Steven’s Pass to Stehekin

Day 146: Steven’s Pass (2464.2) To Pear Lake (2482.5)

September 2 // 18.3 miles

Back to trail. Despite the anxiety I had to keep moving and get out of town, can’t deny that this was a good double zero and I’m feeling well rested. The backdrop of the mountains overlooking the whole town makes it feel cozy and safe and all the tourist stuff is tacky in a fun way. On my way to the coffee place next door there was a man in a lederhosen on the roof of a particularly Bavarian-looking hotel, blowing into a horn at least 6 feet long that rested on the ground in front of him. Back at the hotel, we had a cleaning party with mimosas using the champagne that wasn’t mailed to Stehekin, and were on the road back to trail by 10. PC’s parents dropped us at the trailhead, the next time we see them will (hopefully) be in Canada.

Back on the trail, it was perfectly flat for the first mile, the group split and settled into our own paces. Started climbing up towards Valhalla lake, a decently steep trek and my pack was the heaviest it’s been, what with the extra luxury food and camp chair. It’s labour day weekend and so of course there were crowds- troupes of scouts, young families with dogs and huge packs and babies balanced precariously on their backs, day hikers on their way up to Valhalla lake. Interestingly enough we saw no other PCT hikers.

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I’ve been looking forward to this stretch to Stehekin, missed being in the woods after the double zero. But I didn’t get the quiet I wanted straight away, the crowd around us was slow-going uphill and I spent a lot of time answering questions about the hike or waiting for others to move aside and doing my best to be patient. Lost count of people I passed in both directions after I got into the fifties. We’re heading into Wenatchee National Forest and it’s beautiful, I can understand why so many people come here for their long weekend. The end result for most of them seemed to be Lake Valhalla, a good a place as any for our first break.

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I could hear music and lots of drunken laughing coming up through the trees from the lake, but we stopped for lunch just beside trail and didn’t bother to make the trek down to the water. The camp chairs are great, I think the one pound weight difference is worth it to be able to sit down and lean back plus not be in the dirt. The only downside is the awkward, bulky shape, it’s hard to fit it in my pack in a way that doesn’t affect my packing routine. We hung around too long eating lunch and so everyone re-passed us. Ran into a couple of hikers I knew from last year, they were coming south after flip flopping to the border. Stayed to chat for almost half an hour and had to re-pass everyone again for a third time which I felt kind of bad about, it’s not their fault I’m in 4+months of hiking shape.

Lost most of the weekenders after a side trail split off the PCT towards another lake, and then the last few of them entirely after passing Lake Janus. The silence after constantly seeing people for the past ten miles was amazing, I forgot what quiet felt like after our two days off plus the busy morning. I was way behind the rest of the group after my half hour stop, plus there was a steep two mile climb after Lake Janus to get up to Grizzly peak and I tried to relax and not feel pressured to catch up. There were so many berries on the uphill, mostly huckleberries, but a few under-ripe blueberries as well which didn’t help the slow going. I could see Grizzly peak on the approach, and the evening light caught the jagged peaks surrounding the trail and made them glow a soft pink. There was a campsite right at the top of the mountain tucked away in the bushes, it would have had amazing sunrise views and I wanted to stop there but I had no water for camping, it was still too early, plus I wanted to find my friends.

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Downhill after the peak to Pear Lake, where I thought the group might be stopped for camp, but at the site there was only a couple hikers I didn’t know. I channeled my inner group thought and tried to guess whether they had carried on down trail or set up at a different campsite around the lake, not wanting to make the unnecessary miles either way if I chose wrong. I decided to wander half a mile around the lake until thankfully I could hear their voices through the trees. Our campsite is awesome, a little secluded dirt patch in a circle of pines with a very nice view of Pear Lake. There’s a good amount of wind blowing off the water and too cold to even think about swimming.

Everyone was already set up and making dinner by the time I arrived, the benefit of sharing a two person tent and being the slower of those two people is that I sometimes home is ready to go with zero effort when I arrive in camp. I do my best to try and balance things out by taking it down in the morning or sharing some of my precious hot chocolate powder. Into the cozies immediately, dinner was a bagel with cream cheese and nutella. Not winning any health awards but tasty none the less. Even better was the mini bottles of Bailey’s I brought from Leavenworth, they add an extra bit of warmth to the nightly hot chocolate. Eli also has a little Bluetooth speaker that we’ve been using if there’s no one else around us. The more luxury items I carry the happier I seem to be, ultralight can suck it.

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Quite sleepy and it’s very cold outside, but the tent is warming up and my feet are snug in a thick pair of sleep socks. Can just make out the lake through the trees and the stars are incredible.

Day 147: Pear Lake (2482.5) to Stream (2505.5)

September 3 // 23 miles

Windy last night, the tent woke me up with it’s consistent flapping and I tripped over the same branch both times I got up to go to the bathroom. No major damage other than a bruised ego and a hope that I had managed not to fall in any of my own pee, but I have a feeling I did. It’s a glamorous life. This morning was overcast and cold, it’s really feeling like fall nowadays. We’re about a week from the border so I’m not too worried about snow.

morning routine

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Ate breakfast in a circle but for once even I didn’t hang around camp very long, moving means warmth. Getting up to the trail was tricky from the campsite, instead of backtracking the half mile around the lake, I climbed up a rocky ridge leading back to where I thought the trail would be. This was all well and good until I got myself caught in waist high patches of huckleberry bushes and spent the next ten minutes picking as many as I could eat. Climbed a little too high and somehow missed the PCT entirely, I only got back on track because I saw Eli passing by beneath me and realized my mistake. All in all it took way longer than if I had just taken the trail back around to the PCT, and that’s what I get for trying to shortcut.  

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It seems pointless to always say how beautiful the trail is since every step through Washington has been incredible, and this morning was no exception. Mile for mile the Sierras are still the most beautiful place in my opinion, but Washington has been the best overall state for views. The trail picked along a narrow ridge that passed through multiple rockfalls with huge boulders to dodge. The rodents had taken advantage of all the little hidey-holes in the fallen rocks and the air was filled with pika squeaks and shrill marmot calls. There wasn’t too much for vegetation alongside the trail, but where there was it was always huckleberry bushes. They’re perfectly ripe right now, I can’t get enough of them.

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Very open hiking today, hardly any forest. The views were endless, always just ridge after ridge of bright green, and it was so exposed that I could see the trail cutting a line on the ridge for miles in either direction, sometimes could make out the little figures of my friends far away on the trail. Keeda, as usual, was racing around between all of us, adding extra miles onto her day but tail wagging the entire time. The clouds cleared enough during late morning and the sun came out, although it was still cold enough that I didn’t stop for any breaks. Hit mile 2500/ KM 4000, only about 150 miles to go. I don’t want this to be over.

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At Sally Anne Lake, I caught up to Bagels and PC setting up on a small patch of dirt near the water. The wind was blowing strong and had to layer up with my extra clothes as soon as I stopped. Cooked ramen for lunch and the rest of the group joined and tried to get as much sunshine as we could to combat the chilly wind. Too cold for swimming, I wasn’t brave enough.

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A steep uphill after break, I was stiff from sitting huddled all through lunch. Warmed up on the switchbacks, which were steep and sharp enough that I could see all my friends above and below at different levels of the climb. Keeda broke the trail rule of not cutting switchbacks and would just run straight up and down the hill face through the bushes, making sure every member of her pack was accounted for and then back to follow Honeybee. I don’t know when I started enjoying climbing so much, I still have the habit of being apprehensive when I see an upcoming elevation spike on Guthook, but then when it comes to the actual climb itself, I get these huge rushes of endorphins, the steeper the better. If I tried telling that to my desert self she wouldn’t believe it.  

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 At the top of the ridge, entered into Glacier Peak Wilderness. The afternoon was stayed on the ridges and through meadows. Feeling so happy on this section, enjoying the views and loving how much my body is able to handle the trail. Oregon was a struggle with the headaches but it really made me appreciate how good it feels to feel healthy and normal again.

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Lots of marmots sunning themselves on the grass near trail, or perched on high boulders with a good view of potential danger. They would shrill to each other when I got too close and the sound was echoing around the whole valley. They’re very fat in the late season, bigger than the Sierra marmots, and a different colour-a sleek silvery grey vs the light brown of their California cousins.

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Caught up with Bagels and we hiked together through late afternoon, we hardly ever walk together and it was nice to chat and enjoy the scenery with someone else. He’s been in this area lots for fishing and hiking trips and knew tons of side trails to lakes and shorter weekend loops in the area. He pointed out the trail to take up to Glacier Peak, and we crossed paths on a hiker on his way up to the approach trail to summit. The peak of the mountain is covered in glacier (shocker) and looks like it has a challenging climb along some sharp ridges. May have to switch from hiking to mountaineering after this summer, all these volcanoes in Washington are on the bucket list, especially Adams and Rainier.

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While we stopped for a snack break, PC came puffing along behind us and tacked onto the hiker train. We split off from the direction we’d been heading all afternoon away from Glacier Peak, up a series of steep, mile-long spikes of uphill. I was getting pretty tired especially trying to keep up with Bagels and PC, who are rockets especially when going up. I managed to keep pace today although couldn’t really participate in their conversation about trail shoes due to being busy gasping for breath. At the top of the last climb, we crossed the ridge and had an epic view of the other side, a sweeping rocky valley with Glacier Peak above it all.

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Stopped for a moment to enjoy the view, and then started down the convoluted switchbacks into the valley. It was way colder on this side of the ridge since the setting sun didn’t reach over the hilltop and the streams beside trail were probably only a couple degrees above freezing. Honeybee and Eli were cresting the top of the climb while I was making my way down and their hollers of appreciation echoed through the whole valley. One of the best afternoons for sure. Keeda was in her happy place running up and down, over and over.  

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We meant to do a few more miles today but the sun was almost down and it got cold as hell. Cream was a ways behind, she’s having some problems with her ankle, and so we had more than enough reason to make earlier camp and found a few places overlooking a stream at the bottom of the valley. There were a couple spots that would have amazing morning views of Glacier but when we climbed up to check them out, they already had tents, so we settled in the remaining few places scattered below the trail. Bagels and I are about 100 feet down trail from everyone else but we hauled our chairs back over for dinner after changing into cozy base layers and puffy. I barely took my gloves off at all today. Cream showed up, limping badly on her hurt foot but soldiering on. She’s going to try out different shoes, and hopefully it doesn’t get worse, because at this point I can’t imagine having to get off trail this close to the end.

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The campsite that I’m splitting with Bagels is in a little stand of trees but when I got up to go pee the stars were insane, the milky way is clearly visible and I walked a little ways down the trail to try and get a better view of the whole sky. I kind of wish we had cowboy camped, I suppose that’s been the one downside to Washington. Between the cold/condensation and night rain, I haven’t cowboy camped once. Not too much of a price to pay for the daytime scenery, can’t wait for tomorrow.

Day 148: Stream (2505.5) to Milk Creek (2524.5)

September 4 // 19 miles

Up at 7:30, joined others for breakfast, packed and hiking by 8:30. The start of the day was all down and we left behind the rocky open space and went back into the woods. The trees were so thick and oppressive it felt like it should be almost nighttime, instead of sunny mid-morning.

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Followed alongside a little creek for a few miles, and my feet got wet from water that covered the trail. There was thick overgrowth pressing in on all sides, which smacked my legs and soaked my shorts in dew. Thankfully it was a warmer morning so I didn’t mind too much. Was a bit of an obstacle course, the path was often flooded or washed out entirely, and fallen trees had to be hopped over or crouched under. There were a few little bridges built from wood planks or a carved tree trunk that helped me avoid getting wet feet for the most part, which was much appreciated.

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At Kennedy Creek, the water was flowing strong and fast, and the bridge crossing it was snapped in two, dipping down from either side to meet at a low point in the middle that was barely above the water. I debated just skipping the bridge and going through the river but it was moving a little too fast for me to be comfortable with, plus I really didn’t’ want to get my feet wet. Climbed carefully over the snapped middle of the bridge and scrambled up the opposite side without issue, hoping that Honeybee would be able to get Keeda over the wrecked splinters okay.

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After the creek, a tough 3 mile uphill to kick off the morning, gonna be a lot of climbing today. Washington has step-for step the toughest terrain and by far the most elevation of any section on trail, but I have so much energy between all the extra food I’m carrying, shorter days and long ten hour sleeps. Bring it onnnnn.

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We’re up close and cozy now with Glacier Peak, it was the main feature today, and I think the melt water is feeding a lot of the streams were crossing, they’re often a cloudy white colour from minerals and smell slightly like sulphur.

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Crushed the uphill and met the crew for lunch at Pumice Creek. It’s warm and sunny today, I didn’t have to break out my puffy jacket once. We’re leapfrogging with another group of people today and seeing many other solo or paired PCT hikers, more than we’re used to. The Trail days bubble seems to have caught us after the double zero in Leavenworth.

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After lunch, downhill to Fire Creek, flowing through an open meadow and then back uphill. I was gunning it for Mica Lake and feeling great today, flying even on the steeper climbs. Huge hiker high at the top of the Fire Creek Pass, the climb endorphins mixed with the view were the literal high point of my day. There was a couple eating lunch at the top and they yelled down at me that they hoped I had my camera ready. The way up had been all open grassy meadow with a few trees, but the North face of the pass was all rock mixed with leftover snowpack. I could see a coupe alpine lakes that were a bright turquoise, and the trail zigzagging back and forth in a series of tight switchbacks.   

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Bagels caught up while I was just about to head down and we picked our way around the steep switchbacks for about a mile, I slipped a couple times on the gravelly trail. Soon we arrived at Mica Lake. Holy was it beautiful, as bright blue as Little Crater Lake, and plenty of large flat rocks warmed by the sun. There was a white-haired couple that said they hike up here a few times a year and that we looked young and fit enough to be able to handle the cold water, so we stripped down and jumped in. Icy cold, had to get out straight away to stop the mild burning sensation from the water. Saw a large rainbow trout just under the surface bigger than any I saw in the Sierras. It was only 2:30 and we were 3 miles away from our planned campsite so ended up hanging around two hours, eating and watching the water change colour as the sun shifted it’s way across the sky. Keeda was having a field day running around the lake edges.

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My group got going again and I fell behind when the trail switchbacks passed through a huge patch of huckleberries. I spent almost an hour gathering berries and still barely made a dent on the bushes, saved some in an empty bottle for dinner tonight. So many people today, I saw 18 different PCT hikers outside our group, the most I’ve ever seen on trail in a day. It seems that everyone is late enough into the hike that they’re settled in with their hikers families and we don’t interact much with each other the way we did at the start when everyone was new and lonely. The main problem, especially today, is that with all the ridge walking and people, it is impossible to find a spot to poop in peace.

It cooled off real quick when the sun disappeared behind the mountains, and had to stop my berry picking and hurry on down to camp. I could see a zig zag line of switchbacks rising up and up on the opposite wall out of the valley, that will be tackled first thing tomorrow morning.

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Our campsite is a network of sites tucked on a forested rise above the trail. It’s pretty cramped and there are a half dozen other hikers but we’ve made it work. Bagels and I have the tent set up on a little perch right beside a steep embankment high above the river, I’ll have to be extra careful for any midnight bathroom breaks. Grabbed our empty water bottles and went a quarter mile down trail to Milk Creek, which is really more of a river. Climbed under the footbridge and filled up on the slippery rocks, the water is white and I can taste the earthy minerals. Not sure if filtering does much, but even if I get any water-borne illnesses now, I should be done the trail by the time the shit literally hits the fan.

The days are shorter now and it’s dark by 8pm. Made double dinner of rice and then ramen and I’m feeling very full and warm, and even clean after the late afternoon swim in Mica Lake.

Day 149: Milk Creek (2524.5) to Miner’s Creek (2549.1)

September 5 // 24.6 miles + like 5 extra

4 miles of uphill to kick things off today after crossing Milk Creek. The switchbacks were going straight up the hill face that we had seen yesterday from trail, but my legs are more than prepared now and I found it easy, the longer I hiked the better I felt. The slope was eastern facing and the rising sun hit the switchbacks directly, it was actually a humid, sticky-hot morning as opposed to the cool ones I’ve gotten used to. The higher I got the more I was pushing myself to keep a quick pace despite the steep grade. Every opposing switchback was showing off a little more of the views hiding around the ridge and I couldn’t wait to get to the top.

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During the last mile of uphill, the woods opened up to alpine meadows with Glacier Peak rising alone above the surrounding smaller mountains. Washington is something else. I am in love with it. Have I said that enough yet?

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It was so breathtaking it came as no surprise to see Eli, Honeybee and PC taking a break on a little dirt patch overlooking it all. We snacked a bit and drank icy cold water straight from the nearby flowing stream, debating if we should just stop for the day and enjoy the panoramic mountain views…. but Bagels had already blasted on ahead so we reluctantly set off after him.

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There seemed to be a new fire in the nearby hills, couldn’t see the source but there was a small plume of smoke rising up a few miles east of the trail. Hopefully nothing to be concerned about, the wind was blowing in the opposite direction so I didn’t give it much thought and continued on happily through the tall yellow grass that dominated the meadows.

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After the trail dropped, left the meadows behind and had a long easy downhill. Excellent grade for mindless hiking, and the woods have changed to a mossy old-growth forest, it’s charming and intimidating at the same time. I found a couple cool looking mushrooms growing under a dead log and stopped for some photos, it was a hobby back home to go muchroom hunting and I didn’t realize I’d missed it while on trail until now.

Met everyone in small campsite next to Vista creek, where the “new” PCT split away from the old PCT. The old trail detoured down to the Suiattle river and crossed it right away which shaved off five miles, the new followed the river upstream to a wooden bridge and then followed it back to rejoin the original trail. We debated, there were many warnings on the GPS app that there was nowhere to cross on the old detour, and it shouldn’t be taken. Bagels and I decided to give it a shot anyways, while the rest of the group continued on on to cross the river at the new bridge and meet at the same campsite later in the day. 

The Suiattle River Trail was not maintained, and it showed. Enormous trees were down across the trail like a giant game of pick up sticks, and we often had to haul ourselves up and over, or duck underneath, or simply go around in wide detours. Every time I had to route find my way around another trunk, the trail would pick up again in a completely different place from where I had assumed. It was slow going and I picked up a ton of new scratches on the rough bark.

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Despite that, it was so fun to be off the PCT “highway” and do some harder hiking and obstacle coursing. Stopped for short break with Bagels in a patch of moss to enjoy the beautiful old growth forest, I’ve never seen so many shades of green at once…almost hard to imagine any other colour existed. 

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A couple switchbacks, some of which were eroded to non existence, led us down out of the woods and onto the sandy bank of the Suiattle river. I could tell immediately I wouldn’t be able to ford it without a log bridge. It was wide with fast-moving water so opaque that it was impossible to judge depth. Still, there had been a comment on Guthook about a fallen tree that created a natural bridge a half mile upstream, so off we went to find it.

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The fire we had seen this morning was visible on a nearby hilltop, close enough now to be able to see the flames climbing the trees and seemingly in the direction that the trail would be taking us. Between the raging river and walking towards a wildfire, it finally felt like there was a little danger this summer. 

Slow going on loose gravel sand on the banks. The rocks along the edge were wet and slippery, and at one point there was a washout where rocks had wiped the bank clean away, we could easily have fallen in. I moved very slow, planted each step carefully, and stuck close to Bagels so we could watch out for each other and all in all we didn’t have any close calls.

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We picked our way along the river about a mile, couldn’t find the aforementioned log, it must’ve washed away. Bagels tried crossing a few times where the current was weaker, but no luck after a couple tries, he’d get a few feet out and his poles would start warping with the strength of the moving water and he’d back off. We had to start facing the fact that it was time to turn back and accept that the mile detour down the bank had been a waste of time. We ran in to one other hiker, Magpie (who incidentally is the only ever person I’ve ever met on trail also from Winnipeg!) and tried to convince her to come back with us, but she kept on and we watched her until she disappeared around the bend. Makes me nervous that she’s out here trying to cross alone.

When we got back to where we had started, we hiked the other way down river but it didn’t look any better and I think we both knew it was time to make the call to hike back up to the trail and go around the long way on the new PCT. Tough to do so many miles unnecessarily, but it was the right decision. The crossing was too big a risk and I’m proud of us for not pushing it because of pride or unwillingness to do the extra miles. Plus I told myself now we got to adventure back up through the old growth woods.

It was a tricky to find the invisible trail opening in thick brush along the bank but finally we got back on the river trail and headed back up towards the PCT, dodging around all the same fallen trees. Bagels may have been disappointed, but didn’t show, it which really kept my spirits up when I started to slip into a dark mood. We’d made this decision together to take the shortcut and if he wasn’t going to be grumpy about it not working out, what right did I have?

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All in all, added a mile and half each way, and at least 2 more wandering along the banks of the river. By the time we got back to Vista Creek, where we’d had lunch, it was late afternoon and we wouldn’t be getting to camp after dark even if we hauled. The woods went from green to gold during sunset and I felt relaxed even though we weren’t anywhere close to being done for the day. A few quick easy flat miles to the large foot bridge crossing the river. Took me seconds to walk across vs the hours we spent trying to shortcut.

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After fiiiinally getting across the Suiattly, the trail shot uphill. I had felt tired and getting sore on the way to the river but on uphill I found a second wind and crushed it in high-energy endorphin mode. Even with my speed burst I still couldn’t beat the dark, and I gave up trying to see without my headlamp. It was a little eerie being alone in the pitch black with only the small circle of light where the beam hit the trail. I haven’t done any long night hikes alone this year and I can’t say I missed it. At the last little stream crossing trail before camp I filled up and waited for Bagels, then it was off to try and find our friends.

The campsite was really just a twisted path with spaces every few feet for tenting, and there were more hikers there than expected. Every time we swung our lights around to avoid waking anyone, another tent would be in the headlight beam. We turned out our lights which made it impossible to identify our group and there wasn’t any room for us to set up anyways. After a quick whispered discussion, backtracked a couple extra tenths of a mile (what are extra miles at this point) looking for any space big enough to pitch the duplex. Set up next to the trail in a small mossy clearing alongside a huge downed tree. It was perhaps better anyways, since we were free to chat and rattle around making dinner without worrying about waking anyone so late at night. Made dinner inside the tent…mac and cheese which I practically inhaled after the long hard afternoon. The sweat that built up from the last climb chilled me once I had stopped moving and I felt pretty gross without any water to rinse off with. Everything we own right now smells like pot or sweat or damp mildew, but it’s not as bad as you’d think for five months in the wild.

With all the extra miles today, Bagels and I did well over a 30, breaking our cardinal Washington rule. I’m aching in the best way from the different work we put in walking on sand and climbing over riverbank rocks and downed trees on our little detour. I can feel it in every muscle how well I’m going to sleep tonight. There is some mouse activity going on just around the edge of the tent and I can hear it(s) knocking around my pot with remnants of mac and cheese but I can’t be bothered to care as long as it stays outside and away from our food. Tomorrow we hit another fire detour that takes us through Holden village, a little Christian commune/retreat. I hope they have ice cream.

Day 150: Fire detour ft. Holden village

September 6 // ~26 miles 2.7+11+12.7

Slept like the dead and Kevin woke me up at 8 to get packed and catch up with the others. As soon as I moved it felt like I’d been hit by a truck after the miles yesterday. It’s a good sore but definitely meant I was moving pretty slow trying to unfold myself out of the tent. When we passed by the busy campsite from last night, there was no one there, I suppose 8 isn’t an early enough wakeup time to catch anyone.

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Finished the uphill climb from yesterday, low energy and the worst I’ve felt in a while. It was just under three miles on the PCT today until the fire closure, Bagels left me in the dust and I dragged myself slowly up to Cloudy Pass, where the closure began. The PCT was roped off with warning signs, we’re detouring all the rest of today and into Stehekin tomorrow which is kind of a bummer since the PCT would be an easy ten mile downhill from here. The detour takes us down to Holden Village, and then back up and over Hilgaard pass. From looking at the maps of the area, it looked like there would be a decent climb out of Holden and I had agreed with Bagels to meet for a quick lunch in the village before tackling the climb.  

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I had figured it would be mostly downhill through the morning, but after a short drop from Cloudy pass, there was a very unexpected steep uphill which killed both my legs and morale, no uphill endorphins for me this today. The trail here wasn’t graded like the PCT with its switchbacks and felt more like a stone staircase, thankfully the steepest part wasn’t more than a half-mile long. Not sure why I got so upset about the extra work but at one point I hit my toe on a rock and had to sit down to have a small cry. After that I felt much better, perhaps just needed to vent a little. At the top of the climb was a beautiful hilltop meadow full of flowers and a clear flowing stream. Lots of reds and oranges in the plants now that fall is coming. I stopped again for a snack break at the stream feeling perfectly happy and wondering why my emotions swing so much and so quickly out here.

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Followed the trail down to Holden Village, any junction was clearly marked with PCT DETOUR signs and arrows. Passed two beautiful blue-green lakes, but no time for swimming today since I was way behind and wanted to make lunch at the village, which ended at 12:30. The closer I got to Holden, the more day hikers there were on trail, lots of them wanting to stop and talk about my hike. A group commented on how many solo female PCT hikers they had seen already today, at least as many as men and perhaps even more. Woooo.

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Into Holden- a small Lutheran retreat like a tiny town, with buildings crowded on one main street. The only way here is either by boat or by bus, not much for amenities other than a place to refill my water bottles. A schoolbus was unloading a group carrying suitcases, the staff was busy welcoming the bus and directing luggage and no one paid me much attention. I found the main building where lunch was being served and paid ten dollars for access to their sandwich bar, I had made it with about 5 minutes to spare and grabbed a plate before too much food got put away. After I ate, I found my group sitting on a shaded porch in front of the ice cream store (closed, nooooooo). There were a couple other hikers and we found out from them that there was a ferry running from Holden straight to Stehekin, which would save us an afternoon of hiking and the extra fire closure miles. We jokingly discussed it and maybe I would have taken the boat if my group members were willing, but I think all of us are pretty set on not skipping, even on detours and I felt good making the decision to hike on and get to Stehekin tomorrow morning instead.

It was unusually hot today, especially down at the low elevation. The temperature read 91F on the shaded porch and we still had a pass to get over, so we didn’t stay long and hit the road out of Holden about 45 minutes after I had arrived. We weren’t really sure what the detour trail had in store for us other than that we were going over a pass and that there wouldn’t be much water unless we put in at least ten more miles.

I’d had this mindset that the hardest parts of the day was already done and Hilgaard pass wouldn’t be too bad, but holy shit was it a hard five miles out of Holden. Straight up right out of town, and not our usual graded PCT straight up. Like big steps, stair-master style. Wanted to keep my pace ahead of the crowd of hikers that was behind me because I’m ridiculously competitive and so pushed it way harder than I normally would, to the familiar feeling of almost puking I used to get during hockey bag skates. It was hot as hell and I had so much sweat coming off my face it was just dripping everywhere. The fact that there was pressure (pressure, like it really matters now that I’m writing… but at the time I would probably not have let anyone pass me even if I dropped dead) from behind meant I couldn’t rest or slow down. Kept on in my literal hell trifecta of many people, hot weather and going straight up a mountain. Breathing so loud I couldn’t hear myself think and just powered on step after step wondering why I didn’t take the damn ferry. 

After a couple miles though, the grade levelled off and when I finally let me eyes up off the ground, I found I was alone again. Got some water at a stream along trail and dunked my gross head to cool off and calm down. Still uphill enough through a meadow to tire me out, but not as bad as the first couple miles and I calmed down as the hiker rage burnt itself off. I’m ridiculous. The one benefit of rage-hiking is that it certainly makes me move faster than normal, and I even got a nice burst of endorphins for my trouble.

