Monday, November 9, 2015

A Line in the Trees

We climbed onto the bus for Stehekin in our soaking wet clothes. There were about 20 hikers and a couple normal groups of people packed into a 23 passenger Red Jammer NPS bus. So, it smelled really bad in there! Needless to say we opened some windows and tried to save the day hikers from the stench of hiker trash. But that barely did anything. Oh well! I'm sure they survived the ordeal.

We got off the bus at the famous Stehekin bakery. And oh happy day! Baked goods galore! I could've easily spent a few days in that place. There were so many delicious options. I finally walked out of there with about 5 or 6 pastries in hand. We boarded the bus and started inhaling our food as we drove the last 1.5 miles to Stehekin.

The town itself was situated at the edge of Lake Chelan. The road took us by the Post Office, the public laundromat, and finally the Stehekin Resort. It was a small, cute community. As we pulled up to the Resort I caught a glimpse of Doc hanging out in the small shop on the main deck. We all piled out and greeted him while checking out the storefront. It was still raining at that point and no one had any interest in getting back on trail that day. The plan was to pick up our boxes and go another 5ish miles to a campground but that idea was fading fast. No one had dry gear or clothes and that was the big issue. Going out into the rain after being warm and dry is one thing but continuing to hike with soaked clothing and packs is absolutely miserable. My socks and shoes had been wet for the last 3 days and all I wanted was to dry my feet out.

While I was puttering around in the store, Ride and Wright got us a room upstairs above the shop and restaurant area. Thank goodness. I didn't want to go anywhere until I was dry and the prospect of a warm room sounded wonderful. Everyone went upstairs and threw their stuff down. I left for about a minute or two and walked down the hall to check out the community room. There was a bookcase filled with novels and boardgames against the back wall which was facing a long window overlooking the lake. Everything outside was still misty and grey.

I went back to the room to take a shower and OH MY LORD it smelled bad in there. I took one step inside and instantly turned back around into the hall. It was like hitting a brick wall of wet, sweaty sock smell. It was bad. I mean, I had been smelling my fellow hiker trash and myself for quite a while but this was next level. It took me a minute but I finally walked back in there, trying not to breathe.

After a shower and a dry change of clothes, I starting taking care of my chores. Laundry, Post Office, gear dryout, and store run. I spent most of the afternoon making sure I had all my gear cleaned and dried and waterproofed. After that I simply lazed around in the community room reading and napping. That evening after everyone had cleaned up and relaxed we went over to the restaurant. Our hostess Mary, who also owned the shop and hotel next door, treated us like royalty. She was like many trail angels we met on our trip: kind, humorous, caring, and generous. We absolutely loved chatting with her as we enjoyed our food. When dinner was over we all went back upstairs and hung out until bedtime rolled around.

The morning we were set to leave Stehekin the sun was shining on the lake and the mountains beyond. The miserable weather from the night before was completely gone and it was a perfect day for some hiking. Everyone was in much better spirits as we boarded the red jammer bus to get back to the trailhead. Luckily, the bus stopped at the Stehekin Bakery again! Everyone piled out and bought a ton of pastries for breakfast and sandwiches for the trail. As I was in the parking lot I made eye contact with someone I instantly recognized. My high school classmate Amy Pavelchek was in Stehekin! I hadn't seen that wonderful lady in several years and we both freaked out with excitement. Apparently she had been working there for the past few summers. After some quick hugs and catching up I had to say farewell to Amy and get on the bus. It was fantastic to see her. It was another reminder that I was in my home state surrounded by amazing people.

The bus dropped us at the High Bridge Ranger Station and I headed out. The boys stayed behind to eat some food but Vanish and I wanted to get some miles done before we ate. The plan was to do 20 miles to Rainy Pass at Highway 20. I didn't want to hike at night so I pushed the pace to start out. It was a beautiful morning full of sunlight, fall colors, and snow-covered mountains. As an extra bonus, the climbing I was doing wasn't as painful as I had anticipated. Yay! Around 2pm I met Nathan and Wright at a small hiker bridge over the confluence of two rivers. We ate lunch there in the sunshine. I munched on a giant cinnamon roll from the bakery and shared some fresh apple cider with the guys. While we were eating, Doc and Puddin' (a new hiker friend) passed us. He was the one who gave us the cider. We all really liked Puddin'. He was a very friendly and kind soul of the trail. And to top it off it was his last day! He had already done the section to Manning Park so he was walking his last 20 miles that day. What a champ! We were all really stoked for him.

I left the guys at the river and trudged on. They passed me several miles later but we met back up at the water right before camp. It was getting very cold so I quickly filled my Platypus bag and rushed the last mile or so to camp. It was a trailhead parking lot but we found a nice little spot with room enough for everyone. On a side note, its very hard to find camping spots big enough for six or seven people. Anyways, when I got to the camping spot there was a trail angel set up with lights and a tarp but no trail angel. It was confusing so I left it alone and talked with Puddin' and Doc who had showed up. Puddin's brother was there to pick him up and he kindly shared some beer with us. Even when its freezing, a cold beer is awesome. We said farewell to Puddin' and set up camp quickly in order to stay warm. I somehow managed to light a fire and we all huddled round the flames in the cold. As we prepped our dinners someone came up in the dark and asked us if we were PCT hikers. We said yes and he introduced himself as Gnarly, a trail angel and former PCT hiker. He then gave us a ton of beer and food! He was awesome and we are very grateful for his amazing trail magic.

I went to bed very happy and woke up very cold. There was no frost or snow outside but it was very chilly. We were on a mountain pass after all. I got moving quickly so I could warm up. We had a 2000 ft climb ahead of us that morning and I wanted to get it over and done with. As I got closer to the pass at the top I started to see snow. It was a dusting at first but it began to pile up as I climbed higher to almost 7000 ft. The top of the pass had about 6 inches of snow on it. It was sunny and snowy, a beautiful blue bird day. I put on my YakTraks and trekked on through the snow. It wasn't very easy going but I was getting much better grip with my yaks on. As I rounded a corner I spotted something shiny. Could it be? Yes! It was beer in the snow! BEER IN THE SNOW!! Huzzah! Oh joy of joys! Gnarly had left three beers up in a snowdrift. What a guy. He also left a big note saying "Happy Trails". Man, that guys knows how to do trail magic. His angel-ing is on point. I got super stoked and took a video. I then put the beer in my pack and kept going. I started to descend as I rounded a corner and saw a massive snow cloud brewing in the distance...Uh oh... So I stopped and put all my cold/rain gear on so I could be prepared. After my preemptive gear strike I motored on. I started climbing again and crested yet another pass. On my way down from this newest pass I hit mile 2600!! What a great feeling! I've been waiting to see that number on the trail for so long. It was great to see it.

