Winthrop & Twisp

Winthrop & Twisp

Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Day 12: Winthrop & Twisp
Miles: 0

Winthrop was easily one of the most charming towns in the Northwest. It wasn’t incorporated until 1924, but you’d never know that by looking at it. Apparently, in the 1970s, when Highway 20 was nearing completion, the business owners got together and decided that the best way to attract tourists would be to convert the town to an old western theme. They did not half-ass the restoration; Winthrop was straight up old west.

We wandered down the “old” boardwalks, in and out of the Emporium and General Mercantile, buying only things we could eat. Krav stopped at the ol’ sporting goods store, to find some replacement UL tent stakes, as he had accidentally left his with Blindy the Squirrel back at Lake Janus. The titanium stakes he was after, did not have an 1800s sticker price, and so he opted to continue using twigs, rocks, and our two extra stakes to hold up his tent for the remainder of the trail.

Luckily, the old school post office did not deliver with horse and carriage, and our resupply, shipped only a few days earlier, was waiting for us.

Resupply in the van, we headed to out to explore Twisp.

With a population of around nine hundred, Twisp was also charming, though not on the same scale as Winthrop. But, less crowded and touristy, it made an ideal place to eat lunch and have a margarita.

By mid-afternoon, we were back in camp. We were just debating how to spend the afternoon when – boom! Thunder rolled off the surrounding mountains and echoed down the valley. The wind picked up with ferocity, and we all ducked for cover.

From the “safety” of the tent, we watched as flash after flash of lightning lit up the tent walls. Clap after clap of thunder rolled down the mountainsides. We waited for the soft patter of rain, but no rain came.

This was not good; the forest was far too dry…

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Day 11: Lone Fir CG
Miles: 0

Needing to be out of our room by 11 a.m., we wandered across the street to drink coffee on the veranda of the little drive-through coffee shop across the way. We were there for less than an hour, when, as promised dad and Marianne showed up to rescue us!

We spent an hour in Sedro Woolley getting supplies, like “real” camp food (a.k.a. food that required more than just adding boiled water) before piling into the car for the ride to Winthrop and Twisp.

Why Winthrop and Twisp? Well, our resupply box was in Twisp, and Winthrop is simply the coolest “old west” town ever. But, we were in no rush, and so we played tourist along the way.

Our first stop was North Cascades National Park. Smoke hung low and heavy in the muggy August air, and although certain parts of the park were closed, the Visitors Center was open.

Inside the chalet-like building, with its exposed beams and high ceilings, were maps and displays regarding the local flora and fauna and the area’s history. In the lobby was a three-dimensional diorama of the Cascaded, with the Pacific Crest running right across it!

“Look dad! That’s my trail!” I couldn’t help myself; I was excited to have my dad be a part of my journey.

In the gift shop, I discovered the children’s National Park Passport stamping station had an honest to goodness Pacific Crest Trail stamp! Since you aren’t supposed to add your own stamps to your real passport (which I desperately wanted to do), I set about stamping everything else I could with it— my hands, my arms, my knee, random scraps of paper, Krav, Bearclaw— basically anything and everything I could.

On our way out, a quote on one of the walls caught my attention,

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Elliot

For days my thoughts had been wandering to the end of the trail, to walking home to Canada, to what it would feel like to finally end this particular adventure. Would I feel like I knew the place for the first time?

Filtered through the dense smoke, the midday sun cast an eerie orange glow over the usually brilliant teal waters of Ross Lake. We stopped to read the signs about the Ross Lake dam, for no other reason than to satiate our curiosity. We stopped to take photos of the mountains, to marvel at nature. We stopped, because we had no schedule and we could.

Eventually, we stopped for the night at the Lone Fir Campground, in the shadow of the Vasiliki Ridge. Tents up, chairs out, we opened a beer, and relaxed for the rest of the evening.Our first “zero day” of Washington, had been a complete success.

Mile 2,526.27 to Sedro Woolley

Mile 2,526.27 to Sedro Woolley

Monday, August 10, 2015
Day 10: Mile 2,526.27 to Sedro Woolley
Miles: 19.09
Total Miles: 2,538.35
Miles to Go: 120.55

We woke up at sunrise, only twelve miles from our detour off of the PCT. I had mixed feelings about this; I didn’t want to detour from the PCT, Washington had already robbed us of getting to Canada in 2013, and now it was robbing us of the North Cascade National Park section of the trail and a “proper” finish. That felt selfish, but I had been waiting to finish the trail and see the Northern Terminus of the PCT for two and a half long years now. The other part of me was excited to see my dad two days early. Now that we were missing two days of trail, that meant we could spend more time with him and his wife, Marianne.

