In October I conducted a survey on hiking footwear. Below is a link to a draft of results summary.
A few weeks ago I found myself in the position of having three days off of work perfectly coinciding with the three warmest and sunniest consecutive days western Washington has had all year. Without a doubt, I was planning a hiking trip. I spent a lot of time on the WTA website, searching for a hike between 25 and 50 miles long that wouldn’t have more than a few miles of snow but would still reach a nice alpine setting, ideally a lake. In mid-June, this didn’t turn up a ton of options, but one stood out–LaCrosse Basin by the North Fork Skokomish River Trail.
The trail hugs the North Fork Skokomish River for the first 10 miles. This section is well-used with a handful of camping spots on the trail and forks to other popular destinations. It starts at 800 feet and climbs gradually for a while–800 feet over 9.6 miles. Over the next 3 miles, it leaves the river and climbs more steeply to it’s highest point, First Divide (4,688 ft) before dropping 2200 feet over the next two miles and joining the Duckabush River Trail. It is almost 4 miles from there to Marmot Lake (4,4000 ft), the lowest elevation lake in the LaCrosse Basin. I knew that I would almost certainly encounter snow at First Divide and Marmot Lake, but I had reasonable hope that it would be passable.
6/17: To Upper Duckabush Camp, ~15 miles
I woke before my alarm, so ready get going. Sunday early morning traffic was a breeze. With the Staircase Ranger’s station less than three hours away from Seattle, I made it there before they even opened. I waited until I could talk to someone about the trail, but I didn’t learn much. He said there were no recent trip reports but there would definitely be snow around First Divide, both of which I already knew. I decided to go for it but made a contingency plan. If the snow was too much, I would turn back and take a side trail to a closer lake.
With my plan and permits, I set out at 9:50. Immediately summer was apparent. Anywhere that leaves could be, they were–filling out tree branches and sprouting from the ground, hanging in the air and floating with the breeze, shimmering with sunlight below me and glowing green above. The air, cool under the trees’ canopy, was warm and slightly humid in the sunny clearings. There, the scents of ferns, bushes, and wildflowers, earthy, sweet, and sharp, combined into something I can only describe as green and living. Buzzing fuzzy bees and fluttering butterflies circled flower clumps while dragonflies zoomed by above. Birds chirped and darted between branches. All this below a perfect blue sky dotted with wispy cloud puffs and over the constant sound of the rushing river and rustling treetop leaves.
It felt like place from a memory, with a dreamy luster usually only added by time. I soaked it all in, striding forward on the trail but floating in the moment, completely forgetting the work and preparations of the past few days and the snow-covered trail ahead. So were the first nine miles. I saw 4 or 5 other parties, headed back to the trailhead.
I had tentatively planned to stay at Two Bear camp (mile 11.6) that night, but it was only one thirty as I was approaching Nine Stream (mile 9.2), the last place to hang out by the river before the climb to Two Bear. I had so much time, it was a beautiful day, I felt I should maybe take a break. But with all the pocket snacks I had, I didn’t need to stop for lunch. Based on how much I didn’t want to stop, I realized I was pretty eager to get higher up and decide if the trail was passable. I got to Nine Stream and continued onward.
The trail got steeper after Nine Stream. So far this year I had done some days of hiking with a full pack, and I had done some hiking with a lot of elevation gain. But I had not yet done hiking with a full pack and a lot of elevation gain, and I really felt that here. Right away my heart rate spiked and my legs, which had felt great so far, started to feel expended, like they lacked energy. And strength. And endurance. Thankfully the trail soon let up a bit, changing from moderately steep to a solid, manageable uphill. The terrain slowly changed as well and I was rewarded with some awesome alpine views.
Around 3, I reached Two Bear, and the first snow. The trail was solidly covered for a few 10 to 20 foot stretches. I paused to consider my plan. It would be 3 miles before the trail reached this elevation again. At worst, three miles of snowy and difficult terrain. At worst, I might travel one mile per hour, and at worst, I might go two miles and turn back. But with six hours until dark, I had time for any scenario.
And it turned out, that was the most significant snow for almost the next mile. After a mile, snowy stretches became longer and I started to need my map to help me pick up the trail. There could have been other hikers there in the last few days, but in that heat, with the sun beaming down, there was no hint of human footprints in the snow. I did, however, see some very recent bear tracks.
Around a quarter mile from the top I was surprised to encounter two others headed the opposite way with no overnight packs. In few words, as they seemed in a big rush, I learned they started that morning at the Duckabush River trailhead, over 20 miles away, and were headed to Staircase, where I had started–you know, doing a little through run. Just seeing them was reassuring, with their trail runners and trekking poles, and knowing that they had come over First Divide. They did say there was a lot of snow, but I had figured that already. I just new now it was possible without serious gear, and I had tracks to follow!
As pretty much everything was covered in snow from there on, the tracks really really helped. Keeping my map handy to confirm that the way made sense, I followed those trail runner tracks, trudging up, over, and across the rolling clearings. At some point I saw a little tarn ahead, a round depression in the snow, with glacial blue melt collecting in a semi-circle. Aha! I remembered from the map that First Divide is right where the trail passes a tiny pond. And looking around, I realized that I was on something of a saddle. I made it to the top!
I wanted to take a short break, but I needed to find some cover from the blinding white. Standing on a snowfield at a higher elevation in the middle of a cloudless June day, the sun is about as strong as it will ever be in Washington. I settled in the shade of a cluster of trees on a little knob, thankfully on dry ground. I ate a chocolate pro bar and began to appreciate where I was. Since traipsing through the flower patches that morning, my state of mind had slowly shifted from entirely carefree to completely focused on movement and navigation. I had to make myself pause to take it in.
The landscape had a charm very different from the lush utopia of the river valley. It was completely pristine–perfect in some ways, something messy underneath simplified into snow, tree, and rock. Without ferns to sway and leaves to flutter and bugs to buzz, it felt quiet and static. Like a movie set. I kept thinking of the claymation Rudolph. These things, combined with the fact that it is objectively less hospitable to humans, contributed to the feeling that I didn’t belong, I was just visiting. Probably an appropriate feeling to have as a modern human in an alpine setting. Of course, it was awesome to be visiting there.
After a short while, it was time to keep moving. I reapplied sunscreen, studied the map, and headed back onto the bright stage to get a look at the way forward. To the north, I saw the basin I would soon cross, covered in snow and split by two creeks, but from my vantage point I couldn’t tell much about the slope, dropping 400 ft, between me and there. Oftentimes the best path to take on a slope seems different looking down than looking up. And looking down, I really did not want to follow the trail runners’ tracks, which headed straight down the gradually steepening slope and then dropped out of my sight, down an even steeper slope. They had had the better vantage point when they chose that way, so I figured it had some advantage. But I wanted to at least try to find something else.
It was impossible to be sure about a good path from the top–any clump of trees could be hiding a steep drop off. But with the trail somewhere below the snow, I knew there was at least one reasonable path. I chose a direction with a safe fall line and made my way down diagonally, turning when I got a better vantage point of terrain below. The snow was a perfect consistency for this. I could stomp solid steps with my trail runners and use my shortened trekking pole like an ice axe. If I fell, I would have definitely been able to self arrest in that soft snow, but I made sure to keep my fall line pretty safe anyway. I got to a point where I did see a short bit of trail, serving as a stream bed for snowmelt. I followed this until it was obstructed by a giant blowdown. After scrambling up and around the fallen tree, I could see a clear path down the snow!
It wouldn’t have taken too long to plunge step down, but it was roughly 200 feet without any obstacles–a perfect glissading opportunity. I stopped to make sure everything was secure on my pack, edged my way to the best starting point, and slid down on my butt with my trekking pole as a rudder. By the time I petered to a stop, I was nearly on flat ground. Phew! From there, it was not too difficult to make my way across the basin. My shoes were so wet from snow that I made no attempt to find dry crossings of the small creeks. As I headed in the rough direction of the trail, I picked up the trail runner tracks again, almost melted away by now. I found the trail, and before too long, it was snow-free again (:
A mile before camp, just after I passed the 3500 ft, Stoves Only sign, I heard loud rustling ahead. When I rounded the bend I saw a black bear lumbering away! I paused to give it lots of time, and then continued slowly on the trail, making plenty of noise. But that was all I saw of the skittish little guy. I never hiked particularly quietly before, but after that I made a point to make some noise as I walked.
The rest of the way was uneventful, and at 5:45 I reached the junction with the Duckabush River trail and very shortly afterward, Upper Duckabush camp. I set out to find my spot for the night. I explored pretty thoroughly but I was not jazzed with the options. Removed from the river and nestled in forest, it was a pretty large place, with at least six different areas that had their own fire pit and logs to sit on and would accommodate a few tents. I imagined it on a weekend later in the summer–lively, with families and groups of friends hanging around campfires, talking into the night. But that night, all of those spaces were empty, the privy door crooked, a frying pan hanging on the bear wire, and a pair of old socks on the line. Alone in a space made for so many, I felt like I was creeping through an abandoned building, or a vacation home in the off season.
