Month: October 2016

PCT – On the way home

The last day was bittersweet.  I had camped just 3 miles from the trailhead, did a little backwoods sighseeing, then it’s off to play in Seattle.

Since I had a very short distance to travel and quite a bit of time to get there, today was the most unique day of the trip.  I listened to music until 8 and did not get on trail until 9 am.  The night cleared at one point and I could see a million stars, but it clouded up again and stayed that way the rest of the night and morning.  It was cold, probably around twenty, but I stayed warm all night.

Since I had three hours before pickup and only an hour to travel, I decided to take the side trip to the lookout tower, if I could find it.  From the trail, I could see the road leading to it, so I bushwhacked up a steep incline up to the road.  The road itself was steep as well.

The spot where I bushwhacked up was about a mile past the tower, so I was actually going backwards.  The weather was clear and I could see the tower as well as most of the surrounding mountains.  There were two trailheads on the way up to the lookout tower and they had some good informational signs that were cool to read.  Literally cool – I had to wipe the snow and ice off of all of them to read them.

I learned that this site was once used for cold war detection of Russian planes making their way to the US mainland.  Once at the top, they had three different signs outlining the profile of all of the surrounding mountains so you can tell which one is which, which I love.  The problem today was that by the time I got to the top, it was totally socked in and I could not see a single one of the mountains.

I headed back down towards Hart’s pass and decided to hike the road instead of the trail, just to see something new.  There were several more trailheads, including an equestrian one.

When I got to the pass, I was thirty minutes early, and there was a trail angel set up grilling for hikers.  He had quite a spread, and started to cook me a salmon burger while I cracked a beer and ate a cookie.  Before I even had the beer opened Ken comes walking around the corner.  He arrived just four or five minutes after I did and heard my voice as soon as he stepped out of the car.

It was good to see Ken and have all the anxiety of being in the woods several hours from Seattle just melt away.  We hung out for ten or fifteen minutes, then said thanks and headed down the mountain.  It was quite a drive and had one stretch that was pretty steep and a bit spooky.

We made it back into Mazama without incident and stopped by the store so I could make a quick stop for coffee and a shirt from the outfitter.  There was only one other hiker in town, which surprised me a little.

We made our way to Ken’s house with a stop to get home made ice cream.  The drive toward Seattle had lots of great views.  Lakes, mountains, dams, farms.  When we got to his house, he had a huge dinner planned – seafood pasta.  We had a good time visiting.

The following day, we played tourist and went into Seattle to visit the market and of course the Space Needle.  We took the tour and it was quite interesting reading about the genesis of the project and it’s role in the World’s Fair.  We also had to hit the obligatory brewery.  Back at home it was another big meal – baby back ribs.  Did I mention Ken likes to cook?

The following day was more tourist, but this time it was a bit more targeted.  Ken works at Boeing and he took me to see the factory tour.  That place is huge.  They have six main assembly lines and we toured all of them.  One thing that was interesting to me was that after seeing the shuttle payload processing for so many years while working at Kennedy Space Center, this looked just the same, but on a huge scale.  Little bits of vehicle surrounded by scaffolding and equipment.  It was nice getting some extra inside information on top of the tour.  It made we want to move away and go work for Boeing, too.

Guess what we did then?  If you guessed a big meal, then you would be correct.  And if you guessed salmon, then you would be pshychic.  We watched a movie, then it was time to say goodbye.  Ken dropped me off at a hotel near the airport so I could catch an early flight back.  He had been such a good host for half a week, the least I could do was let him sleep in on the weekend.

It was an uneventful flight back home.  The hurricane that blew by Florida the day before left Gainesville largely unaffected and Atlanta was operating at full capacity.  It’s been a great trip, but I can’t wait to get back home to Karen and my real home.  

As I write this on the last flight from Atlanta to Gainesville, I have a million thoughts running through my mind.  The depression and wierd feelings from the thirty mile march back from the Canadian border is gone.  There are so many things to be done at home, the least of which is working again.  

I plan to take at least a week off before trying to enter the workforce again.  Not to reflect on trip so much as just relax and put a period between the last phase and the next phase of my life.  It’s not every day you can quit your job and not work for five months.  I know I will hike again, some with Karen and probably some solo, but probably never a big grand trip like this one.  This has definitely been the trip of a lifetime that I will never forget.

PCT mm +27.1 – The return trip in snow

The entire day it has either rained or snowed for all but an hour or two.  I was able to keep warm, but my feet are soaked.  I only have 3.5 miles to Hart’s pass, so I should be able to easily make it by noon, but with the bad weather, I am doubting being able to hitch into town early.

The rains came in last night about 3 am and rained on and off all morning.  Since I have plenty of time, I slept in until 6:30 and listened to music until after 7 am.  It was nice not having to rush to get on trail.

It was cold, but obviously not below freezing.  I am guessing it was in the low 40’s, so staying low to camp was a good idea.  When I decided to get up, it had stopped raining, so it was easy to get packed up and in trail by 8 am.  My latest start on trail.

I went ahead and suited up in the rain gear and wet socks since I expected bad weather and wet vegetation all day.  It was a good move, because within twenty minutes it began to rain.  I was using my poles to knock water off the vegetation and my feet were not soaking, they were just wet.  

