Monday, May 25, 2015

The Greider Lakes Convergence Zone and the Curse of Heather

Well, I can't say I wasn't warned. (about the convergence zone; if I had known about Heather's luck, I might not be telling this tale!)

I was chopping at the bit when I saw the weather forecast for my two days off work. Upper seventies in May!? I had to do another backpack.
Looking perky at the "beginning"
I didn't want to drive too far, I didn't want too many miles, I wanted to see a few mountains, I wanted a good campsite with a fire pit...I was feeling a bit more picky than usual, because I really wanted to make it count. And I wanted it to be a good experience for Heather; my new convert.

Heather is no stranger to camping, or the woes of nature, (she had some tales!) but her "new" two year old backpack had yet to see the light of day. The woes of parenthood had restricted her schedule, (we connected years ago when she roped me into helping out with her girl scout troupe, and recently reconnected when spending countless hours cheering our girls on at the volleyball tournament scene) but somehow she was able to carve out a couple days to getaway, and she was ready to break that backpack in.  
While researching early season trips, I came across Greider Lakes; a place I've never heard of before. The trail description on the WTA website does it no favors: "Start by skirting the Reflection Ponds, two insect-incubating wetland pools"... that sounds appealing, right? "Hey Heather, want to go to a cesspool?" But the trip reports were pretty positive, so I decided to ask around a bit more. I posted a question on my other favorite website, NWhikers, and got some very specific instructions about this hike: "Whatever you do, don't go on a rainy weekend! This is where the convergence zone converges! No matter what rain gear you bring, you will get wet! " This place was sounding better by the minute!

Still sunny!
So why did I decide to go there? Ironically, it was the weather forecast--Sultan looked more favorable than my 2nd choice of Annette Lake at Snoqualmie Pass. Those frickin' lying forecasters!!!! Though, I suppose the forecast for Sultan is not specifically the same as "the convergence zone" of the Greider Lakes; something I will not soon forget. 

To the forecasters credit, the weather was perfect when we parked at the trailhead. It was perfect for the first mile or so...and then the thunder started. We talked a good game about it not being a big deal, that it would blow over...but neither of us could deny seeing the very nasty clouds directly over where we assumed we were headed.

I have to mention here that the first two miles of this hike are not mentioned at all in the "cesspool" trail description. Because I was going completely off of the trip reports, I knew all about the added mileage, (it's because part of the old access road has been given back to nature) but I foolishly assumed the WTA website had updated it's "8.6 roundtrip" status to reflect the change, so thankfully we got an earlier start than expected. We also nearly made a fatal mistake of taking an unmarked trail at what was almost two miles in. There were very large posts in the ground directly in front of the trail, making me think that possibly the sign had just been taken down. I'm glad hiking lesson #9 came to mind: "never assume that a trail going off the main trail is the one your looking for, unless it is clearly marked" we decided to push on. 
A little less perky at the 2nd trailhead
It was not much further when we came to the obvious trailhead and "started" the hike. I was a little shocked when Heather asked me if I was ready for the 40 switchbacks...40 switchbacks? Did I even research this hike at all? I guess I was just excited about the nice campsites with fire pits and the short drive. Sheesh. 

At about switchback 35 the thunder and lightning could no longer be ignored...time to get out the rain gear that was already promised not to matter. As Heather opened her pack, it tipped over, and something fell out. We saw it start to roll. I realized at that point that the "something" was one of my two $200 Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping pads (both my husband and I have one; they are the BEST) that I insisted Heather borrow. So nicely compacted and round, it really rolls well! Right down the very steep cliff we had just switchbacked up, it rolled quite quickly until it slowed down and teetered on the last edge in view. This is when Heather pulled out an awesome mom voice, and with an almost God like authority shouted, "you stop, NOW!!!"...and for a second I thought it worked. But I swear if that pad had a middle finger, it would have flipped it as it pitched itself with force over that edge and out of sight.
Up until this point, Heather had been trying to make me feel better about the ever increasing thunder and lightning by telling me all sorts of "trips gone bad" stories, and how even though she was doomed to always have something go wrong, she had learned that the "joy was in the journey", and not to worry about it. (I can't say I wasn't thinking "wish you would have told me about your bad luck sooner") But when that pad rolled away, Heather was not smiling and telling me not to worry about it...she was already 3 switchbacks down before I could even blink. I didn't think there was a chance in hell she'd find it--I was already wondering if I'd give her one out of every two hours I slept on mine--but somehow she did.
By the time she made it back up and we got our gear back on, the skies had opened up. Massive hail that quickly turned into massive droplets, we were steadily pummeled until finally reaching the first lake. The campsites were great as promised, but there was only one problem; they were under after the other...not to mention the mosquitoes were all over us. Joy in the journey, my ass!!!
How about this one?
We were far too committed at this point to turn back, but the situation was really not looking good. Heather was keeping an annoyingly good attitude, and pointed out we could pitch our tent on the trail if needed, since we were pretty sure nobody else would be showing up. I knew there were a few inferior sites at the upper lake, but the thought of pushing on to those, only to possibly find them flooded too, was really disheartening. Then suddenly the forest opened up, and we stumbled upon this...
It felt like we had found a life raft!! Sure, we still had to slosh in the mud around our little ark, but it was all good. We had an awesome view of the lake, a nice fire ring complete with bench (we were not the ones to make such a big fire as to scorch it--I promise it was like that when we got there!) and of course the confidence we would not be eventually washed away. Things were starting to look up.
All our stuff out of the mud--hooray!
See one of our mosquito friends in the corner?
After setting up camp, we thought we might as well take our soggy selves and check out the upper lake. After breathing mosquitoes and gnats the entire way, we took one picture, turned right around, and breathed in bugs all the way back.
Big Greider Lake...I think I can count 5 mosquitoes in this one and only shot
Heading back--see our tent?
Back at camp, our hopes for the rain easing up came true; and after we finally got the fire going strong, it actually turned out to be a very lovely evening.  
I don't know if I can be as exuberant as Heather with a "the joy is in the journey" mantra...because frankly I think sometimes the journey really sucks. I believe the joy is at the end of the journey, when your playing "Spot It" around a cozy campfire, and getting to sleep the whole night on your own $200 sleeping pad, and not waking up in a puddle of water. But, a not so smooth journey always makes a better story, that I know for sure! And being able to laugh through the crappy parts certainly makes any journey more joyful; so for that, I give Heather a very big "thank you!", and I hope we can do it again. (bad luck and all!;))

1 comment:

  1. Trying to find an overnight hike for this weekend and just might choose this one. After reading I still don't know why I find it appealing. But hoping for good weather :P Thanks for the very detailed story!