Skykomish to Stehekin

Skykomish to Stehekin

August 17, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2476.0
End: Halfmile 2504.5
Distance: 28.5 Mi
Cumulative: 2,536.0 Mi

Hitched out at 8a this morning. Had thought about leaving with Happy Pants, Mountain Goat, and Goat last night but figured it’d be nice to spend another night inside in case the weather turned. And they weren’t going far, so I knew I’d catch ’em before long. Thought it might be tomorrow, but they were all tucked in at SallyAnn Lake when I arrived. Mountain Goat was especially happy to see me: “Damn, Sochi!” I just smiled big and started setting up. It’s packed here; glad they saved me a spot.

Ran into Arizona a few miles south of SallyAnn. What a pleasant surprise, seeing him again. The last time was way back in Kennedy Meadows. He flipped up to Canada from Chester and is now completing his hike SOBO. I’m sure there’ll be lots of hikers doing the same. California and Oregon have been ravaged by fires this summer; seems there have been quite a few PCT closures too. Plus it’s getting late in the season. For weather sake, it’s probably best to flip unless you’re getting close and making good time. Glad I didn’t need to do anything like that. I’ve been lucky to maintain a continuous, unbroken foot path so far, and I’m hoping to close out the trip that way. That’s one thing about the weather: it seems the moisture has helped get some of the WA wildfires under control. Nothing affecting the PCT right now, so far as I can tell.

Speaking of the weather, it was markedly better today. Still imperfect, but it seems to be trying to clear up. Lots of clouds in the sky, but nothing overhead. Grateful for the improvement, and hoping for more progress moving forward. Probably gonna keep moving fast the rest of the way, so I can see as much as possible while the weather is nicer. And because I’ve found that I have two speeds: zero, and fast. When I’m moving, I’m moving. And when I’m not, I’m not. Not much in-between. I like sleeping in, taking long lunches, making camp early, and zeros. But I also like cruising. Had planned to slow down for WA, but this works for me too. I’m not killing myself; I feel fantastic. And I’m still getting great photos!

The photo above is of a pine marten – I believe. I saw four of the little guys in a scree field today and stopped for about 20 minutes to watch them. Cute little buggers. And quite curious.

August 18, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2504.5
End: Halfmile 2541.0
Distance: 36.5 Mi
Cumulative: 2,572.5 Mi

Emerged from my tent this morning and was greeted by a clear sky, which sent my spirits soaring for the first time since Goat Rocks. Gotta go, gotta go, gotta see it all! You’d probably expect me to savor these incredible views, but instead I was hiking as hard as I could. I’d made up my mind to see – and capture – as many vistas as possible. I kept thinking about how these might be the only clear skies between me and Canada. Of course clouds were building throughout the day, but nothing was socked in. The clouds today only augmented the natural beauty of this place. It was wonderful, a pleasant surprise. I’m starting to see some of the things I’ve missed here in Washington. Today whet my appetite. I want more; I want all the views.

I’d considered camping with the others tonight at Mica Lake, which was stunningly beautiful. We arrived early – before 5p. And the trail beckoned me to move forward, as if to say “there is so much more to see today.” I still had a few hours left in me, so I pressed on, figuring I’d find the next available camp after Milk Creek. I felt surprisingly fresh, despite the hard day.

After Mica Lake, the bottom fell out. There was a huge descent down to Milk Creek, followed immediately by an equally huge ascent out of it. The trail was steady up and impressively overgrown. The side slope was steep. The only place to camp was about a quarter of the way up. It was a junction with another trail. There was a flat spot, though it was far from optimal. The site was in a depression on a steep side slope below a dip in the trail. Given my recent experience – and the thick, dark clouds overhead – I quickly dismissed the site as unsuitable and continued the climb. I knew I’d be hiking late as a result, but that seemed the lesser of the two evils.