I realized this was the only option for sleeping, but I could wash and eat dinner somewhere more cheerful. I went back to the junction, where, in the other direction, the trail crosses a large creek. I set up at the creekside, washing, changing, gathering water, and cooking dinner. It was a lovely spot. I had Rice-a-roni white bean soup, a combo of two great instant meal selections from my local QFC. I cleaned up, brushed my teeth, and got pretty much ready for bed. I stashed my bear can, and back at camp I had just to unroll my bivvy and blow up my sleeping pad before I was ready for sleep. So close to the solstice, daylight lasted a while. I fell asleep before dark, with my hood pulled over my eyes.
6/18: To Marmot Lake, 3.7 miles
The next day, I planned to make it to Marmot Lake, 3.7 miles away, and stay there overnight. Based on conditions around First Divide, which reached 4688 ft, it seemed very likely that the lake, at 4,400 ft, would be at least partially surrounded by snow. The big unknown was whether there would be any dry spot to camp near the lake. If not, I would have to work something else out. I had other plans in mind, but none were really ideal. It would be really nice if I could stay at Marmot Lake.
With this background uncertainty about the day, I was not entirely relaxed as I went about my morning routine. It was just light when I woke, well before the sun’s rays would reach the bottom of the narrow river valley. I stayed in my bivy for a while, catching up my journal with the details I was too tired to coherently put down the night before. When the chill in the air had dissipated a little, I emerged from my cocoon, collected my things, and moved to a spot along the Duckabush River to eat breakfast and get ready for the day. As the way started with a creek crossing, small but definitely requiring me to have wet shoes, I waited for direct sun to get going.
That first creek crossing was easy, not quite reaching my knee. The water looked about three inches lower than the night before, but as it was not particularly swift, it would have been fine to cross in the evening as well. I was wearing just my hiking shirt and underwear, having waited to put my pants on until I got to the other side. But once I got to the other side, I thought of how I had another crossing to do in less than three miles. And the chances of encountering anyone else were very low. I decided to leave things how they were.
As I scrambled over trees and pushed my way through ferns and bushes over the next 2.4 miles, I questioned this decision many times. But I never stopped to change. This segment of trail had a lot of the same beauty that the first nine miles had, as well as some stunning waterfalls and sweeping views of the surrounding ridges. The first snow was really surprisingly early, at just 3300 ft. A very narrow and steep gully holding a pleasantly cascading creek was filled up with deep and solid snow, melted through in places in the middle. A few days before, I imagined it would have been a very safe snow bridge. In a couple days, it would probably be easy to access and cross the creek through gaps in the snow. But on that day, it took a little bit of time to figure out how to safely get down to the creek and back up to the trail over the thick snowbanks.
I didn’t see snow again really until the next water crossing, soon before the trail began climbing to the lake. This creek was higher volume than the one before. In the 30 yards closest to where the trail crossed, one spot looked manageable. I sidestepped across, facing upstream and leaning forward on my trekking pole. It definitely required more careful foot placement than the one before, and the water went up over my knee, but I felt stable the whole way. A little bit higher, and that one might not have felt so comfortable.
This time, I did stop to put pants on. I would be getting to snow soon and I needed them for sun protection if nothing else. The rest of the way to the lake was surprisingly alright. No snow on the trail above 3700 ft, the final bit was steep but good terrain. Right as the trail started to flatten out and approach the lake, everything was snow-covered. I found a tiny bit of lakeshore that was snow-free and shaded if I crouched under some brush. I laid down a groundsheet, took off my shoes, took out some snacks, and began to relax a little. Man. It was so beautiful. But it didn’t look like a place to spend a day and night. Initial excitement and relief about getting there slipped away as my gears started turning.
It was half past eleven. It took about two hours to get there. If I only went back to Upper Duckabush, I could hang out at the lake most of the day. But I didn’t really want to camp at Upper Duckabush again. And I worried that the nearest water crossing would be too high if I waited to turn back. To go further, to Two Bear, I would want four more hours, to be generous for the climb to First Divide and all that snow. But Two Bear wasn’t a particularly pleasant campsite–the flat tent sites had pooling snowmelt when I went by the day before–so I would really like to get to Nine Stream: one more hour. I didn’t like it, but it looked like I had seven more hours of hiking ahead of me.
I’d have to get going soon, but after coming so far, I wanted to enjoy the destination a little. I made an attempt at swimming, but the water was very shallow near my patch of shore, and after getting wading out knee-deep, there was no way I was going further. It felt as cold as the snow that sat atop it a few yards away. I ate a bit more–salmon jerky, dried apricots, and a chocolate pro bar–and checked the time. Noon. It felt a little anti-climactic, but I needed to get moving. I packed up and after re-joining my footsteps in the snow, I decided to scramble up the the snowy knob southwest of the lake to check out the view of the valley I just travel through and the peaks on the other side.
I got up there to find an unobstructed viewpoint of Mt Duckabush, Mt Steele, and the Duckabush River valley. OK. I decided I could delay just a little longer to take in the incredible sights. I took a timed photo with myself in it and scrambled around the dry patches of dirt and rock along that rim of the lake basin. What a shame, I thought. This would be such a great place to hang out. Some of the spots were even flat enough I could spread my ground sheet and read or nap. Wait a minute. Flat, dry patches I could spread out and sleep on… I couldn’t believe it took me that long to realize these were actually tent sites.
So, with many, many hours of day left, I reversed my plan. I would stay by the lake all day. I found a spot with a great view in the shade of a few small trees and made a nest. I worked on a Ken Ken, sketched Mt Steele, listened to an audiobook, and did some stretches. The sun quickly dried my wet shoes and socks. Periodically a hummingbird would zoom above. At 3:30 I heard a helicopter. I emerged from my spot and watched it fly past, headed southwest rather quickly. As it disappeared and the sound faded, I felt aware of being very remote. I wondered how far away the nearest human was–three miles, five miles, maybe even ten miles. The isolation was both lonely and liberating, leaning towards liberating. For that day, this most amazing place was all mine.
Having had so much time to enjoy the spot, and with a big day of hiking ahead of me, I went to bed quite early, set up in a spot which would get the sun’s first rays.
6/19: Back to the trailhead, ~19 miles
The sun did hit me very early, so even after hanging out in my bivvy a short while and letting the condensation dry off my sleeping bag, I was back on the trail at 7. I could see the difference that one day made in the snow and water conditions. Even hitting it so early, the first water crossing was a little higher than the day before, though still very doable, and my suspicion that it would have been too high in the evening was reinforced. And as I expected, getting over the snowbanks to cross the stream in the snowy gully was already so much easier than the day before.
Back at Upper Duckabush around 9, I starting to feel good about making it out that day. Though my original plan had been to spend another night on trail, a shower was very alluring right then. I just had to climb 1700 feet of trail and then about 500 feet of snow and I would be sure I had enough time.
And it turned out to be very alright, getting over First Divide. It was easier to navigate the slope from the bottom, and traveling up the snow required enough focus that I wasn’t so aware of how strenuous it was. And before 11, I was at the top, ready to cruise the 12 or so miles down to the trailhead.
The trail had the same beautiful weather and all the same beautiful, sights, plants, streams, and butterflies, but once I had a real meal, a shower, and my bed in mind, I kept a steady pace. I did stop at Camp Pleasant, 6 or 7 miles from the trailhead to eat and dry my shoes, but I kept it short, set on getting to my car before 6. And I did, happy to have had such a great trip, and happy to be going home.
When I got in the car to head towards the peninsula, I wasn’t sure which hike I would do. I had looked up some ideas and had some criteria, but I hoped that someone at the Port Angeles Wilderness Information Center could make a suggestion given snow and trail conditions.
Unfortunately I was just not quick enough to make the ferry I aimed for, and after waiting in Edmonds an hour for the next one, I got to the Port Angeles WIC ten minutes after it closed. At this point I decided to do the Hoh River Trail because I already knew conditions would be ok, I already had a map for it from a previous hike, and the campsites did not require reservations so I could get a permit after-hours. I filled out a permit and left the carbon copy and payment at the WIC. That taken care of, I still had to pick up a few things before heading to the trail. After a couple hours of scrambling about, I drove a short while on 101 and found a nice spot to eat my Taco Bell and spend the night.
The weather had been gray and wet, but it was forecasted to clear up Saturday (the next day) and remain clear Sunday and Monday. So I fell asleep listening to rain on the the roof of my car and woke the next day to drive the rest of the way to the trailhead through light rain, between mountains shrouded by low clouds. When I stepped onto the trail it was misting so lightly that my body heat was enough to keep my thin hiking shirt mostly dry.
The trail, running along the north bank of the Hoh River, is mostly flat–gaining only 500 feet in the first 11 miles. In the next 4 miles it breaks from the river and gains 1500 feet to Elk Lake. I planned to camp at Lewis Meadows, 10.5 miles from the trailhead, make it up to Elk Lake the next day, and camp at the Happy Four campground, 5.7 miles from the trailhead, on the way out.
