Trail Stories #3. “Ace” and I were three days into our circumambulation of Mt. Rainier via The Wonderland Trail. This hike punctuated my life. I had just finished several temp-work years perf testing video drivers at The Great Satan, and they had liked me enough to hire me for real. I had taken a month off before going full-time, because, well, that had been a lot of work, and switching to perf testing web browsers was going to be even more (“The Internet” was just then really taking off for consumers, mostly via Netscape). Ten days of that month were devoted to the Wonderland. The previous day, we had hiked from Mystic Lake to White River (the day after I pissed on an asshole’s bike). “Mrs. Dean” was driving in to meet us, as White River is not backcountry. On the steep descent from Sunrise, Ace made an accidentally disparaging comment about whether Mrs. Dean would be sitting in the shade waiting for us, to which, in umbrage, I insisted that I would be dumbfounded if she didn’t meet us halfway down (or, for Mrs. Dean, up). I was, of course, correct.

The next morning, Mrs. Dean accompanied us up the trail to Panhandle Gap, turning around there so she could get back to the car and Seattle at a reasonable hour. Ace and I continued on to Indian Bar. It had been cloudy and showery since yesterday, and much of our gear was dampish, but just as we finished setting up camp, the sun broke out and we spread our stuff out to let it dry as much as possible. The respite was brief, and after only half an hour we were hastening to fling stuff into our tents to get it out of a sudden squall. After the squall I hiked around to where I could get a nice view down the Ohanapecosh River, while Ace was scrambling about elsewhere, perhaps investigating the welcoming group shelter nearby. It was warm but humid, and I noticed a fog bank making its way up the valley (at that elevation, really not much more than a broad but rough steep ditch). What caught my eye was that the fog was not a massive bank, but more a finger gradually intruding upwards along the valley bottom, sort of like an inflating tubular balloon. I soon noticed that the fog finger was rotating as it penetrated upwards along the river. Not only rotating, but beginning to distend radially, so that what was once a rotating circular tube became more and more oval, quickly becoming two lobes that suddenly snapped into individual, circular, co-revolving tubes, like a DNA double helix, each orbiting the common center but rotating individually. Each sub-tube again distended and snapped in two, so that now there were four of them! You may recall that I am quite the aficionado of fractals, and here I was, observing fractal math in action. The intertwined fog helices continued to ramify, rotating and splitting ever faster, until, just before the finger reached me, the whole mass fragmented into pieces too small to be resolved as anything but a diffuse mass just as it was when I first noticed it. I was engulfed in my own fantasy. Imbued with all of my thoughts, ever. As it continued on above me, following the gulch upstream, ponderously rotating, the fragmented mass repeated its former dynamic, distending, splitting, ramifying in powers of two until the pattern again dissolved.

I really want to return to Indian Bar sometime (perhaps via Nickel Creek, where, if you follow the trail to the camping areas far enough back, you come upon piles of fragmented pentagonal andesite). It would be a great trip for a group, given the shelter, and it has absolutely the best outhouse I have ever used: roofed, but open on the sides for an awesome view. I’ve heard there’s a better one in Glacier; I will have to seek that shit out.

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