A Tale of Two Wives: Stehekin to Stevens Pass

Quite the lead in, eh?

We said “See you down the trail!” to Puff Puff as we got off the bus at High Bridge after a wonderful zero in Stehekin together. But you know the band had to break up sometime. Puff Puff and the Nearly Dead had some hits but when your crew of geriatrics can’t remember if you’re NOBO or SOBO, it’s time to find a new posse.

Meanwhile, 2 tall slim women of wise years in skirts and blue button-down shirts hiking with an old guy sweeping behind is an unusual grouping.  We have had beautiful, clear weather out of Stehekin the whole 6 nights it has taken to get to Stevens Pass.  107 miles of up and down through the worst maintained stretch of the whole PCT.

You grow to love horseshit on the trail because it means stock access for trail crews.  I wish the regulatory or jurisdictional agency in charge (USFS) would consult with the BLM Alaska Fire Service or a Search and Rescue group.  I know helicopter camps and sling loads could get personnel, equipment and supplies into areas apparently only hikers can currently access.  The trail hasn’t been maintained in years.  Old, old blowdown, overgrowth as thick as the Amazon, trail eroded down hillsides.  Pitiful and embarrassing that this is a National Scenic Trail.

We camped near a stream; in a shaded, soft  forest; on a knob just past the most breathtaking cirque I’ve ever seen; next to Lake Sally Ann; in blow down near a glacial ford; and finally by a lake just 10 or 11 miles from Stevens Pass.

Day 3 I saw Double Dip (Dana) hiking north with friends!  She is making Washington her home and will be starting grad school in biochemistry.  And she has a “thing” with another of my favorite hikers from last year.  Made my day!

Day 6 I saw Lord Vader, carrying a message for me from Dan.  He is finishing the section he left unfinished last year due to injury.

Day 7 I was leaving for the short hike to Stevens Pass and saw a man in a mountain hat next to 2 tents pitched near the trail.  I walked up and stood stock still till he turned and saw me. His face as he recognized me was probably matched by my own. I dropped my sticks to give Papa Raven a big hug.  He silently gestured for me to peek in his tent.  Out popped Mama Raven for another huge hug!  Then the kids Little Crow, as adorable as ever, and Bling, a foot taller, strong and healthy, rolled out of the second tent.  We caught up on all the news as they packed up their camp to continue North.  All but Bling did the whole trail last year, and now they return as a family so Bling too can complete the monumental NOBO of the PCT.  This family, this love, this trail.  I knew they were out here, but going opposite directions, the chances that we would miss each other were great.  So, so grateful to see them, in our natural environment.

Rick Luebbers, the Lueber Driver, met us at Stevens Pass and we have enjoyed a zero in Leavenworth eating, replacing broken gear, strolling the river, resupplying and cleaning up.

image image image

As always I am torn between the comforts of town and the craving for the trail.  I am continuously surprised by what I have forgotten and what I remember from last year.  Sometimes I walk for hours watching my feet moving through the green tunnel and have very little sense of place.  And then suddenly I recognize my perfect campsite, a shelter from the snow, high on a ridge, and recollect the fall reds and rusts, the stinky feet smell of low bush cranberries and I look up expecting to see the weather boiling over the mountain and a regal and wild buck staring back at me.  When I look back down I see spring flowers and screaming green meadows ahead, south.

Hart’s Pass to Canada to Stehekin

Sister Wife, Catwater, Dan
Profile me, I’m in Canada about to step back into the USA
Ma and Pa Sterley
Catwater, Puff Puff, Sister Wife
Puff Puff on the trail

image image image image

Glen dropped me at ANC airport (again) and off I went. A few flights later, I ….

Met Dan, and we stayed with his bro Dave and sis-in-law Teresa north of Spokane before they relayed us to Tonasket where Rick and Vicky hosted us and drove us to Mazama where we picked up Jackie from Nick, and then met Marvin and Sue who were transporting Puff Puff to Hart’s Pass for the launch north to the border. Whew. Started hiking 12:30 July 15.

First of all, it was so cool to reunite with Puff Puff.  Remember she hiked the NOBO last year too!  I have made a modest miles plan to help Dan  and Jackie ease into the long distance hiking thing which she graciously accommodated until Stehekin. The first day we went just 11 miles, the second 13, in a cloud most of the time which meant there was very little view payoff for the work.  We all dove into our tents in the middle of the day to escape the wet and the bugs, oh boy what fun.  Day 3 we slack packed to Monument 78 and back, a lovely day that felt as if we were finally “starting” the SOBO.  The Grateful Red camped with us but we’ll never see him again, he’s hiking big miles right out of the box. You will know him when you see him, long dark red hair with a nipple length red beard.

We endured torrential rain on Day 4, the trail filled up and was running a river, but things improved as we passed through Hart’s Pass and camped 6 miles beyond on a clear warm night.  Everybody’s mood was lifted as we continued through the alpine glory of the North Cascades.  We walked down to the Methow River bridge through blow down so bad the trail was nowhere to be found.  Gigantic trees were tossed and piled every which way, sometimes I had to crawl over a stack of 4 or 5 at a time, sometimes I crawled on my belly underneath, pushing my pack ahead of me.  Exhausting, slow, and annoying.  We met Scott here and he joined us for the next couple camp spots.  Cutthroat Pass was the reward for struggling uphill through even more blow down.  We camped under the Buck Moon, a night so bright and beautiful in a little saddle that no head lamps were necessary for the midnight creep to a pee spot. The temperature nearly reached freezing overnight while the next day’s hike down into North Cascades NP was like descending into a sauna.  Scott, Puff Puff and I camped after about 21 miles just as a thunder storm broke and cooled the air off enough to sleep.  Meanwhile Dan and Jackie camped with a troop of teenage boys after hiking their personal record of 18 miles!  Amazingly, and I assume because it’s a National Park and not USFS, the blow down had been cut off the trail for the 17 miles to High Bridge. Thank you NPS!

Our 2 little groups met at the bus stop for the ride into Stehekin.  First stop The Bakery.  Real food for the first time in the very long, slow 8 days it took to get here.  We had a reservation at the Stehekin Valley Ranch for the 4 of us for a zero: Puff Puff, Dan, Jackie and me.  Laundry, prime rib, beds, kitties and people who smelled clean.  Plus everybody who lives and works in this area makes you feel welcome!

Here’s  a weird note about this blog.  I keep a journal when I hike or travel solo, which is mostly.  But when I have companions, I tend to babble every little thought out loud, rather than quietly muse on paper.  Once it’s out of my mouth, it appears to be out of my brain too.  So these blog entries might be a little circumspect for awhile.  Which might be a good thing.  I’m enjoying the company of the Nearly Dead  although it’s weird worrying about other people’s blisters and mileage and being responsible for picking the day’s destination.  Definitely pushing  the limits of my comfort zone.  It’s easier if I imagine they’re just little skier punks I need to direct.