Mile 2,489.4 to Mile 2,508.10

Mile 2,489.4 to Mile 2,508.10

Saturday, August 8, 2015
Day 8: Mile 2,489.4 to Mile 2,508.10
Miles: 18.7
Total Miles: 2,508.10
Miles to Go: 150.81

We may have had a crappy night’s sleep in our cramped, uneven tree hole, but we awoke in an exceedingly good mood considering. With only one tent to pack up and a chill in the air, it did not take us long to get back on the trail.

We arrived at Lake Sally Anne around breakfast time, to discover it was packed! With tents crammed into every available space, we all agreed that trying to find a campsite after dark would have been a nightmare. As we followed the PCT around the east side of the lake, we watched in disbelieve as dozens and dozens of campers emerged from seemingly nowhere to make breakfast, drink coffee, and get ready for another day in the backcountry. Suddenly, we were that much more gratefully for our solitary little hole in the gnarled trees.

Side trails crisscrossed and joined the PCT at random as we passed Ward’s Pass and Dishpan Gap. There were no roads marked on our maps, but from the number of hikers and trails, we assumed there must be some nearby.

It wasn’t hard to see why the area was so popular; everywhere we looked was postcard perfect and just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, it did.

Coming over a gentle rise, we found ourselves entering the Glacier Peak Wilderness. In front of us, the trail sloped down through a giant meadow and disappeared into the thick pine forests at the base of Indian Head Peak. Beyond the grassy peak (which was sadly devoid of the glaciers marked on my map) a snowcapped Mount Baker teased us in the distance. Luckily, we would get to hike around Mount Baker, before we had to veer off of the trail for the fire closure.

We stopped at Indian Head Creek for a snack, and again a few miles up the trail to simply drink in the beauty that surrounded us.

My brother-in-law constantly hounded Bearclaw and me, “I don’t know why you guys always have to have a destination when you’re out in nature. Why not just sit on a rock for two or three hours and enjoy what’s in front of you, now.”

Though the determined and goal driven side of me balked at this (gotta’ make those miles yo), the rest of me had to agree; life was too short to pass all this beauty by.

As hard as I try, I have always found it difficult to be present, truly present. My mind is always thinking about the “what if’s” and the “should do’s” and the “wouldn’t it be cool if’s.” I have an excellent imagination, and I hate to say it but most of my time is spent a million miles from reality. Maybe, that’s why I liked hiking. It connected me to the present, even when my mind was far, far away.

We ate lunch near White Pass, lingering in the August sun.

From White Pass to Red Pass was hell for me, and for nearly two miles, I wished I truly was a million miles away, and not just in my head.

The trail gently climbed up the side of a mountain, through meadow and grass. There was nothing wrong with the trail itself, or with the views. The problem was me. There is an angle at which my vertigo goes into overdrive, and the mountainside we were walking on was at that angle.

The downhill side of the trail began to swim in my vision. The path was suddenly far too narrow. I felt nauseous. In my head, I was almost certainly going to fall off the mountain at any moment. My legs felt like Jell-O.

Hiking ahead, Krav was oblivious to my distress. Bearclaw however, was acutely aware of my “height” issues.

“Even if you did fall,” he assured me, “you would stop in like five feet. It’s not that steep here.”

Logically I knew this, but when I start feeling like this, my brain tells me I will spontaneously and without reason, fall, and I will not stop. I will just keep on falling and falling forever, into nothing.

“Oh no, really, I’m a badass hiker,” she said unconvincingly as she clutched her husband’s backpack and whimpered in fear of the big bad mountains. I mean seriously…

I’ve been slowly trying to come to terms with this fear/issue because it’s ridiculous (even to me.) I’m a grown ass woman.

“Want to hold onto my pack?” Bearclaw asked knowingly.

“No, I’m okay,” I mumbled, on the verge of tears. Every step was a fight with myself.

I am happy to report that I made it to the top of Red Pass on my own, with no help. I was fighting back tears and shaking like a leaf, but I made it and, unsurprisingly, I did not fall off the side of the trail and tumble all the way down to the bottom of the mountain on the way.