To Lewis Meadows
Setting out at 10:30 hoping to cover 10.5 miles, I felt no sense of haste. I had heard so much about the Hoh Rainforest prior to this, I was expecting some awe-inspiring land of nearly fabricated beauty, somewhere between Fern Gully and Jurassic Park. It was certainly full of beauty and inspiring wonder, but it felt to me similar to other old-growth forest I’d encountered in Washington, just on the mossy side.
Don’t get me wrong, mossy, old-growth forest in Washington is really special. Some trees were large enough I imagined that five of me wouldn’t be able to reach around their base. Which, most of the time, was covered in so many textures of moss that often, the moss appeared to make up its own forest. Copious aging blow-downs, sagging and rotting, provide perfect soil for these moss microcosms and even the next generation of trees– stumps and logs in more advanced stages of rot had become tree nurseries. With all the competition in the forest, I’m sure few of these little saplings make it to the heights of the biggest trees, but I could tell which of those giants likely started out that way. Some huge trees appeared to have roots branching above-ground, like legs, creating arches sometimes big enough to walk under. Think of the aliens in Arrival. I’m no tree scientist, but I’m guessing they originally sat atop a large stump before they grew to huge heights and their stump completely disintegrated.
The trees provided some shelter for the light rain which continued to fall, even after noon when the forecast predicted it would stop. I encountered frequent muddy patches on the trail and was glad I opted for boots over my trail runners. Periodically, the trail bumped right against the river bank, and I got a peek at the sprawling river bed and the base of the ridge to the south, hinting that we were all nestled in a large valley, though the low clouds obscured everything beyond that.
Skipping a more leisurely lunch on account of the continued rain, I stopped after 5.7 miles for a short snack by the river and kept moving. I encountered a handful of other hikers–day hikers in the first few miles and some people camped out at the 5 and 5.7 mile campsites. Around mile 7 I found the cool kids–on a day jaunt from their tent site, huddled under a fallen tree taking pulls of Maker’s Mark. A couple miles later, a solo hiker headed in the opposite direction said he had wanted to make it to Lewis Meadows but turned around at a log crossing that seemed too sketchy to do solo, instead camping at the Olympus Guard Station at mile 9.1. Hmmmm. This really got me thinking. I did not want to immediately dismiss his caution, but I recalled the many water crossings in the Sierras last summer and how we were always able to find a way. I absolutely believed that there was a log that would be dangerous for anyone to try crossing, but I could not imagine that this was the only reasonable option.
A mile after the Olympus Guard Station I reached a creek, a few yards wide, ankle to shin deep, crawling through the rocky bottom of a small chasm in the land, 4 or 5 time as wide as the water. I decided it would be risky and cumbersome to try scrambling across the tangle of recent blowdowns strewn over the creek, roughly spanning the gap in the land. But the creek was pretty small. I just had to decide whether I could make it across in my boots, stepping on dry or barely submerged rocks, or if I had to switch to sandals and wade. I accepted the slight risk of filling a boot with water and kept my shoes on. The rocks were slippery–I leaned heavily on my trekking pole. A couple times the water brimmed right up to the highest waterproof point on my boots, but I stayed dry. And certainly safe.
Not too long after this crossing, the forest opened up and the trail forked, one spur leading into a grassy meadow. Lewis Meadows! After the lush and almost spooky wonder of the forest, I found the meadow to be quaint and charming. I was excited to explore. First I had to empty my hands–over the past few miles I came across a few spots of trail so sheltered that the ground was untouched by drizzle. Optimistic that the rain would stop eventually, I had been gathering dry twigs for a camp fire that night. By the time I got the the Meadows, my hands were full. I stashed my bundle in the shelter of a large tree and set out to find my spot.
There were tent sites around the meadow. As in every other campsite, there were bear wires, metal cords strung between trees to make it easy to properly hang a food bag. A short path lead to a privy. A couple trails lead through 50 or so yards of tall, wiry brush (or young tress?) to the river bank. In one spot by the river, a fire pit indicated that someone had camped there before. I deliberated about whether to camp by the meadow or by the river. I knew it would be slightly colder by the river, and I’d likely wake to more condensation in my tent. But the sprawling riverbed was beautiful, and once the skies cleared, I knew I’d see snow-covered peaks and ridges. And other people would likely be camped in the meadow, to be close to the bear wires. I had my bear can, so I could safely stash my food away from my tent at night without hanging anything. I set up by the river.
It was only four when I had my tent set up, and the rain had mostly stopped, so I was pretty excited about building a fire. I went back to gather my twigs and get water from a small stream by the meadow. Afterward I went in search of larger firewood. It took a lot longer than I expected to get a little fire going. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I had to use torn up sheets of paper from my journal for tinder. But by 6, I had a little fire, big enough to be drying out the larger, slightly damp pieces of wood. Right at that point, the rain decided it was not done. 15 minutes of rain drops and my fire was reduced to smoldering coals. Frustrated but not discouraged, I built it back and was eventually sitting beside a modest but resilient little fire. Cooking my cheddar broccoli Knorr rice side made me nostalgic about my PCT days. Without my thru hiker appetite, or any other hikers to share with, finishing the whole Knorr was not easy.
I knew the temp would drop once the sun set, and I did not want to still be outside my tent when it did, so I did all of my night time chores while it was still light–dousing the fire with water from the river, brushing my teeth, and stashing all my food, toiletries, and cooking gear in my bear can away from my tent. After I was cozy in my sleeping bag, I looked out of the tent door to watch the last sliver of sunlight on trees across the river slowly disappear.
Elk Lake and Back
When I woke early the next morning, I was not pleased to have been absolutely right about the temperature drop and amount of condensation in my tent. Judging by the frozen condensation stuck to my rainfly, the temperature hit somewhere below 32, but that would have been fine for my 20 degree sleeping bag if the tiny water droplets which settled over the its exterior were not seeping in and seriously hindering the fluffy down’s insulating capacity. For a couple hours I tried to find the most warmth-conserving position, switching between a little ball and a plank, ankles crossed arms like a mummy.
I wished I had brought my sleeping bag liner. I wished I had my foam sleeping pad under my inflatable sleeping pad. I wished I was wearing a fleece onesie. I wished I had eaten more the night before. My excitement about the hiking I planned for that day waned. The ranger I talked to at the trailhead said there could be snow on the trail at any point after mile 12.5. I had planned to set out and see what the snow was like and turn around if it was really that soon–two and a half miles of snow during a 1000 ft gain was not what I was wanting. I started to feel like maybe it wasn’t worth it to try. There was no way I was going to be up and moving any time soon. I wouldn’t have enough time if I left too late. Maybe I should just hike back the way I came.
At some point between 7 and 8, rays of sunlight struck my tent. I opened up the door flaps to let the sun in. I saw clear skies and the snow-covered top of the High Divide ridge. Even the weak, early morning rays dried the exposed section of my sleeping bag within 15 minutes. As the moisture on and in my tent slowly thawed and disappeared so did my pessimism. I was in a beautiful place far away from all the stressful things, and I could do whatever I wanted. I spend 90% of my life wishing I was in that position. I decided that I didn’t need to decide on a plan for the day. Going to Elk Lake, staying right there, hiking back, it was all a good plan, and I would see what I felt like doing after enjoying a leisurely breakfast.
I fetched my bear can and put water on my stove to boil. At this point, my sleeping bag was toasty again, and in the sun I was warm. I had half a box of my favorite trail cookies with instant coffee and a handful of nuts for some nutritional value. I listened to music and wrote in my journal. I decided I definitely wanted to head towards Elk Lake.
I separated my gear differently while packing up. I would leave all the heavy stuff at Lewis Meadows–tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, some food, and bear canister. I wedged the bear can full of stuff between two trees and hung the rest on the bear wire. It was 10:40 when I got back on the trail.
The clear sky made all the difference, even inside the thick forest. The sun shone through in patches, making bright spots on the ground and illuminating everything its path–leaves, hanging moss, and water vapor rising from mossy logs. Though the vegetation and wildlife were the same as the day before, the greens appeared more vibrant and the textures more rich. Birds were chirping. The forest felt like more than just rock and soil and trees and moss. It housed secrets. It was definitely magic.
Around mile 12.5 I crossed a bridge spanning a terrifyingly deep ravine with the river far, far below. After this, the climbing began. With so little weight in my pack, I was able to keep a brisk pace but I was still not quite in my best hiking shape, and it wasn’t pretty. I was glad that no other hikers were there to see me huffing and puffing. After a little while, I realize I must be around mile 14 and I still hadn’t hit snow. It wasn’t until Martin Creek, a half mile or less from Elk Lake, that the first patches appeared. And even then, it was very manageable snow–deep in places but compact enough over the trail that I didn’t post-hole and crunchy enough at the top for good traction. I didn’t have to take out my micro spikes or trekking pole.
