Friday, July 31, 2015, Home: Wild Goose Chase

Home

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.

Saturday, August 1 to Friday, August 7, 2015, Home: Impatience

Home

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.

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My life for a week

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!!!!!

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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.

Saturday, August 8, 2015, Mile 2299: On the Trail Again

At Pipe Lake, Mile 2299

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.

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Back at White Pass!
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Ready to go

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.

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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.

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The kitchen.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunset at Pipe Lake

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.

Sunday, August 9, 2015, Mile 2308: The Social Trail

At a tiny, trailside campsite, next to a stream, Mile 2308

I slept in until 7:30, since I only have about nine miles on the agenda.  This pace is really frustrating…3 days for only 30 miles…but it’s the right thing to do, and I need to keep reminding myself of that. And best of all, I had zero pain today. That is a huge deal.

The hike today was easy, and gently downhill. I wove my way through wetlands, creeks, and lakes large and small…too many to count or even name.

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Crossing wetlands in the Fryingpan Lake region

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After five miles I crossed a lovely little stream with a wooden bridge, at 2305. I had my lunch, refilled my water, and did a little no-soap laundry. A side note: it’s pretty hard to de-crustify a pair of hiking socks, but several rinses in flowing water can help a bit. While I was at the bridge, I met a thru doing the same thing, and a sectioner. He was taking a break as well, waiting for the rest of his group. More on him later.

Eventually, I forded the Bumping River. With the water so low, this was basically a matter of hopping across logs and rocks, and I did great. Log and rock hopping have always been problematic for me, but I am getting much better at it. And with trail runners, I’ll often just plow across the water.

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Bumping River

Another side note: trail runners drain and dry over a couple of hours, as opposed to waterproof boots, which dry over a couple of days. That waterproofing not only keeps water out, it keeps water in. So if you get water over the top of your boots, or if your feet sweat, or whatever, you’ll end up with wetter feet in the long run. This is the voice of experience.

I arrived at my campsite at the stunningly early hour of 3:00. It’s literally trailside, with a couple of good logs for seats. I set up camp in no time at all, and decided to have a snack break while reading my book (Master and Commander; I’m going through the Canon again).

An hour or so later, a girl came down the trail (please note that if I use the word “girl,” it’s because they’re under age 25). Her trail name is Dr. Beeker, because she’s a huge Muppets fan. We chatted for a while, and eventually we headed down to the stream to top off.

And then, who should come along but Thermo!

Thermo, aka Thermometer, aka Yun Eun Jung, is a retired gentleman from Korea. He’s had a longtime dream of hiking the PCT. He speaks very, very little English. He flew to San Diego this spring, purchased all of his gear, loaded up his 50 lb. pack (shockingly heavy), and started off at Campo in April. He got his name from Blue Sky, when he kept checking his little keychain thermometer. Anyway, people got to know him, both in person and virtually, and every so often on the PCT Class of 2015 Facebook page, you’ll see a Thermo Sighting. He doesn’t use a computer, but his daughter, Yun Sol, speaks a moderate amount of English, and is on Facebook. So she told us about him, and we tag her whenever we have news of him.

It was one of my great hopes to meet him and take a picture together, and that just happened!  I tried to tell him that I saw his picture on the computer; I’m not sure how much he understood. But he definitely understood when I mentioned his daughter, and I hope she enjoys the picture of her dad.

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Rest Step and Thermo

Another group I met while in this campsite was the Fakarwiis Band (as in, sorry, Where the —). One of them was the sectioner I met at the bridge. They are a group of five gentlemen who do all kinds of outdoor things year round, every weekend, and once a year they have a longer trip. This year, it was White to Stevens Passes. I really enjoyed our conversation. As it turns out, the leader of this hike is a thru named Snickers, who finished at the Northern Terminus, and went south to meet his buddies at White Pass.

This is a great little campsite, because I get to chat with lots of people. I wouldn’t want it every night, but basically I’m a social creature on the trail. And the weather is nice, and Brendan has promised to show up at Chinook Pass on Tuesday, with some bagels and cream cheese. Mmmm!

