Friday, October 19, 2012

After the End

Breakfast at Manning Park

It's been three weeks since I made it to Canada with Portrait right behind me.  That night we camped at the PCT Camp roughly four miles north of the border. The next day we hiked to Manning Park and then caught the bus to Vancouver. We didn't see much of the city beyond our hostel window. Portrait might have been up for sight seeing, but I know I wasn't. I had a hard enough time moving from the kitchen upstairs to our room on the main floor.

My tendons have been healing. By the time we caught our flight back to the east coast more than a week had passed since we had finished and I wasn't hobbling around anymore.  While still hiking we had talked about how we would be a couple of slugs on the sofa at Portrait's uncle's house. I took that daydream to heart and read a book cover to cover on that couch with a blanket, snacks, and hot drinks.

Hiking in New Hampshire
Since being back in Vermont I have gone on two very short day hikes--both only a couple of miles. It was nice not to worry about miles, to be packless, and not hiking through pain. I was much more interested in the PCT party my parents threw for me and Portrait. There was another Castle cake and sugar cookies decorated as boot prints, mountains, and the PCT symbol. There were friends and family members that I hadn't seen for months--many well before the start of the hike.
PCT sugar cookies

A few days after my party I finally got around to weighing my pack. I had started with a 17 pound base weight. I had sent home my first round of stuff after hiking 110 miles. In Washington, with my tendons hurting more every day, I sent stuff home or left stuff behind at every town stop, Steven's Pass and Stehkin being the most dramatic weight drops. I have updated my gear list to show what I was left with by the time I made it to Canada. At the border I had an 8 pound base weight plus food and water and that was still more weight than my tendons wanted to carry.

While hiking Portrait and I spent many hours planning how I could have a lighter pack next time. We are already planning on hiking the Continental Divide Trail next year. Hopefully we will be hiking northbound from Mexico to Canada, but that depends on the snow this winter. We'll have plenty to keep us busy over the winter: making super ultralight packs, a new sleeping bag for me, a new tent, different rain gear, dehydrating my food, route planning, applying for permits. There will be no end to the tasks. 

Neither Portrait or I plan on keeping a daily blog on the CDT. At the beginning of the hike I enjoyed writing my blog and I still enjoyed it later on in the hike when I was waking up at 5 a.m. to write for an hour because I no longer had the energy or the time to write in the evening. Blogging started to eat into my hiking time and I could hardly afford to loose hiking time and on the CDT, with a more rugged and longer trail, I doubt I can keep up with a blog.

Blogging also ate into my town time. I wasn't good at staying up to date. At each town stop I needed to write a few entries and ended up spending hours on the computer typing away. In town blogging was a chore that I came to dread. My favorite town stops were the ones where I wasn't on the computer: Independence, Sierra City, Burney, Siead Valley. I am glad to have a record of my hike, and I do feel a sense of disappointment that I won't have such a record for the CDT.

We are planning on keeping some kind of record of our hike. We talked about it often while hiking and have some ideas. Our goal is to do something fun and easy. Stay tuned.




Friday, September 28, 2012

Day 160- Let's Go to Canada for Lunch.


From campsite at mile 2649 to Canada at mile 2660


I didn't sleep well, not because I was excited but because not sleeping well has become my new sleep routine lately. Even though I was awake early we didn't get a very early start. I took some extra time to French braid my hair. The clouds in the sky went from pink cotton candy wisps to gray strands while I fought my hair tame. Portrait fiddled on his phone while waiting for me. Team All Dead left their camp just before us.

The last sunrise
We climbed up to Woody Pass so quickly that I didn't even have time to warm up. From the top of the pass I looked out on a sky full of clouds--some of them thick and dark. Portrait thought the Golden Year was just holding its breath and it would rain as soon as we reached the monument. We had day after day of bright cloudless days and I was more than a little disappointed that today was the day the weather picked to threaten rain. It felt like a broken promise.

The trail didn't go down like it usually does after a pass. We did some side hill while looking out at shadow peaks in the distance. There was one mountain with snow patches on its side that looked bigger than all the rest that the sun had picked out to light up.  It stood out like a gem among the other dull mountains. There was a quick ridge walk with shortened views thanks to the clouds. From the ridge we could see a lake that was one of the few listed water sources for the day, but we weren't planning on going off trail to it.

Leaving the ridge walk we finally started the down hill--downhill the rest of the way to Canada. Shortly after the ridge I heard voices and whinnies--horses were coming up the trail. There was a large flat area full of huckleberry plants that we stepped into to make way for the two riders and their horses. Their asked if we were thru-hikers, and congratulated us on our last day. After the had ridden on by we got back on trail and hurried on north.

Team All Dead had clustered at a campsite near the junction with the trail to the lake. We kept going, not needing a break yet. We wanted to be at Canada for lunch. I liked the way that sounded: let's go to Canada for lunch. We were moving along at a good pace--not as fast as going to Harts Pass and not at Town Pace, which I hadn't been able to hike at for awhile now due to my tendons, but we were on track to get to Canada in time for lunch.

We came to another trail junction and went just a little further on and then stopped for a snack. Somewhere near the ridge walk we started to play the game Favorite and Least Favorite. We asked each other favorite and least favorite hitch, snack, town meal, trail magic, hostel and the list kept going--Portrait asked me what my favorite rock was. We continued to play during our snack. It was another fun way to remember our hike and it avoided thoughts of after the hike.

Team All Dead passed us while we were packing up and getting underway again. They were slackpacking the ten miles to the monument and then back to where we had all camped. Their packs looked wonderfully small. It was almost hard not to be jealous, but they still had 30 miles to hike after reaching the monument.

I had hoped the clouds would move on as we hiked, but they seemed to move in instead. All the blue sky was crowded out as the sky grew darker. The trail dropped us into a more forested section cutting off my views of stormy clouds and I mostly stopped thinking about them for awhile. We came to a level area where little campsites nestled in the trees and a small grassy meadow had a fire pit and sitting logs. We were at Castle Pass. Back at Sierra City Opus had been flipping through a National Geographic article on the Washington PCT and came across a monument picture with a sign saying Castle Pass and an arrow pointing south. Since then I had been looking forward to Castle Pass, even with all the other Castle named places that I saw. This Castle Pass seemed cozy--I would have liked to stay there, but some other time when I didn't have such a strong desire to eat lunch in another country. No Amp passed us as Portrait took my picture with the Castle Pass sign. Somebody had Sharpie marker-ed onto the sign that we had 3 miles left. Portrait said it was actually 3.6.

