Mirror Lake to Snoqualmie Pass

Mirror Lake to Snoqualmie Pass

Saturday, August 23, 2014
Day 9: Mirror Lake to Snoqualmie Pass
Miles: 9.1
Miles to Go: 0

It was hard to be motivated to get out of bed knowing we were only nine miles from the end of the trail. I wanted to return to reality now, about as little as I had when we’d left Packwood after the storm. I had no desire to return to real life because somehow, it never seemed real. It always felt like something was missing. Hiking felt real, traveling felt real, adventuring felt real, living life to its absolute fullest felt real.

Work was really just something I did so I could afford the real moments. It seemed wrong to me that we had to buy our own free time.

At least since we’d gotten off the trail, I’d found a job I enjoyed doing and was working on a side project I absolutely loved. For that I was grateful. Most people I knew would say they tolerated what they did for work at best. I found that sad. If we’re lucky, we get ninety years on this marvelous planet and a third of that time is spent sleeping. It seemed like such a waste to spend two-thirds of the time one was awake miserable. Society felt like giant mouse-trap: you need a car to get to work so you can make money to pay for the car that got you there and the house you never spend time in because you’re too busy making money to pay for it. Sometimes I wonder if we just do things because that’s the way things have always been done and the system wouldn’t work if we collectively believed they could be done any differently.

What would happen if everyone suddenly realized they could be happy with just what was in the backpacks on their back? Maybe I needed to start a hikertrash revolution.

Meh. That was enough of that. I was giving myself a headache. I shook my head. I couldn’t dwell on these things. They made me crazy, and quite frankly, crazier was the last thing I needed to be. Sighing, I crawled out of my sleeping bag and prepared for the inevitable.

Besides, we needed to be off the mountain before the ultra-runners came through. The runner we’d met on break yesterday had said Mirror Lake was a popular destination for well-wishers to come watch the runners go by and by midafternoon it would likely be packed.

The trail was still damp from last night’s rain as we made our way over the small hill behind the lake. From that point on, we knew it would be downhill all the way into town. With gravity pushing us along, we hiked fast. There was really no reason to prolong the inevitable; it’s always less painful to rip a Band-Aid off quickly, right?

The trail hugged the side of a steep forested hill for a good many miles as it worked its way down into Olallie Meadow. Passed Olallie Meadow, we crossed one forest service road and then another, before dipping under a power line. Ugh, power lines, gross. I was fully aware that I was a hypocrite for that because, the first chance I got, I had every intention of showering with water heated by the very power surging through those lines.

“Do you hear that?” Bearclaw asked, “It sounds like cars on a highway.”

“That’s because the I-90 is less than a quarter mile east.” I sighed.

Civilization was nigh. I had to fight the urge to wrap my arms around the base of a tree and scream, “No! No! You can’t make me! Save me tree!!” And yet, my feet kept moving me ever forward.

By the time we reached Lodge Lake, the trail was a highway in its own right, as weekend warriors and day hikers made their own escape into the wilderness. It wasn’t long before we popped over a rise and ended up on a ski run.

We were halfway down the ski hill on our way into Snoqualmie when we met a couple headed up the road toward us.

“Are you thru hikers?” They asked. I smiled. Every single conversation we’d had over the last nine days had started with those same four magical words.

We gave them the low down, letting them know that unfortunately, we were hiking our last few hundred yards of trail. They had a cabin a million miles from civilization and had spent years guiding pack expeditions in the backcountry, they felt our pain at the impending return to civilization.

The man looked at us thoughtfully. “I have a poem I think you might enjoy. It’s called Lost. It was written by a man named David Wagoner and was based on an ancient Native American teaching.”

His gaze flew over Snoqualmie and deep into the steep mountains beyond as he recited this poem from memory,

“Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.”

I’ve said it a hundred times before, and I will say it a hundred times again: The trail has a funny way of being able to read you and knowing exactly what to do, or who to put in your path, to make everything all right.

It didn’t matter if I was standing in the middle of a towering forest of pines, at the top of a mountain pass, had my toes submerged in the sand and surf of a deserted beach, or was lying on the sun-baked earth of the desert staring at the sparkling night sky, I never felt lost in nature. In nature everything had its place, everything had its purpose, and if I let it, it simply invited me into its rhythm. I became a small part of the big picture. Civilization was out of sync with the rhythm of nature, I wasn’t part of something bigger, and I didn’t have my place. I was lost. Out here though, I always knew where I was. I was “here” and “here” was home. It didn’t matter how long I had to be away, it would always welcome me back.