While the snow on the trail was patchy, the lakeshore was completely covered, and the lake itself was still half frozen. I post-holed my way down to the only snow-free and sunny spot I could see, a dry log poking out into the lake. Here I enjoyed a snack and tried to identify the peaks in front of me with my map and compass. It’s been some time since I’ve taken bearings, so it took me a while to figure out they were just un-named peaks (according to my map), 6275 and 6345 ft tall.
I hung around a little while, but with still 9.3 miles to go, I had to keep to a schedule. I started heading back around 1:30. If anything made this hike feel similar to hiking on the PCT, it was the rest of this day. I had to keep track of time and couldn’t dawdle. I still stopped to take pictures, but for the most part, I kept moving. I reached Happy Four around 5:30 and again, picked a spot close to the river. It would be cold again, but I chose the spot that would get the earliest sunlight.
I went about my evening routine, this time making an effort to eat more for dinner, hoping it would keep me warm at night. By 7:30 I was nestled in my sleeping bag watching the sun set.
Back to the Trailhead
Again, it got cold at night, and every surface inside the tent was damp (or frozen) in the morning. But this time, I knew that the sun would come and make it all better. As the light grew in one half of the sky, I realized that I didn’t have the best angle for sun to shine in the tent. I got out, pulled the tent stakes, and re-positioned. I rolled open the flaps, set out my boots, and waited patiently. And sure enough, around 7:30, those first rays began shining through. I made coffee, ate the rest of the cookies, and got moving earlier than the day before.
After I was mostly packed, I waited around a little while for the tent to dry and got back on the trail around 9. Again, the weather was beautiful and the forest was breath-taking. But again, I couldn’t dawdle as I needed to be back in Seattle by 3. After a couple hours of easy hiking, I was back in the parking lot, feeling so happy to have had such a lovely hike and also very looking forward to getting home and taking a shower.
A few weekends ago, for the first time this year, the receding snow line, the weather, and my schedule aligned–I made it to the Olympic Peninsula to spend some days and nights out on a trail. Among many things during this outing, I did some thinking about this site and blogging in general.
This blog has crossed my mind every now and then over the past six months. In February I decided to renew the domain name, though I didn’t really have a plan to keep it up. Originally, it was just a solution to keeping friends and family informed on Louise and my PCT journey. It certainly served that purpose, but it was also surprisingly rewarding.
When I started the blog last spring, I was counting on its enjoyment by family and friends to affirm the effort I was making. But I was surprised to find out that plenty of people, who I didn’t know well or didn’t know at all, were reading and presumably getting something out of my posts. I realized for anyone who does not have the proximity, gear, knowledge, health, and lack of life obligations to get outside so easily, I could provide a window into an experience they might not get to have often or ever. Besides that, I know from experience that posts like these can provide inspiration and useful info for others planning outdoor escapes. Now, when I’m out in the wild, I feel inclined to soak it all in not just for myself, but for a handful of strangers and friends back in the connected world. I find myself not just enjoying a hike but thinking about how I would describe it to others.
I guess this is all to say that whoever you are, I was thinking about you the other weekend. And even though I wasn’t on some grand journey like last summer, I began to consider that you might still like to hear about the sun shining in the rainforest and see a picture of morning sunbeams burning steam off a moss-covered log. And I decided that I will re-purpose weezemorghike to be about me (or Weezie if she wants in) hiking any trail, not just the PCT. So, stay tuned. Pretty soon I’ll have a post up about my recent hike on the Hoh River Trail.
During last stretch, I gained a new appreciation for the most basic comforts of civilization. In previous stretches, I found myself longing for certain foods, a shower, cold drinking water, a chair–but never before this stretch had I so ardently wished for a roof and walls. So our criteria were pretty low for a place to stay at Steven’s Pass. When we got to the Mountaineer’s Lodge, with heat, electrical outlets, hot showers, beds, and best of all, a gear drying room, with hanging rods, shelves and warm, dry air circulating, we were over the moon.
We hung almost every item in our packs in the drying room, showered, ate, even found a ride to check out nearby Leavenworth. But more than anything, I enjoyed sitting on the couch in the cozy common area. I thought that 5 months of hiking would have prepared my body for anything, but after the cold and dramatic elevation changes of the last stretch, I found myself very sore, especially going down stairs. In the four-storied lodge my aches were all too apparent, to me and everyone else, as I teetered down the steps sideways, lowering both feet to the next step, one step at a time. There was a group of UW physics grad students also staying there for a weekend hiking retreat, and I’m sure that if any of them had an idea of what they thought a thru hiker would be like, I was not it.
We enjoyed ourselves, but with Canada still 180 miles away, we couldn’t relax for too long. So after 18 hours off-trail, we returned with dry gear and 5 days of food for the 109 miles before our next resupply in Stehekin. The sun was shining, and we felt very lucky that the forecast was mostly dry for the next 5 days. With the nice weather, and as it was the weekend, the trail was crowded. Something gave us away as thru hikers, and a handful of groups stopped us to ask questions about our trip. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t enjoy the attention, but all this chatting slowed us down. After 12 miles, though, the crowds thinned out, and once again, the trail felt like ours.
At this point, my cold was merely an annoyance, my nose stuffy then runny, and my ears unable to adjust to our changing elevation. Atlas, however, was not feeling well. He’d remained remarkably not sick so far, through my stomach bug and then cold, so it felt unfortunate but inevitable when he woke with a sore throat at the Mountaineer’s Lodge. But it escalated quickly. Throughout the day he felt dizzy. And when we made it to camp at dark, it was clear he had a fever. I was very concerned, wondering even if we should continue, but he assured me that he frequently had a fever when he was sick, and he could continue as usual.
I had to take him at his word, but still I was unable to drag him out of the tent at a normal hiking time. A natural morning person, that was usually my role. But I couldn’t do that to a sick person. So that day, and the following days, we started hiking pretty late, around 10 or 11. This really made it difficult to reach our 20+ mileage goals for each day, as it was becoming dark shortly after 7, and we could not travel very quickly on the steep and often uneven terrain of this stretch.
It was easy to become stressed thinking about our finish date, but early on, I decided to accept that we would not reach Canada when we’d hoped. It was very far from ideal, because of the imminent winter weather, and for Atlas in particular because he would have very little time after finishing before returning to Hungary. But I did not want to spend my precious final days on the trail stressed about this when there were so many things to appreciate. Except for one day, the weather nice. And it was beautiful! Stunning views at every crest, crystal clear alpine likes, rich fall colors, and again, almost no other people. Given our tired bodies and the cold and Atlas being sick, we enjoyed it as much as we could.
The day before we reached Stehekin, I started to feel not great. It was subtle–a mild headache and unusual tiredness—I couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t just all the hiking taking its usual toll on my body. But that night, I had no appetite. I’d eaten enough Knorr rice sides on the trail that they were not the most appetizing on a normal night, but this night Atlas had to really push me to take a few bites. The next day, as we descended the final 12 miles into Stehekin Valley, I felt bad.
We reached the High Bridge Ranger’s station in time to take the 12:30 shuttle to Stehekin, 8 miles away. Our plan was to pick up the resupply package, shower, do laundry, sort out some transportation details, and get back on the trail that evening. We had just enough time to accomplish these things before the last shuttle back, but I felt very uncomfortable about returning to the trail. We decided to stay the night in Stehekin.
This turned out to be a good decision. That night was miserable. I went from feeling ‘kind of bad’ to ‘very terrible’ quickly. First I was too cold, even in a warm room, under the covers. Then I was too hot. Usually when my fever is only a couple degrees I can’t be sure without a thermometer. But I felt I was burning. I laid in a tepid bath. I drank a bunch of water, but in the middle of the night, it started flowing right through me. Along with not much else, as I had eaten very little the past 24 hours. I lost so much liquid I didn’t know how that much could have been in my body. I barely slept.
By the next morning (of my birthday), my fever had broken, but I felt so weak. Water and food were not staying in me. There was no way I could get back on the trail. Atlas and I were in a tough spot. He couldn’t delay getting back on the trail indefinitely, as he had flights booked out of the country. I didn’t know how long it would take me to regain my strength, and I couldn’t wait it out in Stehekin, where lodging was expensive. It was very hard to accept, but I needed to go home, and he needed to keep hiking. With that decided, I still needed to figure out how to get home.
Stehekin is on a lake, 4 hours by ferry from Chelan, which is a 3 hour drive from Seattle. With no cell reception or wifi, I had to rely on a payphone to make a plan. I never pick up calls from ‘Unknown’ and hate getting voicemails, so I expected making arrangements to be a big hassle. Thankfully, all I had to do was call my parents. My mom got in touch with my housemate Rachel, who got approval to leave work early in order to meet me that night at the ferry dock in Chelan. To make the long drive at such short notice without hesitation, Rachel was my hero. I could have had no better birthday present than that.