We stepped over a dozen little streams in the next couple of miles. We went in and out of heavy forest as we switchbacked downhill. Portrait thought we would hear Canada before we saw it--he thought Team All Dead was sure to celebrate loudly. We saw it first, though. A long thin clear-cut strip running down a mountain. The trail went close enough to Canada to kiss that strip, and then it switchbacked and we went away from the border. We almost touched the border a few more times--each time I thought there would be the monument even though the area didn't fit with the pictures I had seen of the monument. Then we could hear voices below us: loud, happy, and excited voices.

The trail ducked back into the forest, hiding the border from me and then I really felt a sense of anticipation. I smiled at the trail builders--they knew what they were doing when they sent the trail through a clearing with the border in sight and then into trees to hide the monument until the last footfall. The voice grew louder as we grew closer...and so did the disappointment that we wouldn't have the monument all to ourselves. It felt a little like somebody else opened my Christmas present.

I thought the monument would be right in front of me when I walked into the clearing. I thought the trail would dead end at its base. Instead the monument was off to my left and the trail continued, unbroken, into Canada. Team All Dead was scattered around the small clearing, sitting in the dirt making signs and reading the register. Buckket was handing out chocolate as we came into the clearing. I put down my pack and ate my chocolate while looking at the five pillars that made up the monument. The PCT logo on the tallest, an American flag and a Canadian one one the second tallest pillar, and trail information on the others. And looking at it I felt peaceful. It was the same feeling I felt atop Springer Mountain at the end of my '09 thru-hike. I felt calm, happy, proud of myself, and grateful to be there and under that I felt tired, worn down, and aching. I hardly touched the monument before sitting down to my lunch--everybody seemed to be giving the monument space. We sat, in a loose semi-circle, facing the monument like we were children in a classroom and it was our teacher.

Trail name poster
I ate lunch leaning against my pack. Portrait took pictures of Tortoise standing on the top-most pillar and then he took some photos for Team All Dead. While they climbed over the monument the sky started spiting a few raindrops on us. We all looked a the sky in disbelief. Would it really rain on our last day when we hadn't had a day of rain in months? It seemed unfair and I started to grow very anxious watching Team All Dead posing for another dozen pictures. I didn't want my finish photo showing me sopping wet wearing a trash bag as a rain poncho. I didn't want that photo summing up my hike--it would have been wrong. I tried not to stress about it--it could be a funny story if there was a sudden down pour. The few drips stopped. Team All Dead relinquished the monument to others.

Whoever designed the monument built it with climbing in mind, I'm sure. It would have fit in at a playground. I went up to the monument while Portrait stood ready with three different cameras. The lowest pillar was the perfect height to step on and made a nice stairway to the other pillars. And there I was perched on the tallest pillar, my arms outstretched, and I grinned.



Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day 159- Counting Down


From the campground at Harts Pass at mile 2630 to campsite at mile 2649

Chris making coffee
We waited until we heard voices and car doors closing before packing up and joining the trail magic. We finally met our host, Gordo's Dad, who hadn't made it back to camp until 9:30 the night before. He unloaded breakfast from his Jeep: oranges, English muffins, brownies, and other goodies like chips and veggie sticks. Coffee and hot chocolate was made by Where's Chris at her site (and a shout out to Charles who wasn't able to help with the trail magic today).

Some of the coffee drinkers
Shortly before nine Portrait and I grabbed our packs--it was time to start our last 20 mile day. Gordo's Dad pointed us down the road to pick up the trail. Face Plant left at the same time as us and was quickly out of sight up the ridge.

It was warm and sunny walking up hill along the mostly treeless ridge. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. The tamarack trees were vibrant against the blue sky. A few ridges to the south the smoke was still there--nearly black against the blue sky.

Six miles in we stopped for water. Cheese caught up while I was filling my bottle. That whole group had left about a half hour after us. I took extra water to drink with lunch which I thought was going to be on top of the ridge right after the stream. It took us less than a half hour to climb to the top of the ridge--it was a lot closer than I realized. Tortoise, who had passed us earlier, was sitting in the shade eating a snack and taking in the view.

The trail dropped off the ridge and went along a side hill for a couple miles. I was pretty sure we were going to stop for lunch before the next water but then there was no place to sit and relax. Two miles from the water we stopped so I could drink the water I had been carrying and then dump all but a sip out. Minutes later we came to a wonderful view where we again found Tortoise sitting in the shade having a snack and enjoying the view. Had I not just dumped my water I would have had lunch there.

At the stream I ate with gusto--my food bag had too much in it for the time left. Face Plant, Tortoise, Cheese, Bone Lady, No Amp, and lastly Buckket all arrived at the stream for lunch as well. Portrait informed everybody as they hiked up that there was only 19 miles left. I thought it was a nice sounding number.

Portrait and I left after Face Plant knowing the others would catch up and pass. They caught up while we were talking to two thru-hikers who had finished yesterday and were on their way back to Harts Pass. They had heard about a short cut for the way back to Harts Pass that cut off two miles and elevation change that they told the others about while we hiked onward.

It was a long downhill and I took more Advil for my creaking tendons. I was happy to get to the bottom of the hill and start the next climb. My happiness didn't last too long: I was hot and tired at this point and my tendons hurt. I knew we were stopping at the next water and I was looking for it at every switchback. It appeared about 20 minutes after I was ready for it. I drank my fill but didn't carry much--there was more water coming up.

Portrait filling up and Tortoise waiting his turn
We continued to climb. We didn't check out the next spring that was a mile later. A half mile after that was another spring and the end of the climb. The spring was tiny. Just a few stands of water coming off moss into a little pool. I tried dipping water and ended up with cloudy water before sticking my bottle under a moss drip. It was a longer water break than expected.

The trail continued on a side hill and then instead of taking us to the pass it took us down a mile so we could go back up for two miles. There was a short cut over a scree scramble, but we skipped it. It wasn't that bad losing so much elevation just to regain it all. At six we still had a mile to the pass and we stopped for a snack--I really needed one. I was feeling like a mile of uphill would take the rest of the night. We saw Backwoods who had finished yesterday on his way back to Harts just as we were finishing snack.

