I can’t believe it. After months of thought and preparation, I hit the trail this weekend. My resupply boxes are ready, my food has been prepared (with a 1.5 pound per day average), my gear has been researched and purchased, and I’m ready to go.
And finally, today. After long goodbyes with the boys, Steve and I left for points south, around noon. Today’s destination was a B&B on the way to Mt. Adams.
Predictably, traffic was a nightmare, but we finally at the Shepherd’s Inn in Salkum. We checked in, and relaxed on the patio for a while, watching a couple of young fawns who pranced around like they owned the place.
We went out for dinner, and then just put our feet up and watched a movie. Tomorrow…
Today!!! I couldn’t believe it was finally here! We departed around 8:00, and arrived at the Divide Camp Trailhead at 9:30. After a quick picture, and goodbyes, I was OFF!!!
Divide Camp was open, finally. It had been closed for a couple of weeks, due to the Horseshoe/Mt. Adams Complex fire. That was now under control, and I headed up the newly opened trail. The rangers hadn’t been by to remove the tape, but that wasn’t a big deal…I was going north. I took a picture by my sign, and then I hit the trail, at PCT Mile 2239. Awesome!
Once I was on the trail, it started raining in earnest. I didn’t get my rainskirt out in time, so I got damper than I thought. This year, I’m hiking in a Purple Rain Adventure Skirt + compression shorts, and a Lightheart Gear sil nylon rainskirt. So far, through several day hikes, I like this combo better. I’m also using a Sierra Designs Ultralight Trench rain shell. It has a unique ventilation system, where the pack’s hip strap fastens underneath the jacket, by way of two flaps.
The ford across Adams Creek was challenging; it was up to my knees, fast, and opaque with silt. It was hard to see the trail on the opposite bank, but I got some tips from a couple of SOBOs (southbound thru hikers or sectioners). Because of the silt, I extended my poles and used them as probes. Mission accomplished.
After Adams, the trail was more or less downhill.
I met a very large Scout troop from Yakima. The kids weren’t too sure about me, but the Scoutmasters were nice enough. And I met a group of about five NOBOs (northbounders), as well as a ranger, all at Killen Creek, while I was getting my water. I’m carrying a 2L Platypus bladder with an inline filter, a 1L collapsible bladder, and a 0.75L Smartwater bottle, for clean water and drinks. I usually only fill the 2L bladder, unless I have a dry stretch coming up. I’ve arranged the 2L bladder so that it can also be used as a gravity feed filter in camp.
Several miles on, I found a nice campsite at Lava Springs, which (speaking of water) is known to have some of the best water on the entire trail. I thought the Scouts would be here, as there’s plenty of room, but apparently they stopped at Muddy Fork. Tonight, that was fine with me, as I really wanted some quiet.
It rained most of the night, but quit early this morning, in time for me to break camp, including putting my rather damp tent into my pack. I chose not to take a pack cover this year, instead relying on the trash compactor bag to keep the critical items dry. It seems to be working okay, although it is rather awkward having a very wet pack. We’ll see how it goes; I can always ask Steve to bring up my pack cover at a resupply point.
My goal was about 11 miles and 1800 feet today, giving myself a short day to make sure I’m getting used to things and that my body is strengthening. I’m a pretty conservative hiker; I’m not 20 anymore, and I’ve got a family back home. I met my goal, and although I’m relatively out of shape, I’ll get back into the swing of things soon enough. I’m just incredibly grateful to be on the trail.
My plan is to hit the Knife’s Edge on Tuesday. I’ll have to check the water sources, because I’m not sure where I can refill before there; I think there’s a long dry stretch ahead. That’s part of the hike: planning water sources, destinations, and the calendar.
The Knife’s Edge is a stretch through the Goat Rocks Wilderness; it is literally a trail along a knife’s edge ridge, punctuated by small rocky knobs. I’ve been looking forward to hiking it.
Once I hit the trail, I began skirting an ancient lava flow. It was like a wall had stopped just short of the trail.
I played Hiker Tag with the Scouts all day. They’re separated into multiple groups, and the Scoutmaster isn’t too happy about that. It’s kind of interesting to watch, having BTDT.