So that was it for me and the trail, this year at least. Even if I felt better in a few days, already more rain and snow was in the forecast. I did not want to go back into that, especially without Atlas. Missing the final stretch wasn’t hard. I know I will get to do that stretch at some point, along with the couple other stretches I missed. It was difficult to let go of reaching the terminus with Atlas, who I hiked with for nearly a thousand miles, and for whom the terminus was the end of a continuous hike from Mexico to Canada. This year, with the extreme conditions in the Sierras and the many wildfire closures, very few hikers achieved a continuous hike. I don’t know numbers, but I would guess fewer than 50.
But as I got better, I decided that just because I wasn’t doing the stretch didn’t mean I couldn’t be there at the northern terminus. I had planned to pick him up from Manning Park in Canada, the nearest exit point from the trail after the terminus. It was an 8 mile hike from the trailhead to the terminus, so I decided to do the hike and meet him there. I had left him with my SPOT PLB and GPS tracker that my parents had used to track me. It allowed me to know when to pick him up.
He made excellent time on the 80 miles without me, and less than three days after we parted, I was headed to Canada to meet him. I got up very early to ensure I could make the three and a half hour drive and 8 mile hike before 11, the earliest time I thought he might reach the border. I brought with me a cupcake and a Hungarian flag. I had a great plan to leave the cupcake on the monument with the flag in it and hide. There was a huge flaw in this plan that didn’t cross my mind until I was there: chip monks. It was too late, though. I was already attached to this idea. So I spent two hours defending the cupcake from a distance: waiting out of sight from the trail, with a stockpile of rocks, chucking them at any little critter that make an attempt on my cupcake. I felt ridiculous, but it was good to have something to do while I waited. It was extremely cold.
Eventually Atlas arrived and was very surprised to see me. We took pictures and celebrated. Completing the whole trail is a big deal for anyone, but he was also the first person from Hungary to do it. By the time we left I was ready for it. It was so cold! We stopped at Manning Park Resort to take advantage of their special offers for thru hikers: free soda and free use of the pool facilities, which include a hot tub, sauna, and steam room. Eventually, we headed out, and I was able to give a ride to two other hikers headed towards Seattle: Zoro and Swede Racer. We stopped for dinner and to drop them off, and when we finally arrived at my home in Seattle, it had been a very long day.
Overall, the last stretches were not at all like I had imagined. There was bad weather, I got sick, we were slower than expected, then Altas got sick, then I got sick again… Despite all that, I’m not unhappy with the ending, and other than maybe bringing better rain gear, I would do it all the same. There is so much you can’t control about a thru hike. To enjoy things, you just have to be able to adjust.
So thats the end of it for this year, folks. If I’m able, I’ll be back at it next summer. Here are some pictures.
**First, just an apology from my writing hiatus. I did not get eaten by the trail, I am home safe in Seattle, ready to fill you in with the end of my journey!**
After a somewhat harrowing first stretch in Washington, Atlas and I wanted nothing more than to just enjoy a day resting in Packwood. But as is the unfortunate case with all zero days, there was plenty to get done. First, we confirmed the rumor we’d heard while hiking–the trail closure ahead had expanded. The trail was closed from White Pass (where we had just exited) to Snoqualmie Pass, 100 miles ahead. The only detour options were on roads and very indirect, adding many miles to the stretch. Definitely not my jam, especially as I still recovered from that stomach bug, but we worked on a plan for Atlas to walk around the fire.
After I sent him on his way with a few of the most fun and committed road-walkers we know, Taylor and the Swiss, I had the whole day to make it to Seattle. My plan was to spend time at home and join Atlas when he made it to Snoqualmie Pass in four or five days. This would give me time to get well, catch up on blogging, send our last two resupplies, and beef up my gear with some items for the colder weather I knew would arrive soon.
And indeed, by the time Atlas was close to Snoqualmie Pass, the forecast was nasty–days of rain, freezing rain, and snow at higher elevations. It started just a couple hours before Cameron drove me to meet Atlas. As we stood in a parking lot just off the Snoqualmie Pass exit of i-90, the thought of getting back on the trail had never been less appealing. Cold rain fell steadily, heavy but not torrential, as if it were pacing itself, promising to be there for the long haul. If it hadn’t been mid-September already, I would have waited it out. But I knew it could easily get worse in a couple weeks. There was nothing to do but find the trailhead and start walking.
A few stationary minutes in the rain had chilled my body, and I welcomed the uphill start to this stretch. By the time we’d gone a mile I was mostly warm and still mostly dry. We passed a group of day hikers- who would go out in this for fun, we wondered. After five miles and 2000 ft up, the terrain had become rocky, the trees thinned out to reveal dramatic views of cloud-shrouded, snow-dusted jagged ridges. The rain changed, first with icy clumps before it was small, icy flakes. A handful of backpackers were headed in the other direction, trips cut short, warning us that the weather would persist for days.
The sun’s meager affects dwindled as the day wore on, the grey becoming a bit darker and the temperature dropping slowly. Flakes gathered on the ground, and we slowed, careful not to stumble over rocks hidden beneath new snow. It was harder to stay warm at that pace. I got out my ski gloves and struggled to put them on my frozen hands. Around five, we realized we needed to think about where to camp. We had become accustomed to setting up camp at the first spot we found once we were ready to quit for the day. But in those conditions, we wanted to camp below the snow line if possible. As you get higher, temps are colder, tent sites are more likely to be exposed to the wind, and the snow is deeper. These things make a big difference, even in the shelter of a tent.
Despite having gone not quite ten miles, I wanted to camp within the next hour. So when we realized that the next tent site below 5000 ft was in 6 miles, we faced the trail ahead with somber resolve. The next 3 hours were very unpleasant. Moisture was finding its way into my gloves and boots. I wasn’t moving enough to keep my hands and feet warm. Soon my whole body felt cold. I knew I needed more layers, but I didn’t want to open my pack or take off my raincoat to get my puffy and put it on–it would let in snow. This entire time I was all too aware that the next three days could be just like this.
We continued and just as it was getting dark, the trail dropped to a point where the precipitation was an icy mix again. We stopped at the first flat spot we found, and made camp as quickly as possible. Unable to feel my hands, I struggled setting up the tent and afterwards, changing out of my wet hiking clothes. I wanted put on dry clothes and get in my sleeping bag right away, but as I took things out of my pack, I realized there was a lot of water, and I was not sure where it was coming from. My sleeping bag was wet in a couple places. After turning everything inside out, I found a couple holes in my once-waterproof pack liner. My already-bleak outlook on this stretch darkened.
I didn’t think it possible but the next morning the situation became more discouraging. I woke feeling underwater–clogged nose, ears, and sinuses; a pulsing, dull headache; and a sore throat. I didn’t want to move. Body heat had warmed the inside of the tent, but outside, thin snow blanketed the ground and the rainfly, and freezing rain continued to fall, though not as heavily as the night before. Unable to care about hiking, I tried to fall back asleep, stay inside my little cocoon of warmth. More than at any point on the trail, I never wanted to leave the tent. But after a couple hours of balking, we looked at the upcoming elevation profile. To camp below the snow line, we’d have to stop in the next 7 miles or after 20 miles. Feeling how I did and as it was already 10, we decided to do 7 miles.
As we descended, freezing rain and snow became just rain. It was light, but I still found myself getting soaked thanks to the horrid wet brush hanging over the trail, clawing at my legs with its rain slobber. The lower we got, the the thicker the brush. Berry bushes, baby trees, expired wildflower clumps, once benign scenery, became the the focus of all my frustrations with the weather. I began to really wish I had brought my rain pants. Fat droplets on the leaves seemed to flock to my leggings and trickle down into my boots, which quickly became sodden. Even with more layers, traveling almost entirely downhill, I was cold. I became fixated on making a fire. I was sure that with a fire, we could warm up, maybe even dry out some stuff.
With such a low mileage target, we found a campsite early, and after setting up my tarp as a lean to near a fire pit, we began to gather firewood and tinder. It took some doing to get it started in the soggy weather, but we managed to make some modest flames. Without any dry firewood, though, we couldn’t make it big enough to provide substantial warmth. After so much time, I had to give up and retreat to the tent.
The next day we woke to realize some rodent had chewed a hole, two inches wide, in the bathtub floor of the tent. We didn’t know what was more upsetting, the hole or the fact that the little thief manage to carry out a dozen cookies, over half of our stores. It only took a half hour to patch the hole, but there was no getting the cookies back.
That day we needed to make more miles. The rain and snow was intermittent. We occasionally saw blue through swirling layers of clouds. And, in the afternoon, a brief spot of sunshine passed over us. Once we got out of the snow, we were even able to dry our tent and sleeping bags in a 20 minute gap between clouds. Feeling encouraged, we hiked until dark, making 19 miles.
So it went. Each day putting on wet clothes, climbing up to about 6000 ft and trudging through snow, descending a few thousand feet and wading through wretched, wet leaves, making camp and relishing time spent in the tent. But each day the weather got better and my cold improved. And, if I force myself see a silver lining, we did have the trail almost all to ourselves which was cool. We were much slower than expected; it took five days to do the 71 miles we originally planned to do in 3. But as we neared Stevens Pass, concern about our pace was completely overshadowed by the allure of the indoors, and we decided to spend the night in the Mountaineers lodge near the slopes.