After snack a mile felt like a mile again--it's a wonderful thing what sugar can do. Portrait heard voices off to our right and we followed a small path to where Team All Dead was starting dinner chores. They had all taken the short cut and said it had its scary moments, but wasn't as bad as the guide book said. No Amp came into camp shortly after us and everybody had dinner. The end seemed to be on everybody's mind--we used the word last a lot. Ten miles to the border in the morning, then one more night out for me and Portrait with nine miles to Manning Park and a road.



Team All Dead having dinner

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Day 158- Racing To Harts


From campsite at mile 2609 to campground at Harts Pass at mile 2630

Ice clung to the inside of the tent when I woke up at 5:30 to blog. I had slept warm mummied up in my sleeping bag. Just before 6:30 Portrait and I got up, and we got up quickly. The ground was covered in frost. The other tents had frost muting their bright green, blue, and orange colors. My tent was stiff with ice as I tried to fold it up with stiff fingers. Portrait shoved the tent in his side water pocket so it wouldn't get anything else wet. We waved to Bone Lady who sat up just as we were leaving. I could almost hear her thinking we were crazy as she hunkered down into her sleeping bag.

Frosted campsite
The trail went up for a mile to the pass and I was warm from toes to fingers before reaching the top. The sun was up but lurking behind a ridge, but the day was warming up anyways. The campsite on top of the ridge where I had wanted to camp looked like it had more frost than our spot and didn't have as awesome of a view.

The other side of the ridge was in deep cold shadows. I went from almost being too hot in my jacket and hat going up to a little chilly on the way down. We were moving right along though. We had five miles done before nine--four of it being downhill. The descent without using my trekking poles made my tendons complain loudly. I took more Advil when we took a break at a stream, but I left my poles attached to my pack--I wasn't ready to freeze my fingers again.

The trail leveled out and brought us into a sunny field. It felt great to finally be in the sun. We stopped to shed layers and get my poles out. It was time to take my hands out of my pockets. It stayed warm and mostly sunny as we hiked in and out of forest and fields.

At a small bridge over a creek we stopped for a break. Portrait draped the tent over the railing--ice tumbled into the river. I ate chocolate that Opus sent us in a care package at Stehikin. We both put on sunblock.

After the creek we started our first long climb of the day. We aimed to make a campsite 2.6 miles into the climb for lunch. While going up we followed the creek we had just gotten water at as it grew wider and slower moving. We made it to the campsite just in time-my stomach said it was lunch time. Portrait put the tent out to dry while we ate in a very small patch of sun. I was nearly as cold at the end of lunch as I had been leaving camp.
The trail continued its climb and went through red huckleberry fields so I warmed up quickly. There were a few more wispy clouds today than yesterday, but the day was just as lovely. It was warm out but there were faint hints of coolness- -quintessence autumn weather.

I was having a wonderful time by the top of the climb. I followed a little spur trail up to a higher point all happy and grinning and glad to be out there hiking. The view was wonderful. I had a snack and looked out at the next five or so miles of trail snack along a far ridge.

Looking off towards Harts Pass
We pushed on. We were hoping for trail magic at Harts Pass. I don't think you're really supposed to hope for trail magic but we knew magic had been happening there and it seemed likely it would continue while the bulk of hikers came through. We had a little hustle in our steps (or I did whenever my Advil was working).

The trail brought us along the shoulder of the ridges teasing us with a ridge walk that we could see was coming up but the trail kept unfolding along the shoulder of the mountain. We call it hidden trail when we can look out from a view point and follow the course of the trail along the ridge for miles and then when we hike it the trail folds around every curve of the mountain that we hadn't known was there.

At the spring we met up with Face Plant, then Bone Lady showed up and then a few others who I didn't know. We were all racing for Harts.

From the short ridge walk we were able to look down on the road that went through Harts Pass. If there was a trail magic tent down there we couldn't see it. We were four miles away at that point and could see the trail until it hooked around the shoulder of the mountain. Bone Lady caught up with us again right as we started the descent down the other side of the ridge.

Two miles from the road Bone Lady was slightly ahead talking to a guy going south. From her body language I thought he was telling her Harts Pass was a ghost town, instead he told us that there was magic but the guy doing it had went into town to resupply. I didn't know until Bone Lady told me that the southbounder was Wiseman, done with the thru-hike and going south for 80 miles.

We continued to hustle down the trail. My tendons started to protest all forms of walking and I promised them the end for the day and for the hike was very close. We were hoping the guy would be back from town by the time we arrived, but it wasn't to be.

We made ourselves at home at his picnic table. He had left a cooler of water out for us and Where's Chris, another Trail Angel, told us to use whatever we needed (fuel, Advil, mole skin) and handed out apples.

Time passed and more hikers showed up. We ended up being a large group: everybody from camp last night, plus Supergirl, and the four I didn't really know. We ate our dinners and it got dark out a cloud dropped a few rain drops on us then went on its way. People started drifting off to their tents around 8. Portrait and I called it a night just before 8:30 when our host still wasn't there.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Day 157-The Last Mile Marker

From Six Mile Camp at mile 2591 to campsite at mile 2609

It was a cold morning once we left camp. It put me in a really bad mood. I had sent home my mittens ages ago and really missed them hiking this morning. It felt like I sent home everything that made camp comfortable so I was unhappy hiking and now unhappy in camp. It took until the sun found me to get out of my funk because once my hands warmed up hiking didn't seem so bad. I had taken some Alive so I didn't hurt and I started to enjoy the day.

We hiked upwards for six miles heading towards Rainy Pass. For over a mile the trail hugged the highway. We could see cars zooming by through the thin screen of trees that separated us from the highway. Finally we came to the road crossing and met up with Bone Lady there and shortly we met up with Cheese. Portrait and I were hoping to find trail magic at the road, but it wasn't to be.

Bone Lady and Cheese stopped in the parking lot to eat some baked goods--I'm still sad I didn't pack out more baked goods. We hiked on, wanting to get to the 2600 mile mark to make a sign and have lunch. Right after leaving the parking lot I spotted a cooler--empty except for crushed cans. Portrait kept an eye on his GPS so we wouldn't go by 2600.

