Harpo and I decided a couple of days on the Washington coast would clear our minds and hearts as we finish one holiday and prepare for the next. We’ve been coming out to La Push for a few years now, always during the winter, and enjoying the solitude of the stormy beaches. This trip was no different – with incredible breakers driven by unprecedented heavy rain throughout the Northwest. The skies were leaden grey, occasionally sparkling shot thru with distant light, and weeping heavy mist. Perfect weather for vampires or PNW natives… the beaches were almost deserted, often allowing us to lay first tracks.
Day 24 -30 (White Pass to Cascade Locks)
Miles hiked this section: 143 (skipped 5 due to fire closure)
PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 to mile 2155
Total miles hiked so far including blue blazing etc: 525 ish
Day 24 continued
After checking our “internet fame”, drinking coffee and chatting with other hikers at Cracker Barrel, Groucho calls the Ranger Station to learn the scoop on the Mount Adams wildfire. The PCT is closed for 12 miles as a precaution so we will have to figure out a reroute.
We buy a 6 pack and walk next door to visit SOBOs Nigel and Coreen who are zeroing at the lodge there. After an hour of fraternizing on their porch we set out on the trail again. Groucho suggests going up an alternate chairlift trail he took last year when he did this section. It saves road walking but is steep and hot. I always feel a little anxious leaving town and also being off trail. We bicker about whether I should use precious phone batteries to check our gut hook app which can GPS locate us. I realize latent anxiety entices me to check my phone and fall into silence.
We meet up with the Trail 2 miles later and hike 4 more miles to camp on the most beautiful ridge by Hogback Mountain. Along the way we meet a family from Tri Cities who look like they know how to have fun – dehydrating their meals and making some awesome foil hydration pouches. I love seeing kids enjoying hiking.
I brush my teeth watching sunset.
Today’s a day I’ve been hearing about for weeks. Goat Rocks! The morning flies by in a pleasant manner… My body feels rested.
As we begin our long ascent for the day we hear a burst of 4 shrieks up ahead. I stop dead in my tracks. “What is that? It sounds almost human.” We wait, breathless. Nothing. A few steps later it comes again, louder. This time more percussive… Not quite human… but too close for comfort, coming just downhill in the brush. We take our standard wildlife stance, broad and tall, stating in loud, low and calm tones “I AM HUMAN”. The thing shrieks again and then we hear crashing thru the hillside below.
“What the heck is that.”
We continue upward, keeping a watchful ear out. Convinced it is wildlife but discussing what kind could it possibly be. 5 minutes later we pass a campsite full of human garbage – propane tanks, ropes, and a huge tarp. Groucho assures me this was here last year but coupled with the noise we start to feel creeped out.
The shrieking comes again, now we begin to wonder if someone is being murdered – the human garbage is making us anthropomorphise the sound. We call out in loud voices and I blow my emergency whistle. We are met with silence. We backtrack and call louder. Silence. Then finally shrieking again. We call again waiting futilely for response. We decide if it was human it would respond with language or some cry for help. We reluctantly walk on.
We pass a meadow with abundant flowers and streams, then begin our ascent to Knife’s Edge, Goat Rocks near Old Snowy. Crossing along the high ridge we see little shadows of Mountain Goats frolicking in the snow patches below. The trail is narrow, rocky, steep and thrilling. At its climax – 2 hours later – we climb up and up over rocks until reaching the apex of Goat Rocks with Mount Rainier luminous to the NW and Mount Adams beaming from the South.
We descend across some easy snow patches and thru a high, dry meadow. Adams beckons. We see no trace of fire on him. The rest of the day continues easy and gorgeous and we pass scores of hikers out on short trips. The frequent contact begins to soften the creepiness still lingering from our morning mystery.
We wake at Walupt Creek where we camped without water. The creek is dry. It is about 4 miles in our day before we come across any more. We need to start tracking our water resources.
