Pacific Northwest Trail; Upper Baker Lake Dam

Wednesday. September 25, 2019 (day 66)

I am exhausted and late to rise. I tell myself, that it’s alright. Yesterday’s ford and bushwhack was the most physically and mentally challenging traverse to-date. I reach in and pull from the accomplishment to fuel today– as the only ration I have is half a cup of cold soaking noodles. I am about 23 miles from the town of Concrete.

The trees and lush ferns– the spider-webbed, lichen covered beauty–takes me to a place away from hunger… however briefly.

Mid-day I was greeted by a miniature schnauzer with a writhing little body and a rather large bark. A man followed behind. I told him the story of the bushwhack and fording. He listened, smiling. I carried on. I was so full of energy and life. 

He offered me a ride to Concrete. I explained to him that I was pretty determined to walk there…but that it all depended on how hungry I got. He told me that he would be back to the road in about an hour, should I want a lift.  He released a shoulder strap and swung his tiny backpack around to his front. He unzipped the main compartment and pulled out a large apple and a bag of mixed nuts. He held them out in offering. The exact snacks I longed for! I thanked him profusely, and we both went on our way.

I ate the apple first. I could feel it strengthen me. As I continued towards the road, however, my body ached. I developed shin-splints. Though I had only hiked 15 miles the previous day, they were some of the most intense miles I have put my body through. I began to hike with a limp. I considered how I may benefit from a shorter day, and a lift in to town.

I did not wait at the dirt road for my new friend, but continued down it. I hoped to make it to Baker Lake Road. It would be easier to hitch back to than the forest service road I was on.  Soon my new friend pulled up beside me. I explained to him that I was hoping to hitch from a place that was more memorable, so that it would be easier to reconnect my path. He offered to drive up to Baker Lake Dam and wait for me. I smiled widely, and agreed.

As I continued walking towards the dam, Dave drove by in a Puget Sound Energy truck. He was surprised to see me. He asked if I had a ride in to town. He told me to message him after I arrived in Concrete, and I could come over for dinner. I agreed, and continued towards the dam.

I was very thankful for the lift in to town. I asked to be dropped at the grocery store. I ventured in, collected a handful of items, and sat storefront on the cold, green, metal bench. I proceeded to build peanut-butter tortilla wraps.

Suddenly I was feeling very tired, worn, anti-social. I did not have the spark to reach out in connection. Luckily, Dave found me.

“Hey. I thought I might find you here!” Dave said as he walked towards me. 

“Hi!” I said, smiling. Though a large part of me wished not to be seen by anyone.

He mentioned that his wife said that I could stay the night, and that he just needed to run in to the store to grab a couple of items for the chili. 

I waited on the bench for him to return, and we headed to his vehicle together. As soon as I strapped myself in to the passenger seat, I began to feel better. Dave was good people. His high energy lifted my spirits. I remembered their kindness, and was grateful to be joining him and his wife.

Soon we pulled up to a positively beautiful home with a front yard of lush green grass ornamented with the occasional white, spongy mushroom. At the far end of the yard was Kay,  busy among a lovely vegetable garden. We parked and walked out to greet her.

Post introduction we all ventured inside and Kay began preparing dinner. I was offered a shower, which I eagerly accepted. After bathing I joined them in the kitchen. Before I could offer to help, Dave asked if I would like to get a load of laundry going. Would I!? The notion was thrilling. I set to it, straight away.

Soon we enjoyed one of the best meals I  have had on trail. I enjoyed the company of Kay and Dave very much. They asked if I would like to take a zero day. I was compelled to keep moving. As I had intended to take the Cascade Trail Alternate, I would be walking right back in to town tomorrow.  They said that they would be happy to have me another night. I gratefully accepted.

I retired to their guest bedroom. I was so comfy and cozy and happy and clean. Tomorrow–early in the morning–I would join Dave on his ride to work, and reconnect my footpath onward from Baker Lake Dam.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 818.7

Tuesday, september 24, 2019; day 65

The morning is less foggy than yesterday. It rained through the night. Though part of me is tempted to continue back to the visitors center for maps and an alternate route, I must see for myself if Swift Creek is still impassable. If I can make it across it should be flat terrain, and smooth sailing to Concrete

….Otherwise, I may be facing a lot of road walking.

I made my way back to the creek. I attempted to ford upstream, again I was forced to turn back. I scrambled up and down the banks. I stood on large boulders and surveyed the creek, looking for any place free of the white froth that appeared when the water crashed against the stones at high speed.