We ordered lunch at the stand in front of the gas station and plopped down at a picnic table to wait for Trenchstar to arrive with our car. When our order was ready, the girl behind the counter looked at us and asked the age-old question, “Are you guys thru-hikers? If you are there’s a free can of beer with your name on it.”

“Yes, we are,” I responded without hesitation.

Not because I really wanted a frosty beer but because I’d had a trail epiphany. You don’t need to be thru-hiking to be a thru-hiker, just like you don’t need to be a hiker to be hikertrash. These things, and where you call home, are more a state of mind than anything.

Miles Left to Canada: 258 — Stay tuned for the end of the story Summer 2015!

Mile 2,380.6 to Mirror Lake

Mile 2,380.6 to Mirror Lake

Friday, August 22, 2014
Day 8: Mile 2,380.6 to Mirror Lake (2392.9)
Miles: 12.3
Miles to Go: 9.1

“Oh fuck! Babe, wake up!” Bearclaw yelled.

Barely awake I rolled over and open my eyes just in time to see a horizontal flash of lightning streak overhead.

“Oh, crap!” I thought, still half asleep. “It’s raining!”

I rolled back over and quickly put in my contacts and grabbed my headlamp in preparation of having to bolt outside and toss the rain fly on the tent before everything got wet. Once again able to see, I rolled back over and looked up at the sky. No rain, no clouds, just a million stars strewn across the sky like a handful of glitter on black construction paper.

“What’s going on?” I asked confused.

“I just saw a UFO!” Bearclaw responded, totally freaked out.


“I just saw a UFO.” He repeated. “There was a low rhythmic pulsing sound that woke me up. As I lay there listening trying to figure out what it was, it morphed into the sound of a small propeller aircraft, but it just didn’t sound right. It sounded like a bizarre recording, or like someone trying to play a sound they thought an airplane would make. It was so weird that I got up to see where the sound was coming from and a few hundred feet above the tent was a white, brilliantly lit orb. It totally freaked me out! When I shouted, “Oh fuck!” it shot off to the north at lightning speed. It literally covered the distance to the horizon in a millisecond. And then there were rapid flashes of light on the horizon where it disappeared.”

I guess that explained the lightning I thought I’d seen. Kind of.

Clutching our headlamps, we stared off into space for a long while before we finally fell back to sleep.

“Maybe it was ball lightning?” I suggested over breakfast.

“I know what ball lightning looks like. It wasn’t ball lightning.” Bearclaw knew what he saw, and it wasn’t ball lightning.

“Saint Elmo’s Fire?” I offered as we got back on the trail.

“It wasn’t that either.” Bearclaw sighed. “I wish you would have seen it.”

“An airplane flying at a weird angle? A meteor that was coming straight at us, so it didn’t look like it was moving, but then it hit something in the atmosphere and veered off wildly in a different direction?” I tried.

“Something military? There’s a base near Seattle.” I suggested a while later.

“I don’t know. Maybe, but I doubt it. It was weird.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him; Bearclaw isn’t the kind of guy that over-exaggerates or makes things up. It wasn’t even that I didn’t believe in aliens. I just found it a little disconcerting that a UFO was hovering above our tent watching us sleep. Seemed like a really weird thing for aliens to do. Why not attack New York, or abduct people for anal probing, or fix our environment for us? If you can master warp speed, you can probably solve global warming. But traveling light years to watch hikertrash while they slept in their tents? That was just plain creepy. Weird, creepy, stalker aliens.

“I’m not saying it was aliens.” Bearclaw clarified. “I’m saying it was an unidentified flying object. It was flying, and I couldn’t identify it.”

We walked through the forest in silent contemplation, detouring only once to check out an abandoned weather station.

At Forest Service Road 52, we stopped in a sunny patch for morning break and chatted with a woman from Portland who was out for one final training run before she ran the Cascade Crest 100 the following morning. When we’d gotten off the trail in the fall, I was in amazing shape. Seriously, our PCT thru-hike was the only time in my entire life I’d ever had a nice ass. I swore I would never be out-of-shape again. But I also didn’t want to give up eating like a thru-hiker. The solution?