As I got higher, the rain turned to snow.  When the clouds broke enough to see the next mountain, it was usually covered in fresh snow.  It was interesting seeing the same mountains from yesterday looking completely different.  Most of the mid elevations the snow would not stick to the ground but at the higher elevations it was sticking quite well.  It probably never got any deeper than one inch and I never had any problems with traction.  These shoes are excellent in the snow.

Even though the weather was crappy all day, it was not all that bad.  When it rained it was not hard.  And when it snowed, it was usually not too thick, but one time it was very thick, very wet, and blowing straight in my face.  I kept warm, but my hands got cold a few times.

I stopped for lunch at the spot I had camped the last night before hitting the border.  The hemlocks were thick and kept the ground dry.  Being a low spot, it was also relatively warm.  I had very little water, so I could only cook one ramen for lunch.  I ate other dry things since I had plenty of food and no reason not to eat it.

I saw perhaps fifteen hikers headed north.  Some would make the border today, and some not until tommorow.  One group of four had camped 15 miles from the border and left their tents and extra gear there in camp and slack packed with a light load to the border, with the intent on making it back to their camp by dark.  With a lighter load you can move faster, so a thirty mile day is doable even in the short days.

I had planned on making the fire tower to camp, but by 4 PM it was obvious that it would be after dark before I made it.  I kept moving forward just in case I was able to make it.  The last campsite before the tower was only 3.5 miles from Hart’s pass.  When I got there, I could not find a good hammock spot, so I kept going.  But only a tenth of a mile past it, I did find some sheltered trees just off the trail and found suitable distance trees for the hammock.

I set up camp and started to cook dinner, when a stream of night hikers began passing by.  None of them knew I was even there.  A brown hammock in the trees is hard to see even thirty feet off the trail.  I could hear the first person cracking wood for a fire and not long afterwards I could see the fire burning.

I decided to go visit my neighbors since they were so close.  And I’m glad I did, because one of them was Ravensong, a trail angel in Mazama that runs Ravensroost.  She is also the first female to thru hike the PCT in 1976.  I wished them all luck and headed back to my hammock.

The weather today was lousy, but it did not get me down.  But one thing that did get me down is passing the landmarks from the last two days where I spent time with the various hikers.  It was like I was having flashbacks to conversations or faces remembered and realizing that I was alone in the woods made it a very lonely day.  All I could do was turn my back and keep heading south.  

Meeting each new hiker headed north lifted my spirits a little.  In the morning, I knew them all, by mid day I knew half of them.  And the night hikers I went to visit at their fire I had never met before.  I’m slowly going backwards along the bubble to hikers who I have never met.  I doubt I will know a single person tommorow.  Except Ken, of course.

PCT mm 2650.1 – Canada at last

The entirety of the trail is completed at last.  From May 27th to October 3rd I hiked from the Mexico border to the Canada border.  I hiked through deserts, through forests, across meadows, by lakes, along streams, by alpine snowbanks, across lava, up volcanoes, in front of and behind waterfalls, in 110 degree heatwaves, in hail and snow below freezing, and up steep canyon switchbacks to 13200 ft.  I have seen alot in the last 129 days.  But now it’s complete.

But being complete is not the same thing as being over.  I still have thirty more miles to hike back to civilization before the trip is over.  And even then, it’s not completely over.  I still have to make my way to Seattle and back home to Karen.

I was the first one awake at our campsite and got ready as soon as I could to get a head start on all the other hikers who are faster than me.  I managed to get on trail at 7:20 and by then the other two were awake and beginning to stir.  There was still more climbing to do – two more passes to cross before beginning the long eight mile descent to Canada.

The climb up from the campsite was not too bad.  There was some underbrush, but it was below freezing so it was dry and did not get me wet as I walked through it.  The ground was frozen in most places and the dirt and rocks heaved an inch above the ground.   Being the first one through, I got to set fresh footprints in the icy ground.

As I made my way up that first climb, I could see the valley to the South was enveloped in clouds.  And the further I got up, it became more and.more obvious that the clouds were coming right our way and would fill the valley soon.  I kicked it up a notch to make it to the top before the clouds did.  I managed to beat them by about ten minutes and by the time I was half way down the switchbacks on the other side, you could see the clouds spilling over the pass I had just come from.  The rest of the crew was in the clouds now.

The trail had a few more ups and downs in store, and by the time I got to the second pass, Flyby and Sheppard had passed me.  I didn’t even try to keep up with them but they were in sight the whole time up to the third pass.  By the time I got there, they had stopped for lunch and so did I.  It was 11:30 and I knew I would be eating my lazagna at the border, so I intended to eat lunch early and at this exact spot, too.  It had been cold all morning and this spot had sun and very little wind and was quite comfortable.

Not long afterwards, the rest of the crew rolled in and stopped for lunch.  We had nine people all eating lunch together at the last high point only 7.8 miles from Canada.  I had just about finished, and so had Flyby and Sheppard, so we left before the others.

The first set of switchbacks led down to a neat lake.  This would be a nice spot to make it back to tonight, but at seven miles away, it would be a stretch unless I only spent thirty minutes at the border.  But I had a feeling it would be an hour or two.  I kept looking for camping spots the whole way down knowing I would be back here tonight.  There were plenty, so I stopped looking.

