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.

Deep Lake to Mile 2,451.48

Deep Lake to Mile 2,451.48

Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Day 4: Deep Lake to Mile 2,451.48
Miles: 19.01
Total Miles: 2,451.48
Miles to Go: 207.43

Having gone to bed long before sunset, we were up at the ass-crack of dawn, ready to hike. Even with a leisurely morning breakfast, we were still the first group to leave the lake. Hopping over the stones that crossed the outlet, we made our way up the series of switchbacks that lead away from the lake towards the top of Cathedral Pass. Still shaded from the morning sun, we hiked fast just to stay warm, watching the alpenglow that bathed the spire of Cathedral Peak slowly work its way further down the hillside. By the time we reached the top of the pass, even the deepest parts of the valley were bathed in the glorious warm morning sun. As we sat down to strip off unwanted layers, Tin Man and Crawfish cruised up behind us.

Tin Man and Crawfish never said much, and when they did, we got the distinct impression they felt as if we’d entered into an unspoken competition with them. A competition they were more than confident they would win. Krav, Bearclaw and I weren’t at all competitive, so it just made our run-ins with them awkward. Eager to beat us to where ever they thought we were going, they barely stopped at the top of the pass long enough to take in the view before they were gone again. The few conversations we’d had with them had been so uncomfortable I secretly hoped they’d stay ahead of us for the rest of the trail.

From Cathedral Pass, we had two options: staying on the Official PCT or take the alternate around Hyas Lake on the Robin Creek Trail.

Our HalfMile Maps had the following warning, “The potentially difficult ford at WA2439 may not be passable early in the hiking season after a high snow year.”

The alternate appeared to add a lot of extra miles, and it was late in a hot, dry year, so we stuck with the official trail, which worked its way high above Hyas Lake—a long navy gem at the bottom of the broad forested valley.

I’ve only been intimidated by high creek crossings once or twice in my life, mostly because I’m rarely out in the mountains in adverse weather. Call me a “fair weather” hiker if you will, but marching through early spring snowpack isn’t my thing. My last high-creek crossing had been recent enough that it played in an unstoppable loop in the back of my mind as we hiked up the trail towards the “potentially difficult ford.”

Earlier in the year, BunnySlayer, Bearclaw and I had gone on an overnight backpack into the Deschutes River Canyon. Just before camp, we’d crossed the thigh-deep, swiftly flowing waters of Whychus Creek a few hundred feet upstream from its confluence with the Deschutes River. It hadn’t been a simple hop-skip-and-a-jump, but it also hadn’t been anything we couldn’t manage. That night, however, it rained high up in the mountains, and when we awoke the next morning, the Deschutes was noticeably higher. This did not bode well for the water levels in the creek, we thought. Sure enough, the tender, early spring shoots of grass that lined the creek banks were now submerged under a good half a foot of water.

Experienced at hazardous water crossings, BunnySlayer had valiantly offered to cross first. We watched as he forced his way across the creek one deliberate step at a time.

“You’re going to want to make sure and be downstream of her when you guys cross,” BunnySlayer warned Bearclaw after he’d safely reached the far side.

Two steps in and the icy cold water was already lapping at my unbuckled hip-belt. My legs stung, my poles vibrated with such force that I could barely keep them in my hands. Two more steps and I couldn’t even force my poles to meet the creek bed. Halfway across the creek, the current was so intense it pushed my feet along the pebbly creek bed. I was being pushed downstream, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

“Um, my feet are moving on their own you guys.” I was upright, but I knew if I slid into a big rock I wouldn’t be for long. From the bank, BunnySlayer could see the fear in my eyes.

“You’re going to need to grab her.” He told Bearclaw, who was one step ahead of me, fighting the current himself. Bearclaw turned around and grabbed my arm. Together, he and BunnySlayer pulled me onto dry land.

