PCT Sobo 2017 Days 7-11; July 15th-July19th, 2017
Stehekin to Steven’s Pass; 107.7 Miles
Elevation: +29,099/-26,680 (Krazy…)
I burned most of my section K maps that night when Monica and I made the fire, the night of her Birthday. We were having fun burning things that we no longer needed, and I foolishly burned the second half of section K. Oops. The second half of section K is from Stehekin to Steven’s Pass, and that was where we were headed. I was nervous about what might lie ahead, will there be tons of sketchy snow on the long steep slopes? Will there be soooooo many downed trees that it becomes an obstacle course? It wasn’t that any of those situations downright scared me, to the contrary, I normally embrace them and enjoy the challenge. That being said, I was pressed for time to get through the section in less than 5 days. I had a date to meet my family in Portland by 10pm on the night of July 20th, when their flight arrived.
Monica was a great sport and on board with pushing the section fast. I knew it to be one of the most difficult sections on the entire PCT, remembering it from last year. There were days with over 8,000 feet of climbing and 8,000 feet of descending in one day. I also remembered it was one of the most beautiful sections of trail on the entire PCT, one of the most memorable for me, and isn’t that how it works? Usually the most dramatic, challenging, Krazy days are the retrospective favorites. I was a bit giddy with anticipation….and so was Monica.
DAY 7 we left the Stehekin High Bridge at around 3pm, so we hiked only 12 miles to reach Hemlock camp and got to bed early. I am normally not an alarm setter on the PCT, but for this section I felt it necessary in order to be on trail by 6:00 or thereabouts, so I set my alarm for 5:15am. Ouch.
DAY 8: July 16th, 2017; Hemlock Camp to Vista Creek, 24 miles 6k up 6k down…a little bit Krazy.
We did not start the day early. Oops. We pushed off at 7:30am, oh well. Within minutes of leaving camp we were forced to ford a creek. I remember this! I had come down the hill and sat here under that tree across the way, and I made coffee before crossing the creek….the water was higher now than it was last September, and I decided to cross in my shoes in order to protect my wavering ankles. I removed my socks, gaiters and shoe inserts and re-fastened my super light shoes back on to cross, and the water felt refreshing. I got my feet dry and back on track with socks, gaiters and wet shoes. Then it was time to climb.
The morning was cloudy and a bit cool, so I hiked with my compression socks on and never took them off fir the day, they felt really good to me for some reason, comforting. The climbing felt good too, once I warmed up, and all day I fantasized about stopping in the Old Growth Cedar Forest for an afternoon coffee, so I was pushing the miles to make that happen.
Hours passed and I enjoyed the stillness and serenity of the deep forest. The trail, at times was very forgiving on the feet, as it meandered through deep woods thick with fresh, vibrant green understory and an almost padded footpath. I remember this climb, I thought, it was so difficult last year, my feet hurt so bad and i had to take it sooooo slow. Now, fortunately, they don’t hurt and I feel as if Im floating. It’s Krazy how that works. Healed by time, and here I am back in this Space. I am back in the Space Between. The space between no longer…and not yet.
At this point, Monica and I are leap frogging with four other hikers, one of them being Lena, the one we camped with at Hemlock Camp, and the three Matthews. There is Matthew #1 who we met with Anna, and basically hiked alongside with up to Stehekin. Matthew #2 who we met in Six Mile Camp, who is 18 and hiking solo. Then there is Matthew #3 who we met when we were with Arrow on our way back to the trail the day before. It’s difficult keeping them all straight in my mind, which Matthew is it? Number 1, Number 3? Which order do they go in? Which Matthew is ahead and which Matthew is behind us? It makes my head spin and I end up not attempting to try figuring it out any longer. And why is everybody named Matthew anyways?
We made it down to the bottom of the Siuattle River, which has a bridge, by around 2pm, and we still had a few miles before making it to the Old Growth Forest. The PCT had been re-routed from the Siuattle River crossing some years ago, and now follows the river East for about 3 miles, then back West for another 3 miles to re-join where the former trail picks up. The maps make it look completely unnecessary to go out of the way, however, it takes you throuh this remarkable section of Old Growth Cedar Trees, and I am talking, Old. They are hundreds of feet tall and perhaps 30 feet around, and they just tower over you like Giant Guardians, they are Magestic in every sense of the word and I love them.