At some point down the last.miles, most of the crew ended up passing me.  I caught up to some of them when they stopped for water.  I ran into Six as he was packing up from getting water and we ended up hiking three or four miles together.  He is also from Florida and also a UF grad, so we talked about football quite a bit.  He managed to take a zero in Eugene and go to a Ducks game.  He took Meercat, who is from Australia and never seen an American college football game.  He thought she was most impressed by the tailgating.

I heard voices when I knew we were within a half mile of the border, so I began to run.  I thought they were at the border, but they were just on trail chatting, so I ran right by them.  Shortly thereafter, I could actually see the border. They have cut a six meter swath of woods away and you can see it go up the mountainside.

The switchbacks to get down to the border actually take you back South twice before you get to the border.  A bit of a cruel joke, don’t you think?  And then there it was: the border, the 78th parralel marker, and the terminus posts.  Flyby, Sheppard, and Breakaway were already there, and the others arrived in less than a minute.

And then the party ensued.  Champagne came out, rum came out, whiskey came out, beer came out.  Behind the monument is a register and bags of goodies people have left.  Party hats, noise makers, whistles, and marijuana.  Oregon and Washington are recreational use States, so people freely smoke pot in towns, on the trail, whereever.  But now that most people are entering Canada, it’s now illegal, so people leave their stash at the border.

I cooked my celebratory lazagna and shared it with everyone.  Pictures were being staged for what seemed like over an hour.  Everyone was reading through the register looking for acquaintances who had already finished.  I found Tule in there, but not alot of other hikers I was expecting to find. I never found Robin, so I have no idea if he finished or not.

After about two hours at the border, it was time to go.  I was the only one yo-yoing back to Hart’s pass.  Two were hiking the 8 miles to Manning lodge tonight, and the rest were going only a quarter of a mile to a campsite.  I didn’t realize how lonely I was about to feel once I turned around and headed back South.

But that’s exactly what happened.  I had spent the last three days with most of these people and now I was all alone again.  I hiked most of the trail solo, so now what’s the big deal?  Probably because going north, there is always the goal of reaching Canada.  Now that I have been there and was heading back, there was no goal.  Sure, I have to be at Hart’s pass in two days at noon, but then what?  Be on a plane October 8th but then what?

Many people have a hard time adjusting to life after a thru hike.  Some people have jobs to go back to, some don’t.  Some have families to return to, some don’t.  I’ve had alot of life changes in the last five months who knows exactly what’s in store for the next five?

Enough of the mushy stuff for now, I’m still hiking.  And I hope to get five to seven miles, but I did not leave the border until after 5 PM so seven is not likely.  I have a day and a half to go thirty miles, so even twenties are fine.  Even five will take me to dark.

Speaking of dark, the sky has gotten quite dark and I’m only a mile.from the border.  I keep hiking until the wind whips up.  Rain is coming.  I stop to put the down jacket away, and get my rain jacket and pack cover on.  Just as I am finishing, the rain starts.  Only this is not rain, it’s hail.  Super.

I keep hiking and within five minutes the ground is getting mostly white.  And then the hail turns to rain.  I am still getting wet, mainly on my legs, so I stop under a tree to put my rain pants on and my phone away.

The rain only lasts thirty minutes, but everything is soaking wet and my shoes are now soaking.  Great.  It is after 6:30 and starting to get dark when I hit the first campsite.  I think it’s stop, even though I’m only four miles from the border.  This will have to do.

I find a good spot for the hammock, set up quickly, and start on dinner.  It is dark by the time dinner is done, so it’s time to get out of wet clothes and into bed.  Perhaps it it gets below freezing tonight the vegetation will be frozen and I can stay dry in the morning.  We shall see.

PCT mm 2633.0 – Staying under the clouds

Today was a very cold day, but the weather managed to stay nice enough to afford great views all around.  I’ve been hiking with most of the same hikers as yesterday and I’m likely to see them tomorrow at the border.  Since we passed Hart’s pass, we have been seeing hikers going south back to Hart’s pass who just finished.  That will be me tomorrow.

I got up around 6 am and played some tunes before getting ready.  It was cold, but not unbearably cold.  I managed to get on trail by 7 am and I could tell some of the hikers would be quick on my tail.

The trail climbed at least 2000 feet right off the bat.  All the vegetation was covered in frost, which is better than dew in my book.  Within ten minutes, the trail climbed above the trees and even with just a gentle wind, it was officially cold now.  I wore my down jacket while hiking uphill and I was not hot.  This is the first time I have hiked in down.

By the time the climb was over, two hours had elapsed and most of the hikers I had camped with had passed me.  They took a break just before creating the pass where the wind was blocked somewhat.  I moved on and found a sunny spot in the trees to stop and eat an early lunch.  It was only 10:30 but the combination of the cold and the big climb made me hungry.  I ate a tuna wrap and some Cheetos.  I saw all of the hikers pass me while I was eatinng.  I was only three or four miles from Hart’s pass.  Hart’s pass is the last road before Canada and where I will have to return to after I hit the border and either hitch to Mazama or wait for Ken.  I made it there about 1 pm and all the other hikers were there eating lunch.  I stopped as well and went ahead and cooked black bean soup and put a ramen in it.  The warm food felt good even though it was warming up slightly.

