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 2,350.1 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.

Two Lakes to Sheep Lake

Two Lakes to Sheep Lake

Monday, August 18, 2014
Day 4: Two Lakes to Sheep Lake (2334.1)
Miles: 11.3
Miles to Go: 67.9

When we’re hiking, Bearclaw and I like to discuss our ideal bear sighting. We have this bucket list thing about wanting to spend a good fifteen minutes watching a wild bear doing important bear stuff out in nature.

We’ve seen a handful of bears on trails in the past, but somehow they never fall into our “ideal” sighting parameters. The thing with bears is that the excitement level rises exponentially the closer the bear is to you. Most of the bears we’ve seen have been so far away that they’re just a black fuzzy dot and watching them was about as exciting as staring at the period at the end of a sentence. On the opposite end of things are the really close encounters which are so exciting that you suddenly wish you’d packed a spare pair of shorts. The key to the perfect bear sighting in nature is being in the “Goldilocks” zone: not so far away you can’t make out the actual shape of the bear but not so close it is massaging your head with its teeth.

Up before the mosquitos, we ate breakfast, packed up and hiked back up the washed out joiner trail that connected Two Lakes to the PCT. The trail continued to climb up and over a tree-lined saddle and back into Mount Rainer National Park where it hugged the east side of a steep, huckleberry draped mountainside. In no rush, I alternated between snapping photos of a spectacular white-capped Mount Rainer glistening under a cloud-free sky and eating all the huckleberries within arm’s reach of the trail.

Popping around a slight bend, I looked ahead just long enough to see a massive black bear blocking the trail a hundred yards ahead, happily sucking the bushes ahead of us clean. I hadn’t expected to see a bear eating breakfast on the trail! Surprised and not even thinking, I involuntarily spun a 180 and ran smack into Bearclaw’s chest.

“Oh my God, there’s a huge bear on the trail.”

“Well don’t run,” Bearclaw said looking at my wide, surprised eyes and peering over my head to see if he could spot the bear himself.

I hadn’t planned on running, just walking very quickly in the opposite direction until my slow little brain had time to process what it had just seen and give the rest of me instructions to calm the *bleep* down. Turning back around, we snuck round the bend to see if the bear was still there. Not only was he still there, but at a good hundred yards away he was in the “Goldilocks” zone.

“Do you think he knows we are here?” I whispered.

“Hey bear!” Bearclaw said loudly, tapping his trekking poles together.

The bear looked over at us in a way that clearly said, “Can’t talk. Eating.”

“Yup. He knows we are here and from the looks of it, he doesn’t care.”

We finally got to knock and “ideal” bear sighting off our bucket list! It turns out, fifteen minutes is about as much bear watching as we could take before we got bored and kind of wanted to move on. The bear, however, was not done eating breakfast and no matter how much noise we made, refused to get off the trail.

We’d just resigned ourselves to the fact that we may be stuck in that exact spot for hours when a solo thru-hiker cruised up behind us.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“There is a bear on the trail.”

“What?! Cool.” He said, whipping out his camera and snapping a few photos.

“You thru-hiking? What’s your trail name?” We asked.

“Yeah. I’m Bambi.” He answered back. “How long have you guys been here?”

“Oh, a good twenty minutes.” We responded. “He’s not too into moving.”

Bambi looked at us, processing what we’d just said before saying the most thru-hiker thing ever.

“I don’t have time to stand here all morning. I need to make miles.”

I smiled inside, wondering how many times those exact words had come out of my own mouth during our thru-hike. If thru-hikers had a slogan that would totally be it!

Bounding off ahead of us, Bambi fearlessly charged down the path, waving his trekking poles and yelling at the bear. He was thru-hiker on a mission. Not even a hungry bear was going to stop him from getting to Canada.

Startled by a Bambi, the poor old bear raced off up the mountain as fast as scared little legs would carry him.

Following Bambi up the trail, we talked about all things thru-hiking. He had been hiking with his girlfriend until somewhere in Oregon when she’d had to get off the trail to return to school. Since then, he had been hiking solo. He seemed glad to have someone to talk to, even if it was only briefly as Bearclaw and I struggled to keep pace with him. At Anderson Lake, he broke off to have a mid-morning snack with another thru-hiker, and although Bearclaw and I were sad to see him go, we were happy to slow back down to a manageable speed.

Just passed Anderson Lake, we hiked back out of Mount Rainer National Park and followed the trail down into the wild flower-filled meadows that led to Dewey Lake. Only three miles from Chinook Pass, Dewey Lake was obviously a popular destination, and it wasn’t hard to see why, the cerulean blue waters tranquility lapped at grass-lined shores, shaded under a thick stand of pine trees. It was a quintessential alpine lake. And to top it all off, it was berry season.

Hurrying up the mountainside behind Dewey Lake and around the stunningly picturesque Naches Peak, we found ourselves in the parking lot at Chinook Pass, just in time for lunch.

When we’d hidden our resupply a few days earlier, there had been two cars in the damp, foggy parking lot. Now, it was like Disneyland! Hungrily, we raced up the trail, praying no one had discovered our secret cache. It was exactly as we’d left it.

We sat down alongside the trail and feasted on burritos and the two sodas I had hidden in the resupply as a surprise for Bearclaw.

Loading our full bear canisters into our packs, we made the long climb out of Chinook Pass to Sheep Lake.

Still early, we settled into another lazy afternoon of Walden and berry picking and watched the thru-hikers power up the hill next to our tent on the final leg of their long journey to Canada.

We tried to talk with them, but they didn’t have time to stand around talking to a bunch of section hikers all afternoon. They needed to make miles.