I stopped several miles later at a bridge to eat my lunch. Nathan, Matt, and Wright showed up and breaked with me for a while. We all left separately and headed the last ten miles to camp. The next few miles were easy but as we got closer to our destination we began to climb. And then suddenly we were going up a GIANT hill. It was so steep that when you looked up from the bottom you couldn't see the switchbacks crisscrossing up the hill. But you found out about them eventually when you were halfway up getting vertigo from the sheer cliff you were traversing. Mercifully the hill ended after a grueling climb and I crested at sunset. It was beautiful-the kind of beauty that stops you in your tracks as your jaw drops. The most incredible colors were dancing across clouds far in the distance. Pinks and oranges blazed miles and miles away as dark grey clouds swirled over the mountains around me. I was astounded. What a place. I am so lucky to have been able to see that view and many others like it.

The PCT always reminds you what an amazing country we live in.

I got to camp at dusk. It was bitterly cold because we were at about 6600 ft. I quickly set up tent and went hunting for water. When I got back, Matt and Wright had arrived. We all quickly filtered our water and jumped in our tents before we got too cold. It was so chilly that I cooked my dinner in my tent vestibule.

The following morning brought an amazing sunrise. It reminded me of Lion King Day back in the very beginning of the desert. As I walked, I spent a lot of time thinking about the beginning of the trail and Shelly and all that we had been through. I missed that girl! It was our last full day of hiking and I was very sad that she wasn't there to share it with us. As we descended to Harts Pass the clouds burned off and I was greeted by amazing views of larch and pine-covered mountainsides. The larches made the hills look like they were ablaze, covering the valley with their smoky gold color. The vistas brightened my mood and I was smiling as I arrived at Harts Pass. I breaked there, dried out my tent, and ate some food. Eventually Vanish and the boys showed up and we all enjoyed the sunshine. After my tent was mostly dry, I headed out.

Once I had climbed out of Harts Pass I began ridge walking for quite a while. On my way I met a wonderful family from the Seattle area and I chatted with them for quite awhile. They graciously offered me an apple and some avocado which I immediately accepted. I left them by a small creek running through a meadow and continued to the top of a small pass. By then Vanish had caught me and Nathan had passed earlier so I walked with Vanish for a while. We descended from the pass and met up with Nathan who was lounging in the sun enjoying a late lunch. Both Vanish and I paused a while to eat some grub with him and then we all left for camp. It was still a ways away and the probability of having to night hike was pretty high. But, I decided that I would hike after dark with Vanish because I didn't want her to have to night hike on our last evening together. So we moseyed to camp. It was a very slow descent to a canyon floor and then a big climb to get us to Woody Pass where our camp stop would be. We reached the top of a pass about 2 miles before camp as the sun set behind the mountains.

The last two miles were a bit sketchy. It was dark and the rocks were wet and slippery on our way down. Once the trail leveled out it became a little easier to navigate but that didn't last very long. We started climbing in the last mile or so and once again the rocky terrain made the going quite slow. Eventually we made it to camp. It was completely dark and bitterly cold. Once again we were above 6000 ft. The spot we had stopped at was about .5 miles below Woody Pass and it overlooked a large valley. Of course it was completely dark so there was no view to enjoy at the time but far off in the distance we could see two small lights bobbing along the hillside we had just come from. Ride and Wright were getting close to camp.

I climbed into bed as the two boys showed up. Everyone lay in their sleeping bags eating their dinners and chatting about the next day. We then did a couple rounds of MadLibs and then did our final Highs and Lows for the trail. That night my low was knowing that would be my last time doing Highs and Lows with my trail family on the PCT. It was a crushing thought. This adventure had seemed endless at the beginning. Now it was as if it had flown by all at once. Canada was only a day away and soon the group would part for good. I fell asleep trying to process all the thoughts and emotions running through my head. Tomorrow would be a day worthy of remembrance.

At 6:15 am I woke up. It was still dark outside but I needed to pee. I got out and braved the freezing temps outside. Above me was a clear black sky filled with stars. Orion was visible just above the ridge in front of me and Ursa Major was shining directly over our camp. In the distance the faint glow of dawn was starting to appear behind a far off mountain range. Everything was still and quiet. I paused on my way back to my tent to enjoy the serenity of the morning. My breath hung in the chilled air as I stood gazing across the valley. I felt like I was inside an Albert Bierstadt painting. The heavenly gleam in the distance was now cresting the tops of the mountains and the entire valley began to fill with a rich golden light. The sky began to lighten and all the world seemed aglow.

There have been many times in my life, both on and off trail, that a landscape has brought me to tears. The Sierras caused me to become emotional a few times and I of course teared up when I saw Mt. Rainier. But the view I had before me this morning was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It felt like I was witnessing the dawn of creation. Everything was new and clean in the morning light. Steam was rising from the frost on the ground and all around me there was a mist dissipating into the air. The trees swayed softly in the gentle fall breeze coming down the mountain side above me which was now bathed in the golden light of the sunrise. There was no stopping the tears from running down my face. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

I spent the rest of my morning trying to process what I had just experienced as I packed up my stuff. I had saved some special food for this morning and I sat around enjoying my breakfast once I was mostly ready to go. It was nothing too extravagant. I had some cinnamon and apple oatmeal, freeze dried berries, and Trader Joe's coffee. It sounds simple, I know, but after about 2 weeks of only having Builder's Bars for breakfast it felt like I was having a 5 star feast.

I sat around with the rest of the pack that morning as they all gathered up their gear. We talked and laughed for a bit and then finally I decided to get going. I put in my headphones and put on the most appropriate song I could think of: the Circle of Life. Once again my eyes got misty. It was a perfect way to enjoy the sunrise while I walked. Through my headphones I could hear the frosted, frozen ground crunching under my feet. Soon I was at the top of the pass and I stopped to turn around and get one last look at the valley. The sun was high above the mountain tops now and everything was bathed in the morning light. I smiled and enjoyed one last moment of reverence before turning around and heading north.