The afternoon felt much warmer than the morning.  Most of the areas of wet trail all morning were ice crystals, where in the afternoon, very few frozen areas remained.  I had taken off the down jacket after stopping for my first lunch and was wearing my rain jacket for the rest of the day.  There was a very brief period of a few snow flurries in the morning.  It was cold enough today for snow to stick if it did decide to unload.  There were lots of clouds but they did not look threatening.

Since there are two different trailheads near Hart’s pass and it was Sunday, I saw many day hikers within five miles of either side of Hart’s pass.  Most of them knew about the PCT and that we were near Canada, and they congratulated us on finishing.  But were not finished yet.  Thirty miles to Canada and thirty more miles back to the pass.  Sixty miles doesn’t feel like I’m done, but it feels good.

I had decided to go to a campsite that we 1000 feet lower than where most of the group was planning on camping. It was 2.5 miles further and would mean hiking until after dark, but given the low temperature I will take 5 degrees warmer just for being lower and probably in thicker trees.

I only had to use my headlamp for fifteen minutes of the hike, and Flyby and Breakaway were already there and set up.  I found a place for the hammock and set up quickly then gathered my food and went over to their area to cook.

We cooked and chatted close to an hour, until all of us got cold after eating.  Then it was a mad rush for the warm sleeping bags.  It will probably be mid twenties tonight, but I should sleep warmly enough.  I have extra clothes in the hammock with me just in case.

Where I am camped is only 17 miles from the border.  I hope to hit it about 3 PM, hoot and holler and take pictures an hour or so, then turn around to come back to Hart’s pass.  Most everyone I hiked with today is going into Canada.  I may be heading back South by myself.  Most of the trip I have hiked by myself anyway, so it will be a familiar feeling.  Just like a comfortable shoe (that is not wet from rain or dew).

PCT mm 2606.9 – A snow day

Today was the first day of real bonafide snow.  It did not stick, but there were bouts of thick flurries with flakes almost dime sized.  The forecast was for snow, and sure enough it snowed.  It did not last long, but there were several little waves.  It was fun to hike through.
I rolled out of bed around d 7:00, showered, dressed, and ran to the restaurant for breakfast.  No one was in there but the cook.  The one guy had to take orders, serve, cook, clear tables, everything.  I was the first one there and ordered the chorizo breakfast scramble which was excellent.  Three cups of coffee later and I am set and ready to go.  I ran back to the room to finish packing and checked out by 8:30.

I walked through the country store seating area and there weren’t any hikers there.  I didn’t bother to go in, because I had just eaten and had a full five days of food already packed.  Their coffee was better than the restaurant but I already had enough caffiene for the day.

I started walking out to the road with all sorts of extra food and fuel that I did not need.  The Ravensroost hostel was just one block off the main road, so I hiked straight there and went inside.  It was a neat little place and there were probably seven or eight hikers there.  I saw Butterscotch and gave him the food bag to pick through first.  If I make it back to Mazama early enough after I finish, I will stay here.

I headed back out to the road to try my luck at hitch hiking back to Rainey pass.  The west side of the Intersection seemed to be my best bet, so I could hit people coming from Mazama or further east on 20.  For the first twenty minutes, it wasn’t looking good.  Half the cars that came by were Mercedes Benz cars, SUV, or campers.  Yep, Mercedes campers. Then finally a 4wd Ford van came by and stopped.  That’s my kind of people.  They were headed back to Seattle and knew exactly where I wanted to go, so I loaded up.  Their van was really cool.  It had a pop-up top, was diesel, had three beds, a small sink, and refrigerator.  It was part van, part camper.  They had just spent ten days hiking and camping in the area.

They dropped me off at the pass and five other hikers were there by the side of the road.  Only one was hitching into town, and he got a ride just minutes after I arrived.  The other hikers had resupplied in Stehekin and were just taking a break.

I headed up the trail, and it was a large trailhead with many cars, so I knew I was in for traffic on the trail.  I was surprised to find that I passed fewer than ten hikers on the trail, though.  It seems like there should have been more.  There were not alot of side trails, so maybe being a weekend, there were more than I expected that were going farther – like all the way to Hart’s pass.

The weather was brisk and there were lots of clouds, but no rain and not too much wind.  By the time I got to the first pass, two hours had passed, but I was still full from breakfast and not ready for lunch yet.  I saw two mountain bikers up there.  It must have been a long, grueling climb up to the pass.  From Rainey pass it was 2000 ft of climb.  They came from the other side, by it must have been similar.

I kept on going down the trail and snow flurries began falling.  It was way too warm for anything to stick, but it was neat to walk in.  I’ll take snow over rain.  I stopped for lunch about 1 PM and made tuna wraps.  Adding parsley and mayo to tuna is all you need, nothing else.

Within twenty minutes after getting hiking again it began to snow again.  But this time it was not little flakes, it was good decent sized flakes.  It looks like real snow is actually here.  It was thick and obscured the sky.  It was still too warm for any of it to stick, but it was fun to walk through and try to catch flakes.  Sadly, it only lasted ten or fifteen minutes.

I kept on seeing the four hikers from the road throughout the day as we passed each other.  But we all stopped at the 2600 mile marker together and took pictures.  Only fifty miles to go… Plus another thirty backtracking to Hart’s pass again.

