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Archive for February, 2013

We set off downhill with Natty and within five minutes I couldn’t feel my feet because the vegetation soaked my socks and the temperature barely reached above freezing.  I found myself staring at my feet to make sure they went where my brain told them to go because I could not really feel them well.  Scout shot downhill first and Hop and Natty got a few switchbacks ahead of me.

A few of the switchbacks were not only wet and slick, but very steep with some sketchy obstacles to maneuver over.  For several miles, this continued until we popped out on a newly constructed, nice bridge over Milk Creek.  Many creeks coming out of glaciers are named “milk” due to the sediment coming out of the glacier turning the water a white color.  This one, however, seemed pretty clear to us.

We had another long, steep set of switchbacks that went on for over two miles of trail in about a third of a mile as the birds flew.  The grade was just mellow enough that we could plug it out with stopping for breaks, but when we hit the top, we all stopped for a super early lunch.

Not only were we hungry, but we found a sweet rock overlook where we could dry out all of our wet crap and sit in the sun like lizards absorbing the warmth of the sun.  About half an hour into our basking, up pops Knees who seemed surprised to see us.

“You zero’ed at the Dinsmore’s didn’t you?” Natty chided, since Knees had a flight deadline in Seattle.

“Yeeeeeah,” Knees replied as he removed his food bag.  “I have a flight out on the 7th in Seattle, so I have to finish before 11am on the 6th.”

“I knew you would zero when I saw you heading over to play croquet with Major Upchuck and Bounce Box with a 12 pack!” Natty exclaimed.

“Yeah.  I did a 39 mile day yesterday to make up for it.  I’m not stopping in Stehekin, so that should save me time,” Knees replied relatively confident.

“Do you have enough food?” I asked skeptically eying his not huge food bag.

“Yeah,” he said lifting it to test it’s weight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEventually, we left our warm rocks for the colder, windy contours which bounced up and down hopping over small streams with sweeping views of the valley running parallel below and a glaciated peak to above.  After walking over two ridges up there, the trail plunged back down to cross the Suiattle River.

This river had caused quite a bit of debate on the PCT Facebook page of whether to take the old PCT which was an unmaintained trail to a giant log crossing the river, or to take the new, maintained PCT to a freshly built bridge.  Seems like an easy answer, right?  Wrong.  The new PCT added five miles.  When you’re low on food and tired from the rugged terrain, five extra miles is a little much.

We got to the junction and veered right onto the old PCT taking our chances since we had multiple confirmations that the log still existed and the old path was indeed faster despite being unmaintained as long as you did not get lost.  Easy enough, right?

Between the four of us, we could find the trail fairly easily as we climbed the obstacle course of blowdowns.  Eight eyes proved

Suiattle Log

Suiattle Log

incredibly more useful than two.  We found our way through the muck at the bottom of the hill and popped out on a gravel bar, hearing a high, raging river.  We followed some cairns and neon green bandana’s from Shrek’s house and found the log no problem.  The water looked cold.  And unfriendly.  We decided butt scooting across was our safest bet.  Scout went first and got over ok.  I went next followed by Natty and Hop-a-long.  It was surprisingly more straining than expected.

At the other end of the log, we had to shimmy up some slippery sand quickly before it gave way under our feet to the trees.  Once across, we had the challenge of finding the trail again because the old PCT was nowhere to be seen.  Mouse had written a note on the Facebook page to not bother trying to find it and just bushwhack up the hill and we’d run into it.  Sounded easy enough.  The map showed that should happen as well.

The hillside went straight up, the ground was soft, and the vegetation was thick, but sure enough, after about 10 or 15 minutes, we came to the trail which was so nicely maintained and obvious.  We rejoiced at our success and began climbing anew.

We all seemed to get a second wind climbing this hill, probably from our exhilaration crossing the log and climbing over all the other giant dead trees.  The climb had two parts to it separated by a half mile or so of flat-ish stuff.  Once we hit the flat stuff, we knew we were close to a marked campsite near a stream.  Of course, it was dark and we found many more streams than were marked on the map and data book.  Once we found it, we saw how obvious it was and found great, large, flat spots to sleep.

Setting up immediately, we wondered if Knees was in front or behind it since he hauled out away from our rock drying spot.  We settled in for a blisteringly cold night, waking up to frost and a deep cold and Natty yelling at us to get up at 5:45am.