I had hoped the climb was over as the trail mostly flattened through the woods, but knew deep down it wasn’t…sure enough I emerged out of the trees into huge meadow ringed entirely by steep rock mountain sides. A slight sinking feeling realizing there was nowhere to go but up and over but I felt more resigned than upset. Oh well. As I drew closer to the wall, I saw Bagels and PC as tiny little figures working their way up the switchbacks about halfway up the mountains.

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I got started, promising myself I could finally take a break at the top, and it really wasn’t so bad now that I wasn’t in raging bitch mode. The valley was beautiful and grade was way easier since now at least there were actual switchbacks, cutting half a mile across at a time. The sun was warm and cast my shadow for 50 feet stretching away on the hillside. About halfway up I could see hikers emerging far below into the meadow, moving like ants across the valley floor.

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At the top of this actual last climb (hallelujah), I found PC and Bagels taking a snack break and chatting with a couple of SOBO hikers that had just made their own way up the even steeper North side of Hilgaard pass. They told us there was a large campsite in six-ish miles next to a river crossing and nothing else, so we planned to camp there and set off on the downhill. As much as I complained about the staircase out of Holden, this downhill was even steeper, switchbacks clinging to the rock face and cutting direction after only a few feet. At one point I looked above and PC was directly on top of me, if he had dropped his trekking pole it would fall probably 50 feet straight down and hit me.

Bagels and PC passed me and soon they were gone. The rest of the afternoon was nice and easy to camp. This pass was just one huge spike in otherwise low-elevation country. Hilgaard becomes the reigning champion for hardest pass I’ve ever done, who would’ve thought. Suck it Pinchot pass.

Had no way to track our milage without guthook on the closure, so I was going off of feel how far six-ish miles would be. Lost enough elevation that the bare rock became scrubby pine forest and back to the thick green vegetation in the pattern I’ve been used to in Washington. This trail was a little less maintained than the PCT, with lots of plant growth crowding in from the sides and over the trail itself. After what I guessed was about 4 miles through the woods, I started getting excited every time I heard running water since I knew that our campsite would be at a river crossing, but the trail seemed to be paralleling the river without ever getting closer.  Got off trail to dig a cathole and on my way back, I watched Eli pass by through the trees, completely oblivious to my presence and wondering how often there are bears doing the same thing to me.

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After a few more false hopes of being done, finally I saw the trail cutting sharply over to the riverbank. The water was wide and I didn’t have much hope of crossing without getting soaked. Dipped a hand in and it was ICY, the last thing I wanted to do was get into this just before camp. From across the river, PC and Bagels were waving me in the opposite direction to where there was a sketchy bridge made from a couple fallen trees in an arc. Eli was apparently going for a swim underneath it, what the heck you doing in this icy water Eli. Managed to get about halfway across, but the wood was slippery and at a sharp angle, and I bear hugged my way across the rest while the guys laughed at my undignified technique. Turns out Eli had dropped his phone on the crossing and had gone diving to retrieve it in the icy water. RIP phone. RIP Eli’s body warmth.

I did a small bandana bath downstream from camp, the water was so cold I could only wade in to ankle depth and then still had to hop back out every few seconds before it started to burn too badly. Dinner of rice, with dehydrated beans and corn, very tasty with hot sauce. Cream showed up pretty soon after, but there was no sign of Honeybee all through dinner and Bagels got a text on his Garmin GPS that she was making camp early on the other side of Hilgaard pass. Keeda had been struggling with the strenuous uphill in the heat and Honeybee had taken most of the afternoon to cool her down and would catch up tomorrow. Shared the campsite with two other red-headed hikers (twins?) and a few others passed through, most pushing the last five miles to Stehekin when they saw the campsite was full. I’m happy we stopped here, we can get in early enough to finish the detour and make the first shuttle into town and I’m wrecked after two rough days. It’s hard to calculate exactly how much climbing we did since Guthook doesn’t cover detours, but based on tracking the elevation, we did more uphill than climbing Whitney today, 4000+ feet in 7 miles and two of those miles were pretty flat, so the steepest section was probably the worst climb we’ve had. Not even on the official PCT.

To bed early, an easy 5? miles tomorrow to Stehekin but not 100% sure. The hikers that passed through are all certain that it’s only 2 miles, 4 miles, maybe 6 miles to the road. Whatever it is, I’d like to take the rest of the day off and it gives Honeybee a chance to catch up and rest Keeda, plus the Stehekin bakery is the stuff of trail legend. Need to be at the road to catch the first shuttle in by 9:45, but we’re also not sure exactly how far we are out on detour, so kind of want to just sleep in and see what happens. Good day but heck did we work for it.

Day 151: to Stehekin 

September 7 // 5.5

Clear morning with some condensation but who cares, town day. Everyone was up early to get to the bakery, a couple hikers were already passing by the campsite while we were packing up. Eli told us that he had heard the jingling of what sounded like Keeda’s collar in the early morning darkness and we searched the ground for traces of paw prints to figure out if Honeybee had already passed us by.

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The morning was an an easy (Eli’s GPS tracker told us it was 5.5) miles through forest of tall dry grass. I spotted a couple oak trees, didn’t know they grew out west and it felt like the forests at home if the prairies somehow slanted themselves up a mountain. We hiked close together, sometimes line hiking and talking, sometimes more spread out, but always within a half mile. No sign of Honeybee or Keeda. The trail dumped us out onto a gravel road that headed towards the bridge where the shuttle would stop, and marked the end of our fire detour. When we leave tomorrow it will be back on the PCT.

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Alongside the dirt road were a pair of ancient fire trucks. Stehekin has no road access to the outside world, only a ferry, and the cars used by the locals are all old and rundown. It feels like being on an island. We were 45 minutes early for the shuttle when we hit the bridge, but no matter. A local in a pickup truck (EDDIE was painted in bright colours on the side) told us he could drop us off within a half mile of the bakery on his way towards his construction job, so we climbed on into the bed amongst his tools and settled in for the ride. I want to live here, and I know I say that about every trail town but I REALLY MEAN IT this time. Little wooden cabins were tucked away in the pine woods, they must all be off grid due to the remoteness of this place. And of course the backcountry is just off the back porch. Can’t imagine being stressed about any mundane real-world problems if you lived here, but perhaps I’m glamourizing it.

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Finished the last half mile to a wooden building in the middle of nowhere. I was surprised it was so remote since it was pretty much the mecca of the PCT: The Stehekin Pastry company. Honeybee and Keeda were sitting at a table on the lawn behind the bakery, they’d woken up at 3am to catch up! Keeda came running over to see us, it’s nice to see how much she’s warmed to us since White Pass. We chatted for a minute but the distracting smells wafting out of the bakery chimney were drawing us all inside.

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The sun was out, we had the rest of the day off and the baking was so. darn. good. Bought pie and berry twists and a cinnamon bun as big as my head and took it out to the table to eat and chat with everyone that passed by. It felt magical- could be a top moment on trail and honestly probably one of the happiest memories I’m ever going to have. Every single person was friendly and talkative, can’t be in a bad mood when there’s Martha Stewart-approved baking to be eaten. It felt so good to get here, like I’ve really earned this. The mileage over the past few days hasn’t been crazy, but Washington has made me work for every step. I digress.

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We stayed there on the lawn way longer than planned, watching the red shuttle bus pass by again and again. It runs between town, the Pastry Company and the PCT trailhead. Depending on which direction it was traveling it would unload a group of hikers or tourists, but everyone without fail got off for a stop at the bakery. We eventually got out of our blissful daze, bought one more round of baking to go and hopped on the shuttle heading for Stehekin.

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Town is pretty much just a collection of hotels and a couple restaurants on the shores of Lake Chelan, with huge mountains rising up around all of it. Amazing place, isolated from the outside world except for a twice-daily ferry. Everyone drifted off to do town day chores but I wasn’t feeling too motivated to move after eating 30 dollars’ worth of pastries and set up on a deck chair outside the main store, watching sailboats on the lake and trying to connect to wifi.

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As much as I hated the start of yesterday’s hell climb out of Holden village, I felt pretty proud of myself seeing how many hikers climbed off the ferry (we’re talking like 25+) that arrived around noon. It wasn’t part of the official PCT route, but it was still an offered alternate vs. taking the boat around trail miles. We’re all doing this super pointless thing because we love hiking, so I guess it doesn’t really matter to anyone else except ourselves how it’s done, but still. I enjoy feeling superior every once in a while.

Of course the influx of hikers meant there was going to be some heavy competition for the limited public resources Stehekin had to offer. The others in my group came tearing up to the deck after seeing how many hikers got off the ferry and we hauled it to the general store to pay for laundry detergent and shower tokens. Both amenities were in a little cement building on the side of the road away from the main stretch. While waiting for laundry to dry, I took a shower trying to get everything clean in the 5-minute limit the tokens allowed. It’s been my longest stretch without a shower and this one felt sooooo good. All my clothes were still in the dryer, so I sat on the lawn in my towel while the ferry passed by full of gawking tourists. There’s no cell service in Stehekin and the wifi was limited to the porch of the restaurant, so I called parents on a little pay phone, the first time I’ve used one since elementary school. They were excited to hear that I was in the last town before Canada and although I’m sad trail is coming to a close, I’m starting to feel pretty hype about seeing family and friends back home after five months away.

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At the post office, a tiny room crammed floor to ceiling with hiker boxes and Pink Floyd blasting full volume, I collected my last resupply box, trying to get the motivation to actually be useful and sort through it. It’s our last town night on trail so we had dinner on the deck on the deck at the one restaurant in Stehekin. It’s our last town night so we all ordered fancy steak or pasta meals, with a couple bottles of wine to celebrate. I’m going to miss spending all my time with this crew, we’ve been together every day for almost four months and they feel like family.  

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Clouds were moving in across the lake while we ate and the wind picked up, blowing away everything not secured. When the first rain droplets started to fall on the deck, we scurried up to a campground on a rise overlooking the town and lake. There were other hikers in the campground but we had a ton of space with a picnic table to ourselves. It wasn’t coming down too hard and we spent the night drinking and talking in the sprinkling rain, waiting for a thunderstorm that never came. I was trying as hard as I could to soak in every moment we had left together, we’re down to only days left at this point, but then of course it was time for bed and I climbed into the tent with Bagels. A great last town day, next up is Canada.

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Snoqualmie to Steven’s Pass

Day 140: Snoqualmie (2393.1) to Ridge Lake (2400.3)

August 27 // 7.2 miles

I’ve never appreciated actual beds enough before this summer. The plan was to nero out today, so there was plenty of time to laze around with Bagels watching crappy TV and eating the rest of yesterday’s oreos. I had forgotten to throw my extra pair of socks in the laundry, which is a bummer since they’re crusted solid with dirt. I did my best to wash them in the bathroom sink, it took five minutes of washing before the water was running clear again. After we checked out, resupplied at the gas station and little food market. The options weren’t great and I’m mostly going to be living off tiny pecan pies and two boxes of maple doughnuts, but I found a couple of my favourite meat and cheese packets hiding in a fridge near the back of the gas station and bought them all.

The weather has done a complete 180 since yesterday, from freezing rain and thick fog to today’s warm and sunny morning. Now that the clouds have cleared up, the view of the mountains is amazing, the peaks point straight up in craggy rock towers all around the pass. In the winter, this is Bagels’ home ski resort, but I can’t picture the slopes covered in snow, even with the lifts for context.

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We didn’t really mean to, but ended up back at the brewery to have a few rounds of pineapple cider and homemade rootbeer. Around one, everyone started packing and wandered off one by one to get back to trail. I was very full and felt lazy after the town stop, took it easy on the seven mile climb out of the pass. There were a ton of people coming the other way finishing off their weekend hikes and it was annoying having to always move aside, especially for the couple of groups that were 20+ strong and taking forever to pick their way down the rocky trail, the general rule is that you would move aside for someone coming uphill, but it seems like no one followed that guideline today. On occasions, the woods opened up enough to see the highway and Snoqualmie pass way below.

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Small fluff coming down the mountain!

Small fluff coming down the mountain!

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At the top of the climb was the Kendall Katwalk, a narrow exposed section of trail basically cut into a vertical rock face with a sheer drop down to one side. One of the coolest moments on the PCT, I’ve never been nervous about height and in today’s perfect weather there was no danger of slipping off. It was clear why this trail is so crowded on a beautiful day. We’ve now crossed into Alpine Lakes wilderness, and the Katwalk overlooked a couple of deep blue lakes.

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At the end of the cat walk, the trail sliced in between the tops of two ridges, crossing to the other side of the mountain face. The temperature dropped noticeably on the shaded side, there was no view back towards civilization and cell service cut out immediately. We’re back in the wild!

Goodbye service

Goodbye service

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Lots of pikas scrambling around on the rocky slopes, which dropped away hundreds of feet into the lakes below. The only problem with this beautiful ridge hiking is finding a poop place. (annoying that I had to go at all, literally just passed an outhouse at the trailhead) I tentatively ventured down one of less steep slopes, tripped on the way off trail and nearly went falling down the whole thing. Held on to a tree branch above to make sure I didn’t go tumbling down the hill with my shorts down, wouldn’t be a majestic way to die and people would probably snicker at my funeral.

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Made camp just off trail, high above Ridge Lake in an open grassy site. Eli and Bagels ventured down to get water and reported back that all the lakeside spots were full, a bummer since the it would’ve been great for swimming. Oh well, this would be an easy day hike from the road at Snoqualmie so maybe I’ll be back in the future.

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After the surprise temperature drop at Kendall Katwalk, it had been a chilly afternoon and I rushed to bundle up into my cozy base layer. Bagels’ friends had brought us some powdered margarita mix and we mixed that with a bottle of gas station tequila. Not winning any mixology prizes but for backcountry, it was pretty good. Leaving-town days are the best, I had a packed out sandwich and some leftover pizza. We stayed up talking until it got so cold everyone was sitting in their sleeping bags and I switched from margarita to hot chocolate. Didn’t put in a lot of effort miles-wise but still a good day.

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Day 141: Ridge Lake (2400.3) to Waptus River (2427.8)

August 28 // 27.5 miles

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Woken by the sun streaming warm into the tent, what a nice feeling after the days of gloom before Snoqualmie. There was a little condensation inside the tent but I was unprepared for the outside-everything was absolutely soaked, water dripping off tents and any gear left out overnight. Fortunately there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and we exploded our stuff all over the bushes and rocks around camp to dry the soaking tents. Thank god for the sun, I hate packing up wet gear and hate the smell of it stuffed in a pack all day even more.

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One of the best mornings, the trail spiked sharply high up into the rocky ridge tops and I could see way down into the bright blue lakes below. Sometimes they were so clear it was possible to see the bottom even though I was hundreds of feet above the water. Lots of marmots and pikas doing their calls into the morning air, it would pick up in pace whenever a hiker got too close. The only downside was the small rocks that made up the trail were tricky to walk on, had to tear my eyes away from the view to make sure I wasn’t about to twist an ankle or step off the narrow path.

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Alpine Lakes Wilderness could be the nicest part of Washington, maybe even better than Goat Rocks. Ridge after ridge fell away towards the horizon and Rainier was hanging out behind all of it, bright white cap against the blue sky. Can’t believe how much it’s cleared up, there hasn’t been a trace of smoke these past few days and even the clouds have made a retreat, I’m still waiting for the typical Washington days on days of rain.

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For the first time in ages, all the water sources along trail were dry, I ran out well before lunch and not a great day for it what with the temperatures high for once. Thankfully there was a little bit of shaded cover in the woods and I found my group huddled around one small stream that was still flowing slowly across the trail. After a snack and water filter break, we picked out a lunch spot four miles down trail and set off again.

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Kearsarge pass, is that you?

Kearsarge pass, is that you?

Left the epic views behind and went downhill to our lunch spot by Delate Creek, spanned by a bridge. The sun was out full force and for the first time in Washington I got to say that it was actually too hot. I curled up in the little edge of shade on the side of our camp spot trying to stay cool, and periodically wandering over to the waterfall by the bridge to get more cold water. Meat and cheese trail mix has become my new lunch and saviour, I can’t eat any more whey protein. Fritos are also still appreciated even though I’ve been eating them since day one. 

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The area seems to be very popular for weekend hikers, and the rest of the downhill was crowded in both directions with groups of people out enjoying the sunny day. The downslope went through a large burn zone, with white skeleton trees and more of the purple flowers that make the drab burns a little more colourful. Unfortunately the lack of tree made the hot valley way less enjoyable and I rushed through it to get back into the shaded woods. Came across a trail junction and confidently took the more defined path, thinking that had to be the PCT, but of course it wasn’t and had to backtrack a half mile. At least I got back on track before going much further.

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Lemah creek was at the bottom of the valley, the wooden footbridge across had split and washed away leaving behind only the support pillars. Probably could’ve crossed the fast water without too much trouble, but a comment on Guthook mentioned there was a fallen log downstream from the trail. Headed off and found the log, which made crossing easy but then I had to deal with losing the trail and bushwhacking my way back to the path, not always sure I was going in the right direction. Found it, annoyed and scratched up for the trouble, but at least my feet stayed dry. Pick your poison I guess. Stopped with Bagels to filter water at the last source for a miles and then it was time to climb again.

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Another six mile uphill, gradual and easy. I downloaded an app called Peakfinder for 5 dollars that I’m really loving-you point your phone at a mountain and via GPS it displays the peak name, and where the sun rises and sets depending on angle and altitude. This afternoon, the trail had views of the back of Lemah mountain (thanks Peakfinder!) on the way up. The top few miles were burnt out again, it’s sad to see so much of the beautiful green forest destroyed today.

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After finishing the climb, took a short side trail to an alpine pond for water, Bagels and PC were lounging in their camp chairs beside the bank. We were close to camp but decided I had time for a pre-dinner snack and watched a pika bravely venture out from it’s rock hole again and again looking for niblets of fallen food around our feet. We waited for the others but they must have blown past without stopping, and as the sun set it was time to go again.

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I had wanted to camp at a nice spot with a view three miles past the pond, but predictably everyone kept on going which meant to get to the next spot I’d be nighthiking. Flipped my good mood immediately into annoyance, could’ve done the easy downhill in no time at all tomorrow and it’s kind of a waste of a nice warm evening… we don’t have many left. I of course could’ve stopped and camped alone but I felt like indulging my bad mood and stomped back downhill towards the next river, with Bagels patiently listening to my complaints as he passed by.

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Although twilight seems to stretch on forever, once it starts getting dark it only takes a few minutes until pitch black. I probably took the dim, rocky trail a little too fast, but stubborn me was not going to stop to get out the headlamp. I was only suffering mentally, physically I felt fine. I haven’t been getting tired lately, even after my usual tap out benchmark of 25 miles, and being afraid of the dark is long in the past. FINAL HIKER FORM ACHIEVED. I noticed the air got warmer the further down the trail dropped. At Waptus river, refilled for camp and started scanning around in the dark for my group. I didn’t initially find them which pissed me off even more thinking they’d kept on, but then there was Bagels waving his headlight at me from across the footbridge and I felt silly for my bad mood.

Our campsite a dozen yards away from the others, pretty much on flat bare rock above the river. We managed to pile rocks on the guylines and get a decent pitch. Wandered over to have dinner in the dark with the group, it’ll be a late night since it’s now almost 11 and we’ve only just gone back to our tents after the last round of backcountry margaritas-a new staple in Washington. Big mile day with lots of elevation but feeling A+. 

Day 142: Waptus River (2427.8) to Glacier Lake (2450.2)

August 29 // 22.4 miles

A top five day for sure. One of our latest sleep ins yet, woke around 8 and lazed about having breakfast. I love our Washington rules but I think waking up before sunrise is going to be forever ruined for me. Saw our old buddies Mage and Grams (the remaining half of the British mom squad from the desert/Sierra, although their British mom has long since gone home). They checked their watches pointedly as they passed by our lazy butts. A little damp this morning but not cold. Lazy breakfast of hot chocolate and pecan pie, the mini pies have become a new favourite and they seem to be in just about every little gas station or supermarket we’ve hit lately.

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A long, ten mile uphill through the morning, at the start the forest was so green, and I had stream after stream to cross. One or two had a wooden footbridge and the others had strategically placed rocks I could hop across without getting my shoes wet. Passed by an awesome-looking lake that I would’ve loved to stop at, but it was still a little early in the day for break. I regretted my decision not to swim when shade of the forest was left behind and started the long exposed switchbacks up towards Cathedral Rock, which dominated the skyline all morning. It sounds monotonous staring at one feature for ten+ miles at a time, but it’s cool getting to see the changing perspective as the trail gets closer and closer. The best part is crossing over to the next valley, a whole new world opens up in a second and becomes the norm for the next ten+ miles.

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At the bottom of this valley, there was a huge cascading river flowing down over the rocks through a narrow gap in the canyon wall. Bagels was sitting on the opposite rocky bank making a late lunch. Through a series of fun pantomimes he directed me to a good spot to cross just upstream from the trail, and I didn’t even have to get my feet wet, although there was some sketchy leaping involved. PC left us in the dust, Bagels hadn’t seen him all morning, so he’d be rocketing off alone this afternoon because the rest of us were hungry enough to stop and cook second lunch. We had to yell to hear each other over the rushing water but a great break spot overall. Eli and Cream caught up while we were eating, and I made a double meal-I can eat so much now and could easily eat more if I had the food. Had mashed potatoes mixed in with my ramen, a half bag of fritos, jerky and handful of almonds. The guys have noticeably started losing even more weight, the tough trail lately plus five months of starvation are starting to really take their toll. Eli has lost like 80 pounds and Bagels is starting to look like a skeleton when the shirt comes off. Sucks to suck boys, I’ll be over here enjoying my superior metabolism with Cream and Honeybee. 

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Everyone drifted apart again after lunch break, I climbed up the one mile uphill feeling lazy after the huge meal. Tons of streams to cross in the afternoon, didn’t bother carrying any water and I’ve stopped filtering again for better or for worse. I figure my immune system has to be at an all-time high with all these unfiltered sources and not much hygiene going on in general…two weeks tops left so don’t fail me now gut bacteria. 

Bagels had decided to take Surprise Gap trail, a cutoff that saved a couple miles of hiking but added an extra few hundred feet of elevation. I sat on a rock beside Deception Lake debating the pros and cons, I generally try and avoid steep uphills, but also try and get off the main trail to try out alternates whenever possible. At the last minute took the side trail on a whim, it was steeper and rougher than typical PCT tread with lots of fallen trees, had to work hard to get to the top. The payoff was a great view, I could see Glacier Lake as a slice of blue across the valley and Bagels’ red T-shirt crossing the rocky ground back towards the dirt line of the PCT. There was even a single bar of cell service. Enjoyed the end of the climb with a celebratory handful of almonds and then started down while the sun was starting to drop behind the mountains.

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The downhill after the pass was way sketchier, steep drops and loose rocks that tumbled away down the slope if I placed my foot wrong. Had to inch my way down wondering if the detour was worth risking a broken ankle this late in my hike. I saw PC winding down the long switchbacks on the PCT and rushed to meet him at the bottom-he was surprised to see me, good job Surprise Gap you earn your name! A fun little side adventure to save some time. We hiked together towards Glacier Lake, the last couple miles of the day are always my favourite knowing that dinner and camp aren’t far away. It was a pretty tough day even tough we barley did 20 miles, over 6000 feet of elevation on the two long climbs.

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We found Kevin’s hiking pole sticking up at a junction down to Glacier Lake, and worked our way down to where he was sitting on a large flat boulder overlooking the water. Made ramen for dinner while waiting for the others and scanned around for a campsite, but everything was taken. When Eli and Cream and Honeybee had all arrived, Bagels and I split off in opposite directions to look for campsites along the lake, but the shoreline was made up of huge boulders and it was more of a scramble than a walk. I didn’t see anywhere we could set up tents and made my way back in the nearing-darkness. Bagels had found a little grassy site just off the trail, we packed up and headed off to set up camp. Pitched our tents and sat around in the dark talking and throwing Keeda’s stick, it’s warmed up from the brutally cold nights we’ve been having. Going to try and wake up a little earlier tomorrow since it’s town day. We’re 14 miles out from Steven’s pass, where PC’s parents are waiting to drive us to the nearby town of Leavenworth, a Bavarian themed tourist town. I can hear the beer calling.

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Day 143: Glacier Lake (2450.2) to Steven’s Pass (2464.2)

August 30 // 14 miles

It rained a little last night, but stayed warm and cozy in the tent and it had stopped by the time we were up and ready to go. Gray and chilly this morning and all our gear is wet but that’s okay because we’ll be in hotel beds in Leavenworth tonight. Keeda did her usual morning routine of running to each of the tents to make sure we are still there and alive. Today she brought her stick along for the rounds, which caused some mild alarm with something so pointy close to our thin cuben fiber tent walls.

Sweet dog: waker of hikers, destroyer of tents

Sweet dog: waker of hikers, destroyer of tents

I ate my last pecan pie for breakfast, it’s going to be a hungry day for me. I’ve been doing too much snacking and leaving nothing for the last stretch into town. Very steep half mile climb up right away to get the calves working. The mist was so thick that I couldn’t see past a couple switchbacks below or above, and little water droplets started to form on my clothes and hair so it might as well have just been raining. The trees added to the wetness with their dripping condensation and I got soaked passing under the thicker sections of branches. At the top of the climb I stopped to catch a breather, enjoy the endorphin high of finishing a rough uphill and then it was over the ridge and steeply back down again.

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The sun came out briefly, lighting up the collection of little turquoise lakes in the valley. Crossed between them at the bottom, lots of tall wet grass to push through and I saw my first Washington backcountry toilet, apparently that’s a thing here. A second climb which I hadn’t expected, thought the worst was over today, but it was even steeper than the first and I felt tired and slow. Washington is kind of a bitch, but at least she’s pretty.

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Down one more time and then the final uphill, passing by the ski runs covered in flowers The huckleberries were as numerous and ripe as they’ve been yet and I couldn’t stop stopping, even though I knew my friends were way ahead and probably already waiting. The last four miles felt way too long, especially knowing I was potentially holding up the others from town, but it was a quick downhill to end the day and all in all made good time. I could see the resort buildings below getting bigger and mountain bikers started appearing on the slopes, using the dry ski runs and one running lift.

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When I got down, the place was completely empty and I wandered around the multiple parking lot areas below the ski resort trying to find my friends. Finally recognized the camper van tucked in a back corner of a lot and found everyone sitting in chairs behind it eating sandwiches and soda. Jakes parents are back with the snacks and ride to town, they’ve been a godsend in Washington on these long hitches away from trail.

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Driving to Leavenworth was awesome-the road followed the Skykomish river, bright turquoise in the sun which came out once we had left the mist behind at the higher elevation. It’s a bucket list item to see some wild salmon and I kept a close eye on the river surface-but no luck today. When we got back into cell service there was good news: the Northern monument trail has reopened! There’s still a good chunk of trail before the border that will detour around the fire, but at least we can finish our hike on the actual PCT. What a great day it is.

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Leavenworth is a little, Bavarian themed tourist town, with all the buildings styled to look like they belong in some European ski village and names like Das Sweet Shoppe, der Munschenhaus and Ye Olde Wells Fargo. Flowers were planted on every balcony and front porch, and there was even horse drawn carriages meandering through the cobblestone street in the main village. It was a shock to get out of the air conditioned van and feel how hot it was in the valley, we’d all been layered up from being in the cold mountain air but it’s easily almost 90 down here today.

While waiting for our hotel, we went for giant pretzels and beer, looking gross among all the clean, colourful tourists… but our calf muscles are more defined so ha. Didn’t take long before we could get showered and clean again, looking forward to a zero day tomorrow. Group is split on taking a double here, I’d prefer not to and just get to Canada already before there’s another fire closure or even snow, but it’ll be a gametime call tomorrow.

