Up in Smoke

PCT SOBO DAY 17-20; August 1st-4th

Stampede Pass to White Pass/Packwood

PCT Miles 277 – 358

Elevation Change: +15,000 ft / -16,800 ft

DAY 17:  I woke to more sounds of cars crunching down the gravel road and to my dismay still no trail magic. Ha! Carrot lingered behind me as I left camp and I set off into a meditative walk for the morning climb. At first my legs felt tired, so I worked on deep breathing to increase my circulation, and you know what, it worked!

The breathwork sailed me into a space of calm and peace as I walked. My mind took on a stillness that I love, something wavering on static, empty, yet not absent of thought or cognition. This is what I think of as the “rewiring” of the brain when you spend every day walking in the woods. Your own neurons begin to match the wavelengths of that of the forest. I was deeply appreciating just BEING there that day, just BEING a privileged interloper in the forest, and BEING a part of this amazing planet Earth. 

The trail passed through a few more clearcut areas and then back into forests again, where I would experience relief from the heat. By the evening I was amazed to feel how my feet did not hurt at all, even after 23 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing, what a relief! The trail had been kind indeed. When we arrived to camp that night, we had been walking for 12 miles without any water, so the first thing I did was secure some fresh water from the spring. It was ice cold and amazing, and the sun was getting low on the horizon, so my surroundings had that special glow. Ahhhhhh, done for the day….

There were several other hikers already camping there so I had to ask around if there were any other places to camp. A friendly man pointed me in the direction of a little footpath through some deadfall that eventually guided me to a stealth coveted campsite, where Carrot and I ended up cowboying. It was a great night, the stars were twinkling and I slept quite well. Except for that time we awoke to loud crunching footsteps in the forest nearby, and by the time I switched on my headlamp it was gone. It’s always like that, you never see the “thing” that is making such loud noises in the night. But I wasn’t making it up, because it woke both of us up!

DAY 18

We had noticed smoke infiltrating the skies yesterday, creating a haze in the atmosphere. By the morning light at sunrise we could definitely see evidence of a fire. Thick smoke settled on the Eastern horizon and while witnessing the sunrise through the trees, I wondered where and how many fires there were. The sun was a big orange orb floating on top of the mountain ridges, but even as it rose higher in the sky, it seemed still quite heavy. I wondered….about the smoke… getting thicker and thicker….

The temps were rising and we made a pact to go swimming that day no matter what. Carrot left camp before me today and we were heading first for the Urich Cabin right next to a stream that would have fresh running water. I somehow managed to hike that first 5 miles in 1.5 hours, pretty much a record for me. The trail was so lovely, just a gentle roller on soft padded ground covered in the needles of conifers. The cabin was nothing like it was last year, since there were no people squating there this year. Thank the heavens, it was just the two of us, nice and quiet. 

A little further down the trail came the 2,300 mile point, where I had just started hiking with Crush last year. When I arrived, I stopped to make a new mile marker out of nearby stones. I was already so dirty and getting down on the ground just compounded the fact, but I loved it. I love making mileage markers and I feel honored for the opportunity to be making them now, this time around. It reminds me that since I was last at that very point, the only thing that happened was a bunch of snow fell, and then it melted, and here I am, all over again, just facing the opposite side.

As we hiked along the air became more filled with smoke and Carrot was able to get cell service and found out about a few fires, one in WA and a few in BC. We set our sights on making it to Sheep Lake by the end of the day, 26 miles, so we could swim before making camp. We ran into McGuyver and Danger Dog as we climbed the final pass of the day. Danger Dog is a blue healer and she is great. She went darting out onto some precarious talus chasing Marmots as we heaved up the pass. I turned back at all the noise of screetching Marmots and crackling talus to see the dog staggering along, looking frantically at where the furry creatures had disappeared to…..the Marmot underworld, of course. 

Once we reached the top of the pass we could see Sheep Lake just below, a mere 1,000 feet down and waiting for us to jump in. Sometimes I think I hike faster than Carrot, but I am wrong, she is such a strong hiker. When she decides she is ready, she charges. When I think about it, she kept saying how she is so slow and not in hiking shape right now, and yet, we were hiking the same miles every day. I feel strong, I am hiking strong, and I am just keeping up with her. She flew down that hill and by the time I made it to the lake, she was already swimming. I wasted no time and jumped in, and I tell you that swim was orgasmic, if a swim can be that. It was one of the most well deserved and satisfying swims I have had in a long time, probably sice the swim I took in the Mediterranean when I completed the GR5 in France in ’15.  Yes, that great. I washed the sweat and dirt off my body and I shivered from the cold. My body temperature dropped fast and as I got out of the water I was chilled and had goose bumps from head to toe. We found a cozy little circle of trees to set up camp and I started cooking my dinner as I put on all my dry and warm cothes and sat contendly as my dinner steamed into perfection. 

