This adventure started off like most others Chris and I do when we get together--we were late and slightly unprepared. haha. We showed up to the ranger station and needed to fill out a backpacking permit, which costs less than $10, but both of us only had credit cards, which are not accepted at the small park entrance we were using. Luckily, the ranger was nice about it and just let us pass without paying the fee this time around. After arranging the gear in our packs, we loaded up and headed out on the Carbon Glacier trail. Hikers used to be able to drive to the campground, but repeated road washouts caused the park service to just close it to vehicles; the 6 mile hike in is now only accessible via foot or bike.
It was a pleasant, relatively flat hike in to the campground. Carbon Creek, which flows directly from Carbon Glacier, raged next to us for most of the hike so it kept the sights interesting. The river was fast and flowed over a steep river bed of of large, rounded stones intermixed with lots of vegetation debris. The river often jumped the bank and flooded large sections of the flat forest around us.
After arriving at the campsite, we dropped our gear, set up shop and continued on to find Carbon Glacier, which was a few miles up the trail. It was a gorgeous trail filled with waterfalls and greenery. Several people we passed informed us of a bear acting aggressive on the trail ahead saying that he even fake charged at them as they tried to pass. By the time we got to him, he was up on a hillside eating berries. He casually looks at us, but just luckily, just went back to eating. It was pretty exciting for me, as this was my first encounter with a bear!
One of the waterfalls along the way
My first wild bear!
The day was a mix of sun and clouds so we didn't get any great pictures of Mt. Rainer's summit. The low clouds only parted a bit several times revealing the mountain's base underneath.
After we walked up the trail for a few miles, we finally got to some old snow from the previous winter. The trail seemed to end at this point and the hillsides were covered in piles of busted up rocks so we figured we must be getting close to the glacier. With still no sign of Carbon Glacier, we hung around the old snow, crawling in and out of it's hollowed snow caves and enjoyed a Rainier beer while we enjoyed the scene while trying to plan our next move in search of the glacial mass.
Mt Rainier peeking out
Chris at a creek crossing
cute little snow cave we army crawled through
Enjoying a Rainier with Rainier in the background
While sitting on the snow basking in the sun and Rainier, we kept talking about the rock wall in front of us and how strange it looked with its smooth face and strange striations. Every now and then rocks would even crumble from it's steep face. It then occurred to us that this "rock" was actually a glacier! Carbon Glacier has a covering of rocks and debris, giving it the dark coloring uncharacteristic of most glaciers.
Standing next to the glacier was one of the most stunning moments I can remember. Everything about our surroundings suddenly became so big.We hopped down one giant rock at a time to get a closer look, but still had a healthy distance between the ice and ourselves due to the Carbon River acting as a barrier. The walls of the glacier were tall and gnarled with huge masses of rock debris piled around it's perimeter. Giant chunks of bounders were sticking out of it's steep snout just waiting for the coming weeks, days, or minutes when the ice would melt just enough to release it bounce and crash it's way down to the ground below. Water gushed from underneath glacier, feeding the Carbon River that, like a trail of bread crumbs, lead us to this very spot.
We spent the remained of the afternoon gazing in amazement at the mammoth hiding in plain sight until it was time to head back to camp.
The huge rocks surround the ice.
With Chris leading, we headed back to camp for dinner. As we rounded one of the corners, he stopped instantly in his tracks. I was a few steps back and couldn't see anything, but immediately knew it was the bear.He turned around and hastily said something about the bear and that we needed to walk the other way quickly. I looked up and could see only the bear's ears bobbing back and forth on the other side of the brush as he made his way over to us. I know you aren't supposed to run from bears, but it was soooo hard not to. We kept looking behind behind us every few steps to see if he was coming. When he was out of sight, we ducked into the brush and crawled down a hill thinking that we would walk around him, giving him a wide berth.
The brush was so thick it was physically cutting my legs so I thought for sure the bear wouldn't find himself in our safety net. At the very moment I thought that and felt safe, I looked down and saw a large, fresh pile of bear scat! We were now stuck between the bear on the trail and the raging Carbon River, which we were not going to be able to pass even if we needed to. We slowly navigated our way along the river bank until we were well beyond the point where we initially saw the bear along the trail. At this point we made our way back onto the path and walked back to camp...looking over our shoulder every few feet to see if he was coming.
Chris navigating bushes and the river
Back at camp, we made dinner and listened to our drunken camp neighbor. He was solo camping (or so I think) and was drinking himself to sleep while singing incorrect lyrics over and over again, "Yippee Thai Yay." I think it's safe to say that we didn't have any wildlife encounters that night.
We awoke to a peaceful morning by the river, watching mountain goats scale a cliffside while we had breakfast. It was a fun way to reminisce about our hilarious adventure the day before of looking for a glacier in disguise escaping a curious bear.