Out at 630a; in at 830p. It’s been a long day, but so beautiful. So worth it. I’m camped at Dolly Vista Camp, looking out over the distant snow-capped peaks of the North Cascades. They seem to be inching closer with each step, and yet I never seem to be any closer. I feel surrounded by rugged, impenetrable peaks, but not among them, as I had in the Sierra. It’s an impossible condition akin to the Penrose Staircase. Perpetually climbing, but never higher. Oh, I dunno. Does this make any sense? No matter, I’m rambling. Probably a good place to conclude this post.

August 19, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2541.0
End: Halfmile 2572.0
Distance: 31.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,603.5 Mi

Big milestones today. I’ve been tracking my miles since the beginning, including re-routes, alternates, and side trips. As of today, I’ve hiked over 2,600 miles and have fewer than 100 total trail miles now between me and Canada. The end is near.

There were clouds everywhere this morning. It wasn’t raining when I woke and didn’t seem to have rained last night. I packed up dry and started my day right. But looking out over the valleys made me nervous. It was beautiful, yes. But also grim. The rain started falling just minutes after I’d started walking, but it didn’t last. It wasn’t the rain but the overgrowth that soaked me yet again. Ok, another one of those days. The clouds persisted, but nothing was really socked in. Did the best I could to appreciate my good luck. It was tough after such a gorgeous morning yesterday, but I managed.

There is an old PCT and a new PCT across the Suiattle River. The old PCT is washed out and no longer maintained. The new PCT adds 5 miles to the original length of trail. I chose the new PCT, because the old utilizes a downed tree to cross the Suiattle. Taking the old PCT runs the risk of coming to the Suiattle River only to find that tree already washed away, which would require backtracking a few miles through gnarly, overgrown, umaintained trail, the same trail through which you would’ve already bushwhacked to arrive at the Suiattle in the first place. In that case, it would be tempting to try to ford the river, but it’s far too fast to ford safely. Better to backtrack. They’re only miles. The new PCT is more walking, but it’s easy. And there’s no stress, or temptation to do something stupid. You just walk. When I arrived at the northern junction of the old and the new, I went down the old about a quarter mile just to see if the log crossing was still intact. It is. And it looks pretty easy. There is nothing sketchy or technical about it, except the exposure. There’s no room for error; the Suiattle surges mercilessly underfoot. It’s no joke, though it is far prettier than the new crossing. Part of me wishes I had taken the chance and done it to begin with, but something inside me said to play it safe, and over the years I’ve learned to listen to that something.

Tonight I’m camped comfortably at Swamp Creek Camp, just 8 miles from High Bridge and the Stehekin shuttle. Should be pretty cruiser tomorrow. Hoping to make the early bus at 9a and be back on trail by late afternoon. Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see how it goes.

August 20, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2572.0
End: Halfmile 2580.0
Distance: 8.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,611.5 Mi

Hiking was easy today, much to my surprise. Had expected a stout climb followed in rapid succession by a steep drop to a pass. Instead, it was fairly level. I easily made the 9a bus.

Stehekin is tucked away among the north Cascades right on the shore of Lake Chelan, the third deepest fresh water lake in the lower 48 (behind Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe, respectively). Pretty neat that the PCT more or less skirts all three. The town is quaint, and beautiful, and isolated. It’s cut off. No road access, wifi, or landlines. The only public link to the outside world is a pay satellite phone. Had to purchase a phone card just to get a call out to Cass. It’s neat that this remote haven is our last stop en route to Canada.

I had planned a quick in, quick out stop in Stehekin and was hoping to catch the 2p shuttle back up to the trail. Instead, I spent my day drinking with Dirtmonger and Bearclaw. Time well-spent. They’re a rad couple; I really enjoyed getting to know them a little bit. Goat, Mountain Goat, and Happy Pants arrived on the afternoon bus. We all had dinner together. Today was a celebration among friends of this thing we’ve nearly done. I couldn’t bring myself to rush outta here. I may never see these friends again. Our incredible accomplishment is looming just ahead – one last leg now between here and Canada. Only a few days remain in this, our fairy tale. We’re close. But still- nothing yet accomplished, nothing yet in stone. A lot could happen in 90 miles. Gotta remain vigilant and take nothing for granted. One step at a time.

