August 27, 2016, Mile 2581: Through the National Park

At South Fork Camp, mile 2581

I packed up my stuff this morning, and headed down to the Lodge to wait for the bus. We all piled in, slightly cross-eyed from the food and relaxation of the previous day.

The bus driver always stops at the bakery for about fifteen minutes, on the first run upvalley. All the passengers get front-of-the-line privileges, so that we can grab whatever we want before we hit the trail. I snagged a giant ginger cookie (as big as my hand), a ham and cheese croissant (bigger than my hand and twice as thick), and a huge ham and cheese sub (as big as my forearm) . Turns out that all of this food lasted me a full day. Darn.

I decided to spend a few minutes at the trailhead updating my journal. I said goodbye to everyone, got big hugs from Tim and Tyler, and then I sat down to record my voice memo. That accomplished, I headed up the trail to begin my last section.

I was moving like a slug today. Might have been all that food I recently consumed. In thinking about it, I realized that my food consumption schedule was out of whack compared to what I was used to…to say nothing of quality, quantity, and type. I’m sure this will shake out in a day or so.

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I passed through a couple of beautiful gorges, plus a reasonable amount of vertical. I came across Stoic, who had caught a later bus. He and I spent time getting water at Maple Creek, and of course I spent time falling into the water (sigh). It was warm enough that I dried quickly, and I said goodbye to him while making sure my gear was in order.

There are an abundance of black bears in this area. One of the hard and fast rules in North Cascades National Park is that you must secure your food and smellables (anything with a fragrance, like toothpaste and toiletries). The definition of “secure” varies throughout the park; the Thunder Creek area allows Ursacks, but tonight’s campsite requires the use of a bear wire.

I saw bear sign in a few places, including clawed trail signs, but I never saw nor heard a bear.

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I reached the steep spur trail that led down to South Fork. It’s a huge area, with a horse camp hidden to one side, and two hiker sites much further down the spur. I met two hikers in my site, Mike and Sarah: he’s the superintendent for Death Valley National Monument, and she’s an interpretive ranger.

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The view from the trail junction
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Bridge Creek

After getting my camp set up, I went down to Bridge Creek to get water. It was large enough that you’d have to think about a ford, but certainly not challenging at all at this time of year. I sat down on a rock and began to scoop water, when the rock shifted and I ended up in the drink again (sigh again). I finished my chores, brought the water back, and changed into my base layer before hanging up my wet stuff.

While I was enjoying my sub sandwich, another couple came along. They’re with the PCTA, and had been doing some trail maintenance. I gave them some solid beta on the thirty mile stretch of Section K, which was in desperate need of care.

They also said they’d seen Billy Goat, and gave a ride to him in Wenatchee. Apparently he’d finished at Stevens, and caught a ride east. His plan was to go to Wisconsin, and rack up some miles on the Ice Age Trail. And he’s going to be featured in an upcoming issue of Backpacker Magazine. Can’t wait to read it!

Pretty soon it was time to use the bear wire. What the fine folks in Stehekin had neglected to mention was that I needed to bring a 50 ft length of rope or paracord…the wire was only a wire. My only experience with a National Parks wire was one with multiple cables/carabiners, allowing you to hook up your food, pull it up, and then tie off the cable. Not so much here. Fortunately, Mike and Sarah had a large rope, and we clipped my Ursack to the pack they were using. Sigh. Knowledge is power.

Time to check my route for tomorrow, as I enter Section L!

August 26, 2016, Mile 2569: Lazy Zero

At Stehekin, mile 2569

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Even though it was a zero, I got up early, in the name of cleanliness. There was no soap in the shower, but as I made my way back toward the lodge, I saw one of the local hikers from yesterday. He had extra soap and shampoo in his room at the lodge, and so I was able to take a ten minute shower. Woohoo…clean! Well, don’t look at my feet…

I got a load of clothes through the wash and into the dryer, and then ran to catch the bus to the Bakery. Ah, the Bakery. All scratch. A giant cinnamon roll, bigger than my hand and three inches thick (sans frosting, but with melted butter). A huge slice of quiche, with melt-in-your-mouth crust. A ginger cookie. A berry scone. Orange juice. Coffee. Nirvana. For the uninitiated, the Stehekin Pastry Company is listed as one of the top ten restaurants along any of the major trails in the country. If you’re in town, do not miss it.

