We walked over to PCT Days Friday evening for beer and food trucks and had great conversations. Teflon drive up from Portland, Couch Man was there, met MC Hobo and Peach Pie. I faded off as it was getting dark.
The Luebber Driver picked us up Saturday morning, dropping me at a motel near PDX and taking Dan to Whidbey Island, then Seatac.
I flew to Medford, it’s just normal if you live in Alaska to fly places rather than drive or ride a bus. Jackie picked me up, looking great, and we went to REI before Callahan’s Lodge where we had a beer. I picked up my resupply and headed south, hiking, Monday morning. It’s still Oregon, it’s still August, it’s still hotter than Hades.
It was odd hiking and camping by myself the first night out of Callahan’s. I was glad when some people pitched their tent nearby and I slept soundly.
Just before reaching the Oregon/California border, there was Spoon! Brewing fresh coffee for hikers with an Easy Up tent providing shade. He hiked last year, but I never met him, just saw his name in the registers. His buddy, Night Shift, though, my brother of the skirt, (Purple Rain skirts of course) was one of my favorite hikers on the trail. We shared stories and I learned they were Army Rangers together. Here too I met Ginger, another SOBO, although she’s got a more ambitious schedule than I do, and hikes faster.
I reached the OR/CA border in 4 days from Cascade Locks. Cheater! My plan is to come back, this year, and hike Elk Lake to Callahan’s SOBO, picking up the stretch I missed, but meanwhile I have to walk to Tuolumne Meadows by the end of September to meet friends and family for a beer festival. Of course I could always catch a flight, right?
Why Dan, would you want to spend 5 precious weeks of the short Alaska summer hiking in Washington?
Three reasons I think:
1. As a boy we lived in Coulee Dam, Bridgeport, Entiat, Winthrop and Connell, Washington, all part of what I consider the greater Columbia River basin. The eastern Cascades was a playground where as a family we fished, hiked, berry picked and camped. Places like Chelan, Stehekin, Methow, Twisp, Mazama, Harts Pass, Chewack, Tonasket, Loop Loop, Omak, and Okanogan were household words. As I age out both mentally and physically, the urge to revisit the wonderful Okanogan Wenatchee Forest of my youth was irresistible.
2. My wife of 35 years, Alison (Catwater), hiked the PCT NOBO last year and soon yearned for another long through hike such as the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). When I mentioned my poorly conceived notion of section hiking the PCT from Canada to Oregon she leaped on it…and the planning began. At least, I thought, I’ll get to see more of her than I did last summer.
3. Just to see if I can.
Nine months later (no, no baby) we found ourselves heading for Mazama (thanks to brother Dave and wife Teresa, and Rick Luebbers and Vickie Colton) where we met Jackie Dwyer (thanks Nick Merrill) and Puff Puff (Alex Mason), another 2016 nobo hiker (thanks Martin Van Horn).
On July 15 about 12:30 pm the 4 of us began the 31 mile hike north to Monument 78 at the US/Canadian border under threatening skies. Sure as shit it rained. For 3 days. The views were less than stellar, the camping was forgettable, and the hiking was tough; I had bad thoughts. But as we approached Canada the sun began to shine, we dried out and began to smile. At the border we pranced around for multiple photos and hilarious video clips (thanks Puff Puff) all the while slipping back and forth across the border thumbing our noses at US Customs and Immigration. And then we turned south….
I planned 4 nights from Trout Lake to Cascade Locks, but we did it in 3. Last year I learned that a nero with a pack fully loaded with food works best for me on the first day out of a resupply spot. We hiked 14 and pitched our tents in a scrubby second growth patch of trees, which left 20-21 the next day to a “WACS” according to Halfmile’s maps. That’s Water Campsite. A sweet spot under big trees uphill from a clear, cool spring. We met a couple SOBOs, southbounders, in Trout Lake, Deadman and Couch Man, and along with Andy, a sweet guy with a bum ankle, and new to us, Old Big Feet, there have been familiar faces in this stretch to balance the flood of NOBOs we cross trail with every day.
Slide Rule examined the maps and decided we should do 16, 17 and 13 mile days to get us to Cascade Locks on schedule. But when he saw the, literally, shitty condition of the WACS at 16 we opted to pack water another 4 miles uphill to an abandoned dirt road that Guthook describes as a campsite in a pinch. It was perfect and 3 NOBOs joined us later on in this lovely high point with a slight breeze that kept nighttime temps relatively cool in the heat wave we are in.
