I was surprised when I got to the Ira Spring trailhead parking lot. I arrived at 8 AM and had expected only a partially filled lot but found it was nearly packed with only a couple of spaces available. The fact that the day was literally cloudless and the sky was that shade of blue that inspired Perry Como had a lot to do with it.
Strapping on my 45lbs backpack, (hiking the Cascades above 3,000ft this time of the year you tend to have a lot more gear) I started out. I had on an out layer which didn't make it half a mile before it was strapped to the pack. The sun was blinding and with that much weight I was really heating up. As the trail changed from an easy incline to switchbacks there appeared snow/ice patches more and more frequently. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have put on my crampons a lot sooner.
With all the traffic on the trail, you would have thought you were on I405 at rush hour. That was fine by me as I met a lot of really friendly folks and enjoyed conversations with folks that were just as happy as I was to be on the trail. Some were very experienced, some not so experienced, but all enthralled by the views of the mountains and especially Mt. Rainier.
I made it to Mason Lake around lunch time and after a quick bite to eat, set up my hammock and rainfly. The sun was shining, the hammock was inviting so I relaxed and took a nap for an hour. Why not?
As the sun started moving closer to the edge of the mountains I decided to get busy with setting up for the night. I found a flat rock, moved it over to my camp site and with a few twigs built a little fire on it to keep warm. The wind was really picking up so I got creative with some paracord and my ground tarp to make a wind break. For the most part it worked but as the evening wore on, the wind became stronger and started to blow the embers of my little fire all over the place. It was time for bed. I shoveled a load of snow onto the fire to put it out and crawled into my hammock expecting to get a good night's sleep. Nope.
The wind kept blowing harder and harder. Twice I had to get up and adjust or fix my rainfly which was being battered badly by the wind. The noise was a little un-nerving and I could hear my hammock straps vibrating in the wind. Finally, about 2am the wind abated and I was able to drift off to sleep.
The morning was worth it. Mason Lake was a perfect mirror of the mountains surrounding it and honestly took my breath away. I cleaned up the campsite and took down the wind break I'd put up. It was partially taken down by the wind anyway and then cooked up some porridge and a cup of tea. The lake was enchanting and I lingered over breakfast and delayed breaking camp for a while just enjoying the views.
Finally breaking camp, I got packed up, did a last walk around to make sure there was nothing left from my visit and headed back down the trail. Despite the scary night, this was a great overnighter.