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That cinnamon roll is as big as a full sized dinner plate

Once we got back, I finished my laundry and hit the post office to grab my resupply. From there, I headed to the ranger station (Stehekin is in the North Cascades National Park). I needed to get reservations for a campsite for tomorrow, as I wouldn’t be able to make it out of the park before dark. Reservation secured, for South Fork (11 miles up), and it was back to camp.

I spent some quality time sorting through my resupply, and ended up with five days of food. I’ll get the sixth day tomorrow at the bakery, and that should be just enough to reach Manning Park on Friday (I normally pack a titch more food per day than I usually eat, so this would give me 6.5 days…plenty for my needs).

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Once my pack was ready to go, I gathered up the extras. I had probably ¾ of the priority mail box full of hiker box goodies. I took the box down to the deck (outside of the restaurant), and set it on a table. Within seconds, the locusts descended: there were easily half a dozen hikers vying for space. I got incredulous looks” “You’re giving away M&Ms?” “This is seriously homemade?” and so on. You could almost hear the giant sucking sound as everything was scooped up.

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XC, Green Bean, and Ethan doing their part to empty the box

There were several new hikers at the Lodge. Green Bean showed up; he’s the Israeli guy whom I met at Big Lake. Stoic, from Australia, had pitched his tent right behind mine. I also met Ethan, Google and XC. And I met a couple in their 60s who were doing a short section. He had a too-close encounter with one of the larger, nastier blowdowns I dealt with…close enough that it left him with a big gash on his forehead. After confirming that it would be okay, I dubbed him Blowdown. And he loved it.

The story of the afternoon was munchies, hanging out, and (for some) swimming off of the float plane dock. I spent most of the time at a table with Tim and Tyler, which was a blast. I’m really glad we met up again.

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Meister Trekker, Rest Step, and Tye Bye!

Dinner tonight was smoked prime rib, but I couldn’t manage to swallow any more dessert.

I went up to the campsite shortly after dinner, and got everything ready for tomorrow, in the midst of a glorious sunset. It’s been a blessed zero with good friends.

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August 25, 2016, Mile 2569: Destination Stehekin

At Stehekin, mile 2569

I got up at five this morning, as did Hoops. She was out before I was, but I hit the trail in short order. I dry camped last night, and picked up water a little ways up the trail this morning.

Today’s plan was 16 miles, with only 1500 gain, and making the 6:15 bus into Stehekin. The bus is at mile 2569. It runs upvalley and downvalley four times a day. High Bridge Ranger Station is at the uphill end, and Stehekin itself is eleven miles downhill. If I caught the final bus, I’d be able to eat at the lodge before pitching my tent at one of the two campsites in town.

Just up the trail from my campsite, I came across this bridge. With careful footing, it was very crossable. I thought it was lovely.

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I kept plugging along, with my “go fast” playlist on my phone. All day long I kept doing the math, calculating speed, distance, how much allotted time per break, and so on. It’s math. I do this.

I forded a very wide creek, at mile 2557. I met a couple of girls who told me that there were a pair of water shoes someone had left on the bank, and that I could use them. I smiled, and said I almost always ford. And that’s true: I have non-waterproof trail runners, which dry reasonably quickly. And with the support and tread of my shoes, fording is that much more stable. At any rate, I forded, and got my feet and legs rinsed off in the process. Win!

The last half of the day was spent following the Agnes Creek gorge. It was stunning, with lots of east-of-the-crest flora. I am very partial to the ponderosa pine, and stopped more than a few times to bury my nose in the vanilla-scented bark.

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Around four it was clear that I *was* going to make it, and ahead of time.  Woohoo! I entered the Lake Chelan Recreation Area, and then the North Cascades National Park. Almost there!

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As I pushed my way up the final hill, I heard “I know you!” and stopped. Turns out it was Tim and his son Tyler, whom I met at Big Lake! They had picked up a resupply (sharing beef sticks with me), and spent the night at the cove on my first night there. We had hit it off very well in Oregon, and it was great to see them! They had picked up trail names: Tim was now Meister Trekker, and Tyler was now Tye Bye.

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The bus stop at High Bridge
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Our chariot arrives!

The bus pulled up a little after six, and we climbed aboard. It was me, Tim and Tyler, Peter Pan (a sectioner prepping for next year’s thru), and a few local hikers who were spending the night in Stehekin before catching the boat.

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We were dropped off right in front of the Lodge, stopped at the store to get quarters for the shower and laundry, and found our way to the restaurant.  Food! Real Food! Cooked and Everything!