In the afternoon we had two more good flurry sessions with big flakes, but again it did not last very long and nothing stuck.  Oh well, maybe tonight or tomorrow.  I spotted a campsite on the map that looked like I should hit it about 6 PM that was at low elevation and just before a big climb.  The next one was three miles further and almost 1000 ft higher.  The lower one sounded like the better deal.

I got there just after six as expected, and the other four hikers were already there claiming spots.  I found a slanted one that was perfect for the hammock, so I set up quickly and started to cook.  At least four other hikers rolled in after dark.  There was a flat spot that was also good for the hammock, but I left that one knowing that other hikers would likely roll in.  Good thing I did.

PCT mm 2588.6 – Mazama, last civilization

Beautiful weather today, I hated making it a half day, but there are chores to be done.  This is my last night in civilization before Canada.  And the weather tommorow is supposed to be crap.  Let’s hope the forecast is wrong.

I slept in a little since I knew I had a short day today.  It was weird getting all packed up in sunlight.  I didn’t even wake until 7 am and was on the trail at 7:45.  No bear incidents, so that’s good.  I could only eat 3/4 of the sticky bun from the Stehekin bakery for breakfast.  But I ate the remainder on trail at about ten o’clock.

The climbing continued, but it was not difficult just as yesterday afternoon had not been difficult.  I was moving a tad slower, but still kept a good pace.  I passed several more campgrounds and several more streams.  Most of them had to be crossed on logs, which the forest service sawed the tops flat to make them easily navigable.

My cell phone ran out of power at about 11 am, and being my only maps, I felt a little naked.  I had the data book profiles, which I had not used since California, but I pulled the pertinent page out so I could keep up with where I was.  I kept the phone powered off last night and most of the morning, but it still lost its juice.  

That also meant very few pictures taken today.  As luck would have it, the canyon was so narrow that it would have been impossible to get good pictures anyway.  I was lucky to get one good one with the sunrise.

The profile map became very useful when I got to stage route 20 and the trail popped out to a trailhead.  It seemed to soon to be at the pass, and the data book profiles indicated another trailhead a mile and a half before rainy pass.  So back to the trail for thirty minutes and, voila!  Rainy pass trailhead and picnic area.

The temperatures were dropping all morning, and at the pass it was quite chilly, so I put on my down jacket and the next car to go by was a pickup truck that stopped to pick me up.  He didn’t speak English, but he understood Mazama, so I jumped in the back of the truck and away we went.  The 20 miles or so into town were absolutely beautiful.  And I got a great view from the open bed of a pickup truck.  And it was red, so it was like my own personal jammer bus.  This is definitely a place worth coming back to.  Perhaps tomorrow morning (tee hee hee).

He dropped me off at the road to town, which led about half a mile to town.  I went straight to the general store and bakery and got some premade sandwiches and a latte.  Two hikers from two nights ago campground were there packing up and ready to head out.  I ran over to the outfitter to get my last resupply box and came back to start packing.  I had almost two days of food still with me and one of the other hikers was low, so I gave him a whole days food bag.  That made his day, because this store is not cheap.  They have alot of neat things and a bulk section, but this is definitely not a Costco.

With the expectation of cold weather and snow, I also got a Balaclava and another fuel canister from the outfitter.  I will probably have to sleep in my hiking clothes if the temperature falls below freezing, so clean clothes would be nice.  I headed over to the Mazama Country Inn, and got a room and tokens for the laundromat.

Shower was first on the agenda.  Then call Karen.  Then do laundry.  Then when all of that is done, it’s finally time for dinner.  The inn has a restaurant that only serves dinner on Friday and Saturday, so lucky for me it’s Friday today.  Beer, steak, a loaf of bread with real butter, and ice cream.  Oh, that’s heaven.

I’m officially a day behind schedule, so I got ahold of Ken and arranged for pickup a day later than originally planned.  I should be able to make it back to Hart’s pass Tuesday night, but not by noon.  If things go well, I might be able to at least get there early enough to have time to hitch into Mazama to have a bite to eat and save Ken a treacherous mountain road.  Win-win, right?

PCT mm 2577.2 – Stehekin

A short day into Stehekin resort, an hour in town, then back on the trail.  I didn’t have to go into town, but I had the opportunity and the bakery calleth.

I was up before six and one of the other hikers was awake and starting to cook breakfast.  I got ready quickly and probably got on trail about 7 am, but I was not looking at my watch.  The other hiker was packed up when I left, but he was at the river getting water.  I was within striking distance of Stehekin, but still had not decided if I was going or not.

About an hour into the morning, I got passed by another hiker, Shortcut.  She knew that one of the shuttles arrived right at noon.  At my current pace, I was due to get there between 11:30 and 11:45.  Hmmmm, so the timing would be good.  And there would be two more shuttles coming out from town to get back to the trail.

I hiked on and kept thinking about town and the bakery.  There really wasn’t anything in town that I needed except to charge my phone.  But the bakery was a big draw.  I probably need to take half a day in Mazama tomorrow anyway since it is my last town and last resupply and it has been nearly a week since I showered and did laundry.  Stehekin has showers and laundry, hmmm.  If the bad weather comes in, I might need an extra day and will need to get ahold of Ken to change my pickup day.

I got to the ranger station right at 11:45 and shortcut was already there.  At this point, a three hour delay getting into Mazama had no impact. There’s no way I could do 32 miles to get in today, and whether I get there at 11 am or 2 PM makes no difference at all.  Bakery it is.