On my second attempt of the day, I made it across. As I neared the opposing bank my heart filled with glee, I knew I would make it. As I hit Earth, I brimmed with emotion. But it was not over yet. I still had to bushwhack 1/2 a mile back to the trail.I pushed my way through brush and climbed my way up the tremendously steep dirt embankments, my body hugging the earth, clinging desperately as I struggled upward.

As I descended, I slipped. My body was quick to react. I hooked my leg around the limb of a tree to stop my fall. I dug my heels into the earth and grabbed at every sturdy root and limb I could manage, as I slowly lowered myself to the creek.

I followed creekside as much as I could. When there where no stones and boulders to scramble along, I tried lowering myself in to the water. This time, the water level reached my chest. I moved inland, until there was no choice but to travel directly alongside the stream. Luckily, there was a steady path of stones.

Soon, I hit trail. I had made it.

I cried, I laughed, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of being truly alive; with the rush of engaging so rawly with nature; with the power of my own vulnerability and strength.

I could not relax fully, just yet. There was one more crossing of the creek. This time, there should be a fallen tree and rope to assist me. There are never any certainties, however.

To my relief there was a fallen tree. I crossed. I turned to gaze at the creek.

“Bye-bye Swift Creek!” I called out.

I carried on, dripping wet and light as a feather.

I joined the forest service road. The sun broke through the clouds. I removed my rain gear so that my wool garments may dry.

I sat in the middle of the decommissioned road, sun in my eyes, filled with joy and accomplishment and perseverance and laughter. I called out in thanks. I enjoyed a meal of cold soaked beans and rice.

This was living.

The walks that have followed the most challenging of bushwhacks, have been the best of my physical existence.

I joined Baker Lake Road.

I gazed at my feet. My shoes were literally falling apart. They did not need to last much longer.The beauty of a leaf stops me in my tracks.

I joined Baker Lake Trail, and crossed the Baker River Bridge.

I came to Noisy Creek Camp, and settled in for the night.

I had made it.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 802.2 (return)

Monday. September 23, 2019; day 64

It is rainy and foggy out there. It is just after 0900. I sip hot coffee in a sea of emergency blankets. I had placed them below and upon my sleeping bag in order to keep it safe. I realized that the little drip-drip-drips from the ceiling of my single wall tent add up through the hours of the night. The blankets are of no use though, as I inevitably toss and turn. The next time I greet the mountains of the Pacific Northwest in the fall, I may consider a bag that is not 100% down, and has not already seen over 2,000 miles.

Swift creek awaits, just over a mile south.

As I packed up I sang “I can do it, I can do it, just gotta put your mind to it, boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-boop” on repeat.

…And it will feel great!

I put on my wet clothes and rain gear, packed up, and set off.

With the recent heavy rains, the creek certainly was swift!

I unbuckled the hip-belt of my pack, and hung my fanny pack around my neck.

I attempted to ford where the trail crosses. The water reached well above my waste, and the current was strong. I was forced to turn back.

I bushwhacked downstream. I made one very serious attempt. I used rocks as footholds, leaning in to the current as I side stepped. I was only feet from the other side, but I could not reach it, the current was too strong. I struggled to return the way I came, but I managed.

I looked around a bit more, scrambling along the boulders upstream. After I was satisfied that I had given it my all, I turned around and hiked back to my campsite from the previous night.

I would try again in the morning. Otherwise, I would be forced to find an alternate route.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 802.2

Sunday September 22, 2019; day 63

It’s raining this morning; not a lot, just a pit-pit-pattering.

I am thankful that the mouse that was climbing up the netting and under the floor of my tent last night, did not decide to chew right through.

As I exit, I notice a spider has used the crown of my tent as support for its web.

I gathered water from Ruth Creek.

It crashes and flows, steadily and swiftly–swelling as it receives the beautiful snowmelt from the mountaintops.

I will be walking Mount Baker Highway today. It is Sunday. I am hoping the rain will be a deterrent to tourist traffic. Right now, as I pack up, traffic sounds very light. I am hopeful.

The mapset says “Highway 542 is steep and winding without a shoulder and limited sight distance. PNTA is working with the USFS on a trail relocation in this area”

When they are not busy I like walking roads… they are like railroad tracks, an industrial speedway that spans miles and miles.

Expressions on faces of drivers as they pass, make me giggle.

Some people stop to ask if I am alright.

A feel a car pull up slowly behind me. It was Ryan, the man who had provided me with gifts of warmth.

“I know you won’t accept a ride, but I will pull over so that we can chat for a bit.”

This made me feel as though he fully supported my continuous footpath.

I left the conversation with a lightness in my step that comes with the delightful whimsy of coincidence.