Planning to be on the first bus out tomorrow morning, but the plan is – as always – subject to change. Let’s just see how it goes. No stress.

Skykomish Zero

Skykomish Zero

August 16, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2476.0
End: Halfmile 2476.0
Distance: ZERO
Cumulative: 2,507.5 Mi

Zeroed at the Dinsmore’s today. With the end so near, this may well be my last opportunity to update this blog before I reach Canada. I’ll try at Stehekin, but it’s a long shot. Hope you’re all enjoying the read! Had to go into Skykomish today to hit the library and email camera photos to myself, so I could update via my phone. Smartphones are cool like that.

Spent a few hours there and hitched back. Hitching isn’t really my favorite. It’s kind of fun with a few folks, but it’s harder to get rides that way. It’s awkward when I’m standing by the road alone with my short shorts. I feel dirty, like I’m doing something wrong. The longer I stand there, the more awkward I feel, and after a while I catch myself thinking bad thoughts about drivers who don’t stop. Jerk. What’s the problem? I’m pretty. It’s absurd, actually. Like I expect them to cater to my “needs” when I’m the one on vacation. (Part of it is that sometimes it’s so easy and I get spoiled for the next time. Part of it is that I live a charmed life and I’m spoiled to begin with.) Then eventually I catch a ride, and all is right with the world. There is nothing more gratifying. This hitching thing isn’t so bad. And it’s really not. It’s kinda fun, despite my rant. It’s just a love-hate kinda fun.

The above photo is of 6 of us – three on each bench – cramming into an already-packed Cadillac. And then the time I got picked up by a septic truck. And the times I rode in the bed of a pickup truck. And the time I thought I might get picked up by an ambulance. (How cool would that have been?!) See? Fun.

Snoqualmie Pass to Skykomish

Snoqualmie Pass to Skykomish

August 13, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2402.0
End: Goldmyer Alternate Mile 15.0 (of 26.5)
Distance: 15.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,458.0 Mi

First things first. Another one year anniversary, this time of my relationship with my dear, sweet Cassie Jane. Happy anniversary, my love! Looking forward to many more. Can’t wait to see you in Canada!

We weren’t exactly raring to go this morning. Still rainy and grey with a forecast that unfortunately isn’t anymore promising. Picked up my “sweet and salty” resupply last night at Chevron. Literally junk food for three days: jerky, cheez-its, goldfish, cookies, and candy. Looks like I chose the right time for it. I may need the comfort food. And besides, when will I get to do something like this again?!

Met John for breakfast this morning. So good to see another old friend. I’ve been lucky to see so many this summer. Thanks for making the trip, John! And for breakfast, and for the iodine, and the morale boost. Nearly there now. Just two more stops before Canada!

Left around 1130a. We climbed up, up and up into the clouds. I’d been dreading it, but it was actually kinda cool. Not like three days cool, but like three hours cool. I dunno how I’m gonna get good photos. Everything looks the same when it’s socked in. I’ll have to be lucky, I guess. Hope it’s not like this the rest of the way.

We took the Goldmyer Alternate out of town. I didn’t know anything about it, except that it included hot springs. I hated to miss the catwalk, but figured at least the hot springs weren’t weather-dependent, so I played it safe. Didn’t know there was a fee, or I would’ve just stayed on the PCT. Paid it, because I figured it was silly to do an alternate and not enjoy the main attraction. Good investment, actually. The springs were small but cool. I had the place mostly to myself anyways. (One advantage of the iffy weather.) Wouldn’t do it again, but didn’t feel it was a total loss either. It was nice to soak for a few hours.