The shuttle arrived at 12:15 and was due to leave again at 12:30.  About ten hikers got off the bus, so there were plenty of people to interrogate.  And they had bakery food with them, so I got to see first hand that it was worth the stop.  

I was originally planning on only going to the bakery, and waiting for the return bus from there.  But after reading signs at the ranger station that the next 16 miles of campsites were by reservation only, it looks like I had to go all the way into town to go to the information center to get a camping permit.  If I was to get on the 2 PM return bus, I would not get hiking until 3 and there’s no way I could make 16 miles starting that late in the day.  Plus, from Stehekin to Rainy pass where I hitch to Mazama from is a sustained 4000 ft climb.

I get on the bus and the driver sayas he stops at the bakery for five or ten minutes.  Perfect, I can hit both the bakery and town on the same shuttle.  The scenery is gorgeous along lake Chelan and private homes are scattered about. I see my first bear of the trip from the bus.  A mother and two cubs.

We make our stop at the bakery, and I get a chicken pocket, a slice, a cup of broccoli salad and a root beer.  We’re allowed to bring it and eat it on the bus.  Score.  I only have time to eat the chicken pocket.  We arrive at Stehekin at 1:15.  Only 45 minutes until the next shuttle leaves.  There is also a ferry there that will leave at 2:00 to take guests back to their cars.  The only way to this place is by ferry or boat plane.  I don’t think the dirt road the shuttle takes leads anywhere useful.

I make a beeline for the information center to get my permit.  I learn that the forecast begining Friday night calls for rain turning to snow, then snow for the next three days.  Joy.  Next up is to look for an outlet.  After trying two outdoor outlets that are dead, I find a live one in the bathroom.  I leave the phone and battery charging while I go to the balcony to eat.  By the time I am done, it’s 1:50, only ten minutes until the bus leaves.

I run to the gift shop to see what they have.  They have very little food, but they do have bandaids.  My left heel is healed, and the right one is close to healing, but if weather turns sour, I will need more bandaids.  I think about getting ice cream, but their selection is poor, so I pass.  I run back to the bathroom to get my electronics and head to the bus.

These buses are special built for the National Park Service.  Karen and I first saw them on our honeymoon in Glacier National Park where they call them jammer busses.  They are cute on the outside, but just regular city buses on the inside.  They get the job done.  Their roofs have windows in them so you can see the mountains above.

On the trip back, we stop at the bakery again, so of course I have to go in.  This time it’s blueberry pie and a sticky bun for tomorrow.  I eat the pie on the bus.  We make another stop at the Stehekin guest ranch.  I thought it was farm on the trip in.  This place has hiker tent cabins, three meals, and laundry for $110.  Sounds like alot, but three meals in town would be well over $70.  The lodge in town was $150 a night.  My permit and campsite was $0, not including $14 in fare to ride the bus both ways.  The free camping permits are not free if you have to ride their bus to get them.

When I get back to the trailhead, ten more hikers are waiting to go into town, Including the rest of the hikers I camped with last night.  I give them the lowdown then head up the trail.  My campsite is 8 miles, so that should take me to within an hour of dark.

The trail is not a continuous climb like I thought it was going to be, but it more or less is, but they manage to sneak in a 100 ft descent in every once in a while.  After which you have to climb back up, of course.  The trail is climbing the gorge with bridge creek flowing through it.

I get to camp right at 6:30 and find a perfect site for the hammock.  I set it up quickly, and find a cable in the trees for a bear bag, so I get that going quickly.  They have signs all over warning of recent bear activity.  And I did see the family.of three from the bus, so safety first.  I cook quickly, hang the rest of my food, then head to bed.  I do not have to get up too early tomorrow, as it is less than 12 miles to the road to hitch to town.  I get to sleep in until sunrise, but not much later, because the trail is more climbing and will be much slower than this morning.

PCT mm 2557.0 – Sunny skies and green mountains

A great weather day today for some big climbs.  Lots of streams today, fewer big open views, but fewer blowdowns for sure made it a good travel day.

I was able to wake up early and get on trail at 6:30.  I had gone downhill from a switchback, so instead of going back uphill, I just kept going downhill and intercepted the next switchback.  The slope was about 45 degrees, so downhill both ways was the best choice.

The plants were hardly dewey, so I did not get wet at all.  About two miles down the slope I found the hikers from yesterday camped out and stirring to head out.  

The next six miles were a very shallow downhill as we went downhill along the Suiattle river to cross it, then come back up the river on the other side.  There is a shortcut that bypassed this six mile stretch, but it requires fording the river and then bushwhacking back to the trail.  At best case, it should save an hour, but having to deal with the river when everything is dry did not sound like fun, so  I stuck to the trail.  And it was a very nice walk, so I don’t regret my choice.

After crossing the river, it was a steady climb for about three hours.  I had intended on getting to the top before eating,  but I only made it about three quarters of the way before getting hungry and stopping for tuna wraps.  I saw two southbounders and recognized one from northern California. He was flip flopping to avoid weather.  I also ran across one day hiker who was a talker.

Once the climb was over, we dropped on to the north side of another canyon and it was a similar Alpine feel to the last two or three days.  Big open meadows with blueberries, big snow covered peaks, and streams everywhere.