At mile 2255, I left the Mt. Adams Wilderness and entered the Goat Rocks Wilderness. I finally feel like I’m heading north.
And wouldn’t you know, the weather is improving, and I’m getting to see sights like this.
I camped in a large site, with room for multiple tents. While I was making my stroganoff, a SOBO (Southbound) party appeared. I immediately invited them to join me. I really enjoy spending time with other hikers. It’s an amazing community.
One of the girls in the party was, believe it or not, sporting a Venturing hat! I introduced myself, and long story short, she was Casey Burt, from a Bremerton crew, and past president of both the Chief Seattle and Western Region Area 1 Venturing Officer’s Association. We had missed meeting each other by probably a year, but we knew a ton of the same people, and it was like old home week! Her group consisted of sectioners and thrus; Casey is a SOBO thru. It was really awesome to hang out with other hikers.
And speaking of sectioners and thrus, they aren’t exactly alike, but they are similar enough. A thru hiker is a person who completes the entire trail in a season, usually roughly April to late September. This is usually accomplished by hiking from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Sometimes people will flip, usually in response to weather or a personal obligation. I met one couple who hiked from Campo, CA (at the border), to northern CA. From there they went to a wedding in Washington, headed to the Canadian border, and began hiking south to their jump-off point.
A section hiker is just that: a person who hikes a section of the trail. This usually refers to a longer section, rather than a day hike or overnight; many people section for several years in order to complete the trail. The PCT is actually divided up into sections, and oftentimes section hikers will use these to determine their hike from year to year. For example, my hike last year consisted of 2/3 of Washington Section H; this year, I plan to finish H, and continue through I, J, K, and L.
While I was getting water that night, I met Shadowfax; he’s a Scottish NOBO (Northbound) thru, of retirement age. We had a delightful conversation.
Tomorrow, staging for the Knife’s Edge.
Footnotes: Casey continued south, and reached Campo on December 5! Her trail name is SAR (for Search and Rescue).
Shadowfax did indeed finish the trail, and was generally keeping the same pace as I did all the way north.
My goal today was to head over Cispus Pass, and around to the other side of the Cispus River drainage. I want to position myself for tomorrow, by camping near the last water supply until after the Knife’s Edge. Backpacking is like that: some days it’s all about positioning yourself for the next day (or the next, or the next).
Once again, I played leapfrog with the Scouts. I think the boys are beginning to warm up to me. I suppose being a woman backpacking solo is something they haven’t seen much. I’d like to make it a little more commonplace.
I was going slow today, as I’ve got something going on with my left ankle. Either that, or it’s my lower shin. I’m praying it will work out. So I’m doing the ice/ibuprofen thing, and elevating at night by putting my pack under the foot of my sleep pad.
I instantly forgot about my pesky ankle midafternoon, when I looked up and got my first eyeful of the Goat Rocks.
I did make it over Cispus Pass, although with the ankle thing I was going pretty slowly. It’s absolutely gorgeous up there. The Goat Rocks area is an extinct volcano, so it’s got a different look than, say, the granite of the North Cascades. On the runup to Cispus Pass, the right side of the trail is Yakama tribal lands; they request that you stay on trail at all times. The whole area is just mind-numbingly beautiful, and I could have stayed for hours.
But it was getting late, and I needed to grab some water and set up camp, on the opposite side of the river drainage.
On the opposite side were a couple of smaller tributaries; I camped shortly after the second one. Tomorrow, the Knife’s Edge!
The wind kicked up quite a bit last night, enough so that I had to get up and snug down the tent. I didn’t know how it was over the ridge, but there’s no way I’d do the Knife’s Edge in that kind of wind. So I slept in a bit, to give the wind time to die down.
The other problem is that, well, there’s no water until after the Knife’s Edge. It’s a constant juggle of where I am, where I want to go, where the water is, and how my foot is doing.
So I got up, headed back down to the last water source, checked to see if there was a hose there that I dropped (yes, I retrieved it), and then headed out. Thank God, the wind died down. I was not about to do the Knife’s Edge with a howling crosswind. In talking with other hikers, it appears that the wind was local to the Cispus Drainage.