We only did 15 miles today, but the alternate saved 9 PCT miles, so that made up for it. Camped on a raised tent pad at a primitive horse camp tonight, so bring on the rain if it’s comin’. I ain’t scurred.

August 14, 2014

Start: Goldmyer Alternate Mile 15.0 (of 26.5)
End: Halfmile 2456.0
Distance: 11.5 + 18.0 = 29.5 Mi
Cumulative: 2,487.5 Mi

My alarm went off at 515a. The pitter-patter of rain convinced me to re-set it for 615a, then hit snooze a few times. Off to a good start. Everyone else was already gone when I finally emerged from my tent. It was foggy and cloudy; moisture hung thick in the air. But it wasn’t raining. And yet, no views today, not a one. Not even enough to feel like I was missing something. Just grey and a few trees. I had hoped that being here in August would be my saving grace, but it seems the rainy season may have arrived a bit early this year. Still, there is nowhere I’d rather be.

There was a “potentially dangerous ford” noted on Halfmile’s maps today. And it was. Crossed a raging drainage on two tooth picks, afraid with each step that either might splinter and fall into the torrent below, taking me with it. I was ahead of Mountain Goat but figured she wouldn’t wanna face that crossing alone, so I waited. It was pretty sketch. But it was also gorgeous and kinda cool. In fact, the coolest thing I’d seen or done for a few days. And even fun, believe it or not. (Sorta.)

You’ll never believe this next bit, but she and I saw a cougar today at lunch. I know what you’re thinking. Yeah, right. Three in one summer – no way, no how. But I’m for real. He was picking his way down the opposite mountainside. He may have been a quarter mile away as the crow flies, but his tan color contrasted clearly against the rocky slope, his cat-like posture as clear as his coat. He was big. And the way he moved, like nothing else does. His steps were calm and deliberate, an exercise in poise and agility. I could almost see him peering over at us, likely wondering whether we saw him too. Then he was gone, disappeared in the trees. And that was that. How-freaking-cool.

I know how it sounds – how unlikely it is – but I don’t care. I’m certain of what I saw. Maybe I should change my name to Cougar Bait. They seem to like me.

August 15, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2456.0
End: Halfmile 2476.0
Distance: 20.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,507.5 Mi

Crushed to the Dinsmore’s this morning. Twenty miles felt like five. Cruising, hard.

I woke up ready to be warm, dry, clean, and fed. Donned my cold, wet clothes, packed my wet gear, and rolled out. It rained hard last night as we were nearing camp. We were soaked within minutes, but fortunately it let up just as we arrived. Managed to get set up and stripped down during the lull. Lying in my tent now, damp but not soaked. No complaints.

There was enough of a view this morning to take the sting out of the last few days, but not enough to make up for what I know I missed. It was kind of a tease, actually. But a beautiful tease. It was majestic and tragic all at once. I just stood there, admiring the way the clouds settled in the valley, the way I could almost see the snow-capped northern Cascades towering above them. Almost, were it not for the persistent fog that shrouded them. And me.

In willing myself not to be bitter, I realized that the weather isn’t at fault for my attitude. My expectations are. Time to let go of those expectations and embrace the wild, untamed, free-willed nature of the outdoors. It’s a wonderful privilege to be out here, even in the rain. I just need to remember that this can be fun. I can’t control the weather, but I most certainly can control my experience in it.

Managed to get to the post office this afternoon in time to pick up a few much-appreciated care packages. It’s a helluva morale boost when the postmaster hands you a stack of six packages, even if one of them is a resupply box. I’m loved! Thank you so much JD, Kate, Mommy, and Gramma for the socks, treats, lunch money, and words of love and encouragement. And to Becca and Rachel for the latter.

Smiling so big right now.