Time for dinner: beef stroganoff and apple pie!

Footnote: Thermo completed his thru hike in late August! After he got home, his daughter Yun Sol posted an update, and a video thank you from him. Many, many people responded with pictures of him on the trail, and he received many hundreds of likes. The community that gathered around this non-English-speaking gentleman is one of the great stories of the Trail.

Monday, August 10, 2015, Mile 2318: Mount Rainier, Friends, and Thunder

At Dewey Lake, Mile 2318

I’m sitting here doing the dishes as I record my entry.

The day started with a smile. When I met Thermo yesterday, he gave me a hospitality gift of a little packet of Maxim coffee with cream. It was a really thoughtful gesture, and I thoroughly enjoyed it this morning. I’m looking forward to posting the picture of him and me on the Class of 2015 page.

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Thank you, Thermo!

Ten miles today, and 2100 ft gain…better but still incredibly slow. I will be very glad to increase the mileage after Chinook Pass.

This was the day I first crossed into Mt. Rainier National Park! After I hit the trail, I began climbing a ridge toward the boundary.

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Suddenly, there was the sign. It was a great feeling of accomplishment. This was the first of a handful of signs, as the trail weaves in and out of the south and east sides of the park.

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And a few minutes later, this. I saw several of these high quality metal signs in the park.

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I met the Fakarwiis a couple of times today. Snickers, Fun Size, Waypoint, Windbreaker and B.L.T. had stopped for lunch at Two Lakes. It was the only water source, so I also hoofed it ¼ miles of steep downhill on a side trail. And there they were! They invited me over for lunch, and we had a great time. Turns out three of them are former Scoutmasters, so there was an instant camaraderie. And when they were talking about their wives and girlfriends, I quipped, “To wives and sweethearts: may they never meet.” And one of them looked at me with an enormous, knowing grin. Aubrey-Maturin FTW.

Shortly after lunch, I hit another boundary crossing.  I’m not sure where I crossed out of the park, but it’s fairly easy to miss small signs meant for the southbound traffic.

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It gradually clouded up during the day, but I was able to see the Mountain.  I love the ever-larger views.

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Up one more ridge toward Dewey Lake

When I got to Dewey Lake, I met up with the Fakarwiis again. There are quite a few campsites, and I took one nearby but a bit off of the trail.

Within about five minutes of my arrival, the thunderstorm which had been threatening, unloaded. It starting dumping everything, everywhere, right as I was beginning to set up the tent. Fortunately, there was a little grove of trees in one corner of my campsite, so I just set up the tent in there and walked it out. Which was good. Tent is dry, everybody is happy. I climbed in, inflated my pad, and set everything out.  Time to relax.

While I’m thinking about it, I’ll share a bit about the inside of my tent. My pad is a Big Agnes Q-Core SL, which I discovered this year.  It’s the lightest weight insulated inflatable, at 17 oz and with an R value of 4.5.  I retired my NeoAir, and have really appreciated the extra warmth this trip. I also use an Exped air pillow. Once my pack is empty, I put it under the foot of my pad, to elevate my feet and reduce swelling overnight.

After my pad is set up, I attach my quilt.  From there, I take out my current day’s food and my Ursack with the rest, and various ziplocs: first aid, toiletries, repair kit, and map pack, plus my clothes stuff sack.  I also take out the must-stay-dry things, including my stash of unused maps and important papers, and my battery charger.

My food goes outside the tent, of course, and at night it all goes into the Ursack before I secure it to a tree outside of camp. My hydration system also goes outside, except for my drinks bottle, which is filled with clean water and placed by the side of the tent for the night.

I swap out maps at night when I’m planning next day’s route; I also plug in my electronics at night, and put them in the toe area of my quilt.

It’s a lot of juggling, but I’m getting much faster…like many things, it’s just a routine.

