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.

Small Tarn to Deep Lake

Small Tarn to Deep Lake

Monday, August 3, 2015
Day 3: Small Tarn to Deep Lake
Miles: 14.76
Total Miles: 2,432.32
Miles to Go: 233.94

This morning was one of those mornings where I woke up and started by wiggling my toes, just to make sure my legs still worked. Upon discovering they did, I immediately gave thanks to the miraculous healing powers of the Mighty Vitamin I (Ibuprofen.)

Over breakfast, we quietly discussed our plan for the day, trying not to scare a doe and Bambi that had cautiously made their way down to the water for a drink. Everything was so incredibly dry that I felt bad for them. This little tarn was likely one of the only decent water sources for miles in any direction.

Since we’d hiked farther than planned yesterday (and it had almost done us in), we decided to make today shorter.

“How far did we wind up hiking yesterday anyway?” Bearclaw wanted to know.

“19.58 miles,” I responded.

“So, twenty.”

“Mmm, no, just 19.58.” I never round up our mileage, and it drives poor Bearclaw crazy!

“If it was 9:58 and someone asked you what time it was, would you tell them it was ten, or would you tell them it was 9:58?” Bearclaw asked in exasperation.

“I’d tell them it was ten.”

“Oh, I see how it is! It’s okay to round up time, but not our mileage?!” I smiled and nodded as he laughed and shook his head.

“Deep Lake is in 14.76, or fifteen miles if you prefer,” I suggested. “That’s short enough that we might even get to camp in time for a swim.”

This idea was met with a round of approval, and so, we packed up and hit the trail.

“I’m so glad we pushed ourselves last night. I would not want to have to start today with that climb.” Krav said as we made our way up the last hundred or so feet of elevation gain. My legs wholeheartedly agreed.

I was even more glad we hadn’t pushed ourselves another mile up the trail to the “campsites near small lakes” that were listed on our maps. Because, this morning, as we got near to the lakes, we were greeted not only by a “no camping within one mile of lakes” sign, but the lakes themselves were almost completely dry. That would’ve been an epic letdown.

Though there was the occasional grand vista or milky green river coursing through sheer-sided canyons, the majority of the day was spent hiking through forests. Compared to yesterday, the scenery was relatively boring.

Near the bottom of the long descent into the Waptus River Valley, we ran into a group of eight backpackers.

“Are you guy’s thru-hikers?” They asked.

I could see Bearclaw and Krav smile. More than once over the last few days, they’d sadly commented on how no one has asked us if we are thru-hikers. I had a feeling it had something to do with the two inches of “extra padding” bulging out from above and below our hip belts. Or maybe the fact that our tongues practically lick the dirt as we slowly pant our way up the hills. We were in Washington. At this point in the game, all the thru-hikers were as lean, muscular, hairy, and fast as the elusive Sasquatch. In fact, ninety-nine percent of the Sasquatch videos on YouTube are probably just misidentified Washington thru-hikers. It would be an easy mistake to make.

We lunched alongside the Waptus River, congratulating ourselves on hiking eight miles by eleven o’clock. It took us nearly twice as long to hike the remaining six miles. We were in no rush, and the forest was hot and muggy.

A few miles up the trail, we sat down on a log and watched two lean, dirty hikers cruise up the trail as if it were flat. Now, these guys were thru-hikers! Enter Eastbound and Caesar.

“It’s the Cascadia family!” Caesar laughed, staring at all of our Cascadia clad feet. “We’ve been following your prints ever since the Waptus!”

This led to a hilariously detailed discussion about the last four seasons of Brooks Cascadia trail runners. It was agreed that the 7’s were the perfect shoe while the 8’s were a close second. The 9’s fit well but always seemed to tear in the same place after about two hundred miles, and the 10’s were just total crap.

“I know, I tried a pair of 10’s on a few weeks ago, and they’re definitely narrower in the toe box. I’m seriously considering writing Brooks a letter. They need to bring back the 7’s.”

I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking it too.

“Really Hummingbird? You’re going to write a letter? About shoes? Wow, that is totally lame.” But I couldn’t help myself – I friggin loved the 7’s, and Brooks has been slowly breaking my heart with every pair they’ve released since.

Eastbound and Caesar also had bad news regarding the Blankenship and Wolverine Fires that were burning in the next section of trail. Apparently not only were thirteen miles of trail closed, but the detour around the closure was also now closed. If we had to skip all of Section K, I was going to tell Washington where to go and how to get there. Section K represented a hundred and twenty-four of the two hundred and eighty miles of trail we had left. Sometimes, I think Washington really didn’t want us to finish the PCT.

As quickly as they’d cruised up, Eastbound and Caesar were gone.

We stopped and chatted with a wiry man in his late forties, whose calves were the size of tree trunks and whose backpack rivaled his person in both weight and height. He casually mentioned that he’d weighed it before he’d left home and proudly declared that it weighed seventy-three pounds. He went on to tell us we would almost certainly run into his wife, daughters, nephews, and lastly his brother who, “wasn’t really into this kind of thing.” As he happily skipped off down the trail as if he were weightless, I secretly wondered if his pack was magic.

Sure enough, one by one, we met the rest of the family. Some of them seemed more excited than others to be out in nature. As predicted, his brother and two young nephews were bringing up the rear. Is it just me, or is “bringing up the rear” an odd idiom? Huh.

We set up camp along the creek next to Deep Lake, and while Krav and Bearclaw napped what was left of the afternoon away, I explored the creek and chased frogs.

Just before sunset, I conned Bearclaw into checking out the lake with me by convincing him it would only be three-hundred steps up the trail. It was actually three-hundred and ten to the shoreline, not that I was counting.

Our short hike turned up a pretty alpine lake, a super friendly Californian backpacker, and an eccentric pair of section hiking pirates, proudly flying a massive Jolly Roger over their camp.

Some days what the trail lacked in beauty, it made up for in friendly, interesting people.

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.