The view on the other side of Red Pass was worth every single scary step. Mouth open, I completely forgot how terrified I had been moments earlier. A broad, scree-strewn basin lazily curved around White Chuck Cinder Cone to our left and disappeared into the valley beyond. In front of us, stark, barren peaks rose in every direction. Off in the distance, the White Chuck Glacier sparkled in the mid-day sun.

This was worth a sit, and an attempt at being in the moment. We did not, however, sit for two or three hours, because, you know, miles.

Dropping into the basin, we were all in awe. Can you believe this place? Could this get any better?

Turning into the Chuck River Valley, the trail was all downhill as we entered back into the forest. Our goal had been to make it up and over the first of many big climbs by nightfall, but alas, we had stopped one too many times to take in the scenery.

We made camp next to the milky Baekos Creek. As we ate dinner, a couple through hiking the trail decided to join us in camp. She was Purple, on account of her purple hiking skirt. For the life of me, I cannot remember his name. Exhausted, we climbed into bed, where, instead of being present, I worried about how scary the next few passes would be, and whether or not I was up to the task.

Janus Lake to Mile 2,498.4

Janus Lake to Mile 2,498.4

Friday, August 7, 2015
Day 7: Janus Lake to Mile 2,498.4
Miles: 18
Total Miles: 2,498.4
Miles to Go: 168.81

Up early, I sat on the edge of a log and watched the mist roll off Janus Lake, as breakfast cooked. The fog slowly lifted to reveal a perfectly mirrored image of the surrounding hills.

A friendly Clark’s Nutcracker flitted around my head, landing on nearby branches and rocks, hoping whatever I was making would be shared. Blindy, the one-eyed squirrel, ran in little circles near my feet, close enough for handouts, but far enough away to feel safe.

I wondered at this little squirrel; how he had lost his eye, and how much more difficult his survival would be with this disadvantage. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I tossed them both a few scraps of oatmeal. Something about sitting there, in the quiet morning, surrounded by forest animals, made me feel a little bit like Snow White, only less clean and dainty.

Reluctantly saying goodbye to my tiny one-eyed friend, we left Lake Janus and began to climb towards Grizzly Peak. The higher we climbed, the more the views opened up, and soon white-capped peaks were poking up behind the jagged green hills in nearly every direction! Everywhere we looked was postcard perfect – rolling green meadow, met steeply forested hills, that ended in distant white peaks jutting into a cloudless, bluebird sky. Suddenly, a small part of me was happy we had not made it to the end of the trail in 2013 because we would have missed all this beauty in our race against the looming grey of fall in Washington and the impending winter; what a shame that would have been.

Rounding a corner, Glasses Lake sparkled cobalt blue in a forested bowl far below the trail; ahead, Glacier Peak loomed in the distance, it’s glaciers reflecting the brilliant mid-morning sun. My heart sang a song that it had not sung for far too long.

Past Glasses Lake, we entered a long meadow, chock full of ripe huckleberries. Bearclaw and I meandered through, picking fistfuls of berries as we went. Halfway up the meadow, we found Krav, pack off, sitting in the middle of a giant huckleberry patch just off the trail. When he saw us, he turned and smiled; his smile so blue it rivaled the August sky.

We rounded Grizzly Peak, and the views just kept on coming. We stopped briefly for water near the Top Lake Trail Junction and debated having lunch. The junction itself was nothing special, and there was a large lake a half a mile or so up the trail, and so we decided to continue. It was the right choice!

Deep, crystal clear and frigidly cold, Pear Lake was tucked into a talus and pine tree lined bowl just off the trail. We worked our way down to the shoreline and found some large boulders to lunch on. There we met thru-hikers Crow and Lady Bug. Crow and Lady Bug told us all about the Goldymire Hot Springs they had once caretaken.

It sounded pretty sweet and almost made us wish we had taken the Goldymire Alternate out of Snoqualmie… But then we wouldn’t have been on the PCT, and that is what our hearts had truly wanted.

During lunch, we decided to make Lake Sally Ann, nearly nine miles further up the trail, our goal for the evening.