Before I left camp, I met a group of four retirees, out having a week’s worth of fun. We hit it off, and were leapfrogging throughout the morning. And I also met a group of three women from Tallahassee, and leapfrogged with them.
After descending into the drainage, it was (predictably) time to climb back up over the ridge, toward Snowgrass Flats. The weather was clear, and suddenly the eye candy began.
And all of a sudden, blam! There was Mt. Adams, appearing for the first time, now that the weather had cleared. One of the women from Tallahassee took a very nice picture of me.
It was time to work our way around the next ridge, which included a lunch stop with all of the aforementioned folks.
And then, The Decision. Do I do the traditional route, which traverses Packwood Glacier, or do I do the Old Snowy Alternate, which scrambles steeply up and down Old Snowy, a mountain with year round snow and glaciers, plus lots of steep scree slopes.
I chose to do the traditional route. The only problem with that is that, well, there’s a glacier, with a 30 degree slope and no safe runout. Fortunately, there were footprints kicked in, so with some solid concentration, I safely crossed. And with the exceptionally low snow pack this year, the actual glacier was only about a hundred feet across. But the rest of the traverse was over an enormous talus slope, with refrigerator-sized boulders. With my unique version of visual perception, and the ongoing pain in my ankle, it was a hell of a time getting across; I had to cross a slope, descend (read butt scoot), cross the glacier, and then re-ascend.
Once I crossed the slope, I headed up a ridge, and there was the Knife’s Edge!
It’s really, really pretty, and it’s not as dangerous as some of the slopes I’ve been on over the years. There were a couple of spots which made me stop and think “Oh, how interesting!” but for the most part it wasn’t too big of a deal. I would definitely not want to be up there in the dark, wind, or fog.
The trail winds along a very steep ridge, and around rocky knobs
The trail gradually came off of the ridge, and then turned west at Elk Pass. It became a lovely meadow walk, heading gradually downhill, past the headwaters of several creeks, around Lutz Lake, and eventually to Tieton Pass.
When I finally made it down the series of ridges, to Elk Pass, it became apparent that my lovely forward progress, which probably averaged around ½ mph with the scree, talus, and photo ops, needed some help…if I were to make White Pass by Wednesday. So I dropped it in low and added another four miles before reaching camp around 8PM.
At this point, each and every step was a pain…quite literally. By the time I reached camp at Tieton Pass, I was just DONE. I knew I needed to be up by 5, to make it up the next ridge and then down again, given my slow forward progress, and given the closing time of the store at White Pass, where my resupply was waiting. So I pounded a Snickers bar for dinner, and crawled into bed.
Footnote 1: The talus slope/glacier traverse is notorious. A PCTA (Pacific Crest Trail Association) work crew spent a week in 2013 putting the trail back into place. The pictures give a good sense of what that area looks like. I didn’t use my camera while on the slope. Take a look at the link…it’s pretty incredible.
Footnote 2: I would later learn that during the rather miserable rain/wind/snow/fog the last week of August, some of my fellow hikers ended up crawling the entire length of the Knife’s Edge.
I got up at 5. Today’s goal, of course, was the Kracker Barrel, 13 miles and 2000 feet; my resupply box was there, and they closed in the late afternoon. I had to hit the trail early, as I knew I’d be in pain all the way. My leg was *really* beginning to hurt. Well, actually, it has been hurting, since the second day. It’s my foot, ankle, and lower leg, getting worse. And worse. And worse. But my only choice has been to hike 40 miles on a bad leg.
It was time to quit my complaining, and head for White Pass. I refilled at the spring, which was maybe a quarter mile off trail, and I was off. It was a long day, but not without its eye candy.
The trail went generally up, until the junction with the Shoe Lake Trail. I met the group of retirees there while I was having a snack break. They were going to take the alternate loop down to Shoe Lake. I stuck to the main PCT; there was a large talus slope, but after that the views were amazing.
We met again at the junction, crested the ridge, and then traversed a stunning basin around Hogback Mountain and Hogback Ridge. Mt. Rainier showed her head above the ridge, and behind us was a beautiful view of the Goat Rocks.