I had been looking forward to this place all day, and by the time we got there, we had already hiked close to 20 miles. We were both feeling a bit tired, and still had some climbing to do before making it to camp. Needless to say, stopping for a coffee party in the forest grove did not happen. Oh well, I will just have to come back, I think. Still, it was great to be among these beings, and I made sure to switch my internal settings to extra absorbent as I walked slowly, almost like a tiptoe. I somehow felt like being reeaaalllly quiet would make the tree experience better, like I wanted to respect their space, like I was walking in a cathedral. Shhhhhhhh….
By the end of the day, we had made it 24 miles and we decided to camp near a small trickling creek and campsite called Vista Camp. We found Matthew #1 there burrowed inside his sleeping bag, cowboy style, with the hood all tied up to avoid the mosquitoes. I walked over and brushed his face wiht a leaf, and woke him up a little. He is a very gentle spirit and I like him. I wanted to say hello but not startle him, he was happy to see us in his little half-asleep way. I had found his sunglasses along the trail earlier that day, and returned them to him, so he looked at me sheepishly and thanked me with a big warm smile.
DAY 9: July 17th, 2017; from Vista Camp to somewhere 24.5 miles later
Elevation: +8,156 ft/-8,629 ft…..Krazier…
Today was the day of days. I had been thinking about all the climbing and descending we were about to do for days. I had intentionally not told Monica the actual amount of elevation change we were going to have to do, because I did’t want to freak her out. To give you an idea for a point of comparisson; Let’s just say Day 9 on a typical Northbound hike, you might do 20 miles, and you might climb somewhere in the vicinity of the 2,000 ft to 3,000 ft each way range (with the section of Mount San Jacinto being the exception). My point being, that starting the PCT in the Southbound direction just throws it all at you right away. I think I have touched on this already, but last year when I reached this section, after hiking over 2,500 miles, I had never done so much elevation change in one day for the entire hike and so tackling that after more than 2500 miles felt just monumental at that time. So, on the agenda today was not only a whole bunch of climbing and descending, but also Mica Lake and Fire Creek Pass. This is my journal entry from that night:
Today was the most epic day. The trail gave us all sorts of interesting challenges, some of which I did not expect. Like bushwhacking. I was prepared for snow, for route-finding, for blow-down tackling, but not bushwhacking through thickets of overgrown plant matter taller than me. There were miles of it, so much that I could not see my own feet or where I was placing them on the generous 12″ of trail. The trail was steep, washed out in places, it had holes and rocks and roots and it was on a steep ledge all this while. There must have been over 50 blown-down trees today alone, too. I am scraped up and bloody from the trees, rocks and the scratchy, thorny plants.
I was hoping to dunk my feet into Mica Lake when we finally reached it after miles of climbing, only to find that it was mostly frozen! It was really beautiful and cool to see it in that state though (Im really sad I cant attach a photo right now). Then we climbed up from Mica Lake to Fire Creek Pass in the snow, which never required traction but took a lot of work. We enjoyed some of the most stellar views of Glacier Peak today, looming so large and heavy with big thick chunks of ice, and the mountain had it’s own cloud hanging around it all day, morphing into different shapes.
Waterfalls cascaded off of seemingy everything today as we could see the long stretches down into the valley that Milk Creek is at the bottom of. The green of the hillsides is electric and every single wildflower seems to be in bloom. I hit a wall around 5:30pm and somehow managed to hike another 3 hours. Monica and I had a laughing attack over her potential trail name “Bird Whisperer” because she is always calling “caaaaw caaaaaw” in her silly way that I love.
DAY 10: July 18th, 2017; 22 miles from Pass Creek over Red and White Passes
Elevation: +5,550 ft/-5,435 ft …less Krazy…
Despite my fatigue, I slept terribly last night. Something about having my head slightly downhill makes me not sleep right, and there were rodents making scratching noises all night long. I felt groggy and unmotivated this morning. Oh well, such is life, I have nothing to do but hike, so I hiked.