This area still had some blowdowns, but most of them had been cut clean through.  There were still some that had to be climbed over, but they looked newer, and not years old like the previous day’s hike.

Toward the end of the day I located a campsite on the map that was six miles away that I would hit just before dark.  It sounded perfect, and had water close by.  I was running.low on water, but could last another two hours until getting to the campsite.

When I got close to the water source just before my intended campsite, I began to realize that the trail crossed the stream.  The intended crossing site had lots of stones to try to make a bridge across it,  but it was thirty yards wide and was not completely covered by continuous stones.  It was obvious that to cross it meant getting wet.  I could easily switch into the flips to cross, then just go on to camp in the flips.

But there was another option.  A very tall tree had fallen across the river 100 yards downstream.  It was eight inches around at the top fifteen feet above the water, and eighteen inches at the base four feet above the water.  It was pretty high up for such a skinny tree, and it was after 7:00 and light was failing fast.

I decided the tree would be my route.  Just getting to where I could climb up to the tree high over the river was challenging.  But I made it, and tested out the strength of the tree to be sure it would hold me.  I started across the tree, using my poles to steady myself.  I looked at the tree, and not the rushing water below.  If I was to fall, I would surely break something, so falling was not an option.  Everything went smoothly until about half way across, when the tree began to bounce and sway sideways like a tightrope.  This tree was over forty feet long from bank to bank..  I just paused and let the tree calm down, then kept proceeding.  It took about three minutes to cross, and then I was on my way to the campsite.  

All the other hikers were already there and had a fire going, so I went and set up my hammock quickly and grabbed my food and went and cooked by the fire.  Two others showed up and cooked as well.  It was nice to interact with other hikers for a while.  I don’t get that chance very often on the PCT.  Two other hikers have also done the AT, and three others have not.  Alot of the talk was about the AT and the similarities and differences from the PCT.  We also talked about the upcoming towns and what each had to offer. 

I think I will bypass Stehekin which is only 12 miles away and head straight for Mazama which is 31 miles away.  I will probably nearo there, depending on the forecast.  Everyone else is stopping in Stehekin.  I just don’t have the extra time and have plenty of food.  I am short on phone power, though.  Well see how much juice we have in the morning.

PCT mm 2530.7 – Clouds giving way to sun

Today was a real mixed bag.  It was raining very gently before I woke up and soaked every leaf until about 11 am, then the clouds began to disperse and were mostly gone by 5 PM.  My shoes, pants, and shirt were soaked until noon, then mixed sun and a strong breeze dried me out.  I ended up being another really nice day by the end of the day.

I slept in a little because of the rain early in the morning and did not get on trail until 7 am.  I could not tell if it was genuine rain or cloud drops because I was camping low.  Either way, the effect is the same – every little plant overgrown into the trail was saturated and within five minutes, my shirt, pants, and shoes were soaking wet.  It was fairly warm and I knew I had to do alot of climbing so I did not bother with rain gear or the pack cover.  I might rethink that next time.

I had a stream crossing about an hour into the hike over a bridge that had broken in the middle but was still serviceable.  It was like a fun house ride.  A single log bridge about thirty degrees down to the water then back up.  It had a railing that was perfectly broken to match the bridge.  The railings made it feel safer crossing it.

I passed two hikers packing up and within and hour both of them had passed me.  I never saw them again, and I never saw another hiker all day.  I have been seeing and hearing hikers night hiking past me while I am camped, and usually pass multiple campsites still occupied in the morning.  I did pass several other hikers tents this morning, but have not seen or heard night hikers tonight.  That could be because I am a hundred feet down a switchback on steep terrain in the hammock.  

The terrain was always climbing or always descending all morning and all afternoon.  It’s just like the Sierra where we climb out of one canyon just to go over a pass and descend into the next one.  Rinse and repeat.  Both the climbs and descents make heavy use of switchbacks and are graded decently most of the time.  

This section is a wilderness area and they have a thing about not wanting to clear blowdowns.  All they do is cut the branches off and chop a little notch to put your foot on and you crawl over it.  Some of these trees are four feet in diameter a few feet off the ground and take some work to get over.  Sometimes they are so big or so high that you have to go under them.  Some of these you can tell are decades old.  And sometimes the blowdowns cause the trail to go up or down slope and trample the vegetation.  You would think that at some point the impact of cutting a tree across the trail is better than creating mudslides on both sides of the tree.  I must have encountered more than a hundred blowdowns today, probably more.

I stopped for lunch at a pass where the sun was going in and out but a breeze was constant.  I took my shoes and socks off to let them dry and check my feet.  The left foot bandaid had come off and that foot is essentially healed.  The right heel was bleeding a little, but the bandaids were still in place.  I put a section of gorilla tape over the bandaids to reduce friction.  That seemed to help a little and it stayed in place for the rest of the day.

The afternoon was a descent that lasted until about 3:30.  I ran out of water on the way down, intending to fill up at the creek at the bottom of the canyon.  When I got there, it was silty and there was no easy way to get down to the water.  I try not to filter silty water so it won’t clog the filter.  The next water was five miles up the next canyon.  I decided to go ahead and go the five miles without water and maybe luck out on an undocumented stream on the way up.  No such luck.  I had to hike the full five miles for two and a half hours up a warm switchback canyon.  When I did get water, it was ice cold and crystal clear.  I filled up for dinner and enough for the morning.