While breakfast cooked, I wandered around camp trying to snap photos of the pikas (or “furry burritos” as Krav called them.) It turned out that trying to photograph a pika was nearly impossible. Two dozen photos and only three of them contained a pika.

We were only a few miles into our morning when we came to a large grassy meadow at the base of a mountain. The trail curved all the way around it in a large arc, staying slightly higher than the meadow itself.

“There’s Krav,” Bearclaw said. Sure enough, Krav was way ahead of us, halfway around the arch.

“There’s a bear!” I said at virtually the same time.

“Where?” Bearclaw asked, excitedly.

I pointed to a large black dot roaming across the meadow below us.

“Krav!” We yelled. “Do you want to see a bear?!” But his headphones were in, and he was in his groove.

Bearclaw and I watched the bear as we circled the meadow. He was far enough away he didn’t pose a threat, and so we eventually stopped and watched him. Suddenly, movement caught my eye at the treeline on the far edge of the meadow. Another bear, this one with two cubs, had just stepped into the light. Four bears, in the same morning, in the same meadow!! We couldn’t believe it.

The mother and cubs weren’t in the meadow for more than a minute before she spotted the solitary bear, and she and the cubs turned and booked it back into the forest. All this trail action and Krav was missing it!

We watched the bear for a few more minutes and then left him in peace as we continued up the trail.

When we finally caught up to Krav at break and told him what we saw, he was understandably bummed. I tried to show him the photos I took, but tiny black dots aren’t that interesting. I wish I had a better camera!

The closer we got to the Suittle River, the bigger the trees grew. Soon, we were enveloped in the fairy world of ancient giants. I love old trees. Standing beneath them gives me a sense of calm. A sense of oneness with the Universe. A sense of how small and insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things, and yet a feeling I am an integral part of something so much bigger than myself that I cannot possibly fathom it.

“Hello old friend,” I smiled, running my hand across the rough bark of a particularly large tree. And I meant it; this tree was much my friend as anyone I had ever know.

Crossing the long bridge over the Suittle River, the forest spell was broken. We had arrived at our detour; a large white “Fire Closure Notice” nailed to the tree beneath the junction sign. And just like that, we were once again off the Pacific Crest Trail.

The eight miles to the Suittle River trailhead were beautiful; waterfalls tumbled down baren rocks, the green mossy banks and logs thriving in the spray. But, it wasn’t the PCT.

We arrived at the trailhead at the same time as a couple that had been out for the weekend. They were headed back to Seattle. We explained our situation, and without hesitation, they offered us a ride.

“Where would you like to go?” The woman asked us, as we piled into their van.

“We’re headed to Rockport,” I responded.

“Oh, you guys don’t want to go to Rockport,” she answered back. “There’s nowhere to stay, and it’s super meth-y.”

We laughed, but she assured us she was not exaggerating.

I looked at my map for the next nearest town in the direction they were heading.

“How about Concrete?” I asked.

“Um,” she hesitated. “We’ll drive through town and let you decided. It’s pretty Meth-y too.”

The Main Street of Concrete, Washington was all of two blocks long and had the disheveled appearance of a town that had once been quaint and semi-thriving, but then the major employer (concrete?) had left town and now, it was just a handful of stragglers hanging on by a thread. Besides the Pub, not a whole lot appeared to be happening in downtown Concrete. The Confederate flags draped in the windows of the homes we passed, did nothing to add to the aesthetic.

“See,” our ride said. “Meth-y.”

They ended up leaving us at a hotel in Sedro Woolley, the first community they felt we’d be “safe” in. Thanking them profusely, we wished them the best.

I called dad and changed our location yet again, and he, in turn, once again changed his route to accommodate us. They would meet us at noon the following day, at the coffee shop across from our hotel.

Showered, clothes in the washing machine downstairs, we ordered pizza, and turned on the TV.

Mile 2,508.1 to Mile 2,526.27

Mile 2,508.1 to Mile 2,526.27

Sunday, August 9, 2015
Day 9: Mile 2,508.1 to Mile 2,526.27
Miles: 18.26
Total Miles: 2,526.27
Miles to Go: 132.64

This was, without a doubt, the most challenging day I had ever had on a trail.

