Mirror Lake to Snoqualmie Pass

Mirror Lake to Snoqualmie Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 2,380.6 to Mirror Lake

Mile 2,380.6 to Mirror Lake

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s going on?” I asked confused.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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