At least we had almost three more miles of solid uphill to warm us up slightly since the we seemed to stay in the shade the whole time.  I remembered the desert and how much I missed trees then.  I found it ironic that I missed the desert in that moment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANearing the top, we ran into a very encouraging note written in sticks and moss, “-100” it said referring to 100 miles left to Canada.  The climb seemed to drag on that morning due to the cold, but eventually, we crested the top, getting a great views.  Even more exciting, we had basically 20 miles of downhill to High Bridge where we had to catch a shuttle bus to Stehekin at 6pm.  Of course there are always a few bumps.

We took a break right in the middle of the trail at the first solidly sunny spot we could find, ate, and let the sun warm us.  Half way through the break, none other than Knees showed up!  He had taken the new PCT and crashed out not far behind us.  We all walked on for a few more hours, then stopped for lunch.

“So Veggie,” Knees said as I sat down, “I was examining my food bag after you questioned the amount of food in it and was hoping I could give you four $20 toward a town-beer fund to empty the remaining contents of your food bags.  After lunch, all of us did just that and piled up the little extra bits, halves of tortillas, peanut butter scrapings and emergency, super smashed bars.

With that, Knees buzzed off and we set off slower.  Eventually, we came to an overlook about five miles out or so and spotted a wildfire on the adjacent ridge shooting up billowing black smoke with an occasional tree going completely up in flames.  The four of us sat down, leaned against our packs and watched hiker television for at least half an hour.

We then made the final push to High Bridge and sat at the picnic table bus stop waiting desperately for the bus to take us to food. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A super retro, awesome looking bus showed up and took us right into town where we immediately ran into the restaurant before it closed and found Snow Turtle and Agassi.

“Agassi has been watching every incoming bus for hikers,” Snow Turtle laughed.  Neither of them had seen Natty in several hundred miles.

Right after we ordered food, we realized that we may have missed our beer window at the store.  We rushed over and inquired about beer and a room and they reopened the store so we could load up (thanks Knees!) and grab a room.  While it was probably the most expensive room we got the whole trail, it was certainly the nicest, largest, and warm since it was supposed to be another freezing night.

We had a lazy morning, sleeping in, getting our resupply packages, bumming the employee wi-fi to send a few emails since there was no cell service what-so-ever, and sitting at the bakery for three hours consuming as much as humanly possible.  That was a damn good bakery.

Catching the 3pm bus back to the trail, we eventually got moving slowly, stuffed to the brim with full stomachs and food bags.

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Without a zero day in over 750 miles, bad weather pushed us over the top and we decided to lounge, play Yahtzee, watch television, and enjoy the wonder of beds.  Crappy weather the following morning made us slow getting out of bed and we did not get back to the trail until after 1pm.

Steven’s Pass was covered by a decently thick fog and we had to play with our layer systems a few times before we had it dialed in.  Of course, since it was a pass and we were going out of town, the trail went upwards.  What else is new.

We also had the delight of reading one of half-miles yellow notes at the top of the map section saying, “I have yet to hike the final 193 miles of the PCT.  GPS data was provided by Jack Haskel, Tina Lippke, Joshua ‘Diversity’ Pinedo, Anna ‘North Star’ Sofranko and Bob Woods.  Some waypoints and landmarks in this section are based on TOPO! Software or Google Earth and not collected on trail with a GPS.”  Great.  They weren’t horrible, but the water definitely needed an update.

Passing a large group of shouting boy scouts in jeans and oversized backpacks, we continued past their 4-mile hike out to Lake Valhalla with joy.  We knew we had to make some miles that afternoon, so we continued for quite a while, grabbing some dinner and hiking onward.  Even if it’s a sluggish start out of town, once you’re out, it’s pretty easy to get going, especially after the first few miles.

Cruising down one of the ridges, I heard something strange.  I had that sense of another animal in a close range, but unsure of the type.  Then, not more than twenty feet in front of me a large grey and brown animal, probably weighing at least 30 pounds or so waddled along, up the trail toward me.  Naturally, I started talking to it so it knew I was there.  It paused, looked at me, and kept waddling up the side of the trail toward some trees.  I managed to swing around it in a wide arch through some underbrush and the nonchalant animal just scooted along not caring at all.

I heard footsteps and looked up to see Scout jamming to some tunes coming down the trail.  I yelled up to him and he slowly approached, arched and joined me in examining the animal.

He laughed at me, “It’s a porcupine!”

“It’s giant!” I replied.

“Yeeeaup.  Watch it waddle!” He said.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile we tried to get pictures in the bad light, Hop-a-long came up, as well as Blackout and Silky Smooth and we all watched it eat a purple mushroom the size of a dinner plate.  We then made the connection to all the mutilated large mushrooms we’d seen in the past hundred miles or so.