Day 144 & 145: Double Zero in Leavenworth

August 31 & September 1 // 0 miles

Outvoted and the double zero stands. It’s the last proper town we have to resupply at, and I had a close call sprinting across town to resupply as fast as possible and get my food box mailed to Stehekin before the post office closed early on Saturday. The champagne I had bought for the end of trail got left out in all the excitement, so it looks like I’ll be enjoying a Miller High life at the northern terminus instead. Sounds about right.

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I’d love to say I spent the extra time adventuring about town being a tourist, but other than the safeway trip and the odd visit to the coffee shop next door, I mostly stayed out of the heat watching TV and napping in the king sized hotel bed. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Back to trail tomorrow to finish this thing off, targeting a September 10 finish, exactly five months from when I started.

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White Pass to Snoqualmie

Day 136: Snow Lake (2304.7) to Sheep Lake (2325.7)

August 23 // 21 miles

Condensation nation inside the tent again, there was a small puddle at the foot and my sleeping bag was wet through. Outside was even worse - my clothes that I left hanging on a tree branch overnight were soaked, as well as my shoes so I was not off to a comfortable start. That’s what we get for camping so close to water.

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We ate breakfast in a circle while trying to dry off our wet gear, but the rising sun was pretty quickly obscured by thick clouds rolling in. It was very cold and I couldn’t build up the courage to put on my wet T-shirt, so my base layer will be nice and sweaty for sleeping tonight, oh well. It was mostly flat for the first four miles, before crossing Bumping River on a fallen tree. I wasn’t in the hiking zone and sat down on a log beside the trail to have a second breakfast of pecan pie and Fritos to try and get some energy. It didn’t warm up all morning and I was chilled even while working hard climbing. Cloudy and overcast with lots of mist drifting through the pine trees. Stopped at a creek before an 8 mile dry stretch but in this weather I didn’t feel like I needed water at all, have to force myself to drink enough water when it’s cold like this. Dehydration doesn’t much care about the temperature.

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At the top of the climb entered into Mt Rainier National Forest, and as advertised, the tip of Rainier was sometimes visible peaking above the mist. Had a nice ridge walk looking down into a deep green valley, lots of blue lakes that were bright turquoise even without the sun shining. Perfectly ripe blueberry patches were slowing me down. At lunch I found the group stopped in a small campsite with some mild shelter from the biting wind. Since everyone was just starting lunch, I went back to the patches of blueberries and filled an empty plastic cookie container, then put them on my bagel with honey and peanut butter. DELICIOUS I am a master chef.

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I got way too cold today and need to get my bounce box mailed up here, it’s still way back in Etna or Seiad Valley. In this weather it’d be real nice to have my warm hat, gloves and rain jacket for sure, and wouldn’t mind my extra fleece. Didn’t see much of the group all afternoon since every one kept moving to keep warm. Passed by scenic Dewey lakes with a few people around, but no one swimming in this weather. Thankfully got to start going uphill which warmed me up enough, and what a strange thing it is to be grateful for elevation…I’ve changed a lot as a hiker this year.

Towards the top of the climb the sun finally came out and it warmed up enough that I could go back to my normal T-shirt, so long as I kept moving. I found Honeybee and Eli taking a break with Keeda, who looked so wiped she kept sliding slowly down the hill she was laying on with no effort to stop herself. We were close to Chinook Pass, a large highway before our last climb of the day and we stuck together to chat and throw sticks off trail for Keeda as we walked.

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At the pass, Bagels, Cream and PC were there taking a break, and for good reason-in the parking lot beside the highway was Madd Baker-the same guy that had trail magic’ed PC and I right before Timberline. He had a tarp set up beside his truck and boxes of sodas, cookies and candy for us to snack on. We stayed for a half hour but it was too cold to stay still for long, and we were only a couple miles from our campsite at Sheep Lake.

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Fall is a coming, and the cold day turned into colder evening. Even working hard on the last uphill, Cream and I kept bouncing around when one of us would stop to change into base layers or add puffy jackets to keep warm. Climbed up parallel to the highway which got smaller and smaller below until we crested the ridge and arrived at Sheep Lake, a huge basin of rock with campsites scattered around the water, most of which were taken by weekend campers.

Cream and I caught up to Eli and Honeybee wandering around the lake looking for PC and Bagels. We joined in on the hunt, wondering if they had just kept on down the trail. Finally, with a couple cryptic hints from a lady camped with her two kids, we tracked them to a grassy spot far off the trail and halfway around the lake… at least we had the place to ourselves. Couldn’t stay out long, it was just too cold, even sitting wrapped up in my sleeping bag. We finished the last of the whisky and tequila packed out from White Pass to try and warm up, but everyone called it an early night and crawled into warm sleeping bags before it was even dark outside.

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Day 137: Sheep Lake (2325.7) to Spring (2351.7)

August 24 // 26 miles 

No condensation this morning thank god but it was one of the coldest mornings yet. The only parts of my face (nose, some forehead) that wasn’t covered by quilt or hat were icy numb, and it almost impossible to force myself out of the enclosed space of a tent warmed by Bagels’ super-human space-heater power. I’ve loved my two ultralight quilts over both PCT hikes but I think in the future it may be time to bite the bullet and revert back to a normal full sleeping bag, if I’m not in perfect position the cold air slips through the bottom opening and I can’t get quite warm enough to be fully comfortable. I had to sit under my quilt during breakfast, wondering how Eli only has an extra long-sleeved base layer shirt for his warm clothes…no jacket, no puffy, no pants, no hat. He was casually standing around eating his breakfast while I hopped around trying to keep my quilt covering all exposed skin while I changed out of my base layers into hiking clothes. I don’t understand how the Australian can withstand more cold than I, who grew up in a frozen city that made news last year for being colder than Mars?

Left the lake fully gloved and hooded and wrapped in all layers. I’ve been constantly nervous about my lack of rain jacket, lost in an errant bounce box somewhere in the US postal system. I’m playing roulette with the weather and hoping that I can be in town or close to town during rain because getting soaked in these temperatures would be a chilly dance with hypothermia. Thankfully no rain this morning, but a heavy thick mist obscured anything more than twenty feet ahead, and the pine trees were dripping with condensation.

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Climbed away from the lake and followed a ridge line that I figured was waaay high up based on the size of the tops of the pine trees below me, although it was impossible to know for sure since everything underneath the treetops was swallowed up in white fog. At some point the trees disappeared and I was on exposed ridgeline that dropped away into endless white. It felt like I was the only person in the world in the best way possible. I’ve become so much more comfortable alone with my own thoughts the longer I’m on trail and I’ve begun to worry how I’m going to handle the adjustment back in real world.

I was enjoying my solo euphoria so much that I was taken completely by surprise at the voice of the heckin mountain god booming through the mist, a low bass echoing from far off. I couldn’t make out what it was saying, but it was loud enough I could hear a reverb echo off the cliff sides. No matter which way I turned I couldn’t see anyone else and wondered if I was losing my shit and would have to accept a conversion to religion. It wasn’t until I rounded a bend in the ridge and had a clearer view down into the valley that I realized the trail was winding high above a ski resort, where a race tent was set up far below, and the megaphone directing the runners was my mysterious mountain god. Not so alone after all.

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My body couldn’t settle on one temperature and I alternated layers off and on half a dozen times trying to keep warm but not sweat into my puffy or sleep clothes. The trail crossed a few steep faces of broken rock and I could hear the pika squeaks echoing around from all directions but I couldn’t pinpoint them inside their little rock holes. At one point the mist cleared enough that it was possible to finally get a feel for the landscape I was hiking through, the ridge sloped away into a valley bottom with a lake and there was even a brief 5 minute shot of sunlight, which lit up the wet trees in a way that made me see why this is called the evergreen state.

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I stopped at first water 8 miles in; my friends were already there eating second breakfast and wrapped in all their layers against the chilly wind. Cream was living up to her name and applying sunscreen to her face despite the fact that we had basically spent all morning hiking through a cloud. When we asked her why, she said that the sun would be out shortly just you guys wait. I had warmed up enough during hiking to enjoy the brisk morning, but sitting still was unbearably cold and I couldn’t sit still. Made ramen but wasn’t patient enough to wait for a full boil and it lost it’s heat quickly so I drank it cold with hard noodles, disappointing. Cut the break short and keep moving to try and stop the shivering. 

After our break we were all leap frogging with each other since the hillside was covered in huckleberry and blueberry bushes, and they’re so ripe and dark this time of year it’s impossible to pass them by without stopping for a handful from a particularly heavily laden patch. My fingers and mouth have been stained a constant purple.

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After leaving the berry bushes behind, I really hit my stride. The sun managed to push through the mist for a few minutes at a time and it was just warm enough to strip down to a T-shirt. My legs have never been so strong in my life and it’s become a rare thing to be physically hurting during the day, despite the steeper climbs that are being thrown at us after flat as a board Oregon. Even the uphills have become fun challenges and I’m getting addicted to the high that comes on towards the end of a particularly steep climb and helps me fly up the trail until it’s time to go back down again. Keeda kept bursting through the mist ahead of me to trot behind for half a minute, before tearing off ahead again. When we’re all within a mile or so of each other, she’ll leave Honeybee’s side to run between the rest of us, checking on the rest of her pack. It’s a nice feeling knowing that she’s looking out for all of us and she’s become a staple part of our trail fam.

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Passed through a burn zone, the trees were a bright red underneath the cracked and blackened bark. It’s been a while but I still can’t explain what I like so much about the burns, but it’s definitely tied in with the sweet smell of burnt sap and the way that ash puffs up around my ankles with every step. Around a bend I stumbled across a hiker peeing just off the trail, not a lot of coverage among the crispy trunks. It was obvious that she wasn’t a PCT hiker, she yelped and kind of fell over while trying to pull up her pants. I’m so used to coming across other thru hikers peeing just off trail, it’s become common to give a nonchalant wave to a mooning white butt and both parties carry on with their business, be it hiking or squatting.

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Cream was having a break at the only spring in the burn zone, the two of us tend to hike about the same speed and leapfrog a lot every day. The sun had come out as she predicted this morning, although it was still chilly enough that I had to pull out my puffy while sitting still. I sat for a while on a rock after collecting my water, drawing designs on my lower legs with the dusty black ash and eating my new favourite trail food- a pre-packaged artisanal cheese and meat pack from a company based in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve been bulk buying when I come across them them in gas stations and supermarkets since mid-Oregon and depending on them heavily for protein, veering away from my usual snickers bars and trail mix, which I can barely stomach anymore.

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Shortly after, the burn zone ended, Cream and I caught up with the others at a little wooden cabin in a meadow off the trail. There was a woodstove inside, indicated by the smoke puffing out from the little chimney and the idea of being in a warm building was incredibly appealing, but the cabin was already packed with about ten other hikers, the most we’ve seen on trail in ages. PC and Bagels were sitting in their camp chairs on the grass out front while Eli and Honeybee were throwing sticks for Keeda, her favourite game. It would have been nice to stay a little longer but from checking guthook it became clear that there were way more hikers than campsites in the area so we got moving and gunned it to get to the only spot big enough to allow us to stay together. It was only four miles away and I was hauling with one of the rare hiker-energy busts that make me feel like I could run all the way to Canada. But of course the huckleberries appeared in perfectly black clusters and I slowed down to pull handfuls off the bushes every few steps. Bagels and Eli caught up and we all power-hiker the rest of the way to our campsite, taking little breaks when whoever was in front stopped for another berry handful.

Camp was a large flat site near a spring spilling over the rocks and away into the woods, and a quick scout around determined that there were also two tiny spots squished together right beside the trail away from the water. We’ve learned that when Guthooks says that a site is big enough for one or two tents, it’s usually able to fit at least five or six. When Cream, PC and Honeybee arrived we did some quick dimension testing and figured that we could all fit into the little spots and leave the larger area for the other big group coming behind us. The site was a mess of criss-crossed guy lines and tent stakes but there was still enough room to sit in a tiny circle and eat dinner. Bagels and Honeybee tried throwing a stick for Keeda, but she was as wiped as we were and just rolled over for a belly scratch on the foam pad that Honeybee sets out for her when we take breaks.

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We’re getting our timing perfectly right to avoid the huge rain/sleet storm that’s supposed to hit in a couple days, our next resupply in Snoqualmie will keep us out of the worst of the weather. Bagels and I have become more accustomed to sharing a tent and have developed a quick routine to split the effort of setting up (that is, when I manage to arrive before he has it done himself, the benefits of being slower) and share the limited space inside the duplex without getting in the way of the other. Some nights I still prefer my own tent for a quieter sleep, but in the cold mornings of Washington, I’ve come to appreciate the heat that gets generated from two people overnight. I’ve finally…finally! also managed to figure out my resupply volumes to snack to my heart’s content and run out of food on town day. I’ve got trail life down pat. Figures we’re only a couple weeks from the finish.

Day 138: Spring (2351.7) to Dirt Road (2376.8)

August 25 // 25.2 miles

Keeda caused some diversion in camp first thing this morning as she decided that the door of Honeybee’s tent was not an appropriate exit and kind of just tore her way out the side wall. Honeybee patched up as best she could while we ate breakfast in a circle, offering encouragement and advice without lifting a finger ourselves.

It was cold again, but not as bad as yesterday morning, got going around eight after eating breakfast. Everything was shrouded in mist, which seems to be the new norm and I love it, so long as we don’t get too much colder…still a while until Canada ahead and I need winter to hold off until then.

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There was an unexpected burst of cell service atop the first ridge, every person stopping for a social media break caused a small hiker bubble for the rest of the morning. We played leap frog with the other hiker pack of 4-5 people, which provided us with some healthy competition to keep moving. We never see groups our size on trail even though I know they must exist.

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It was also RACE DAY on the PCT. A 100 mile ultramarathon borrowed a section of the trail and we happened to hit it at the perfect time. Every six miles today there were aid stations where the runners stop to get food, water and see friends/family when the trail crosses dirt roads. I wasn’t sure what to expect on the long downhill where the first station was. I could see the blue tents, parked cars and a small crowd gathered where a dirt road intersected the PCT. None of the runners had come through yet and I think the crowd must have thought I was a runner. I could hear someone yell and then there was cheering, which diminished into some half-hearted applause when they saw I was just walking along with my pack. I was still offered some fruit for the road and chatted with the race coordinator while eating. He said that the front runners would be coming through shortly, so I set up in a little dirt patch next to the trail to wait for my friends and catch some of the excitement. The whole crew arrived before the runners did and we watched the first guy (incredibly skinny, long hair and beard, short shorts) come tearing down the hill, wave at the cheering crowd, kiss his wife and run on into the mist without so much as a piece of watermelon. Madness.

A few more runners came through and we helped the crowd cheer them on for a bit but it was time to get moving. The runners tended to walk the uphill and then run the downhills and flats, appearing out of nowhere, so it was a no-headphone day and my neck got sore from constantly craning around to check the trail behind me.

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It never warmed up even a little bit today, and had to keep my gloves on and hood up to try and keep some feeling in my extremities. Made good time to the next aid station in six miles, it was too cold to stop for long, but they offered to take our trash and there was even a hiker box that someone had given the volunteers to put out alongside the trail. Picked up a couple packets of caffeinated gel for energy and a paper cup of mountain dew.

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It was just one stop to the next today, the trail has never felt so busy and I probably talked with more strangers than the rest of the summer combined. We passed a trail crew shortly after the aid station, clearing brush off the path and breaking up stones. As my group made our way up the switchbacks towards them, they yelled at us to tell them our trail names, and we yelled them back one by one. The crew then chanted our trail names as we passed. It was great. I should do some trail work next summer, it seems like a fantastic way to give back.

There was a cooler of beer and soda, and two boxes of pizza at the next dirt road. The pizza was all gone but that was okay because we had tummies full from snacking all day, it’s been the first time that I’ve appreciated the trail magic but not taken anything. And not fifty feet past the pizza and soda there was yet another aid station. It was the busiest one we had passed so far, with port a potties and two huge awnings with coolers and food. Cars were lined up on either side of the road with a crowd of volunteers and family members bundled in parkas and toques, many holding signs, replacement gear and/or small children. They all gave us high fives and words of encouragement as we passed. The trail is an absolute party today. A beer can had magically appeared in my hand, people clapped me on the back. We took a minute beside the trail to drink, talking to a man watching for his son and watching the runners shuffle in looking absolutely wrecked (they still had another 60 something miles to go…and people think we’re crazy).

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It was getting bitterly cold and we still had a good chunk of trail to get to before camp. After the aid station there was a sharp two miles of uphill, very steep. The runners walk on the uphill and we actually caught and passed a few of them, they returned the favour on the downhill. One guy in his mid-thirties was chatting to Bagels and I near the top of the climb, he’s been running these ultras multiple times a year for almost ten years. We couldn’t believe what he was doing, he couldn’t believe what we were doing. People are such strange creatures. When the trail flattened, it was time for him to run again so we said goodbye and off he went.

I figured the trail magic was done for the day since we were making camp before the next aid station and they would be gone in the morning (30 hour cutoff for the runners so they’d all pass us in the night). But the goodness didn’t end there, in a few miles the trail emerged from the woods into a clear cut for telephone wires, and there was a dirt road upon which was parked a jeep with trunk popped and a huddle of thru hikers wrapped in blankets, including Cream, Eli, Honeybee and PC, who we thought were miles ahead. The jeep owner was a lady that lived nearby, and she’d made chili and brought it out to the trail to warm us up on her day off. What a legend. Bagels and I were last to leave after the chili was gone, we helped her pack up the jeep and continued on down the trail wondering if today could get any better.

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After being spoiled all day, we stopped at an overgrown rocky road that was camp for the night. The water was another .2 miles down the trail and I was on water duty tonight, taking bottles and water bladders and a filter down to the little trickle of water, trying to keep track of whose bottle was whose and which was for dirty vs clean water. All in all it was about 8 liters to filter and my fingers were going numb in the icy water. When I got back to camp with my arms stuffed, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Bagels had already blown up my mattress (by far my least favourite part of each day) and put my quilt in his tent, Honeybee had set up my camp chair at the best spot around our dinner rock and PC gave me an extra packet of hot chocolate. Trail currency at its finest.

While we were eating, the runners that were still trickling on by (at this point they were all moving noticeably slower, usually walking) enviously said, without fail, some variation of “man I wish I was staying with you guys tonight.” To which we, without fail, replied “you’re more then welcome” but none of them took us up on the offer and plodded into the night. I felt bad for them, they probably think this is fun the same way I think walking for 5 months is fun, but it’s a much more concentrated and extreme form of fun and I can’t see how it would be enjoyable during this part of the run. 100 miles is a long way to go without stop or sleep, especially when the night is going to be cold and probably rainy.

The thrill of cheering on the bobbing headlamps that passed us by wore off, and everyone was wiped so it was soon tent time. I can still hear the occasional foot pounds of a runner coming through in the pitch black, I’ve never been so happy to be warm and snuggled in my quilt while they go off into the beginning of a long, long night.

I can’t believe how much I’m still in love with this trail and it’s lifestyle, we’re nearing the finish line but I feel like I can keep on hiking the whole way to Canada and then back to Mexico again. The Oregon migraines have for the most part faded and I can focus on how much fun I’m having with my trail fam. Since last year, I’ve been solidly and stubbornly set in the mindset that there would be nowhere I could possibly love as much as the Sierra Nevada, and though I still haven’t caved out loud…Washington is just as equally magic and I love that it’s been able to surprise me.

Day 139: Dirt Road (2376.8) to Snoqualmie (2393.1)

August 26 // 16.3 miles

Despite my usual rule about no alarms on trail, I was up early to help pack up so Bagels could get to Snoqualmie in time to meet some friends from Seattle that had promised to bring us a stack of Costco pizzas. It rained during the night and everything was wet and freezing cold, but it’s town day so the weather can be as miserable as it wishes… I would be having a hot shower and warm bed at the end of the day. I was the first out of camp (how little I get to say that!) and town was calling so I hit my top hiking speeds today, that rarely ever happens because it leaves me so wiped the next day. 

Normally I try to suffer the cold in my hiking shirt and keep all my warm sleeping layers in my bag so I have something dry to change into at camp, but since it’s town day I hiked in my base layer and puffy and let them get soaked through by the thick mist that seems to be a Washington staple. There was steep climbing right off the bat so the puffy didn’t last long but it was nice to keep my thick wool baselayer top on for a small degree of warmth. 

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The mist was so pervasive that I couldn’t see more than a few feet down the trail and the trees were making their own rain from all the dew their branches had collected overnight. I was completely soaked through and freezing within a half hour of hitting the trail and ended up putting my poles away, hiking with my hands sandwiched in the little heat pocket between my pack and back, which mostly kept them from going numb. On the plus side the cold weather helped me sustain max speeds and I had incredible energy powering up the steep uphills. 

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I still can’t be the fastest though, PC caught up at the top of the climb, and so I had some company while the trail curved around Mirror lake. Of everyone in our group, I tend to have the most conversation on trail with PC and it passes the time so much faster than counting down the miles alone, although I can’t keep up with him when he decides to hike at his top speeds. There were a few intrepid families braving the miserable weather to cook breakfast  outside their massive tents but we had no time to stop and chat-it’s a town day and my legs were going numb. 

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Ditched PC while he made some wardrobe adjustments trying to stay dry, I was scared to stop moving in this cold. Continued down towards Snoqualmie pass alone. The downhill was quite steep, very rocky and dangerously slippy, especially without poles, not that they would’ve helped…I don’t think I’d be able to grip them with how numb my hands were in their thin, wet gloves. The thick foliage alongside trail was soaked and slapped against my legs and completely drenched my socks and shoes but still made good time down towards the interstate. 

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The mist turned into proper rain on the way down, and I felt very grateful how lucky we’ve been so far with weather in Washington, and not gotten days like this when we’re far from town. It’s one thing to hike in the rain, but setting up a wet camp after a day like today seems like the most demoralizing thing in the world. All the waterproof stuffsacks in the world won’t help keep things dry if the sun doesn’t make any appearances. 

I could hear the traffic on I90 from far away but my phone was too wet to check how far out I was or even get my music playing, so I retreated into the boring, mindless, static world in my head with body on autopilot for the last few miles, usually imagining the same simple daydreams or scenarios over and over and over on loop. This “zombie hiking” helps escape the misery of cold and wet hiking (also helps with wind, extreme heat, steep climbs, boring road walks).

The woods opened up and I crossed underneath the ski lifts on the open hillside. The mist had cleared enough to see Snoqualmie pass below- a tiny little highway stop that also serves as a ski town in the winter. I almost ran down the rest of trail and then wandered down the highway towards the cluster of buildings hoping to warm up and get some food, there isn’t a whole lot other than a couple restaurants, hotel and convenience/gas station store.

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I was chilled through with a serious case of the shivers as soon as I stopped moving, so I went straight to shelter under the overhang of the restaurant/brewery in the middle of town. PC and Bagels showed up shortly after while I was changing into my dry t-shirt and slightly damp puffy, giving a great strip show of my skinny-fat hiker torso to the patrons eating inside the restaurant. I was craving a hot bowl of chili that was listed on the menu tacked to the door, but PC and Bagels wanted to hold out for the promised costco pizza, so we went to the Dru Bru brewery to wait. My hands were so cold I couldn’t get my ziplock wallet bag open, so went to the bathroom to hold them under the dryer until they could function normally again. I looked pretty rough in the mirror-bright red from the cold and very dirty with a hint of drowned rat. My blue hiking t-shirt has permanent sweat salt marks that won’t go away no matter how much it’s washed. I also look happy though. I love Washington.

Honeybee, Eli and Cream showed up looking as cold and wet as I felt, but everyone was in a good mood, especially since Bagel’s friends stopped by the brewery with six large pizzas (magical friends!) which was so welcome after eating nothing all day. I had six pieces which I thought was pretty impressive, but Eli managed to put an entire pizza away on his own. The few beers I tried were pretty good, but surprisingly, my favourite of the day was the non-alcoholic, homemade root beer Dru Bru had on tap. Another nice surprise was a visit from my 2017 hiking buddy Sara’s mother, she was hiking at Snoqualmie and popped in to buy me a drink and catch up.

After a few more rounds of pizza and beer we traipsed across the highway to get a couple rooms at the Snoqualmie inn, an old, run-down hotel alongside the road with funky green duck-patterned wallpaper. We’d heard that they weren’t always friendly to PCT hikers, but the lady at the front desk was kind and helpful, and the room had a bed and a good shower, which is all I need nowadays to be happy. Bagels and I split a room separate from the others so we could spread out our wet gear to dry. It’s odd not having the rest of the group crammed into a hotel with us but I can’t deny it’s nice to have the extra space. There was also significantly less hair in the shower drain.

I could go on about the town luxuries for far longer than is interesting, but it summed to a hot shower, coconut water and icecream and oreos from the gas station, drying and finally washing my disgusting clothes, and a nice long nap with the Office on in the background. Waterfall, who I hiked with way back around Wrightwood, is here too and she came along with the rest of us to dinner across the road at a small cozy restaurant. I went all out and ordered steak! with roasted vegetables!! and red wine to share. Snoqualmie has been one of the best town stops, there isn’t much but it is the perfect little size to get around on foot, has everything I need to be completely happy, plus the businesses are very PCT-friendly.

In addition to loving Snoqualmie, this has been one of my favourite sections of the entire trail. Today especially was one of my best days, despite the wet and cold this morning. I’m absolutely loving Washington. It’s just as beautiful as the Sierra and I’m feeling amazing, I know I’m going to finish at this point, even if I break both legs and have to drag myself arm over arm to the border. My trail family is close knit and our rule “no thirties in Washington” and tendency to pack out luxury food has made everything feel more like an extended camping vacation than an exhausting slog to Canada. We wake up late, take breaks as needed, camp early to eat dinner together enjoy each other’s company before the sun goes down. They sometimes give me a hard time about doing this trail back to back years, I would honestly do it again next year in a heart beat.

Cascade Locks to White Pass

Day 127: Cascade Locks (2146.7) to Rock Creek (2166.2)

August 14 // 19.5 miles

As we do in town, slept in and didn’t bother to leave the hotel until checkout time, meaning yet another late start. We lose so much time on the days we arrive and leave town, not that I’m ever avoiding the luxuries that town provides. Did a resupply at the grocery store next to our hotel and got one last burger for the road, it’s hot as hell today and I wasn’t looking forward to the long climb out of the Columbia River Gorge.

We passed the Shasta boys on our way out, they’ve decided to stay here the next couple days until Trail Days, the yearly PCT festival that will be held here this weekend. Our group has a loose plan that we’re going to get about a hundred miles out from town and then PC’s parents will pick us up and drive us back for Trail Days. I do want to go, but I’m not sure it’s worth it since we have to haul to make it to our pick up point in time, and I get the feeling the trail around Cascade Locks will be crowded after the weekend… it’s a concentration of PCT hikers who are likely to be planning their arrival to coincide with Trail Days. Oh well, we’ll see.

On the edge of town it was time to cross the Columbia river on Bridge of the Gods. It’s the lowest point on trail (less than 200 feet above sea level, a far cry from 14000ft Forester Pass and Whitney) and the border between Oregon and Washington. The bridge had heavy car traffic and we had to walk in single file along the guardrail trusting the drivers whooshing past not to squish us. I spent most of the walk nervously watching my back instead of enjoying the last moments in Oregon, but then we were across and Welcome to Washington! Two states down and one to go.

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Back onto proper trail and hiking at 1pm, very hot and humid today. Started a six mile climb up and out, it was decently steep and there was no water all afternoon so my pack was heavy with a fresh resupply and full 4 litre water capacity. There might have been views off the ridge I was hiking on but the smoke was so thick I couldn’t make out more than the shape of the nearest hillside. On the upside, the bushes lining the trail were laden with huckleberries and blueberries and blackberries, the sweetest so far on trail.