I decided I would become an ultra-runner. As it turns out, you need to have a hell of a lot of spare time to be an ultra-runner. You also need to have some serious motivation and really, really love running. “If I can thru-hike the PCT, I can be an ultra-runner.” I kept telling myself.

Within months, I’d gotten up to about nine miles a day. And then, I came down with a chest cold that knocked me on my ass. When I finally started running again, I was back down to a painful three-mile walk-run.

“Ugh, screw this. I’m too tired for this shit.” I thought. I was halfway thru my second walk-run when I promptly turned around, headed home and gained a good twenty pounds. I had nothing but respect for this woman.

Speaking of gaining twenty pounds, have I mentioned how thick the huckleberries alongside the trail were? I think I ate twenty pounds of them a day which was amusing because digestion did nothing to alter the color, and it turned out Trenchstar was right when he said Mountain House dinners made you poo look like soft-serve! The berries had a worse effect on Bearclaw then they did on me. Before long, he had to duck back behind the bushes, leaving me to happily continue shoveling berries down my throat.

Bearclaw hadn’t been gone for long when a dozen men with backpacks, hiking quickly in a single file passed me by. They were built like linebackers, were all sporting crewcuts, and were obviously on a mission. Had they not been in civilian clothes, I would have pegged them for Army men. The day just kept getting stranger.

“You don’t think it’s odd that last night I see a UFO and then today you see a bunch of guys that look like military men masquerading as civilians headed in the same direction the UFO went?” Bearclaw asked.

“A little, I guess. Or maybe they were just the Seattle football team out for a weekend backpack, in the middle of the week.”

A few miles later we arrived at a small seasonal creek, marked on our Halfmile maps as WA2388. Sitting on the banks of the creek were a dozen more buzz-cut linebackers in civilian clothes. A few of them were filtering water into army-green canteens with heavy duty water filters. A few of them were resting in the shade. To our right, two men were standing just off the trail. One of them was holding a large case. The other was holding what appeared to be a miniature satellite dish, which was attached the case by a cord. They seemed to be scanning the air for something. When they saw us, they all stopped what they were doing and stared.

“Are those the “football” players you saw?” Bearclaw asked.

“Nope. The football players I saw were headed in the opposite direction.”

“Those guys were totally military. What do you think they were scanning for? I bet it has to do with whatever I saw last night!” The plot thickened.

“They were probably looking for Bigfoot.” I winked. But seriously, strange things were afoot in the forest.

The further away from the UFO site we hiked, the less strange the trail became. We hopped over three creeks as we wandered through tranquil forests of towering pines and bare hillsides thick with sickly sweet berry bushes. We stopped and chatted with a trail crew and thanked them for their hard work.

Late afternoon we made our way down a steep hillside towards the shallow, grassy Twilight Lake. We had decided earlier that either Twilight or Mirror Lake would be our home for the evening and since Twilight wasn’t that exciting, we opted to continue one. Mirror Lake was stunning— a deep, reflective pool of water tucked up against the talus and rock cliff face of Tinkham Peak. Where the PCT met the lake at the outlet, a small waterfall tumbled into the valley below. Stretched around two-thirds of the lake was forest, littered with dozens of campsites.

We worked our way through the forest and around the lake, finally coming to a stop at a small site near the talus-strewn face of the peak. The setting sun outlined the edges of the gathering storm clouds in bubblegum pink as we polished off our last Mountain House dinner and what was left of a once full bottle of Frank’s hot sauce.

We crawled into bed just as the first drops of rain began to fall.

“I hope that UFO doesn’t come back again tonight,” Bearclaw said seriously as he nodded off to sleep.

I wasn’t worried; somewhere out there was an entire forest of Bigfoot hunting linebackers ready to chase it off.

Mile 2,365.2 to Mile 2,380.6

Mile 2,365.2 to Mile 2,380.6

Thursday, August 21, 2014
Day 7: Mile 2,365.2 to Mile 2,380.6
Miles: 15.4
Miles to Go: 21.4

The weather was perfect for hiking. There was barely a cloud in the sky as we packed up and left our campsite in the huckleberry patch and by the time we were halfway up the climb to Blowout Mountain, it was warm enough to stop and pull off our jackets. The views were spectacular, behind us Mount Rainer was still visible, though it was much further away than it had been three days earlier. Ahead, we could see a series of jagged peaks, jutting into the sky like a row of wolf’s teeth.