As we made our way towards this “potentially hazardous ford” I could still feel the unease of having no control over my own feet, and I wasn’t a fan. Theoretically, I know the basics of what you’re supposed to do if you’re swept downstream, but I’d rather not have to test this knowledge. Preferably, ever. “Remove backpack and swim to shore,” sounded simple on land, but I have a feeling the level of difficulty grows exponentially when you can’t see and are trying desperately not to drown.

The closer we got to this unnamed creek, the more overgrown the trail became. “What if no one comes this way because of how scary this crossing is?” I thought. It was late in an extremely dry season, how bad could it be? Hell, practically the whole State of Washington was on fire from what we’d heard. But what if this creek was fed by glacial melt and August when it was at its highest?

By the time we got to the creek, I’d worked myself into a complete state of anxiety. It didn’t help that we could hear the water long before we could see it. With each step leading up to the crossing, I became more and more convinced I was probably going to be swept downstream and into Hyas Lake far below.

Popping out of the brush, I could’ve burst out laughing. My big scary crossing was through an eight foot wide, calf-deep stream that worked its way through a tangle of boulders in a narrow avalanche chute. Where the trail crossed, someone had placed a mess of small logs and rocks. I’m sure during spring runoff the water roared down the chute with the ferocity of a lion, but in August it was as tame as a kitten. Three steps and I was on the far bank.

The good thing about mentally working yourself into a heightened state of anxiety over an imaginary situation is the feeling of euphoria you get when it doesn’t happen. On the far side of that little stream, I felt more alive than I had in days, maybe even weeks. Thank you adrenaline!

Funny how it isn’t the stuff you worry about that ends up getting you in the end. Instead, it’s the unpredictable stuff you could never possibly imagine that nearly kills you. Like for instance when the Air Force nearly caused me to have a heart attack and drop dead three miles further up the trail.

We’d just stopped for lunch, and I was admiring a massive conk fungus growing on the side of an old growth tree when suddenly the ground began to shake, and a sound like a freight-train reverberated off the mountains around us. I’d been so lost in thought, and the sound was so out of place, I was sure the world was coming to an end.

“What the hell is happening?” I yelled, instinctively ducking for cover behind Bearclaw.

Bearclaw and Krav watched silently as two fighter jets roared overhead, then turned to look at me as if I’d lost my damned mind. Embarrassed, I cussed out the Air Force for sneaking up on me unprovoked, then sat down to lunch.

Imaginary drowning and being attacked by the Air Force in one morning was too much for me. Out of energy, the afternoon dragged on as we walked through the woods on our way up to the tranquil shores of Deception Lake. Deception Lake was heaven on earth. Deep, green and completely enveloped in a serene pine forest. While Krav opted to use the energy he had to power to the top of Piper Pass, Bearclaw and I lounged in the shade of the trees closest to the shoreline for as long as we could. Bearclaw tried to convince me to go for a swim, but I didn’t have enough energy left to worry about lake monsters.

We stopped again at the top of the pass to admire the view of Glacier Lake far below. Noticeably lacking glaciers, or views of glaciers, or hard packed snow of any kind, Glacier Lake was not at all what I had expected. On the far side of the lake, I could see the remnants of the old Cascade Crest Trail hugging the talus slopes. I wished we were staying high, instead of dropping down to the lake and then having to climb up the switchbacks on the far side. I was too tired for switchbacks.

Getting late in the day, we stopped near a spring at the bottom of our last climb and ate an early dinner in the middle of the trail. While we were eating, two groups of hikers passed by. The first was a group of five weekend warriors. They looked annoyed and exhausted as we tucked our legs in to let them pass. The second group was two through-hikers, FluffyStar and Monk. They were quite taken by our choice of dinner locations. After all, we had clean water that didn’t need to be filtered and a flat place to set our stoves.

Concerned we were all headed for the same campsite; we asked what their destination was for the evening. FluffyStar could not contain her excitement as she told us they were going to push on for eight more miles because she had read on her map that Mig Lake had an outhouse.

Eight miles, for an outhouse? I wouldn’t have walked eight miles for a hamburger. In fact, I doubted I had the three more we needed to get to camp. How could I possibly be this exhausted after only four days?