Today was potentially going to be a really snowy day and we had met a Northbound family near the Cedar grove who warned us about this. The woman had said she planned on hiking 20 miles that day and only made it 13 because of the snow which only allowed her to walk at a pace of 1mph. Well, we’ll see. Monica and I decided she was a fearful person and had exaggerated the intensity of the slushy stuff. I just hoped she was wrong because I needed to make the miles. So far my plan was working, and we only had today and one more day to make it to Steven’s Pass. We can do this, I know it!
We climbed up up up up….and eventually into some snow. The views of the surrounding mountains and Glacier Peak were just getting better and better though, and I started to really feel like I was at home in this alpine wilderness. It reminded me of being in the Sierra’s in the snow last year and made me happy. I like snow hiking, it is challenging, and you don’t have to be “on” the trail, you have the freedom to make your own. I like that. I carefully picked my way up through the slope leading to Red Pass and saw the others making thier ways all differently, too. The views from the top of the Pass were expansive and once there, I remembered exactly where I was. I therefore took a photo comparable to one I took last year, giving thanks to the Mountains, and just stood there feeling entirely grateful and fully awake and alive.
I had expected the next few miles between Red and White Pass, along a slope, to be completely covered in snow, but it wasn’t. There were a couple, maybe three snow traverses, I don’t really recall. They were just short sections of snow which required some concentration, but were completely do-able. That was it, and when we finally made it to White Pass, it was dry. That couple miles however, was seriously one of the prettiest places on the trail so far. All the elements seemed to play off one another, between the steep slopes covered in electric green and blankets of wildflowers to the distant views of snow-capped jagged, craggy peaks, to the big puffy clouds passing against a strikingly blue sky, it was a serious endorphin rush walking along that ridge. A very happy place indeed.
Later in the afternoon, we reached the top of yet another climb to find an older, retired age, couple dressed in old school hiking hear, much of which seemed like they had made themselves, and they were so sweet and friendly. They offered to take our photo with Glacier Peak in the background, which we gladly accepted. We stood there chatting it up with them for several minutes and they were thankful that we took the time to do so. It is common in the thru-hiker world, that we never seem to have enough time. Not to stop and chat, not to take naps, not to swim or wait, not to anything. So many thru-hikers plough through with their heads down, focusing on miles, miles, miles. I was, and am, determined not to be one of these thru-hikers. Oddly enough, as we stood there chatting, another female thru-hiker we had not yet met came huffing up the trail, covered in dirt and sweat. The couple offered to take her photo for her and I could hear the hesitation in her voice. I could almost hear the internal dialogue of trying to decide to stop for a photo or keep truckin’ on. She agreed to have her photo taken for her, and after a very brief chat in which we learned she was originally a Nobo who flipped up, she headed off and was once again enveloped into the warp of the trail. Miles, miles, miles….
It was soon after this that we could see, for the first time, Mt. Rainier off to the South. It was one of those moments where your jaw drops, and your belly fills with those fluttery butterflies. The excitement of making progress and the knowing of where you are headed, to be able to see the path in the distance. I will walk all that way, and so much more…I thought. It gave me a perspective on just how much lies ahead of me, and how relatively little lies behind.
By the end of the day I was pretty beat. I had ached in places I hadn’t yet on this hike, which I attributed to the snow. Left SI joint, Left gluteal attachment at the hamstring, Right shoulder blade, rhomboid? Left adductor pain from a fall on the snow, and Right Quadratus Lumborum attachment which got strained today making a BIG step up onto a snowbank, and my feet are completely raw in places from walking with wetness all day..but other than that I was feeling fantastic!
Day 11: July 19th, 2017; 25 miles from Pass Creek to Steven’s Pass where Arrow agreed to pick us up at the Trailhead! God Bless you Arrow!
Elevation: +4,500 ft/-5,400 ft (not so Krazy anymore…)
There was a mouse in my tent….again….last night. I had to unzip my zipper and scoop it out with my cooking pot…I don’t know why, but they keep getting into my tent. Is this section just rodent ladden or am I exuding some sort of rodent-attracting chemical. Are they attracted to bliss? Seems so…I must work on this one, what is this lesson?