Anyway, once my camp was set up, and the rain had paused, I trotted down to the lake, only about a hundred feet away. I found a beautiful flat rock on which to scoop my water. And that water was incredibly clear…none of the silt you often find in a lake.  I filled up absolutely everything, which is a 2L Platypus collapsible bladder, another Platy at 1L, and a 3/4 L Smartwater bottle, with filtered water to use for clean water and drinks. If it weren’t for the storms, I would have taken a dip.

It rained and thundered on and off through the evening. It wasn’t huge, certainly not like mile 2200 in last year’s section, but it did keep rumbling in that vague Northwest fashion.

I headed to bed early, to get up early for the hike into Chinook Pass, and had a dry dinner to save time. Looking forward to seeing B tomorrow!

Footnote: The thunderstorms which were mild near Chinook Pass were stronger near Mt. Adams. Within 24 hours, smoke had reached north to our location, and the next day we learned that lightning had ignited the Cougar Creek Fire on Adams’ south side. This fire would eventually close the PCT in that area, necessitating a 23 mile road walk. The trail was reopened on September 8.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015, Mile 2323: Chinook Pass Magic!

At Sheep Lake, Mile 2323

When I left camp this morning, I told the Fakarwiis that Brendan was going to be at the trailhead in a few hours, with some bagels. This was very welcome news, and they headed out not long after I did.

It was only three miles to Chinook Pass, over a lovely ridge and back down.

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Up the ridge…
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…and down. This is where I started seeing day hikers.

The closer I got to the pass, the more day hikers I saw. Some were out for a full day, and some were just taking a stroll out of the parking lot. For the first time, I noticed a phenomenon that other long distance hikers had mentioned. After several days on the trail, you just get used to the way your body naturally smells after a great deal of exercise. But as the day hikers approached, I could identify them strictly based on their smell: perfumes from deodorant, soap, shampoo, etc. It almost made my eyes water.

I got to the pass in good time, and crossed the beautiful log bridge over the highway.

The Chinook Pass bridge over the highway *

…and headed down into the parking lot. It’s fairly large, with a Real Privy and everything. I took some time to spread out my gear to dry. The Fakarwiis trickled in after me, and we hung out waiting for B.

Well, he didn’t just show up with bagels. He showed up with Alex and Selena.  The three of them had stuffed the car with bagels, cream cheese, hiker tacos (tortillas, fresh cut veggies, shredded cheese, and bacon bits), cold soda, bottled water, extra ibuprofen, and hiker repair gear (duct tape, extra tent stakes, camp suds, etc.). They also brought a table, tablecloth, and lots of wipes for filthy hiker hands. Our eyes bugged out.

Chinook Magic Setup
Getting set up. Brendan even remembered the wipes for grubby hiker hands. **
Bagels! Cream cheese! Veggies! Fun Size, Snickers, and Windbreaker start inhaling, while I stare in amazement. **
Cold soda! **
Windbreaker and his taco full of veggie goodness. **
The Fakarwiis dove headfirst into the chow. Pictured: B.L.T., Snickers, Fun Size, Windbreaker, Waypoint, and Brendan.
Snickers ate five bagels. **
Chinook Kids
Brendan, Alex, and Selena: the founders of the feast. **

The Fakarwiis and I jumped on that food like it was going out of style. Another hiker proclaimed it to be one of the two best pieces of trail magic he’d seen on the entire trail, which was a huge compliment. And Beowulf, a veteran of several long distance trails, actually did a happy dance.

Brendan had thought that the hikers would be pleased…such a nice thing for him to do, etc. He absolutely couldn’t believe how grateful the hikers were. They were beside themselves.  Anyway, he wants to do it again sometime. I’m very, very proud of the kiddos!

Rest Step and her awesome son!

Hiker check-in: the Fakarwiis , Beowulf, Bogey, Bambi Magnet (from Finland), and one other.

I got my resupply, and it was very nice to be organizing my pack while sitting in a chair with a cold soda and my feet up. After hugs goodbye, the Fakarwiis headed north while I was resupplying.  They are planning to do higher mileage than me, so unfortunately I doubt I’ll see them again.

Once I was done, the kiddos took off, and I headed to Sheep Lake, just a few miles north.