“I was wondering what was eating all those poisonous mushrooms,” Hop said laughing.

I had never seen a porcupine larger than a house cat.  This one was the size of three large house cats at least.  Super duper awesome.

Scout, Hop-a-long, and I walked until we tripped over ourselves so many times you’d think we never walk anywhere.  That’s usually the time that yields bed time.  We stumbled forward, each popping off to try to find a flat spot to sleep.  On top of a small ridge, we thought we might be out of luck, but the moon and the stars lit the way well and after half an hour of stumbling, I came across a small spot tucked under a few trees.  It was definitely small, but we were all beat and wanted to sleep.  Throwing our stuff down, we cowboy’ed, ate, and slept.

A beautiful sunrise woke us up streaming vivid pink and red into a bright blue sky.  We got on our way and about half a mile OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfurther or less, we found a sign that said, “campsite” with an arrow.  Gotta love that.  We had a sweet spot though, no complaints.

We got to follow amazing ridge lines for many miles that flowed into each other like waves.  With no roads or greasy civilization to be seen, we enjoyed the stillness of the Glacier Peak Wilderness.  The only other people we saw were Silky Smooth and Blackout.

The trail took a more rugged turn as we dove deeper into the wilderness and further from Steven’s Pass.  Our ridge line contours took us all over the map, cutting up on, glimpsing a great view of a glaciated peak, then plunging down the other side, crossing large melt rivers, then shooting back up until we rounded each peak.  The three of us paused to put something in our rumbling stomachs which did not seem to appreciate the extra elevation changes.  They seemed to go through more food quicker.  After the last section, all of us over packed food and it was a fantastic and completely necessary decision.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot long after we plopped down, stuffed our faces, and were grabbing water from a stream, a few drops of water fell out of the sky.  We were utterly confused.  All of us had noticed the clouds rolling in, but the brain neurons just did not fire in the clouds/rain connection for a few minutes.  When we did realized it, we began waterproofing all of our stuff as quickly as possible.  It would be our fifth day of rain in almost five months, so we had almost nothing waterproofed.

With the rain, the wind picked up and sent chills though our bones as we hiked onward. We had heard there were no flat spots what-so-ever near Milk Creek unless we cowboy’ed on the bridge, at the bottom of the next gully some five miles away.  We made it about three miles before we settled in early around 6pm just to get out of freezing, wet gear and harsh wind.  Aiming for a marked campsite near a small lake, we got there and felt the full force of the wind whipping up from the valley.  The lake had large floating ice chunks in the middle and all the edges were frozen solid.  It appeared to have never fully thawed from the winter before.  The campsite looked awesome, but had no wind protection at all, so we took a chance and went a mile further and found relatively flat and kind of protected spots near a stream.

The morning was slow.  It was wet out.  And cold.  I don’t believe we started hiking until after 8:30am.  As we packed up as slow as we could, suddenly we heard a loud “CAAAA CAAAAAW!” and Natty came hiking down in solid black ninja rain gear.

“I knew you weren’t too far ahead because I could see your footprints were fresh in the wet trail!” Natty said.

He motivated us into moving and finally we set off down to milk creek.

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After more awesome trail magic, detailed in “Pass the Beer“, we set off up the hill…it’s always up after town and full stomachs.  Hop-a-long, Scout, and I got going after lunch and planned to make it eight miles to the first campsite at Ridge Lake, a solid climb of around 2,500 ft later.

The mountains changed south of highway 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, and north of the highway.  They became more rugged, remote, and more scenic.  The most difficult sections are always the most beautiful.  They shot straight up to the sky, then dove furiously down into a valley; and let me tell you, there were many valleys in this section.  The PCT tried to contour as usual, but the contours were wrought with rocks and changed elevation quite frequently for contours.

We passed Magellan on the climb who seemed to be moving slower than normal, but ok.  He said he ate too much before leaving.  That food truck next to the gas station was dangerously enticing for thru-hikers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe top of the climb ended in a tiny pass where we made a short hop over to the other side of the ridge, looking at the sunset in one direction, and a beautiful array of clouds in the other direction.

Those beautiful, mysterious clouds that we stared at began moving in quicker and quicker until we could barely see more than twenty feet in front of us and we almost missed the tiny ridge lake that we sought.  It lay in a saddle on a rather small ridge.  Scout scouted out the best campsite in no time and no more questions were asked about how he received his trail name and we set up in the mist of the cloud that blocked the sun and sent shivers into our bones.

