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!

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