I didn’t take too many pictures this stretch because my hands were too cold, but here’s what I got.
Early in Oregon, it began to feel like the fires were dictating my hike. We were road walking/hitching around stretches of trail. Boxes couldn’t be sent to their planned destinations. And closures were changing every day so we had to constantly monitor fire reports. Breaks were no longer about resting, resupplying, and blogging; we were constantly thinking about logistics and contingency plans. Oh, and smoke everywhere, everyday.
In Cascade Locks, about to enter WA, I felt like I was in the home stretch though. There was only one more fire closure ahead, north of White Pass (150 PCT miles away), too distant to make a plan yet because things always change. It was the day after I stayed with Maddy and Kathy in Hood River; I was hanging around a trail angel house, Shrek’s Swamp. I blogged, went swimming in the Columbia River, did some weeding for Shrek; it was pleasant, the third clear day in a row.
That afternoon, I noticed a giant column of smoke billowing up from behind a very nearby ridge. It was close to where I knew the Indian Creek fire was burning, but that fire would have had to have a very sudden surge in size and strength to make that much smoke. For a few hours hikers and others watched the smoke billow, not knowing how close the fire really was. Eventually news got around that this was a new fire, only 4 miles from Cascade Locks, that was growing quickly.
I had been thinking of getting back on trail that afternoon, but my friend Atlas (who had done the 130 mile road walk detour around the fires in Three Sisters Wilderness and Mt Jefferson) said he would arrive that night so I had decided to wait for him. Because of the fire, though, many hikers in town were getting across the river to Stevenson even though official evacuation orders had not been issued. Then I got news that hikers on the trail were stuck between two fires and being held overnight to be evacuated tomorrow. Atlas was probably up there. He would probably not arrive that night, but I would wait until the stranded hikers were evacuated.
I went to bed. I woke early that morning to a couple surprises. First, Atlas! He did not want to wait to be evacuated- he had told me he would get to Cascade Locks that night. Also, if he was evacuated, it would break his continuous footsteps he had really suffered to maintain between Mexico and there. So he found a way to get to Cascade Locks via some poorly maintained (but still open) trails and walking on the highway. It was a pretty terrible night for him, so I was helping him to set up his tent and get some rest when the fire crews came by and told the trail angel that we were under Level 2 evacuation. The fire had crested the ridge and was slowing crawling down towards Cascade Locks. We all had to leave.
So, at 4:30 in the morning, Atlas and I (and other hikers camped at Shrek’s) packed up and stumbled across the Bridge of the Gods into Washington, the mountains being consumed by flames behind us. Not how I had envisioned entering Washington. From here, hikers hitched the couple miles into Stevenson where the Red Cross set up an evacuation center. We put up tents at the evacuation center housed at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, with a direct view of the burning mountains across the river.
Atlas needed to rest, do laundry, and resupply. We were focusing on these when we got some more bad news. There was a new fire ahead, burning on the trail in the Indian Heaven Wilderness 50 PCT miles north. Almost 20 miles of trail were closed. It would take extra time to research all the detour options and find maps. The feeling of being ‘in the home stretch’ was shattered. I felt like I would be dodging fires until the very end. I had also learned about a fire that was very close to the trail in the final stretch.
Thankfully, my friends Lydia, Polaris, Ladybug, and Rhino were at the evacuation center as well and they are the best at making plans. We got maps from the visitor’s center, current fire information from the Skamania County Sheriff who visited the evacuation center, and came up with a few options for getting around the East Crater fire in Indian Heaven Wilderness.
So finally, the day after we were evacuated from Shrek’s Swamp, Atlas and I got back on the trail in the afternoon. The air was dry and as heavy with smoke as I have experienced. Even at 4, when the sun was still pretty high in the sky, you could look directly at it, a red disc through the gray smoke. The light that shone through was orange, making a very eerie atmosphere in the forest. It felt like a different planet or our world in a different time, perhaps after the apocalypse.
From the place that we camped that night, we could see the flame engulfing the forested ridge across the river. We ate bread and hummus and cheese, and I discovered that the Steripen was broken. For the rest of the stretch I would have to use my backup Aquamira tablets to sterilize my water, or Atlas’ gravity filter.
It was so hot it was hard to sleep that night. The low was 70. The next day was also pretty sweltering- a steep climb before 9 had me sweating heavily. The smoke was still thick, and it was very windy, conditions where fires spread rapidly. Another north-bounder told us that the fire had jumped the Gorge into Washington. I had some cell service- the fire report confirmed this, but I couldn’t tell how close to us it was. All we could see was thick smoke.
I was pretty spooked. Out of all that I had experienced- extreme heat, dehydration, and water scarcity in the desert, treacherous passes and raging creeks in the Sierras, even being evacuated from Cascade Locks- I was more scared there than any other time on the trail. But no matter where the fire was, moving forward, north, was definitely the safest thing to do.
Eventually the trail took us below the ridge into green forest where the smoke was not so oppressive. I started to feel more relaxed. We had a nice long lunch break near a pretty creek. That afternoon, the south-bounders we encountered carried news that there were new closures ahead and we would have to get off the trail before we thought. This was surprising- I had checked the closure again the night before. But I had no cell service to check then.
That night I had some cell service, and there was nothing about new closures. Thats the nature of things once you get on the trail- lots of rumors. But when we got to Windy River Road, ~15 miles before we planned to start our detour, a local couple was at the trailhead giving information to our friends, Lydia and crew, about a new fire, as of last night, that closed forest road 60, which we had planned to walk on around the fire. There was no service but they said they confirmed with the Sheriff on their landline.
We changed the plan, instead detouring on forest road 30. This would mean just over 30 miles of road walking. But the road was scenic and very lightly trafficked. Atlas and I decided to keep pace with Lydia and friends. It was easier to digest new information and make plans with them. They walk faster than us, though, so we saw them just during breaks and making camp.
This road walk was really not too bad. The folks at Carson National Fish Hatchery let us fill us water and use their bathrooms. I restarted my Hungarian education- learning an important new vocabulary set: ‘I’m cold’, ‘I’m hungry’, ‘I’m tired’, etc. And then, ‘My legs hurt’, ‘My feet hurt’, ‘My knee hurts’, etc. I found an engraved sterling silver spoon on the road. Lydia found a beautiful fish hook and lure. We camped at a roadside sno-park with pit toilets and a picnic table. See, it was a really exciting time.
Even so, we were not at all disappointed when we got back to the trail the next day around noon. We had made such great time that we decided to do 14 more miles, making the whole day’s miles over 28.
From there we had a bunch of beautiful terrain ahead. The first morning after the road walk we were meandering through berry fields when a black bear popped out of the brush and scampered away from us! It was pretty cute. We climbed through long-ago burned forest now full of berries and dying wildflowers, eventually reaching a ridge with a spectacular view of Mt Adams.
The next day we entered into Goat Rocks Wilderness, known to be one of the prettiest parts of Washington. Unfortunately, around this time I started to not feel very well. My stomach was unsettled at first, but roiling by mid afternoon. It started to become clear that it wasn’t just going to pass. I felt terrible. But we were on the fifth day of the stretch, with 30 miles to go before White Pass. We really wanted to get there the next day, especially if I was sick. I took a break and Atlas took some heavy things out of my pack, but we needed to keep walking.
Meanwhile, as I felt more and more ill, the skies were darkening. The thick cloud began to let out a mist. It felt like the clouds themselves falling on us. We were damp. I couldn’t see through my glasses. The rain slowly got heavier. Everything changed gradually but at one point I fully realized my situation- It was raining, cold, windy, and getting dark soon. The nearest tent site was a couple miles away. I was cold and wet, I felt sick and possibly feverish, but stopping would put me in an even worse spot.
I just had to grit my teeth and take my small slow steps. The terrain was difficult, rocky and steep, and I couldn’t see more than 30 feet in any direction. Eventually we did make it to a spot to camp. I don’t want to think about how awful it would have been without Atlas. He set up the tent and fetched water and approached other hikers, asking for toilet paper (as I had used all of mine) and gave me diarrhea medicine and when I couldn’t get warm covered me and my sleeping bag with his. All I had to worry about was getting up to make miserable cat holes in the dark and rain- which was pretty awful.
Generally we always hoped for rain for the fires, but that morning we were very grateful when we woke to clear skies. We had ~22 miles to get to White Pass. I felt better than the night before, but still not great. I wanted so much to get to White Pass to go to Packwood to have a bed and a toilet, but I was not sure I’d be able to make it.
Atlas carried everything heavy in my pack so I could wear it with no hip belt. I didn’t eat or drink very much to try to keep the very uncomfortable feeling of imminent diarrhea at bay. And that day went as well as it could have. The weather was great and the trail was stunning, as beautiful as anything in the Sierras. I only felt a little sick- mostly just weak from not eating. I got a little bit of cell service to get in touch with my parents who helped us reserve lodging in Packwood. We made our way slowly but taking only short breaks, very aware that it would be very hard to hitch to Packwood if we got to White Pass after dark.