White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

August 11, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2329.0
End: Halfmile 2360.0
Distance: 31.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,401.0 Mi

Seemed hazy as I entered Mt. Rainier National Park this morning. Rainier was beautiful; she kept peering at me over nearby ridges as I made my way north. My wide angle lens didn’t do me any favors today, but you can’t win ’em all. Some scenes are more beautiful because you can’t capture them. They’re fleeting.

Took an early lunch today. It was awesome. Came to a spring pouring right out of the mountainside. Clear, cold, piped. Didn’t treat this stuff. May have been a mistake, but it just seemed a travesty to add iodine to such a pristine source. (The old Steri Pen isn’t cooperating.) Enjoyed the shade and soft ground this afternoon. It’s true the miles won’t do themselves, but they’re not going anywhere either. They’ll keep for an hour, I thought as I laid back and pulled my cap over my face. And wouldn’t ya know they were still there when I woke up. Onward to Canada!

Weather started to build overhead as the day wore on, and I could see smoke billowing up from a wildfire beyond a nearby ridge – not the conditions I had hoped for here in Washington. “Smoky” and “cloudy” may be the adjectives that describe my last days on trail. But hopefully “re-route” and “drenched” won’t be. Currently set up nicely in camp listening to the intermittent thunder. Dry and happy on the PCT…for the time being.

August 12, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2360.0
End: Halfmile 2402.0
Distance: 42.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,443.0 Mi

Here I am at the Summit Inn at Snoqualmie Pass with Mountain Goat and Happy Pants. It wasn’t my game plan, but plans have a funny way of changing out here.

Last night was great, despite the rain. It pays to set up early…when you do it right. I was warm and dry all night. Heard a lull in the weather about 4a this morning, so I got up early, packed up dry, and started my day happy. The sky was still foreboding, a mess of smoke and clouds, no way to tell the difference. The conflicting smells of fire and rain filled my nostrils. I decided to shoot for the pass if the weather got nasty. About 430p, the thunder started, deep and throaty. I pressed on, determined to get to and set up camp before the storm assailed me.

Success, or so I thought. I set up short of my original goal, mile 2,393 rather than 2,397. I thought I was doing well to play the long game: stay dry and make up the miles with another early start. It sounded good in my head. And indeed, it was an excellent plan, just poorly executed. Every site looks good when it’s dry. I set up in an established site near Mirror Lake.

I was in my tent when the rain began to tap-tap-tap on my tent. I smiled to myself, happy with my decision to call it early. The light rain rapidly devolved into a heavy downpour, a battle of epic proportions. It didn’t take long for a river to form underneath my tent. It was flowing and my ground cloth undulated with the surging current. Holy eff, this is gonna get ugly. I knew if it didn’t let up fast, I’d be in trouble. When my flip flops started to float away, I knew my situation was hopeless. It was out of control, comical even. First I laughed, then I cried, then I resigned myself to do what was necessary, however unpleasant. I packed up, doing my best to waterproof the essentials: camera, journal, puffy, quilt. Everything else be damned; triage.

Turns out I had set up right on the fall line and in a drainage. Oh, god. What a rookie move, especially knowing that weather was coming in. Can’t believe I didn’t look more critically. It’s not like I was racing the rain yet. I had time; I just spaced. More lessons learned – and reinforced – the hard way.

I pushed hard for Snoqualmie, knowing that the next 9 miles would be miserable. I was cursing my stupidity, and even cursing the decision to stop at all. I would’ve been here an hour earlier and been more dry if I’d simply kept going. But I was being cheap. I didn’t wanna spend $50 on a room, even though I could afford it. Turns out I spent the money anyways and would’ve gotten a better value if I’d committed to doing so earlier. Something about hindsight being 20-20. Just gotta do the best you can with the information you’ve got. That’s what I did, so I can’t be too mad. Anyways, I’m here now.

Looks like I need to get used to being wet. And better at choosing camp sites. The weather is looking like more of the same as we head north to Skykomish. It’s gonna be an interesting three days. Bring it!