But the best part was the long table full of hikers, and a handful of voices calling “Rest Step!” “Rest Step’s here!” I was grinning all over, surrounded by my peeps. Life is good.

In this wonderful picture (with a few odd reflections), we have Papa Razzi, Hobbit, Six Paws, Wildfire, Tye Bye, Rest Step, Meister Trekker, Hot Potato, Matt (newly named Lifesaver), Shower, and Peter Pan.

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One ribeye steak, a huge salad, and a mountain of homemade ice cream later, we grabbed our gear and headed up to the overflow campsite. I hit the rack as soon as I could, because I want to grab a shower and do laundry before I catch the 8:15 bus to the bakery. And I canNOT wait.

 

 

August 24, 2016, Mile 2553: Over the Ridge

At a campsite, mile 2553

Matt was gone by the time I got up. He really wanted to hit Stehekin, 28 miles up the trail. I was planning on arriving at Stehekin on Friday 8/26, so I don’t know if we’ll cross paths again.

Today’s goal was a campsite at 2553, 12 miles and 4500 gain. This will be the most gain I’ve had in a day, over my hiking career, and is a measure of fitness for me (she said with a little braggadocio).

I left camp early morning, and it wasn’t too far before I saw something that gave me flashbacks to 2015: a Fire Closure sign. It was for a modestly sized fire well to the east of the PCT, and this was a trail junction which connected to that area. I sighed with relief, and kept hiking. **

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One more picture of Glacier Peak

Late in the morning, I was passed by two thrus. When thrus pass me, there’s almost a redshift going on. It’s amusing, when you consider that I’ve hiked about 300 miles and they’re over 2500.

Anyway, later in the morning I saw them having a snack by the side of the trail. I asked if I could join them, and they shoved over to give me room on the log.

I introduced myself, and one of them looked at me quizzically, saying, “I know you! We shared a campsite at Mt. Lassen!”

I said that I hadn’t been to Lassen, but he said, “You’re the woman with two teenage sons, one of whom is taking one college course at a time, while working.”

I said, “That’s me, but it wasn’t at Lassen. Hood maybe? Or Jefferson?”

Turns out, it was Jefferson. And this was Shower, who shared the gorgeous view of Jefferson at sunset. Cool!

He introduced me to his companion, Six Paws, who had passed me later that morning. Six Paws got his name because he was hiking with his dog. Unfortunately, the dog ran out of steam, and she had to be sent home. He was still pretty sad about that.

Shower and Six Paws swore me to secrecy regarding their location. They were hiking with two other people, whom they had passed late last night. Their plan was to sneak into Stehekin ahead of their friends, and then meet them at the Lodge, drinking beer and wondering what took them so long. So I’m now a co-conspirator.

And they told me something I’d completely overlooked. After I crested the final ridge today, it was functionally all downhill to Stehekin! I don’t know how I missed that one, as I normally review my next-day route before bedtime. But there it was. And with my planned destination for the night, it would mean a relatively simple 16 miles tomorrow. And given *that*, it was possible to hit the 6:15 shuttle into Stehekin. Tune in tomorrow!

I kept plugging, and midafternoon I hit Cloudy Pass, the last ridge of Section K. Blam! I crested the ridge, and there was GRANITE! Everywhere! Granite spires, ridges, and all kinds of stuff. It’s my favorite hiking vista, and suddenly I was in the midst of it. Welcome to the North Cascades!

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I began my descent…slowly, because I was having Ansel Adams moments all over the place. I had to force myself to keep going. Awesome!

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An hour later, I met another person from my Oregon section. This time it was Mighty; I’d shared a campsite with her at Barlow Pass, just shy of Timberline. Her plan was to hit the same campsite I was, although when I got there she had zoomed ahead. Thrus very rarely burn any daylight.

Tonight’s campsite is down a little spur trail, and has room for 4-5 tents on rough ground. I pitched my tent, and then was joined by Hoops. She’s a thru from Wisconsin. We had a great chat, and reveled in the alpenglow on the spires surrounding us in all directions.

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** Footnote: As of this writing in mid September, the fire is considered inactive. Its growth throughout had been considered slow and healthy; this is opposed to the horrific fires we experienced in 2015.

August 23, 2016, Mile 2541: Near Miss

At a campsite, mile 2541

I said goodbye to the group this morning. What a treat it was to share a campsite with them!

I was the last person out of camp, and I hoped to meet them at Vista Creek 2532. On the way, I spent a few moments playing Ansel Adams.