The view in front of me was just as stunning as what I had just walked away from. Far off in the distance a low hanging layer of cloud was settling in a valley. It looked like a white lake from where I stood. Beyond the clouds I could see the white capped tops of high peaks. Even farther still I caught  glimpse of Mount Baker completely covered in a blanket of white snow. It was a sublime view with amazing colors and scenes in every direction. I wanted to stop and stare for as long as possible but I walked on.

Soon afterwards, Nathan passed me. We walked around ridge lines and up steep hillsides until the trail reached 7000ft. For a couple miles I lost him ahead of me but eventually I caught him standing on an overlook above the trail.

"Hey Smokey, you gotta come up here and see this." I thought to myself "Buddy, I've seen a lot of things today already. Whatever it is can't be as spectacular as my morning." I couldn't have been more wrong. I joined him on what seemed to be the tallest peak in the area and found myself looking at a 360 degree view of the North Cascades. There were mountains as far as the eye could see and in every direction. I was at a loss for words. Nathan looked at me, smiling. He knew exactly what I wanted to put into words but couldn't find a way to do so. We both stood there in awe. I wish I could describe this place well enough to give you all an idea of what I was looking at but despite my best efforts I can't do it justice.

We sat down and waited for our friends. In hushed tones, Nathan and I talked about our trip. It was a very serious conversation, one filled with awe of our adventure. We talked about how, in many ways, this was our greatest accomplishment, far greater than graduating college. We also talked about how glad we were to have our friends with us and how much we missed those who were not there. We especially talked about Shelly. Both Nathan and I were sad beyond belief that Shelly wouldn't be with us at the border. This was such a tremendous moment and we wanted to share it with her.

We sat there talking for a while until the rest of the group arrived. The Pack sat up on this lone peak together surveying our domain. It was a peaceful moment we shared, just staring out into the world. To the south and the west were rows and rows of mountains. Some of them were dusted with snow, others were completely covered in white. To the east the landscape flattened out and to the north the hills became fully covered in thick evergreens. I peered off in the direction of the border trying to find a straight line cut through the trees. Despite my efforts I saw nothing that looked like the tree cut marking the border.

Nathan, Vanish, and I stayed for a little longer and then left our lookout. We had about 5 miles until our meet up spot. The plan was the meet at a water source 2 miles before the monument so we could all hike the last stretch together and arrive at the border at the same time. I put on some tunes as I started the descent toward the creek and enjoyed a leisurely walk down. The sun was shining, the trail was forgiving, my music was playing-it was an awesome 5 miles.

Eventually we all met at the creek. Some of us grabbed some water and snacks before saddling up for the final miles in the U.S. Before leaving we established an order to our pack train according to start date. Vanish was first followed by Ride, then the Oklahomies, and finally Nathan and I.

It was a slow 2 miles but that was just fine because we were simply taking it all in one last time. We just talked and laughed the whole way down until we reached a clearing. To our left we could finally see the border. Up the hill above us was a perfectly straight line leading off over the horizon. It was clearly the border so naturally we all freaked out! Pictures were taken, high fives were given, and then we continued on for the last quarter mile. The trail did a couple switchbacks on the final descent. One corner actually passed right next to the border cut. I could've reached out and stuck my hand into Canada. But I didn't. I was far too busy looking down the hill through the line in the trees. Farther down the tree cut was the monument. It was only visible for a second but everyone gasped as we rounded the corner. I heard Matt say "Oh my god, I saw it!" as the excitement mounted for the final corner.

The trail curved away from the border and finally turned back-the last switchback. We walked for another couple seconds and then the monument became visible up ahead. Everybody started howling and yelling and laughing. We triumphantly walked into the clearing and found ourselves at the U.S./Canadian border! To our left was a wooden terminus marker just like the one down at Campo. On the left side of the terminus hung the American flag and on the right was the Canadian flag. Beside the marker was a small metal obelisk labeled "Monument 78". Its top was removable and inside we found the logbook and a small hiker box.

Nobody quite knew what to do and so we started milling around taking pictures and reading signs. Everyone took turns getting their picture taken on the terminus marker as the log book was passed around. I pulled out the beers from Cutthroat Pass and handed them to the group. Ride broke out the whiskey and everybody was sharing food left and right. We spent the next hour reveling in our success. We took numerous group photos, read aloud notable log entries, talked about people/places we had seen along the way, and ate our lunches in the shadow of the monument. Again we took a moment to remember the people who were not with us. Shelly, of course, was the person we missed the most. When her named was mentioned I tried to hide my misty eyes. It didn't feel right without Shelly. She deserved to be there just as much as we did. Everyone really missed the Queen B. Then we talked about the rest of the missing pack: Loverboy and City. They were somewhere behind us but we all wished they could've shared this moment. Most of us left notes in the logbook for them so that they might feel the love of the Pack when they arrived at the border later. We then talked about friends, family, and other hikers we had met. It was a moment of reminiscence.

 Then Nathan asked for everyone's attention. The group fell silent as he began to read aloud. It was a short poem/passage that he had found sometime before we had left the last town. It was short but deeply moving. Somehow it captured the essence of the trail.

Nathan's voice wavered as he read the final lines. I felt my eyes watering. It finally felt like it was ending, the trail and the adventure. I began to feel the impending loss of my family. It hurt to think that in a few days I would say goodbye to some of the most important people in my life. A few tears fell onto the dirt at my feet as Nathan finished reading. It was a beautiful moment. In a way, we were all silently thanking each other for walking this far together.

The moment passed and the light-hearted chitchat continued. The sun was not shining on the clearing we were in and suddenly I felt very cold. I knew I would have to leave soon. So I spent another 30 minutes or so talking with everyone, enjoying the monument, and toasting to our success. Then the moment came to leave. Vanish decided to leave with me so we could get to Manning Park before sundown. Before I left, I paused and turned back to the group. I didn't really know what to say but I needed to somehow bring closure to the moment.