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Near the top of the climb out of the gorge, crossed a couple dirt roads and the whole area seemed to be part of a logging operation, most of the trees had been clear cut. Not the most scenic introduction to Washington. Another wasp sting when I stopped for a break with Eli at a couple gallons of water that had been left alongside the trail, and it wasn’t even worth it since the containers were all empty anyways.

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Left the ridges behind to drop down into the woods to Rock Creek. On the way down, it felt like a rainforest...green everywhere you turned, below and to the sides and even above. Moss blanketed the rocks, the ground, the tree trunks and hung down in thick ropes from all the branches. A SOBO hiker climbing up from the creek told me that he had just seen three full-grown mountain lions crossing the trail which put me on edge the rest of the way, just waiting for 100 pounds of hungry cat to drop down on my back.

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There were tons of campers taking all the established spots at Rock Creek and I was worried we’d have to knock out a five mile climb in the dark to get to the next cluster of camp spots. I found my group sitting on the wide, rock covered bank beside the creek making dinner and we scouted around enough to find “sites” which were really just anywhere flat enough we could pitch tents. Bagels and I are a little ways from everyone else, to get from our tent back to the others requires some climbing over fallen logs and crossing a tributary stream trickling down into the creek. It’s difficult to get around in my camp flip flops trying not to slip on the slick rock and wouldn’t it be a bummer if I hurt myself now.

After setting up (it took some creativity to get the tent to stay put, tying two of the guylines to a fallen tree and just piling rock on the rest of them), we went back to join Eli, Cream, PC and Honeybee. We’ve packed out tequila and whiskey and stayed up too late drinking and talking. I had to find my way back through the obstacle course to our tent a little drunk and in the pitch black since neither Bagels or I had brought our headlights to dinner. The three mountain lions are in the back of my mind but I’m mostly just sleepy.

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Day 128: Rock Creek (2166.2) to Trailhead Campsite (2197.9)

August 15 // 31.7 miles 

The last to leave Rock Creek this morning. Barely had a chance to get warmed up before climbing out of the creek gorge we dropped into last night. It was still green and mossy and I didn’t have to carry any water at all in these rainforest conditions, creeks and streams everywhere. One big up and down over first ten miles today.

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 Stopped at Trout river, spanned by a footbridge. Sat with Honeybee collecting water and having a quick shade break. There was a very friendly guy packing up no less than 5 Golden retrievers into the back of his van after their daily walk. He asked us if we needed anything and offered a ride to town, I think we were both tempted to take it for the chance to ride with the five beautiful dogs but we regretfully stayed strong and passed.

The humidity today was brutal and it felt hard to draw in a full breath between the thick air and the still-lingering traces of smoke. A couple miles were through exposed grassy fields without the slightest hint of shade. The temperatures probably weren’t as high as the desert and NorCal, but the humidity made it feel so much worse and I didn’t have the best morning, plodding on through the heat and trying to drink enough water to keep up with my sweating.

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 At Wind River, there was a large wooden footbridge crossing the shallow rapids, I looked down and saw the group having lunch on the bank. It was almost too hot to function so first thing I did was get the shoes off and stand in the river. The water was uncomfortably icy, but at the point I’d take anything over the heat. It was too shallow for any swimming but I did a sort of lame pushup into the water to cool down. Even just minutes after getting out of the freezing river I was already too hot again and tried to find as much shade as possible under the sparse bushes.

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As I was packing up, I met the two hikers that are YOYO-ing the PCT this year. (Mexico to Canada back to Mexico) I was too shy to say that I recognized them from instagram, but it was still cool to see them on their super-hike, maybe one day I’ll give it a shot too.

A long ten mile uphill after Wind River but thankfully the trail was back in the woods and had more shade than the hot, exposed morning. Crossed lots of Forest service roads and I hauled on the climb (“AT&T service at the top!” promised Guthook) and took a break on the exposed ridge overlooking the horizon. We’re supposed to be able to see Mt Adams from here but no luck, nothing more than a couple miles out was visible before everything faded into the smoke.

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 Got into camp pretty late in the day, it was starting to get dark. Our spot is next to a dirt road trailhead, and there are tons of other hikers already set up for the night. Best part is that there were cement pit toilets to use! (No TP though.) Managed to find a space right beside the road but away from other campers to set up Bagels’ tent, the others are kind of scattered around in the trees. It’s a very warm night, no need for puffy jackets. I’m feeling pretty wiped after like 20 miles of uphill today but a good, achey tired and my headache seems to be completely gone, an amazing feeling.

Day 129: Trailhead Campsite (2197.9) to White Salmon River (2228.9)

August 16 // 31 miles 

I had a dream about being back at work trying to deal with an overload of phone calls on hold and slow computer systems and for some reason all my co workers were ex boyfriends? Woke with relief to find I was still on trail. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to go back to “normal” life, last year was bearable since I knew I’d be back on the PCT this summer. With no more hiking trips on the horizon after this one it’s going to be a long winter for sure.

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But no point in worrying about that for now, got out of camp about 7:30 feeling sore and stiff after yesterday, another long haul planned for today. Some of the flattest trail I’ve ever seen this morning, which is unexpected for Washington but I’m not one to complain about easy hiking and cruised along happily, it’s a warm and sunny day today. Unfortunately still pretty smoky which is too bad because I think Mt Adams should be visible already if it was a clear day and maybe even Rainier as well, we’ve just entered Indian Heaven Wilderness which is supposed to be a beautiful section. I’m grateful that at least the trail is open but it’s still kind of a bummer hiking with no real views.

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On the uphill, stopped for a coffee break on the bank at Blue Lake, which was, as advertised, a large blue lake. Lots of campsites around the shoreline and we picked out one that overlooked the water and had plenty of fallen trees to sit on. For a lake, the water was great quality-crystal clear, cold and easy to access. It was such a nice spot we ended up hanging around almost an hour cooking late breakfast/early lunch and watching for the splashes of leaping trout, too bad both Bagels and PC ditched their fishing poles.

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A quick climb later we stopped again for water at Bear Lake. Tried to be as unobtrusive as possible while collecting and filtering since there were a handful of fisherman spaced around the lake, all alone and enjoying the serenity of the quiet morning. The closest fisherman to me hooked a fish, carefully reeled it in, unhooked it and set it back into the lake. I sat under a tree on the bank while filtering my water and when I got up, realized I had sat in sap and now had to deal with a bum covered in stickiness and pine needles that made walking a little uncomfortable. The joys. At least the water was good and I made the fisherman laugh.

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Huckleberry heaven in the afternoon, there was an open two mile stretch where just about every bush alongside trail was laden down with perfectly ripened black berries. The locals were out taking full advantage, near the dirt roads there were dozens of people filling huge gallon buckets with berries and there was still plenty for us hikers to snack on.  As I was passing a family consisting of three grandmothers and seven or eight little grandkids, they told me that these are the best berries in the state for making pie and jam. I waved my purple stained fingers at them to indicate I was already finding that out for myself. Don’t mind if I doooooo Washington.

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Made camp at White Salmon river which is right next to a paved road, but the bushes are so thick we can barely make out the cars that pass us by. Tomorrow is the end of our big push for trail days, we need to knock out 22 more miles to get to Potato Hill trailhead, where PC’s wonderful parents are picking us up in their camper van and hauling us all the way back to Cascade Locks. Magic is back since the headaches have left me alone for a week now, and I’m trying to enjoy every moment out here. April and May seemed to stretch on forever this summer, but somehow I’m here in mid-August wondering where the heck the time went. I guess it always happens this way, but I wish I could extend a couple more months, I’m nowhere near sick of trail life yet.

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Day 130: White Salmon River (2228.9) to Potato Hill (2251.0)

August 17 // 22.1 miles 

Alarm went off at six, I can’t express how much I hate being woken by beeping when I’m on this trail. But we had a free ride to catch and I was grudgingly hiking by six thirty. It was COLD in the morning, my fingers were numb and I hiked with my puffy for well over an hour.

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Into Mt Adams Wilderness. Ten mile uphill that I hadn’t been looking forward to on today’s elevation profile, but was actually very gradual and manageable. For the first time in days the smoke has cleared almost completely and I was happily surprised to get the first proper view of Mt Adams, it was way closer than I had expected and we’re probably within a couple miles of the base. If the smoke had hung around I would have been completely oblivious.

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The trail skirted around Adams, got a good 180 degree view around the mountain, it’s such a handsome thing and number one on my climbing bucket list. Most of the morning was through a burn zone, a couple years old so that there were plenty of new growth beginning to cover the spaces between the charred trees. So many wildflowers. Near the end of the climb I found Bagels and Cream stopped for good reason-there was a beautiful view across the valley, could see Mt St Helens with her distinctive half-top and even Hood was visible far in the distance. It feels like the trail is just one giant game of connect the dots from volcano to volcano. There was also an inversion happening, the cloud was down in the valley with the volcano tops pointing up from

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As if it wasn’t enough to get Hood, St Helens and Adams all in the same day, rounded another bend in the trail and had a beautiful view of Mt Rainier, perhaps the most iconic of all the volcanos on trail. I’m not sure if there were opportunities to see it earlier, but it’s been so smoky today was my first time seeing it on trail. It’s only slightly smaller than Whitney, and is way more prominent since there are no other mountains around to take away from the scale. I’m so jealous of Bagels, living in Seattle he gets to look at that beautiful snow cap every day.

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Then sun made a huge difference in warmth, and I was chasing it down the trail trying to avoid digging out my puffy. We were making good time to get to our pickup spot, and stopped for lunch about twelve miles out next to a creek that was cloudy white from the minerals and again smells like rotten eggs. All the water here is glacial runoff and therefore ice cold. I’m curious as to what causes the sulphurous smell and “gritty” texture, you take google for granted until you don’t have all the resources in the world at your fingertips.

Climbed a little more after lunch, crossing more of the sulphur streams. The trail alternated between burn zone, pine forest and patches of black lava rock fields reminiscent of Oregon. The streams were so icy I was avoiding getting my feet wet at all costs and didn’t even bother checking out the few lakes scattered beside the trail. There were lots of weekend hikers out doing the trail around Adams, I would kill to live near here and be in such a beautiful area whenever I wanted.

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The whole group stuck pretty close together today, we’d leapfrog on and off at different water sources and I walked with Bagels for a little bit. The huckleberries were slowing me down as usual but I tried to be disciplined enough to keep moving and not be late for the ride. Reached Potato Trailhead at about 2pm, it’s really just a forest service road that intersects the trail, but there was a van parked under the shade of some trees…it was PC’s parents! They had come fully prepared and brought soda and beer, fruit, hot dogs and cookies. It was just what we needed after hauling for the last couple days and we sat around for a little while to rest, introducing ourselves and eating just so much food. PC’s parents have hit the road in their van for the summer, doing travels of their own with their little dog, Gabi. I am extremely jealous, the van has everything you would need for travel life-a little kitchen, bathroom and pull out bed in the back.

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It was a looooong drive back to Cascade Locks, the network of forest roads was full of potholes and rocks and terrible on the van, had to take it really slow and edge our way past any oncoming pickups, not that there were many. It was a little squishy with all of us huddled in the back, and the smell was brutal but still managed to get a bit of sleep once we got back onto paved roads. So looking forward to this mini-break, we’ve been working hard to get here on time (our original plan was to get another 40x miles to White Pass but we realized pretty early on it would be no fun to cram in so many miles and chose Potato Hill as a reasonable goal instead).

Cascade Locks was way more crowded for Trail Days than it was when we left, with hikers wandering up and down the main street and the beginnings of a tent city next to the river where the festival will be held. We’ve opted for a hotel room for tonight and tomorrow, and half the group went for the shower while the other half went for the McDonalds. Can barely keep my eyes open even though we still have to go out and get dinner at the brewery. It’s a tough life.

Day 131: cascade locks ZERO-Trail Days!

August 18 // 0 miles

My dear old Oregon friend The Migraine was back this morning, complete with the pounding eyebrow, some hangover-level nausea and general frustration. Eli gave me some prescription-grade anti-nausea medicine and I topped it off with a couple extra strength advils and decided to suck it up. I’m not spending trail days in a hotel room.

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Wandered down the main street of town towards the river, picking up coffee on the way. Hiker trash had descended upon Cascade Locks. Gear tents, food trucks and a stage covered the field on the shore next to the Columbia and spilled over onto the little island in the river, where there were hundreds and hundreds of tents set up. I kind of wish we had camped too, but I know that we definitely got a better sleep in the air conditioned hotel room vs the noisy campgrounds. Crowds were everywhere…curious townspeople, gear representatives and of course PCT hikers. it’s hard to believe there are so many of us on trail when we so rarely run into people outside our little bubble. I saw hikers that I met in the desert, in the Sierra, in NorCal that I passed and that passed me. Saw my friend Kim from last year, the Shady Shasta boys, Dodo, Nono, and Dutchie who I had a burger with on my very first night on trail and has since changed her name to Happy Feet. Wandered around checking out the gear tents and food trucks. At lunch there was a line blocks long for free hiker pizza at a local restaurant and their back patio was crammed to capacity.

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My migraine was making itself very known after lunch and I had to retreat back to the hotel for a short sleep and a shower, which seemed to clear up the worst of the headache. After the nap and rally, I found my friends lazing at a sunny picnic table half-listening to the stage presentations on LNT (leave no trace) but mostly drinking beer from the Thunder Island brewing Co booth. Bagels and PC had gone to a presentation on the PNT, Pacific Northwest Trail and were already planning on it for next summer. The Shasta boys had somehow managed to get themselves a job pouring beer and doing manual labor for the owner of Thunder Island Brewing in exchange for a place to crash. Somehow that night, I ended up at the owner’s house with a dozen or so hikers, using the hot tub and sitting on the porch listening to country music. Great night. Portland tomorrow with PC’s family!

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thats a lot of trash

thats a lot of trash

Day 132: Portland Zero

August 19 // 0 miles

A bit of a blurry day after partying last night. Portland was excellent, consisting of a 40-minute breakfast line (worth it), resupply at a bougie health food store (not worth it), Japanese food, fancy donuts, two naps, an inventive hotel bartender, an arcade. Jokingly suggested buying camp chairs at REI with PC and Bagels but then we actually did it, so now I’m adding a pound to my base weight, lightening my bank account 80 dollars and have somewhere to put my butt that is not dirt for the rest of Washington. I didn’t originally want to come all the way to Portland for just one day but it’s been a great side adventure. Back to hiking tomorrow if I remember how, it feels like we’ve been off trail for ages, not just two days.

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Day 133: Potato Hill trailhead (2251.0) to Walupt Lake Trail (2264.6)

August 20 // 13.6 miles 

Goodbye Portland, back to the trail to wrap this thing up. Slept in after a late night, enjoyed one more shower this morning. Packed up, got breakfast and then a long drive back to trail. Stopped at gas station and found another hiker, Stuck on the Ground, trying to catch a hitch so we added her to the van pack and kept on. The road that we were supposed to take back to trail may have been potentially closed due to fire, but we went through anyway. The air was incredibly smokey today, the worst it’s been since Crater Lake.

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By the time we got back to the trail it was 3:30. Feels so very good to be back. I’ve been so focused on making the milage for our Cascade Locks vacation and now that it’s over, the end of trail feels a lot closer than it did three days ago. I’m trying to accept that finishing is near and trying to appreciate the time I have left. I know in four months I’ll be sitting in my office chair at a job I enjoy but am not passionate about, staring at my trail screen background and wishing for it all over again. In Oregon I was almost desperate to rush through and be done so I could go home and just not…hike, but Washington has kicked that sentiment and now I want to keep hiking as long as I can.  

Said goodbye to PC’s parents, will see them again when we get to Steven’s Pass in a few days. They’re living full van life, which gives me hope that adulthood will be fun even when you’re supposed to be settled down with kids. The trail was flat and crowded with lots of people that had kept on from Cascade Locks after trail days. Moving slow out of town as usual but today I was content just to be on trail. Not many views today because of the smoke, hopefully it clears up by tomorrow when we hit Goat Rocks, one of the most scenic spots on trail. The PCT is actually closed right after the knife’s edge ridge walk with detour options to Packwood or White Pass, I’m just happy that we get to do the majority of Goat Rocks before the closure.

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After the late start we didn’t get too many miles in and pulled off trail for camp down near Walupt lake. Found a spot big enough for everyone’s tents and set up under the pine trees. Tried out my new camp chair for the first time, I felt a little silly having such a luxurious, unnecessary item, but god damn if I don’t feel classy sitting eating my dinner not sitting in the dirt, even if dinner is just a box of undercooked mac and cheese.

Not too tired after our short day and double zero, probably could’ve added a few more miles tonight. Tomorrow should be an epic day based on what I’ve heard about Goat Rocks. Some exciting news for our group…Honeybee is leaving early first thing in the morning to get to White Pass as soon as possible to pick up her dog! And dog will be coming with us the rest of trail!!

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Day 134: Walupt Lake Trail (2264.6) to Packwood Lake 

August 21 // ~21 miles

To 2278.6 + 7ish. About 21 miles

Woooooow what a day! Best on trail? Best in life? One of my best for sure and took almost 250 photos, every time I put my phone away I would have to pull it right back out again to take another picture. Got a great sleep last night and took extra time to make hot chocolate and coffee with breakfast, which probably just triggered the rest of the greatness. Honeybee was already gone before we woke up so she could get to White Pass early, we’ll meet her there the day after tomorrow.

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After packing up and getting back on trail, it was very flat to get started before the climb up to Goat Rocks. Lovely cool morning, the air was way clearer than it was last night. I was feeling really happy and enjoying the easy terrain and being back in the woods. The forest faded to scrub and then to nothing, with the first sweeping views of the day.

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After the first few miles of easy hiking, started climbing up towards Cispus pass. The air was a little smoggy, but clearer than last night and not bad enough to obscure the views of the ridges folding away layer after layer. The uphill was hard work but I had an energy high and it felt good to push my legs and try and keep up to PC and Bagels. We passed a couple groups of friendly day hikers, stopping to chat about our hike, everyone’s always interested to hear about our favourite and least favourite sections, (if they’re local I’m always sure to say favourite is the current one, and today it was the truth), what we eat, where we’re from.

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Cispus pass was absolutely incredible. The trail cut across emerald green slopes looking way down into a valley, and little waterfalls tumbled down the rock. Dayhikers were rambling about in abundance because why would you not be out here. Stopped for a chair break in a patch of trees near a particularly nice waterfall just to enjoy the view and eat one of my favourite new meat and cheese snacks.

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After finishing the downhill, there was the last push uphill towards goat rocks and the knifes edge. The terrain went from meadow to rock as we climbed higher and higher, had to watch my step to avoid any ankle breakers on the shifting, loose rubble. The energy high started to wear thin near the top but I could tell that the views were just ahead and pushed on without slowing.

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Near the very edge of the top of the pass, had to do a quick jaunt over a snow field to earn the views that came right after. It was amazing, the trail stretching away for miles ahead along what is literally a knifes edge on the mountain ridges. Would have stellar views of Mt Rainier without the haze, I saw the white cap glowing through the smoke but nothing else below that. We didn’t make great time since everyone was stopping every few feet to take pictures.

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The trail split for about a mile, it used to be the old PCT, but was too difficult for pack animals to get up and over, so there’s also now the new lower trail. We took the higher route and easy to see why there’s an alternate, no horse was getting across this steepness. Stopped again where there was yet another split and a side trail climbed up to the summit of Old Snowy Mountain. I was feeling a little wiped and not sure if I was up for it, but dropped my pack and headed on up with Bagels and PC. It was hard work to get up to the summit, some hand over hand climbing on the slippery shale, but we made it to the top for a quick photoshoot. On one side of the knifes edge below, there was a fire that was clearly the source of all the smoke, we could see it rising up thick in the valley and blowing across the trail. Definitely getting worse even in the short time we had been there.

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PC has a dramatic moment atop Old Snowy

PC has a dramatic moment atop Old Snowy

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Scrambled back down the mountain to get our packs (going down is always so much harder than going up, it feels unnatural to climb backwards). Then we got to do the famous ridge walk along the knifes edge. Such a steep downhill on either side, the trail dropped sharply away on either side and even the path itself plunged down in sharp, steep drops. Knees were feeling very shaky with the downhill effort. Back up steeply, down again, and repeat. The trail was made up of thin flat slabs of rock, it was like trying to walk on dinner plates and we stuck close together to make sure everyone got through okay.

Looking back at Old Snowy. Always nice to see where you’ve been from an even cooler perspective

Looking back at Old Snowy. Always nice to see where you’ve been from an even cooler perspective

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At the junction with Coyote trail, the PCT was closed again for a fire, perhaps the one in the valley below us. Fortunately we had gotten to do most of the knifes edge, I couldn’t imagine having to miss what we did this morning. But it was time to take the side trail down the mountain face, leaving the rock behind and dropping back down into the pine forest. Always nice to get off the PCT, credit to the crews that it’s so well maintained, but also kind of fun to get back to a trail that’s a little rougher. Had to jump lots of fallen logs and do a bit of route finding when the path washed out beside a river.

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Such variation from the rocky tops of Goat Rocks back down into the wet green woods. Stopped at a mossy stream bank, with the smoky sun slanting through the tall trees I was just waiting for a fairy or elf to pop out of the woods and take a seat on one of the toad stools near the water. I only got Bagels squatting nearby to filter water like a dirty and very fluffy-haired gremlin, but close enough to satisfy my fairy tale fantasies.

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I hiked alone for the rest of the evening, following a river for most of the way. We’re off the PCT and therefore my GPS was pretty useless and I wasn’t always sure I was going the right way to get to Packwood Lake, where we planned to camp for the night. The river was clearly more flooded than normal, the tree trunks were in the middle of the rushing water and I was completely off trail, just walking in the vague direction towards the blue spot on my phone map.

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Thankfully when I was starting to get a little worried I had gotten myself lost, the trail reappeared again and it was a quick half mile to get to Packwood Lake, where the rest of the group was setting up for the night. Beautiful campsite, probably our best yet. Cream was already in the water and I rushed to join her, the water is crystal clear and blue, could easily see the bottom even when it was ten feet deep. Dried off, changed into the cozies, made Mac and cheese or dinner and sat around talking late into the night. Made my second round of hot chocolate to make the day’s end as nice as the beginning. Camp chairs are so A+.

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10pm-Coyotes around our site doing a pack call, with replies coming across the lake. Never heard them make noise like this before, the first time I heard it I got the serious spooks. Two on either side of camp for sure, and many more in the trees behind. Every twenty seconds or so, and the exact same call pattern every time, although each has a different pitch. 

They’re coming closer, making very odd noises almost like a parrot mixed with a monkey. Still pretty sure it’s a coyotes but eerie all the same. Glad I’m not camping alone.

DAY 135: PACKWOOD LAKE TO SNOW LAKE (2304.7)

August 22 // 22 miles (ish)

Slept in long past the others at the lake, everyone was gone when I stuck my head out of the tent. No bother though, still had a lengthy breakfast with Bagels, we made hot chocolate and lazed around by the lake watching the sunrise. Looked around for coyote tracks to try and confirm that was what we heard last night, but no sign of any prints. The lingering smoke made everything a soft orange colour and it was hard to get moving when it was so quiet and peaceful.

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It was (supposedly) only about 5 miles to town, before a hitch down a long winding road to Packwood, and we were planning to get in and out of town as fast as possible. I set off first around the lake. A very quiet morning, although I could hear echoey voices from a few weekend warriors ringing across the still water. The trail we were on circled the whole lake, and I waited for Bagels at a hydroelectric station that included a a jeep track that diverging back towards civilization. We made good time on the flat trail and soon arrived at the paved road where our notes suggested get a hitch into Packwood. Since the road dead-ended at Packwood lake, there was literally zero traffic and we realized with a slightly sinking feeling that it was probably going to be a road walk all the way to town, an extra five miles after the five or so we had already done. When we were back into service, Bagels texted the others and they confirmed that they had no luck with rides and were already in town at the pizza place. 

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Settled in for the road walk and drifted back from Bagels to hike alone. The only car that passed was headed in the opposite direction. As far as road walks go though, this one wasn’t too bad, a paved highway and downhill the whole way, so it was easy to zone out. It was getting hot as I reached the edge of Packwood, a few buildings spread along the main highway. It was straight to pizza place, ordered myself a large veg and soda. Eli was also there charging up at an outlet, but left to resupply shortly after I arrived. Our group chat was buzzing as we all tried to find out where the others were, Honeybee and Cream had already made it to White Pass, and PC was MIA, although he wandered in as I finished my pizza. Managed to eat about half and wrapped up the other half for dinner.  

Resupplied at the small grocery store trying to go as fast as possible so I wouldn’t be too far behind the others getting to White Pass. I bought enough food for the next four day section to Snoqualmie but depending how slow we go I might end up a little short, we’ve decided as a group to keep our mileage low for the rest of the trail to enjoy the last few weeks to the max. Out of Packwood just after 2pm with Bagels and PC, and reunited at White Pass with the rest of the group, plus one new addition: Welcome to the trail Keeda! She’s Honeybee’s shepsky mix and is joining us for the rest of the way to Canada. I’m so excited about getting to hike with a dog and she’s so good. Very obedient and down for bely rubs, but gets antsy when Honeybee leaves her alone with us.  

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Tons of hikers at White Pass, which is nothing more than a well-stocked gas station. We sat around on the pavement slowly doing resupply and wondering where all these other people have been on trail, it feels so isolated until we get to town and meet all the others congregated there. A firefighter base camp was set up on the slopes down the road, hundreds of tents left empty while the residents tackled the nearby fire. A ranger stopped by with some pretty unfortunate news-the Northern terminus of trail at the Canadian border is inaccessible due to yet another fire. We had seen this online, but it’s such a downer to have it confirmed-we’re currently researching alternate routes to the border around nearby Ross Lake, but hopefully the trail will open up before we get there. 

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When everyone was resupplied and packed up, we set off down the road back towards the PCT. Easy trail with only a gradual climb. Keeda was let off her leash and bounded happily away down the trail, always returning to check and make sure Honeybee was still on her way behind. Passed the 2300 mile marker, someone had shaped the numbers from the yellow-green moss that hangs off all the trees here and is incidentally also my favourite toilet paper material.

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Around dusk, a particularly well-laden blueberry patch slowed our progress and everyone dropped packs to collect the ripe berries while Bagels threw a stick for Keeda over and over again in a small clearing. Tons of other PCT hikers passed us by and we realized it probably hadn’t been a great idea to break so close to camping time-all the next few campsites were already taken when we got moving again, but I think the berries were worth it.

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Made camp on top of an odd campsite on top of a hill overlooking Snow Lake, it’s a tight spot but we’ve managed to squeeze everyone in somewhow. Nice to get in a little earlier and enjoy dinner while it’s still light out, the group Washington “rules” state no thirty+ mile days and taking more time to enjoy camp and company and the beautiful scenery around us. Keeda was wiped after her first miles on trail and was sleeping soundly through dinner.

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There’s already condensation getting into tents, but oh well, it’s a morning problem. Welcome to Washington, I adore it so far.

Big Lake Youth Camp to Cascade Locks

Day 121: BLYC (1995.1) to Lonely Clearing (2023.6)

August 8 // 28.5 miles

And again woke to a headache, it was so bad that I really struggled to sleep at all last night woke up feeling grumpy and disheartened. It’s been the third morning straight and I feel like I can’t deal with it any more. My friends were packed up to go to town, they wished me luck and set out, which made me feel even grumpier and I could only manage the most perfunctory of goodbyes, even though I won’t see them for four days.

Tried to sleep in but I couldn’t do it, so packed up and made my way to the camp clinic to visit the doctor(?) who didn’t have much more advice than to drink water and consider going to town to rest. As I was leaving, one of the counselors from the clinic slipped me a couple of T3s they had on hand for emergencies. I took them with breakfast, round two at the buffet, and sorted my resupply package which thankfully arrived in the morning mail with my new shorts and saves me from going into Sisters. The Shady Shasta boys showed up off the trail for breakfast shortly after my friends left, it was nice to see familiar faces so soon after splitting from the group.

