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.