Saturday, September 26, 2009

Skykomish to Stehekin

First, a word about the trail angels who kindly put us up in their home in Baring, WA. The Dinsmores have been taking in hikers for several years. During our stay, we showered, did laundry, got online for e-mail and banking, watched some movies, cooked hot dogs over a roaring campfire and crashed on inflatable mattresses along with 8 other hikers. The Dinsmores' quiet generosity is amazing, and much appreciated.

Clean and well-rested, we were eager to set out on the trail early the next morning thanks to a ride from a fellow thru-hiker turned trail angel named Scholar. (Unfortunately, she had to cut her hike short because of a foot injury.) Chris and I had 98 miles to cover and a deadline: we had to get to the Stehekin Post Office before it closed for the weekend. In addition to the distance, the guidebook also noted that this section is second only to the High Sierra in difficulty. That means this was not the section to expect to pull big miles. Chris did some number crunching, as he often does, and we realized it was absurd to try to get to the PO on Friday so our hopes of finishing a day early had to be revised. It was a relief to both of us once we made the decision to arrive in Stehekin on Saturday, meaning we did not have to hike 30 mile days over rough terrain.

In fact, it would have been impossible to do such long days during this stretch. As it was, we hiked from the dark predawn hours until after sunset most days and only covered between 21 and 24 miles. Colossal climbs were partly to blame. One day, we climbed a total of five thousand feet only to end up at roughly the same elevation as we started because of equally steep descents. Downed trees were another hindrance. The US Forest Service has yet to clear the trees after massive floods in 2003 from the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Since then, they have been re-routing thru-hikers and equestrians to another trail. We opted to continue along the unmaintained PCT, like most other hikers we spoke to, for a couple reasons. One: the re-route sounded just as overgrown and dangerous. An equestrian friend doing the trail this year lost both her beloved horses - Harmony and Jer - on a steep and shrubby section of the re-route. They died after one misstep in thick brush, falling 1500 feet. Fortunately, she is OK but for being broken hearted over the trauma and loss. Two: the re-route is about 10 miles longer!

Our decision turned out to be the right one. Yes, we had to wade through long sections of overgrown brush and scale fallen trees whose trunks were taller than I am. But the scenery was truly spectacular - Glacier Peak jacketed in thick, white glaciers; tasty blueberry bushes turning crimson with the changing season; clear streams aplenty and stunning blue skies. Indeed, the weather has been beautiful, well beyond our expectations of solid rain. Every sunny, warm day in Washington has been a gift and we've been relishing each cloudless day this stretch with the plentiful vistas undisturbed by fog.

So after a couple days of trudging up and over steep ridges, scrambling over masses of fallen trees and bushwhacking through overgrown brush, we find ourselves in Stehekin. We only have a half day to enjoy this vacation community nestled at the head of Lake Chelan. But we are taking full advantage of this last town stop by doing laundry, showering, picking up our last resupply box during the one hour that the PO is open on Saturdays and indulging in several pastries from the renowned Stehekin bakery.

It is hard to believe this is our last town stop and even harder to believe we will be finishing the trail in four days. Part of me is ready to just stop walking and get the trail over with. Another part of me realizes I am in the midst of a life-changing event and I need to soak in each vista, each gulp of fresh air, and each of these extraordinary moments with my husband.

Next stop - Canada!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Snoqualmie Pass to Skykomish

Walking into Snoqualmie Pass on Friday, we hadn't seen another thru-hiker since getting back on the trail a week earlier. We were feeling like we were the last ones on the PCT, a lonely feeling. But as we entered the Pancake House, we saw familiar faces, as well as hikers we had not met before. We caught up with:

Fix-It -He's a carpenter in Portland, Oregon in the real world

Creamsicle- Named this by another hiker because he bought a giant box of these and passed them out somewhere in southern California

Scuba - He got this name for his diving to the Deep Creek bottom looking for lost sun glasses

Jessica - Never got a trail name

Dutch - He had a group of '08 hikers at the kick-off party believing that Euchre was a Dutch word meaning "to cheat" during a card game of the same name

Ancient Brit - Just an old British guy

Pickle Monster - He apparently really loves pickles

Wonka - Someone thought her laminated picture of Thoreau hanging off the back of her pack was Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the movie

Good Spot - He constantly is looking for that "good spot" for lunch or camp

After having breakfast and lunch without leaving our booth, we decided it was time to get walking. However, the next 40 miles of the PCT was closed due to fire. The USFS rerouted us along roads and out of the way 20 miles, but thankfully, another hiker knew a better way. Via Snow Lake, Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, and Dutch Miller Gap, we made our way around the closed section to the PCT at mile 2438.0, where we continued north.