“You think those mountains are in Glacier National Park or is Glacier still too far away?” I asked Bearclaw.

“It’s probably the Cascades on the far side of Snoqualmie. I bet the PCT goes right through them. They look freakin’ spectacular.” He answered.

It turned out Bearclaw was right. I’d read somewhere that you can see nearly a hundred peaks from Blowout Mountain. The ones we happened to be looking at were likely some combination of Mount Stewart, Mount Daniel, Overcoat Peak, Bears Breast Peak and Chimney Rock. I didn’t really care what they were called; I just wanted to see them up close. Our desire to get off trail in Snoqualmie had started out at zero. Now that we were closer, it was even less than that.

Along the ridgeline at the top of Blowout Peak, we ran into a thru hiker in his late forties. Within five minutes, he had explained to us that he was aiming for a forty mile day so that he could be in Snoqualmie before the bars closed because he was in desperate need of a drink. He had been granted time off from work to deal with his alcoholism and figured the trail was as good a place as any to sober up. His tactics were simple, he would binge drink at resupply points, then hit the trail dry and maintain sobriety on all the days in between. He admitted that this didn’t work all that well in Southern California, where resupply points were close together. The further north he went, however, the farther apart his opportunities to drink became and at this point, he was spending a lot more time sober than he was drunk. By the end of the trail, he was hoping to have fully recovered. Personally, I was having a hard time deciding if this was the craziest thing I’d ever heard or the most genius. At the end of the day, my opinion was of no consequence, as long as it worked for him, that was all that really mattered.

He had barely finished his story when a Sobo joined us. A professional truck driver and mother in her mid-thirties, she’d recently read “Wild” and was south-bounding Washington State in the hopes of having her own epiphany. To say she was abrasive and opinionated would be putting it mildly. She went off on a tangent about how every other thru-hiker she had met on the trail had been a complete idiot and how the State of Washington should issue more bear permits to completely annihilate the bear population.

Her rant reminded me of something my mentor Gloria used to say. If you consistently have the same problem with people or you find the same fault in everyone you meet, the problem isn’t them—the problem is you, as you’re the only common denominator. In my own life, this advice had proven true time and time again. I thought briefly about sharing Gloria’s words of wisdom because I knew for a fact that every other thru-hiker on the trail wasn’t a complete idiot, but I had a feeling this wouldn’t be well received. She wasn’t a lot bigger than me, but she was feisty, and I was a ninety percent sure she would respond by punching me in the face. Instead, I crammed berry after berry in my mouth until it was so full that I looked like a chipmunk and the words that wanted to come out, simply couldn’t.

When she asked the NoBo about water sources up the trail and then explained to him why he was wrong, even though he had just come from that direction, Bearclaw and I decided it was time to split. Wishing them both the best, we hastily made our exit.

When I try to come up with descriptive words to describe the rest of our day, the word boring comes to mind, but that denotes that we weren’t doing anything and we were, we were hiking. Maybe underwhelming and lackluster are better adjectives.

The trail wandered in and out of overgrown clear cuts and second growth until about a mile before Tacoma Pass, where it finally entered an old growth forest. Bearclaw and I wandered off trail only once, to collect water from a coursing spring that bubbled out of the hillside and wound its way through the trees.

The only other noteworthy things we saw were a lovely little campsite next to trickling creek just past Sheets Pass and the expansive views up the valley from the backside of Bearpaw Butte.

Around three, we finally made it to what was marked on our map as “spring, spongy ground.” With nowhere flat to camp, we walked another quarter mile until the PCT crossed a disused forest service road.

“How about this? It’s flat.” Bearclaw asked.

“It’ll do.”

The road was relatively flat, so with numerous options as to where to set up, the only real question was fly or no fly? The sky, mostly blue with a few massive grey clouds accumulating on the horizon, looked like it could go either way. We set up without it and tucked it next to the tent just in case.