I slowly crawled up the switchbacks on the far side of Glacier Lake, lagging further and further behind the boys. Two miles from camp, we circled a magnificent lake nestled into the bottom of an alpine bowl. Oh, how I wanted to stop and camp at that little lake. But alas, it was a good two-hundred and fifty feet below the trail, and I was too tired to veer that far off course. Besides, I could see two tents near the outlet, and if I climbed all the way down there only to discover there were no more campsites, I’d have to climb all the way back up.

A mile and a half later, we stumbled into a small meadow with a babbling brook. Grateful we’d already eaten dinner, I fell asleep to the shrill “peeps” of our pica neighbors, happy to have survived another day on the trail.

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.

Ridge Lake to Small Tarn Mile 2,417.56

Ridge Lake to Small Tarn Mile 2,417.56

Sunday, August 2, 2015
Day 2: Ridge Lake to Small Tarn Mile 2,417.56
Miles: 19.58
Total Mile: 2417.56
Miles to Go: 248.67

“TIME TO GET UP!” Krav yelled from his tent. It was 6:00 a.m.

I’d totally forgotten about the Krav alarm! I rolled over and popped out of the tent, pleasantly surprised my feet, calves, and hips had made a more-or-less full recovery.

I sat down cross-legged on a bare piece of ground and started to make breakfast. To my right, the mountains the trail would be contouring around were awash in the soft peach glow of the early morning sun. To my left, in typical hikertrash style, Krav was making himself breakfast from bed. Behind him, a pika scampered up a large half-moon shaped boulder in the talus field and greeted the new day with a piercing “PEEP!”

Oh, my God, a pika! I’m of the opinion there is no cuter animal in the forests of the Northwest. Hell, even marmots are homely in comparison! (Sorry, marmots, I still love you, but we both know it’s true.)

Although the American Pika was denied federal endangered species status in 2010, their populations are dwindling. Because pikas’ habitat is limited exclusively to rocky talus fields in high mountain ecosystems, they’ve adapted to a very specific set of living conditions. The excessive heat and mild winters brought on by global warming have been lethal to pika populations across the Northwest. I felt lucky just to be seeing this little guy.

“There’s a pika!” I whispered to Bearclaw and Krav.

“Ha! It looks like a furry burrito with legs.” Krav laughed when he finally spotted it.

Abandoning breakfast, I grabbed my camera and every so slowly tiptoed towards the rock pile. I made it three steps before the pika let out one loud warning “peep” to all his little pika friends and disappeared beneath a rock. Even though I’ve gone from trying to pet every animal I see, to simply trying to sneak up and photograph them, my ongoing attempt to integrate myself into the wildlife population has thus far been a monumental failure. Wildlife: 10,482 Hummingbird: 0.

Passed Ridge Lake, the trail clung precariously to the steep wildflower filled mountainsides of the Chikamin Range. With every turn, new views of pristine alpine lakes nestled in dark green forests, and valleys that seemed to go on forever, spread out before us. Joe Lake especially caught my eye. If I’d have known yesterday how spectacular it was, I would’ve hiked the extra two miles past Ridge Lake and camped there instead! Within the first three miles of trail, Bearclaw and I had stopped to take so many pictures that Krav was nowhere in sight.

I’ve always found it interesting how all-encompassing the phrase, “Hike Your Own Hike” really is— from gear and clothing preferences, to how you interpret and choose to apply LNT principles, to the simple act of how you walk a trail. Hiking is one of those things that there is no “one way” to do. You can ask a thousand people how they hike, and you will get a thousand answers. Take for instant Krav, Krav knows he is at his best when it’s cool. In the morning, he gets on the trail, and he is gone within minutes. You can’t catch him, very few people could. The hotter it gets, the slower he becomes. His solution is to “kill” as many miles as he can, as quickly as he can. On the other hand, Bearclaw and I are slow and steady all day long. At some point around noon, we catch up to Krav for lunch, and for hours after that, we will be ahead of him. As soon as it cools off in the evening, he’ll blow by us again, and we won’t see him until camp. Besides the fact that we beat him to camp, today was no different.

