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Posts Tagged ‘Mushrooms’

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 the party in the yurt, a vibrating alarm clock woke everyone up at 6am.  Only Sandy got up.  She buzzed all around, packing up relatively quietly, boiling water,  trying not to trip on all the stuff strewn everywhere.  I managed to sit up at 6:30am and then she began talking to me, but I was still too tired to listen well, so I smiled and nodded.  She had made extra hot water, so I grabbed some for my oatmeal and sat watching the sunrise out the window.  It seemed like such a novel concept to have a window and very odd to be gazing through one at the red mountains in the distance.  Sandy amazed me when she gave away her “extra” water, so she would only carry half of a liter.  That would make me far too nervous going 7 or 8 miles with half a liter of water over several climbs including the high point of the whole trail (not including the five 14ers that I added on).  She left first, right as everyone was starting to wake up.  Justin and John who slept outside on the deck (to star gaze) came back in and then it was an interesting calm scramble to pick out everyone’s socks and belongings.

I left around 8:15, knowing that the others would catch up to me sooner or later since the rest of the segment seemed to gain far more elevation than it lost, until the very end of it.  I ran into two Germans who planned a nobo hike, but weren’t sure if they would make it the whole way due to time constraints.  They seemed very methodical and only asked pertinent questions…all about water sources.  Then they pressed on in some kind of hurry.

The first climb after a few miles was the steepest even with switchbacks over thick layers of fist to head sized rocks that all seemed to move slightly under my feet.  This is where Doug, Phil, Justin, and Andy began to catch up and pass me.  Eventually John would as well on the second climb, but we all ended up leap-frogging each other due to callous chaffing, blisters, or the good old trying to figure out where we were.  The high point at 13,271 ft near Coney Summit is now the highest that I’ve carried a full pack, but did not seem all too special although the views around were fantastic.  However, those same views, I had all morning.  I felt a little jaded to the sea of mountains floating in all directions in a blanket of light fog.

From there, the trail shot downward very steeply near, and eventually on, a jeep road.  Gudy dutifully reminded us in her “tips” section of the guidebook that if the treads on your boots are worn, you will slip and slide down this part.  Gee…NO SHIT SHERLOCK.  I was very displeased with bothering to read that and wondering why it was possibly worthy of putting in there.  It’s just like they waited until segment 12 to tell you that you could pitch your tent anywhere that it didn’t have a no camping sign.  Hmmmm.  Great job guidebook…

Anyway, Phil, Doug, John, Justin, Andy, and I took lunch by a small stream a little over a mile into segment 23 where we were apparently camping a few hundred yards above Sandy, who was further down in the valley near more flat ground.  From there we got to climb another 1,000 ft where I noted the trend of entering a new segment and then suddenly climbing a 1,000 ft.  It seemed a little suspicious.  This time, we climbed up the valley to an “unnamed saddle” and then dropped down the other side to a small pond and a lake where we camped that night around 12,200ft.

In the morning, the sun hit the mountains just right to make a large reflection in the pond and provided the opportunity to take some really crazy looking pictures.  I left early-ish after the sun warmed me up enough and headed out for another bumby day.  The segment did not have any drastic climbs, but rather a lot of smaller climbs from 300-600 feet up and down, up and down.  It crossed from one ridge line to another by shooting down a bit into the valleys and then right back up again.  Each valley looked different, all overflowing with water, some of which was still melt water.  There were various small steep sections in which I was surprised that I didn’t eat shit and fall on my face as the gravel-y footing tried to give way from under me.