When the terrain is flat and gently rolling, hours pass by quickly and little if note seems to happen. We see a huge toad buddy. We are swarmed by skeets again. We encounter disaffected northbounders too hungry to care, and defeated section hikers caring too much weight. Everyone is chatting about the fire closure thru the PCT communication system (word of mouth). While some folks have ignored the closure and hiked thru it in the dead of night “there is NO fire”, I am skeptical. The air is hazy with smoke all day.
18 miles into our day we break at Lava Spring, a source running straight out of a rock side, cold and clear. People have arranged rocks so you can get good drinking water above and then dip your feet or whole body below. It is gorgeous. Groucho slips his shorts off and wades in. We haven’t passed a good swimming spot in days and we are dusty. A few minutes later 2 hikers come along. The first time Groucho has ever been caught skinny dipping. The mother and son duo don’t care in the least. We enjoy a long leisurely lunch with these guys. The 11 year old son has wanted to thru hike the PCT since he was 7. His mom is compromising by doing sections with him. This summer is all of Washington. Bad ass.
The day is still young so we set of to get another 6 miles in. We camp in the best site yet, by strong Killen Creek that waterfalls down into a meadow under the watchful eye of Mount Adams.
We wake early so we have ample time to navigate the fire closure reroute today. We hike a few miles and just before the closure encounter the milky, thundering, Adams Creek. Our first serious ford. We heard yesterday from a NOBO that there is a spot you can leap across a little ways up.
We begin to walk up and up along the creek side. Nothing looks promising. We continue futilely as the valley steepens and we have to climb over boulders held together only by fine silt and gravity. As rocks start to slip out from under my feet and tumble into the creek, I feel we’ve gone to far. This is more dangerous than the stream crossing. I call to Groucho but the roar of the creek drowns me out. The shouting brings frustration and I cry. Damn it. I was going to try not crying this week.
I finally signal Groucho for a conference. It is not an easy conversation. We decide to continue up a little longer because surely there must be somewhere people cross that is safer up here. But we have no footprints to follow, rocks keep slipping. And there is a stench of smoke in the air adding a level of drama to the situation. It is the worst. After 30 minutes we realize there is no end in sight and very reluctantly turn around. I am constantly teary and blowing snot rockets everywhere. Every few steps I cause a rock to dislodge and start screaming each time this happens. No matter. Groucho can’t even hear me the water is so loud. No one can hear me out here. I am alone. I don’t even have the resource to call my spirit animal. She’ll just think I’m dumb anyway. I see a form on the hill above that looks like a scarecrow mountain man jeering down at me.
Finally, finally we get back down to the first place we tried to cross. We know we must get our feet wet and we look down at the widely spaced rocks with white water gushing thru them and bubbling over them, and wonder if they are wobbly? Are they slippery?
We take the leap from the lions mouth to show our true worth and make it on solid, sound rocks, albeit with a super wet right foot.
It isn’t even 7am and I feel like I’ve borrowed a couple extra lives today.
We encounter the fire closure .2 miles further and then hike 2.5 miles down Divide Trail to a forest road where we walk a mile, then get a hitch two miles to Forest Road 23.
There we walk in sun for 3 miles before coming upon lovely folks who hitch us the additional 8 miles to where the PCT reopens.
It’s 11 am by this point. I feel like we’ve lived thru enough this day but there is 10 hours of light left. We take a long break, then waste some batteries listening to music to get us 5 miles further. It sputters sun dipped rain on us as we eat black beans and Fritos and do some yoga. Note: do head stands *before* you eat beans.
The rest of the day continues gently uphill. We feast on huckleberries, aka power pellets. At the end of the day we run out of steam so we sing. Then make stupid fart jokes (sorry mom) to wind power us uphill.
We take a 1.4 mile alternate “sawtooth” to catch some great views of Adams shrouded in smoke at sunset.
I wake in the middle of the night to rain and strong wind. I’m pretty sure the fir is going to come down on us (it doesn’t).