I did not find the roadwalk to be dangerous or uncomfortable.

The rain came down in buckets. I grew cold. I stopped at a trailhead bathroom to put on more layers. I considered boiling some water for hot coffee, but I dismissed it as a tad ridiculous. I knew it would be best to press on.

I stopped at the Visitor Center before joining the Lake Ann trail. I gathered a couple of snacks and a rice and bean meal.

I followed the Lake Ann trail, then turned to join the Swift Creek trail. With all of the rain, the trail itself was a flowing stream.

I began to consider the coming ford. I hoped to make it there before nightfall.

The rain did not let up. I continued crossing many, many streams along the way.

I stopped. I watched as a Mountain Goat stared in to the distance. I wondered what it was doing. Contemplating life, perhaps. Then it noticed me. It leaped off the ledge and down the mountainside. What an impressive, magical, whimsical looking creature!

I realized that I would not make it to Swift Creek before dark. There were also not many places to camp.

I noticed a flat space just off trail. It just did not seem right. I moved on.

Soon I questioned my decision to continue. The rain remained heavy, and a fog was setting in. I became desperate. I scoured for a place, hopeful at every bend and turn, that something may appear.

Finally, I found a spot that would (barely) do.

I cleared the forest floor of branches and twigs and erected my tent by the light of my headlamp.

I crawled inside. I was safe. I changed in to dry clothes. I was warm.

I would face Swift Creek in the morning.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 786.1

Sarurday, September 21, 2019; day 62

I do not want to rise. But why? The day is clear. There is a mild chill, but I am prepared for that.

A chipmunk visits. It stirs me to a livelier state, by hurling its tiny body into the netting of my tent. As I heat water, it nearly runs inside!

I try to shake the guilt I feel for spending so much time in Winthrop. There is no use in beating myself up about it. I accomplished many things. I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe in moving forward without regrets.

Rain is said to be on it’s way this evening, but the temperatures still hover in the 40s and 50s. I was not concerned.

As I pack up, I ask the trees for strength.

As I walk, I repeat a call for the spirits of the woods: “I am here. Be here with me. I love you”.

Then, two weekend hikers approached. I was startled and slightly embarrassed. I told them that they had caught me in the middle of a chant; that I was feeling a bit down. They smiled and said that they completely understood, that they had been there. It was a pleasant encounter.

There were many hikers on trail.

I forded the Chilliwack River.

I could hear the trail crew actively sawing and hammering and working to fix the cable car that is normally utilized to cross.

I moved up and over Hannegan Pass. It was all so terrifically beautiful!

I followed the dirt road out towards the Mount Baker Highway.

The walk along the forest service road was relaxing. Ruth creek flowed with great strength, emitting beautiful music from the south. I was offered many rides from the hikers I had met on trail. I kindly refused. That was, until a group of young people offered me a ride .1 miles from the road. I explained to them how I was attempting a continuous footpath. They pulled up to the trailhead and waited for me to complete those last feet leading to the highway!

It was a pleasant ride in to Glacier. I quickly resupplied and sat in front of the store and repackaged my food.

Now to find a place to camp. It was already dark. A local called Lilly told me about an 8 hour parking area up the road, where I should be able to sleep for the night. I thanked her.

Then a man asked me about the weather. I asked where they were headed. Turns out there were going my way. I had found a ride! I could not believe my luck!

By 2000 I was right back where I had left off, with a newly replenished food bag. Oh, what joy!

I stealth camped in the Hannegan Pass trailhead/picnic area.

A little mouse moved about beneath my tent.

I fell to sleep happy and hopeful.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 766.8

Friday, September 20, 2019; day 61

The day looks promising. I will mostly be dealing with the wetness of shrub.

I strap on the long gaiters I purchased in winthrop (a relatively futile effort, considering the shape of my shoes).

I will be travelling over Whitcom Pass today. It is said to be one of the most challenging climbs of the trail.

As I move, I notice changes in the foliage, the trees and leaves broaden. There is a deepening of green.

I take joy in the crunching of autumn leaves beneath my step.

I began the ascent up Whitcom. I become frustrated with the technological gadget I use to communicate with my family. It opens a flood-gate deep within me. I stop at a very preliminary switchback. I sit. I cry. I sob. I cry for everything and everyone, for nothing and no one. It is heavy and powerful. I look ahead. To the rushing water from the opposing rocky mountainside. I watch it cascade down from the melting snow fields above. I am in awe of its composure. It is still and beautiful as water pours and rushes along its cracks and gathers in its crevices.