In crazy thru-hiker shape, Crow and Lady Bug vanished within minutes; they were the only people we encountered, and besides a crazed deer we met at Saddle Gap, we had the trail completely to ourselves.

We dropped down to Pass Creek late in the afternoon and stared up at the 1,200-foot climb on the other side. We were tired, and not at all motivated. On the other hand, the thought of starting a new day with a 1,200-foot climb seemed somehow worse. Deciding to go for it, we ate dinner at the creek in preparation for a late night.

The sun had sunk behind the distant mountains, and the last of the light was fading when we decided to call it a day. We were still a mile from Sally Anne, but we were exhausted, and no one relished the idea of stumbling into camp well after dark.

A five-minute search revealed that the only semi-flat, non-rocky piece of ground in the area was a craptastic space in a dense thicket of gnarled trees. It was barely big enough for one tent, but we were wasted, and so we guessed it would do. Pitching our tent, the three of us crammed in and instantly feel fast asleep.

Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven to Janus Lake

Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven to Janus Lake

Day 6: Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven to Janus Lake
Miles: 9.75
Total Miles: 2,471.37
Miles to Go: 187.54

It didn’t rain overnight— it poured so hard that, even pitched under the enormous old-growth fir tree in the Dinsmore’s backyard, the outside of the tent was drenched when we woke up. We packed up as best we could, lying the tent in the misty morning in the hopes it would dry out a little before our departure. Nearly ready to go, we moseyed on into the bunkhouse to see if Krav was ready to roll.

The night before, Joe had told us he would be heading into the little restaurant in Skykomish for breakfast around 9 a.m. and would give anyone ready to go a ride into town for breakfast (and a better opportunity at a hitch.) It was already past eight o’clock and food, and a ride halfway to the trailhead sounded too good to pass up.

Krav sat on the end of his bunk bleary-eyed, staring at his resupply box.

“Hey, Hummingfarts…” Krav smiled.

“Hey, Krappypants. We need to leave in like thirty minutes dude.” I gave him my best “kick it into high gear” look.

I’m not sure where or when it first began, (Oregon I think..?) but Krav had started calling me Hummingfarts, a name, unfortunately, that was well deserved most of our days on the trail. I, on the other hand, had dubbed him Krappypants, in homage to his bout with Giardia. I had nearly forgotten about this until I had read his logbook entry the night before and there in big letters was my name, “Hummingfarts.”

I retaliated with a “Krappypants” honorable mention directly below.

Saying a bittersweet farewell to our wonderful host and celebrity trail angel Andrea, we piled into Joe’s truck with a handful of other hikers and cruised up to the Cascadia Inn for breakfast.

I’m not going to lie to you. In the two years since our attempted thru-hike, I had put on like twenty pounds…maybe more. Thru-hiker eating and desk sitting were ruining me.

“Maybe if I’m really good, I can lose ten pounds on the trail,” I’d thought before we started this last stretch. But now, staring at this menu full of tasty bacon and sausage goodness, my thru-hiker “eat everything in sight” mentality was back with a vengeance. Nahhhhh, I was going need those bacon calories before the day was out.

Leaving the Cascadia Inn with Poco Loco, we headed back to the intersection near the highway. On the corner, was a little deli with a drive-thru window on the side, and a long covered seating area out front.

“Hey, you guys thru-hikers?” We heard from out the drive-thru window. “Come here!”

Walking up to the window to see what was up, the women passed out a sign.

“Just be sure to bring it back when you get a ride,” she smiled.

On the sign in big black letters were the words, “PCT hiker needs ride to Steven’s Pass.” It was bordered in eye-catching red. Now this, was genius!

Poco Loco went first, and with the help of the fancy sign, vanished within minutes. Krav, Bearclaw, and I stood, thumbs out, sign up for less than ten minutes when the tiniest car humanly possible pulled up and offered us a ride.

The driver was thru-hiker alumni, having hiked the trail in 2009, he was more than happy to get us to the trail. The trunk, which already held his small daypack, just barely closed with Bearclaw’s backpack in it. Krav, myself, his backpack, and mine crammed into the backseat. The tallest, Bearclaw folded himself into the passenger’s seat next to the driver.