Not without getting rained on for most of Saturday though. It was our first real day of rain in Washington, and hopefully our last. Our alarm went off just after 5 am right about the time raindrops started hitting our rain fly. We had a decision to make. Do we enjoy being warm and dry and sleep longer or get packed up before it really starts coming down? We chose the latter and began our day in full rain gear. It rained steadily all morning, let up for a few hours around lunch time, then began drizzling again around 3 pm. As we were arriving at Deep Lake, it became stormy with gusty wind and heavier rain. We wasted no time with getting inside the tent and even cooked in the vestibule.

Sunday dawned cloudy, foggy, and overcast. Nothing to do but get hiking though, and after going up and over Cathedral Pass, and Deception Pass, the skies began to clear. The rest of the day was beautiful and I was even able to take advantage of being near Seattle, flipping between the Mariners (MLB) and Seahawks (NFL) games on my walkman.

With only 10 miles to go to Steven's Pass, we treated ourselves to breakfast in bed on Monday morning. To our oatmeal, we added the freshest blueberries one could get, picked from a bush outside our tent. Scrumptious! We got on the trail by 6:30 and enjoyed the gorgeous morning walking to Steven's Pass/Hwy 2. Hitching to Skykomish was a piece of cake and that's where we are right now. 179 miles to Canada!

Way back in Southern California, in the first few days or so, I equated the PCT to a marathon , breaking up the trail into 26.2 100-mile increments. If we stick to that, and pretend it's the Boston Marathon, at this point, we're running down Beacon Street, seeing for the first time the Citgo Sign and nearing Kenmore Square. We are so close we can taste it.


Friday, September 18, 2009

White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

The guidebooks all said this was supposed to be an easy section. Well, maybe we're soft after a week off the trail, but it definitely was tougher than we expected. There was plenty of climbing, and stormy clouds threatened to dampen our spirits several times. Amazingly, we did not get rained on, though walked through thick fog a lot. The weather could change quickly from pea soup fog to a glorious sunny afternoon. Here in Washington, we'll take all the sun we can get!

One memorable morning we woke up in the dark to damp fog and slogged up a ridge for a couple hours. Just as we were getting frustrated with the terrain, we rounded a bend near the apex of the cliff and caught a glimpse of huge Mt. Rainier's flanks. As we walked on, more and more of her came into view until the entire mountain towered above us . The clouds had lifted during our climb and we could see the peak, the glaciers, and all the lush evergreens at the base. In the still morning, looking at this spectacular wall of rock and ice, we even heard elk calling.

The sounds of the forest pervade our every waking moment. Some calls, like the wheezy whale song of the elk are more noteworthy. But I'm sure I'll miss the simple trail noises when we're back to the city: crows gargling overhead as their wings whooshed with every flap, smaller birds' "eep-eep-eep" from the trees, pika with their alarm calls that sound like a dog's squeaky toy and chipmunks "cheeping" their warnings from the underbrush, all the while a chorus of bees and flies carry on a din of buzzing in the background. Of course, sometimes we listen to our iPods or spin the radio dial in hopes of getting some ballgame scores or NPR news. But those sounds of civilization don't compare to the magic of an owl hooting in the dark as you drift off to sleep in your tent.

We have two more weeks to soak in the sights and smells of the trail, and they will be tough.Some of the steepest climbs of the trail are ahead. Weather is also a factor this far north and we're fully expecting rain and snow at some point. No matter the terrain or weather, hopefully these next 250 miles will go smoothly. We are in the home stretch and I'm itchy to get back to the real world.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Trout Lake to White Pass

28 hours after leaving the Provincetown dock, by boat, subway, bus, airplane and car, we stood at the Trout Lake trail head, amazed that we were back. When we landed the night before, at the Portland Airport, our friends, Jim and Heather picked us up and took us to their log cabin in Oregon City. It's over 100 years old and is listed on the Historical Registry, and it's where we had the pleasure of spending the night.

In the morning, after playing with their dogs, Cassie and Dutch, Jim's parents, Sue and John, arrived to shuttle us to the trail head. Incredible that they were willing to do this, because it was a 2 1/2 hour road trip one way! We are so grateful to them. During a quick stop in the town of Trout Lake, we mailed our street clothes to Kentucky, and bought coffee at the country store. While paying, I asked the clerk how the weather had been this past week. She said, "It poured...absolutely poured."