When Bearclaw and I stopped for a morning break on a low saddle above the Park Lakes, we asked a German hiker heading in the opposite direction if he’d seen Krav.

“Yes, I saw a man that fits that description about twenty minutes ago. He was going quite fast.” Yup that would be Krav!

Even though Bearclaw and I picked up speed as we headed down the tight switchbacks leading around the edge of the stunning Spectacle Lake, it was nearly one o’clock when we finally caught up to Krav, cooling off in a pool halfway up Delate Creek Falls.

“It’s warm!” He assured us, as we crossed the footbridge below the falls.

I had my doubts, but it was hot enough that dropping my pack and splashing around in the shallow pools of a picture perfect waterfall sounded incredibly inviting. Hours passed before we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from the creek and continued up the trail. No one was looking forward to the 2,200-foot climb that would end our day. The trouble was this: we either had a fourteen-mile day with no climb at the end, or we hiked a twenty-mile day to the next available campsite at the top of the climb. There was nothing in between. At breakfast, we’d decided to go big.

At mile 13.9, the campsite at mile fourteen was starting to sound mighty tempting. However, when we arrived, the decision was made for us— a father/ son section hiker duo, Tin Man and Crawfish, had already set up camp there. Twenty miles it was.

Knowing we’d be so exhausted by the time we made camp that the simple task of setting up the tent would feel as complicated as disarming a ticking time bomb, we stopped at the last water source near the base of the climb for dinner.

“Are you ready for this?” Bearclaw asked as we packed up to leave.

I did a quick inventory. My ankles, feet, and hips were killing me, but that meant they still had feeling, which meant I was still alive, so that was a good start. I was exhausted. How we consistently did twenty-five mile days on the trail was a mystery.

“Nope, but let’s do this,” I replied.

“All you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other,” I told myself as we headed up the trail. I used the waterfall thundering off the glaciers of Lemah Peak on the far side of the valley as a measuring stick.

Every few switchbacks, I would come to grinding halt to see how much progress we’d made. Ever so slowly, “We’re almost halfway up the falls,” turned into, “We’re at the top of the falls,” turned into, “Yay, now we’re in line with the lower glacier.” Things were going fine until, half a mile from camp, I was reunited with my nemesis the fallen log. This particular log was one of those logs that was impossible to go around, impossible to climb under, and just the wrong height for easily going over.

“Oh hello, exhausted little Hummingbird….Did you miss me? Muhahahaha!”

Stupid, log.

Painstakingly lifting one leg over, I lay there like a cheetah hanging out on a tree limb, both legs and arms dangling over the sides, a good six inches off the ground.

“I’m stuck,” I mumbled to Bearclaw, my face smashed up against the bark, “Can you push me?”

He reached out and gingerly gave me nudge until I slid like Jell-O off the far side.

“Great, now how am I going to get over?” He looked as exhausted as I felt.

“Just swing your leg over, and I’ll pull you.” I offered pathetically.

Accepting this as a viable solution, he swung his leg over the log. I tugged on his backpack until he too slid over, and we both found ourselves on the winning side.

The log defeated; we stumbled into a sandy campsite tucked alongside a shallow tarn just in time to watch the sun set behind Lemah Peak. The last of the light hadn’t even faded from the horizon before we were fast asleep.

Snoqualmie Pass to Ridge Lake

Snoqualmie Pass to Ridge Lake

Saturday, August 1, 2015
Day 1: Snoqualmie Pass to Ridge Lake
Miles: 7.48
Total Miles: 2,397.98
Miles to Go: 268.25

“Are you guys excited?” My friend Tree asked as she drove us up to Snoqualmie Pass from her parent’s house in Ellensburg.