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Glacier Peak
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Old growth blowdown. Check out my three-foot-high trekking poles.

I made it probably 2/3 of the way to Vista Creek, when I hit a tiny bit of scree on the downhill. My left knee bent sharply and my left ankle twisted. And there I lay, knowing that a) I came mighty close to blowing out my knee, and b) my ankle might be sprained.

I lay there for a second, feeling more pissed than hurt, and a fellow hiker came along. He asked if I was okay, and I said yeah, probably, but I’m ticked. He gave me a hand up, and I continued down the hill to Vista Creek.

My ankle was quite sore, so I kept going at a snail’s pace. When I got down to the campsite, I put my foot up, chugged the ibuprofen, and had a bite of lunch. And once that was done, I attempted to walk it off.

At first, I could hardly put weight on it. But I remembered the lessons learned from June, where I’d tweaked my back during a short trip in the North Cascades. I kept walking around the campsite, and it gradually loosened up. Finally, it was at the point where I could put my pack back on, and with extreme gratitude, I headed down the trail.

Shortly after leaving Vista Creek, I hit the new trail. In 2003, that massive storm knocked out the old Suiattle River bridge. The river is unfordable, and without the bridge, hikers crossed on a log…unsafe is too mild a word.

The new bridge was completed in 2011; it is constructed of wood, iron, and bedrock. It had to be positioned 2.5 miles down the trail. The south side required all new trail, while the north side partially incorporated the Suiattle River Trail.  Check out the before and after photos.

Anyway, once I was on the new trail, my blowdown woes ceased. According to a SOBO I met, the trail was clear and mostly blowdown-free until almost at the border. Believe me, I was one happy hiker.

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My new favorite scent: freshly cut blowdowns. Thank you, trail crews!!!

The new trail also wound its way through a grove of enormous first-growth trees. I grew up in the Northwest, but these are some of the most mammoth trees I’ve ever seen.

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Again, check out my trekking poles

After crossing the bridge, I looked for the campsites which were supposed to be there, thinking to shorten my day and rest my ankle. The only spot I found was gorgeous, but apparently required rappelling to reach it. As rappelling was not in my hiking bag-o-tricks, I continued to my original campsite at 2541.

Wouldn’t you know, my campsite-mate was Matt, the student from Ohio. Cool! He was busy trying to prepare a dessert given to him by some longer-distance hikers. I pitched in with my stove, and we managed to concoct an apple compote. That works.

While we were cooking, who should come up the trail but the Brit Family Robinson! They’re the mom, dad, and two kids, Pippi Longstocking (age 13) and Captain Obvious (age 10), who were doing the trail this year. I met them at McKenzie Pass and again at Big Lake, in Oregon. We recognized each other, and chatted like long-lost companions. They were doing big miles, to get to Vancouver in time to catch their flight. The kids are supposed to start school the day after they return(!). I wished them well, and they zoomed up the trail.

Footnote: About a week after I was there, the North 350 Blades logged out ten miles south of the new Suiattle trail. Many thanks to these volunteers!

Footnote: The Brit Family Robinson kept a wonderful blog, written by Pippi Longstocking and Captain Obvious…check it out!

August 22, 2016, Mile 2529: Birthday Vertical

At a campsite, mile 2529

Happy 52nd Birthday to Me!

Today kicked off with a 2500 ft descent to Milk Creek 2522. In one of the steep sections, I came across a slight diversion in the trail. A landslide had sliced the trail in two, with no way to get across. I backtracked past the last switchback, and found a semi-worn path which cut the switchback. It involved skidding down the slope and hanging on while climbing over a couple of blowdowns. Par for the course.

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I made it to Milk Creek, without further ado. The creek was lovely.

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Upstream
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And down

I shared the bridge with a seeming multitude of great people. First up was a very familiar looking guy named Andy. Turns out he was the guy that did the trail last year, and filmed a selfie a day. It’s an incredible 5 minute movie; you can really see how the trail hardens you, for the better. I thanked him for sharing the movie, as it’s one of my favorite trail-related clips. He’s doing Washington again this year, and I wished him the best.

Then a group of seven hikers came by: six men of retirement age, plus one woman in her 40s. Turns out she lives right next door to our local elementary school. Her husband has a landscaping business with a distinctive looking truck, and I immediately knew where they were. And she’s a reporter for my favorite local radio station.