We had collected some berries during the morning to use for our sign. I cleared a spot on the trail when we arrived. Portrait started work on the 2 while I ate a small snack. I made the 6 and right when I finished Bone Lady and Cheese came up. She wondered how many miles we had really hiked by this point. It's probably a couple hundred more. They lingered until the sign was done, took a picture, and hiked onwards. We had lunch there then hiked on.

At Porcupine Creek we stopped to drink up so we didn't have to carry much water. While there we met a day hiker who wanted to know how she could do trail magic. While we talked to her, Buckket joined us and added his opinions. When she left Buckket speed off saying something about caffeine. Tortoise also passed us on the beginning of the climb up to Cut Throat Pass.

At a cute little waterfall where we stopped to drink more water No Amp caught up. We left as she filled her bottle expecting her to pass us soon. We saw a school group coming down from the pass and we passed a weekender couple going up. From one of the switchbacks near the top of the pass I spotted No Amp working her way up.
The day was beautiful climbing up. The sky was so blue-more so than usual I think. There were a lot of yellows against the sky really complementing the deep blue. The smoke had cleared out finally. We could see it peaking over a distance ridge--I hope it stays over there. Without the smoke it was a perfect autumn day.

The top of the pass was stunning. The next ridge was jagged it seemed to cut into the blue sky. Yellow Tamarac trees filled the slope between our ridge and the next one. We found Bucket and Tortoise taking a break and joined them and No Amp showed up not long after.

Everybody trickle away from the beautiful spot to do more hiking. Portrait and I were the last to leave after putting on sun screen. We walked along the shoulder of the ridge still taking in the views. We only had five miles left and it was still early so I didn't feel rushed at all. We have it planned so the last few days of the hike will be shorter and unrushed.

There was a hiker cluster about a mile after the pass. Everybody from the day was there. They had their pads out and shoes off. We didn't really join them. I didn't feel the need for another break--I prefer camp.
One of Washington's many failed bridges

The trail took us around to the other side of the ridge--I keep hoping to see Canada (soon I think). We went down a ways all the while seeing the trail high on the next ridge. Finally we stopped loosing elevation and crossed to the other ridge. The climb was so gentle it felt like flat trail. I ate a Milky Way while hiking and taking in the view.

There wasn't water where we were planning to camp so we filled up at a nice little spring to make sure we didn't end up dry at camp. Moments after filling up, Cheese caught up. We were going to let him by, but he said not to bother because we were at camp. I hadn't notice the camping off to my left with a magnificent view of the Cascades. Portrait and I had planned to go another mile to the top of the pass while everyone else planned to camp at the first spot. I knew Portrait wanted to stay, I did too, but that meant 21 miles for the next day. Once I realized how cold it was going to be, I was fine with not going to the pass.

We all had dinner talking about TV and mice. As soon as Portrait and I were done, we put up the tent. I was cold and couldn't wait to get into my bag. We had the tent up, teeth brushed, and in our sleeping bags by 7:15.





Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 156- Hiker Bridge Party


From Stehekin at mile 2580 to Six Mile Camp at mile 2591


There was a hiker reunion when at the High Bridge bus stop again. We saw Oops looking a little worn down. Super Girl was there. I hadn't seen him since Kennedy Meadows (mile 700). I hadn't even known Super Girl was still hiking--last I saw him his plan was to hike only CA.

I ate two slices of bakery pizza before Portrait and I left the parking lot. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I bought only two slices. We also trimmed some of the straps off my GoLite saving me a few ounces.

As people left the parking lot for the trail half went up the dirt road alternate and half stuck to the trail. The road was washed out a few years ago and the guide book made it sound like hikers risk death going that way (but they save a mile). We took the trail. If a short cut sounds harder and more time consuming we're not really interested. I also don't want to do anything that will hurt my tendons more like walk on unstable rocks for miles.
The trail was nice anyways. It had a few small ups and downs and it's really hot out for the end of September so I got pretty warm. The smoke had cleared out though. It felt like the first time in days that we were able to look up and see blue sky.

My pack was feeling light. It didn't feel like I had just left town with a five day resupply on my back. It was hard not to wonder why I hadn't swapped packs earlier. The GoLite doesn't feel as padded as my North Face and it's not as light as Portrait's pack, but it was lighter than what I was used to.

We had been following the Stehekin River the whole afternoon. Sometimes it was out of sight but we could still hear it down in its gorge. We hiked closer to the river and it rose up out of its gorge to meet us. From a ways away I saw a bridge with someone on it. We guessed it was Tortoise and so it was, but not just him.

We found a whole party going on. Bone Lady, Cheese, Bucket, No Amp, and Tortoise were all sitting on the bridge. Half the group had their jackets on like they had been there a while (which they probably had). Tortoise tossed everybody a couple of Starburst--if you didn't catch it the candy would probably fall between the cracks and fall into the river below. The whole group was thinking about camping on the bridge. It didn't seem like a nice idea to me--too cold with wind coming up between the cracks. We stayed for a bit and left them going over maps and mileage.

Bone Lady, Cheese, No Amp, Tortoise, Buckket, and Portrait
The trail went up after the river, but not very much. We crossed another small creek at the horse ford instead of the neat looking suspension bridge--it was too far uphill for my tired tendons. My tendons really started to ache 0.8 from camp. I think they know when the day is almost over.

The camp was 0.1 off trail. Lots of flat areas to pick from. We picked a tent site by the noisy little creek that was our water source. No one else showed up by the time we finished dinner around 7pm or by the time the tent was up at dark. I guess they opted for the bridge.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Day 155 Darkness Into Stehekin


From Five Mile Camp at mile 2575 to Stehekin at mile 2580


It was very dark at 4:45 when my watch alarm went off. It was warm in the tent so getting out of my sleeping bag wasn't a hardship.

Portrait and I packed up by headlamp. We couldn't see anyone else up yet. The campsite was quiet and dark when we left at 5:30.

A log bridge took us across the small creek that had been our water source the night before. There was another small creek that we had to rock hopped across--once we were sure the trail continued on the other side. It was a little hard to tell in the night time darkness.

Our chariot to town 
The trail on the other side was nice for hiking by headlamp. It didn't have too many rocks or roots and wasn't badly over grown like the trail from a couple of days ago.

Slowly it started getting lighter. At first it was only lighter than it had been--everything was black shadows instead of inky night surrounding us. Then the lightest colors returned to the world. The light gray rocks were first followed by light yellow Huckleberry leaves and then light green ferns got their colors back. The dark greens and browns of the pine trees returned slowly-the last to show up.