Knees pressed up against the back of Bearclaw’s seat, backpack on my lap, I could barely breathe. I tried to turn my head to see if Krappypants was fairing any better. Head skimming the roof, pack up against his nose, he took one look at me and burst out laughing. Then, he whipped out his phone and took a picture to show me what was so funny.

Head pinned against my pack my sunglasses were askew; I looked like a crazy person. I whipped out my phone and took a photo of Krav; giving me crazy side-eye. And then we lost it; gut-splitting, childish, impossible to contain laughter.

“You guys okay back there?” Even more laughter.
“Yup, nothing to see back here.” We were roaring.

Unfortunately, the longer we laughed, the more uncomfortable our driver seemed to become. With no idea what was so funny, Bearclaw tried to cover for us with conversation. We laughed nearly all the way to the trailhead.

“What was that about? I think that guy thought you were laughing at him…” Bearclaw asked, confused. Krav whipped out his phone and showed him my photo. It didn’t need an explanation.

We were just crossing the highway when Krav remembered he forgot to buy a staple – his weekly supply of bread. Turning around, he ran to the small store at the Steven Pass ski area to see if it was open. Bearclaw and I lounged by the PCT trail board. We had told Poco Loco we would try to catch her, but at this point, it seemed unlikely. Eventually, Krav made it back, swinging a loaf of bread alongside him.

The trail was pleasant enough, but none of us were particularly motivated. We stopped here and there to pick blueberries, filtered water for longer than necessary at a rocky little creek, and eventually found a lovely meadow near Valhalla Lake where we stopped for lunch and an extended nap in the afternoon sun.

At the ridiculously calm and serene Janus Lake, we found a secluded campsite and decided to call it a day. It was early, and we hadn’t even made ten miles, but we didn’t care. Bearclaw laid down with a book, Krav disappeared into his tent to do whatever a Krav does, and I sat next to the perfectly still waters and contemplated life on the Pacific Crest Trail and what it would feel like to finally make it to Canada…

Mile 2,451.48 to Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven

Mile 2,451.48 to Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven

Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Day 5: Mile 2,451.48 to Dinsmore’s Hiker Haven
Miles: 10.14
Total Miles: 2461.62
Miles to Go: 197.29

It was cold; not Washington snowstorm cold, but cold enough that when our Krav alarm went off, no one was motivated to peel themselves out of their sleeping bags. I popped my head out of the tent to see Krav making breakfast from bed again.

Usually, I don’t make breakfast from bed out of fear of accidentally lighting the tent, and subsequently the forest, on fire. Every time I think to myself, “Hey, let’s make breakfast from bed this morning,” it’s immediately followed by visions of me running around, hair singed, hiking shorts still smoldering, trying to collect all the marmots and pikas to herd them away from the flames. This morning, however, I tightly wrapped up the fly and made an exception.

Not that breakfast was that hard or even required that much cooking— we were down to a bagel, some granola, and enough freeze-dried coffee to make one weak cup. Of all the things I could have been low on, why did it have to be the coffee?! I needed it. Caffeine and sugar are Hummingbird jet fuel. How was I supposed to fly down the trail sans fuel?

The ten miles to Stevens Pass went by in slow motion. It wasn’t just the lack of coffee slowing me down; I was procrastinating. I knew that within ten minutes of arriving at Stevens Pass, I would be out on the side of Highway 2 with my thumb out. Most of the planning I’d done for this trip was just me staring at fluffy clouds, dreading the handful of times I would be forced to stand on the side of the road and beg for a ride.

It isn’t riding with strangers; I don’t mind that part. But that’s probably only because I’ve never had what I would consider an “awkward” hitch. I’ve had friends tell me stories of taking rides where the driver refused to speak to them or rides with people that drove ninety-miles-an-hour while explaining that they were recovering drug addicts. The worst was some thru-hiking friends telling me the story of a woman who’d given them a ride in California. Apparently, she’d made room for them by removing her toddler from the front seat, but not before scolding her for drinking “mommy’s beer.” I’m blessed that the nicest people tend to offer us rides.