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In order to keep pace with everyone else’s upcoming 64 mile day, I had to get going and put in a few big days myself, but before went, I remembered to use the wifi to order new shoes to Timberline lodge. Mine are completely fucked, the instep of each shoe is torn open and the sole of the right one has split away from toe to arch and flaps annoyingly with each step no matter how much tape I put on. After this next section there won’t be anything left of them.

Got going at 10am, thanks BYLC. There was a short road walk back to trail, and then flat though the woods for a few miles. The painkillers really started to kick in and it was a huge relief to walk without feeling the throbbing in my head, I nearly cried in relief when I realized the sharp shooting had faded to nothing more than a dull ache. I had been so focused on my head that I forgot that the two thousand mile marker was coming up, but then there were the Shasta boys lounging in the shade beside the stones spelling out ‘2000’ in the dirt. I stopped for a break with them even though I’d only done a whopping three miles, they celebrated by smoking two joints each as thick as my index finger.

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Thinking became a little hazy from the painkillers but in a good way- I almost felt like my pack was lifting up away from my shoulders, helping me float up the trail. It was incredibly hot and I drank as much water as I could, not risking dehydration at this point, and managed to get the whole climb done in one long go. Great views of Three Fingered Jack, it’s an aptly named peak topped with jagged spikes. The trail climbed up and around it, and over the ridge I could just make out Mt Jefferson in the distance-the next volcano we walk towards in the Cascade range.

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Saw a hiker coming down the trail in a SOBO direction, and I recognized the beard and short shorts that exposed some high placed thigh tattoos… it was One 11, my friend  from last year’s desert trail fam. We stopped to chat, it was sometimes a struggle to pick the right words to say through the T3 haze. He advised that some of the best views were coming up shortly when the trail got closer to Jefferson. I told him to expect lava.

Stopped at the only water source of the afternoon, a small pond surrounded by burnt trees that gave zero shade. Shasta boys were already sitting there having lunch. They hike just as fast as my friends and we overlap on breaks, where they all immediately drop to add to their daily pushup challenge. I ate my peanut butter wrap with spicy fritos and made myself drink two and a half litres of the lukewarm pond water. There were a couple brazen chipmunks circling our packs but they seemed appeased with the offering of a couple stale almonds and left my bag alone.

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Another four miles to Rock Pile lake where I had promised myself a swim after the hot uphill. There were campsites scattered around the edge and an Eagle Scout troupe was already set up for the night and splashing around in the water. Dropped my stuff and got into the lake right away, it was chilly but just what I needed after the hot day. The Shasta boys joined me for a swim and we ate dinner in the woods beside the lake while drying off, I’m happy they’ve adopted me for at least the break times, I was worried how lonely I would be without PC, Bagels, Cream, Honeybee and Eli. I was tempted to stay and camp in such a nice spot, but it was too early in the day and I hadn’t gotten in enough miles to justify it.

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Zoned out for the last evening uphill and there was no sign of the headache returning, even though the drugs had worn off, I’ve never felt so grateful in my entire life to just feel normal.

Jefferson had been growing on the horizon all day and the views were incredible as promised by One-11. Such a good-looking mountain, it stands alone which makes it look more prominent then the last couple volcanoes we’ve passed. The area where the trail went through (Shale Lake) was a designated no-camping zone, which is a bummer because it was so beautiful, a long ridge walk led to a sheltered still pond that reflected Jefferson perfectly in the twilight. One of my favourite evenings of walking after a string of downer days.

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I got water for camp at the pond and headed for the next site since it was getting dark. When I got there I could see through the dim light that it was completely full, at least 6-7 tents crammed into the spaces lining the trail. Odd since I’ve seen no other NOBOs today except for the Shasta Boys. I broke out the headlamp and checked guthooks, there was nothing on the map for another five miles, but one comment mentioned a little clearing a couple tenths of a mile ahead. I set off in the dark and hoped that it was empty, otherwise I was in for a long haul of night hiking. The spot was hard to find in the dark but after backtracking a couple times I found it-just enough space for my little tent, hidden in a small clearing about fifty feet off the trail. I know my camp routine well enough to be able to set up in the dark but I left my headlight on to feel a little more at ease in the darkness in the deep woods.

I’m camping completely alone for the first time since Southern California, although I know that the large group of hikers are only a quarter mile back down trail. I’m a little lonely for my friends, but I can’t deny that I’m enjoying being by myself for a night again, the tradeoff of hiking with a consistent group is that you give up the total freedom of when to start/stop walking. I’m looking forward to the next couple days alone but I know I’ll be happy to see them at Timberline. Through the group text I learned that PC decided not to do the 64 mile day and left Sisters early today. I have a feeling he’ll catch up with me tomorrow night or the next morning, kid’s a bullet when he wants to be.

Feeling a little jumpy in my pitch black tent but mostly just tired and happy that my headache is barely noticeable, even after the long hot day. Hopefully with a good sleep tonight it will finally be gone.

Day 122: Lonely Clearing (2023.6) To Campsite (kind of) (2056.0)

August 9 // 32.4 miles

Up at 6, earlier than usual for me. I thought I’d sleep lightly being alone in the dark, but all manner of creatures or forest ghosts could’ve been creeping around last night for how knocked out I was. Since I was alone and wanted to do a 30+ day, packed up right away and hit the trail before the sun was up. The long, easy downhill through the woods to Milk Creek was just what I needed to get warmed up, and best of all I had no headache whatsoever, which is great to say because I’m sick of writing about it every night.

I made cold maple oatmeal for breakfast at the creek, but it was swarming with wasps that grew in number the longer I stayed, which sucked since it was a nice break spot in the rising sun. I swatted them when they got too close to my face and picked up another sting on my hand for my troubles. I think this is number seven this summer, I’ve gotten so used to stings that it hardly bothered me other than a little tenderness in my fingers.

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Leaving the creek was the start of a long, 8 mile uphill covering almost three thousand feet of elevation gain, the best climb we’ve had in all of Oregon. There were some serious burn zones, not as intensely fried as the area before Crater Lake, but huge swaths of trees were affected, sometimes stretching as far as I could see across the hills. I feel bad saying the burnt forest has become my favourite smell of the summer but I’ve come to love breathing in the scent of toasted sap.

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Crossed Russell Creek which was the subject of much buzz on my Guthook app, since apparently there was a dead horse down stream and passing hikers had been debating in the comments which moss-covered “rock” was actually the remnants of the corpse. We don’t get a lot of things to talk about on Guthook other than the status of water sources or abundance of campsites and it was fun to scroll through the dozens of contradictory comments, it doesn’t take much to amuse hikers. I looked for the dead horse but saw nothing. (Bagels later pointed out to me in a picture that it had been the white boulder covered in green. I had looked at the exact same rock and saw nothing at the time to indicate that it was a horse bum. We followed the comments with some interest through the rest of Oregon, but the horse washed away a days later, ending the fun for those travelling behind us.)

More pressing than dead animals in the water was the water itself, the creek was swollen and flowing faster than anything since the Sierra. It was tumbling steep and fast over the rocks and completely opaque, which made the depth difficult to gauge. I detoured way uphill, scrambling up the rocks to find somewhere I felt comfortable crossing, and when I finally stepped in I found it was hardly more than ankle deep. Crossed without issue, irritated about all the extra work, but the climbing had saved me some of the trail switchbacks going up the other side.

A few miles past Russell Creek, the rocky terrain turned to meadow and I caught a glimpse of some sparkling water through the trees off-trail. Shortly after, came to a side path marked with a faded wooden sign reading ‘Scout Lake’. I don’t know what made me detour off since I pass signs with lake names all the time, but I had a good feeling about this one and I was right.

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Scout Lake was perfect, hidden away and sheltered with a ring of thick pine forest, with a beach encircling half the shoreline. Light turquoise water around the shallow edges turning to a deeper blue in the middle. Jefferson was pointing up above it all, reflecting perfectly when the wind died down and the surface was calm. I couldn’t believe how pretty it was and immediately I knew I’d be spending some time here. Dropped my pack and shoes on the sand and walked all the way down the beach until it turned to rock, but the sand continued under water and I was able to get around almost half the lake before turning back. Went for a long swim, the water was warm where it was shallow and perfectly clear. I swam across the lake twice and then sat on the sand to dry off and eat my lunch. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt possessive of a place on trail and was happy to have it to myself today.

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The rest at Scout Lake was a perfect way to break up the climb, and after one more quick swim I packed up and regretfully set off to finish the last couple miles of uphill. There was 1800 feet of gain in the last 2 miles and I worked harder than I have in all of Oregon, but it felt amazing to get to the top. “Be sure to look behind you!” said the Guthook comments, and so I did, and there was the best view of Jefferson yet. I figured it was the last time (wrong) I’d see it after having the mountain be a constant presence on the horizon for the past couple days, it has been by far my favourite of the Cascade volcanoes.

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The end of the climb marked the cross into Mt Hood wilderness. Our next resupply at Timberline lodge is on the lower slopes of Hood, which I had the first views of up ahead while saying good bye to Jefferson behind. There’s an epic breakfast buffet on that mountain…I just have to walk there first.

The descent down the other side was a sketchy, Sierra-esque pass covered with large snow fields and rocky slopes dropping away into bright blue alpine lakes. Forgot how to walk on snow and bailed on my first snow field crossing, but after that I reverted to my half slide/half step technique from the Sierras and was fine. I saw the first other people all day, a couple coming up the opposite direction with a dog trailing behind, panting heavily on the steep climb.

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Booked it down hill towards Ollalie Lake resort. I ran into the Shasta boys at the turnoff, Stache and Breezy drinking beer on a patch of ground beside the trail, while Baby Blanket and Wink were jumping off rocks into a small lake nearby. Their beer grabbed my attention and I was directed down a side path in the trees, which led through a campground and opened up at Ollalie Lake resort.

The resort was pretty much just a camp store beside a dirt road, with a couple pit toilets, and a dock with a few fishing boats, no internet. I sat down at the picnic table to fish my wallet out of the depths of my pack and check out the lake. Of course there was Mt. Jefferson once again, looking much smaller than it had this morning. The whole place was empty except for a couple kayakers on the dock, a sleeping PCT hiker lying on the bench of a table at one of the campsites, and the two ladies running the store.

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I did a little resupply, but I’d be at Timberline the day after tomorrow latest so I had to fight the urge to buy everything I wanted to eat. I got a six pack of blueberry bagels and a tub of cream cheese to get me through tonight and tomorrow and freshened up my dwindling frito supply. I also bought myself a popsicle, a can of mountain dew, a capri sun and a beer. Ate my popsicle at the picnic table and wandered back to the lake with my drinks to kick it with the Shasta boys. On the way, a lady was putting up a sign advertising trail magic from 6-8pm. I had been planning to leave right after my drink break but time slipped away until I heard the same woman hollering through the trees that food was ready.

Very well worth it, the trail angels lived in a little camper-turned-permanent residence in the woods near the resort. There was a tarp set up over a picnic table and camp chairs, and the woman was at a grill flipping huge pancakes onto plates, while the man was serving mimosas from plastic cups faster than we could drink them. PCT hikers seemed to materialize out of nowhere, there were maybe ten of us sitting around in camp chairs eating round after round of pancakes and playing cornhole, a pretty even mix of NOBOs and SOBOs together in a rare harmony. (Never trust a SOBO.)

While I was caught up with my third mimosa and wondering when Oregon had gotten so good, out of the trees came PC! I was so happy to see him, the solo hiking is fun but I’ve missed my crew. The rest of them start their 24 hour challenge tomorrow morning and then we should all be reunited at Timberline.

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Hit trail but a little late and a little tipsy, A++ trail magic… I was supposed to do more miles today but oh well.  PC stuck around Ollalie a little longer after gunning it all day so I set off alone into the woods. Timberline is 40 miles away which is doable for tomorrow, but I’m going to sacrifice my planned zero day and split the 40 into two smaller days instead.

It was dark when I reached the first campsite and for the second night in a row there was no space. I hiked another hour swinging my headlamp across either side of the trail, scanning for somewhere to set up my tent and found nothing. I am not a night-hiker and around 10:30 I was getting exhausted and feeling a little desperate to find anything that resembled a campsite. Ended up pitching my tent in a sandy little nook a few feet off the trail. There is no way it could be described as a campsite but I figure I can get up early and be on my way before too many people see the pathetic attempt at getting off trail. I set up to cowboy camp but that felt even weirder being so close to trail, so moved everything out of the way and set up my tent. Sleeping alone for the second night in a row.

Day 123: Kinda a Campsite (2056.0) to Barlow Road (2091.5)

August 10 // 35.5 miles

Woke up to the early bird hikers passing uncomfortably close to my trailside tent. It’s not my best stop and I felt a little embarrassed, so I got up earlier than I normally would. The Shasta boys came traipsing by in their duckling line while I was halfway out of my tent, lightly heckling my attempt at a campsite.  Woke up to absolutely no headache today thank god, which already makes it my best day on trail.

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Through a quick burn zone and then 8 easy miles to the morning water source, where there was a small group of hikers sitting on logs in a clearing having breakfast. There was some mocking again about my tent being so close to trail, (“oh that was yo” with a smirk) but everyone conceded that their campsite had been too crowded and loud last night.

I stopped there for a breakfast of cream cheese and two of my bagels. PC caught up while I was collecting water under a nearby bridge covered entirely with moss. We all planned to stop for lunch at Timothy Lake on PC’s recommendation, he’d spent summers there as a kid and said it was a great spot for camping and swimming. A couple uphills and then flat most of the way to the lake, PC was absolutely right. There were lots of day campers around, but we found an open site right on the water with soft dirt and plenty of trees for shade. It was windy and the waves on the lake were pretty choppy, but the temperature was perfect and I swam out from shore until I felt clean again and let the waves drift me back. Sat around eating lunch and waiting for my socks to dry after a quick wash in the lake. The Shasta boys were goofing off, while Baby Blanket napped facing away from his pack, Breezy snuck rock after rock inside the unattended bag.

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After getting going again it was only a mile until the short off-trail spur to get to Little Crater Lake, named because the water is apparently the same colour as Crater Lake, not that I would know....saw nothing more than smoke there.

This mini version made up for the disappointment at Big Crater Lake. The bluest water I’ve ever seen, in an almost perfectly round pond that goes 45 feet down. Despite the depth, the water was clear and I could still see the fallen trees that lined the bottom perfectly. It’s created  from spring water filtering up through a fault crack. A sign mentioned that the water was always 34 degrees F/ 1 degree C. The Shasta boys went for a swim and PC and I weren’t to be outdone so in we went-it was icy, icy, cold that knocked my breath away and I had to get out right away to be able to breathe again. It was impossible to stay in longer than a few seconds, but I jumped in one more time because it felt so refreshing, and I got the shivers for the next twenty minutes leaving the lake to get back on trail.

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Thanks to Breezy/ Dylan for the photo!

Thanks to Breezy/ Dylan for the photo!

Despite wanting to do a big day today we were distracted yet again by trail magic, a truck with a PCT decal over the words “PCT Trail Angel. Madd Baker.” Madd Baker was obviously a pro angel, with sodas, apples, cookies and candy. A small group of unfamiliar PCT hikers were sitting around on the road side munching cookies. It was obvious we weren’t going go make it to camp until late again with all the breaks but oh well, it’s been an enjoyably eventful day with two swims and then the magic. PC and I decided not to go all the way to Timberline tonight, I think our jealous sides wanted to beat the rest of the group there, but instead we’ll just wake up early and finish the last five miles just in time for the breakfast buffet to open tomorrow and have a reunion there.

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After the trail magic, we stopped one more time as it started to get dark to take advantage of pit toilets at a trailhead parking lot. I was feeling pretty stiff after already doing 30 miles, but we set off together for the last few miles to camp. It was dark pretty shortly after we left and got the headlights out, but conversation with PC made things go by a little quicker. I remembered why I don’t much care for night hiking-the forest felt spooky with ghostly white trees in headlight and branches from old dead snags kept scraping my face. Finally reached Barlow road at about 10pm, but it felt so much later. Set up in a daze and crashed hard in my tent. The last couple big days are starting to stack up and I’ve never looked forward to a day off ever on trail. The others should pass us sometime after midnight tonight, we can all meet for breakfast tomorrow at the lodge. I’m very excited to see them again.  

Day 124: Barlow Road (2091.5) to Timberline Lodge (2096.9)

August 11 // 5.4 miles

My alarm went off at the same time as PC’s at 5:15, I could see his red head light glowing in the dark across the clearing. We packed up quietly although our campsite neighbours were already stirring inside their own tent. Feeling a little fuzzy-headed from a shorter sleep, hopefully Eli, Honeybee, Cream and Bagels made it through okay, they’d now be at 22 hours without sleep.

PC and I wondered if they had even passed by our campsite yet, neither of us had heard anyone come through during the night, although I’d been out in one of the deep sleeps where I don’t even dream. The answer to that was made clear soon after- I  found a tiny bouquet of white flowers that had been left in my smelly shoe. Stealthy trail romance at its finest.

We’d decided to save our appetites for Timberline’s trail-famous breakfast buffet, so didn’t eat and hit the trail hungry. It was cold and very windy, we crossed the highway and couldn’t see more than 50 feet down the road since the mist was so thick. Started climbing, and the wind cleared a little of the mist while going up, but it felt colder the higher we went.

It was a steep uphill climb the whole way up Mt Hood to the lodge, and the profile looked terrible on Guthook, with so many negative comments saying how difficult it was. Actually not too bad and we made good time. PC hung back to match my slower speed so we could chat and pass the time faster, he’s young and enthusiastic at 21, and full of plans for the next big adventure. I like listening to his stories that always spiral off on tangents and I’m not expected to hold up any conversation on my end which is good because I can’t walk and talk without gasping for breath like a loser. The wind really picked up and my face and hands were feeling numb. We were placing bets on when it would start properly raining since the clouds and mist were thick and grey overhead and all around us, but it never did. We broke through most of the mist and the rest of the cloud started to clear as the wind picked up. When we reached the last mile or so, emerged from the trees to the best view of Mt Hood’s summit just as the sun came out fully and the last wisps of clouds went racing across the trail and momentarily disappeared.

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Hood itself is beautiful, the mountain top far above us was still covered in snow but there were a ton of wildflowers covering the chilly, wind battered lower slopes. Last year there had been snowboarders here in August. We could see the roof tops of the lodge ahead, but we weren’t done yet, the trail became straight sand on the steep uphill and I figured that’s what people had been complaining about, it took hard work to make normal progress in the thick, loose, sand. The last mile felt like it took forever and I couldn’t feel my fingers but then we were onto pavement and making our way through the huge parking lot and up the stone steps of the lodge.

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It’a beautiful wooden building, cozy and warm. The cavernous open space outside the main dining hall was filled with sofas and armchairs around a fireplace in a central stone column, and that’s where we found Bagels, Honeybee, Eli and Cream. They were dozing off while sitting upright (“Please do not sleep on the sofas” said a sign) and waiting for breakfast to open. Everyone looked a little shell shocked from their long night and freezing morning, but they successfully did their 64 miles in under 24 hours. I’m jealous of their accomplishment, but I’m feeling better for it today seeing how wiped out they are, and the last few days were great for swimming and hiking on my own time, and getting to experience what’s so far been the best of Oregon.

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PC and I coaxed stories from their night, and they were excited to share their highest and lowest moments during the long stretch, but they mostly just needed get some food and go to sleep. Thankfully the Timberline buffet is the most impressive breakfast on trail, and we posted up for course after course of fruit and waffles and six different types of meat. The staff treated us just like we were hotel guests instead of dirty trash hikers, making sure the coffee stayed full and bringing fresh squeezed orange juice. The buffet is 30 bucks a head but so, so worth it.

We’re taking the entire rest of the day off here for the others to rest after not sleeping last night. I know they need it, but I wish we could just leave after lunch, there’s not a whole lot to do here other than spend 30 dollars on the next buffet (still worth it for round two) and I’m starting to get nervous about our weather window in the fall, September up north is supposed to be very cold and the chances of hitting snow increases the more time we take off.

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I helped Bagels set up his tent in the trees behind the parking lot where the hikers stay, he was out cold as soon as he lay down. I went to get my resupply box with PC (new shoes!! feels like walking on cloud!!), browsed through the gift shop and got lost on my phone the way hikers always do when we’ve been away from wifi for days. After the others had finished a long afternoon nap we had a drink at the bar upstairs, but called it an early night. It’s so cold this high up, and it started raining after we were snugly into our tent so then I was happy we had stayed here instead of hiking into the evening. Bagels got out our poop shovels and we dug a little trench in the sand in front of the tent, if rainwater starts pooling it’s all going to flow downhill into our spot. Hopefully tomorrow it clears up and for now I’m happy to be back with my space-heater snuggle buddy for the cold night.

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Day 125: Timberline Lodge (2096.9) to Spring (2118.7)

August 12 // 21.8 miles 

After a very cold and windy night, the rain stopped sometime around midnight and the morning was nice and clear. Finally got the panorama view of Jefferson and three Sisters in the distance, I love looking at them as tiny bumps on the horizon and knowing my feet brought me all the way here.

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Packed up our tents and had one last stint at the lodge, downloading podcasts and audiobooks and ordering a round of spiked hot chocolates that cost six dollars each but were a meal themselves. Finally left around 10:30, my wallet needed me to get back on the trail after the thirty dollar buffets.

Started hiking down the other side of Mt Hood, Timberline is the base for a ton of dayhikes and the trail was so crowded when we left, huge groups moving slowly up and down trail which filtered out to the more ambitious weekend hikers with packs and dogs and little kids trailing behind. I would get stuck behind slow hikers chatting away to each other, oblivious that there might be anyone behind them and tried my best to stay patient and enjoy the huckleberries that were lining the trail, perfectly ripe and easy to grab on the go while moving at the slower pace.

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The trail dropped steeply down to a river and I managed to ditch everyone on the equally steep uphill climbing back up the other side. I detoured off trail to go visit Ramona falls, but it was crowded with tourists and no one from my group was there so I didn’t bother stopping. The detour trail was as nice as the falls themselves, deep green and luscious with a stream paralleling the trail.

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Another steep uphill through the woods (Oregon is flat??) and didn’t see anyone until near the top, where I found Bagels and Eli. We were just settling in for a mid-afternoon lunch, but PC texted the group that some family friends were set up with trail magic a few miles further at a dirt road so we re-packed and booked it down the trail.

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The family friends had done it properly, carrying in barbecues for hot dogs, with potato salad, fruit, chairs, tons of coolers with pop and beer. One friend (who hiked the PCT in the seventies…can you imagine?) had brought ICE CREAM carried on dry ice. That’s how you do it. Split a pint of Ben and Jerry’s with Bagels wondering if life could get any better. Haven’t had a trace of headache in three days and I’m praying that they’re behind me for good.

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We hung around the trail magic for too long, chatting with PC’s friends and the couple of SOBO hikers that were passing through, but quickly on their way for the dinner buffet. We didn’t get much further after saying goodbye and helping pack up the trail magic. Hiker trained our way for the rest of the evening, mostly through the woods but sometimes getting a break in the trees to get an epic view back at Hood.

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Stopped at a little spring below the trail for the night, it’s a crowded spot for all six of us with a couple other tents already set up there, but we managed to squish. Discussed plans for going to trail days, a big PCT party which is in Cascade Locks. It’s not for another few days so we’re too early, but decided that we’d push on a few days and then get a ride backwards to Cascade Locks from PC’s parents, before taking another day to visit Portland.

I can tell I’m going to sleep hard tonight. Tomorrow is Cascade Locks, the end of familiar trail for me and the end of Oregon for all of us. Washington here we come!

Day 126: Spring (2118.7) to Cascade Locks (2146.7)

August 13 // 28 miles 

Up at seven. Breakfast was a handful of peanut M&Ms, the only thing left in my resupply that I’ve been putting off eating until absolutely necessary, my favourite snacks from the beginning of trail have become repulsive after four months without too much variation. I felt strange packing up and leaving, since last year I had camped with my friends in this same site and hit the trail with zero idea that it would be my last day before calling it quits at Cascade Locks. This year the fires haven’t been as bad and I feel way more motivated to finish. Last year was a vacation while getting used to the thru-hiking lifestyle, my priorities were spending time with friends and goofing off on side trips whenever the opportunity presented itself. I wouldn’t change the way I spent my summer last year for anything, but now my primary goal is all about finishing this trail in one go and I can feel deep down that I’m going to get it done no matter what it takes now. It helps that my trail fam now are all just as driven to achieve the same thing.

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I had 28 miles to cover before town and was hoping to get in early but it was slow going the first couple miles as huckleberries (the usual suspects) were growing in abundance alongside the trail and tasted like heaven after my stale M&Ms. A couple elevation bumps but nothing crazy, not a cloud in the sky but the wind picked up when the trail climbed out of the woods and followed a ridgeline for a few miles. All my friends had left far earlier than I had which meant I wasn’t likely to see them until town but I didn’t stop at all and managed to catch PC finishing his break at Wahtum lake, 12 miles in.

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Saw the burn zones from the Eagle Creek fire that I watched rip across the ridgelines from the safety of the brewery in Cascade Locks. I spent most of the afternoon reminiscing about last year’s hike, memories from that last day on trail are so vivid I could match up what I had been thinking on this or that stretch of trail from a whole year ago. I missed my friends from last year a little extra today, Lukas’s unwavering positivity, Sara’s frankness. Cy’s stories and riddles to keep us entertained on dull days, Jade’s good night hugs. Q’s infectious laugh.

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My melancholy cleared up completely when I caught up to Bagels taking a break on the side of the trail just before the big drop into Cascade Locks, we sat around eating the rest of the M&Ms and putting off the steep drop ahead. Eli came tearing by on a mission to get to town, practically running. I always think that he’s ahead of me but he’ll disappear off into the woods to poop and then come out of nowhere from behind like a plaid-clad ghost and usually scare the shit out of me.

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The last drop to town was long and steep and my knees were complaining by the end of it. There was magic just before the trail merged with the road into town, a cooler full of soda and chocolate bars. I grabbed a mountain dew to celebrate the last stretch of familiar trail that I’ll see this year and made my way under the bridge and into Cascade Locks. The very first place I went was the ice cream shop for a huckleberry milkshake, I’ve been thinking about it for a full year and it was very worth the wait. I sat in a plastic deck chair in front of the ice cream shop wondering if I could be any more content with my life.

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The others had already checked into our motel, and they joined me, wandering down the street with arms full of their post office boxes. Oregon and it’s smoke and headaches and lakes and volcanoes is behind me now, and there’s only new trail between me and Canada. Had a celebration burger and ice cream at the little drive in, and we made fun of Bagels when he accidentally threw away his wallet and had to go digging through the trash. At the hotel, I had my first shower since Big Lake Youth Camp. My feet were pure black on the bottom and it took a good fifteen minutes to get clean, the washcloth probably will not recover.

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We went to the brewery for a quick drink but everyone was tired and sleepy so we only managed a beer or two before going back to the hotel and crashing. I can feel the beginnings of a familiar migraine beginning behind my right eyebrow but downed a couple advils early enough that it seems to be holding off. Eli put on ‘Wild’ which seemed appropriate since Cheryl Strayed ended her Oprah Book club-famous hike here, but I kept falling asleep and someone turned it off halfway through. Tomorrow we get to cross Bridge of the Gods and it’s into Washington.