While we ate dinner, we saw a headlamp moving slowly through the fog, scanning the area, but unable to see much, so we called out and directed it toward our campsite.  It turned out to be Magellan, grateful for flat ground and dinner time.

The morning brought much of the same.  We had camped inside a cloud, with its lack of visibility and all of it’s moisture.  None of us wanted to get out of our nice, cozy sleeping bags.  When we did, we found the trail again through the intense fog and headed onward to Canada.

Amazingly, after we left the saddle and made it a little way up the ridge, the fog went away giving us an amazing view of the valley OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfilled with clouds while the ridge tops glowed in the morning light.  It really hit us that we had truly been inside a very small micro-climate the night before.

Compared to the long, steady climb that we accomplished the day before, the next eight miles seemed to drag on forever.  The trail shot up and down over ridge passes, shale, trees, wind, calm, all with a chill making it very difficult to keep the right layer system on and not sweat too much.

We took a break looking mostly into fog, but every few minutes, the fog would thin, giving an eerie glimpse of a jagged peak jutting upward from the ridge.  Our breaks did not last long or we would become too cold, so we kept moving.  At the top of the last ridge before a several mile descent, we caught a bit of sun and dried out our rain flies, grabbing a bite to eat.

The downhill seemed glorious, partially because we could hike easily with only one layer on.  A waterfall cascaded down across the trail and we crossed a small bridge and filled up on some delicious tasting fresh water and grabbed more to eat.  Already the afternoon, we kept trucking to the bottom of the valley, only to climb another long slog up to another large ridge.

In about half a mile as the birds fly, the PCT managed to fit six miles of switchbacks to cut the steep grade down.  I could not bring myself to count the switchbacks, because that would just be depressing, but cranked some tunes and enjoyed the increasingly better view the further I climbed.

We all stopped for a snack on top of the ridge and Snow Turtle and Agassi came walking up.  Somewhere we had passed them while they ate lunch off trail.  This particular ridge stayed fairly level for about a mile or so and we meandered along passing many small tarns and very damp ground.  All at odds of how far we wanted to go, we all stopped in different places, ironically, within a mile of each other.

I found a sweet spot with a great view over the next valley that fit my tent perfectly.  It was much easier to get up the next morning to a brightly colored sunrise instead of dense fog.  The four mile descent was still freezing because the sun had not yet hit the valley floor, just the ridge tops.  I leap-frogged Snow Turtle and Agassi all day up and down, up and down.

We passed Cathedral Rock and I pondered the creativity of the early explorers and mountain men who seemed to lack originality in their naming devises.  I understand the whole “wilderness as a church” thing, but not every mountain that has a few spires needs to have some religious crap attached to it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAgain, we hiked down off the ridge, passed Deception Lake which reflected a perfect mirror image of the trees surrounding it.  I decided to continue on a little further until I got tired and ended up camping in Deception Pass which was surprisingly thin compared to the last several passes we’ve gone though.  I found a great one-tent spot and set up shop.

In the morning, I ate breakfast with Lush and Man Party who decided to speed up to finish.  Apparently, Challenger was waiting with Only A Test’s car for them at Stevens Pass with their resupply so they could all hike out together.  Snow Turtle and Agassi passed through too and had a “you’re from Mississippi too!” moment and then kept hiking.  They said that Hop-a-long and Scout had gotten to Deception Lake the night before.

The five of us eventually set off, leap frogging through some more very annoying bumps, one of which was incredibly steep, despite obvious attempts at switch backs.  I definitely had to blast the iPod to get up that one.

We all ran into some incredibly nice older people out for a day hike who lounged in the sun.  We wanted to join them but food and beer called our names with only a few more miles to go.  Everyone seemed to have underestimated food through this section and were either running on empty or the scraps of what they had, but really did not want to eat.  The trail difficulty had surged our already large appetites into over drive.

Stevens Pass came after we dove down the ski resort and found Challenger and Only A Test who gave us beer and soda while we waited for Dead Animal who had been there, but got a call from Hop-a-long and Scout who had taken a side trail down skipping several miles of the end due to lack of food and ended up somewhere random on the side of highway 2 between Stevens Pass and Skykomish.

Clown car piling in, all of us made it down to the diner and motel for a large meal.  We went to the Dinsmore’s to grab our resupply packages and say hi to those there, but wanted a bed, so we ended up with rooms instead.  None other than Bounce Box and Major Upchuck seemed to rule to roost inspiring some good old drinking and croquet.

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