Monica and I had a great philosophical conversation this morning over our early miles. It was basically taking the psychology pyramid and breaking it down only to re-build it to fit thru-hiker brains. So, in the bottom of the pyramid in traditional psychology there is the base of basic needs being met: shelter, food, safety, and at the top of the pyramid, in the narrowest part, there is room for things like creativity, enlightenment and community. We observed that the thru-hiker world is one where our basic needs are taken care of so easily that we have so much more time to exist in the other spheres of the pyramid. Thus, our shape is more like an egg, with so much time to contemplate our existence, form our community, and to be creative.
This somehow led me to express a thought regarding my own existence and where I fall on the Universal scale of collective consciousness. That being, that I seem to have been born into a very positive, fortunate existence. I just have. And getting to thru-hike two years in a row is part of that. I feel that my own existence on the spectrum of human collective consciousness is close to one extreme, on the end of of positivity and therefore it is my job to express positivity in all that I do. I feel it is the best way I can show my respect for the life I have been given, to pay it forward by being the light, sharing the light back into the pool so that others will benefit from it too. I my not be out there in the trenches fighting for all the injustices that humanity experiences, but I still feel like I am contributing to making the world a better place by honoring and respecting the Planet, our Earth home, the Wilderness and the people I cross paths with every day. Anyway, good Stuff to ponder over a morning climb.
The rest of the day was tainted with a slight pressure to make it to Steven’s Pass before dark, so we took only short breaks and pushed our pace. Lunch was next to a serene lake where there were sooooo many flies buzzing all around me the entire time. I mean, they were relentless, and I could not even lie down for a minute without them all descending on me and having a feast. Oh well, I suppose this helps me keep walking. Time to walk, not time to break, right? Miles, miles, miles….
We made it through to the end of the green corridor, which was the last 3 mile stretch leading to the trailhead, by 7pm, where Arrow was waiting for us, that dear man! That last few miles seemed to take FOREVER! Why is it that no matter what, when you get to the end of any day, of any section, any length of miles, the closer you get to your destination, the longer the minutes seem so stretch out in space-time like molasses….?
I kept craining my neck to see if I could spot anything that looked like the trailhead sign from within thst little trail tunnel. I was third in line behind Matthew #1 and Monica. We walked like three solders in step with each other, rhythmically striding on the flat gravelly path until finally, finally….there he was, it was Arrow! He came out to greet us and within minutes of exchanging hugs in a human circle, he said “wow, you guys look tired”. I had wondered if we would look different to him after only 4.5 days, as the trail certainly took its toll on us, and I different. Arrow was so thoughtful, and planned ahead, by bringing us cold beers. Oh my what a delicious treat this was. FAN-tastic!
We did it, we made it to Steven’s Pass in 4.5 days! I was so glad, relieved, happy, excited and ready for some down time. Arrow drove us to The Dinsmore’s and we were welcomed by Jerry and Andrea and crew by having burgers prepared for us out on the deck of their home. I opted for a white flour bun with potatoe salad smashed between the two pieces of bread, along with drizzles of catsup and pickle relish plus a side of magical macaroni salad. Wow holy carbs, it was sooooo good!
I was stoked to be back at Hiker Haven again, and poked around remembering last years group, the weather, the bunk beds, the fire pit and Jerry’s amazing train set (in the other garage). Arrow was going to stay and give some of us rides to the city the next day, so he and I pitched our tents on the lawn. We had also picked up Anna on the way from Steven’s Pass, as she had jumped South and attempted to hike from there, hoping her knee would feel better, but it didn’t. Feeling so sad for her situation and wishing she could hike with us ‘cuz I really like her. But it was looking like she needed medical attention and time off the trail. Heal up soon Anna!
Sleep came fast that night but was disrupted by the ever-constant noise of the train passing through Baring. The house is right on the railroad tracks, which I love, but it does not lend to one resting well. In the morning, Arrow and I sat on the lawn drinking instant coffee and feeling like we were back on the trail again together, sigh…. nostalgia. Soon several other hikers joined us as we all were waiting for the Cascadia Restaurant in Skykomish to open up at 10am. It was a long wait since I’d been up since 6:30am.
I plopped my laundry into the machine along with Matthew #1 and Monica and selected a brilliant blue onsie out of the loaner clothes to wear for the next few hours. I seriously felt like a Tele-tubbie and I was 5 again. It was great. This is our group just before leaving for breakfast.