Trout Lake to White Pass

Trout Lake to White Pass

August 8, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2237.5
End: Halfmile 2268.5
Distance: 31.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,308.5 Mi

The incredible Trout Lake hospitality was in full swing this morning. Brendan got me going with eggs, toast, and cantaloupe for breakfast. Then Margot fixed a steak sandwich to go and gave me an orange and some cookies for the road. And on the way back to the trail, she pulled into the cafe so I could grab another huckleberry smoothie. I don’t know how I found the will power to leave. Thank you all for making it so hard!

I found out a few days ago that I got an invitation to attend Open Sky training next month. Stoked! It’s not a job offer, just another step in the process. Still, I’m making moves and heading in the right direction! At least now I know where I’m going after Canada, for a few weeks anyways.

August 9, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2268.5
End: Halfmile 2301.0
Distance: 32.5 Mi
Cumulative: 2,341.0 Mi

Site selection last night was sub-optimal. I got desperate as the hour neared 9p. It was dark, and I was ready to be done for the day. Had been shooting for the “good camping” at the “prominent ridge” noted in Yogi’s guide. If it was the ridge at the exact mile she listed, it was a steep climb with no defined user trail. It didn’t look very promising. Twilight was already waning, and I was in no mood for a wild goose chase, so I just pressed on rather than stumble around on blind hope. I made a conscious decision to take the first “crappy but reasonable” site I came to. Ten minutes later, there it was. Slanted, but manageable. I was so tired it didn’t matter. Slept really well, much to my surprise.

Goat Rocks today was epic. By far the coolest thing since the High Sierra. Been looking forward to the Knife Edge since I first heard about it in 2011. It didn’t disappoint. So sweet. And beautiful weather. So grateful for the picturesque, wispy clouds and warm, bright sun. Brendan said I’d wanna take my time, and he was right. I can always blast through the green tunnel if I need to make up some miles, but hopefully I won’t have to. Only a few hundred precious miles left.

August 10, 2014

Start: Halfmile 2301.0
End: Halfmile 2329.0
Distance: 28.0 + 1.0 = 29.0 Mi
Cumulative: 2,370.0 Mi

Above all, happy one year anniversary to SC2SC13. One year ago today, we reached the Pacific after cycling 4,250 miles from Charleston, SC to Santa Cruz, CA. (We took the scenic route.) We raised money, volunteered, and rode for Bike & Build in the name of Affordable Housing. I shared an epic summer with 27 of my dearest friends, 27 of my favorite people, 27 of my family. Some truly exceptional folks.

Today also marks two weeks from the conclusion of my current summer adventure. It’s bitter-sweet. I said goodbye to Young Grasshopper today at White Pass. I was happy to have had the chance. Didn’t occur to me to say bye when I saw Still Steve a few days ago in Trout Lake, though it was likely the last time I’ll see him before I reach Canada. And then there are all of the other friends I’ve made out here. Too many to name. Some are behind, most are ahead. With each passing day, it’s less and less likely that I’ll see them again. I barely know many of them, and they me. But we share the trail. It’s a unique thread that instantly binds us.

This trip is drawing to an end quickly. It seems during every great adventure there comes a time when I’m ready for it to be the memory of a great adventure. That thing I did, rather than that thing I’m doing. I’m not wishing the miles away. I could do 40’s and be done in a flash, but I don’t wanna. I love it out here, the monotony, the brutality, the beauty, the community. When it’s over, I’ll miss it. But I can feel myself moving toward being ready to be done. It’s setting in as if on cue. If I could’ve planned it, I wouldn’t have been able to do so any better. Maybe it’ll be easier to let go and move on than I originally thought. After all, I’ve embraced this trip. I’ve taken side trips and alternates, enjoyed zeros and pristine wilderness, made new friends and brought old friends along through this, my blog. (Thanks for pointing out the latter, Becca!) I have no regrets; I’m living the dream. And there is still some left to live.