Truthfully, I was exhausted and stressed. Two nights of little-to-no sleep and I was a barely functioning human being. Mentally, I was still at work. Did I remember to send out that last email to let everyone know I had no intentions of working for the next three weeks? What if there was a catastrophic failure in a client’s auto-campaign while I was gone that brought down Facebook and society as we knew it? Ha! Who was I kidding, I didn’t even remotely have that kind of power! Most days I congratulated myself just for being at my desk by eight with my underwear on the inside of my pants. Still, I didn’t even have my laptop with me. I felt naked and vulnerable.

I was also nervous. Could we hike eighteen miles a day? Our “training” had involved two weekend backpack trips and three whole visits to the gym, where I’d spent thirty minutes pretending I remembered how to swim laps. Next to the lane of Master’s Swim Club members torpedoing across the length of the pool, I’d had all the grace and stamina of a giraffe caught up in a flash flood. Oh well, as Bearclaw liked to say, “Nothing gets you in shape for backing, except backpacking.”

Speaking of backpacking, I’d packed our backpacks in less than an hour because there just hadn’t been enough time. I hoped I hadn’t forgotten something important. During the entire drive to Ellensburg, I’d been going over it in my mind. Tent? Check. Sleeping bags? Check. Sleeping pads? Check. When I got to the end of the list, I would start all over again. I was driving myself insane. What I needed was to disconnect, to decompress.

And then, it dawned on me; we were headed back to the trail! In less than an hour, we would be at home in nature, and virtually nothing I was currently stressed about would matter. My entire life was about to be pared back to the essentials – food, water, shelter. The trail was about to kick my ass in the best possible way and remind me what was really important.

“Where are you supposed to be meeting your friend Krav?” Tree asked as she pulled into the parking lot of the only gas station in town.

“Just look for a tall skinny guy with dark hair and no beard,” I responded. Krav had started a week before us, picking up at the Snowgrass trailhead where snow had forced us to get off the trail in 2013. As Bearclaw and I had already hiked that section last summer, we’d told him we would meet him in Snoqualmie.

Snoqualmie Pass was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village; there were only a few places he could be. My bet was he was at one of the only three eateries in town. What would it be like hiking with Krav after so much time had passed? Was he the same guy? How much had he changed? How long would it take him to be like, “Oh my God, I hiked with these people for how many months?”

We found him sitting at the thru-hiker table at the Aardvark. He walked over and gave us a huge hug. His once jet-black hair was now a deep shade of chestnut brown, but other than that, he appeared to be the same old Krav.

As Krav unpackaged his Snoqualmie resupply box, he filled Bearclaw and me in on the last hundred and twenty miles he’d hiked.

“Two nights ago, I was listening to some music while setting up my tent in the dark when I started to feel like I wasn’t alone. I looked left, nothing. Looked right, nothing. Looked back to the left and all I could see in the light of my headlamp were a cougar’s head and eyes. He was just staring at me.”

“Really? Crazy… What did you do?”

“Dove into my tent and started yelling until it went away.” Krav smiled. God, how I’d missed this guy!

“It’s too bad Bearcat couldn’t be here.” He sighed. We all agreed.

By the time Krav had eaten brunch and was packed up and ready to go, it was early afternoon. We pulled out the maps, decided that if we could make it eight miles to the top of the climb out of Snoqualmie, we would be doing good, and hit the trail.

“Where is the trail from here anyway?” Bearclaw asked as we headed down the side of the highway.

I pulled out my Halfmile App.

“We are at PCT mile 2,390.64,” I responded giddily.

“You’ve missed that, haven’t you?” Bearclaw smiled, shaking his head in amusement at the obvious joy I was getting from consulting my GPS.

Had I ever! But not for reasons you, or he, might think. My love of maps and miles had nothing to do with my anal retentive need to keep us on schedule, or even a desire to know where I was. It was deeper than that. In front of me, two hundred and seventy miles of trail lay at my feet. Behind me, the trail stretched out over horizon-after-distant-horizon, all the way to Mexico. With that knowledge, came a great sense of freedom.