What I hate, is standing on the side of the road with my thumb out. Everything about it feels wrong. I, like most people, grew up being taught never to take rides from strangers, and never to pick up hitchhikers. Why do you never accept rides from strangers? Because all strangers that offer you a ride are potentially sex-crazed, knife-wielding, homicidal, escaped convict, sociopaths who just want to abduct you and kill you. And why do you never pick up hitchhikers? Because all hitchhikers that need a ride are potentially sex-crazed, knife-wielding, homicidal, escaped convict, sociopaths who just want to steal your car and kill you. Whenever I find myself on the side of the road, I feel like everyone that goes by automatically assumes I’m a wacko that probably wants to kill them. Suddenly, I want everyone to stop, not so they can offer me a ride, but so I have the chance to explain to them that I am not a monster.

It’s amazing how long it can take you to hike ten miles when you aren’t that motivated. We stopped a half a dozen times to put on and take off our jackets. We spent a good thirty minutes picking perfectly ripe gooseberries and huckleberries – the first berries we’d seen in abundance on the trail this year, I might add. I wandered off the trail at Mig Lake to find the “toilets” FluffyStar had been so excited about (and then felt bad for her when I discovered they were nothing more than wooden boxes with holes in the top.) And we talked to every thru-hiker, section hiker, and day-hiker we came across.

The thru-hikers and section hikers were full of woeful news regarding the fire closures. It sounded bad, but as Bearclaw reminded Krav and me, “There is no point in worrying about it until we get to Hiker Haven and have access to the latest news.”

At the top of the ski hill, we met a day-hiker that stopped my lollygagging dead in its tracks.

“You guys must be headed into Steven’s for burgers!”

“There’s burger in Steven’s?!”

“Yeah, they have a great little restaurant.”

OMG?! Why hadn’t someone informed us of this hours ago? We could already be there eating hamburgers!

And just like that, we were off, stopping only once to coax a blue-lipped Krav out of the middle of a blueberry patch. All it took was these magic words, “There’s a restaurant at Steven’s Pass.”

Halfway down the hill, Bearclaw had a horrible thought. “What if it isn’t open today? It is a Wednesday.”

“Why would the guy tell us there were hamburgers at the restaurant if it wasn’t even open?” I questioned. “If it isn’t, I’m going to hike all the way back up here and kick him in the balls.”

“Yeah, you like that?! Did that feel good?! Because that’s how my stomach felt when I found out the restaurant was closed. A$$h0le.” Krav laughed.

At the very bottom of the trail was a sign welcoming thru-hikers. The very last thing it had listed was the restaurant hours: Friday – Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. It was Wednesday.

Lucky for that hiker, I was too lazy (and hungry) to follow through with my threat. Son of a Hamburgalar, now eating real food meant hitching.

As we walked across the overpass and down to the road, I waited for the inevitable. Wait for it….

“You should probably be the one to stand there with your thumb out– women are less threatening.”

….And, there it was.

For five minutes, I stood there, watching drivers pass by us. Not a single car so much as braked.

“I bet we’d have more luck if we just went and asked people in the parking lot if they would give us a ride,” Bearclaw said as we watched people come and go from the nearly full lot across the highway.

That sounded a thousand times better than spending the rest of the afternoon with my thumb out.

“You should probably be the one to ask – women are less threatening.”

Despite what people think, I am quite shy. I can think of a thousand things I would rather do than strike up a conversation with someone I don’t know. When I was little, if anyone I didn’t know tried to talk to me, I would run and hide behind either my mom or my dad’s legs. Unfortunately, I was now a good seven inches taller than my mom, and the same height as my dad. Besides, neither of them was here. Pulling up my big girl panties, I scanned the parking lot for someone who appeared to be leaving that looked as if they might be willing to give three dirty hikers a ride to the nearest restaurant. Sighing, I resigned myself to the fact that I was likely going to have to ask almost everyone in the parking lot before I received a “yes.”