DAY 19: Journal exerpt: This morning I woke up at 6:40 and Carrot had already been up for a bit. I honestly felt like I could have gone back to sleep, but no, not such a thing in the life of the thru-hiker. She headed out on trail by 7:00 and I was slow and really just wanted to sit by the perfect little creek, meditating. This whole meadow near Sheep Lake is covered in fresh grass and wildflowers of all kinds. There are towering walls of rock around us and all night I heard the elk tromping aroud, though I have not seen any yet…

I started hiking by 7:54, late, wow! The temps rose into the 90’s today and we heard it was 104 in Packwood, the small town we planned on going into tomorrow for “real food”. This morning we crossed Chinook Pass and into the Mt. Rainier National Park zone. At one point the mountain was visible through all the haze, like a big heavy ghost. By 10:30am I had already dunked my head under three waterfalls, and thank God for those! It was getting hotter and smokier, but I still felt strong in my legs and feet. I pushed to hike faster and was able to catch up to Carrot by noon, where I found her sitting in her mosquito net tent, eating Salami folded in a taco shspe and filled with plantain chips. She told me it was so hot and buggy that she had been zombie walking and now she was eating salami and that’s precisely how she became the Salami Zombie (her “other” trail name).

I joined her for an early lunch break and we talked about the upcoming section of Goat Rocks Wilderness and the Knife Edge and the possibility of camping on top of Old Snowy, the summit. The hike this morning was jaw droppingly gorgeous, even with all the smoke, the wildflowers are out-of-control pretty. It is so difficult to speed through it all. I had taken so many photos in the morning it was slowing me down.

By 3:30pm we gratefully reached a flowing creek with icy water. We dunked our bodies completely in and some other women who were there taking a break called us brave. I don’t know about that, we were just so HOT! The water was incredible, and I could barely stand it for more than 30 seconds, so I situated myself on a rock in the center of the stream, and warmred my wet body in the sun while water rushed on all sides. Seriously, does not get any better than this. I am so grateful to be here, doing this, living this, such a perfect moment. Dvinity.

Atfer lunch, I pushed to hike strong and by 7:30 pm had made it to camp, 28 miles. The last several miles were luxurously flat and fast, but we were in serious mosquito hell. I mean hell. I am not carrying a mosquito net nor any bug juice, so I just have to deal. My solution to this was to imagine that all the mosquitoes were actually acupuncture needles being inserted all over my arms and that the initial pinch was completely temporary and beneficial. I let them bite me, because it was becoming difficult to swat at them as I walked, I simply could not keep it up. My strategy seemed to work for a while, but by the time I made it to camp, boy was I glad to be done for the day. I pitched my tent and got right in, with only about 50 mosquites buzzing around inside with me. Not too bad. So, I had hiked 28 miles in less than 12 hours and my feet felt really goood, how is that possibile? I was in good spirits despite all the mosquitoes, and enjoyed one of my favorite dinners of instant refried black beans with melted cheese and tortilla chips while watching the sun beams cast their final glow of the day reflected on a stagnant pond of tepid water where we camped. Hey, it was water, and water is what we needed to be near. 

DAY 20: Packwood here we come! We only had three miles to make it too the highway where we planned to get a hitch into Packwood, a nearby town that had a couple restaurant and inns. My morning was super peaceful. As it was before, Carrot darted up ahead of me, and I was trying to keep up. Then, suddenly, I stopped and just started looking around the forest. Why was I in such a hurry to leave the forest? It almost felt like a betrayal. I don’t actually want to leave the forest, and right now, in the morning light, she is stunningly beautiful. But…I am hungry. Hunger, for real food, is the driving force for getting me off the PCT and back into civilization. If it weren’t for that, I might just never leave.

I reached the highway and the little gas station mart, called the Kracker Barrel, jut shortly after Carrot and I found that my resupply package had not yet arrived. So that confirmed for me that I would take the rest of the day off and stay in Packwood. Strangely, relief washed over me becuase it mant I could rest. We were able to get a hitch fairly easily into Packwood by a friendly consstruction project manager guy, and he dropped us off right at the local diner/pizza restaurant where I ordered a vegetarian omelet, which was stuffed with all the pizza toppings. It was a pizza omelet and it was awesome!

We ran into several other Sobos there in the cafe and chatted with them before checking into the Hotel Packwood. I never went into Packwood last year, so this was a great new adventure, I love seeing new places. The haze was infiltrating every crevice of the town, you could see no mountains in the distance, heck, you could barely see across the street. But, I did finally see my first Elk there in town, because apparently they are all in Packwood.   


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