The rest of the herd bolts in all directions, calves at their mother’s heels. The chaotic sound is exactly like the other morning in the dark, confirming that the herd we heard was elk. It would be great to work for a company where the leader changes priorities and directions and everyone else immediately joins in with this same level of unquestioning enthusiasm and drive. I do not see a passive aggressive cow in the herd.
We continue to climb by hazy views of Mount Adams, made so by the smoke but also because we are staring into the sun. We round a corner and get our first glimpse of Mount Rainier. The blue haze has erased the mountain’s bottom, but its snowy crown floats majestically in the sky. My camera’s autofocus is quite confused by the spectacle.
Kevin’s ankle is bothering him so we stop by a milky white creek to rest. After snacks we push on just west of Mount Adams where we must ford a wild, silty and extremely cold glacier stream. Kevin crosses in his flip-flops sandals. I cross in my hiking shoes after taking off my socks and removing the insoles. We rest on the other side to allow my shoes to transform from totally soaked to just damp. We also enjoy dried flattened bananas smothered in peanut butter and Nutella, wrapped in flour tortillas. Yes, you are free to try this recipe at home.
We re-enter a lava field, all too familiar from our days in Oregon. Here however we enjoy the squeaking, warning cries and busy scurrying of adorable pika. Out of the lava and back in the shrubs, I round a corner and come upon a large white furry ball about 15 feet ahead of me. I stop dead in my tracks as a head with horns rises from the bush into view. It is a lone beautiful mountain goat, probably pushed lower than normal by the fire. It stares me down and brings to mind the story of a hiker who was actually gored to death by one of these seemingly huggable beasts. Before I can engage my camera Kevin rounds the corner and sends the adorable monster scampering away. It is the first time Kevin has seen a wild mountain goat and not just a thru-hiker named Mountain Goat. It is also perhaps the first time he has saved my life.
We reach the camp a full hour or so behind Ixnay. The water at the spring is crystal clear and cold. We battle meat bees as we cook and eat, then quickly retire behind the protective mesh of our tents.