Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Trap Pass via Tunnel Creek, Aug 24th, 2012

Permit filled out and ready to hike at the Tunnel Creek trail head
Tunnel Creek is another one of those popular weekend trails; mainly because it is only one and a half miles.  The trail is also a quick connector to the Pacific Crest Trail.  The flip side is that this trail is rated difficult because of the elevation change of 1,100 ft in that short mile and a half.  With the rock-slide abatement work on-going on Hwy 2 below Stevens Pass, the forest service road heading into this trail head is also difficult to get to.  I figured I'd have a good chance of having this trail to myself.  Wrong . . . once on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) it was like a veritable hiker's highway and, against the oncoming rush was one lone nude hiker heading in the opposite direction.

Viewpoint over the gorge of Tunnel Creek from the trail
I'd actually prepped myself against the possibility of a little too much activity on the Tunnel Creek trail by bringing my hiking kilt with me (after all, there was that one other car in the trail head parking area.)  Initially, I hiked nude, leaving the kilt rolled up and inside my pack.  But as I got higher in and the trails started a convoluted series of twists and blind turns I knew that if I was going to meet anyone it would probably be by surprise on one of these blind turns in the trails where I had neither sight distance nor hearing.

At a particularly scenic viewpoint of the creek gorge below I stopped for a sip of water and then decided to wrap the kilt around my waist at least until I got onto more open trail and a little further in.

My homemade hiking kilt worn on a previous hike.
The kilt . . . actually, more of a wrap-around . . . goes on easy with Velcro tabs to fasten the edges at the right hip.  Hiking in it is almost the same as hiking completely nude, that's how comfortable it is (of course, I don't get the sun exposure on the skin that feels so sublime).  But in situations where I feel a little bit of discretion is warranted, wearing at least this kilt is enough to mellow just about any potentially adverse encounter.  Never mind that it is pretty obvious that I am nude beneath that flimsy piece of cloth . . . it's the effort to be considerate that is appreciated.

It must have been a sixth sense but no sooner than I'd pressed the edges of the waistband into place around my waist here comes this beautiful black Labrador and a nine to ten year old girl around the hidden curve of the trail before me.  I stepped aside as she stopped and said 'hi'.  Moments later mom and dad come huffing down the trail carrying heavy backpacks and making good use out of dual trekking poles each.

Mom and dad were initially a little taken back by this half-naked hiker but actually quickly recovered when I asked them how far in they had gone.  It's a technique I find that works well . . . diverting  attention to something innocuous.  And it kept the encounter mellow and an excuse for them to be civil and pause to catch their breath.  They had actually gone all the way to Trap Lake (a good six miler one way) and it was the girl's first hike.  The girl chimed in with all the things she had seen on the trail.

As soon as they were gone off came the kilt . . . rolled up and packed away.  There was only one other car at the trail head.  I made a quick assumption that there would be no one else on the trail.  Best laid plans of men and mice ...  The next meeting with hikers would not come until I was on the PCT-proper.

Mountain goat occupying the trail in front of me
Well . . . one other encounter.  A little over halfway up my eyes noted a flash of white movement on the trail in front of me that caused me to stop right in mid-step.  Only a hundred feet or so away . . . right on the narrow tread of the trail . . . was a lone mountain goat.  Thoughts of the deadly encounter of a hiker and a mountain goat in the Olympics did come to mind for a brief moment, especially when I managed to get the camera raised and zoomed in to focus on the wickedly sharp prong horns growing out of the mountain goat's head.  The potentially-dangerous critter kept looking back in my direction and I kept wondering if I should at least get the hiking kilt back on in case I got gored and had to be rescued. Silly thoughts. Before discretion could urge me to back away slowly the goat came to an analogous conclusion . . . probably relating the color of my naked form to another creature with similar beige-coloration . . . a cougar looking for a yummy goat for dinner.  He was over the steep slope and bounding away down to the bottom of the gorge of Tunnel Creek.  From a large boulder hundreds of feet below the goat gave me one more baleful look and then bounded off onto the opposing slopes.  I kind of shook my head in reverie. Today was turning out to be an interesting day and I was barely an hour into my hike.

Nude hiker wins out over mountain goat . . . lol, the goat booked.
I co-opted the section of trail vacated by the goat, stopping to check out the flattened foliage where he had launched himself over the edge.  Just amazing the surefootedness on such a steep slope.  Wildlife is difficult to observe on the trail.  The bears and deer and other denizens are there.  We simply don't see them because they avoid us noisy characters.  So a sighting is always a treat.

Connecting to the Pacific Crest Trail
The Tunnel Creek trail ends where it tees with the PCT at Hope Lake.  Coming over the final crest of the trail into a cleared area before the lake I ran into a middle-aged couple with heavy backpacks off and taking a break . . . PCTers.  Both were adjusting wide-brimmed hats with mosquito netting draped from the brims to their shoulders . . . bug hats.  I had to pass them and they'd already noted my coming up over the crest.  I smiled and commented that there weren't that many bugs out.  The woman noted, "Well, look at you . . ."  That got the conversation going and a break for me as well.  They truly wanted to know how I could deal with bugs with (as they put it) so much skin exposed.