At lunch, a mountain biker passed me and warned me of weather coming in that evening and all through the next day.  As usual, it seemed fine during lunch, just a few puffy clouds in the distance, but nothing super dark yet.  I trudged on and Justin and Andy caught up eventually, after I passed the super chill dude looking for mushrooms.  They caught me about two and a half miles into segment 24 where we all filled up at small stream and examined the impending dark clouds of doom that were creeping up from behind us rather steadily with soft thunder still in the distance.  It seemed to have mushroomed out in about half an hour to cover a fairly large portion of the sky behind us.  In front of us, the sky was also turning a darker shade of grey that didn’t look too inviting either, but we hadn’t seen any lightning or heard close thunder, so we kept going to get a better view.  We’d been above treeline for about 30 or 40 miles and we had about 4 more to go above treeline, so we kinda just had to play the wait-and-see game.  That is, until we got to a small pond at mile 3 and the dark clouds of impending doom in front of us got super dark and thunder boomed loudly.  There was no where really to go from where we were except to set up our tents and hope for the best, so that’s what we did.  Nothing like setting up a tent really quickly as two large thunderstorms began to darken the entire sky and they moved toward each other at 12,500ft.

About five minutes after jumping in the tent, boom boom boom! Flashes of light!  The storms seemed to crash together producing loud thunder.  Luckily, I had Kurt Vonnegut to read!  I found myself distracted by a story of when people had big brains a million years ago in 1986 while I hoped that lightning didn’t hit my tent.  I didn’t set everything up inside because I had the great idea of waiting the storm out, then hiking another few miles to make the hike into Silverton shorter the next day.  That is, until about 8:30pm when the sky was still really overcast and light showers came down sporadically.

As I pondered, I heard voices.  I poked my head out and John, Doug, and Phil came up in full rain gear and set up camp.  They had apparently been a little further out, waiting the storm out in a ditch.  Somehow, reading in my tent…dry…seemed more appealing.  I ended up setting up my stuff and going to bed early, ready for a 17 mile day into town with almost 4000 feet of elevation loss (in one go), followed directly by a 2,000 ft climb.

Beer motivated me to get my ass hiking at 6:15am the following day and not reset my alarm.  I stood and watched the beet red sunrise that faded before I had time to wake the others up to see it.  I knew the clouds, which oddly hadn’t gone away, wouldn’t at that point and I was in for more shitty weather.  Red at night, sailors delight; red in the morning, sailors take warning.  I wanted to get the last 3-4 miles of exposed, above treeline hiking out-of-the-way before I had nothing to hide in and a storm came through.  I did, just fine, and realized just how good of a campsite we had.

Dropping off the divide, we took a sharp right to hike down Elk Creek all the way to the Animas River.  The initial drop down amazed me at the switchback construction.  It had tight switchback after switchback like I had never seen before.  Yet, as I went down, I have no idea still how I did not eat shit.  They slopped so only one foot really had support and the other tended to slide off on the narrow…8-10 inch path.  Once through with those gnarly switchbacks, it just went straight down, east coast style on a mixture of loose gravel and large rocks.  A little after I reached treeline, I ran into the first group of people who asked questions about protection up on the divide which I assumed they meant as trees and I talked to them for a few.  Then I saw trees again and it started to drizzle/mist on me, which the branches caught most of and it ended in about twenty minutes.  The whole way down, I tried to take many breaks to give my knees resting time and they pulled through, right down to the bottom just fine.

I crossed the Silverton-Durango train tracks and had a chilling memory of the Mt. Washington cog road and it’s awful noise pollution.  This train not only made obnoxious noise pollution, it also ran on coal.  Yes, that’s right…coal.  I ate lunch near the bridge over the Animas River and then set out grumpy to climb 2000 ft…to a road.  The climbing part didn’t really bother me…except that I was climbing to a road.  One climbs away from roads…not to roads.  The concept just did not seem right in my head and it boggled my mind as I climbed.

The first two-thirds of it was actually quite pleasant, giving lofty views back of the Elk Creek Canyon, the river, and had a steady grade consisting of wide switchbacks.  I rocked out to some music, trying to forget about the absurdity of climbing to a road.  Then I came across a trailhead, which of course was not mentioned by the guidebook and I got confused.  A nice older woman named Linda was there and she set me straight.  She offered me a ride from there but I still had 1.2 miles left to the actual pass.  I thanked her, and continued.  Now, this mile was super pointless.  It went from being 50 ft from the road, to a quarter mile-ish away, back to near the road, away again, and then to the pass.  Before I could get annoyed at it, Linda pulled up and told me to hop in.

She drove me down into town where I found the hostel, laundry, and a bar.

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