If it hadn’t been for “Walden”, I may have died of boredom waiting for bedtime…

Mile 2,350.1 to Mile 2,365.2

Mile 2,350.1 to Mile 2,365.2

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Day 6: Mile 2350.1 to Mile 2365.2
Miles: 15.1
Miles to Go: 36.8

I poked my head out of the tent, fully expecting to see a damp, muddy forest, but save for the few sprinkles we’d gotten last night, the ground was dry. A low hanging fog shroud the forest, making the grassy, overgrown trail on the opposite banks of the small creek that led away from the spring seem ever more enchanting and mysterious than it had in the fading late. I liked to think it was part of the old Cascade Crest Trail, the Washington precursor to the PCT.

Breakfast was hurried, there’s something about a cold damp mist that isn’t conducive to lingering, especially when you know there is a shelter ahead!

Not even two hundred yards up the trail, we met a hiker, packing up his gear. It was pretty obvious from his wild beard and disheveled appearance that he was straight up hikertrash.

“You thru-hiking?” We asked.


“North or South?” Bearclaw asked him. Usually, this wouldn’t be a question, but we’d bumped into almost as many SoBo’s as NoBo’s over the last week.

“Well, I’m headed back south now.” He said modestly.


“Um, yeah. I tried last year, but I got to Canada too late in the season and didn’t quite make it. So, I figured I’d give it another shot this year.”

We congratulated him on being super badass.

“Trail name?” Bearclaw asked.

“I’m Charlie Day Hiker.” Day Hiker? Ha! Hikertrash have the best sense of humor.

Wishing him the best of luck on his return journey, Bearclaw and I hiked off into the mist, excited to get to the shelter at Urich Camp and have a cup of hot Choffee and our morning snack by a nice warm fire.

The smell of wood smoke called to us as we got nearer. Obviously, someone was already there, which meant it would be nice and toasty-warm when we arrived. Bearclaw and I eagerly left the trail and hiking out of the forest, headed towards the shelter along the edge of Government Meadow. A hundred feet from the front door, we stopped dead in our tracks.

Milling around the front steps were four young boys, dressed in head-to-toe camo and packing rifles. The moment they saw us, they stopped talking and stared. Call me crazy, but when I see four boys in front of a cabin with guns, I don’t immediately think hunting—I think militia and the Aryan Nation. The juxtaposition of an innocent child and a weapon used to kill things creeps me out. You know how horror movies with evil, possessed children are exponentially scarier than horror movies with adults because children are supposed to be sweet and innocent and not evil? Kids with guns give me that same unsettled feeling.

The two oldest boys headed up the steps and disappeared into the cabin, presumably in search of an adult. In my mind, banjo music began to play.

“Do you really want to stop here or should we just go?” Bearclaw asked.

I debated. I was cold, but the idea of being tied up and tortured or brainwashed by some weird cult or forced to marry someone’s brother and uncle didn’t really sound like a great way to get warm.

As we turned to leave, a jolly, clean-cut, middle-aged man popped out of the cabin. He looked 100% nicer than the toothless, inbred bearded man I’d imagined.

“Good morning! Kind of weird being greeted by a bunch of kids with guns, hey? Don’t worry, they’re harmless!” Weird wouldn’t be the first adjective I chose, but it was nice to know he understood.

He went on to tell us that he and “the boys” were just out for a father/ son bonding weekend and thought they’d bring the guns out for a little target practice and for protection so that just in case a bear wandered by, they could shoot it. At the mere mention of bears, the boy’s eyes widened.

I’m sure what I’m about to say will piss off a ton of people, but this drives me insane! I have nothing against hunting for food. Nothing. If you want to go out and bag a bear and make bear burgers, bear steak, bear sausage and a fur coat to keep you warm all winter, knock yourself out. Environmentally hunting for meat is probably a thousand times better than the feedlots our hamburger comes from. But to see a bear wandering through its own backyard and randomly shoot it to “protect” yourself is infuriating. It’s a bear. It lives in the forest. Just because it wanders by, does not mean it wants to eat you! Bears don’t wake up every morning and think to themselves, “You know I should do today? Go eat some people. That would be fun.” Bears aren’t as sadistic as we are. Could you imagine if they were?

“What are you going to do this weekend Boris?”

“I think I’ll take a trip into the city, might camp out in that guy John’s yard. When he wanders out of his house to collect his newspaper I’m going to pop out of the bushes and “protect” myself by ripping his limbs off.”

“Are their problem bears in the area?” Bearclaw asked.