We sleep in a little. Yesterday was brutal and it’s still raining.
We begin the day nice and easy in Indian Heaven wilderness passing Dear Lake and Elk Lake and Blue Lake. It’s too cold and windy to enjoy any of these.
Afternoon comes and we descend to warmer temps and huckleberries galore. We eat pints and pints. After lunch at Crest Horse Camp we dry our gear in the sun, then start up Big Huckleberry Mountain. It’s our 4th day in a row attempting a 25ish mile day. I’m feeling pretty good. I do some mantra chanting.
I am somewhere in the middle of this long form process of quieting the mind. First I must purge all the wandering thoughts and today’s theme seems to be relationships of days gone by. I reflect on old flames. Flickers of past lives and past crushes. Untapped potentials. It takes so long for the mind to ignite all these seeds and burn them down. I feel simultaneously filled with nostalgia, gratitude, warmth, remorse and what ifs.
The first love. Seventeen year old me under Charlie Brown water tower. What if I’d kept those earnest yet fearful vows.
The college crush. Unfulfilled except a stolen kiss under the full moon by a lake in the mountains. My first cowboy camping experience.
The one who taught me about theory of infinite realities. Who I didn’t know really loved me until I made him so mad it didn’t matter anymore.
And on and on… The death struggle of the ego playing out all these realities. Dwelling on all the possibilities that have been and will be for this little life. The other me’s – living parallel lives – fracturing other paths thru alternate choices they made.
I walk along. Waiting for it to fall away so I can be at peace.
In the company of all this love I feel both wholly myself an infinitely alone. A time traveller, a solo soul, wandering from campfire to campfire seeking a steady flame. As I walk I realize the only steadiness I may ever find is within myself. If I can allow it.
We wake in a sweet stealth spot. Groucho’s shin splints feel better following my attempts at Thai Massage.
I see my parents in 2 days, so today I begin the defunk process by rinsing off in Trout Creek during our lunch break. I consider this a prewash only because after scrubbing my feet for 5 minutes my heels are still black. This is why they invented soap. My last actual shower with soap was 2 weeks ago at the Dinsmores.
After a long awesome break I power up tunes and uphill miles seem easy. I’m stronger and stronger. There are beautiful slugs on the trail and I pick one up letting it nibble on my fingers. I have slug love. Later I accidentally roll my foot on a slug comrade and feel remorse not knowing if it will live. Singing my mantra and feeling sad, visions of my beloved Ingrid Cat come to me and I am teary the rest of the afternoon. My spirit guide made into animal form who died too young. I still miss her 5 years later.
The mind continues to burn these stale thoughts and eventually I’m filled with more love than loss.
To make our goal we need to hike 5 more miles. This week wears on me and it is an uphill slog.
I sing musical review tunes and feel better. By 8:45 we make it to a campsite. Not ideal on an open ridge with dark, heavy clouds jetting by on high winds. More dead trees. But we are exhausted and camp here anyway, feeling lucky the rain holds and the roots of dead trees seem to as well.
I haven’t showered in 2 weeks. Or done laundry in 2 weeks. It’s been 4 weeks since we slept in a proper bed with a proper pillow and 5 weeks since I last ate pizza. Today we aim to change all this.
We wake to fog and dew and vow never to camp under dead trees again. We hike our butts off for the first 10 miles of the day. Then Groucho teaches me his new Top 40 hit “Town Food” and we come upon Gillete Lake where we do our second prewash. We think we smell good enough to go get pizza *before* our town shower. This is the goal.
We are in Cascade Locks after 15 miles by 12:30. Hello Oregon. We head straight to the friendly and delicious Cascade Locks Ale House. The pizza is excellent. I want to order a second one right after we finish the first but get another cider instead. We find lodging at Columbia Gorge Inn for $59 bones (hiker discount). We shower, do laundry, eat snacks. Our first proper town visit. By 5pm we are just watching teevee and eating chips. I am tired of resting. But rest I must, since we’ve got miles to go before we reach Mexico.