Let them be your teachers, I tell myself. Let your emotions flow freely, but keep a calmness inside; an inner stillness of love and realization of what truly matters. I cry more. Hugged by the wild, I lift myself and continue.

Whitcom pass was amazing. I ascend slowly, gazing at the surrounding ice-covered peaks; how they melt and flow and feed the Earth.

As I descend, night falls. I come to the Whitcom campsite. There was a quick flash of light from my headlamp. As I wondered if I had imagined it, it happens again. I attempt to adjust the power of the lamp, and it goes black. I fumble for the spare batteries I had found in a hiker box. I drop one, and feel around for it in the darkness. They were fairly easy to spot, obtrusive and shiny and perfect in shape…they did not belong.

The fog rolled in so quickly. So thick! I find fog to be the biggest challenge toward my tendency to hike in the darkness.

I stopped at Graybeal Camp for the night. How dreadful to have only made it so far. It was an emotional day, however.

My heart weighs heavy.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 754.2

Thursday September 19, 2019; day 60

I rose, packed up my things, and headed back to the picnic bench. I would try my hand at my new stove.

Success! How lovely it was to have hot coffee in the morning!

I followed the road across the dam.

I decided to stop in at the Ross Lake Resort.

I used their wifi to follow-up with Lowa. I had sent them a picture of the holes in my boots, while in Winthrop. To my delight, I had received an email response asking where my replacement boots should be sent. I called them up and asked them to ship them “general delivery” to the town of Concrete.

I continued along the trail. I paused, saddened by a dead toad that lay in the middle of the path. As I considered whether I should move its little body to the side of the trail, it hopped off. I was thoroughly impressed by its ability to play dead.

I joined the Beaver Creek trail. The trees were so powerful. I found myself stopping many times just to stare, to press my flattened palm against their wizened trunks.

The mountains soothe my soul.

The trail was surprisingly populated. Twice I was referred to as “you guys”, when there was clearly just one of me.

I came to Luna Camp, after night fall. All of the tent sites were occupied. I moved on.

I arrived at Beaver Pass Shelter.

I was relieved to find it empty. Well, save for the mice… but I hung my pack on a nail, and they left me well enough alone.

Spurts of gentle rain came and went through the night as I slept.

When Zeros Multiply…

Tuesday to Thursday, September 15 to 17, 2019; days 56-58

I slept so comfortably. The hostel certainly did not skimp on their mattresses or bedding.

I walked to the grocery store to resupply. I socialized with PCT hikers. I tried to write. I watched YouTube videos on how to properly operate the Dragonfly stove. I purchased more wool base layers, an emergency bivy, full length gaiters, and waterproof gloves. I shoe-gooed my shoes, wrapping them in dental floss so that the tearing flaps of boot stayed secure while drying.

The hours and days rolled by.

Outside the comfort of the hostel, it rained incessantly. PCT hikers continued to arrive, speaking of snow through the Pasayten.

Though there was a gnawing guilt that rolled and reared within me, I spent three full days in the hostel.

I struggled to reflect and record my adventure. I revelled in the warmth and down bedding and being recognized as a thru-hiker amongst thru-hiking peers.

I told stories of the adventure and lessons and solitude that the PNT offers.

Though the culture seemed to be isolating and phone-centric, I made some connections that I found special, and hold dear.

I fell asleep on the night of the 17th, knowing that it had to be my last night in town. It was time to move.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 730.1 (Winthrop)

Saturday, September 14, 2019; day 55

I am cold. It is so difficult to start early at over 6,000 ft. I need to get over it. I need to toughen up.

If I don’t make it to Ruby Creek in time for a hitch, at least I will be at under 2,000 ft. With warmth at that elevation being a relative non-issue, I am going to risk wearing my only wool layer. I was not fully prepared for the sudden change in weather. I have silk undergarments, which were cheaper, but no match for the cool mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I will get more gear in Winthrop.

As I descend towards Ross Lake, trees shake their little paper chimes.

“Why, hello to you, too!”, I say smiling.

It is so much cozier down here! The weather is perfect! Everything is wonderful.

I think of the long journey ahead; of the need to rush to beat the cold. I do not like to rush. I will not stop until my life is at risk, and even then I’ll find another way.

“You are so beautiful! I love you!”, I spout to the trail, to the woods, to nature. By the way they make me feel, I knew they loved me too.

A bird chirps, sending vibrations through the crisp air.

I cross a bridge. I had been there before. This was the alternate I took into Canada in 2016.

I moved quickly. I hoped to reach the road before nightfall.

Soon I came to the parking lot and East Bank trailhead.