Alas, with my reduced speed, they were soon out of sight. The trail began a long descent to Ginette Lake, where I grabbed a liter, and then switchbacked down to White Pass.
From the pass itself, it’s a half mile road walk west to the Kracker Barrel, home to resupply boxes, convenience store foods, a little bit of a menu, and all kinds of general goodness. I arrived about 4, only a little later than I thought I’d be.
My plan was to grab my resupply box and hit the trail. But I decided the heck with it: I’m going to get a room at the lodge, resupply, sleep late, and regroup in the morning. So I’ve got a nice Motel-6-esque room with kitchenette, which as far as I’m concerned is the Taj Mahal. I exploded my pack (yes, that is a phrase), and headed down to pick up my resupply.
I took the last bit of my dinner, went out, and camped on the bench along the front of the store. It’s the hiker hangout, and I got to chatting with a girl (whose name I can’t remember). Turns out she has shin splints, and was going to skip a SOBO section to head to Trout Lake. She’s getting compression sleeves, and is the second person who is using those for shin splints (Casey Burt being the other one). We compared symptoms, and at this juncture it looks like it could be a leading candidate for me. It’s certainly not an uncommon injury among long distance hikers. Anyway, Steve will be bringing compression sleeves up with the Chinook Pass resupply (THANK YOU).
I’ve been having a great time at the Kracker Barrel so far; lots of giggles over this, that, and the other thing. Far more so than last year, I feel part of a community. And that’s good, because that’s one of the things I’ve been hoping to find.
Got up this morning, and it was pretty clear that my leg wasn’t better. I went down to the store, had a heaping plate of biscuits and gravy, and decided to take a zero. A zero is when you stay two nights in one place, and have zero miles on the middle day. It gave me more time to organize my resupply, and to rest my leg. So after breakfast I went back up the (steep) stairs to the motel, and paid for another night.
I planned on hanging out at the store, and spending time napping and icing. I met Fluffy Star (aka Kathrin Schulte), a girl from Germany (who likes fluffy things, and stars). And I met Peanut (aka Teri Stalcup), and Goat.
After lunch, I bought another bag of ice and headed back to the motel room. A few hours of reading, napping, and icing later, I gave it up and had another enormous sub sandwich for dinner.
While I was down there, a woman named Peter Pan (aka Denise Lane) arrived. There were no more hotel rooms, as there was a large high school cross country camp going on. I offered to share mine, and so we got her situated. A couple of the guys wanted to share as well, but that was not where I needed to go.
I called Steve from the motel room, and said I thought I needed to see a doctor, but that I’d decide in the morning. A bit later, Denise (who is an acupuncturist from Oregon) was looking at my leg, and saying “Oh, that’s not good.” It was getting more red, hot and swollen by the hour, and I finally called Steve and said I needed to go to the doctor first thing on Friday 7/31.
So his plan was to arrive by nine, and we’d head into Yakima. I packed up my stuff, carefully so that everything was in its place, and not haphazardly like I didn’t care anymore. Because I do care, and I need to have hope.
Steve showed up first thing this morning, and bless his fuzzy little heart, he brought two enormous boxes of Top Pot donuts for all the hikers to share. Score!
Then we headed off to Yakima, to find an urgent care. The decent looking one refused to see me, because we didn’t have an appointment. The rinky-dink small town one did see me, and told me that I either had tendinitis or a stress fracture. They handed me some crutches and sent me home. No notice at all of the red, hot, swollen nature of my leg. Sigh.
Needless to say, I was rather dismayed by this turn of events, and it was a hard trip home. But I was totally pampered when I arrived, and spent the afternoon and evening on the couch.
We were singularly unimpressed with the docs in Yakima, so after breakfast, we headed off to our urgent care. The doc on duty was a former section hiker, so he completely got how upset and worried I was. I just wanted to know what it would take to get me back out to the mountains. His first thought was a stress fracture, but when he saw the pictures I took on Thursday night, with the very painful swelling and the redness and heat, he changed his diagnosis to cellulitis. I got an enormous shot of heavy duty antibiotics, a full course of more antibiotics, a follow-up appointment in five days, and the possibility of returning to the trail!