Next up: 160-some miles until Bend, OR!
Day 19 – 24 (Snoqualmie to White Pass)
Miles hiked this section: 99
PCT hiked so far: mile 2660 to 2303
Total miles hiked so far including blue blazing etc: 382
Day 19 continued
The homie Juice from Seattle arrives at Snoqualmie Pass at noon with our resupply and *surprise* 5 other New Mystics buds. It is awesome to see friends I enjoy questionable Teriyaki Vegetables at the pancake house and Groucho orders 2 side salad and fries. Food is becoming important.
Wiz and Joe have brought beer and ciders and we tailgate by the trailhead while we pack up our resupply. Then the crew hikes in with us 2 miles to Lodge Lake. We drink beers, dudes swim, I feel light and free. It’s SO good to have friends. Thank you friends.
Around 6pm they head back to the car and we head South. The ciders and love has made me light hearted. But it’s hot as hell and I begin to experience a new problem. Yoga Butt Chafe. I will go into more detail in my upcoming “trail hygiene” blog. But suffice to say my butt has started chaffing when I walk. I get cranky and obnoxiously free about discussing this problem with Groucho. Who is a good sport. and I hope still likes me even though the gloves have come off, so to speak.
We camp at Ollalie meadow and I wake in the morning super anxious. An after effect of the alcohol. Funny, in the city I used to think it was work, or people, or projects that caused me anxiety. Here, it is clear it is often caused by the simple act of enjoying a few beers.
This day passes in a blur. The terrain is easy but a little boring. I am lost in thought, thinking about Seattle, purpose, work and friends. We are almost 3 weeks in and some of our more physical challenges have passed (getting in shape, traversing snow, longer climbs, and resupply logistics). Now we move on to the mental game… A phase that almost did me in on the AT and I am dreading this section: the ego runs wild, thoughts racing, days of existential crises. I feel myself standing on the threshold of this phase and the door creeping open. It’s too soon.
The sun blazes all morning and afternoon cutting through frequent clear cuts. Civilization feels omnipresent. After our afternoon break we listen to music and several hours and miles pass so quickly listening to Public enemy and Regina Spektor. My phone quickly loses batteries and I drain it to 30% with 3 more days left in this section. No more books, texts, journaling or music for me. This is going to be a lonely section for my wandering mind.
We begin arguing about hypotheticals toward the end of the day. Wanting different things for the end of this day and maybe just some autonomy to do as we please, but we are a team and sometimes you can’t escape that tether in the wilderness. we go to bed grumpy. The full moon wakes me up like a spotlight on my face at 11pm.
We wake early with the sun just rising and the moon still huge and bright framing Rainier.
Groucho chooses this as his first day of silence. I learn this late in the morning. Assuming instead he is still grumpy and ignoring me. But then he hands me blueberries he has picked and smiles and I finally get it.
We have a 12 mile stretch without water, mostly uphill. I listen to Queen and feel elated. I am hit and tired but feel good… It is nice to hike alone with my thoughts. I fantasize about our break at the next water source, setting up the tent, eating a carb load, stretching, sleeping.
I finally reach the spring. It is 1pm. Hot. Sticky. We’ve already hiked 16 miles. Groucho is nowhere to be found. I talk to some annoying section hikers who are washing their socks in this precious water source and they confirm he blazed by 10 minutes ago without stopping and the next water isn’t for 5 miles.
I grab H2O and trot up the hill thru another clear cut feeling so disappointed. And mad. Furious. I wanted that break so badly. I decide to just let myself feel and release it, and suddenly hot tears are pouring out of my eyes down my grubby sticky face. I can’t afford to lose the water so I let it steam into my mouth creases and absorb the salty mess back in my body.