"Guys, its been a wonderful experience getting to know each of you. I just want to thank you for sharing this adventure with me." It wasn't very eloquent but at least I tried. Matt looked at me and said, "We love you too, Smokey." Thats what I should've said. I love those guys. But, they already knew that so I just smiled and turned towards Canada.

The final 8.8 miles went by fast. The trail was eroded everywhere but I didn't slow my pace. Eventually Nathan passed me in the last few miles. The trail crested a hill and then started a long descent towards town. The dirt path widened to a large gravel ATV road and soon I found myself walking the edge of a river close to town. After a few corners, I was looking at the road. A large sign reading Manning Park was at the trailhead and next to it were my parents and Nathan! I was DONE!!! I let out a monumentally loud howl and ran to my parents. I hugged them, congratulated Nathan, ate some cookies, and set my pack down on trail for the last time. We took a picture at the sign and my mom handed out presents. She had made us Wolf Pack t-shirts! They looked so cool. I loved them and so did Nathan.

We all went over to the resort. Nathan and I signed the logbook and crossed the road to the restaurant to get food. We waited for the others as we ate our meals. My parents wanted to leave that evening so I readied myself for a long drive. Around 7pm everyone else arrived and they all sat down to dinner. Ride and I, however, were leaving with my folks so we grabbed our stuff to leave. Everyone hugged and said goodbye. I was going to see the group in Seattle later that week but Ride was heading to Montana. It was the first real goodbye of the Pack and it was a sad moment. We left the restaurant and  began heading for home.

The car ride home was quiet. I sat there thinking about my trip. I had walked from Mexico to Canada. I had left 2600 miles of blood, sweat, and tears
out on that trail.

The PCT was officially over.


P.S. This is not the final post of the trip. I will have one post-trail post to talk about the Pack adventures in Seattle and what life is like after the PCT. So, don't worry. I know its an abrupt ending but I will bring some more closure to the story in the final post. Thanks for reading about our adventures. Stay with me a little longer until I close the book on Emily and Shelly's PCT Adventure.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Highs and Lows

Vanish and I had left the Stevens Pass Ski Area and were back on trail! It was a beautiful sunny afternoon when we left for a campsite that was 12 miles out. The first few miles were wonderfully flat and we breezed through them with no problems. Then the trail began to climb very slowly to get us back into the higher elevations we would be cruising through over the next couple days.

This section was going to be very tough, both physically and mentally. We had a great deal of climbing ahead of us and the section was quite long. This meant we would be challenging our bodies more so than normal. The length of the stretch from Stevens to Stehekin was about 5-6 days (over 100 miles) which meant we were carrying more food and supplies than usual. We had planned it out to include one half day out of Stevens, four full days of hiking, and finally a morning of hiking to arrive at the bus stop for Stehekin. It was the last big push. And that meant that we would all have to keep our spirits up and stay mentally strong for a longer period of time. On the shorter sections it was easier to stay focused and driven because the prospect of town was never more than one or two full days away. This stretch however involved four challenging, long days of hiking. It was going to be very hard to stay motivated knowing that even after two or three days we would still have a couple nights to spend in the backcountry. I knew it would be tough going in but I did not anticipate just how challenging this section turned out to be.

After Vanish and I got several miles under our belt we split up. I was determined to get to camp before dark which meant I would have to really push myself all the way there. I stopped briefly to shed a layer at a beautiful alpine lake and planned on keeping a 3 mph pace the rest of the way. My brilliant plan, however, was thwarted by a couple of older horseback riders coming back from where I was headed. They were so nice that I ended up completely losing track of time and chatting when them for over half an hour. So, there went my hope of getting to camp before dark... But luckily Vanish and Nathan showed up and we hiked the rest of the way together. I told Vanish I was going to stick with her once the sun set and she seemed very pleased. Vanish hikes in the dark almost every evening because she has a slower pace than the rest of us. She is not a fan of night hiking though. I could tell she was pretty excited to have someone to walk with in the dark. Its spooky when you're by yourself in the woods at night so having another person with you makes the last few miles much easier.

As dusk fell we stopped at a lake to filter our evening water. The boys arrived right as we were finishing up and we reassessed our camping plan for the night. The spot we were shooting for was a small campsite about 3 miles away. According to our maps it had room for 2 tents at the most. This was a problem because there were about 5 tents between all of us and that meant there was a chance there wouldn't be enough room for the whole pack. To make things even more complicated, someone had heard earlier that two hikers in front of us had been shooting for this campsite. So, we decided to knock off about a mile off our original plan and stay at an undesignated camp area about 1.5 miles away.

We had a 1000ft climb to reach the campsite and we spent most of it in complete darkness. Vanish's headlamp began to fail and Matt's wasn't working at all so the climb was interesting to say the least. But mercifully we reached the top with no injuries and the campsite turned out to be a very nice open area with a fire ring. We set up camp, ate dinner, did Highs and Lows, and crawled into our sleeping bags.

I'd like to step back from the story for a moment and revisit something I may or may not have explained in an earlier post. Highs and Lows is an activity that we do almost every night on trail. When we are sitting around eating our dinner before bed we go around the group and list one "high" moment for the day and one "low" moment. An example of a high would be a fantastic view or a wonderful moment with a friend. A low could be a challenging climb, a pain or ache, or a mental frustration. Someone would start out the Highs and Lows and they would pick the next person until everyone had said their piece. Highs and Lows is a great way to process the day. It helps you recount what you did and experienced and commit it to memory. It also helps you decipher what makes your days special and worthwhile. Most of my "highs" involve people, which shows that my best days are spent with friends. Along with this activity being a very helpful way to process our adventures it is also a way to hear about everyone else's day. Since we normally don't see each other that often during the day, Highs and Lows let us tell our pack members what happened to us while we were hiking.

Ok, back to the hike! We woke up to a partly cloudy sky the next day. The sun was shining but it was clouding over quickly. Amazingly, Riderdieh was the first one out of camp that morning. Vanish left soon after and I followed. I passed her early on and spent my first few hours climbing up to about 6000 ft. It was a tough morning involving some very short, painful hills but eventually it topped out for a while. Thats when Nathan caught me. We had only been talking for a moment when we rounded a corner and found Ride. He had made some very impressive distance by 11 AM and we told him to meet us a couple miles down the trail at a spring. It was almost all downhill from where we were to the water source so Nathan and I plugged on until we reached our break area.