It did not become full daylight. The thick cloud of smoke smothered the sun. The light looked like the dark that precedes a storm. But this storm made my eyes sting a bit and tasted bad.

The trail had been following Anges Creek since yesterday and it started to switchback down to it. The creek had grown a lot since we crossed it near its headwaters around lunch time yesterday. As we had walked along it the waters had slowly carved a canyon into the rocks. Where it wasn't white rapids the water was a light blue and clear. We crossed the creek on an iron and wood bridge fifty feet above the churning water.
Team All Dead on the bus

The trail went up a little after the bridge and Portrait spotted a car and another bridge. Almost there and with plenty of time to spare. We walked down a short section of dirt road and crossed the bridge over the Stehekin River--one of the cleanest rivers in the country.

We were reading the information board when Bone Lady walked up. The others trickled into the waiting area within a half hour. No one else showed up except the seven of us before the bus roared into sight.

The flowers at an organic farm near town
The bus wasn't a school bus like I had expected, but a red bus with class. The front end looked like it could plow through anything. The best part of the bus: it was full of hikers. Frost got off followed by a dozen other hikers that I had met--most of them recently. Portrait and I wished Frost luck on the rest of his hike. There is no more catching up with people after Stehekin  last town, last zero and nero chances. Everybody on the bus waved goodbye to the hikers milling around as the bus lurched onto the road.



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Day 154-T Minus 100


From the bank of the Suiattle River at mile 2553 to Five Mile Camp at mile 2575

It was still sort of dark when we left camp, Portrait wearing my pack and I wearing his, just before seven. Somewhere in the mist above us the sun was up. It was a cool morning so the three mile gentle uphill was welcomed. It was fun climbing up to the mist. As we got closer we could see the mist blowing between trees.
As we hiked Portrait tried to figure out an alternate mentioned in the guide book. He was pretty sure the other route would save us miles and elevation change. And with so much mist we wouldn't be missing views from the ridge. I was all for the shorter route.

We stopped at a creek for water and a snack. We were surprised Bone Lady and the others hadn't caught up yet. I got cold quick having snack and didn't warm up at all on the half mile of flat. Not until the two mile uphill did I get warm again.
100 miles to Canada!

Just before the top of the uphill we stopped for a celebration. One hundred miles left. Just a few more days, really. We made a marker and talked about where we were at mile 100 which was close to Barrel Springs campsite. We had been playing this game for the last few hundred miles--figuring out where we were with 517 miles left, 476, 309, 210. It's been a fun way to review the hike. At the 100 mile mark we make a sign out of red huckleberry leaves and the green lichen that features heavily in most of our signs. As we try to take a picture of us and the marker the wind picked up and scattered some of the leaves. We put them back, but the marker isn't destined to last long. We reinforce it with some sticks--not our prettiest marker, and move on.

In under a mile we are at the first trail junction of the alternate route. We hang a right and walk for just a few minutes downhill before coming to another junction. There is a sign directing us left towards High Bridge, where we will catch the bus into Stehekin, and just behind that sign another one saying the trail is not maintained. We take it anyways. Right away we see signs of the trail being maintained. It seems in better shape than a lot of the PCT that we hiked on recently.  The down trees were cut sometime earlier this summer and there weren't many spots were brush had grown up. There were a number of small streams in gullies that had bridges that had twisted and broke like an earthquake had hit them. Washington was the state of the bad bridges. We have gone off Portrait's GPS tracks and we don't really know what we will find on our alternate. All we really know is that the guidebook said don't take it. We descend for a while which makes me think about how much climbing we may have to do later, but my tendons are feeling good with a dose of Advil and Portrait's lighter pack on my back.

We stopped for lunch on the bank of Agnes Creek. I filled my bottle with a liter of the very cold and very clear water to go with my lunch of sausage cheese, and candy. We don't rush through lunch today--we seem to be doing well on time now and we will be getting into town the next morning--that's no longer a maybe, which feels good. We leave our lunch spot, but not the creek, behind. The trail hugged the banks of the creek always keeping the clear water in sight. The creek grew as we head down stream. It carved out a canyon for itself and we finally lose sight of the creek in the bottom of the canyon.

Portrait predicted we'd be back on the PCT sometime around three. Around two-thirty he started to check his GPS to find out how far away we were from the trail if we wanted to go cross country to it--which we don't--our creek trail is lovely and fast. At quarter of the trail delivered us into a large rocky run--at some point a river surely ran over the smooth rocks, but there's not even a trickle of water now. I pick my way across carefully. And there, on the other side, was our trail. It felt like we had gone through some kind of worm hole. Before entering the worm hole we had almost twenty miles between us and town and at the other end a mere twelve miles. It felt like magic how quickly those miles had melted away because of a walk along a creek.

We passed some lovely campsites along the banks of the creek--the PCT now followed the creek. One of the campsites had the paths and tenting areas outlined in smooth river rocks. At another we took a snack break, I took more Advil, and we switched our packs back. Mine felt extra heavy after a day of Portrait's light pack.
We had mostly given up on seeing Team All Dead again. We figured they may have worked some magic of their own: gotten out of camp earlier than us, hiked through the night, took up trail running. We weren't sure, but we were just three short miles from camp at a water source having a snack and drinking our fill when Bone Lady and Cheese came into the clearing behind us. They had been behind us all day after leaving camp late. We were all going to the same campsite for the night, and all planning on a before light start for the next day. They took the lead and were quickly out of sight.

By the time we got to camp they had a campfire going to cook their dinners. Portrait went for water for the both of us while I settled onto a log by the fire. It was one of our earliest nights into camp in a while and it felt good to start dinner while it was still light out. The other members of Team All Dead, Buckket and No Amp, trickled into camp and then Highlife, who we hadn't seen since Ashland joined us just as the campfire died down. Nobody lingered. I was tired. We all seemed to have town on our minds. Our foodbags were light and thoughts of the Stehekin bakery were heavy. It wasn't completely dark yet when I crawled into my sleeping bag in the tent.