We made it to the trailhead around 7:30, after the sun went down over the mountains but before it was entirely dark. As we got there, a minivan was about to drive away. The window rolled down. It was Taylor- he (Front Seat) and his Swiss friends, Type II and Glacier (known to many as Taylor and the Swiss), were getting a ride to Packwood with his mom. They stopped and made room for us. What luck!
When we got to Packwood, 30 minutes away, we realized that Atlas had lost his phone and it was probably at the trailhead. Finding a ride back there so late was not what we wanted to be doing, but we did and found the phone and by 9:30 we were finally back in Packwood, exhausted and so glad for a shower and pizza and the zero day we would have.
Man, what a stretch that was! Here are some pics.
After 3 amazing months of having a buddy to share in every adventure, I knew I would have to adjust to hiking solo again. Most of that would just happen in time, but one part I could tackle right away, in Bend: gear changes. Louise and I shared an almost 4 lb tent, a massive 11 oz Tyvek groundsheet for cowboy camping, a solar charger, and an integrated stove/pot weighing together 1 lb. That may not sound too bad- and it wasn’t shared between 2 people- but for one person, this is pretty heavy.
So. I got a new stove and pot- less bulky and lighter- weighing 7 oz. I ditched the solar charger because between smoky skies and tree cover, we were never able to use it (though this didn’t really save weight because I added a hefty power bank). A groundsheet and tent is just too luxurious for one person, so I nixed the groundsheet as well. The alternative to my 2 person tent is my tarp which was back in Seattle, so I was stuck with the tent, for then at least. I also took Louise’s steripen for sterilizing water- it is much more convenient than my squeeze filter.
After sorting through my resupply and completing the gear shuffle, it was time to get back on the trail. Because of the size of the fires around Three Sisters Wilderness and Mt Jefferson, almost 90 miles of trail were closed north of Elk Lake, where we exited before Bend. I would need to get back on near Ollalie Lake, nearly a 3 hr drive. Leaving Bend in the afternoon, my hope was just to make it to the trail by nighttime. I was really fortunate- I got there with three hitches. First, a young couple who did the PCT as their honeymoon a couple years before AND I got to sit next to their adorable sleeping baby (: They could only take me 15 minutes, to a better hitching spot, but it was less than 15 minutes of waiting before I was picked up my a nice woman and her teenage son and daughter and adorable pup! They got me close, to Detroit, where I was very lucky to run into another hiker who’s mom was driving him straight to Ollalie Lake.
Even with this great hitching luck it was still getting dark when I got to the trail, and I was very glad I hadn’t waited any longer to get moving. A few other hikers were camping there and I had dinner with them, breaking in my new stove.
This stretch felt odd at first not only because I was missing Louise, I was also missing every other hiker who had been near us for the past month. I had taken a couple zeros in Bend and got passed by some this way, and the huge detour really scattered everyone. People were getting back on the trail at different places (many hitched to Government Camp, 50 trail miles north of Ollalie) and some (like Atlas, Ladybug, Arvid, Lydia, Rhino, and some other Swiss friends) were walking around the fires on the highways. So I saw few hikers at the start of this stretch and none that I already knew.
Walking by myself was so different. Choosing my pace was nice. I think I could let my mind wander more easily. I listened to music. Still, sometimes I was bored- and fidgety, as I had started using my poles less. Out of all of these elements came something new and interesting: trail crafts!
The section I was traveling through had a lot of Old Man’s Beard (moss hanging from trees that looks like beards), and I began spinning it into rope or twine as I walked. With that I could make other stuff. This was so fun- it gave me a creative outlet I had been really missing on the trail, but it also slowed me down a bit, so I couldn’t do it all day.
So sometimes spinning moss, sometimes listening to music, and sometimes just plain walking, I made my way through bearded woods and by some lovely lakes in Mt. Hood National Forest. After two days I was camped just 5 miles from Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood, an iconic lodge known by all hikers for the breakfast buffet.
It turned out to live up to the hype, at least for me. The building was so cool, with an amazing view of Mt. Hood. And they were very nice to through hikers. Approaching the fancy Cascade dining room, even in my cleaner and less stinky sleep clothes, I felt out of place. But despite the fact that the tables were almost all full, the host directed me to my own table, as if I was any other customer. At some hiker-frequented eateries, I’ve been lumped with other hikers, whether I knew them or not. I was then greeted by my server and told I could hit the buffet as many times as I wanted. It was bliss.
Afterward, I found a nice spot to charge my things and blog in the massive main lobby, and by mid afternoon I was ready to be on my way. Cascade Locks, my next resupply, was 50 miles away and I just wanted to get there before 5 two days from then. That would be easy to make, so I just shot for just 10 more miles.
The next couple days, I enjoyed some amazing views, something I had been missing most of Oregon, both because of less dramatic terrain and the smoke. The day before I got to Cascade Locks I saw my first clear blue skies since I got to Oregon. In one segment of trail I was able to see Mt Hood behind, and Mt St Helen’s, Mt Adams, and Mt Rainier ahead. I was also able to see plumes of smoke from the Indian Creek Fire and the helicopters toting massive 340 gallon buckets of water from nearby Wahtum Lake to dump on the flames.
Finally, around noon the second day after I left Timberline, I arrived at Cascade Locks, a small town on the Columbia River. I was very excited because Louise had gotten me in touch with her friend Maddy and her friend’s mother Kathy who live in Hood River, very nearby, and they had graciously offered to host me.
Kathy picked me up from Cascade Locks and took me home and treated me to a thru hiker;s dream visit. Shower, laundry, food, sitting on the couch, tv, food, a bed…. and then the next day all these things again. And not just food but pancakes! The best pancakes I’d had all summer. I was so spoiled. I was also lucky to be there on a night when Maddy was singing at a nearby fancy hotel. I borrowed a dress and got to go watch and hang out with half the adults in Hood River- Maddy’s friends parents and Maddy’s parents friends- who all came to watch Maddy sing.
At Maddy’s house I was also able to finish my gear shuffle, having received a package with gear from home that Louise sent. My tarp, a different sleeping pad, and more cold weather clothes. After a whole day off, I was dropped back off in Cascade Locks, ready to get back on trail once I had completed another blog post. (Getting back on trail ended up taking much longer but I’ll save that for the next one)
Before Louise and I even arrived at Fish Lake we had scrapped the plan to make it to Sisters by the eclipse. That decision became moot as we learned that the trail was closed starting at Elk Lake, 50 miles before Sisters, due to fires in the Three Sisters Wilderness. We still had a lot of options to consider. Getting to Elk Lake before the eclipse would require nearly a week of consistent 30 mile days. Something I know we are capable of but it would not be fun- certainly not how we wanted to spend our last days on the trail together. And even if we made it to Elk Lake, we still wouldn’t be in the range of the total eclipse. And we didn’t want to brave the roads (even by hitching) the day of or night before the eclipse.
We decided not to make it anywhere special for the eclipse- we’d see it from somewhere on the trail, still very close to totality range, without any hubbub. And then we would make it to Elk Lake and from there to Bend where we’d eventually split.
Super. Once we had this long-term plan figured, we could focus on the trail (and closures) directly ahead of us.
Morgan and I left Fish Lake, 2 useless left shoes strapped shamefully atop her pack. We planned to take our time during my last week.. make it to Crater Lake and and eventually Elk Lake in no rush.
We were 30 miles from the last exit point before the Blanket Creek fire closure. How most people were getting around it: taking the Sevenmile trail for 2 miles, walking on a forest service road for about 5.5, then 4.5 miles on a very sparsely trafficked road running straight between cow-dotted fields to Ft. Klamath… all that before even getting to the highway 62. The day of the detour we had 8 miles of PCT to do before the junction. We made great time, cruised past the Sevenmile junction and down the forest service road. As we walked between the vast ranches, able to see miles ahead down the straight paved road, Morgan put on Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumors, and it felt like a soundtrack of some film about an adventure starring us.
When we finally hit Ft. Klamath and consequently the highway, Morgan and I decided to grab snacks at Jo’s Motel. Her organic cafe had a surprisingly varied selection of fancy foods and drinks from around the country. We got little cups of ice cream and some fruit. Morgan loves mango and I love watermelon, so we each emerged holding our favorite fruits and plopped down on the picnic tables outside the motel.
Some hikers with a purist philosophy about the trail were intent to walk the whole detour, including the 14 miles on highway 62. We were not so stringent. We stood outside the motel with thumbs out for maybe 30 minutes while cars drove by.
We decided to start walking. A few more minutes of cars flying by and I was losing hope of getting a hitch. I mentally prepared myself for some road walking, suncreening my nose and ears, and of course this is when a car pulled over.
We’re headed to the National Park, I told the driver. Hop in, he said. We met Greg, a ranger at the park on his day off. We really hit the jackpot here. Ranger Greg turned out to be not just a clutch hitch but also a gracious host for us in the park.