It began to rain as we walked so I threw on all my rain gear even though I was less than a mile from the lunch spot. It immediately stopped raining once I was fully decked out in my jacket and pants but I kept them on out of superstition and preparedness. I figured if I stayed in my rain gear the sun would come out just because thats the way Mother Nature works. Lo and behold! The sun began to peek out from behind the clouds right as I reached Nathan and the spring. It wasn't going to be fully sunny but at least it wasn't raining.

We stayed at the water for a while, just talking and eating. We sat under a tree giggling about lots of silly things until Matt, Wright, and Ride arrived. They stopped to eat with us and we spent another hour or so talking and laughing by the water. As I was packing up to leave, Matt made a comment that I will always remember. We had been laughing about something that was particularly hilarious and some of us had tears in our eyes from laughing so hard. After we stopped, Matt looked around and said "You know, I've never seen people laugh as long and as hard as we do out on the trail." Everyone stopped and acknowledged the truth of that statement. He was absolutely right. I have never seen so many people enjoying the little moments as well as thru hikers. When we do laugh, it is always sincere and genuine laughter. The kind of laughter that comes from deep in your belly and shakes you uncontrollably to the point of tears. We laugh hard and we laugh often. I've never been a part of a community that embraces such a relish for life and laughter. Every moment is new and beautiful and we enjoy each others' company to the fullest extent. That is why I call these people my family. I have enjoyed the highest of highs and suffered through the lowest of lows with them. The little moments remind us why we are out there and why we stay together.

I left the group at the water and walked on, pondering Matt's insightful comment. I crested a hill and then began to quickly descend down to a river crossing. One the other side of the river was a very large mountain and I knew the trail was going straight to the top. It was a long, slow slog up very intense switchbacks but eventually I reached a plateau. I had gained back enough elevation that I was mostly above the tree line. In front of me was the trail winding off into brown meadows filled with deep red huckleberry bushes and green trees. The sky was completely grey and the red and yellow of the huckleberry leaves popped out of the wash of beige that covered the horizon. I motored on. I was mostly done with climbing for the day and I traversed hillsides for the rest of the afternoon. My last short ascent brought me to yet another infamous spot: the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Just like Goat Rocks, Glacier Peak is talked about up and down the trail. I was especially looking forward to this area because my mom told me that this Wilderness was visible from the back porch at my Gramma Doty's old house in Cashmere. I must have gazed at it unknowingly when I was a very young kid. It was time to get closer and see this place with more attentive eyes.

As I entered Glacier Peak it started to rain. I stopped to put on rain gear and check my distance to the last water. I had about 2 miles left to go. Today we had decided on a certain amount of mileage, not a predesignated campsite. We were going to a water source but we had no idea what the terrain would be like and if camping would be a possibility. This always stressed me out because I assumed it wouldn't be flat ground. If it was, it probably would've been marked as a camp spot on our maps. I really wanted to get to the water before dark so I could scope out any potential camp areas at the spring or further up the trail. I arrived as the sun was setting and just as I suspected the spring was on a hill traverse. There was clearly no where to camp near the water so I filled up and kept going about .3 miles up the way. Thankfully, the trail passed through a small, flat meadow and I found a few very small tent spaces. I set up quickly in between rain spurts and waited for the others. Darkness fell and no one showed. I began to worry. What if they had chosen to stay somewhere further back? What if they didn't make it to the water? The thought of camping alone again did not sit well with me and I paced nervously outside my tent in the dark. Suddenly a howl broke the silence and I saw Nathan and Matt rounding the corner. Thank goodness! I greeted the boys, lit a fire, waited for the others, and got in my tent. The rest of the pack showed up a little later and we all did Highs and Lows from inside our tents as a steady rain began to fall.

It was still drizzling when I woke up. I was not excited for another day of gloomy grey clouds but I got up and left quickly to avoid getting my stuff too wet. Today was going to be hard. We were doing a 22 miler with a ton of climbing. But on the bright side we were going to pass 2500 miles that day! I tried to focus on that milestone as I began to sweat inside my rain jacket. My climb had begun. I spent about 2 hours ascending to about 7000ft through thick clouds. The trail was sometimes hard to see because I was walking in clouds that were clinging to the mountainsides. I was so focused on getting the hill over with I completely missed the 2500 marker. Oh well, at least I knew that we had passed it. The milestone was what counted to me not the stone marker on the ground. Even so, I was bummed that I had passed it.

Finally I reached the top and started going down. My shoes were soaked through at this point and the trail was completely saturated. It was as if I was walking down the middle of a creek. Every few steps my shoes filled with water and I began to slip on spots of watery mud. My descent was unpleasant for a while until I reached the tree line. The ground became more firm with tree roots and pine needles and I could walk at my normal pace. For the next 3 hours I descended down to the valley floor. The trail leveled out and I found myself passing through the same wet, thick underbrush that I had seen on the Goldmeyer trail. Great.... Now I was not only walking in wet shoes and socks but I was also getting hit from all sides with dripping leaves and grass. Keeping myself and my things dry was hopeless. To make matters worse I was very hungry and needed to stop and eat. Stopping meant I would lose my hiker heat and I would get cold. There wasn't even a dry place to stop and sit anywhere. It was still raining and not even the trees could shield me from the drops. Eventually I decided to break under a fallen tree that was suspended above the trail. There was just enough room underneath it for me to sit and eat my lunch without getting rained on. So I paused and quickly inhaled some summer sausage and cheese. Just as I started to feel a chill creeping into my core I got up and left. I had ten miles until camp and one giant climb in the way.

The rest of my day was spent trudging up a massive hill. I had lost about 4000ft of elevation earlier and now I was gaining it all back. Thanks PCT... But I put in my headphones and kept going. At this point my rain jacket and pants were soaked through and my pack cover was starting to give in to the rain as well. I was soaked through everywhere but I was still warm. The trail didn't help the situation. The trees and shrubs were completely overtaking the trail in some areas and almost every quarter mile I was getting re-soaked by more undergrowth. It was miserable. I was wet, tired, sweaty, and frustrated. Even though I was nearing the end of my climb I was not happy. My internal core temperature was starting to drop and this worried me. Normally I could stay warm when I was hiking because my body was working hard enough and pumping lots of blood to my limbs. But now I was working as hard as ever and my hiker heat was slowly dissipating. That was bad.