Friday, September 21, 2012

Day 153-Adventures in Butt Scooting

From small campsite on the ridge at mile 2530 to the bank of the Suiattle River at mile 2553

Shortly before first light an owl flew low and silent over the campsite. I looked up at its belly as it soared pass. It was the first owl that I had seen on the hike and seemed likely that it would be the only owl I would see. I imagined it was on its way to somewhere less desolate--there were hardly any trees on our part of the ridge. I shook Portrait awake to tell him what he had missed and then we started getting ready for the day's hike. While he packed up I had a pot of hot oatmeal mixed with a hot chocolate packet. The sun wasn't in view yet when breakfast was eaten, packs were closed, Advil was taken, and hiking was underway.

We had been just shy of the top of the pass last night. It didn't take long to gain the pass and meet the sun, hot pink through a haze of smoke. On the other side of the ridge there was nothing but rocky side hill. Looking out I could see the trail wander its way north through the rock strewn ridge. If we had kept going last night we would have been covering that rocky ground in the dark. My tendons shook in fright at the very idea. Starting the downhill my tendons felt stronger than they had the night before, but I was thankful to be doing this stretch of trail in the morning.

After a mile or so, the sun still pink as if it had just risen, we came to Mica Lake where we had planned to camp the night before. The lake was mostly frozen--cold and unwelcoming in the pink light of morning. We found most of Team All Dead packing up camp with their hoods and insulated jackets on. We said good morning, but didn't talk long--we have to focus to make the type of miles that we need. And we knew they would be passing us soon enough. We crossed Mica Lake's outlet and then started on the long downhill. Cheese was the first to pass on one of the long switchbacks, with No Amp passing shortly after.


No Amp, Cheese, and Bukket still in his tent.
I could hear a river in the valley--one of the many we would be crossing that day. The closer we hiked to the river the worst the trail became. Trees were down and we scrambled over and under them. Large patches of the switchbacks were washed out. Shrubs had grown up on either side of the trail making hiking feel more like wadding. All the scrambling over rough sections and slogging through bushes was slowing us down and was becoming frustrating. We were trying to keep an eye out for an old section of the PCT that had suffered a severe enough wash out from the river below that the trail and the bridge across the river had to be replaced. the new section of the trail was a mile longer and it was a mile we didn't want to do. We ended up finding the old trail easy enough--well it was overgrown many hikers thought like us and didn't want to add miles to their day.

At the junction of old and new PCT I sat and had a snack while Portrait went on a scouting mission. And I had another snack. And then another. He was gone long enough that I started to theorize about why he hadn't returned. My best guess was he was talking with Team All Dead about the best way across the river. I was still sitting there when Buckket came along and said he'd give a shout if it appeared Portrait had been washed down stream. Before Buckket was even out of sight down the old PCT he stopped to talk with Portrait who was on his way back to the junction. He said the old trail didn't look like something I'd want to do with two hurt tendons. He said there were a couple of maybe crossings across the river but they all involved something like jumping from one rock onto a rotting moss covered rock or onto a small wet rock. He was covered in prickers from the overgrown trail and annoyed at how much time was wasted. We were down to the new bridge and new trail quickly.

After the river we climb upwards for a while. At noon we are walking through a damp pine forest. Everything has moss growing on it. The light is dim. The ground is soft underfoot. Logs make inviting seats and lunch is on my mind, but Portrait wants to get to the next river before stopping. There is more sunshine on the river's banks and less moss. The river is clouded with silt. Upstream there are a few dozen trees down. They are bleached gray and limbless. There is a small campsite that we settle down in for lunch time. Lunch has been limited--the scouting mission this morning ate up too much time, and to make up for it, lunch needs to be shortened. And there's flies. They land on us--dozens of them on our hands, and clothing, and trying to land on our food. We pack up, and take the bridge over the gray river.

We walk along a side hill in the open. It's hot--we put sunscreen on and I put my hat on that hasn't gotten much use lately. I can see the trail snaking along the shoulder of the mountain on the other side of the valley. In every crease of the ridge little rocky streams trickle down the slope. We find Tortoise sitting on a rock near one of the small streams eating a hot lunch. Portrait tells him about a short cut--another bridge out that was replaced five miles downstream. He had an older guidebook and hadn't know about the five extra miles--and was already low on food. He parts way with the plan of getting to Stehikin on Saturday, maybe before the post office closes, because he's nearly out of food. That seems to be the case for most of us this section. Everybody seemed to be looking at their foodbags with skepticism.


One very old tree
Portrait didn't think we'd make it to the junction of the old and new PCT. I didn't think much about it at all--Portrait was good at estimating our arrival times. But somehow we started making better time than expected. The trail was much better than it was during the morning. There were fallen giants of trees down but they were all cleared. On the biggest of the giants someone had written on the cut end that the tree died at 658 years old. It was almost as big around as I was tall. I couldn't help but touch the smooth cut of the tree and wondered about all that it had lived through.

It wasn't late yet when we reached the junction. There was a sign saying the trail was not maintained. Opus had told us that when he went through the log over the Suiattle River was still there, but we had no way of knowing if the log was still there--except someone would have left a note saying so. There was no note, so we left behind the new PCT for the old. Right away we had to cross a swift moving silty river. It took a few minutes to find the well beaten track to a log over the river. Watching Portrait go first over the river the log looked high above the current. There was another tree that was down next to the log making a bit of a hand hold, but it drew away from the log making a shaky railing. It took Portrait a few false starts to let go of the second tree and trust his balance to the one log under his feet. When it was my turn I had the same trouble letting go of the railing that gave a very false sense of security. After one wobble that made me shrike I took a seat on the log and scooted my way over the river.


Portrait on the first log crossing
On the other side of the river we entered a different land. Everything seemed old--the trees were silent giants, the plants were also huge. It was damp, dark, and mossy. We looked around for the dinosaurs, but figure they must be hiding from us. The trail hasn't been closed for long--we can clearly see where the trail is, but there are downed trees and plenty of them. A hundred hikers before us have made new trails over and around the downed trees that are easy to follow. Even with the obstacles we make okay timing.

It is dusk when we reach the bank of the Suiattle River. It looks like it has seen destruction. The down trees are gray, the rocks and mud are gray. They sky is just as gray and a low mist makes even the living trees on the ridge across the river look gray. And the water is gray with dirty white foam. The bank is wide from past floods and we pick our way over the rocks, sand, and debris towards the main flow of water. There are little campsites with fire rings on the sand, but we want to be on the other side of the river. We don't know what's over there, but neither of us want to make camp knowing that first thing in the morning we have to cross the river.

