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.

Sheep Lake to Mile 2,350.1

Sheep Lake to Mile 2,350.1

Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Day 5: Sheep Lake to Mile 2350.1
Miles: 16
Miles to Go: 51.9

We were up at literally the crack of dawn, watching the alpenglow sneak down the talus slopes of the mountains behind Sheep Lake. I guess that’s what happens when you arrive at camp in the middle of the afternoon, take a nap, read a book, pick some huckleberries, take another nap, annoy a few thru-hikers, take a third nap, eat dinner and then go to bed at eight o’clock because there isn’t anything else to do.

Taking the tent down as quietly as we could, we packed up and headed out. The plus side of leaving camp early was that we made the climb to Sourdough Gap without even breaking a sweat. Behind us, we could see past Sheep Lake, where backpackers were just starting get up, across the verdant valley below Naches Peak and all the way back to Goat Rocks where we started five days ago.

Ever since we got off the trail, I have this weird obsession with distances and walking. Literally every single time someone mentions a distance, the first thing I do is calculate how long it would take to walk there. It’s borderline Obsessive Compulsive.

The horizon I have discovered is almost always a four to five-day walk. A friend will tell me they’re going to Portland for the weekend and I immediately think, “You could walk to Portland in less than two weeks.” Then, I plan the route. From my couch to PCT Mile 1,976 is exactly twenty-five miles. From there, it’s 168.4 miles to Cascade Locks along the trail, then another 43.3 miles from Cascade Locks to Portland along the Columbia River. If you averaged twenty-two miles a day, it would take roughly eleven days to get there, and you’d arrive just in time for Happy Hour. Would it be practical? Absolutely not! Would it be fun? Hell yeah! Is this part of the reason people think I’m insane? Maybe. Yes. Almost certainly.

From the top of Sourdough Gap, the trail hugged the hillside for nearly two miles as it worked its way towards Bear Gap. In the valley far below us, the forest gave way to lush green meadows surrounding a lazy creek. From Bear Gap, we could see the barren runs of the Crystal Mountain Ski Area.

We took our first break on a sunny boulder in the crook of a wide switchback, where the nondescript Union Creek Trail joined the PCT. The Union Creek Trail was obviously not that popular, as it wasn’t that wide and there was only one set of tracks leading down it. Not expecting any company, we spread our legs out across the trail.

Bearclaw and I hadn’t been sitting there for five minutes when a young girl in her early twenties came up the Union Creek Trail towards us.

“This isn’t the PCT.” She said smiling and shaking her head. “I got lost for like an hour down there before I realized it!”

“Yeah, that’s the Union Creek Trail,” I said.

Pulling our legs in so she could get past us, we watched as she stood at the switchback for a moment, looking left and then right. Uncertainly, she pointed to the left. “Um, that’s south right?”

“Yes,” Bearclaw answered, giving me a WTF glance.

“I’m SoBo’ing.” She said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten lost. I didn’t even see the bend on the trail!”

I looked over at the PCT, trampled by hundreds of shoe prints that somehow all went around the big wide curve. Up and down the trail, I could see the familiar PCT Symbol nailed to trees and posts. Meh, she’d probably been deep in thought or something.

“Maybe you need to download the Halfmile or Guthook app onto your phone. They’re great for figuring out where the trail is.” We suggested.

She blinked. “I don’t even have a map!”

What the Hell-O Kitty?! How the BLEEP do you expect to hike across the entire damn country without a map? Or a GPS? Or a compass? Or a phone App? I get that the PCT is fairly well marked but come on! How do you know what your mileage is? Or how far you are from food or water? Or where your nearest exit is if something goes wrong? Heck, what do you read at night when you’re really bored?

As we watched her bound off down the trail, Bearclaw looked at me in disbelief. “How do you not have a map?”

Standing up to leave, I shrugged my shoulders. As a control freak, I had no answer for this.

A mile or so up the trail, we rounded Bullion Basin. How do I know it was Bullion Basin? Oh, I carry this crazy piece of paper with squiggly lines and words and shit on it that lets me know these things… Mind boggling, I know. A quarter mile ahead of us, we could see two rogue horses charging off down the trail, a dusty cowboy chasing after them. A cowgirl was just picking herself up off the ground, and two dazed thru-hikers were standing twenty feet off the trail beside her, wondering what had just happened.

“You all right?” Bearclaw asked the woman as we approached.

“Oh yeah!” She assured us as she wandered around, collecting random pieces of tack and camping gear off the trail. If I hadn’t seen the horses run off, I probably would have concluded from the debris field that they’d exploded all over the trail.

“Our horses don’t like backpackers. I thought for sure those guys were far enough off the trail, but I guess not. If you see our horses up the trail, would you mind taking off your backpacks and waiting for my husband to show up?”

As it was, we didn’t see the horses, or the cowboy, for almost two miles. The cowboy, sweating and out of breath, had them tied to a hitching post at the top of Scout Pass. They’d made it almost all the way back to camp at Basin Lake before he’d caught up with them. He insisted they were tied up tight, but Bearclaw and I made a hundred foot arch around them just in case.

Putting a few more miles between us and the hikertrash prejudiced horses, we finally stopped for lunch and a short nap in the sun-kissed meadows of Little Crow Basin.

Our afternoon was a complete snooze-fest. With the spectacular scenery of Goat Rocks and Mount Rainer behind us, the forest seemed less exciting than ever. It didn’t help that long stretches of trail were covered in blowdown that slowed us down to a crawl. It wasn’t that we had a bad afternoon— it just wasn’t all that exciting, and because it wasn’t all that exciting, my legs ached, and I was tired.

It was evening, and the sky had clouded over and was threatening rain by the time we made it close to our intended camp, just off the trail near a small spring.

We climbed into bed as the first drops of rain spattered down on the nearby rocks, and I happily fell asleep reading my trusty maps.