I upped my pace to try and restore some heat but that didn't work. At the top of the hill the wind began to blow and my chill began to get worse. As I descended I could feel my hands going numb and my arms starting to shiver. I tried not to focus on how cold I was. I stared intently at the trail as I descended the last mile to camp. When I was .5 miles away I could look down and see the tent area. But first I had to get down there. It took me an unusually long amount of time because the trail was once again a river. This time the steep downhill grade made the mud very slippery and I had to save myself from falling several times with my trekking poles.

Eventually I made it down and set up my tent as fast as I could. I jumped inside as soon as it was up and assessed the situation of my pack and its contents. Just about everything was wet. My sleeping clothes were in a ziplock, thank goodness, and my sleeping bag was only damp, not soaked through. It was not ideal but it could've been a lot worse. I stripped down to my underwear and sat there trying to dry off before I put on my long underwear. I began to shiver. I was above 6000ft and it was easy to tell. The air was cold and clammy. I could see my breath in the tent. It was a miserable time sitting there trying to get dry. Eventually I was mostly dry and I got into my wool layers. Nathan showed up and I got out of my tent and grabbed water before it was completely dark. Everyone else except Ride showed up and set up their shelters. No one sat outside because it was still raining. So we did Highs and Lows from inside our tents. I climbed into a semi dry sleeping bag and tried to regain some heat.

Ride was not there when I woke up. The rain, however, had stopped. After putting it off as long as I could, I put on my wet clothes from the day before (worst feeling ever) and got ready to leave. When I had my tent put away I looked around at where we were. The cloud ceiling had lifted and I could see a huge glacier high above us. I must have been looking at the north side of Glacier Peak because it was the highest point around in any direction. Inspired by the view and the break in the rain, Vanish and I headed out. We rounded a corner and began to descend down long, winding switchbacks. The trail was smooth in some places and in others it was blocked by fallen trees and washouts. We spent a lot of time climbing over logs and sliding down muddy hillsides that morning. As we walked, I glanced across the canyon. As I looked, I caught a glimpse of something that I immediately regretted spotting. On the other side of the valley I could see the very distinct line of a trail zigzagging up the hillside. It was an immense amount of switchbacks and they were there in plain sight, taunting us. It looked brutal. Behind me I heard Vanish say "Oh no..." Good, she had seen it too. Suddenly the walk down was not as enjoyable now that we knew what was at the bottom of that hill.

We reached the canyon floor and crossed the river coming down from the glacier above. I sat down for a minute, ate some food, and collected my thoughts. Ok, it was going to suck until it didn't. I just had to get it over with. I saddled up and started the climb.

It took forever. The beginning really hurt my legs as the trail cut a steep path up the hillside. Eventually the grade became less intense but the ascent seemed endless. I rounded corner after corner. My body began to fall into the rhythm of the climb and I became a zombie slogging up the hill. After what seemed like ages, the trail leveled out. My legs hurt a bit but surprisingly I felt fine. I had reached what I thought was the top and I wasn't out of breath or energy. Hell ya! I was so pleased. That was a tough climb but I came out just fine on the other side. I guess 2500 miles of muscle building helped.

I kept going. Soon I had rounded a corner and was staring into a giant basin. I was directly below the glacier and I could see several rivers and creeks running down the hillside. Far off on the other side of the curving mountainside I could see Wright, who had passed me earlier that day, sitting near a water source. After several minutes of walking around the basin I reached Wright and ate lunch with him. Nathan showed a bit later and we all got out our stuff and dried everything off. It wasn't sunny but it was windy. It got our tents and other supplies mostly dry.

I left before the boys and spent several miles descending down to almost 2000ft. The last 5 or so miles to the campsite followed a river and were mostly flat so that was a wonderful end to the day. On my way I met two new hikers, Cough Cough and Turkey. I hiked with them for a while and then went the rest of the way to camp. I got a fire going and the pack showed up after dark. It wasn't raining so we all sat around the fire eating and doing Highs and Lows. Wright and I stayed up later than everyone else and just before I left the fire Riderdieh showed up! I was so happy to see him. We had been worrying about him since yesterday night and finally I could breathe easy. Apparently he had really struggled the day before with the rain and the cold. He looked frustrated and mentally done with the trail, which was especially apparent when he began to talk about getting off trail at Stehekin. No one liked that idea. We tried to talk him out of it but the conversation went nowhere. Ride said he would play it by ear.

We had one more full day until Stehekin. I left early in the hopes that I could make some miles before it started to rain again. It was just like the day before, one big morning climb and then a long slow descent to a very low elevation. This time the climb was not a series of switchbacks. It was a straight shot up a very deep canyon. It wasn't very steep so my legs weren't hurting too badly when I finally reached the top. It started to rain again. It wasn't a steady rain but rather a series of squalls moving through. On my way down I saw Matt stopped at a trail junction. From that spot we were exactly 100 miles from the border. I took a picture and did a small victory dance. Canada was within reach!

It was a rainy, cold afternoon. I wasn't as wet as the second day but I was close to it. I tried my best to avoid the wet leaves and bushes as I descended back down into the vegetation of the lowlands. Matt and Nathan passed me and a couple hours later I rejoined them at the campsite. It was only 5:30 and I was at camp! Awesome! We set up under a large tree and got in our tents. Vanish, Ride, and Wright showed up shortly and everyone celebrated getting to camp before dark. I put on some tunes with my phone and we sat in our respective shelters eating our dinner and talking about the next day. We had 5 miles to the High Bridge Ranger Station where the bus would pick us up and take us to Stehekin. We had to make it by 10:30am because there was only one bus that day.

I woke up at five and left around 6:30am. It was still dark when I left and I had to use my headlamp for a while. The sky finally lightened up and I was treated to a beautiful pink sunrise before the clouds rolled in. Soon I was getting rained on, again. Oh well, it was a town day. I pushed the last couple miles to the ranger station. Right before I arrived I reached the boundary of the North Cascades National Park. It was official- I had made it to all 7 National Parks on the trail! Woohoo!