We saw the log right away and stared at it in disbelief. Was this really the log that everyone was taking across the river? Was this the log that Opus told us to take when we saw him in Seattle? This log that was about a foot thick and on an incline? This log that would put someone a dozen feet above the choppy water at the far bank? Surely this wasn't the log, but we saw no others in the failing light. At the sight of it, I really did not want to wait until the next morning. Better to get it over with while I had the courage to do so. I wouldn't be able to sleep knowing I had that log to face in the morning.

Portrait sat for this log crossing. He tucked his feet up so they don't dip in the water and he started to scoot. He made slow progress. When he was about halfway across he stopped to take a break and I realized I would be crossing the river in the dark. He has both our headlamps, but other than that I have everything I need on my back to camp on the river bank, but I'd rather be on the other side. I wanted to start while he was still scooting his way across the river, but it seemed like bad etiquette. So I waited. Slowly he made it to the other side, with a few breaks. I watched him climb off our sketchy log onto another log on the river's shore.

I tossed one leg over the log and sat down. It felt surprisingly stable underneath me. I put both of my hands on its smooth surface, palms down, fingers pointed towards the water, about a foot in front of my body. With elbows locked I put most of my body weight on my hands, lifting my but just barely off the log and moved forward. I moved in increments. I moved slowly, but once I was past the only runty branch on the whole log, I realized I felt safe above the water. I felt safer on the crazy log more than I felt on the first log crossing on the old PCT. It was dark and I could only just see Portrait, headlamp shinning towards me, on the far bank. My arms started to ache with tiredness. They weren't used to doing so much work on this hike--their only job was to occasionally lift up my pack. Lifting up my body was left to my legs, which were dangling high above the water now. I took a long break on the log while Portrait took a few photos of my unusual perch.


Me, on the slanty log
He moved aside when I got close so I could dismount the slanty log for the log safely on the river's bank. As secure as I felt crossing the river it felt better to be on the far side. I got out my headlamp and we moved away from the river. Finding a spot to camp was my main focus. I didn't really care about getting back on the PCT, but it seemed likely there would be camping at the junction. There was a well-worn path that we stumbled upon that lead us back to the PCT and back to the forest...and sidehill. My spirits sunk a little at the sidehill--there's never camping on sidehills. Portrait saw what he thought was the glow of eyes in his headlamp, but minutes later it turned out to be a campfire. We came to the junction of the old and new PCT and could see a small campfire near the river. We followed the light more than a trail to the fire thinking we would find Team All Dead relaxing. Instead we found two southbound section hikers. We chatted for a bit, but I was wiped out--I wanted camp, dinner, and then sleep. They showed us a campsite that we wouldn't have found in the dark by ourselves. Portrait brought his dinner up to their fire to chat while I ate mine at our sight leaning against a log. The river was loud, but seemed less threatening on this side of the bank.



Thursday, September 20, 2012

Day 152-Broken Bridges

 From the field at mile 2509 to campsite on the ridge at mile 2530

Views of smoke
At sunset we have two miles left to hike-half of that up hill. Portrait was reading to me as we hiked because I was miserable and slow and he was bored trailing along behind me (and at heart he is a Fastie). 

A broken bridge upstream from the new bridge
Canada feels oily. We hike, getting closer, but we don't make enough progress. Our finish date keeps sliding away from me. Days ago we had ten days left and we still have ten days left even though we hiked passed the 2500 mile mark and caught up with Bukket and Cheese this morning. By evening it doesn't feel like I've made it anywhere.

Another broken bridge, but usable 
I am weary. Portrait did the math earlier in the day and by the time we hike to Stehekin my tendons will have hurt for 520 miles. By Manning Park in Canada it will be 606 miles. As I climb upward the sky is streaked with pink around the snowy stone giants across the valley and I wonder how I'll look back on Washington. Portrait said I'll remember it as painful, and I'm sure that will color my memories. More than painful I think I'll remember how disappointed I was in myself. How everyday I fell short of our goal and pushed town and Canada one day further away I felt failure. I'll remember not feeling any joy at a firery red sunset. I will think of Advil and how my happiness depended on how much I took and when.

As we hike into dusk my head throbs with the pressure not to cry. Portrait remarks how lovely the area is and I say nothing. Each time I catch a glimpse of the trail winding its way upward I want to sit down and close my eyes and just stay there.
Glacier Peak

We pass some snow at what I think is the top of the climb-many miles ago it seems that Portrait told me I had only .6 left to climb. It is not the top and I finally stop, dejected next to a flat sandy campsite that I know I can't have. It is beautiful here: sparse trees, snow patches cling in depressions, the huckleberry bushes are that lovely shade of red, the view of mountains around us is impressive, and above it all the moon is a thumb nail crescent in the darkening sky.  When Portrait asks if I want to stay there I burst into tears while saying I want to go home. But of course I don't want to go home.  I want to enjoy hiking again.  I want to have fun, I want to be wowed by the views, and happy at the end of the day and to look forward to the next day. 




Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Day 151-The Trail Provides


From campsite on Grizzly Peak at mile 2490 to field at mile 2509

I spent most of the night slipping downhill and inch worming back to the top of my sleeping bag. It was a warm night though. Just before 6:30 when I was finishing up my blogging I happened to look up at the sky a saw the space station moving across the small clearing above me. I shook Portrait awake and he was able to catch a glimpse of the lone bright dot in the morning sky. Once it was gone it was time to get up.

I had big plans for the day. I took Advil in camp and picked up the cuben fiber pack. It weighed almost nothing. It was cotton candy and spider webs light. I could see us going 23 miles--we were practically there already as we left camp just before 7:20.

Glacier Peak just after leaving camp
My tendons were feeling great. I had full confidence in pack swapping to help them heal before Canada. We hiked downhill--with no pain breaking through the Advil--through a field full of white dandelion puffs. I wish I saw it when the flowers were in full bloom. The whole field must have been solid yellow. Now it looked like fall with a riot of leaves painted in reds, yellows, and oranges.