Closest to us were two white SUVs with their back hatches open. Behind one, a statuesque woman with the killer looks of Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction” was loading a large blow-up whale into the trunk. A young girl in a jean skirt and billowy Boho top danced at her feet, her Barbie-blonde hair sparkling in the sun. Behind the other SUV, an impeccably dressed, middle-aged woman was closing her hatch door. There was no way these women were going to say yes. But I had nothing to lose by asking.

“Hello! You don’t happen to be heading west, do you? If you are would you be willing to give three dirty hiker’s a ride to Skykomish? We’re really nice people, I promise.” I smiled, and then immediately wanted to kick myself. “We’re really nice people, I promise,” really Hummingbird? Yeah, because that isn’t creepy and weird…

“Sure, but only because you’re really nice people.” Uma smiled. “We just need to rearrange a few things to make room.”

I could have hugged her for saving me the horror of having to ask anyone else for a ride (and for trusting that I wasn’t an ax-wielding maniac.) But again, that would have been creepy and weird.

Our saviors were Vhari (Uma) and her daughter Kealy. While Bearclaw sat in the front and explained to Vhari exactly what it was we were doing, Krav and I sat in the back with our new friend Kealy.

“Kealy’s a really pretty name. I’ve never met a Kealy before.”

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“I’m Hummingbird.”

“Really?” She smiled and stared at me a moment, trying to decide if I was telling the truth.

“Well, it’s my trail name. My friends call me Hummingbird.”

“I’ve never met a Hummingbird before.” She giggled.

Kealy was highly entertaining. She had a new stuffed bear her grandma had brought her all the way from Alaska. On the drive, she named him “Woods” Alaska Bearclaw, “Woods” being his trail name. Woods subsisted on a diet of Rock Candy, which made me think he’d make a great thru-hiker. When Kealy asked if she could pet Krav’s beard, I laughed so hard I almost cried.

Vhari was amazing. She drove us into to Skykomish, found us a restaurant, and then joined us for lunch. The fact that we were filthy didn’t seem to faze her at all. She seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing and concerned for our well-being. She even saved us from having to hitch a ride out of Skokomish and delivered us directly to the front door of Hiker Haven. Hours after they had gone, I was still thanking the trail gods for their awesomeness.

Andrea and Jerry, the trail angels that are Hiker Heaven, were as wonderful as their reputations suggested. Within no time, we had our resupply boxes, had showered, and were waiting for our laundry to dry.

There was a handful of other hiker’s hanging out— Paint Your Wagon and Sobo Fett– were headed south. While fellow NoBo’s – Czech Mix, Poco Loco, Chardonnay, and a couple who were section hiking Washington— were all trying to figure out how they wanted to continue north.

There appeared to only be two options to get around the fire closure in Section K:

1. Hitch a ride to Chelan and take the ferry up to Stehekin. From Stehekin, we could then take the shuttle back to the PCT at High Bridge; this would mean skipping a hundred and four miles of trail.

2. Hike seventy miles up the PCT to the Suittle River Trail, then hike ten miles east along the Suittle River to the trailhead parking lot. From there it would be a twenty-two-mile road walk up Suittle River Road 26 to State Route 530. From 530, it would be twelve miles to Rockport on Highway 20, and another seventy-three miles up to Rainy Pass; this was the new “official” reroute, but no one seemed to know a whole lot about it.

For Krav, Bearclaw, and I, this was a no-brainer. We would skip as few miles of trail as we could. Deciding on the “official” detour, I called Stehekin and asked postmaster Jonathan to forward our boxes to Winthrop. I then called my dad, who was driving down from Canada to meet us at Rainy Pass, and asked if he could meet us in Rockport instead. All our business attended to, we cracked open a bottle of beer, ordered pizzas, and sat down to enjoy some good old hikertrash company.

Deep Lake to Mile 2,451.48

Deep Lake to Mile 2,451.48

Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Day 4: Deep Lake to Mile 2,451.48
Miles: 19.01
Total Miles: 2,451.48
Miles to Go: 207.43

Having gone to bed long before sunset, we were up at the ass-crack of dawn, ready to hike. Even with a leisurely morning breakfast, we were still the first group to leave the lake. Hopping over the stones that crossed the outlet, we made our way up the series of switchbacks that lead away from the lake towards the top of Cathedral Pass. Still shaded from the morning sun, we hiked fast just to stay warm, watching the alpenglow that bathed the spire of Cathedral Peak slowly work its way further down the hillside. By the time we reached the top of the pass, even the deepest parts of the valley were bathed in the glorious warm morning sun. As we sat down to strip off unwanted layers, Tin Man and Crawfish cruised up behind us.