I could have stopped at a perfect campsite at 6:30 but the site was high and windy and very cold.  I decided to make my way down the switchbacks towards a campsite four miles further and try my luck with finding something on the way.  It was quite dark by 7:15 and I was stumbling on rocks in areas with overgrown vegetation and was not thrilled about hiking that in the dark, so I kept my eyes peeled and finally found something about half way down that worked out fine.  The ground is steep, but I had a natural chair in front of a tree that worked out great for cooking dinner in comfort.  I went ahead and made a big dinner with pudding for dessert since I had plenty of water tonight.

It’s 39 miles to Stehekin and 68 miles to Mazama via Rainey pass.  I still have three days of food I have not broken into yet, so I probably won’t be stopping in Stehekin.  The original plan was to stop there just to go to the bakery for one day of food, but dealing with the shuttle to get into and out of town for food that I don’t need does not sound like it’s a smart stop.  It sounds like the $70 VVR hamburger fiasco all over again.  I think I’m better off spending my time and money in Mazama, since I have a package waiting there and must go anyway.  This is the last resupply of the trip.  Plus snow is now forecast for the weekend and I don’t want to dilly dally too much.  Yes, snow.  Snow trumps muffins any day.

PCT mm 2507.4 – Sunny day above treeline

What a fantastic day today.  I got up early and was on trail early, there was hardly a cloud in the sky all day, and most of the day was above treeline with fantastic views.  I only saw two hikers all day, and one of them I had not seen since Sierra City in northern California.  And a day above 25 miles for the first time in a while despite lots of elevation change.

I got ready quickly and was on trail at 6:30 for the first time since Timberline.  It’s just early enough to be before the sunrise, but not so nearly that you need a headlamp, but it’s right on the edge.  A week from now, it might be needed that early.

I thought where I camped last night was the top of the big climb through the boulder field, but I discovered this morning that there was another 500 feet to climb.  It went quickly, and all the vegetation was dry, so I didn’t get soaking wet first thing in the morning for the first time in over a week.

I got a few brief glimpses of Mt Baker as the trail wound around high peaks.  The fall colors of the fruit bushes litter the mountains all over.  I tried a few more blueberries since I was now higher, but they are still overripe like the ones at lower elevations.  The huckleberry bushes don’t have a smell but the blueberry bushes smell like blueberry muffins.  It’s like hiking through a bakery.  Or a Taiwanese muffin sweatshop.

I took my lunch break at the top of a saddle overlooking Mt Baker and other mountain peaks with snow on them.  I let my feet and socks dry while I ate.  The right foot is not very sore today, but I’m not sure how fast it’s healing.  The left one is almost back to normal.  I will let them dry tonight then rebandage and hope they heal soon.  Or at least heal before the next rain.

In the early afternoon I met a weeklong hiker doing Stevens pass to Rainey pass.  He had heard that this was the toughest and prettiest section in Washington.  So far that has turned out to be true.  The climbs are definitely getting bigger and in some areas steeper.  But the scenery just keeps getting better and that takes your mind off the climbing and various other less pleasant aspects of this hike.

I took an afternoon break at another saddle with a great view.  I sat under a sign that read “please camp elsewhere” and just a hundred feet down was a designated campsite.  Good thing I was only resting and not camping.  Just as I was getting up to leave, another hiker came by.  I recognized him immediately as Butterscotch, who I had not seen since the few days after leaving Sierra City in northern California.  That’s a long time ago, lime well over a thousand miles ago.  We had a quick chat, and then I moved on.  He stopped to take a break.

Shortly after leaving Butterscotch, I hit the 2500 mile marker.  YES!  Only 150 miles left to go.  It was just after a trail junction on the side of a mountain gain with red blueberries all over the place.  Someone had kicked some of the rocks used to spell 2500, so I stopped to fix them and take a picture.

The trail continued to climb while still remaining above tree line since about 10 am this morning.  Even at 4:45 the trail was still above treeline but now descended into a large canyon.  It looked exactly like the canyons of the Sierra.

After three miles or so of descending the canyon the trees finally appeared.  Big pines and firs, which make me happy to see, since they mean I will be able to find a place to hang the hammock.  It was after 6:00 PM now and it was time to start thinking about camping.  There was a campground that looked wooded that I would hit just after 7 PM so that would be a perfect stopping place.

I passed many great camping sites on the way to my target site.  When I got there, it was almost dark and the campsites sucked.  There were plenty of trees but most of them were too close or had dense brush or were near dead trees.  Never hang a hammock from a dead tree.  You don’t want to be sitting on the rope tied to a dead tree and have it fall right on top of you.

I finally found a site, set up, took the shoes off to let the feet air out, then cooked dinner.  I took the bandages off and the feet look so so.  The left one is fine, but the right one is still red and tender.  I will have to cover it with something so it won’t be glued to the sock in the morning, so I’ll cover it with a simple bandaid and decide what to put on it in the morning.  Hopefully most of the redness is gone by then.  I don’t have any antibiotic ointment, but the voltaren has alcohol in it, so I’ll use a dab to try to sterilize it a little bit.  I am hoping for another sunny day tomorrow.