He took us to a great viewpoint on the way in, then to the general store for a small resupply, and then was gracious enough to let us shower, do laundry, cook dinner, use wifi, and sleep in his apartment! On top of all that we were fortunate enough to have arrived on the last night of the Olympic Games put on by he and some friends who work at the park. We got to meet and hang out with more park employees and even participate in that night’s event- the beer mile.
The next day Greg was nice enough to take us to the post office so I could send home my left shoes and then to the start of the Crater Rim Trail, a much more scenic alternate to the PCT for about 10 miles. Normally most PCT hikers would be using the Rim alternate anyway, but this year everyone was as this section of the official PCT was closed from the Spruce Lake Fire.
The Rim Trail was open but the fire was still near enough that smoke blanketed the area. Despite that, the view across the lake was breathtaking. We couldn’t actually see the other end of the lake but it looked mysterious that way. Perhaps because of the smoke, few people hiked the Rim Trail, after a mile past the Rim Village we only saw other PCT hikers. We took our time and made camp early, shortly after the trail stopped hugging the rim.
The next day we realized that the eclipse was happening in the morning of the 21st and we would only reach Shelter Cove Resort, where our mom had sent a care package with goodies and eclipse glasses, if we started really movin’. So we did 31 and 28 miles the next days to give us the whole morning before the eclipse to do the remaining ~10 miles to Shelter Cove. We made it in time and got to eat cookie bars made by mom and watch the eclipse through our glasses with a bunch of other hikers.
We hung out at Shelter Cove most of the day, as long as we could and still make it the 9 more miles to the Maiden Peak Shelter, an awesome hut that functions as a ski lodge in the winter and is open for anyone to use in the summer.
We got there a bit late but with some light remaining. Someone was leaving the hut headed towards the woods. We only saw the back of him, but we thought we recognized Rhino, who we hadn’t seen since VVR, before Mammoth (over a month earlier!). As we neared the hut we heard a voice with what sounded like Ladybug’s distinct Swiss accent. Yes! Ladybug, Arvid, Lydia, and Rhino traveled together in the high Sierras, at nearly the same pace as us for a couple weeks. Arvid and Lydia are brother and sister from Germany, maybe our favorite sibling pair.
We entered the cabin and sure enough, there they were. It was so fun catching up and their brother sister banter is ever-amusing to us. After much talking we decided it was time for bed. We climbed the ladder to the loft and set up our sleeping pad and bags, making two lines of down slug-shaped lumps.
After the solar battery powered lights went out we laid in the dark, finding comfortable positions and maybe a couple of us dozing off when we saw a headlamp light shining through the windows. A minute later the door opened. All we could see was a light shining in our eyes, but we heard a , ‘Hi’ in Atlas’ Hungarian accent. He caught up!
It was late so he shuffled around in the dark and eventually joined our line of down lumps in the loft. I’m the morning we took our time before leaving, learning all about his travels and sharing our own.
Elk Lake was an easy day and a half away. So the day we left the shelter was Louise’s last full day on trail. We made it fun- stopping to pick as many berries as we pleased and ending the day after only 23 miles because there was a pretty spot by a pond.
The hike to Elk Lake went by fast with Louise at the helm- she booked it. We surpassed the standard 10 before 10 benchmark doing 10 miles before 9:40- even though we got a late-ish start. Louise loves those morning miles…
When the pancake challenge ended and I emerged from my overstuffed belly haze I was, for the first time in a while, not committed to being anywhere specific at any time. For so long our schedule had been built around me being able to get to friend vacation and then, making it to the pancake challenge. We needed a new goal, something to plan our daily mileages around. This wasn’t hard as there were a few events coming up to work around.
Louise was planning to get off trail towards the end of the month and the moon was going to pass in front of the sun around that time too. Sisters is a town near the trail, just inside total eclipse range, that we could reach by Aug 21 if we kept a pretty good pace, averaging 25.5 miles a day. We thought this would also be a nice place for Louise to end her hike, and we liked the name. We knew that there were a number of wildfires in Oregon that could affect this schedule but fire and closure statuses were changing so often that it didn’t make sense to take those into account too far ahead of time.
With our vague plan, we set out to commence the long notoriously steep and exposed climb out of Seiad Valley. Perhaps because we were both well-rested, the climb was not as bad as we excepted. We looked at tentsites at lunch and aimed for 24 miles. Great.
Early in the afternoon, though, the skies began to darken. We started to feel drops climbing up switchbacks towards a ridge. Rain! Besides the slightest of drizzle we encountered briefly in Southern California, this was our first rain on the trail! It was actually exciting. Then there were rumblings of thunder that got louder and louder until the sky sounded like it was cracking open. By this time we had found some tree cover to wait it out. The storm blew over, but we would have to walk late to make the 24 miles.
But as the afternoon wore on, the skies darkened again. We heard rumbles. We had barely gone 20 miles but we decided to take the next tentsite we could find. We found a level spot on a saddle under a tree and set up the tent as fast as possible. We were just inside and set up when the rain started coming down. This was a much bigger storm than before. For more than an hour it rained and thunder cracked and we could see the entire sky illuminated pink and white through our tent. We had mac and cheese and hot chocolate. This was actually a really fun and cozy night.
The next day we exceeded our mileage goal with 28 miles and passed into Oregon! The following day we reached Callahan’s Lodge around noon, ready to grab our box (with new shoes!) and a meal and continue on our way.
At Callahan’s I took my phone off airplane mode and received a text, Should I send the box to Callahan’s Lodge today? And then I realized I hadn’t given my housemates an updated schedule for sending boxes and it was still in Seattle. If the box was just food we would hit the grocery store in Ashland and head on our way. But this box had new shoes and ours were ragged- the mesh torn in many places and the soles wearing very thin.
We decided to get the box sent to Fish Lake Resort, 55 miles down the trail. Because of the weekend, we estimated it would take 4 days to get there so we would have to have to take some unplanned rest time. I needed to learn more about fires, closures, and detours ahead so this would give me that time. And, of course, we needed to catch up with the blog. We planned to stay the night, camping in the lawn of Callahan’s.
That night though we learned it would actually take the package 5 days to get to Fish Lake. Hmm. Lots of unplanned rest time. Our hopes of keeping to the getting-to-Sisters-for-the-eclipse plan were slipping away. Not entirely a bad thing because that schedule had been starting to feel oppressive, but we would have to come up with a new plan.
But there was plenty of time for that. First, we had some catching up to do. That afternoon we heard from Sunbeam and Frosty! They were in Ashland and were planning to stop by Callahan’s that evening to claim their free hiker beer before getting back on the trail.
This reunion was so joyous. Amidst the dim lights and over the strumming and pleasant croon of the live music act, we sipped our Oregon craft brews, exchanged stories, and shared information about who we’ve seen and if they’re ahead or behind. Well past dark, Frosty and Sunbeam needed to get on their way. Again we said goodbye, this time not so sure we’d meet again on the trail.
The kitchen was closing very soon and Louise and I decided to get dessert. With very few other patrons remaining, we sat at the bar and at our peanut butter pie and creme brûlée. We talked to the bartender and the singer once his set had ended. Louise wanted to know if he knew In Other Words. He did. She had been really missing a good sing and he obliged to play for her.
She sang that one. And then Blue Moon and Fly Me to the Moon and Dream a Little Dream of Me. It was beautiful. Louise loved a chance to sing and John really liked her voice. He wanted her to sing with him the following night. We hadn’t planned to stay that long but in light of the package taking so long to get to Fish Lake, we decided we could afford the extra day there and this would be fun.
So we stayed one more day. We did a lot of blogging. I learned all about the Blanket Creek and Spruce Lake Fires that would be affecting us most immediately. And that night Weezie sang! We left the next day, having had a much more eventful time at Callahan’s than we expected.
The 55 miles to Fish Lake were mostly easy and uneventful. The last 6 miles we walked on trail expertly built atop endless shards of volcanic rock. Finally we got to Fish Lake, the day before our package was set to arrive. It was a pretty quiet place which was nice but hardly deserved the title ‘Resort’. Hiker camping was free and the diner-style restaurant was not too overpriced. We learned that UPS usually doesn’t arrive until 6 so we hunkered down to spend a night and full day there.
The milkshakes and veggie burgers were great. There was no cell service or wifi, so I was a little annoyed I couldn’t get any updates on the fires, but it was nice to just hang out in the tent by the lake. Finally, after 24 hours there we were eating dinner, our package to arrive any minute.
UPS came and we rejoiced. Weeze looked through the box while I checked scanned the store for a couple last minute supplies. She came up to me while I was checking out with amusement on her face. ‘Did you look at the shoes yet?’ No.
She brought me over and held them up. It took me a minute to notice that 3 of them were left shoes. We just looked at each other. It wasn’t even that upsetting at this point. Just funny.
Louise’s shoes were in sorrier shape than mine so she took the complete pair, and I strapped the two left shoes on my pack to carry them to the next post office. And we set out, planning to detour the Blanket Creek fire closure (in the south of Crater National Park) in 30 miles.