Pacific Northwest Trail; mile 89.1

Friday, July 26, 2019; 5545 ft; Day 6

I rose earlier than usual (one of the many upsides to “star-camping”). My watch reads 0630. I was pleased. I collected my food bag, which appeared untouched. I cleaned my face and teeth and feet. I tended to my toes and hotspots, cutting and attaching strips of Moleskin.

Assessing reassessing and streamlining ones routine is a challenge. Today I had breakfast, did not prepare lunch. It is nearly 0900 and I have not left.

A car drives by and quickly parks. I hear a door slam.

I pack up. I notice a shell for a Winston 43 auto.

Another car, this time an SUV. I suppose it is Friday.

I continue along trail #26.

There are many ups and downs.

I sit for a break and ponder what it is like to be a bug caught in the wind.

The ups and downs of the trail are tempered by small stretches of level terrain. This is when I take in the views. The trees stand so very tall.

I miss a switchback and experience temporary confusion before again finding my way. The trail now climbs toward Mt Locke.

I am carrying too much weight. The needles of a pine brush my forearm and whisper “you can do it”.

Still climbing and descending and climbing, I stop for a break. I sang a song of encouragement to myself, making up the lyrics as I went.

Then, I was approaching Mt Locke. I could see the fire-ravaged mountainside in the distance. It looked frightening. I had read that this portion of trail had been burned away. I was nervous. It was hot. Only a half liter of water remains in my pack. I just needed to make it to the water source, roughly three miles away.

Then, among the burn damage,the trail disappeared.

I wandered, foolishly trying to navigate by sight. Trying to sense the trail, footprints, warn paths in the mountainside, anything. I realized this was a fast way to get lost. I began to scramble towards the summit. Grasping fallen trees for support. I stopped to access my compass.

My compass fell.

Oh, how dramatic!

The slope was steep. I removed my pack and lowered myself to where my compass had gotten tangled in tree limbs.

I returned to my pack, set a northwest bearing on my compass, took a deep breath, and went for it.To my absolute delight, I found the trail!

It was 0618. It was time to find water.

My hands are covered in ash by using downed burned trees as handholds.

I continue to ascend along the trail. I reach the summit of Mt. Locke. There is no eastbound trail junction, for me to take. It is all burned up. There are pieces of twisted metal, remnants of a building which once stood.

The trail seems to end at a cliff. I am again without a path.What if I can’t find my way? What I can’t find my way forward or back?

I referred to my GPS. I considered abandoning the trail in pursuit of water. I decided to scramble northeast down the side of the mountain. I found the trail, mid switch-back! Oh, thank-goodness!

There was one more junction. The path that led to water. I turned the corner, and there stood a grizzly! So focused on navigation and possible dehydration, I failed to consider potential animal threats. We were both startled. It ran off. I continued in the opposite direction. I found the junction!

The descent was fast. I came upon a beautiful spring, sooner than expected.

Relief rushed over me. I realized that miles were uncertain. I promised myself that I would always carry enough water to be able to stop and camp at any moment.

The sound of rushing water fills the air and drips from the pores of the moist mountainside. Music to my ears.

I finally come to Swift Creek. It is 1000. The sun has set. A fording is required to cross. Not wanting to get my boots wet, I remove them in favor of my camp sandals. After removing one boot and setting it to the side, it quickly tumbles down and into the creek. Oh, no! I quickly snatch it before it could be carried downstream. My heart pounds as I consider the ramifications of a lost boot.

I secure both boots and reached for my camp sandals. They were gone, along with my second pair of hiking socks. I must have lost them scrambling up the mountain; or weaving over and squeezing under one of the many downed trees on the Blue Sky Trail.

Losing things is always disappointing. I feel bad for depositing such foreign objects in the wilderness. I feel bad for my feet. At least the lost items should be easy to replace.

I thought I had also lost one gaitor in the creek, but it caught on a rock, and wriggled, swimming in place, just within reach.

I carried on, fording sockless inside boots with gaitors. My boots stayed surprisingly dry. I have become a great fan of gaitors.

There was a campsite immediately following the ford. I chose to set up my tent. I wanted all the security and comfort I could get. Besides, my sleeping bag was still damp from star-camping last night.

I reflected on what had just passed. I was so thankful for the scrambling and navigation courses I took with The Mountaineers in Seattle, WA. Maybe I should keep my ice axe after all.

Today was one of the hardest, most challenging days of my my life.

I ate spoonfuls of almond butter for dinner.

I crawled in to my tent, and slipped into a downy sleeping bag embrace.”I made it”, I said aloud to myself. I giggled and smiled wide, so thankful to be safe and hydrated, humbled, and learning so much.

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