So I told them that the bugs rarely bothered me . . . no sweat, etc., etc.  I let them in on Cutter's Advanced Formula which works somewhat against Deer and Horse Flies with . . . no DEET.  That got their interest and we talked about favored bug sprays and stuff like that before inquiring about each other's destinations.  They were doing the weekend Surprise Creek to Lake Valhalla route . . . hoping to make it as far as Lake Josephine by nightfall.  I was going the opposite direction and after a few more easy moments, left them to continue their break while I headed onto the PCT westbound.  A very pleasant conversation.  We must have chatted for at least a good ten minutes.   For some time on the trail I replayed how natural it had been to stand there naked in front of perfect strangers and not feel any apprehension about what they may have been thinking.  I was simply accepted as a fellow hiker . . . nothing more, nothing less; and that was a good feeling that validates my passion for nude hiking.

Hope Lake
Hope Lake is a placid little lake and a favored camping spot for overnighters coming up Tunnel Creek for a night or two, and for through-hikers doing the Pacific Crest Trail.  The best tent sites are on the far side of the lake and on this occasion I do note a tent already set up though where the occupants are I do not know.

Approaching Trap Pass
The section of the PCT between Tunnel Creek and Trap Pass may not be the best area to hike nude in if you crave sunlight.  At this time of year when the pass is finally clear of snow, the sun latitude is so far north that the peaks continually leave large parts of the trail in shade.  At least as you gain elevation there are a number of open meadows to pause and absorb warming rays.  But first you must ascend up dozens of steep switchbacks to gain another thousand feet over the thousand you've already put in getting to Hope Lake.  At 5,200 feet you crest Trap Pass and the trail levels out onto gloriously open meadows.

High elevation alpine meadows on Trap Pass

These meadows must be the HOV Express Lane for the PCT.  One moment I'm sauntering along . . . enjoying the sunshine . . . and the next moment two very fit, spandex-clad backpackers in outrageously bright reds and yellows come barreling down the narrow trail with trekking poles a'stabbing in pace.  I stepped aside as a courtesy and said 'hi' as they passed without breaking stride or lifting their eyes from the trail in front of them.  I thought I heard a foreign, Germanic accent in the "yo" as they passed.  And then they were gone.  I shrugged and continued on my way.  I would not make Trap Lake but I planned to go as far as the sun would allow for a safe return trip.

Just when I thought I'd have peace and quiet again, here comes another hiker and he exclaims, "Holy Cow!  Do I need to take a picture or something?"  I laugh and reply, "The only way to hike."  Real friendly type, we chat for a couple of minutes before he leaves.  I decide now and here is as good a spot for the small lunch I'd packed.  This time I saw the next set of hikers approaching and just watched them get closer as I enjoyed my lunch.  A couple of ladies who had come up from Surprise Creek to Trap Lake and were now heading for Hope Lake to overnight.  Again, another nice conversation to bolster my assumptions that no one really cares what you wear or choose not to wear in the wilderness.

I gave the women plenty of headway to get ahead of me before I started back myself.  The sun was getting awfully close to dropping below the peaks and ridges right above me.  Darkness would descend rather quickly in the lower areas headed back.

On the return trip, exploring Tunnel Creek within the gorge
The return trip was uneventful.  No more meetings . . . I must assume they were sane and in the process of setting up camp before light faded.  Once back on the Tunnel Creek Trail and heading north into the open valley of the Skykomish and out of the shadow of the nearby peaks, the trail was once again flooded with sunlight.  Near the bottom I found a way down the gorge to play around in the vigorous flow of Tunnel Creek.

Nearing the end of the hike
Ever notice how we tend to slow down and dawdle when we are approaching the end to a great nude adventure?  The parking area is just beyond me in that light area behind the trees.  Part of this is apprehension . . .  that parking area is wide open and subject to cars driving up unexpectedly so there is a little bit of bravado going forward to simply walk right out of the forest into the parking area and my car.  There is a little bit of stubbornness there as well.  But most of it is a sense of finality . . . once I set foot on the gravel of the trail  head parking the hike and the nude time is essentially over.  A number of times I've found myself walking back and forth in little mini-hikes simply to prolong the experience.

Back at the trail head, cognizant that there are still other hikers on the trail somewhere
Alas, no cars driving in at that one vulnerable moment as I traverse to the car, search for the keys and unlock.  The extra car there surprises me as I didn't meet anyone incoming on the hike down . . . and the hood of the car is still hot (suggesting that it hasn't been there very long.)

Encounter tally for the day:  Nine (two neutral or dismissive, seven positive, none negative)

In any, that was my Tunnel Creek hike for this year.  Trap Lake, ever elusive, will have to wait for another year.

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