“No. But you never know with bears… You guys pack a gun when you’re out backpacking, right?”

“No. We’ve found that bears are pretty timid and usually try to avoid people at all cost,” Bearclaw responded. “The few times we have seen a bear, they’ve run away as fast as they could. You come up here regularly? Are there a lot of bears up here?”

“I’ve actually only ever seen one bear,” He admitted, “when I was about nineteen. It was on the Pacific Crest Trail, as a matter-of-fact. I was out backpacking with my uncle. He was a beautiful bear.”

What the BLEEPITY-BLEEP-BLEEP?! If you’ve only ever seen one bear in your entire life and it was beautiful why would you teach your kids that bears are scary and bad and you should shoot them on site to protect yourself?! I gave myself a mental facepalm but said nothing. We were all entitled to our own opinions, and he would probably be equally appealed that I skipped through the forest trying to pet everything I saw.

“Well, you know, there’s some weird people come up here too.” He added quickly, “Vandals, drug addicts, weird kids come up here to have séances. Last fall someone shot holes through the door and the bullets lodged in the wall behind the stove. You guys want to come on in and take a look?”

The cabin was cozy, warm and well-maintained and we happily stood around the fire for a few minutes, chatting about the trail, the local wilderness, and the Skidoo club that maintained the cabin. His desire to kill bears aside, I had to admit he was a pretty pleasant guy.

Back on the trail, we wandered in and out a few old clear cuts, now thick with huckleberries. If I were a bear, that is where I would have been, chowing down on huckleberries. Who am I kidding, I’m not a bear, and I was still there chowing down on huckleberries. Just past a forest service road, the huckleberries gave way to golden raspberries. I’d never seen golden raspberries before and immediately popped a handful in my mouth to see what they tasted like.

“Do you even know if those are edible? What if they’re poisonous?” Bearclaw sighed.

Spiting them out, I stopped and Googled “golden raspberries.” It turned out they were just normal raspberries with a mutant gene, so I crammed a few more in my mouth. One day, my love of tasting the “forest” may earn me a Darwin Award, but this wasn’t that day.

By midafternoon, the clouds had all but disappeared, and we happily hiked along, stopping to talk with a handful of thru-hikers as we went. The views alternated as we hiked in and out of forests and clear cuts, clear cuts, and forests. I wondered briefly what Pinchot and Muir would have thought of the large barren squares of earth that stretched out like a patchwork quilt across the mountainsides. In all likelihood, Muir would have appalled, while Pinchot would have happy to see they’d left some behind.

Having hiked our miles for the day, we made camp just off the trail on the far side of a sprawling huckleberry patch. While Bearclaw settled in for a nap, I nibbled my way through the berries, hoping no one mistook me for a bear and shot me.

Sheep Lake to Mile 2,350.1

Sheep Lake to Mile 2,350.1

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Day 5: Sheep Lake to Mile 2350.1
Miles: 16
Miles to Go: 51.9

We were up at literally the crack of dawn, watching the alpenglow sneak down the talus slopes of the mountains behind Sheep Lake. I guess that’s what happens when you arrive at camp in the middle of the afternoon, take a nap, read a book, pick some huckleberries, take another nap, annoy a few thru-hikers, take a third nap, eat dinner and then go to bed at eight o’clock because there isn’t anything else to do.

Taking the tent down as quietly as we could, we packed up and headed out. The plus side of leaving camp early was that we made the climb to Sourdough Gap without even breaking a sweat. Behind us, we could see past Sheep Lake, where backpackers were just starting get up, across the verdant valley below Naches Peak and all the way back to Goat Rocks where we started five days ago.

Ever since we got off the trail, I have this weird obsession with distances and walking. Literally every single time someone mentions a distance, the first thing I do is calculate how long it would take to walk there. It’s borderline Obsessive Compulsive.

The horizon I have discovered is almost always a four to five-day walk. A friend will tell me they’re going to Portland for the weekend and I immediately think, “You could walk to Portland in less than two weeks.” Then, I plan the route. From my couch to PCT Mile 1,976 is exactly twenty-five miles. From there, it’s 168.4 miles to Cascade Locks along the trail, then another 43.3 miles from Cascade Locks to Portland along the Columbia River. If you averaged twenty-two miles a day, it would take roughly eleven days to get there, and you’d arrive just in time for Happy Hour. Would it be practical? Absolutely not! Would it be fun? Hell yeah! Is this part of the reason people think I’m insane? Maybe. Yes. Almost certainly.