On weekends, when we hiked out-and-backs and loops, there were always a finite number of miles, a foreseeable end. This loop was sixteen miles; that loop was twenty. We always ended up precisely where we started, right back at the car. Not on a long trail, not on the PCT. On the PCT, we could hike for months and never reach our destination, and even if we did, we could always just turn around and hike back. There was absolutely nothing stopping me but my own fear and insecurities. Oh, and inevitably running out of money. For some reason, this thought put me in a complete state of Zen.

At the trailhead sign where the PCT diverged from the highway, we stopped for a few quick, “We’re back!” photos before excitedly ducking into the forest. We were back on the PCT!

The excitement wore off approximately three switchbacks in when my calves and thighs began to burn. We needed to gain 2,40O feet of elevation over the next seven miles? Ughhh… I probably should have made time for a fourth trip to the gym.

“We must have gone at least a mile and gained five hundred feet.” I thought, stopping to catch my breath and consult Halfmile. Or, you know, just a third of a mile and two hundred feet. This was going to be a long, slow, painful, ass-kicking.

A few miles in, the trail entered a talus-filled clearing, where I happily stopped to snap photos of a snowcapped Mount Saint Helen’s trying hard to still be visible through the smoky haze.

“You guys picked the hottest time of the day to climb this mountain, didn’t you?” A girl with long dreadlocks smiled happily as she and a friend breezed by us on their way back to town.

Fond memories of hellishly hot climbs out of Wrightwood, Cajon Pass, Castle Crag, Belden, Sierra City, Saied Valley, and Crater Lake, came flooding back to me. We did seem to have an uncanny knack for waiting until the hottest part of the day to climb. Were we sadists or did we just like getting sweaty and stinky? I’d already caught a whiff of my armpits, and I was well on my way to sporting a scent I like to refer to as “Eau du Hikertrash.” I am such a classy lady.

“Yeah, we have a tendency to do this kind of thing a lot.” I sighed.

As they passed by, I tried to spare their nostrils by keeping my elbows glued to my sides. I looked like a T-Rex, holding trekking poles.

Nearly to the top of the climb, I sadly realized that even though we’d been hiking for hours, I’d barely paid any attention to the trail. Instead, I’d been making a list of things I needed to do when I got back to work and prioritizing it for efficiency. No matter how hard I tried to turn it off, I couldn’t. It was as if the constant buzz of the I-90, echoing off the steep mountains around us, was tethering me to reality.

Eventually, the trail leveled out as it wrapped around a smooth rock ledge, passed over a short ridge, and promptly ducked behind a thick rock shelf. Just like that, the persistent din of traffic speeding towards Seattle, and all my anxiety was gone. I was officially on the trail.

“Do you hear that?” I asked Bearclaw.

“Hear what?” He asked, pausing a moment to listen.

“Silence,” I responded, closing my eyes and reveling in it.

We finally arrived at Ridge Lake around six, shocked to discover there were already fifty or so tents crammed into every campsite available. Every side trail we went up led to another tent. It took a lot of searching, but we finally found the last spot: a meadowy patch of grass, just big enough for two tents, hanging high above the serene lake.

Using the last bit of energy we had, we made our way down to the lakeshore for water. The lake was easily two feet lower than normal. Working our way through a muddy flat, we made our way to the rocks that lined the far side of the lake.

“Be careful when you waddle over here that you don’t fall in the lake Hummingbird,” Krav advised as he watched me work my way towards the spot he and Bearclaw had found to sit and filter water.

“Waddle? Did you just say waddle?” I asked indignantly. “That doesn’t have very nice connotations you know…”

“Well, you do kind of waddle.” He replied with a cocky grin.

Aww, I preferred to think of it as more of an ‘out-of-shape hiker shuffle.’

“Hey man, I am a Hummingbird, not a Penguin.” If I hadn’t used what little energy I’d had to waddle down to the lake to get water, I would have gone the extra four feet and pushed him in. But as it was, my hips and my feet were too sore. So instead, I filled up my Camelback and waddled back up the hill to bed.