This evening I’m in a very big campsite, which could probably hold a small Scout troop. I grabbed a corner of it, in case other people needed a place.  Right now the wind is howling, coming through the gap where the trail is; I hope it dies off after sunset.

The lake is delightfully warm, and I took some time to really scrub out my hiking clothes and my socks (no soap, of course). I also got myself thoroughly rinsed off, which felt great.

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Sheep Lake, a pretty little place to spend the night.

The only other party at the lake is a woman and her two elementary-age sons. They are out without her husband, for the first time. I met them as they were paddling across the lake on a log raft. We got to chatting, and it turns out that not only are they from Poulsbo, but her husband owns and operates a forge, where he does artisanal metal work. I’m passing on their names to the Ferrenbergs, as she said he’d love to meet Nicho. Their names are Renee and Elijah Burnett.

It’s about 7:00, and I’ll probably call it a night, as I’m planning to get up earlier and do more miles (finally).  Tomorrow’s goal is 16 miles.

*Photo credit: nordique

**Photo credit: Eric Aalto

Footnote: The Fakarwiis headed north after the magic, and as I thought, we didn’t see each other again.  They finished at Stevens a few days before I arrived. Waypoint messaged me after I got home, and offered to share his pictures…thank you!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015, Mile 2339: Seventeen

At a small creek near Arch Rock Spring, mile 2339

Seventeen miles today. Not too bad for a person who was only supposed to do eight miles a week ago. I hit the trail at 7:15, and even with a long lunch I was in camp twelve hours later. But man, am I tired. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I did, and that’s rather satisfying.

The reason for the large increase was that there are only a couple of places for water along this stretch of trail, with the first water at 8.5 miles. So I loaded up at Sheep Lake, and headed out, up toward Sourdough Gap.

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Climbing out of the bowl, in the early sunlight.
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Sheep Lake, from Sourdough Gap

Next I traversed the ridges above Pickhandle Basin and the Silver Creek drainage. Due west of me was Crystal Mountain.

I grew up skiing both at Crystal and the Snoqualmie Mountaineers. Crystal has changed quite a bit, of course, but I was able to pick out several of my favorite runs. And because I was above the resort, I had good signal! I got to talk with Steve and Patrick…a completely unexpected treat.

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Crystal Mountain. The upper left center peak is the top of the gondola; this was Chair 2 where I skied quite a bit. I also skied directly below in the opposite bowl. Lower right center, you can just see the base.

I met more awesome people on the trail today, including a couple who were going to start in Campo in March, but the husband became ill and ended up in the hospital for two months. He made a full recovery, and now they’re out sectioning. I think that’s marvelous.

I also met a couple above Crystal. The dad is an AT (Appalachian Trail) vet, and they were meeting their daughter Pocahontas, who is a thru. They were accompanying her for a supported hike from Crystal to Snoqualmie, and surprised her that day. How great is that?

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The ridge above Crystal

At 8.5 miles is a piped spring; it is unfortunately hidden from the trail itself, and so I went an extra half a mile before realizing my error and turning back. A piped spring is just that: a spring with a pipe sticking out to increase accessibility. This particular spring was flowing slowly, but by moving the pipe around I was able to collect enough water.

I spent about half an hour at the spring, filling up, having my lunch, and chatting with sectioners (including a teacher from Sultan High School). From there, it was off to Arch Rock Spring, a little over seven more miles down the trail.  By the time I got there, I was pretty tired, so I skipped the side trail to the spring. In theory, there were a small spring and campsite just down a steep part of the trail.

The campsite was there, alright, but the creek had recently become a mere mud puddle. So it was time for a dry dinner, and then tomorrow I’ll head back up to the spring, and load up with water.

I always study the map and the trail data before bed, and I’m going to see if I can sleep in a little later tomorrow. I only have ten miles tomorrow, as there’s an 11.8 mile dry stretch that I’d like to take first thing the following morning, when it’s cooler and I have fresh muscles.

Peanut M&Ms for dinner tonight.