From the top of Sourdough Gap, the trail hugged the hillside for nearly two miles as it worked its way towards Bear Gap. In the valley far below us, the forest gave way to lush green meadows surrounding a lazy creek. From Bear Gap, we could see the barren runs of the Crystal Mountain Ski Area.

We took our first break on a sunny boulder in the crook of a wide switchback, where the nondescript Union Creek Trail joined the PCT. The Union Creek Trail was obviously not that popular, as it wasn’t that wide and there was only one set of tracks leading down it. Not expecting any company, we spread our legs out across the trail.

Bearclaw and I hadn’t been sitting there for five minutes when a young girl in her early twenties came up the Union Creek Trail towards us.

“This isn’t the PCT.” She said smiling and shaking her head. “I got lost for like an hour down there before I realized it!”

“Yeah, that’s the Union Creek Trail,” I said.

Pulling our legs in so she could get past us, we watched as she stood at the switchback for a moment, looking left and then right. Uncertainly, she pointed to the left. “Um, that’s south right?”

“Yes,” Bearclaw answered, giving me a WTF glance.

“I’m SoBo’ing.” She said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten lost. I didn’t even see the bend on the trail!”

I looked over at the PCT, trampled by hundreds of shoe prints that somehow all went around the big wide curve. Up and down the trail, I could see the familiar PCT Symbol nailed to trees and posts. Meh, she’d probably been deep in thought or something.

“Maybe you need to download the Halfmile or Guthook app onto your phone. They’re great for figuring out where the trail is.” We suggested.

She blinked. “I don’t even have a map!”

What the Hell-O Kitty?! How the BLEEP do you expect to hike across the entire damn country without a map? Or a GPS? Or a compass? Or a phone App? I get that the PCT is fairly well marked but come on! How do you know what your mileage is? Or how far you are from food or water? Or where your nearest exit is if something goes wrong? Heck, what do you read at night when you’re really bored?

As we watched her bound off down the trail, Bearclaw looked at me in disbelief. “How do you not have a map?”

Standing up to leave, I shrugged my shoulders. As a control freak, I had no answer for this.

A mile or so up the trail, we rounded Bullion Basin. How do I know it was Bullion Basin? Oh, I carry this crazy piece of paper with squiggly lines and words and shit on it that lets me know these things… Mind boggling, I know. A quarter mile ahead of us, we could see two rogue horses charging off down the trail, a dusty cowboy chasing after them. A cowgirl was just picking herself up off the ground, and two dazed thru-hikers were standing twenty feet off the trail beside her, wondering what had just happened.

“You all right?” Bearclaw asked the woman as we approached.

“Oh yeah!” She assured us as she wandered around, collecting random pieces of tack and camping gear off the trail. If I hadn’t seen the horses run off, I probably would have concluded from the debris field that they’d exploded all over the trail.

“Our horses don’t like backpackers. I thought for sure those guys were far enough off the trail, but I guess not. If you see our horses up the trail, would you mind taking off your backpacks and waiting for my husband to show up?”

As it was, we didn’t see the horses, or the cowboy, for almost two miles. The cowboy, sweating and out of breath, had them tied to a hitching post at the top of Scout Pass. They’d made it almost all the way back to camp at Basin Lake before he’d caught up with them. He insisted they were tied up tight, but Bearclaw and I made a hundred foot arch around them just in case.

Putting a few more miles between us and the hikertrash prejudiced horses, we finally stopped for lunch and a short nap in the sun-kissed meadows of Little Crow Basin.

Our afternoon was a complete snooze-fest. With the spectacular scenery of Goat Rocks and Mount Rainer behind us, the forest seemed less exciting than ever. It didn’t help that long stretches of trail were covered in blowdown that slowed us down to a crawl. It wasn’t that we had a bad afternoon— it just wasn’t all that exciting, and because it wasn’t all that exciting, my legs ached, and I was tired.

It was evening, and the sky had clouded over and was threatening rain by the time we made it close to our intended camp, just off the trail near a small spring.

We climbed into bed as the first drops of rain spattered down on the nearby rocks, and I happily fell asleep reading my trusty maps.