I crossed the street to hitch east to Winthrop. I had roughly one hour before night fall.

Car after car sped by. I was becoming very discouraged. I started to eye where I might camp for the night. I thought of how I would have to head back down the trail to collect water.

I will try just a short while longer.

Then, a vehicle pulled over and into the parking lot.

At first I was not certain that they were stopping for me. After confirming their intentions to help, I ran over and told them that I was headed to Winthrop. They were headed to the closer town of Mazama. That would do! They made space for me in their vehicle and I hopped in. They introduced themselves as Ryan and Josh. They were out camping and cycling through the mountains. They were very familiar with the area and we exchanged many a story of outdoor adventure. They told me that I was free to camp with them tonight, as they were intending on heading to Winthrop in the morning. I very much enjoyed there company, and was flattered that they did not mind me tagging along.

Soon we came to Rainy Pass.

“We got another hitch-hiker”, Ryan announced, “we’ve got to make room!”

Their kindness made me giggle as we rearranged to make room for the PCT hiker.

Then, we were off once more. When we reached the little town of Mazama, we found their store to be closed. Commando, the PCT hiker, was also planning to go to Winthrop. So what did Ryan and Josh do? They changed their plans entirely and decided to travel the extra 20 miles to Winthrop that night! I was so thankful!

After arriving in Winthrop, everyone headed to a restaurant for drinks and a meal. I was working hard to budget, and had been falling behind on my writing, so my intentions were to go straight to the hostel. I found them so pleasant, however, that I decided to join, socializing over a hot cup of coffee (or three).

We spoke of hiking and the mountains and the cold. I told them how this was the longest stretch that I had ever been in the wilderness. I told them how I had been a bit frightened, and felt underprepared.

Then, Ryan retrieved some things from his car. He gifted me a pair of wool bottoms, and an old MSR Dragonfly stove that he said he had used for the past 20 years. I could not express my gratitude enough. Such amazing gifts of warmth and kindness. His generosity will never be forgotten!

Soon we parted ways. We all hugged goodbye, and Commando and I made our way up the hill towards the hostel.

I found my assigned bunk, and hungry but warm, fell asleep.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 713.3

Friday, September 13, 2019; day 54

I had a terrible time willing myself to rise this morning. It is raining, but hardly.

The drops fell so hard last night that they shoock the ceiling of my tent, causing little drops of condensation to fall within.

My sleeping bag is warm, and my socks are dry.

I consider how this will be the longest stretch I have spent in the wilderness. I consider how powerful it has been.

The rain picked up again. I missed a clear window to break down my tent.

I am so thankful for the dehydrated meal of beans and rice I had been gifted. I portion the meal in to two servings: one for today, and one for tomorrow. I have done a good job of rationing food, this stretch. I have certainly felt the pangs of hunger, but have not felt weak.

I have been wearing the same wet socks for days now. My logic being, that donning my dry pair would only provide momentary comfort that would result in extra, wet weight. But the skin on my feet has begun to turn white and puffy. I think the time has come to change my socks.

I listen to the rain. A distant woodpecker joins the song. Tonight the moon would be full.

I am thankful, that despite these difficulties and discomforts, I am so happy. I am excited to hike. I love what I do.

The rain ceases as I gather water. I find my way among the numerous offshoots of paths.

As I climb, I feel an overwhelming sense of peace.

How amazing it was to be out of regions of burn, to be amongst the fresh, living green; inhaling a fragrance bursting with life!

The mountains were cloaked in fog.

I realized that my feet were so wet, due to two sizeable holes forming on either side.

I stopped. I sat on a fallen tree, pack still on back, and removed a large pebble from shoe. I ate 1/2 of the days portion of rice and beans. Oh, how delicious! I could feel the nutrients mash out of each red bean as I chewed. As a friend once told me: hunger is the best seasoning.

I move amongst such lush green beauty. The brush is very wet. Soon, I am very wet. The brush offers huckleberries, however. This softens the wet blows from each bush as I pass.

It was terribly cold as I reached Devil’s Dome, at 6,982.

I feared that night would bring rain. I feared over exposure in the cold.

I could not help but turn off trail, towards Bear Skull Cabin (which was actually a 3 wall shelter).

I am thankful for the planks within the shelter. They provide a buffer between myself and the cold ground. I hang my wet things on a line, and adopt a pair of large gloves that lay in the corner.

Rain did not come, only the light of the moon.

Maybe I should have pressed forward. I am disappointed. Disappointment does no good, however.