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Shelter Cove to Big Lake Youth Camp

Day 117: Shelter Cove Resort (1906.6) to Rosary Lakes (1911.6)

August 4 // 5 miles

Slept in, no hotel bed could ever be as luxurious as the knowledge that I can get up as late as I want. Did nothing for most of the day, ate restaurant food for breakfast AND lunch, sat around at the picnic tables organizing resupply and talking to locals that have been coming to this resort with their family for generations. Raven and First Row have caught up to us again. Honeybee bought a fleece sweater to combat the new, colder nights we’ve been having. I got the idea to rent a canoe and go for a paddle around the lake but the supreme laziness that affects all of us when we aren’t on trail didn’t spare me. I kept insisting I would do it, but the day slipped by without me leaving my sunny spot at the picnic table and then it was time to hike.

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Bagels and I left around 2pm after PC texted us that he wouldn’t be back until later and he’d catch up tonight or tomorrow. We wandered back down the road to trail, walking together until it was back to the woods, where we drifted apart in an unspoken agreement like we always do. A slow uphill, meandered around Lower Rosary lake taking in the view. The woods were sparse but made up of tall lodgepole pines, my favourite camping environment. There were tons of families setting up around the lake edge, and I really wanted to stay but it had barely been an hour since we’d left Shelter Cove. I haven’t seen a lot of young kids on trail and it was strange (in the best way) to see toddlers sitting around stoves or carrying little backpacks. Makes sense to bring them here, it’s a beautiful place a few easy miles from road access.

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I dragged myself very reluctantly from Lower Rosary, but a couple miles later the camping options around Middle and Upper lakes stopped me again and I desperately wanted to spend the night. The sun was setting over the lake, making the water so blue it looked fake, the ground was covered in soft pine needles and there were plenty of spaces for all of us to camp without crowding. There was a family having dinner and watching the sunset beside their tent, looking like they were straight out of an LL Bean ad, complete with handsome young parents, two little kids in matching boots and jackets, and a golden retriever. I gave them their space and filtered water around the bend in the trail, wondering how difficult it would be to convince everyone else to stop here for the night.

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Bagels of course wanted to keep going, we’d only done 5 miles, but after some debate, he agreed to wait for the rest of our group and make a decision after dinner. I got my way, when Cream arrived were already low-key preparing for the night, establishing space for tents and she assumed we were staying without having to ask. Eli and Honeybee didn’t need to be convinced either and we all ate together on logs overlooking the lake before the sun was completely gone. Ate my packed out wrap and extra pizza from lunch and set up my little tent facing the lake. PC came wandering by around 8, surprised at our low milage today. Hands down one of my favourite campsites so far.

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Day 118: Rosary Lakes (1911.5) to Cliff Lake Shelter (1944.3)

August 5 // 32.8 miles

So many lakes today and I’m disappointed I couldn’t swim in all of them. Woke up to the view of Upper Rosary through my tent mesh, I think that if I could wake up next to a lake every single day, I would be perfectly happy. The trail went up and around the water, I could still see the bright blue of all three Rosary Lakes strung out through the trees behind us.

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I detoured slightly off trail with Honeybee to check out Maiden Peak shelter, a backcountry log ski cabin, but there was still a group of hikers waking up inside and we felt uncomfortable disturbing them, so sat outside to eat breakfast, swatting at mosquitos that have been making a slight reappearance.

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In the late morning I took a short side trail to Charlton lake, where the group had agreed to meet for lunch. Holy crap was it a find. The shore gave way to calm water surrounded by pine trees. It reminded me so much of home it almost hurt. We left our stuff in a small clearing and went for a swim. I stayed in the lake for over an hour, the water was very clear and I could see the bottom even when it was at least 15 feet deep. Eli, Cream and Bagels inflated their mattress pads and floated around. Best lake on trail hands down, sorry Miller Lake you’ve been replaced.

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Raven and Front Row arrived after we had bee there for about an hour and jumped in themselves because how can you pass by such a perfect place. I sat in the sun to dry off and made some ramen for lunch. I didn’t want to leave, but we’d been there well over two hours and it was time to get going. Mile 1925, there’s road access so future me: make sure you come on back here someday.

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The afternoon took us into Sisters Wilderness and it was just lake after lake after lake and I wanted to swim in all of them, but we had chosen right, none were as perfect as Charlton. The afternoon was just walking from one body of water to the next, and I liked reading their names on the map and stopping for water at the nicest options. Passed Irish, Brahma, Jezebel, Stormy, Winopee, Snowshoe, Desane, South, Mac and Horseshoe lakes, plus numerous unnamed small ponds. Saw our first couple SOBO hikers (Southbound PCT hikers coming from Canada towards Mexico) which was a novelty, we warned them about the smoke to come, while they said it had been relatively clear through the northern part of Oregon, yay.

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The whole crew was stopped for a late lunch and water-filter break, everyone lounging on the banks of a small pond and enjoying the warm afternoon. I haven’t loved Oregon so far compared to any part of California, but today has been great and even my headache has let up today.

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We had settled on Mac Lake as a campsite, but when I got there, ready to be done for the day, it was clear that there would not be enough room. There were at least six other tents set up, a mix of NOBO and SOBO hikers. Eli was waiting and told me our group was doing another couple miles and going off trail to an old shelter at Cliff Lake where hopefully there would be space for all of us to camp.

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Detoured a few miles later at Porky Lake and a little side trail led to a clearing overlooking cliff lake with a stone 3 walled shelter. Everyone was there, the clearing was big enough for all of us to pitch tents far apart. We shared the spot with two locals that have been coming here since childhood on fishing trips. We all sat in front of the shelter eating dinner, it was interesting to hear their perspective on the increase of PCT hikers over decades, both the ups (“the world would be a saner place if more people just went outside”) and the downs (“entitled hikers have been leaving their trash at this shelter and shit wherever they feel like it”).

Shared a tent with Bagels, after dinner I washed off near the lake which was hard to access, over a little obstacle course of fallen logs and boulders. Feeling a little off tonight and only ate half of dinner, the first time that’s ever happened on trail.

Day 119: Cliff Lake (1944.3) to Pond (1966.5)

August 6 // 22.2 miles

Condensation was everywhere this morning as always when we sleep close to water, the dripping on my face woke me up. Bagels was up but still in bed even though it was past 8, late even by my standards and when we got up Honeybee, Eli and Cream were gone. PC was leaving too and we packed up the tent quickly, shaking out the water as best we could. Bagels was gone right away but I had a hard time getting going, there was a piercing pain behind my right eyebrow that I’ve noticed sometimes towards the end of the day the past week, but this morning it was something else. So bad it felt like my vision was pulsing and sometimes everything would just be so bright white that I had trouble seeing what was right in front of me.

Hiking did not help, as it usually does when I feel off, got really dizzy and not taking in anything about my surroundings. Had to throw up which helped a little bit but then I found myself walking sideways off the trail, even when I was putting in effort to move straight. I stopped at Dumbbell lake to rest, sat against a rock down by the water and ate a couple of almonds for energy. I had a hard time focusing my eyes on a nearby squirrel digging around in the dirt, wondering if I should be more worried that I felt. I think I fell asleep for a little bit. Don’t remember much about the scenery or trail this morning other than the rest at that lake, but at some point I got myself moving again. On the way down, had my first glimpse of South Sister, the youngest and tallest of the three “sister” volcanoes. They’re the next in line in the Cascadian range that we follow North to Canada, that have so far included Lassen, Shasta and Mt Mazama/Crater Lake.

I really tried to appreciate the views, but felt unfocused and I wanted to get down to Elk Lake Resort as soon as I could, hoping my friends hadn’t left me too far behind. It had gotten hot and I was moving so slow, but it was downhill and I wandered off the trail, up a gravel road, across a moderately busy highway where a few PCTers were trying their luck at hitching. The resort was on a small lake and packed with people, the parking lot was jammed with large SUVs and huge groups unloading paddle boards and coolers and swarms of children running around in water wings and life vests.

Thankfully I found my group sitting on the deck outside the restaurant, finishing up their lunches and waiting for me. They were worried how long it had taken me to arrive and when I described my symptoms they all offered advice and advil. Honeybee suggested that maybe I should hitch to town to see a doctor, but it seemed like overkill after only one really bad day and there were plenty of opportunities to bail out in the next couple days if it got worse.

I ordered my favourite meal (breakfast burrito) for lunch but couldn’t eat very much and instead spent an hour people-watching the guests at the tables around us. It was mostly an older crowd, men wearing polos and huge watches and the ladies with updos and pastel dresses. Eli called them the yacht-club crowd (which made sense seeing as there were yachts lining the docks in front of the lodge) and they all gave us a wide berth when passing the table, even though we weren’t even that dirty. If I happened to make eye contact, they would look away quickly.

Everyone was ready to get going after their extra long break waiting for me but I still wasn’t really feeling up to hiking, especially since it was about ten degrees hotter down in the valley, I was sweating in the shade. PC wandered by with a cone of ice cream and that was the first food that appealed to me all day, so I stood in line on the deck of the lodge for 15 minutes to order a lemon sorbet cone. Eating ice cream helped my head the same way it used to when I was little and got carsick on long drives. Maybe I’ve just tricked myself into thinking it’s a (delicious) placebo, but not complaining as long as it keeps working. I was last to leave Elk Lake but felt way better than this morning and did okay on the uphill, even in the 90+ degree heat.

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The afternoon blew the morning away, the trail was flat and easy, opening up into a wide plain of grassy meadow and wildflowers, with perfect views of the South and Middle Sisters. The wind picked up and cooled off the sunny day. Passed by a couple of riders taking a break while their horses drank from a creek lined with brightly coloured pebbles and I tried to remember to enjoy hiking on days like this instead of feeling sorry for myself over a headache.

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Caught up to my friends stopping for a dinner break at our last water for the day, they wanted to knock out a few more miles and dry camp which was fine by me after our low miles yesterday. After eating we hiked together in a line, taking it slow and checking out potential campsites off the trail until we found one we liked, a large space in it’s own little nest of trees, under the shadow of Middle Sister.

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I managed to eat some dinner with the group but I’m very tired in my tent even though it’s barely 8pm. The headache has made a reappearance and I’ve taken a ton of advil in hopes it will be gone tomorrow after a long sleep.

Day 120: Pond (1966.5) to Big Lake Youth Camp (1995.1)

August 7 // 28.6 miles

Woke up and immediately felt disappointed that the headache was present as ever. It’s really starting to wear me down, hard to enjoy anything on trail when the pain is constantly there, pounding away behind my right eyebrow. I have no idea what’s causing it, I’m drinking plenty of water, eating salty food and electrolytes, getting more than enough sleep. I didn’t have any of the blurry vision or dizziness from yesterday though, so maybe it’s on the upswing.

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Left camp at 7, views of middle and north Sisters. There were tons of little campsites scattered around where we had spent the night, and everyone was emptying out at the same time, making the trail feel crowded. Managed to lose most of the people on steep spikes of uphill, weekend hikers can’t really compete with our months of built up calf muscle. The trail was covered with obsidian- a very shiny black rock smooth as glass and reflective, making the ground sparkle in the sun. There was a tall waterfall crashing over the black rock looking like an absolutely beautiful break spot but I wanted to catch my friends and keep ahead of the mini hiker bubble behind. Stopped at Spring just above falls and had a breakfast break with Eli- I was hoping a double shot of caffeinated Mio added to my water might clear up the headache but no luck.

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A steep uphill, it felt like doing a mini Sierra pass but replacing the white granite with black lava rock. I could see Eli straight above me working his way up the narrow switchbacks and then disappearing over the top of the climb. After reaching the end, there was a short ridgewalk with views behind to the Sisters, and Mt Washington ahead.

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Stopped for another break with Bagels at a gorgeous little spring, I could see tiny water bubbles rising up from a crack in the ground, disturbing the pebbles around it. No need to filter from a source like that and the water was ice cold and delicious. Shortly after, at South Matthieu lake, Honeybee, PC and Eli were having lunch and I went for a quick swim to cool down after the others hiked on.

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The last water before Big Lake Youth camp was a stagnant pond in the middle of another burnt out forest. It smelled a little funky, but that’s all there was for the rest of the day so I put my filter to work and drank as much as I could. Crossed into Mt Washington Wilderness and the woods gave way to a five mile stretch of lava field. It was just hill after hill of black rock as far as I could see without one single bit of vegetation. At first the alien landscape was a novelty, but after a few hours in the sun without any shade, I just wanted to be done and back in the woods. I pulled my crumpled hat out from the depths of my bag, where it’s been sitting untouched for months, to try and escape a little bit of the heat.

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During the long dry stretch I had to ration water and so of course that’s when my head started really pounding. I did my best to stay positive but all I wanted to do was find a patch of shade to lie down in and try and sleep it off. Uphill for two miles, the entire time I saw one lone little pine tree somehow managing to grow straight out of the black rock. Even with my slow pace and frequent breaks I didn’t see anyone else out in the afternoon.

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Left the lava field behind but the woods were burnt and bare and seemed to go on forever, come on Oregon. I was starting to feel nauseous and at one point stopped halfway while climbing over a fallen log and just sat there with on leg on each side for almost a half hour, resting and willing the pain to stop. I started crying a little bit until I heard a SOBO hiker came puffing by and wiped up any trace of tears. He gave me a strange look and asked if I was okay, I told him I got stung by a bee and we carried on in separate directions.Getting seriously worried about the frequency and intensity of these headaches, I can’t imagine hiking the rest of the trail like this. Forced myself to eat a little bit of protein bar for dinner but didn’t have much of an appetite at all.

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In the evening after my miserable afternoon, it finally got a little cooler and I made decent time down through the woods to Big Lake Youth Camp. I arrived dirty, thirsty and tired, and was directed by a couple teenage campers to a little building set aside just for hikers. It was a trail paradise, with stacks of resupply boxes lining the floor to ceiling, a little kitchenette, laundry and showers and charging outlets on just about every surface. The money for the cabin was a donation to the camp by a retired lawyer that enjoyed section hiking this area. It was perfect and everything that I needed, but I was cranky and tired and couldn’t appreciate anything.

Neither my resupply box or the new shorts I’d ordered (mine are getting dangerously ripped through the crotch area) had arrived and that didn’t help my mood, but the laundry machine and shower definitely did. My group knows me well enough that they gave me space to cool off which I appreciated, it only makes me feel worse when I take out my bad moods on them.

Dinner was a buffet in the hugely cavernous mess hall that echoed when the hundreds of teenagers sitting in long rows of wooden tables sang their pre-meal prayers. I made myself eat a couple potatoes and some salad, my appetite has diminished completely today but low blood sugar isn’t going to help with the headache. I’m splitting from my friends tomorrow, they’re heading into the town of Sisters before attempting the 24 hour challenge to Timberline Lodge, which if successful means that they’ll hike 64 miles in one day without sleep. I want to go with them just to see if I can do it, but with the state of my head, I know pushing myself like that is the last thing my body needs. If I don’t go to town tomorrow, we should all end up at Timberline on the same morning but it’ll be lonely being apart from them for so long. Feeling sad and unmotivated and I can’t help but think that I’m being left behind. Irrational, but once I’m into a mood I have a bad habit of continuing to wallow in it until it burns itself out.

Got my laundry and made my way down to beach where PCT hikers are supposed to camp, away from the kids. It’s a sandy little peninsula surrounded on both sides with water and a volleyball net, with little colourful rows of hikers setting up their sleeping bags. Cowboy camping as carefully as I can, trying not to get sand in my quilt. A really low point on trail for me, hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Ashland to Shelter Cove

Day 111: Callahan’s (1717.7) to Hyatt Lake Camp (1744.3)

July 29 // 26.6 miles

And so the double zero ends, although I have no doubt there will be more, us being the lazy town-loving turds we are. Packed up and got a ride back to Callahan’s with Honeybee’s mother, apologizing sheepishly for our smelly gear on her pristine leather seats. While the family said goodbye to Honeybee, I went with fingers crossed to check whether my box had arrived, and thankfully it had! There was no option to bounce it ahead from Callahan’s, my next opportunity to split and mail it will be at Crater Lake in a couple days so I’m CARRYING IT ALL. We’re talking enough tuna, rice, PB, tortillas, ramen, chocolate bars, candy, mini pecan pies and trail mix to make up the bulk of three resupply boxes, on top of all the food I bought in Ashland in case the box hadn’t come. My pack felt heavy as hell, and crammed to the point of exploding, but still better than throwing away so much food. I am hiker santa, leaving a trail of overflowing snacks to be distributed to anyone that may have shorted their resupply, and can eat mac and cheese for every meal of the day this stretch should I so choose. 

My jubilance at the package’s arrival was diminished a little when it came time to walk from Callahan’s back to the trail. The extra weight paired with town legs had me physically hurting before we had gotten through the mile road-walk, and flat highway pavement would be a hell of a lot less strenuous than the uphill to come later on. Once we were back in the woods, it didn’t take very long to fall behind my group and I was moving slow through the first nine miles. It was taking everything I had to fight the urge to sit down and rest even though there was nothing more challenging than a gentle incline.

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I struggled my way through the woods and caught up to PC, Eli and Honeybee having lunch in the tiny patch of shade near our first water source-a tiny trickle over the grass that was more of a puddle than a stream. I ate a double lunch knowing that every bite meant I was lightening my monster food weight. There were a couple other hikers that showed up to share our lunch spot, including Cream, a british hiker who started on the same day as the other four. I met her waaaaay back in Wrightwood and haven’t seen her since. Funny to think how close we are to so many other people but the fact that we’re all moving about the same speed means it’s rare to have consistent overlap with new hikers. Despite the social opportunity, I didn’t hang around long after eating, wanting to get some miles in after our late start. 

The afternoon was hot, temps well in the nineties, and I had to carry extra water to make up for the lack of good sources today. All this combined with missing Bagels made it one of my least enjoyable days, and the trail wasn’t offering much in the way of bettering my mood. It was mostly exposed grassy fields mixed with sparse forest. The smoke was the worst it’s been since Etna. No views worth mentioning except for the sun, looking huge and bright red through the smog, even at midday.  

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The evening improved, with clearer air and a temperature drop. I had a much better time with my big lunch energy, cruising to a dammed lake outlet where my group was sitting on a log beside the river eating WATERMELON. They had been there a while waiting for me and received trail magic-fruit and coke-from a local that lived nearby. They were nice enough to save me a few pieces of the precious watermelon and that made the crappy afternoon a lot better. We decided to make dinner there on the stream bank before pushing a few more miles to “dry” camp at a campground near the edge of a marshy lake. The GPS comments said the lake was hard to reach and poor quality, so we took enough water to get us through the night. 

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The last few miles were flat and easy, with the monotonous grassy scrub blending back into the woods. Took a side trail down to set up at the horse corral part of the campground, taking full advantage of the pit toilet that also had a trash can. It’s the little things. There was paved road access to our site, rare on the PCT, but we didn’t see a single car all night…maybe closed or abandoned, but very definitely deserted. I’d been hoping to swim in the lake but the GPS comments were accurate, it was inaccessible from our camp and covered in a thick mat of green algae.

The site itself is very nice, lots of open space with a picnic table and a soft bed of dried pine needles. We all set up our tents even though there are no bugs and the weather is fine, sometimes it’s just nice to have that extra security of a thin wall of cuben fiber and netting. Throat is feeling raw and my voice is scratchy, I’m guessing breathing in the smoky air the past week hasn’t done wonders for my lungs.

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Day 112: Hyatt Lake Camp (1744.3) to Hwy 140 (1773.4)

July 30 // 29.1 miles

A much better day today after my poor showing out of Ashland. The soreness and fatigue were gone, it seems to be a leaving-town weariness that always evaporates after a night back on trail. Slept in too late, hanging around camp making coffee and wasting time reorganizing my monster food supply. Didn’t leave until 9, but only after using the pit toilet again of course, must take full advantage of toilet paper. PC and I took a small shortcut along the paved camp road that intersected with the PCT a half mile later and went our separate ways (speeds).

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I think the smoke was at its worst today, but it’s hard to tell since I’ve become so used to it. I know that it isn’t a good thing-the air is definitely not healthy and it means that somewhere nearby there is forest burning-but I can’t help but admire the way the filtered half-light makes everything feel surreal, and how it’s impossible to tell the time of day without a watch since it always looks like a perpetual, golden-hour 7pm. The ridges of NorCal are in the rearview, with most of today under cover of the forest. I enjoy both, the viewless woods being more monotonous than soaring ridge lines, but it’s where I feel most at home and today was especially nice because with the smoky sunlight that came through the trees.

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Crossed an open aqueduct at Grizzly creek which curved away parallel to a dirt road. I wasn’t sure if the water was good for drinking, Guthooks comments mentioned something about it being contaminated with chemicals. It looked fine but I held out just in case and went waterless for the following four miles climb up to a piped spring. Honeybee, Eli and PC were settling in for a break when I arrived and the cool water flowing from the pipe was decidedly worth waiting for.

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The lunch spot was crowded with seven other hikers, no one that I recognized. We chatted with them, asking all the usual hikers questions…trail name, where you from, what’s your start date…all had come up to Ashland from Etna and Seiad Valley to avoid smoke, which according to them wasn’t much better than here. They also told us that the next few days are supposed to be pretty bad as well, especially around Crater Lake. Hopefully the trail stays open and we can get through the worst of it shortly.

After one more mile of climbing, the rest of the day was mostly downhill flat and allowed for easy cruising. I noticed a ton of huckleberries growing on the bushes alongside the trail, but still unripe and bitter. While checking out the berries, I caught my toe on a rock which tore the foam off the front of my right shoe and left my sock visibly poking out from the hole. I’m overdue for new shoes anyways, these have had a lot of miles put on, the soles are flat as a pancake and peeling away from the main footbox. I’m noticing a lot of soreness in my feet and legs even on easy days like this, which is always fixed by a springy pair of fresh runners.

Detoured slightly off trail to get water from a wooden cabin mountain shelter (South Brown?) that had a manual hand pump that brought water up from the ground in huge splashing bursts. My friends were taking advantage of the picnic table in the clearing by the cabin and eating second late-afternoon lunch, swatting at wasps and reading the battered trail log left in a metal box on the table. Bagels came through here almost 24 hours ago, and I’m missing him even though it’s only been two days.

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In the late afternoon, the trail started winding through the lava fields, there was nothing to look at except for black rock stretching away with the odd patch of green managing to push its way through. The trail itself was a red gravel that contrasted the black rock, and combined with the glow from the eerie haze sunset, it was seriously apocalyptic looking. I could see Eli and PC hiking far ahead of me and they looked like ghosts moving through the smoke and kicking up dust that seems to have coated everything. It was easy to get into the mindset that this was the end of the civilization-we were just wandering through this burnt-out wasteland and there was nothing out in the real world to go back for.

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The apocalypse daydream spell was broken when my phone beeped, picking up one bar of service. It was Bagels, texting from his Garmin Inreach. He had done back to back 40 mile days and was feeling pretty run down, but still on track to make it for his trip home. I tried my best not to selfishly ask him to stay and wait for us, but he said he’d make a final decision based on how he feels tomorrow.

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Finished the day at a large flat clearing down a hill underneath Highway 140. For being alongside a major road, it was a surprisingly good campsite. Lots of flat space tucked away in the fir trees and a rushing stream to cover the noice of the passing semi trucks. There were a couple tents set up when I got there, but I found a little space off to the side with Honeybee, Eli and PC. There’s a resort down the highway via a short hitch but none of us felt the need for anything in modern civilization and settled in for the night.

I’ve been getting annoying mild headaches that last 2-3 days and I’m smack in the middle of one right now so it’s early to bed for me. The nights have been so warm lately I forget what it feels like to have to pull my quilt in tight to try and keep cold air out, now I use it as more of an extra mattress than anything else. Reluctantly agreed to up our milage for tomorrow during our post dinner chat, I know my limits and anything past 30 isn’t much fun for me, but it would be nice to get out of the smoke as soon as possible and bank up some time that can be used for smaller days down the road in more challenging Washington.

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Day 113: Hwy 140 (1773.4) to Jack Spring Trail (1808.9)

July 31 // 35.5 miles 

There wasn’t much in terms of scenery to stop for today, so we managed a solid 35 mile day without many breaks. I know Oregon will get better the further North we go, but right now it’s hot and dry and dusty and the trail here has been absolutely devastated by fires in the past few years. Started with a short climb but the day was mostly flat, and doing big days feels like nothing in Oregon, it’s going to pass by quickly.

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The main colour palettes were black and white, with some bright red-orange from where the burnt bark of trees had split away from the inner trunk. The burn zones have a distinctive woody smell that reminds me visiting lumber stores as a kid with my dad, mixed with syrupy sweet from the toasted sap. I found it odd at first but it’s become one of my favourite trail smells. The few opportunistic plants that had managed to grow were all the same type of green broadleaved bushes with bright red berries, that provided at least a little contrast against the stark white of the burnt trees and ashy rock.

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There were small breaks from the crisped woods as we criss crossed the border of the burn zones, but the smoke was constant, I’m really struggling with it. I think it’s been triggering the headaches I’ve had since Ashland, and all of us have been coughing through the nights from the throat tickle that never goes away. We did get some good news while stopping for lunch at a spring, Bagels texted to say that he was ditching the trip home and was taking a zero day at Crater Lake, where we’ll be tomorrow morning. This really improved the blah mood, I can’t wait to have him back with us again and I know the group feels a little off when someone is missing after 1500 miles together.

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As the sun started to set, the burn zone turned into something else entirely. The trees left standing had been reduced to charred black stumps and hardly any vegetation had re-grown. The only way to differentiate the trail in all the ash was following the foot prints from hikers that have passed ahead of me. It was a total monospace for the last few miles to camp, and the setting sun turned the smoke a rainbow of pinks and oranges. The sun itself was huge and bright red. It was eerie but beautiful in it’s own way, I’ve never seen anything like it. I sat and ate dinner alone in the silence, no sign of life here at all.

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Our campsite (or what used to be a campsite) was a flat space in the dust in a cluster of burned pines. I’d spent hours dawdling through the last few miles trying to take it all in and didn’t arrive until dark. Cream was there along with PC, Honeybee and Eli, already in their tents for the night. I set up in a little hollow of pine needles, cowboy camping seemed like the easiest way not to wake anyone up. Tomorrow it’s a quick 8 miles to the road that will take us to Crater Lake and I’m excited to see both the lake, and Bagels.

Day 114: jack Spring Trail (1808.9) to Highway 62 (1820.9)

August 1 // ~18 miles

+4.8 of Crater Rim Trail

Leaving our desolate campsite, there were so many blow downs of dead snags I had a hard time keeping track of the trail. There’s been a lot of effort already made at clearing the trees, which is super impressive since we’re in a wilderness area that restricts the use of anything with a motor…including chainsaws. Trail volunteers cut away huge trees using hand saws and axes, and I appreciated every cleared tree that didn’t require a scramble or duck-under.

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Finally the trail left the burn zone behind and the forest came back in full green glory. We were the speed club this morning, everyone rocketing up and down hills to kill the 8 miles before Mazama Village and Crater Lake. I was doubly incentivized knowing there was a restaurant breakfast ahead and also a reunion with Bagels and I felt amazing, put my poles away and flew down the trail without stopping.

Close to the road, there was a film crew setting up alongside the trail, they were using leaf blowers to clear out the film shot and setting up massive cameras. It was odd to see people wearing town clothes on the trail and they seemed too busy for any chatting. At the road there was a short highway walk to Mazama village at the foot of Crater Lake. I thought I had beat everyone by a good margin for once but nope, PC came popping out of the bushes behind me as I headed down the highway. We made our way down the road to Mazama village, which wasn’t more than a large parking lot with a restaurant, small guest camping store, and some cement bathrooms. The best part was at the picnic table, there was Bagels! I’m sorry that he’s missing his trip home, but it’s way more fun to have our group intact again. We got caught up on our three days apart (it feels like so much longer) and when the other arrived, wandered over to the restaurant for a late breakfast. The restaurant and attached gift shop felt tacky and touristy, but not many tourists were here today due most likely to smoke and the parking lot remained empty. While we were eating, Eli gleefully announced that the film crew we’d passed was from Coors, to sponsor and film a feature on a fellow thru hiker. We found this hilarious because of how much effort Bagels had put in during the desert miles trying to get a sponsorship from Coors, including packing an entire case of beer up Baden-Powell.