And I also saw Sprout! She was one of the people sharing the campsite at the Big Lake cove. She is also the first person I’ve met up north whom I also met in Oregon. Logistically, anybody I’d met from Oregon could meet me up here, if they were fast enough. Wonder who else I’ll meet along the way.

Tonight’s goal involved a lot of vertical; it was a campsite over the ridge, at 2529. Today’s total gain was just over 4000 ft, which I’ve only done a couple of times. Good birthday present to myself!

The ridge was gorgeous, with lots of alpine meadows winding around the East Fork of Milk Creek. It led gradually downhill, until I reached tonight’s campsite.

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I shared the campsite with Bellamy and the guys. They welcomed me right in, sang Happy Birthday to me, and even shared a drop of the pure. The evening ended with a lovely sunset behind the ridge. Life is good.

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August 20, 2016, Mile 2512: Billy Goat!

At Glacier Creek, mile 2512

I left my stealth camp fairly early, again to beat the heat. I needed to knock off the elevation gain before the sun was high in the sky.

Mid morning, I finally met the PCT! It was pretty awesome

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So why did I enter at the North Fork Sauk River Trail? In 2015, I did Stevens 2461 to Lake Sally Ann 2490, before bailing due to weather and wildfire. In 2014, I did Cady Creek 2485 to Red Pass 2502. And this year, I’m starting at 2500. I’m really glad I did the 2014 section, as the North Fork trail is one of the only runup trails in decent shape.

I stopped at Red Pass, to enjoy the views and have an early lunch. It’s a lovely place, where you can see peaks on both sides of the crest.

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And then I stepped off into new territory. Cool! The trail winds down into a huge basin, toward the White Chuck River drainage. Lovely streams were everywhere, along a gentle downward slope. The tread was easy; it was a wonderful section to be hiked on my first full day.

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Bridge over the White Chuck River
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White Chuck River. The larger creeks in the section drain the glaciers on Glacier Peak. They are usually pretty silty, and aren’t great for getting water.

 

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Baekos Creek. This is what winter storms and spring meltoff can do.

Suddenly I looked up, and there was Billy Goat! He is a legend among PCT hikers. He’s 77 years old, and spends almost all of his time hiking and walking. I gasped, “You’re Billy Goat!” and he smiled at me.

I told him it was a great privilege for me to meet him. He looked at me and asked if I ever felt discouraged. It seemed a bit unusual, but I said that, yes, I get discouraged all of the time.

He told me that he did too, and that his emotions will change ten or more times a day. Then he said to just ignore them, and keep on walking. Either he was reading my mind, or he knew what was ahead on the trail, or both.

Billy Goat has recently undergone heart surgery, and has Type 2 diabetes. But he just keeps going; with every setback, he keeps pushing to walk some more. In fact, he’s got 47,500 trail miles to his credit, and his goal is to hit 50,000 by his eightieth birthday. When I reiterated what a privilege it was to meet him, he looked slightly puzzled and asked why. I responded by saying that he was a reminder to us all to just keep walking.

We took a picture together, and he gave me a big hug, before heading south on the trail.

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Words of wisdom: less than a tenth of a mile north was the beginning of Trail Hell, a 30+ mile stretch of massive blowdowns, thick overgrowth, and slumping trail; this was over 9000 feet elevation gain and 9000 feet loss. Not the worst trail I’ve ever seen, but it was relentless, and had a certain soul-sucking quality about it. I plowed on, aiming for Glacier Creek, five miles up the trail. Appropriate, I suppose, as my pace could only be described as glacial.

But I finally had the chance to cross a semi-famous bridge, which I’d been looking forward to seeing. In October 2003, Washington experienced a record-breaking storm. Bridges, trails, campgrounds, and roads in this area were damaged, or completely obliterated. A chunk of the PCT simply disappeared. The well-known Kennedy Hot Springs vanished under several feet of debris. Even the Skyline Bridge, with huge I-beams and concrete footings, was destroyed. This article, published shortly after the storm, describes the damage.

Comparatively speaking, the Kennedy Creek bridge survived intact. Nevertheless, it can be a tricky crossing when the spring snowmelt comes crashing down the creek. This day, the water was low.

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As I approached Glacier Creek, with darkness rapidly falling, I had to violate one of Liz’s Guiding Principles of Hiking…never hike with my clear lined bifocals, which increases the risk of stumbling by a significant margin. I got to the creek at the tail end of dusk, threw my tent on a flattish spot, and hit the rack.