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Posts Tagged ‘Stevens Pass’

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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