Tin Man and Crawfish never said much, and when they did, we got the distinct impression they felt as if we’d entered into an unspoken competition with them. A competition they were more than confident they would win. Krav, Bearclaw and I weren’t at all competitive, so it just made our run-ins with them awkward. Eager to beat us to where ever they thought we were going, they barely stopped at the top of the pass long enough to take in the view before they were gone again. The few conversations we’d had with them had been so uncomfortable I secretly hoped they’d stay ahead of us for the rest of the trail.

From Cathedral Pass, we had two options: staying on the Official PCT or take the alternate around Hyas Lake on the Robin Creek Trail.

Our HalfMile Maps had the following warning, “The potentially difficult ford at WA2439 may not be passable early in the hiking season after a high snow year.”

The alternate appeared to add a lot of extra miles, and it was late in a hot, dry year, so we stuck with the official trail, which worked its way high above Hyas Lake—a long navy gem at the bottom of the broad forested valley.

I’ve only been intimidated by high creek crossings once or twice in my life, mostly because I’m rarely out in the mountains in adverse weather. Call me a “fair weather” hiker if you will, but marching through early spring snowpack isn’t my thing. My last high-creek crossing had been recent enough that it played in an unstoppable loop in the back of my mind as we hiked up the trail towards the “potentially difficult ford.”

Earlier in the year, BunnySlayer, Bearclaw and I had gone on an overnight backpack into the Deschutes River Canyon. Just before camp, we’d crossed the thigh-deep, swiftly flowing waters of Whychus Creek a few hundred feet upstream from its confluence with the Deschutes River. It hadn’t been a simple hop-skip-and-a-jump, but it also hadn’t been anything we couldn’t manage. That night, however, it rained high up in the mountains, and when we awoke the next morning, the Deschutes was noticeably higher. This did not bode well for the water levels in the creek, we thought. Sure enough, the tender, early spring shoots of grass that lined the creek banks were now submerged under a good half a foot of water.

Experienced at hazardous water crossings, BunnySlayer had valiantly offered to cross first. We watched as he forced his way across the creek one deliberate step at a time.

“You’re going to want to make sure and be downstream of her when you guys cross,” BunnySlayer warned Bearclaw after he’d safely reached the far side.

Two steps in and the icy cold water was already lapping at my unbuckled hip-belt. My legs stung, my poles vibrated with such force that I could barely keep them in my hands. Two more steps and I couldn’t even force my poles to meet the creek bed. Halfway across the creek, the current was so intense it pushed my feet along the pebbly creek bed. I was being pushed downstream, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

“Um, my feet are moving on their own you guys.” I was upright, but I knew if I slid into a big rock I wouldn’t be for long. From the bank, BunnySlayer could see the fear in my eyes.

“You’re going to need to grab her.” He told Bearclaw, who was one step ahead of me, fighting the current himself. Bearclaw turned around and grabbed my arm. Together, he and BunnySlayer pulled me onto dry land.

As we made our way towards this “potentially hazardous ford” I could still feel the unease of having no control over my own feet, and I wasn’t a fan. Theoretically, I know the basics of what you’re supposed to do if you’re swept downstream, but I’d rather not have to test this knowledge. Preferably, ever. “Remove backpack and swim to shore,” sounded simple on land, but I have a feeling the level of difficulty grows exponentially when you can’t see and are trying desperately not to drown.

The closer we got to this unnamed creek, the more overgrown the trail became. “What if no one comes this way because of how scary this crossing is?” I thought. It was late in an extremely dry season, how bad could it be? Hell, practically the whole State of Washington was on fire from what we’d heard. But what if this creek was fed by glacial melt and August when it was at its highest?