Spent the afternoon sitting around outside the store sorting out resupply. I organized my food as best I could, washed my socks in one of the bathroom sinks and charged up my battery pack. The store was selling wine in bulk and we grabbed a few bottles for the evening walk.

I thought it was supposed to be a pretty flat day, but to get up Mazama mountain to Crater Lake we took a crazy steep two mile side trail up Annie Creek. Washing off in the bathroom had been completely pointless because by the time I finished the climb I had soaked though my shirt entirely. There was another lodge and parking lot at the top of the climb and Bagels and I waited for the others and bought overpriced wraps for dinner. Other than a couple disappointed looking families there is no one here, the cafeteria lady said that numbers have completely dropped during the past couple summers because of the smoke.

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Still had over ten miles to get around the lake and to our planned campsite back on the PCT, but we were lazy as hell and didn’t set out until after 6pm. I had rushed to the rim of the lake when we arrived, but it was so smoky that you couldn’t see anything inside the caldera at all. I was pretty disappointed, but the group had fun anyways making no real progress and drinking wine. The rim trail paralleled the highway around Crater Lake, sometimes we climbed along the gravel trail rising up and down the rim of the caldera, but if it looked particularly steep or roundabout we just followed the road instead.

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A little too much wine later Honeybee pointed out that we were losing daylight and that in our current state of intoxication it probably wasn’t the best idea to be wandering along the narrow shoulder of highway or the steep drop offs along the Rim Crater trail, and either way we were still hours away from our campsite back on the PCT. We had a quick trailside discussion and the majority were in favour of stopping, the wine and dark combined seemed like one risk too many. We wandered away from the lake rim to set up at Lightning creek, our only other camping option.

Barely made any progress around the Rim Trail so it’ll be a long haul tomorrow with the 7 miles tacked on just to get back to the PCT. There was some debate about waking up early in hopes that the lake will be clear first thing in the morning but I am good and drunk and would much prefer a nice sleep-in, especially since it is now waaaayyyy past dark and we’re still sitting in a circle talking, although PC has fallen asleep mid-sentence against his pack.

Day 115: Crater Rim Trail (1839.2) to Maidu Lake (1865.9)

August 2 // ~33.4 miles

+6.7 of Crater Rim Trail

Bagels woke me up around 7:30 to get packed, and upon exiting the tent we found that PC, Eli and Honeybee must have managed to stick to their planned 5am wakeup. They were off to climb to a nearby fire lookout and catch the sunrise over the lake. I wondered where my sense of adventure and ambition was as I ate my muffin slowly and wondered how long I could stretch out packing up before hiking. By the time I was ready, Bagels was long gone. I need to get more disciplined with my morning routine.

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Back up from camp to finish the Crater Rim trail, it was still disappointingly smoked out and all I could see of the lake was where the sun reflected off the water, gleaming orange through a wall of haze. I ended up road walking most of it just to avoid the climbs that dipped up and down around the lake, just wanting to get back into the woods. The second half of the trail was flat and boring once it peeled away from the caldera and headed back towards the PCT. In retrospect, I’m sure this would have been an amazing detour had it not been so smoked out, but I’m pretty let down with the overall visit to Crater Lake, especially since it’s been on my bucket list since I was twelve.

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The one upside to the alternate was that with 0 elevation gain this morning I was cruising, and made good time back to the main trail, where I found Eli and Bagels taking a break. Eli let us know that Honeybee and PC were not far ahead. Cooked some ramen to try and bump my low energy levels. The power of carbs kicked in shortly after the break when the trail began to climb. When I broke out of the trees, something felt different and it took me a second to put my finger on it….NO SMOKE. There was a perfect view of the forest and lakes far below and not a trace of smog. It’s been so long, I had a euphoria high breathing the clean air and enjoying the bluebird sky and actual views. When I got high enough to look back at Crater lake, there was a visible barrier where the smog was blanketing all of Mt Mazama, I have no idea why it hasn’t reached the trail here but it was like night and day. Hopefully this means the worst is behind us. Ahead, there was a perfect view of Mt Thielsen rising up ahead and shaped like the top of a soft-serve ice cream cone. The trail didn’t go all the way to the summit, only partway up on the ridgeline, and then split away and dropped back down into the trees.

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Made good time through the afternoon to our campsite just off trail at Maidu Lake. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was the huge flock of swallows darting around high above the water and moving in perfect unison as a group. The second thing I noticed was a pleasant surprise- along with my usual crew, our old friends Raven and First Row were sitting on the bank! I haven’t seen either of them since the Sierra, and never both at the same time, but they seem to have coupled up and are now hiking together. Cream and Front Row were already in the water while everyone caught up and I dropped my pack at a small dusty patch at the edge of the clearing to join them.

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The lake water was warmer than the air and I floated around for a bit, trying to avoid touching the muddy bottom that sucked at my feet. The group took turns throwing their water containers out so I could fill them away from the silty shallows near the bank. Upon finally getting out, I had to step carefully because the bank was covered with hundreds of tiny frogs smaller than my thumbnail. The wind had picked up and I couldn’t wait for my skin to dry without a towel and so had to put on my base layer sleep clothes while I was still soaking wet. I brought my stove and pot to the lakeside to eat with the others, but I was so chilled I stopped dinner halfway to unpack and get into my bag.

Set up my tent with numb fingers and now I’m wrapped up tightly in my quilt like this is another Sierra night, here in the middle of the Oregon desert. I can feel a head cold coming on and I have the sniffles, swimming probably wasn’t that bright in this weather that feels more like fall than early August. Even though the campsite is huge, there are a lot of hikers and I can hear a lot of snoring and shifting on inflatable pads. Hopefully can get some sleep soon and line up for a big day tomorrow.

Day 116: Maidu Lake (1865.9) to Shelter Cove Resort (1906.2)

August 3 // 34 miles

The downside of sharing a large social campsite is that most hikers tend to get going hours earlier than I do and so I was woken by the early risers packing up their gear, half impressed and half annoyed when I checked the time and saw it was 4:45 in the morning. I briefly entertained the idea of getting started right then and there just to see what it felt like, but it was chilly when I got out of my tent to pee and it was too easy to climb back into my warm bag and get a couple more hours of sleep.

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At 6:30, woke up still sniffly from last night, which meant I had slept with my mouth wide open and drooled all over my quilt. I could hear PC and Bagels chatting quietly as they packed up. Eli, Honeybee and Cream were already gone when I climbed out of my tent to collect my sports bra and shorts from the branches they were hanging on, still wet from my swim. It was cold as fuck and I dawdled around trying to put off changing into my wet clothes and making coffee beside the lake, the last to leave as usual.

A gradual uphill got me warmed up, the woods were deadly quiet and I skipped my music to soak in the absolute silence. In the mornings especially I love hiking alone without seeing a soul, getting lost in thoughts until I eventually meet friends having their late morning or lunch break. Today I was in my own world until catching up with Bagels and PC at a small water cache along a dirt road. The spot also marked where we split off the PCT to join the Oregon Skyline Trail to Shelter Cove resort. I was regretting our choice at first since the first two miles were along an ugly dirt road but soon it then it was back into a beautiful old-growth forest to give us a taste of what’s to come in Washington. Hiking was easy and mostly downhill or flat, looping far around a huge campground and crossing a confusing network of dirt roads.

Near the campground, the woods became mostly deciduous and the ground was sandy. Lots of mountain bikers came in the opposite direction which I’ve never seen on trail before, the PCT doesn’t allow bike access. I had decided not to stop for lunch until catching up with my group somewhere around the campground, but even after not stopping for anything more than water in 23 miles, there was no sign of them anywhere. I was feeling a little left behind, didn’t think I was that slow, but then there was Eli sitting at a picnic table beside a horse corral and a couple empty campsites. He hadn’t seen anyone, including Bagels and PC, who should have been in between us and we figured we had all lost each other somewhere on the network of dirt roads around the campground.

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Made ramen for lunch with Eli, eating of course improved my mood as it always does. I enjoyed the climb up into Diamond Peak wilderness much more than the morning downhill. Passed a couple riders returning to the horse camp where we’d spent lunch, but I saw no one else on foot after Eli left me behind. I knew I was way behind the rest of the group, and that the Shelter Cove restaurant closed at 6, so I was trying to push without breaks which went real well until Diamond Lake. There was a little beach along the shoreline, perfect for swimming, with a clearing in between beach and trail. Sat for a minute staring at Diamond Peak across the water and debating whether I wanted to swim or get to civilization. Of course there’s always only one priority, left my pack and clothes in the clearing and since there was absolutely no one around, ran through the woods nude and into the water.

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Very warm water but deceptively shallow, it was never deeper than my waist no matter how far I went out. After splashing around for a bit I heard voices echoing from across the lake and scrambled back into my clothes before a pair of elderly couples made their way around the bend. They were staying at Shelter Cove and were up to the lake for a day hike. They advised me that I should get going if I wanted to get back to the lodge before dark which I found amusing considering it would take me an hour to finish the four downhill miles, but they were just being friendly and trying to look out for me.

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The downhill through the woods really started to look like typical Pacific Northwest-huge moss-covered trees lined the banks of Trapper Creek which I followed all the way down, enjoying the background noise of rushing water. It was crystal clear and lined with brightly coloured pebbles. At about 5:45 the woods gave way to a dirt road, where I crossed a set of train tracks and followed a larger paved road up to the Shelter Cove resort. Pretty good time for a 35 mile day and even so I was still the last by far of my group to make it in, they’re so speedy.

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The resort looked rustic and friendly, and I passed by little log cabins scattered in the woods on my way to the main lodge and restaurant, which overlooked a bright blue lake. PCT hikers had commandeered a couple of picnic tables on the deck, most of whom I didn’t know. My crew was already working on a six pack and a couple large pizzas, nothing is better than sitting down after a good long day to a cold beer and the knowledge that tomorrow is a nero out. PC had a friend from home here to pick him up for a night in town, we were all offered the same ride but opted to stay here and let PC catch up with his buddy.

After spending the evening here I was certain we had made the right call in staying. Both staff and fellow campers were friendly and interested in hearing about how our hike was going. A very relaxed atmosphere, with families out in front of their tents or RV’s making BBQ and watching small packs of children run around the lakeshore. The pizza from Hook and Talon restaurant was delicious, the store had everything we needed for a resupply, and there was an area out behind the RV campgrounds for PCT hikers to set up in the woods. Bagels and I found a perfect little spot not far back from the road that had it’s own picnic table.

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After setting up, I went for a shower that was absolutely heavenly, and sat around the fire with Honeybee, Eli and Bagels until we were too sleepy to be awake any longer. Great stop and tomorrow we have the morning off while we wait for PC to get dropped back off. Oregon up until Crater Lake has so far been my least favourite section of the trail, but I have a feeling it’s only going to get better from here.

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Seiad Valley to Ashland

DAY 106: CAMPSITE (1660.5) TO DONOMORE CABIN (1690.9)

July 24 // 30.4 miles

Slept without waking once until a little after 5am when a few hikers walked by our campsite in the dark, it seems no one is doing this climb in the heat of day. I’m normally very, v e r y reluctant to start hiking before I’m fully ready to be awake and up, no discipline here, but today there was still five miles of the devil climb to finish. I wanted to be at the top and done with the hard work before it got too hot, the forecast was calling for +100F temps again in the morning. Everyone else must have felt the same way, they were all up before I was out of my bag.  After packing up and eating breakfast I was last to leave, but still moving by 6, my earliest start so far this summer. (sad)

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It was tough hiking all morning, the grade was just as steep and I didn’t have the energy burst of last night to get me through. Still managed to keep a steady (if somewhat slow) pace and enjoyed the cooler morning weather and the views of Rattlesnake Mountain up ahead as the sun rose. Why is it so named? I haven’t seen any snakes in ages.

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Once the trail broke out of the trees it was all ridge walking, which seems to be a NorCal staple. It was still very hazy from wildfires but it made the sharp rock faces feel even more dramatic, sticking up and out of the purple smoke and offering no inkling as to how far down they went. I’m usually such a baby about waking up early but once I’m actually moving it’s always preferable to the sleep-ins, not to mention being awake for the most beautiful time of day. Finished the climb (heck yeah I think that’s the longest consistent uphill on the PCT) and then yoyo’ed up and down for a little bit, it sucks when you lose elevation just to go right back up a half-mile later, and we repeated this process all morning.

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I caught up to everyone else getting water at the first source of the morning, a slow drip in some thick grass along the trail. Despite it barely being 9am, I had already soaked my shirt through with sweat and drank a little extra to make up for it. We found another group of hikers lounging in the shade that we’ve been around on and off since Belden, including Wink who we met at Drakesbad,  and his trail friends Stache, Baby Blanket and Breezy. They’re a hilarious group and it’s pretty common to come across them walking like a straight line of ducklings down trail throwing banter without pausing for a breath, or doing push-ups on their break as part of a daily competition. Their group formed when they all took a zero day to climb Mt Shasta, and we’ve taken to calling them by their collective trail name, the Shady Shasta boys.

The trail was relatively flat for a little while, through a burn zone and then finally got to cruise a few miles downhill to a good water source where the others were making fun of Bagels for sitting in a large patch of sap, which meant the back of his shorts were now covered in dirt and pine needles. I took care to avoid sitting under the pine tree that was to blame. There was water off trail down a path and since it was a while until the next source, made the 0.2 mile trek to collect enough to get me through the afternoon. Right back uphill for another five mile climb, I got some crazy second wind and hauled ass up it and for once managed to not lose my place in the line and get passed by everyone. A very grassy and exposed section and just impossibly hot-I have a feeling that I just have a heat advantage and can tolerate it relatively well, which is pretty much my only special hiking power. The very best part of the afternoon was how clear it got, we had a couple hours of smog-free hiking.

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I stopped for lunch with Honeybee at a little spur trail that led to Bear Dog spring. The water was barely flowing over the ground and impossible to collect, but Bagels had made a pipe out of a curled broad leaf and then it was simply a matter of placing the leaf-spout at the mouth of your bottle and waiting. I was mis-credited with the ingenious engineering when everyone else arrived for water and didn’t bother to correct them, sorry Bagels, I need that sweet validation. There was a great little shady campsite in the trees so we dropped out packs and sat down for lunch. Took the time to boil ramen and it felt odd to cook and eat so much at not-dinner time. The Shady Shasta boys arrived shortly after and began adding to their pushup challenge well the rest of us looked on in envy, my calves may be rocks but arms are noodlier than my overcooked lunch. It was a fun break getting to eat with such a big group, but Bagels got our crew going. He’s always the first to leave, and once one person goes the rest of us feel anxious to keep up and always follow shortly after.

More climbing after that but none of us got back into the groove after lunch, after a couple quick miles I saw the group packs lying in the dirt road beside yet another spur trail to water at Alex Hole spring. I didn’t really need the water, it was off a dirt road and the little trail down was a steep quarter mile scramble, but it was too tempting to pass by so I added my pack to the rest, got some water and then sat in the soft dry pine needles beside the trail for another long break. Even though I’d only just eaten my large lunch, there is no controlling the hiker hunger and I snacked on way too much- all of my cheese and spicy chips and the rest of my cookies, which means I’m on rationing until Ashland.

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Was feeling pretty strong despite all of today’s elevation gains, as a group we’d made good time and even though we definitely could’ve gone further, decided to stop just shy of the CA/OR border tonight and stay at little abandoned Offenbacher cabin in Donomore meadows just off the trail. It’s not often we get to sleep somewhere with a roof when not in town.

After we got moving again, there was one last climb before an easy end of day descent through a burn zone that thankfully wasn’t too large, and then it was all downhill through the woods crossing lots of dirt roads that were mostly overgrown. It thankfully cooled off in the evening and stopped at the Donomore creek a half mile before our camp. The water wasn’t really deep enough for a swim so took off my shoes and splashed off some of today’s sweat, it’s so much nicer sleeping in the confined bag without smelly feet. I couldn’t bring myself to put my sweaty, dirt encrusted socks back on, so I just walked the last mile to camp in my flip flops and carrying my shoes as far away from my nose as possible. 

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As I arrived at camp, Honeybee and Eli waved from the porch of the little wooden shack looking like a couple of old pioneers, except for the fact they had dug out folding lawn chairs from the cabin with Dick’s sporting goods logo. The cabin was originally built by ranchers in the early 20th century-a laminated sheet of paper nailed to the door gave a brief history lesson including bovine casualties from the feuds with local natives, and a summary of the gradual restoration undertaken by some ambitious locals. There was also a handwritten logbook inside detailing both the hikers that had spent a night and the cabin’s refurbishing progress. The latest addition were brand new windows which we took the time to admire-they contrasted beautifully with the rotting old wood covered with graffitied names of all the visitors over the past decades. There was also a small wooden outhouse (house being a generous word, more of a three walled shack with an open face pointing away from the cabin and instructions to “poop here”. The cabin was overlooking a beautiful the meadow and with the sunset I was irrationally jealous of some ‘30s rancher-I can see why anyone would have chosen to build a home in this spot. 

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There was enough room for us to all squish inside the cabin, Eli and PC even got to set up rickety little cots for some added luxury.  At dinner, my errors in resupply strategy became painfully obvious, I don’t know how I managed to estimate so badly in Seiad Valley, but I figured I couldn’t have any dinner tonight if I wanted to scrape by on bare-bones snacking tomorrow. My friends noticed my lack of dinner and graciously chipped in to feed me with their precious extra snacks. Eli let me eat half his tuna ramen, PC passed around fancy Starbuck’s hot chocolate and Honeybee gave me a bear claw which I can save for breakfast tomorrow and we all ate together on the little porch.

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The  Shasta boys came through shortly afterwards and decided to keep pushing on, but a few other hikers ended up pitching their tents outside after wandering in to check out the cabin. Hoping for no mice attacks, there was no sign of poops but the food bags are hanging from the ceiling just to be safe. About to fall asleep for the last time in California, which hasn’t really sunk in yet.

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DAY 107: CABIN (1690.9) -HENDRIX FIRE CLOSURE-TO MT. ASHLAND CAMP (1710.0)

July 25 // 24.5ish miles

1690.9-closure at 1695.0
19.6 mile road walk to detour the Hendrix fire

A very good day and my first entry in Oregon!!! Finally out of the first state on the PCT and it’s pretty incredible that my feet carried me border-to-border THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF CALIFORNIA.  

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No one was rushing this morning, we woke up to the sun already pouring through the windows of Donomore cabin. The other hiker’s tents were gone, so we had the place to ourselves. It was such a beautiful morning in the little valley I don’t think anyone wanted to leave, the rising sun filtering through the smoke made everything dreamy and relaxing. Even Bagels and Eli, who are usually the ones gunning it to get moving, were content to sit around on the porch for a long coffee breakfast in the folding chairs.

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When we finally got to moving (goodbye, nice cabin!) it was less than two miles to the state border through thick coniferous forest. Wasn’t long until I came across my friends grouped around the trail register and an underwhelming sign saying OREGON/CALIFORNIA nailed to a pine tree.

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I didn’t think I would be that excited since we still have another state line crossing and 950 miles to go, but after spending two summers and hiking over 3000 miles on the PCT in California alone, I’m really happy and proud to finally be moving on to Oregon. Also goes to show how hecking BIG this state is, California spans 1600 trail miles, while the last 950 is split into Oregon and Washington combined. It will be less than a month in Oregon (not uncommon to do it in two weeks) vs the 3 months it took us to get through California. We’re planning to double zero in Ashland so no two-week Oregon for us, but hoping to be through it with no other zeros after that. 

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We spent half an hour taking pictures and signing the register and finishing off the whiskey that Eli packed in, no one cares if you’re drinking at 8am on trail. After that, it was only another couple miles of unremarkable (but OREGON unremarkable!) scrubby forest until we reached a dirt road that marked the start of the Hendrix fire closure. I had cell service and checked one last time to see whether the closure had yet been lifted, but no dice, so a road walk for us. Bagels and Eli had downloaded a GPS file to help navigate the network of backcountry roads we’d be following, and we all decided to stick together to make sure no one got lost, although in retrospect it was so well marked we probably didn’t need to worry. The detour was 19.6 miles, only four miles longer than the chunk of trail we have to miss, but I wasn’t looking forward to it all being on hard packed gravel, it’s hard on the feet after soft trail and can cause soreness for days afterwards. Following the dirt roads also caused us to cross the state lines a few times, can’t escape California!

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The road was wide and easy to walk and generally not a very interesting hiking day, but it was a pleasant surprise spending all day with the trail fam. We literally never hike together, but today we put away our trekking poles and goofed around and talked a mile a minute about nothing.

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I think we’re all so quiet out here we needed an outlet to just go on and on and circle over the same subject for an hour at a time. PC would start a long rambling story that would deviate into side stories until we would forget where we had begun but continue on with the new topic all the same. I traded packs with Eli for a bit, his pack was surprisingly light but way too big for my frame and he looked like a kindergartener on his way to school with my little short torso bag. The directions were well marked with stick arrows left by previous hikers and the grade was unnoticeable, despite our notes claiming the first half of the day was a drop followed by steeper uphill.

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We didn’t stop until a river that was spanned by a footbridge to eat lunch in the shade of the road-side pines. My feeet were getting a little achey from pounding the flat hard dirt, but it helped to soak in the icy river. We hung around a long time, until the flies attracted to our hiker grossness got too annoying. Conversation never slowed. I love that the road walk I’d been dreading ended up being one of my favourite days so far. Bring on the boring fire closures, I have my trail fam!

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The miles flew by and finally we rejoined the trail, just in time to ditch it and walk up yet another dirt road to Ash Camp. We arrived just as the sun was setting which gave us time to find our own little spot with a picnic table near a cement bathroom (no running water or trash unfortunately. We’re sharing the campground with a couple pickup trucks and an RV but no other hikers here tonight and most of the spots were empty. Ate dinner which was a scraped together mess of the last of my food-a handful of chip crumbs and a clif bar that’s been in the bottom of my pack since Bishop. I’m still starving and barely ate today…thankfully tomorrow morning is an easy 8 mile downhill to Callahan’s and a short hitch to Ashland and all the town food.

Day 108: Ashland Camp (1710.0) to Ashland (1717.7)

July 26 // 7.7 miles

Woke up feeling like my stomach was starting to consume its own lining. Despite it being early, food was all I could think about and Bagels and I were packed and moving before the others were even out of their tent (town was obviously calling them too, despite my twenty minute head start I was still last into Callahan’s, the fuckin rockets). It felt comforting to be back in the familiar green tree tunnel after all the dusty road walking yesterday, but also creepily quiet to be alone after all the busy chatter.

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It was an easy morning, 8 miles all downhill, but I felt anxious and too slow. Town days kind of ruin the enjoyment of hiking since I’m never able to zone out and relax, it’s just always focusing on how many miles left and doing endless calculations over and over (if it’s 5.5 miles and I’m hiking at least 3mph what time do I arrive? I’ve gotten surprisingly accurate at estimating time based on walking speed and the elevation profile).  The only stop today was a quick water break at a spigot and picnic table on the edge of a residential property near town.

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The trail let out next to a railway track above the highway. It was a little tricky finding the offshoot path that led down to Callahan’s, a little resort nested on the side of the highway and where we’d try and catch a hitch to Ashland.  I found Eli wandering about in the woods down one of the paths and eventually we managed to find our way down to the lodge. I beelined it for the porch where Honeybee, PC and Bagels were sitting and was brought a complimentary hiker beer by our waitress. There was also an option for bottomless hiker pancakes and despite my group saying that they weren’t stellar, I was so hungry they were probably the best pancakes I’ve ever had. My resupply box hadn’t yet arrived which was annoying, I had mailed a huge amount of freeze dried food to Ashland in order to distribute it into smaller boxes for the small resorts that make up the majority in resupply Oregon. Oh well.

It was blazingly hot on the side of the interstate ramp where we were trying to get a hitch but thankfully it didn’t take long for two separate trucks to swing around and offer us a ride in the bed. Once in town it was straight to a local brewery to eat more food, and then we got ourselves checked into a hotel, we’re spending a little extra for this double zero and staying right downtown. Honeybee’s mom and grandmother drove down from BC to see her, and we all decided to hang around for the extra day off and rest up before pushing through Oregon.

Day 109 & 110: DOUBLE ZERO Ashland

July 27 & 28// 0 miles

Uhhhh town days…so good.  

We didn’t see much of Honeybee since she was spending time with her visiting family, and Bagels is also leaving us, in order to try and gain some time before getting off trail for a trip back home to Washington. He left early on our second zero today and I was surprised at how sad I am to see him go. He’s unsure if the travelling will even happen, he has to knock out a few 40+ mile days in order to get to an airport. He’s going to try and catch up with us after being off for 4 days, but even then it will likely be weeks before we’d see him again. I’m secretly hoping he chooses not to push the brutal mileage needed to make the flight, which is somewhat selfish, but it sucks to have a core member leave, especially the one with whom I spend almost all my non-hiking time. Despite a slight case of the blues, I did have to admit the hotel was very roomy with only PC and Eli to share it with, I had a bed all to myself for the first time this summer.

Literally the only picture to make it out of Ashland

Literally the only picture to make it out of Ashland

Ashland is caught in the haze from fires in all directions and it’s impossibly hot in town, I spent all day in the air-conditioned hotel and didn’t emerge for shopping or eating until the cooler evenings. Felt out of place in a city of this size, especially in bars and restaurants at night or browsing around the small boutique shops and bookstore. In the small towns, people recognize thru hikers and understand why we’re so dirty and walking around with freezer bags for wallets, but here I had a few comments on my sunburnt face and stark ankle tan lines. Despite all that, still managed to make it to brewery round 2 with Eli, we ran into our old friend Leon and they were extra Australian talking to a fellow country man while I took advantage of their chatter to eat the biggest portion of our appetizer.  Went for sushi and indian food, and had a relax afternoon while everyone was resupplying-bought myself chocolate and bath salt and wine and a cheap book to read in the hotel bath and felt like a normal human. 

We ran into the Shasta boys and learned that they had just skipped the fire closure altogether and powered on down the trail, it was set to open up any day anyways. They’d run into a couple of army trucks that were stopping all car traffic from entering the area, but had no issue with the boys walking through on foot when they said they’d had no idea there was a closure… I half wished we had done the same, but then I wouldn’t have enjoyed our group bonding day so I suppose there’s no reason to be regretful.

Resupplied as best I could with fingers crossed that my box would be at Callahan’s when we leave again tomorrow. Picked up a tiny bottle of lavender essential oil to bring along because I’m trying to convince myself it might help with headaches that I’ve been getting pretty consistently this past week, but really because the smell just reminds me of Jade and her mandatory good night hugs last year on trail. Oregon here we go.

Mt. Shasta to Seiad Valley

Day 99: Mt. Shasta (1501.2) to Campsite with the MAD VIEWS (1518.9)

July 17 // 17.7 miles

Time in town always slips by so quickly. Feels like we just arrived aaaaaaand then it’s suddenly time to be back to trail…not that it’s a bad thing. I did my resupply at the bougie grocery store across from our hotel first thing this morning, slightly alarmed by how hot it was early in the day. One of yesterday’s wine bottles was still unopened and despite the encouragement of the group, I couldn’t bring myself to chug it when we were leaving and transferred it to a smart water bottle to share at camp tonight so I am running at one litre capacity for the day. The things I do for my trail fam.