Although now prepared for the worst, our 65 mile hike between Trout Lake and White Pass was nothing but beautiful. Abundant sunshine, blue skies, and in the 70's. While walking through Mt. Adams Wilderness, we were blessed with numerous vistas of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and eventually, Mt Rainier, the highest peak in Washington at 14,411 feet. Along with seeing more ferns, mosses and mushrooms, we also saw our first pika, mountain goat, possibly the rear end of an elk, and an unknown weaselly creature in a tree. The last 25 miles of this section was through Goat Rocks Wilderness, an amazingly beautiful area. complete with rocky trail, glacier traverse and even a knife's edge trail that offered 360 degree views. It was very reminiscent of Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

As I write, we are seated inside a small gas station cafe, drinking coffee and eating cereal while tending to our "town" errands here at White Pass on Hwy 12. Our resupply box arrived so we're all set to tackle the next 99 miles to Snoqualmie Pass, We're crossing our fingers on the weather.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cascade Locks, OR to Trout Lake, WA

Oh, the restorative effects of a rest day, or two. After my family encouraged me to seek treatment for a persistent sore throat, my brother-in-law's father was nice enough to call in an antibiotics prescription. But since the only pharmacy near Cascade Locks was across the river in Stevenson, WA and was only open Monday through Friday, we were forced to stick around for an extra day to wait until the pharmacy opened for business. A fabulous excuse to laze around for another day, and to visit with Chris' Portland pals - Jim and Heather - who trekked out for dinner with us in Stevenson.

With our extra day off, we also mulled a decision about the next day's hike: do we take the historic PCT that entails a 12-mile road walk, or the new 36-mile trail with thousands of feet in elevation change? We opted for the shorter route. I was still feeling a bit under the weather and we were racing against the clock to get up to Trout Lake, WA in time for our "vacation from our vacation."

So, the next day we hit the road. The first part of our walk was a bit scary - tractor trailer trucks whizzing by and no sidewalk or even a shoulder. But we survived, and our detour was well worth it! We passed by a lemonade stand manned by a very business savvy tyke (she asked if we wanted change from our dollar bill for our 50-cent purchase - "Uh, I guess not.") and we saw a bustling lumber mill with trucks-full of trees. While our feet were tired after a long day walking on pavement, we got to see a snap-shot of small-town Washington. PCT purists might look down their noses at us for choosing to take the road, but seeing small towns and meeting their people is a major part of our reason for doing this trip!

12 miles later, we camped early near Panther Creek and were visited by an owl while cooking dinner. She was just hanging out in a nearby tree waiting for her own dinner to scurry by. The campsite was very much what I expected Washington to be like - lots of dense greenery with pine trees, ferns, and mosses. Our first couple days in Washington brought more of the same. The terrain was a bit steeper too, maybe a sign of things to come. We also got rained on one night and spent the next morning hiking through dense fog and drizzle. The giant slugs enjoyed the moist weather, humans less so.

We arrived at the highway crossing leading to Trout Lake in the early evening and Monte Pearson - our host - arrived right on time. We had met him, his wife, llamas and dog on the trail near Crater Lake. Here we were crossing paths with them again at their amazing dairy farm in Trout Lake, thanks to their breathtaking hospitality. They offered to put us up for the night and get us ride back to Cascade Locks the next day. Upon arrival, we got a tour of their farm that's been in operation since 1883. It's now an organic farm with about 180 cows, calves, chickens, goats, sled dogs and those two llamas that came in so handy for hiking the PCT. The Pearsons fed us, put us up in their charming farm house built in the 1890s and shared stories of their own hiking adventures.

Laura gave us a ride to Cascade Locks where my old pal - Kendra - met us and whisked us away to Portland. Errands, lunching, long-overdue catching up and even a minor league baseball game brought us back to real life. Bright and early, we were at the airport for our flight and a long awaited visit with family and friends. My sister and brother-in-law were waiting for us at the airport, and our nearest and dearest friends gave us a heartwarming welcome before we tucked away in the rental home with all the Parkers. Afternoons on the beach with sandy paperbacks, seafood dinners and lots of laughs.

Tonight, on the eve of our return to the trail, I can't imagine anything further from where I am right now - from glorious comfy beds, fresh bluefish and cold beers to dehydrated pasta, tents and sleeping bags. But we are heading into the home stretch and I'm excited to (hopefully) finish the trail. 420 miles to go in Washington, and we're armed with rain gear.
- Beetle