Benson Plateau (Day 2: Wahtum Lake)

I woke up early on our second day. It had rained all night and it was still drizzling. A shouted conference between our tents led to the decision to wait for a while and make a late start of it. So we waited until it was apparent that the rain was staying with us for the day. We ate breakfast and broke camp and started a long day of hiking in the rain.

The top of Benson Plateau has a very distinct forest. The trees are tall and thin, equally spaced and uniform in their appearance. I really don’t know what to blame the monoculture on, as it could be that forest there had burnt or that some quirk of the micro-climate favors these tall swaying evergreens. That morning, in the wet haze, it was like we were atop a floating forest in the clouds. Unfortunately, my camera was not to be trusted in the wet.

We headed south across the plateau. The whole area was a web of semi-labeled trails, I found myself using my compass to keep us headed in the right direction. This lead us down to the PCT and along the ridge to Chinidere Mountain and Wahtum Lake. We spent the first half of the day pushing along through a light rain, wet and demoralized. As we approached the lake, we took a trail that was labelled as a short cut, but it didn’t take us where we expected.

The shortcut took us to the lake’s outlet, where we scrambled across a log jam and found ourselves on the trail down to Eagle Creek. So there we stood, tired and wet, at a literal crossroads. Should we make camp early (it was only one or two in the afternoon) or should we press on another five miles to the Seven and a Half Mile camp? If we hiked down, we would finish our loop a day early. We chose to keep hiking. It could be debated that we chose to ruin ourselves.

We hiked on. The rain came and went and there were a couple of brief flirtations with blue skies. We lost a lot of elevation over those five miles. We also had to make a number of stream crossings and passed a lot of other hikers heading up to the lake. Had it not been raining, it might have just been a hard day on the trail. The rain made it miserable. My buddy had a couple falls and we were lucky that he managed not to damage himself.

Eventually we dragged ourselves into a campsite after hiking over twelve miles through the rain in full packs. We fought through our exhaustion to make camp and cook hot food. Then we passed out.

Rain sucks. I had treated my fatigues with a waterproofing, but it really didn’t do much. I spent most of the day in damp clothes and the only thing that saved us is that I had merino base layers. One of the things that we saw on the trail that day were Russian hikers in ponchos, big ponchos that fit over their packs. Seeing those sneaky Russians was an epiphany. I’m getting a poncho next time I see rain on the forecast.

The other big fail of the day was my poles. I had to replace one of the sections in my poles after my hike on Mount St. Helens. When I tried to use my poles that day, I discovered that the latch on the new section wasn’t tight and that I couldn’t adjust it without tools. I wasn’t carrying tools, so I couldn’t use the pole. I need to remember to test all my gear before heading out.

One of the worst parts of the day is the total lack of photos. It was just too wet to risk the camera.

The next day would be better, but we were already so broken that it was still an ordeal.