I hobbled my way back to the car, and we headed home. I was to keep my leg iced and elevated at all times, take those antibiotics religiously, and keep using the crutches.
Well, that’s what I did. It was too painful to put any weight on it until midday Monday; it was so swollen it felt like my skin was about to explode. I read books, and played a lot of Mahjongg, all the while trying not to think about having to cancel my trip.
On Wednesday the 5th, Brendan drove me to my appointment. I was more than a little nervous. But I was able to walk…I had ditched the crutches a couple of days prior. So I nervously waited for the verdict…
…and got clearance to go!!!!!
My plan was to keep icing and elevating until we left on Saturday. I also had to do short days between White and Chinook Passes, set bailout routes every ten miles, reevaluate at Chinook, and set bailouts between Chinook and Snoqualmie Pass every twenty miles.
The requirements were met, the bailout plan was in place, the pack was ready to go, and I hit the rack on Friday, August 7, beyond excited for my return.
First thing this morning, Steve and I headed back south, again with Top Pot donuts, for my great return. We distributed the wealth to some very happy hikers. Then I headed back up the highway to the trail junction, while Steve headed to Prosser for some well-deserved wine tasting.
The goal for today was just 8 miles, very mellow, with only 1300 feet of gain. I’ve put together a bailout plan for White to Chinook, including side trails every 10 miles (and 20 miles between Chinook and Snoqualmie). My plan is to do low mileage and get plenty of rest.
And today’s hike was pretty flat, full of delightful little lakes. They’re so small that very few of them have names.
I spent tonight at Pipe Lake, a pretty little place with water warm and clear enough for swimming. I got to the lake about 4, and quickly set up camp. I was feeling pretty bummed about not going fast, and was missing the family. So I decided to document a standard campsite.
In front is my Ursack, a bearproof Spectra bag lined with an odorproof OPSak zip top bag. Together, these hold about five days worth of food. The stove is a 2 oz. MSR Microrocket, and the pot is a Snow Peak 700 ml titanium with a lid. That, plus a long handled spoon, is my entire cook kit, and everything except the spoon fits into the pot.
In the back is my sit pad, a couple of ziplocs containing my day’s food, a bandana for spills and for use as a hot pad, and my clean water/drinks bottle. And behind the log is my collapsible 1L bottle, which I use for collecting water and as a secondary carrier.
My tent is a Big Agnes Copper Spur one man. You can’t see much else inside, but the blue blob is my backpacking quilt. A quilt is much lighter than a sleeping bag; mine is only 19 oz. The theory behind a quilt is that when you’re in a bag, the insulation under you is squashed, and thus can’t do its job. My quilt attaches to my sleeping pad via two elastic straps, and I sleep directly on my pad.
In front of the tent are my trail runners and (rather skanky) socks. Most long distance hikers use trail runners; they are much lighter, and a pound on the feet is equivalent to about five on the back, in terms of energy outlay. I have a history of wobbly ankles, but if anything the trail runners make that less of an issue…I am able to feel what’s going on better than I ever did with boots. Add trekking poles to that mix, and it’s a big win for me.
And speaking of trekking poles, here they are, Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork. I got these just before I left, to replace my much loved but long-in-the-tooth aluminum poles. The new ones are fantastic.
The poles are doing double duty here, holding my Delorme inReach SE satellite communicator. It allows me to text with Steve, get updated weather forecasts, and call Search and Rescue. I love this thing, plain and simple.
After I started making dinner, I got a campsite-mate named Elroy. He’s of retirement age, and is a SOBO, from Austin, TX. Apparently I was only the second person he’d shared a campsite with, since he left the border. We had a good chat. His plan is to go to White Pass tomorrow for a resupply, and then head to Trout Lake to pick up some new gear from REI. He’s also hiking on a broken toe, which he claims is more numb than anything else. I wish him all the best.
So far my leg is only having the occasional twinge. I am very pleased, needless to say. I’m sleeping in tomorrow, since I’m only going about nine miles.