About half mile up the hill Groucho sits on a log shaded by an Eagle Scout sign that describes the next 2 miles is a 1980’s burn area… No tees. No shade. Great. I am weepy and Groucho silently hugs me. I mime that I want hot food and he sadly shakes his head. There is no shade and he is almost out of water. I show him my map and full cold bottle and write down “I am depleted”. He hands me my trail mix which I half jokingly throw on the ground. I am immeasurably bummed that my dreams are not coming true.
He packs up and starts to go. I reluctantly follow thru the scorched burn area tears still streaming in this wasteland.
Eventually we return to trees and shade and blessed breeze and finally the Ulrich shelter in a cool grassy meadow with a stream nearby. We sit in the shade of the porch and Groucho hands me a cool Rainier! Trail magic left in the cabin!! We eat snax. We relax. Hummingbirds and Grosbeaks beg for snax and attention. I feel a little better. We’ve already gone 20 miles today.
At 5pm we press on, reaching the next water around 7pm. We set up the tarp and I briefly engage in conversation with Bob – a 2 season, flip flopping thorough hiker -Just breezing thru camp.
I do a few yogas and am asleep by 7:30pm
Groucho wakes by 5:30 and starts packing. My body hurts and I haven’t eaten in 14 hours. I cry before I even open my eyes. Happy Independence Day everyone.
I feel miserable and experience a rare moment where I wish I was hiking alone. Typically Groucho acts as a super power. Helping me when it’s emotionally dire and shouldering his share of more of the burden of our gear and chores. It’s hard to imagine doing this without him. But on this day I would sleep in if I were alone and I really want to lay here wallowing. It is frustrating to be denied this basic human right.
I pack up. And cry. Talk to Groucho. Walk. Cry. Around 6:15 I summon my spirit animal who agrees to walk with me today. I feel better immediately. Prayer is cool this way. I don’t care why it works. But it works.
An hour later I find Groucho resting in a rock field. My humor is back. I sing him a 4th of July medley including “grand ol flag”, “Yankee Doodle”, “my country tis of thee”, “oh beautiful”, “the star spangled banner” and “over there”.
We chat openly the next few miles, resting again at another spring. I pull The Magician from the tarot deck. A rad, spiritual card.
We have easy terrain and meet great folks all day, some out for a day or a section. Around 3pm we roll up to Sheep Lake and experience the best break. Swimming in our clothes, rinsing our hair, cooking, eating chocolate, elevating the feet and watching kids and dogs play in the water.
At 5 we roll out feeling like its a new day. We enter Mt Rainier National Park laughing hysterically and singing my medley again. We camp by Dewey Lake.
We wake early and decide to hike a marathon today so we can buy a beer at White Pass tonight before bed.
We walk on easy terrain and talk of deep issues. We break with views of Rainer performing head stands and eating thru our remaining snax. We sing our favorite mantra for an hour in Sanskrit – translated as “may all beings in all worlds be happy and free” – passing incredulous day hikers. We must be close to town.
Halfway thru the day we soak our feet in freezing waters of Bumping Creek and eat a massive ramen couscous extravaganza. 2 miles later we pass our very first Northbounder, “magic”. He says it’s 10 miles to Kraker Barrel in White Pass and it closes at 6pm. We check the watch. Crap that is only 4 hours from now. We push into high gear and hike 3 miles per hour for the next 3 hrs and 20 minutes arriving at the store at 5:20! It actually closes at 8pm so we have hours to drink beers, eat amazing sandwiches and charge our phones.
We camp down by Leech Lake. I wake to twigs snapping at night. I listen intently but nothing else suspicious happens. In the morning Groucho asks if I heard the lumbering sounds of Bear last night wandering thru camp. Thank God I slept thru that.
We return to Kracker Barrel for coffee and Internet time. We meet another SOBO couple. We call the ranger station to ask about the best reroute for the fire closure coming up in the next section. We chill.
Next we hike 148 miles to cascade locks. Oregon is less than a week away!
Harpo’s PCT Journal: July 1-6