The Pasayten has proved an amazing teacher. I should be happy to spend one more night within its bounds.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 700.3

Thursday, September 12, 2019; day 53

I opened my eyes at 0830 to realize that my headlamp was still strapped to my head, the light still on. In my exhaustion–once inside my tent–I had disregarding all but sleep.

I was still tired.

I considered sleeping, just a tiny bit more. Maybe a coffee nap. Drink some caffeine, take a 20 minute nap, and that’s it. I had not set up camp until around 0230, after all.

No. No time for napping. I ration my food, instead. Just under 50 miles until a road crossing. I am getting there. I am doing it.

In less than 5 miles I will connect with the PCT. I will have the joy of travelling along the beloved trail southbound, for 13 miles. This is a portion of trail I missed when I hiked the PCT in 2016. Due to dangerous snow conditions, I opted for a roadwalk along Route 20 from Rainy Pass, connecting lower elevation trails in to Canada. Needless to say, I was ecstatic!

I felt a bit giddy. As if I were heading out for a night on the town. I will certainly see other people, other hikers.

…Not just hikers, but hikers only 3.5 miles south of the northern terminus, and the completion of their epic journeys. Part of me was tempted to go touch it. But not yet. That time will come.

I consider the intersection of journeys in life, how the old mission was calling me back. I consider how symbolic, how strong in archetypal energy, a terminus of a long-distance trail is.

Soon my giddiness turned to nerves. I was not sure if I was ready to see all of those people, all of those reflections of what they saw in me. The anticipation of other people already had me engaging in the hike differently. The PNT is truly a gem of solitude.

As I crossed paths with each hiker. They congratulated me. At first I corrected them, explaining that I was on another trail entirely. When that became too much, I just smiled and congratulated them in return. I laughed, realizing just how out of sync I was with the hiker fist-bump.

Stepping over a mountain pass is like hopping in to a new dimension. It is nothing short of magic.

What an expense of trail! So amazing to see the route zigzagging ahead!

I continue in to the night. It only rains in gentle spurts, then clears. I keep gazing upward in hopes of glimpsing a burning star. No. Just beautiful wisps of dark cloud, and the silhouette of proud pines.

I continue. Just before I reach Holman Pass, and the junction that leaves the PCT, the rain turns fierce.

The PNT descends towards Canyon Creek. There should be a tent site in just under a mile.

I reach the site and quickly erect my tent in the rain. I throw myself and my gear inside.

There are still 29.8 miles until I hit Ruby Creek, and access to Route 20.

I feel very happy to be back on the PNT. I feel very happy to be alone, once more.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 682.7

Wednesday September 11, 2019; Day 52

I sat on my socks to warm them, reviewed the maps and guidebook pages for the day, and played a song on my quena. I was 28 miles from joining the PCT, my first true love. I was excited.

What was not exceptionally thrilling was the burn devastation, and loss of trail that lay ahead.

I can travel cross country, I can bushwhack. I will get there.

I was so thankful for the sun. I walked a short distance east to collect water before venturing forward. I had not seen cows for some time. I did not filter.

I presoaked a meal. I would have to wait to add olive oil, it has been solidifying in the cold weather. As I moved forward, I realized I had made the right decision to set up camp. The trail proved difficult to locate even in daylight. I used horse tracks and scat to help guide me.

I laughed at the beauty, at the simple peace of being. As I rounded the southern slope of Quartz Mountain I could feel sunshine on my skin. I removed my raincoat. What luxury!

The trail disappears in the mountain meadows, but there are cairns to guide me.

I could see the burn devastation ahead. I stop at a cool, flowing stream. I drink deeply, and listen to its soft music.

As I move forward, the trail disappears entirely in the mud and soot. I spot a cairn, then another. Downed trees that have been freshly cut were another indicator of the trail. With intense observation and study of the subtle changes in terrain, I was able to successfully find my way.

A deer and buck graze in the distance. A light rain falls from the sky. A magical rainbow appears.

The appearance of the rainbow lifted my spirits, but I was cold. A fording of the Pasayten River lay ahead. I wanted desperately to make it across before nightfall.

I think back to the cabin, the heat, the company; to those that have opened their homes to me. I consider how strong a bond is formed when you pass a night in the company of a stranger.

I came to a sign.

Trail crews had re-routed the fording. The new crossing was 1.4 miles earlier, ensuring the presence of the sun!

I entered the water, opting to ford in my boots. I safely reached the other side, nestled within a brief breadth of living green. I removed my boots and rung what water I could from my socks. I laughed. Fording is always such a thrill.

I continued along the Boundary trail. The trail is clear, as is the sky –save for wisps of clouds. I took a break trailside, ate cold mashed potatoes and prepared for the night. It would be cold.