I waited at the ranger station for everyone else. It was cold but I kept moving to stay warm. There was a small shelter barely visible across from the station and I went to check it out. To my surprise and delight I found some of my friends at the shelter! Kraken and Lil' Furnace were at High Bridge! We had been trying to catch up to them for ages and I was so excited. I howled and 'kakaawed' and then ran over and they gave me lots of hugs. My day was instantly better. Seeing them was such a treat and I couldn't wait to tell the rest of the pack. So we walked back down to the ranger station and waited. Matt and Nathan showed up followed by Wright and Vanish. They were all just as happy to see Kraken and Lil' Furn. Then Ride arrived. He had been hiking with those two for much of his trip and their reunion was such a beautiful thing to watch. When you're on the trail you can never be certain if you are going to see lost friends again so Ride was overjoyed to reunite with his fellow Eagles.

We all hung out and chatted until the bus came. We left Kraken and Furn at High Bridge with the plan to catch them a few days before the border. Everyone climbed on the bus, ready to be warm and dry.

Off to Stehekin!


Saturday, October 24, 2015

When Trails Go Bad

On the trail again! After a couple miles of road walking out of Snoqualmie, Vanish and I reached the trailhead for the Goldmeyer Hotsprings Alternate. The boys weren't with us because they were taking their time leaving Snoqualmie Pass (as usual). Just as a reminder, we were taking this alternate route to avoid some elevation gain and extra miles. It looked fun and we were all pretty excited.

It was grey and cloudy when we hit the trail. Visibility was poor because we were practically in a cloud. I could see maybe 30 ft in front of me at the best of times. But, that didn't stop us from trucking right on up a big climb to reach the entrance to Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Once I reached the top of the hill I could see a lake far off in the gloom. Suddenly I was bitterly cold. The wind off the water was icy and the wet, thick air covered my face with a clammy layer of mist. I sped up my pace to try and warm up. Soon I was skirting the edge of the lake and heading downwards. All at once, the trail plunged down the side of a steep hillside. I rounded switchback after switchback of steep, slippery trail. Rocks constantly tripped me as I walked and the wet leaves slipped under my feet. The trail was rough. It was not the PCT I know and love. It was unpleasant to say the least.

I continued my descent for what seemed like ages. Once I had dropped at least 3000 feet of elevation the surrounding foliage began to change. We had previously been in a dense evergreen forest but now I was passing through dead underbrush thick with ferns and vine maples. Every now and then the undergrowth completely vanished as I walked on scree and loose rock. The trail kept getting worse and worse. Goldmeyer was turning out to be less fun than I anticipated...

I didn't take any breaks for the next four or five hours. It was too cold to stop. I kept going to the bottom of the giant descent and finally the trail leveled out. For a while I followed a creek upstream until I came to the trail's namesake: Goldmeyer Hotsprings. It was a backcountry spring area but there was a built up campsite and several cabins nearby. The springs were managed by some organization that served as steward for the area. It was something I had never seen before. It cost $15 to use the springs for the day and $20 to camp overnight. Normally, I am accustom to hot springs that don't cost a dime and are completely undeveloped. So, naturally I was a little confused.

I didn't stop to check out the hot springs; I kept going. No one had caught me yet and all I wanted to do was complain with someone about the terrible trail conditions but I was alone. At least I had my music to make the day a little brighter. Oh wait, no I didn't because I had misplaced my headphones somewhere deep in the recesses of my bag...great. I trudged on hoping someone would show. I waited at a bridge for a minute or two but nothing changed and I walked on.

After a short hill climb I reached an unpaved dirt road. I followed it for about half a mile until it ran by a river. I stopped for water in the hopes that someone would show up while I was filtering. I gingerly navigated the rocky ground down to the water and filled my Sawyer bag. Soon I had about a liter of clean water and was filtering my second. As I was sitting there focusing on my filter bag I looked up across the road and my heart dropped. Staring back at me was a mountain lion, stalk still and unblinking. My fight or flight reflex kicked in as my heart began to pound and I jumped up and began screaming and yelling. I leaned forward to grab my trekking poles and began banging them together. I even unzipped my rain jacket to make myself look as big as possible.

The cat was unfazed. Finally, with enough rock throwing and yelling it went away. I was once again alone but this time much more flustered. My heart was in my throat, I was shaking, and my thoughts were racing. That cat had been too damn close. And what had me freaked out the most was the look in its eyes. I could see that it thought I was prey. Its body language, its gaze, everything indicated that it was stalking me. I decided immediately that I needed to put some distance between myself and the cat. So I grabbed my stuff and left. I hadn't made it a quarter of a mile down the road when I reached a trailhead. This time the lion was on the trail waiting for me. It was in front of me, staring with the same cold eyes as before. Again, I screamed. My reaction was more panicked this time and I yelled and waved with all my might. The cat didn't seem very disgruntled until I threw a rock straight into its forehead. That got it moving away.

Ok, now I was sufficiently terrified. I decided I was not going to step anywhere near that trailhead until someone arrived. I walked back a little ways, planted my back against a rock wall, and waited for my group. It was over 2 hours later that Doc, who I hadn't seen in a long time, walked up. I told him about the cat and he seemed unmoved by my story. He left after a few minutes. About 20 minutes later Vanish showed. I sat her down and told her that I had been stalked by a mountain lion. She took the situation to heart. We immediately decided to stick together, especially since it was getting dark. It was only 2 miles to the campsite so we quickly grabbed our gear and headed towards the place where I had seen the cat. It got dark while we walked and I spent the next 45 minutes nervously eyeing every dark corner of the forest. Every rock, tree, and bush looked like it was an animal or predator. My adrenaline was still pumping and it was all I could do to hold a conversation with Vanish. I tried to play it cool and act like I was completely fine but on the inside I was still very perturbed.

We reached camp as complete darkness set it. Doc was there and we set up our tents quickly as a light rain began to fall. Nathan showed up shortly after and told us his Goldmeyer story. Apparently the trail had tried to kill everyone that day. He had fallen off a log at a river crossing and nearly broken his tailbone and probably gotten a mild concussion. So, it sounded like everyone was displeased with our choice to take the alternate.

A while later the rest of the group showed up with similar stories of pain and misery. They did not like the sound of my mountain lion story. Especially since Matt had noticed some large eyes in the glow of his headlamp that night. Spooky.... Anyways we all went to bed grumpy and sore. No one was impressed with this new trail. The goal was to get the heck off Goldmeyer as fast as possible the next day.