That 20 left just 26 to air conditioning. I called the Best Western at 6:30am and secured a room for that (third) night. Game on. Dan was noncommittal about making the miles, having never hiked that far. In fact, this whole hike has been a series of “most miles ever hiked in a day with a backpack” for him. 13, 18, 20. To get to the Bridge of the Gods, there was an 11 mile water carry, with a lot of uphill, and temperatures that rose from overnight 70’s to over 100. When I got to the hotel 11 hours later, I nearly passed out. I hate the heat almost as much as I hate being cold. Why am I not back living in Hawaii? I could walk around each of the islands as a hobby.
Anyway, I took a shower and went to The Bridge restaurant and watched for Dan. See photo from inside. I was too tired and it was too hellishly hot to go back outside to take a proper photo. Plus the nearby NOBO would probably have taken advantage of my french fries.
Dan, Slide Rule, walked the entire State of Washington! Not bad for an old guy of 68 with a pig’s heart valve in his chest. “Better not let him eat pork anymore, he might be eating a relative,” said some random fisherman on the trail. And his last day was huge, 26 miles! Now he gets to go home, kick some cats, deal with a kitchen remodel and plan the fall moose hunt.
Me, I get to keep hiking south. I think I have the better deal.
I had been looking forward to Goat Rocks and the Knife’s Edge for 100’s of miles. Last year on the NOBO, this stretch nearly broke me. It rained for days, I was cold and wet, and I couldn’t see a thing which made the endless uphill trudge even more pointless than usual. When I got to White Pass I hung out at the White Pass Village Inn for days waiting for the rain to stop. I hid from other hikers in my little condo trying to get warm and summon the will to live and hike on north. I understood how thru hikers could quit when so near the end. I am glad I didn’t.
Our daughter, Sarah, Catwater’s Kid, drove up from Seattle to White Pass. Nick drove up from Grant’s Pass with his and Jackie’s dog Daisy and cat Gracie in the camper: the whole famdamnily. All 5 of us drove down to the nearest restaurant 20 miles away in Packwood and had a feast.
In the morning we hugged Sarah, Jackie and Nick goodbye. The dog and cat heaved big sighs of relief that they had Jackie in the truck with them for the long drive home to southern Oregon. Slide Rule and Catwater shouldered our packs for a short day. We camped about 6 miles below the Knife’s Edge. That day I had the best ride offer, ever, on the trail. A guy came riding a horse with a saddled spare behind him. They were all training for a longer trip a few weeks in the future. He said he would put my back in front of him and I could ride Magic. Is it continuous footsteps if the feet are hooves? I considered the ride, but adding saddle sores to my other miseries? Not.
The Knife’s Edge had about 4 snowfields left, the first we’d had to cross in a long time. And the trail and views were spectacular! Tons of day hikers and short haul backpackers and NOBOs, all pretty pleased with themselves and the fine day. It was a challenging day with lots of uphill and I wound up camping a few miles ahead of Slide Rule. I waited in the morning to make sure my murder plot had failed and we continued together.
Near PCT Mile 2248, a NOBO woman warned me that just ahead was a truck on the trail “with a bunch of moms and kids berry picking next to it.” “Are you f*ing kidding me?” I said. “That’s what I wanted to say.” ” Thanks for the heads up, I’ll be calm when I get there.” Later Dan told me when the NOBO warned him, he asked if she’d told the woman in pigtails (me) and when she said yes, he told her I’d take care of it. Am I so predictably confrontational?
When I saw the truck, I asked the first woman if she was the driver and asked “Did you know you’re on a National Scenic Trail, no motorized vehicles?” “We didn’t know, we just kept picking and driving a bit ahead.” I walked on as she yelled “Andale, andale! To the truck!” Maybe it’s the hat I wear, it has the very official looking PCT logo on it, although combined with a filthy and faded turquoise button down shirt and my equally filthy but beloved black Purple Rain hiking skirt, I hardly present as an Official. Anyway, I hiked on and a few feet later saw the jeep road access and a few feet later another jeep road access closed to the trail with pilings. Pretty sketchy road access and the PCT where they drove on was obviously single track, but a sign or rock block might be a good addition here.
Two minutes later I crossed lovely gravel road 5603 and just beyond that, my first trail magic of the PCT SOBO: I drank a Rainier in 45 seconds, woot woot! 15 minutes of excitement all bunched together within 500 miles. Thanks Hayduke for the beer!