We passed a campsite about a mile from Grizzly Peak that looked perfectly flat. We could have made it there last night had we known there was a spot to make camp. It's a hard thing to guess at--I didn't want a repeat of the day we left Snoqualmie Pass and night hiked for a couple of hours because we couldn't find camping.
Around 10 my tendons started hurting faintly as the Advil wore off. I had thought the Advil would last longer than that. We were on a downhill to a small stream and I wanted to wait at least that long until I took more Advil. Once I was drinking water and eating cookies in a small campsite I decided to push until lunch before taking more Advil. At the end of break Portrait gave me just over a pound of weight from his load--he was missing his ultra-light set-up but wasn't complaining.

It was 11:30 when we left the snack spot with the goal of 2.5 more miles before lunch at the next water just after the 2500 mile mark. We hiked uphill first through another beautiful autumn field of huckleberries clinging to the side of the ridge. There weren't any trees and the summer sun beat down on us until we crossed to the other side of the ridge and went down through thick forest towards water.

We could hear the water below us when Portrait realized we had gone 0.07 miles past the 2500 mark. We walked back (me with some reluctance). We made a sign out of some green lichen that clung to itself like velcro and outlined the numbers with pine cones. Then it was onward to lunch down the hill.

Portrait took off his pack and I saw when he dumped it on the ground the Earth shook with its force. He sat down next to me, took off his shoes, and gingerly rubbed his tendons. He was getting tendinitis, too. We had to switch back. My tendons groaned in protest (my shoulders did as well). We couldn't have two of us hobbling along to Canada.

Team All Dead also marked the 25,000 mile mark
On the uphill after lunch we made a list of pieces that could be cut off my pack. Every inch of extra strap, unused buckle, and empty pocket went on the list. I could feel my pack trembling in fear. We made a list of everything else I could send home--every once would help my tendons. The list were long, but still wouldn't give me as light of a pack as the one I put on that morning. What I needed according to Portrait was a different pack, and I agreed. But I couldn't get one without phone service and there wasn't supposed to be any for the rest of the hike.

We were on an exposed sidehill with a view of a dozen ridges before far away smoke hid the others from view when we heard a beep beep. I think it was an electronic beep, Portrait thought it was a bird. Whatever it was, there was cell service right there. The trail provides, and it gave me what I needed. I called home. My Mom said she could put the GoLite pack I started the hike with in the mail in the morning. I should have it in Stehekin on Monday morning. I was thrilled--now I just had to walk four more days with a heavy pack, unless the trail provided a post office (or trash can).

We hiked on. My glow from getting a new pack in the works wore off as my tendon pain increased. I started to look for a place to have snack as the trail started a series of switchbacks downhill. There was a little campsite with a few sitting rocks next to a fire ring that pulled me in. I was moving towards it when Portrait asked if I had seen the boulder I had just walked by. I hadn't so I backed up. It was the best rock chair I had seen on trail yet. I climbed up with my PopTart and Portrait and settled in. It was a hard spot to leave fifteen minutes later.

We came across a very small spring coming out of the ground right above the trail. We stopped to fill up-there was no water listed in this section excepted a lake. I took a liter and a half to get me into the next day. When we got to the lake a mile later it was so lovely I wouldn't have had any problems drinking its still blue water.

We climbed up to the ridge after the lake. The PCT gave us a ridge walk through huckleberry fields for a couple of miles. Every so often we had views of Glacier Peak to our left. The peak kept getting larger--that was where we were going.

The sun started to set as we got to the end of the ridge walk. We dropped down onto one of the mountain's shoulders and followed the slope down. We were kept an eye out for campsites as we went, but the side hill provided nothing. At the bottom, just before dark, was a trail junction in a small grassy field. With no debating we called it home.






Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Day 150-Leaving Steven's Pass


From Steven's Pass at mile 2476 to campsite on Grizzly Peak at mile 2490

After a short town stop with many chores Portrait and I got back on trail around 11 o'clock. We had gotten a ride with a fruit farmer who had picked up No Amp and Buckket as well. We dispersed after hitting the trail. Portrait and I kept stopping in the first mile to check something on the last bit of internet, bathroom break, put on sunblock. Little Dipper passed us while I was putting sunblock on my ears. It seems unlikely that I will be seeing much of her on trail even though we plan to finish on the same day.

Portrait was carrying my pack again. On the scale at the hostel it had weighed in at 40 pounds. His cuben fiber pack that I was carrying weighed in at eleven pounds. I could hardly feel it on my back and I knew Portrait felt every once of the weight on his back. He said nothing about it though.

For the first climb my legs were feeling good. I had taken Advil in the trail head parking lot to help keep my town rested tendons feeling rested. We were at the back of the group that had left town and I kept expecting to see everyone taking lunch by one of the many small streams we crossed.  When we did find them Little Dipper, Jack, and Gut Feeling were just leaving, but No Amp and Buckket were still sprawled on the ground. We had the goal of taking a short lunch, less than an hour, and even though I didn't even take off my shoes and get comfy, we hardly left before the hour was up. I blame the beautiful orange butterfly that seemed to mistake me for its home. It kept landing on me and staying long enough for Portrait to make a movie. Finally I shoed it away so we could finish our uphill.

It was only another mile to the top of that pass. Then it was a few miles down to a creek. We finished off Portrait's water early to help lighten his load. I took more Advil on the way down-we still had most of the day's hike ahead of us.

The creek in the valley was beautiful. The water flowed down a large, smooth, moss covered rock into a little pool.  It was so clear in a little pool that I could see every pebble underwater. The water looked like it had never known dirt. I drank a liter there while having a PopTart for snack. I left with only a half liter of water--the next source was 1.5 miles away.

It was uphill for that 1.5 miles but I didn't drink any of my half liter. The new water wasn't nearly as pretty. It was sluggish as it moved through piles of mossy rocks. It tasted a little mossy as well.

The climb continued upwards after the water. We hiked out of the pine forest into sunny huckleberry fields decorating the hill side. Their red leaves turned firery as the setting sun lit them up. There was a lot less haze from the fires and the sky turned pink as we climbed the last half mile. We got our first real view of Glacier Peak-which we should be getting to soon.

Grizzly Peak had a small summit with a view of Glacier. Tucked into a grove of runty pine trees was a campsite. When we were in Seattle Opus had warned us the Grizzely Peak campsite had a wicked slope and to not get fooled by the idea of sleeping on a peak. We knew that when we picked our spot for the day, but the mileage was right.  It may not be the best sight, but I was feeling my best in a long time, and I didn't want to ruin that with a three mile night hike down to the lake where everyone else there.was camping.