When I woke up the following morning it was grey and dismal just like the day before. I got up and put all my rain gear on and took my tent down in a hurry. I wanted to leave the Goldmeyer trail behind as fast as possible. All I had was a steep pass in my way and then it was smooth sailing on my beloved PCT.

I left camp after Doc and Vanish. I caught Vanish quickly but it took me a while to reach Doc. He was breaking near a river, probably to fill up his water, and he didn't even notice me walk by. Soon I was on my own again just like the day before. The trail was still just as rocky and wet but at least it was generally level. Well, until I began my climb, that is. This was not a 3% grade, of that I'm sure. My path shot straight up a hill, gaining about 600 ft of elevation in less than half a mile. Thats crazy! My legs were burning and I was pouring sweat but mercifully I reached a plateau where I could rest for a second. I checked my Halfmile app as I stood there panting and realized I was at the top! Woohoo! I put my phone away and walked through some sparse trees until I reached the other side of the pass. In front of my was a steep descent to a beautiful lake. Beyond the lake the clouds were breaking and the sun was finally shining out onto the valley. Finally, the alternate was almost over. It was only 5 or 6 miles until we rejoined the PCT. Thank goodness.

I began my descent. It was just as awful as what I had gone down the previous day. But thankfully, it was much shorter and soon I was at the bottom near the waters edge. The sun hit me for the first time in over 24 hours and I stopped to soak it in. I saw a small clearing ahead and realized it was the perfect time to dry out my tent and wet clothing. Hurray for dry things! I stopped awhile, munched on some snacks in the sun, and watched the steam coming off my drying tent.

Once my things were mostly dry I headed out again. Nathan caught me a few minutes later and we hiked the rest of the 5 miles to the PCT. Once we rejoined our beloved Pacific Crest Trail we stopped to breathe a sigh of relief. The PCT may be a difficult and sometimes cruel mistress but she is far sweeter and forgiving than we had ever realized. It felt good to be back on our home turf, so to speak. Even the ground felt more firm and solid beneath our feet. Nathan and I stood there enjoying the moment and then hiked on until we reached a good lunch spot. We bathed in the sunshine as we devoured our food.

The rest of the day was a blur. I was so happy to be on our normal trail I went into tunnel vision. I hiked very fast without stopping until I reached the last water for the evening. Nathan was there eating and filtering water when I walked up. We chatted for a while as we got our water. I left before him and caught Doc a few miles later as the sun went down. We hiked the last two miles together in the dark. He's a fast hiker but I stuck with him because there was no way in hell that I was going to hike alone in the dark with a cat somewhere in the area. No way, no how.

We got to the campsite around 8 pm. It was a great big open spot below the trail. It even had a small stream right next to it which meant we didn't have to walk up the trail to get water at the creek farther back. In other words, it was a cush camp spot. It even had a fire ring and some firewood that someone had left there so I got a roaring fire going. Everyone else rolled in (except for Ride) while I sat around the fire eating another delicious, hearty meal of Ramen noodles. I stayed up long enough to do Highs and Lows with everyone and then I went to bed. Ride hadn't showed up when I crawled into my sleeping bag. But that was normal so I fell asleep pretty quickly.

Around 6am I woke up to the sound of someone walking by on the trail. Then I head a "kookoo" noise. That was Riderdieh's very distinct bird call. I knew it was him. I howled back and then decided it was time to get up. Today we were arriving at Steven's Pass where I would once again get to see my folks! So, once again, I was in a hurry to leave camp in the morning. After I had some breakfast in me I left camp before everyone else. I caught Ride at a water source about 5 miles away and we sat a while and chatted until several of the others showed up. We all chilled for a minute before going on because we knew we had a tough hill climb coming up. But eventually we got moving and pretty soon Vanish and I were headed up a series of switchbacks. At the top we found Doc resting in the sun and just down the way I found Nathan perched on some boulders basking in the sun. I stopped and joined him and pretty soon the whole wolf pack was sitting on a boulder field soaking up the warmth of the day. We sat there enjoying our food and laughing about any and every little thing that came up in the conversation. Someone laughed loud enough that it echoed across the valley we were surveying. It was a tremendous echo. Soon we were all yelling and howling across the valley, creating a cacophony of sound bouncing off the mountain walls.

I left before I got too comfortable. If I had stayed longer I would've ended up taking a nap. And that couldn't happen because it was Stevens Pass Day! I walked for a long time until I caught Matt at a small lake. I sat down with him and munched for a while. From there it was about 7 miles to the highway. I didn't stay for too long with Matt. I waited until the boys showed up and then I quickly gathered my gear and headed for the pass and my parents. Between me and them was one more big climb. Luckily it happened all at once. It was very steep but very short. Soon I was cresting a hill underneath a chairlift at Stevens Pass Ski Resort. I walked by a ski area map sign and started to make the last descent of the day down to the highway. I cleared thicket of trees and from there I could see the lodge! Once I was close enough I could see my parents sitting outside enjoying some beer. Awesome! I walked down to them and planted myself at their table. It hadn't been too long since I saw my mom and dad but it was always a relief when I met back up with them. I chilled with mom and pop for a while and eventually the rest of the gang showed up. The plan was that they would go into Skykomish and stay at a trail angel house (Hiker Haven run by the Dinsmores) and I would stay with mom and dad in their trailer at the pass.

So the Wolf Pack and I hung out for a bit and then migrated over to my parents' trailer. Mom made us a bomb spaghetti dinner and we ate ourselves silly. After we were full (which is quite a monumental occurrence) my dad drove everyone down to the Dinsmore's. Aren't my padres the best trail angels ever? Yeah, they definitely are.

The next day I chilled with my parents in the morning and went to pick up Ride in Skykomish. It was great getting to spend some very mellow time with mom and dad. A relaxing morning of drinking coffee and chatting was just what I needed. Later that day, mom and dad hit the road for home and I met back up with my people at the ski resort. It was 2pm when Vanish and I once again left the boys at the trailhead. We had 12 miles to do before dark so off we went.

The next section included some intense elevation change and the infamous Glacier Peak Wilderness. It was the last big push before Stehekin and Canada. Off in the distance we could see Glacier Peak. Somewhere beyond that mountain was our last town stop...