By the time we got to the creek, I’d worked myself into a complete state of anxiety. It didn’t help that we could hear the water long before we could see it. With each step leading up to the crossing, I became more and more convinced I was probably going to be swept downstream and into Hyas Lake far below.

Popping out of the brush, I could’ve burst out laughing. My big scary crossing was through an eight foot wide, calf-deep stream that worked its way through a tangle of boulders in a narrow avalanche chute. Where the trail crossed, someone had placed a mess of small logs and rocks. I’m sure during spring runoff the water roared down the chute with the ferocity of a lion, but in August it was as tame as a kitten. Three steps and I was on the far bank.

The good thing about mentally working yourself into a heightened state of anxiety over an imaginary situation is the feeling of euphoria you get when it doesn’t happen. On the far side of that little stream, I felt more alive than I had in days, maybe even weeks. Thank you adrenaline!

Funny how it isn’t the stuff you worry about that ends up getting you in the end. Instead, it’s the unpredictable stuff you could never possibly imagine that nearly kills you. Like for instance when the Air Force nearly caused me to have a heart attack and drop dead three miles further up the trail.

We’d just stopped for lunch, and I was admiring a massive conk fungus growing on the side of an old growth tree when suddenly the ground began to shake, and a sound like a freight-train reverberated off the mountains around us. I’d been so lost in thought, and the sound was so out of place, I was sure the world was coming to an end.

“What the hell is happening?” I yelled, instinctively ducking for cover behind Bearclaw.

Bearclaw and Krav watched silently as two fighter jets roared overhead, then turned to look at me as if I’d lost my damned mind. Embarrassed, I cussed out the Air Force for sneaking up on me unprovoked, then sat down to lunch.

Imaginary drowning and being attacked by the Air Force in one morning was too much for me. Out of energy, the afternoon dragged on as we walked through the woods on our way up to the tranquil shores of Deception Lake. Deception Lake was heaven on earth. Deep, green and completely enveloped in a serene pine forest. While Krav opted to use the energy he had to power to the top of Piper Pass, Bearclaw and I lounged in the shade of the trees closest to the shoreline for as long as we could. Bearclaw tried to convince me to go for a swim, but I didn’t have enough energy left to worry about lake monsters.

We stopped again at the top of the pass to admire the view of Glacier Lake far below. Noticeably lacking glaciers, or views of glaciers, or hard packed snow of any kind, Glacier Lake was not at all what I had expected. On the far side of the lake, I could see the remnants of the old Cascade Crest Trail hugging the talus slopes. I wished we were staying high, instead of dropping down to the lake and then having to climb up the switchbacks on the far side. I was too tired for switchbacks.

Getting late in the day, we stopped near a spring at the bottom of our last climb and ate an early dinner in the middle of the trail. While we were eating, two groups of hikers passed by. The first was a group of five weekend warriors. They looked annoyed and exhausted as we tucked our legs in to let them pass. The second group was two through-hikers, FluffyStar and Monk. They were quite taken by our choice of dinner locations. After all, we had clean water that didn’t need to be filtered and a flat place to set our stoves.

Concerned we were all headed for the same campsite; we asked what their destination was for the evening. FluffyStar could not contain her excitement as she told us they were going to push on for eight more miles because she had read on her map that Mig Lake had an outhouse.

Eight miles, for an outhouse? I wouldn’t have walked eight miles for a hamburger. In fact, I doubted I had the three more we needed to get to camp. How could I possibly be this exhausted after only four days?

I slowly crawled up the switchbacks on the far side of Glacier Lake, lagging further and further behind the boys. Two miles from camp, we circled a magnificent lake nestled into the bottom of an alpine bowl. Oh, how I wanted to stop and camp at that little lake. But alas, it was a good two-hundred and fifty feet below the trail, and I was too tired to veer that far off course. Besides, I could see two tents near the outlet, and if I climbed all the way down there only to discover there were no more campsites, I’d have to climb all the way back up.

A mile and a half later, we stumbled into a small meadow with a babbling brook. Grateful we’d already eaten dinner, I fell asleep to the shrill “peeps” of our pica neighbors, happy to have survived another day on the trail.