We’re hoping to knock out bigger days for the rest of Northern California, with less time off to make up for our triple zero extravaganzas in the Sierra, but it still took us all morning to slowly finish choring and checkout. Caught a ride back to the trail, arriving back alongside the interstate at 1:30. I feel bad we wasted so much of the morning doing nothing at all because it was time to head straight uphill in the peak of the afternoon sun. The weather app on my phone read 102F in the shade and the hardest part of the entire day for me was getting up from my little patch of shade at the trailhead and starting to walk. Bagels and PC had to literally pull me to my feet for me to get going.

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As always though, once I got started I cheered up immensely. It’s impossible to sustain a bad mood being back in the woods no matter how hot it is or how steep the grade. The first half-mile went straight uphill, welcome back to trail calves, but I felt well rested after the zero and took it slowly until things flattened out and then I was cruisin. The best part was that I am finally on BRAND NEW TRAIL. For almost the entire rest of the way, excluding a couple sections in Oregon, I won’t be able to pull out my signature phrase “well last year…” because last year I didn’t make it this far. I’m really proud of myself for getting here without skipping, in 2017 I had missed chunks of trail around Sierra City and Tahoe pretty much because my knee hurt and I didn’t feel like walking when a ride was available. It’s often said that once you start missing miles it gets easier and easier to do it again and so it’s been a real priority for me this year to hike the whole trail step by step, in a straight northern-bound line (eg. no skipping and no flipping up and hiking back south again). I have a feeling that if I hadn’t skipped around so much last year, I wouldn’t have made the decision to quit as quickly as I did when we were faced with fires in Oregon. So far this summer we’ve been so lucky with weather-no crazy snowpack in the Sierras and no wildfires, though I know we will have to deal with them soon. A later problem.

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Entered Castle Crags wilderness a few miles in and took my first break beside Sulphur creek, which had a sign calling it No Name creek instead. Either way, it was flowing strong and had a couple patchy dirt sites scattered around for sitting down. Stopped to fill up my water bottle and catch up with our friend Nono, who was having a relaxing evening and staying there for the night. Shortly after, I ran into our other hiking buddy Leon from Australia and we got to chatting for the next 3-4 miles. Leon was a little too fast for me and I struggled to walk and talk coherently on the uphill without gasping for breath, but the time passed quicker with company. Castle crags were visible ahead through the trees, looking like a villain’s lair straight out of a Disney movie.

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I was dripping buckets in the heat and my one litre of water wasn’t nearly enough, I went thirsty shortly after Sulphur Creek. Thankfully the uphill levelled off and the exposed trail along the ridge started to alternate with shady patches of scraggly forest. At Disappearing Creek, I found my friends getting water and we debated on what to do for the night, stay where we were or get most of the climb out of the way and dry camp near the top. We hadn’t gone very far and everyone was in favour of carrying on after stopping for a short break. Leon stayed, he wakes up at like 4am so he’ll probs be long passed us by the time we’re awake. I see the appeal of waking up early, it’s so nice when it’s 10am and you’ve already put in 10+ miles….I just can’t do it. NO ALARMS ON TRAIL.

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We had a half scramble over large boulders to get to the water, and it smelled a little funky. I’m glad I decided to keep my filter, even though I rarely use it and the o-ring keeps falling out so I’m not even sure if it does anything anymore… but it makes me feel better to run the water through anyways. Drank a lot of the funky water to make up for all the sweat lost during the hot climb up, we still had a big uphill to get out of the way before camp. I was the last to leave the creek and saw no one else the rest of the evening.

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The long climb was surprisingly not bad in the coolness of the evening, and it was easy to use photo taking as an excuse to give myself a break every now and then. The hill face was complete devoid of trees and directly in the light from the setting sun, so I guess it was a good thing we left later, it would have been brutal to do this during the peak of day. The lack of trees also provided amazing views across to the crags, I was so busy checking them out I forgot to look behind me, but when I did there was Shasta in the sunset looking extra majestic. What a day.

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When most of the climbing was done, I could see the trail stretching away in a straight line through the scrub for a mile or so ahead. Perfect hiking weather and only a little ways to go until camp. At the last water source before a dry ten mile stretch, took my little bandana bath and filled up my pathetic one litre I had for dry camping and getting through waterless 6 miles tomorrow morning. The wine taking up an extra litre was maybe not my best idea, but you gotta keep your priorities in order, even if it means going thirsty.

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At camp, Bagels, PC, Honeybee and Eli were already spread out on the hillside setting up groundsheets and bags in the little spots that were flat enough to sleep on, everyone is cowboy camping tonight. It’s a very open spot with literally no cover whatsoever, but there isn’t much wind and it’s still warm at 8pm. This could be one of our best campsites so far in terms of view, Shasta and Castle Crags are both glowing bright pink in the sunset, the wine bottle is being passed around, and my dinner is cooking now-ramen noodles with sriracha and peanut butter with a bit of lime powder, one of my favourite meals. The trail fam chipped in their extra water in exchange for my wine sacrifice without me having to ask. Feeling v warm and happy in my quilt. Great day.

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Day 100: Awesome sunset campsite (1518.9) to Saddle Campsite with another awesome sunset! (1551.9)

July 18 // 33 miles

Woke up a couple times during the night and every time the stars were incredible. There was 0 light pollution and the Milky Way was dominating the sky, except for where the dark shape of Mt. Shasta blacked out the stars. My biggest trail regret so far is not having a better camera, not that I would’ve dragged my lazy butt out of my quilt to take photos.

At 4:45, I woke up again and this time the very beginning of sunrise was the attraction, a thin band of the brightest red across the horizon. I didn’t get too much sleep after that since the mosquitos started making their appearance and dive bombing my ears, but it’s okay because the sunset only increased in awesomeness. As it got lighter, Shasta and the crags came back into view and the red strip widened into oranges and pinks all the way across the sky. My quilt was very warm and cozy for enjoying the show.  I LOVE NORCAL.

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Finally at 6:30 it was time to get up, everyone else was packing up and making breakfast. I felt pretty groggy after my early wake up, and dehydrated from yesterday’s uphill through the heat. No break from that today though, it was already uncomfortably warm by 7 when we got going. Finished the rest of the climb very slowly, feeling sleepy and lethargic at the back of the pack.

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Shasta still had a lock on the horizon view most of today, the lower half of the mountain was hidden in haze from a nearby fire, and the air had a noticeably smoky smell. Despite being low on water, I skipped the first source since it was a half mile off trail (real reason, if I’m honest, was that there were a group of hikers I didn’t know sitting down the side trail and I didn’t feel like socializing…) and then drank 2 litres at the next spring. I passed by a lot of thru-hikers today, way more than an average day so far in NorCal. I ran into my friend Kim that I met early last year who also got off in Shasta, it’s her first day back on trail to finish the rest of the PCT. I can’t decide if I’m jealous or not. If I had started here this year as most people had assumed I would, I’d be fresh and energized with none of the mental or physical fatigue that inevitably crawls in the longer I hike, but at the same time NorCal is a pretty hard place to get started with no physical warm up to ease you back into full time hiking. I’m happy to have redone the desert and Sierra this year, both are such special places, but we’ll see if I still think that in another 1000 miles.

The heat was oppressive, and I could feel a headache building up behind my eyes. There were plenty of lakes that would be good for a break and swimming, but I was way behind everyone else, and I assumed they would be stopped at one of the water sources ahead for lunch. Porcupine Lake looked especially ideal, but no one was at the junction so I carried on. Later found out Honeybee had gone down the little trail to hang out at the lake and the rest of us passed her by, which is too bad because her photos of the lake looked amazing.

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Shortly after the lake junction, I stopped to get water from Toad Spring which was just below trail and met Bagels on his way back up. We ended up sitting there for half an hour, and I ate my entire bag of cheesy popcorn, which was supposed to last me all resupply as a novelty snack. Despite drinking another litre to try and alleviate the heat headache, it was getting worse and worse as the day progressed. Bagels and I decided to do another five miles to Deadfall Lakes and stop there for a longer break so I could rest. Fortunately the trail was just one gentle climb and then descent through the woods. I was listening to an audiobook and just z o n e d o u t the entire way. I was so lost in my own head I got startled by another small bear that was nibbling at a bush just below the trail less than ten feet away from where I was. I surprised him too though and he crashed away less than a second after I saw him.

Bagels caught me again approaching Deadfall Lakes, and we tried to guess if our friends would have gone to the Upper or Lower lake for a lunch break, if they had stopped at all. The upper lake looked rocky and exposed in the sun so we opted for lower, but there was no sign of Honeybee or Eli anywhere. The lake looked nice from a distance but the water around the edges was questionable at best, lots of scummy green algae at the top. I wandered down trail to collect some water from the painfully slow drip at the outlet and found PC napping beside the trail. He hadn’t seen the others either, I left him to his nap and went back to the lake for lunch.

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There was a empty day hiker tent set up nearby, which prompted Bagels to joke about raiding it for supplies, but we left it alone. Lay down in the grass under a tree and ate an entire pack of prosciutto, which I’ve started packing out in resupply…it’s nice to get meat on trail and it keeps well. I’d been meaning to swim but my head was pounding and anything more difficult than lying down with my eyes shut seemed impossible. Leaned against my pack for just a second, fell asleep and napped on and off for half an hour. When I woke up to get going the headache was almost completely gone, I think maybe I was low on electrolytes from all the sweating, and the salt in the prosciutto is what I needed instead of just chugging water all day.

PC was gone from napping when we passed by again. Collected a little more water from the slow drip and carried on. It was still really hot, but a dry heat, which I find so much more bearable than humidity. So glad the morning headache dissipated so that I was able to enjoy the afternoon, it was an easy flat section through more pine forest which climbed up and opened to an exposed rocky ridge, with yet more great views of Shasta I think today will be the last day we get to see it on the horizon. Sunburned my face. Again.

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When Bagels and I arrived at our planned campsite, PC was there waiting for us, but still no sign of Honeybee or Eli, the speedy devils. We assumed they were ahead, and still had lots of daylight to work with. We checked Guthooks and found there were a few campsites in six miles, one of which was supposed to have beautiful views. I felt fine so on we went and I’m so happy we did.

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I walked the entire six miles alone and I think it’s been my best evening ever on trail. The hills were just layered one after another stretching off as far as I could see, and the clouds were a beautiful golden lavender from the setting sun. Even the smoky haze, which I normally hate, took on a nice glow and made the whole thing feel like a dream. There were a few hikers clustered around the last water source, already asleep in their tents, so I got my water for the night as quietly as I could and finished the last little bit of walking as it was getting dark. What an amazing afternoon to make up for feeling crappy this morning.

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Our camp is nestled right on the ridge of a little saddle with views of the surrounding hills in both directions. If it were windy, this would be a terrible spot, but it’s calm and cool tonight. Set up my groundsheet, blew up my sleeping bad (that head rush though), unrolled the quilt from it’s compression stuff sack and made a dinner of ramen with peanut butter in the dark. Bagels and PC arrived with just enough to set up in the last of the dim light, it’s a large enough camp for the three of us to spread out and have our own space while still being in talking range. We never saw Eli or Honeybee today, I have a feeling they’re at the campsite just down the hill from us, that or just blasted on and are way ahead. Tomorrow we’re hoping to do another 30 for a shorter trip into Etna for a half day off.

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2am-Fucking mice chewing at my stuff and have no fear of headlight or shoes smacking at them. Brazen little turds.

Day 101: Saddle Campsite (1551.9) to dirt road Campsite (1581.1)

July 19 // 29.8 miles

PC and Bagels woke me early so we could hit the trail and try to catch Honeybee and Eli. I could tell right away it was going to be one of those days, I was feeling a little crabby after a sleep interrupted over and over by a pair of mice that were relentless in their pursuit of my food bag, until I had to curl up with it in my arms like a mother protecting her stinky neon orange baby. On the first uphill my legs felt like lead even though the grade wasn’t particularly steep. To try and get myself going, I broke my no-music-before-lunch rule and got into the hiking zone with a best of the 80s playlist, which helped power me through the warm-up miles. It was a clear-ish morning, in the distance it was still hazy from smoke that’s been hanging around the past few days.

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Cruised for a few miles to Highway 3, where there was a campground with a few picnic tables. I had been low-key hoping for trail magic but there was no one there, and the road was empty. The fact that I was a little disappointed shows how spoiled we’ve been this year. Bagels was taking a break in the shade under some tall pines, I stopped with him for mid-morning snack and we were joined by another hiker called Scarecrow. Eli and PC wandered over, they had detoured to the campground, but decided to carry on without a break. Honeybee is ahead, as usual. Stayed at our highway spot for way too long eating too much of my food and finally had to drag myself up and start climbing.

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On the way up passed into Trinity Alps wilderness, could already see the distinctive pointy tops early this morning. Stopped for lunch with PC and Bagels at Mosquito Lake outlet which sounded terrible but it ended up being a beautiful spot. There was a stream running through lush vegetation and flowers, and just below where it crossed the trail there was a little pool big enough to sit down and cool off in, I shared it with a tiny trout and a couple large frogs.  it looks like a curated garden in someone’s backyard. Read the magazine I packed out from the last town, washed my shirt way downstream and laid it on rock to dry. Bagels put it on and took off down trail so I guess that was the end of my lunch break.

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Another bigger climb up in the afternoon, it was a hard day but thankfully it was gorgeous to balance things out. The trail climbed and then followed a ridge line of red rock, it was great to get out of the pine forest for a bit and enjoy the view. There were no trees whatsoever at the top, which also meant I sunburned again.

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Crossed through a little pass between two mountains and then started the descent. There were views down to shining, bright blue lakes and I could see the snow-white top of Marble mountain on the horizon. Had an eagle eye view of a black bear roaming around the shore of Middle Boulder lake waaaaayyy below the trail, as well as a couple of campers set up on the opposite bank, both parties seemed oblivious to the other. Could be an interesting afternoon if they all meet up.

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Finally reached (what I thought was) the end of the climbing and it was downhill through a grassy meadow with lots of white flowers. It was getting so smoky in the late afternoon that I could taste it, but it made for an extra hazy golden sunset. At Scott river, where I was hoping to camp, Eli, PC, Bagels and Honeybee were collecting water and making dinner, there was definitely not enough camp space so they told me the plan was to dry camp at the top of the next long uphill that I did not feel like doing after an already long day. Could feel the beginnings of a headache so I collected my water and carried on, wanted to get to camp as soon as possible, plus there were a ton of mosquitos swarming on the river bank.

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My mood shifted for the worse between the headache and the steep uphill, the 30+ miles days are still rough on me and it’s hard to enjoy walking at the end of the big mile days. Kind of rage hiked my way up to an empty parking lot area on a forest service road, everyone caught up while I tried to find the trail from there. Finally dragged my sorry butt up to our campsite, a little ways short of the top. Dry camping tonight, between cooking dinner and what I normally drink through the night, I’ll have no extra to start off tomorrow morning.

PC had cell service at top and found out that the section of the trail that crosses the California/Oregon border just closed due to the proximity of a large fire. That was the nail in the coffin on recovering from the bad mood like FUUUUCCK after 3000 miles of hiking in this state I just want to walk across the damn border on the PCT. I’m especially upset about taking so many zeros through the Sierra, we would be safely clear of here by at least a week had we eliminated the multiple zeros. I know fires will always be an issue and that we’ve been really lucky so far but it’s still hard to accept and I had to hold back tears.

I’ve been really grumpy all evening and snapping at everyone which made me feel even worse, it’s not their fault I’m having a bad day. Our small camping area is beside the edge of an old abandoned road and kinda crappy, the ground is hard and it’s not very scenic. I wanted some space to nurse my bitchy mood in peace but there was broken glass everywhere so I had to return feeling a bit chagrinned and ask Bagels if I could share his tent again.

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Eating my favourite meal of KD and watching an episode of The Office alleviated the mood a little bit and now I feel silly for getting so upset. We’re still a good few days from the border so no point about worrying about the closure yet. We talked over dinner and decided to take a little extra time in the next two towns, Etna and Seiad Valley and hope the extra time gives the fire a chance to be controlled, or at least for the wind to change direction.  If not, we’ll find a detour, I’m not missing miles this year and the others are determined to keep a continuous footpath as well. Tomorrow a town day into Etna.

Day 102: Dirt Road (1581.1) to Etna (1599.7) 

July 20 // 18.6 miles

Woken early by a couple hikers passing our campsite, they had a little white dog that was curious about the tents and came to say hello. I wanted to go back to sleep but Bagels was ready to hike, so I had no choice but to get up and help pack, a downside to sharing a tent. In retrospect, I should have bought the same tent as Bagels (and Honeybee), they have the two-person version of my Zpacks Solplex, which has way more space for not too much more money or weight. Ate a few bites of leftover cold mac and cheese for breakfast, which wasn’t quite as tasty as it was last night.

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Despite it being a short(ish) day to Etna, there were still a lot of steep up and downs before the drop to town. First was finishing the last half mile of yesterday’s hill, it’s always rough to start climbing right out of the gate with no warm up. Near the very top, a small coyote appeared out of nowhere from the tall grass alongside the trail and trotted ahead of me for a few seconds, seemingly unconcerned that I was only a couple feet behind him. About a minute after that, I caught up with the father-son team that had the little dog, and advised they should probably keep the pup close by.

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At the top of the first climb there was a little saddle with views in either direction. It was a quite a bit smokier on the other side, there are a few small fires around, including the most worrisome, the Hendrix fire, which caused the upcoming closure, is expanding and 0% contained. It wasn’t quite downhill as I had hoped but flat enough that the hiking was easy and the mountain provided shade from the rising sun. The trail clung closely to the rock face with steep drops on the left and sheer white cliffs going up on the right, the white rock seems to be a staple of the Trinity Alps wilderness that we’ve entered into, a lot of the peaks are pure white and from a distance it looks like snow. Inexplicably couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a mountain lion lurking somewhere on one of the rocky ledges overhanging the trail, I’ve never had that feeling before and was tense and jumpy but thankfully nothing came of it.

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About four miles in, Bagels came up behind me which was a surprise, I thought I was far behind everyone else. Turns out I had completely missed the side trail to our first water source for the morning, a pretty necessary stop since I had nothing after dry camping last night. I debated turning around, but giving up the elevation I’d already gained only to have to re-do again was not worth it, and besides there was another stream in four miles.

The second climb was much shorter but just as steep as the first and I was feeling irritable from lack of water and probably also from not eating breakfast. It’s a bad habit on town day,  I never eat my lame end-of-resupply leftover bars or trail mix and hold out to wait for delicious town food. Thankfully there was a little trickle of water across the trail near the bottom of the drop, and an ingenious hiker had fashioned a little pipe out of a curled up leaf to make for easy collection. Great views of Marble mountain in the distance and the trail followed a ridge that was higher than everything in sight, the beautiful morning helped to temper the bad mood.

The second half of the “drop” didn’t really feel like a downhill either. It trended in a general loss of elevation overall but there were little 0.2 mile spikes of uphill again and again which made it hard to catch my breath. At the true bottom there was a decent-sized creek. I had been planning to stop and take a break before the climb to follow, but there were a couple hikers I didn’t know eating lunch, and I wasn’t feeling social so headed straight into the next climb. It wasn’t very long, just over a mile, but the grade was a killer, overall about 700 ft/mile of elevation, and the first half of that was 900/mile, which is a pretty brutal level of steep for my prairie legs. The whole area was a burn zone so no hope for any shade to make things easier.

up and over

up and over

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It was tough going but I took it slow and steady and stopped for a break after the worst of the steepness under a shady little overhang with a great view of the valley below. It was range after range disappearing into the distance, and everything was made softer by the smoke, which had settled thickly into the lowest parts of the valleys. PC caught up took some photos before leaving me in the dust, everyone in my hiking group moves like tanks on the uphill. I was feeling very hungry and debated getting my emergency clif bars that have been squished in the bottom of my bag since like Warner Springs, but decided to push on without. Those bars will probably make it to Canada.

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Another downhill, the trail entered another large eerie burn zone, it should have been thick forest but all the trees were black and bare and there were lots of snags and logs to climb over. I was hot and tired and irritable, not made better by yet another steep climb. It was getting noticeably smokier even though we’re still very high, was a little apprehensive about the air quality way down in Etna.

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Stopped at the last water source before town, an outlet from Payne’s lake. I followed it back through the bushes to check out the lake itself, it was massive with tons of weekend hikers camping on the shore. No swimming today though, it was time to tackle the one last climb before the two mile drop to the highway. Head was pounding from the heat/lack of food and for some reason I was feeling really salty about being so far behind my group. Normally it doesn’t bother me that I’m the slowest, all of my friends hike at way higher-than-average speed, but today it was getting to me that I’m always last. Once the bad mood starts it just gathers in momentum until even stupid little things make me want to cry. 

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At the top of the climb I finally hit the culmination of being miserable when I tripped over nothing and fell flat on my face. It didn’t hurt at all but I started crying out of sheer frustration, threw my trekking poles down the hill, and then had to bushwhack to go get them. Finished the last of the climb feeling sorry for myself then sat down at the top, knowing I was being ridiculous and not caring. There’s something satisfying about indulging a bad mood until it burns itself out.

Noticed I had cell service so called my mom to wish her happy birthday and talking to her made me feel much better. Dug out one of my squished old Clif Bars, town food will still be there later. It was my favourite carrot cake flavour and hunger made it delicious, rare to be said of a Clif bar. Enjoyed the view and the fact that all the hard work was done for the day and then kept going, feeling much improved and ready to get to town. Silly me.

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I had thought I was far behind my friends, but right before reaching the highway I saw PC getting picked up by a van through the trees. I considered running to catch him, but figured it wouldn’t be that hard to get my own hitch when I got down. It was. On the bright side, I’ve had plenty of time to update notes, writing this from the side of the road. It’s a very isolated, two-lane mountain highway, I’ve now been here for over an hour now and only two cars have passed going in the right direction. There’s no cell service, it’s hot as heck and a wasp has been persistently bothering me. Very hot, very exposed, very hungry… I’m so close to town food. May just walk, fuck it.

To get to town was a 9 mile road walk to Etna, all downhill. Figured I might as well get going, moving in the direction of town was better than sitting and melting beside the empty road. Going down was easy, and I barely made it a tenth of a mile before an old pickup going the other way pulled around, it was a local that was dropping hikers off at the trailhead. The man inside said to wait and he’d get me on his way back into town. Thank god for country men in pickups.

My ride wasn’t too chatty, an old farmer that lived in town, but he talked a little bit about his adventures herding cows back down into the valley, on horseback in the older days, on ATVs in the more recent ones. It was his day off and he was spending it cruising up and down the road, shuttling hikers back and forth from town to trail. The descent took a while with the tight hairpin switchbacks, we were stopped twice by a few bell-wearing cows crossing the road, and also nearly hit a deer. The terrain leveled out and the forest gradually gave way to fields with run down houses and ranches, and then we were into Etna. I was surprised that the valley floor seemed less smoky than it was up on the trail, we came down almost 5000 feet.

I wasn’t sure where my group was, so my ride dropped me off on a park just on the edge of town that allowed free camping at the back for PCT hikers. There was no one there except a couple German thru hikers I’d never met before, but they were packing up to leave as I came in. We chatted for a minute and they warned me about leaving electronics unattended in the park, they’d had a bunch of stuff stolen by a group of local teenagers. Emptied my trash and washed my face as best I could in the cement bathroom, perhaps thankfully there was no mirror because I am literally crusty with sweat. I was considering setting up, but between the thieving teenagers and being unsure of the group plans, I kept my full pack with me and headed off to find some food. 

Bagels texted that everyone was at Dotty’s Diner across town, so I walked along the road, crossed a highway and saw their familiar row of packs lined up outside the restaurant. It’s funny how familiar my groups gear is to me, when we throw all our laundry in together I can sort everyone’s clothes perfectly, even the black base layers, socks and underwear. I suppose that comes from spending all your time together always wearing the same few things.

Everyone had eaten already, but they waited for me to get my burger, fries and coke. I don’t know if it was good or not, I inhaled it way too fast and felt a little sick after but also much happier. We sat around debating whether to stay at the hostel or just go back to the park, and in the end, park won out. Stopped at Kmart for casual resupply, they had no produce so I settled for ice cream and coffee drinks instead. Eli bought a frisbee that we promptly lost in the bushes behind the highway.

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The park is awesome, it’s grassy and shaded and we have shower tokens and towels from the store in town, and a locker to store the electronics in. Can’t be bothered to set up yet so everyone is lying around eating and watching Honeybee try and wash her tent off in the park sprinkler. The shower was limited to five minutes and dirty and filled with hair and by all accounts absolutely disgusting, but so, so good and I’m finally clean and cool. Unfortunately no laundry, but I washed all my hiking gear in the shower with a bar of soap someone left. 

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I really like Etna, it’s been the quietest, sleepy little place yet on trail. It’s very small, very empty and feels like a ghost town, we’ve legitimately seen more deer walking down the streets than people, including the main drag although people may be inside hiding out the heat. The houses are old and run down but in a charming way, with porches and beautiful flower gardens and one yard had no less than six tiny yorkies yapping at us through the fence. Got dinner at brewery with our trail friend Ken, he’s from Singapore and has climbed Everest. He says the PCT is just as hard but in a different way (not sure I believe him), and that over the course of the trail, the elevation gain is equivalent to  climbing Everest 17 times (can believe that after today’s up and down). Leon also showed up straight off the trail looking dirty and hot, even though it was well into the evening. Beer is fortunately a cure all. It’s supposed to be just as hot tomorrow, hopefully way back up on the trail it will be a little cooler.

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After the  brewery stopped by the only grocery store, a little tipsy, but finally bought my fruit and veggies, as well as a box of maple donuts.  Brought it all back to the park, it’s a good thing crew knew where to go because I had no idea where I was, the houses were dark and there were no streetlights after we left Main Street. We sat around a picnic table until midnight, talking and eating the maple donuts. Someone approached us and I thought we were going to be yelled at for being too loud, but he was just looking for dog that had run away from home. (The dog wandered by shortly after).

Crashed HARD in my tent from the late night and the beer, it’s so warm that for the first time literally ever on trail I didn’t need my quilt. Planning to hang around for a good part of tomorrow, we’re putting on the brakes hoping that the fire closure across the CA/OR border will be lifted before we get there. I know it’s going to be lifted even though no one believes me.

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Day 103: Etna (1599.7) to Shelley Meadows (1610.4)

July 21 // 10.7 miles

A short hiking day after neroing out of Etna. Woke up very late with no hangover (a Christmas miracle!) and packed up my bag. We went back for a café breakfast in town, it was hot as heck on the pavement, over 100F.

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Resupplied properly at the grocery store this morning, bought myself a second box of maple donuts, lots of prosciutto, cherries, bagels and cream cheese. Probably don’t need it all, we’ll be in Seiad Valley the day after tomorrow but I’d rather have too much food than not enough. After chores were done, towels were returned, and one last beer was had at the brewery, we sat alongside the highway to catch a hitch back to the trail. It took a while but managed to squeeze all five of us in the back of a pickup with some mountain bikers that were smoking one of the biggest joints I have ever seen, we had to all pretzel ourselves in with the packs and bikes in the bed while they tried to talk to us through the tiny open back window but mostly just blew smoke. 

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The long winding mountain road combined with the heat made me feel a little nauseous, or I maybe had more of a hangover than I initially thought. Back at the trailhead, it took a while to get into the hiking, I felt stiff and lethargic despite the morning off. We were only doing a short ten mile day but we didn’t start until three and no one felt like moving very fast. The smoke seems to really have cleared out since yesterday, the ridges that were obscured yesterday are visible and clear. We’re having great luck with the wind patterns.

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Ridge walked an open section during the evening, feeling relaxed and energized and enjoying the view. Started through another burn zone with no regrowth at all yet, there was a serious lack of green. Thankfully the burnt section the trail went through was very short, although the black trees stretched off as far as I could see in other directions.  I think it will pick up again tomorrow morning, the whole area got fried last year.

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