Our Krav alarm went off at the same time as usual only today it sang a different tune.

“Who’s ready to get killed by elevation today?!” Krav yelled giddily from his tent.

Purple laughed. I smiled and sighed. We were in for an ass-kicking, and we knew it.

According to our Halfmile App, 5,929 feet of elevation gain and 7,697 feet of elevation loss stood between us and our intended campsite eighteen miles up the trail.

We couldn’t hike fewer miles because between mile eleven and mile eighteen was nothing but steep switchbacks that marched down to the Milk River and right back up the far mountain. I knew we were going to be wasted by the time the day was done, but there wasn’t a lot we could do about but get up and start putting one foot in front of another.

We would have a few miles of nearly flat trail before, as Krav liked to call it, “we would get killed by elevation.” Setting aside my worry of how scary the steep bits would be, I set to making breakfast.

For the first few miles, the trail stuck to the Chuck River valley and was indeed pretty mellow as it worked its way through the forest. Near the trail junction to the Kennedy Hot Springs – which rumor had it had been destroyed in a landslide – the PCT turned and followed Kennedy Creek towards our first big climb up Kennedy Ridge.

The old log bridge at Kennedy Creek had snapped in half, and the center was sitting in the middle of the creek. Early in the day, the water was low enough that the center of the bridge was only mildly wet.

The climb up Kennedy Ridge was mostly forested, with the occasional dramatic view of Kennedy Peak and the Scimitar and Kennedy Glaciers, to break up the monotony of the trees.

We stopped for water at the mossy Pumice Creek, reveling in the fact that the first climb was nearly over and that it that it really hadn’t been that bad at all. Only two hundred feet of elevation gain separated us from Spitfire Creek Pass!

You know that feeling when you feel like you are on top of the world? That was how we felt when we got to the top of the pass and dropped our packs. Peaks rose up like waves around us; range, after range, after whitecapped range.

Far off, we could see a plume of smoke rising from the North Cascade National Park fire. It looked serious. This would be the reason for tomorrows detour.

Not so far off, we could see the familiar pattern of tight switchbacks crisscrossing an overgrown avalanche shoot. Ugh, this would be our last big climb.

Just before we dropped down off of the pass, we stumbled across Mica Lake. Too perfect to just pass on by, we sat down in the shade of a huge boulder and had a late lunch. Supposedly, there was a campsite somewhere nearby; the views were so mind-blowing we were tempted to find it, make camp and stay until the snow began to fall. This was the only campsite between us, and the far side of the switchbacks that taunted us from the other side of the valley.

No, we were on a mission, we were finally going to get to Canada, and we weren’t about to get distracted, or let anything stop us.

For five miles we switchbacked down the mountain, through enormous old trees. At times, the trail was washed out, and we would be forced to detour around it. At times, we would find an old-growth tree blocking our path. Finding a way over them, was a task in itself. Besides these random obstacles, the trail was wide and smooth, and for that I was grateful.

We sat down in the middle of the Milk Creek Bridge and filtered water. It was late afternoon, and none of us wanted to climb back out of the valley. We considered making camp on the bridge, but it was early, and undoubtedly hikers would still be coming by for hours yet. Besides, the water was glacier fresh, and we knew camping on the bridge would make for a cold, damp night.

Knowing we would be destroyed after another 3,000-foot climb, and unsure if we would make it to a camp with water before dark, we decided to eat dinner on the bridge. If I’m being honest, it was just another excuse to procrastinate.

With dinner eaten and no other excuses we could think of, we heaved our packs onto our backs, crossed the bridge and disappeared into the forest on the far side.

The climb was not as brutal as we had imagined. Just long, so long. Switch. Switch. Switch. Are we there yet? Switch. Switch. Oh, a raspberry! Are we there yet? For hours we worked our way up the mountain. What the Milk Creek Valley portion of the PCT needed, was a zip line.

Krav, as always, was somewhere far ahead of us. From the top of the last set of switchbacks, we were still nearly three miles from our intended camp. Secretly, I wished we would find Krav waiting for us on the side of the trail so we could find a spot sooner, but we had agreed on getting to the campsite at mile 2,526.27, and I knew that was where we would find him.

Sure enough, Krav was in camp, just setting up his tent when we arrived. He looked as exhausted as we felt. With dinner already eaten, we crawled into bed, popped a handful of Vitamin I, and fell asleep to the shrill call of pika’s warning each other of our presence.

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.