We booked it downhill to the paved road leading to Trout Lake and got a ride from a family in about 6 cars. Amazing! I did not go into Trout Lake last year, thinking it was too iffy of a hitch. Wrong. What a great trail town, everybody relaxed and friendly. Bev, and everybody else at the store go above and beyond to help hikers. Since the motel had a fire and is closed, rooms are scarce. Bev made some calls and found that wonderful Jean and her dog Max, just up the road, would be happy to have us, showers and laundry too. What a lovely time we had!
We hiked a short day, then picked it up over the next four days. This stretch was in good shape, few blowdowns, hardly any scree slopes and the tread was relatively flat and groomed.
We stopped to visit the abandoned weather station on the second day. Inside there are data sheets on the kitchen counter dated 1960. Archaeology in the making! I imagine there are a bunch of obsolete weather stations scattered around like this one. Are they on the National Historic Register? The White Alice stations in Alaska have been “preserved” by photography, so the buildings can be repurposed or torn down or whatever. Anyway, last year I stopped in and spent two hours drying all my wet gear out. This year I just wanted to relive the creepiness, but it was less weird because I had Jackie with me.
The third day we stopped by the Urich cabin thinking we might camp in the area so we could cook inside out of the rain but the outhouse smell was penetrating so we hiked on and pitched our tents a bit down a stock trail. It was peaceful and quiet in the rain. I saw Throbbing Thrillhammer, Dan, heading north. The last time we met, we camped just south of Chester about a quarter mile after I’d seen a bear and I invited him to help me scare it off if it came by camp. No bear. In fact, he has still not seen a bear on the PCT. I told him he’d find a bear north of Stehekin. Fingers crossed.
The PCT between Snoqualmie and White Pass is glorious, even in the rain. The trail follows the ridges, crossing from one side to another, in relatively gentle traverses. At one point I rounded a corner and looked down at ski lifts and groomers. Having a momentary blip of cell service I posted a photo on Facebook asking my snowboard and ski friends where I was. Almost instantly Tarcey and Kiana told me it was Crystal Mountain. Yup, another stop on the winter snowboard PCT tour.
After a lovely switchback up the pass before Sheep Lake, on the descent, Jackie rolled her ankle for the second time this hike. She made the difficult decision to hike the 30 miles left to White Pass and seek medical attention back home.
And then there were two. When you live and hike for days and weeks in the wilderness, your character, your personality, your essential qualities glow. We are really going to miss Jackie on the trai!, but we know where she lives! Jackie has hiked all of the PCT in Oregon except for a tiny section. One of her observations is that she expected the trail to be like Oregon. But like I discovered last year crossing the Columbia River into Washington, everything changes, the country is completely different than Oregon: steep ups and downs, different construction techniques, longer stretches between civilized outposts.
We have seen more NOBOs the last couple of days but I still think the herd is south of us and many will stop in Cascade Locks and enjoy PCT Days coming up in a week or so.
I have always sucked at taking photos, just ask my kids why they have so few baby photos, but Puff Puff is great at it and her blog is stellar, detailed and daily with excellent visuals. Check it out at masonalexandra.com
We hit the trail at 9 am, climbing by chair lifts on a beautiful day. I was scheduled for a committee conference call that afternoon with the United States of America Snowboard and Ski Association (USASA) and hoped for cell coverage. Nope, bummer. We have a fantastic new ED, Mike Mallon, who I enjoyed committee work with when he was volunteer President of the Board. Not so odd to be thinking about snowboarding when you’re walking through ski resorts. It will snow before I know it. Bummer that I ran out of cell service before the call.
The bugs have been ferocious in Washington. We hiked 18 miles and camped by a lake. It was so frantic to get my tent up and out of the bugs, I tossed everything out of my pack while pulling on a head net and pants, then squished dozens inside my tent where I made dinner and waited for Sliderule to make it in. The following day it rained off and on and there were a zillion human beings along with the bugs. Beautiful country though. So the third night we planned to camp at a small site, then hike a relatively less amount of uphill to Snoqualmie. This is an absolutely glorious hike, traversing a cirque in the alpine with views for hours. Very little dropping into the trees and the green tunnel. Then you pop over a ridge with the I-90 six miles down switchbacks and can practically smell the Hurry Curry at Aardvark’s. Definitely made me hurry, definitely the best curry I’ve ever had!
Lord Vader turned up the next day after getting a ride to Snoqualmie. I saw him on the trail a few days ago as he was hiking the section he missed due to injury last year. All done now, congrats to a super nice man.
We waited till check out time at 11 and took a short day to camp by a lake with a thousand recreational hikers. I love the sound of kids having fun outdoors, but I love it even more when dark drives them in their tents to bed!