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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