As I walked, I appreciated how the day slowly fades in to night. No abrupt flick of a light switch.

In the darkness, I miss a turn-off near the airfield. Entranced by the sillouhette of the mountains in the darkness, and the swiftness of my movement through the field, I did not realize my error until I had travelled nearly a mile.

I returned to the trail. Soon I am climbing and the stars make me giggle. The ascent is green, full of life– oh, the scent! I breathe in deeply, beneath the waxing moonlight. This is magic.

I come to the fording of Chuchuwanteen Creek, after midnight. I pause in middle of the fording, water lightly pushing and splashing the back of my knees. I gaze at the moon suspended to the southwest. Her reflection of light casts a rounded silvery glow upon the creek. The rushing cold water serves as a conduit for her energy, her magic. I stand still, in a moment of perfection

I forded and crossed more streams and creeks and rivers today, than I have over the entire stretch of the trail. Water is prevalent again! The burn regions and navigational challenges and disappearing trails are behind me (for now)!

I set up camp only miles from the Pacific Crest Trail. I fall to sleep satisfied, and excited for what tomorrow may bring.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 658.8

Tuesday September 10, 2019; day 52

Devin stoked the last of the glowing embers for a morning fire. I hung my damp socks directly over the stove, for one last shot at drying.

Water was boiled and I was told I could use as much as I liked. Thrilled at the notion of hot coffee in the morning, I was only slightly phased when my peanut butter container began to melt. I watched as it sadly sank into itself. Folds of plastic and a newly rounded bottom left it unble to stand on its own. I sipped slowly and with delight. I enjoyed two cups.

Soon Devin and Doug departed. I set out shortly after.

I wear my rain skirt as a cape. My spirits are lifted by the haunting beauty of the fog and cold.

The climb towards Cathedral Pass was beautiful .

I continued long the Boundary Trail.

I made the fording of Ashnola River before night fall. The water level was quite manageable. I retained a bit wetness through the fabric bunched around my knees.

In just under a mile after fording, the trail dropped into a ravine and crossed a creek. The bridge had been destroyed and laid in shambles upstream. I followed a path that crosses downstream, and hugged the steep muddy banks as I belly-climbed back to the trail.

The night is clear, but presents a heavy chill.

Many trails branch off in the grassy brush. I take the clearest one, they alleventually head west.

I move along the alpine meadow of Sandy Ridge and collect water from a stream.

Then, the trail disappears within areas of burn. By the light of my headlamp, I struggled to continue. Knowing that water follows the path of least resistance, I tried following faint impressions of water streams in the mud. Concerned that I may venture too far off track, I hiked back to wear I lost the trail, and tried once more.

Unable to move forward with confidence, I determined it best to set up camp. I moved back and forth along the trail in search of a tent-site. The region was full of either dead and hazardous trees, or delicate alpine meadow.

I found a flat spot, just before the trail became unclear. I set up amongst the sturdiest of dead trees I could find. It is not ideal, but I am not left with much choice.

It is very cold, but I am dry. My sleeping bag is a fluffy pleasure. I snuggle within the fabric and quickly drift into sleep.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 627.4

Sunday, September 8, 2019; day 50

I am concerned with the potential difficulties of navigating in the rain. Fire damage throughout the Pasayten may pose challenging conditions: dead and downed trees, indiscernible trail.

There does not seem to be much elevation change moving forward. If I move quickly, maybe I can make it the 23 miles to the Old Tungsteon Mine cabins.

I make sure everything is in plastic bags. I fill up on water to full capacity and pre-soak a meal. I don’t want to stop until I set up camp, and I want to have enough water to camp at any moment. The frequency of listed campsites in the coming miles is comforting.

It may be a subconscious tactic towards survival, but it seems that post initiation one is always less afraid.

The birds sing and there is a light buoyancy to the air. I laugh at the appearance of my shadow.

I find relief in the clear orange blazing of The Chopaka Trail.

It is not long before the sky dims and the rain sets in. I had removed my base layers in the heat of the morning sun. Caught in shorts and a sleeveless top, I put on my rain skirt and rain jacket and continue.

As I hike, I offer self motivation: you have done this before; the weather is not scary; there is only one option: keep going– find a way–there is always a way.

***

I have set up camp in a dry pond bed, only 13 miles from where I began. Night has fallen. I am soaking wet. The cold rattles my bones. The rain did not cease until the sun no longer shone. I considered hiking in to the night but I was worried about staying warm. My fingers and toes burn as I hurried to pitch my tent, as I told myself it was okay to stop if I tried harder tomorrow.

