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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