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.

1 comment:

  1. When Columbus landed in the new world, that tree was already 138 years old.