I eat a dinner of cold mashed potatoes. I curl my body inward, within my damp down bag. My legs convulse involintarily. I am concerned. I check the weather with my satellite device. Tomorrow: 37 degrees and more rain. I am still 102.7 miles from a possible hitch in to town.

Should I have pushed further? Would I have been able to stay warm?

I marvel at the extreme change in weather. Usually there is some warning. I feel foolish and shocked. I was not physically or mentally prepared. My dry sacks have failed me. A wet down bag without an emergency bivy is extremely dangerous.

I suppose the transition from a hot valley road walk to 6,985 ft elevation within the rugged Pasayten Wilderness, is not so fluid.

I hope this weather is but a warning of what is to come, not what is here.

I curl into a ball. I watch my breathe in the light of my headlamp. For the first time on trail, I feel alone. I long for the heat of another. I think of what it would be like to cuddle a cow. I think of what it would be like to freeze, alone in the wilderness. I think about the danger of not being prepared for the cold. I wonder if I should turn back. Then I think of the cabin in 13 miles. I could make a fire. I could dry out my sleeping bag.

I think of the East Bank trailhead, just over 100 miles away.

You can make it there. Just make it there.

Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 614.0

Saturday, September 7, 2019; day 49

I rose and moved to collect water from Palmer Lake.

I filter while reviewing the guide book. Looks like the route soon becomes a “maze of fading old roads and cow paths” until it reaches Cold Springs , and the “jump off point to the Pasayten Wilderness”.

These confusing routes no longer stir fear in me.

I found I was rather talkative this morning; spouting my thoughts verbally to myself in silly voices, humming Nutcracker melodies.

I glance at the easily accessible water spigots protruding from the grassy private property nearby. The sprinkler had been left shooting streams of water all through the night, and continued rhythmically with the break of day. So interesting how we live, with “ownership” of land and water.

As I walk towards Toats-Coulee Road, the people are all smiles and waves and outhouse offerings. People seemed to know what I was up to.

I was not enjoying the lake water, however. Things lose their essence when they stop moving.

Thankful for the cloud coverage, I took a break just before climbing Chopaka Creek Road.

People do not seem to notice much that is not in their path.

I tie my bandana above my left knee. I consider how the simplest measure is often the most effective.

As I climbed the road, I heard ATVs pull up to the lot where I had just taken a break.

I stop to watch and listen.

One of them called out to another, “Hey, how fast can you go up here!?”

“As fast as ya want!” Said the other.

“I don’t know about that!”, the first replied.

“Hey! Watch out for me!” I called.

Judging by their lack of response, they did not hear me. I need to work on my ‘outside voice’.

I began to see the cattle gaurds as a form of childhood hopscotch… which I played often, and was getting rather good at it.

Found myself considering how beautiful this walk would be on a cool clear night.

I longed for the vibrancy of cold spring water.

At 1422, the thunder sounded.

I put on my pack cover.

All the ATVs zoom by me in a rush off the mountain.

I finally come to cold, flowing water. I stop to drink and collect and appreciate.

Cows gather at the cattle guard. Terrified at my approach, yet unable to cross the guard, I watch as they rush off to my left. One somehow pushes itself through a barbed wire fence.

The sky remains clear, giving me confidence as I approach the less discernable parts of the trail.

A rusted barbed wire catches my right leg, entangling as I walk. Surprised, I stop to free myself. Only scratches, no blood drawn.

I connect to a jeep road and continue. Unfortunately, I continued for too long. I was only supposed to follow the road for 300 yards. I turned back and found the correct junction.

I was running out of daylight.

The trail was very faint and difficult to follow in the dark.

I see bright flashes of light in the distance. Lightning. It is not followed by a sound, but strikes my nerves.

In just one more mile, I would come to a clearly defined forest service road.

There is another lightning burst.

The trail has faded away in the night. I am uncertain of where to turn.

Then, something catches my eye. Reflecting the light of my headlamp, is a cow patty. It points me in the direction of a cow path, and I find my way.

As I walk the forest service road, the moon calls my attention.

I stop and stare. I am flooded with joy.

Another flash of light fills the sky.

I am uncertain if I should continue further in to the night.

At 2204, I set up my tent at the Cold Springs Campground. My tent smells fresh, like dryer sheets. It is mold free, from the recent wash and dry.

At 2317, I heard the first drops of rain.

Vibrations of pain shoot up and down the bottom of my feet.

Tomorrow will be cold and wet.

At 0300 I woke to the loud cracking of thunder.

I listen as cows move about in heavy groups in the night.