Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Smoke and fire dominated both the views and hiker worries over this section. Even after a day of heavy rain, by the time the morning mist started to clear, smoke already had replaced it making for hazy views for almost the whole hike. As we approached Rainy Pass, my eyes were stinging, and everything smelled and tasted of smoke. My water filter even clogged up from ash, spitting out a stream of charcoal particles when I backflushed it. For safety reasons, the PCTA issued a "no hike" request for the trail north of Rainy Pass, with a legal closure at Hart's Pass due to active fires. While there was technically an alternate to get to Canada, it would still be smoky, and permits for that hike were difficult to arrange. So, along with many other hikers, I opted to stop this section at Rainy Pass, considering the last section as closed trail. Some other hikers pushed on without permits along Ross Lake, and I am sure we will hear how that worked out soon.
Snoqualmie Pass seems to be the dividing line between forests that are well watered, and an almost rain-soaked landscape to the north of the pass. The forests are lush with moss, ferns, fungi, berries, waterfalls and tall beautiful trees. While we were enveloped in smoke, fire had only touched the PCT recently in a few spots. It seemed to be a place where forest fairies might live, and the haze strengthened the sense of being in a magical and primordial landscape.
At Stevens Pass, friends Lori and Bill whisked me off the mountain for a day of rest and their amazing home cooking, including barbecued curry chicken and boysenberry cobbler from freshly picked berries. Lori started the trail with me on April 2nd, but suffered an overuse injury to her heel early on and had to stop her hike to mend.
Once back on trail, along with the forest fairies, I enjoyed hiking with Mike and Z, Lady Bug, Slim, Big Dog, Spice Cat, Heidi, Potable, Mugwort, Fivel, and many others who I had met earlier on the trail.
Without rehashing the technical aspects of the closures, we were rerouted through Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center with excellent meals, and took a ferry into Stehekin, which was fun. With some quick transitions in town, most of the northbound hikers made it onto the 2 PM bus up to the PCT trailhead, stopping at the Stehekin bakery on the way out, one of the culinary high points of the trail. I had a slice of boysenberry pie, and it was almost as good as Lori's cobbler.
The closure to Canada brought up a lot of emotions for many hikers, including sadness, tears, and a sense of despondency. It wasn't so hard for me because I hiked that final section last year all the way into Manning Park. Also, my hike has never been centered on the idea of a Mexico to Canada hike, instead my hike is about being in nature and overcoming a challenge, with the thru-hike more of a context than a goal. Another hiker had dedicated his hike to the memory of his mother who had recently passed on, so for him the closure seemed like a failing in his effort to honor his mother. All this emotion highlighted for me that the hike doesn't have any inherent meaning, but it can have significant personal meaning to a hiker.
Once at Rainy Pass, six of us got another amazing hitch from the trailhead straight to Marysville, just an airport shuttle ride away from SeaTac Airport. Later today, I will fly down to Medford and get to Crater Lake to continue my hike. I have roughly 320 miles still to hike for 2018 to be considered a thru-hike for me. Currently, the trail is all open, with several earlier fire closures having been lifted.
You can see my pictures for this section at this link:. Photos for Snoqualmie Pass to Rainy Pass
Saturday, August 11, 2018
After spending a day in Portland with our hospitable friends John and Mary, and getting a ride back to the trail, I crossed over the Columbia River on "The Bridge of the Gods" and labored up the steep climb out of Cascade Locks, which is the lowest elevation of the trail. I vividly remembered the blackberries in this section from 2017 and was treated again this year to an "all you can pick" feast.
The trail from Cascade Locks to Trout Lake primarily traverses a forest landscape, similar to Northern Oregon, but with the addition of a lot more rain, and more climbing. I enjoyed just "making miles" in the forest, and got to the Trout Lake access road just as some other hikers were getting dropped off, so I had a ride lined up straight away. Three of the hikers getting back on trail as I got off were ones that I knew from the desert section, and it was good to catch up with Crush, Ridge Route, and Shortcut.
I did a quick turnaround at Trout Lake and got back on trail the same afternoon. Feeling refreshed, I blasted up the trail, and made it 16 miles in to where Ridge Route and Shortcut had pitched with an incredible sunset view of Mount Adams. They had actually hiked on another mile, but doubled back after reaching the overflowing Adams Creek, preferring a morning crossing when the snowmelt would be at it's low point. In the morning we found a safe crossing and continued on.
This section includes the Goat Rocks Wilderness, with dramatic mountain views and strikingly beautiful waterfalls and meadows. For about a mile the trail has been carved into the top of a ridge, and this is appropriately named "The Knife's Edge," as there are steep dropoffs on both sides of the trail. As you might guess, this makes for fantastic views, as well as a slightly giddy sensation. As I hiked The Knife's Edge, I could see thick clouds of smoke from the "Miriam" fire to the east, and when I reached Tieton Pass, the PCT was closed, with a detour to the west. The 9.2 mile reroute ended at a busy roadway, and I caught a hitch up to White Pass where I could rejoin the PCT.
White Pass was the temporary home base for the fire crews, and there were about 50 colorful backpacking tents in a field right at the Pass, presumably personal equipment for each firefighter. After a shower and laundry stop, I pressed on rather than spend a night at the noisy road area.
Hiking on toward Snowqualmie Pass, I started with a short day, then had three days with about 6,000 feet of climbing each. I met Papa Oats on trail who referred to this as PUD (pointless up & down) since we were in forest almost the whole way, providing minimal payoffs at the top of each climb.
As I headed toward a campsite at the end of one day, I spotted a Z-packs tent tucked into a small flat spot on the hillside. It was a remarkable choice of pitch locations, with a great view, and I stopped to admire it. After I made a comment, from inside the tent Mike Sauget recognized my voice, and quickly emerged. We had not seen each other since Kennedy Meadows, so it was great to catch up and we also made a plan to share a meal at Snowqualmie Pass.
By the time I reached Snoqualmie Pass, my feet were sore, and I was ready for a break, having finished almost half of Washington. I checked into "The Summit Inn" for a two-night stay and have been luxuriating in the simple pleasures of town life. Tomorrow morning I will continue north toward Stevens Pass, which will be my next stop.
The photos for this section are at this link: Photos for Cascade Locks to Snoqualmie Pass