Thursday, August 27, 2015, Mile 2467: The Last Section

At Lake Valhalla, Mile 2467

Memory eternal, Dad. I hope you’re proud of me.

I got a shower and loaded up my pack, before we took off for Skykomish. Because of the uncertainty of everything, I’m carrying two extra days’ worth of food. Food is heavy.

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Andrea, Jerry, and I. It was wonderful to get to know them better.

Jerry and Carl and I had breakfast at the Cascadia, and I once again did myself proud in the calorie department. Burp. We said goodbye at the Sky Deli, and I grabbed the deli’s hitch sign (“PCT Hiker to Stevens Pass”) and proceeded to stick out my thumb. Nobody pulled off of the highway, but a mom (Sarah) and her little daughter (Eva) were at the deli, and mom said, “You’re a hiker! Get in! We can take you to the pass.” And it was a delightful drive.

They dropped me off at the pass, and I adjusted my pack (yet again), grabbed a Powerade, and got the latest info on the trail. Nothing has changed.

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At Stevens, just before hitting the trail northbound
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Sign at the trailhead, regarding the Wolverine/Blankenship fire closures. Even this sign was out of date, as Rainy Pass was inaccessible from the west side, due to the fire and slide at Newhalem.
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PCT North trailhead at Stevens Pass

I crossed the pedestrian bridge and set off from the northbound trailhead. There’s probably a couple of miles of flat, paralleling the highway. I took advantage of this to catch up on my recording.

My destination was just up the trail, to Lake Valhalla. It’s very easy, and is a popular day hike; I was here last year, relaxing at the beach and handing out magic to the thrus. This year, the hike was discouraging. I’m going to be hiking through a bunch of weather, to a dead end; I was asking why I’m even doing this. But I just kept walking. Listened to a podcast, kept walking. Kept walking.  Kept walking.

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The weather forecast is pretty dismal. Rain should be moving in by Friday. There’s functionally 100% chance of rain, between Friday morning and Saturday night; it then tapers off to almost 100% chance of rain. It’s gonna be a damp one. But if you want to hike in Washington, you’d better be able to deal with rain.

I doubt I’ll see many PCT hikers on this section. There’s probably only a few doing what I’m doing, getting to a stopping place and not missing any of the trail until that point.

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Heading up to Lake Valhalla. Today, I’m appreciating blue skies.

I had an entire large campsite to myself, with a family off in the distance. Two gentlemen came through but camped elsewhere; they had attempted to drive up Smithbrook Road to get to the trail via Union Gap, but Smithbrook is closed due to fire danger. The road actually goes over the crest and into Eastern Washington, which is undoubtedly the reason for the closure.

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Lake Valhalla
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I was amazed at how low the lake was. The sandy beach was very pleasant, though.
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Selfie in the sun

Later on, a father and his teenage son showed up, with shiny new gear. Unfortunately for them, they only threw the rain fly on top of the tent, and didn’t bother staking it out.  This may not bode well.

I had my current favorite dinner: 4 oz of spaghetti, cooked until not quite al dente, and then dehydrated.  Rehydrate in boiling water for a minute, drain. Toss with 2 packs olive oil, and then 2 packs parmesan. About 800 calories. I’ve got to think about what I’ll be eating the next few days, as I will undoubtedly be cooking in my vestibule, out of the weather.

And speaking of weather, it’s starting to move in; things are clouding up, with mackerel skies and mare’s tails.

I texted with Steve for a bit. I told him I’ve faced bigger challenges in my life than just putting off a dream for a year. I can do this. But I don’t want to. I want to keep going, and hit the border. And I don’t want to wait; I want to do it right now. But that’s not even an option, from the side of the fire that I’m on.

So I’ll just keep plugging away, and knock off 77 miles. And good heavens, I’ve done part of this segment in the rain before, so I guess I can do it again. I’m not going to push myself too hard, because why? I’ve got enough food, and the trail is familiar enough. So sometime next Thursday-ish, I’ll head down the hill.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015, Mile 2461: Decision

At Dinsmores Hiker Haven, Mile 2461

This morning, we all piled in the truck and headed up to the Cascadia for breakfast. I had a huge scramble, hash browns, toast, half of Meander’s biscuits and gravy, and somebody else’s bacon. And somebody’s extra ice cream bar on the way home. Jerry just kind of looked at me, and I said, “No, I don’t normally eat like this.” LOL

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Meander (aka Edward Intven, think “In da Van”). I’ve seen him several places online, and he’s a delightful gentleman with a lovely spirit. He joined us for breakfast, and met up with Flash, who is staying with the Dinsmores, and River, who just dropped by the restaurant. They are all members of the Class of 2013, and it was a complete and wonderful coincidence. I had the pleasure of sharing a table with them at breakfast. Fun times!

Let’s see, who else is here. I met Climbin’ Lineman (aka Carl), who is a gentleman of retirement age, from Salt Lake. He is very devout, and because of that will not travel on Sundays. More power to him.

Patriot is here…we met at Snoqualmie. He’s in his late teens, and from Louisiana. He’s also an Eagle, and so he and Brendan spent some time geeking out over Scouts yesterday.

Other names I remember: Trout (aka Gone Slow), Shady Acres, Heather, Kirby, Weekend, Double Happiness, Penny Lane (aka Jen Marie), Daniel Barrett (a Triple Crowner, trail name unknown). Wish I could remember everyone’s name.

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Climbin’ Lineman, Trout, Patriot, and Shady Acres at the Cascadia
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River, Flash, Rest Step, and Meander.
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Part of my breakfast.

After breakfast, Andrea broke out the camera. She keeps an online album every year, with all of the hikers who come through.

Dinsmores Hiker Log Pic
I made it into Andrea’s 2015 PCT Hiker Album! L-R Kirby, Climbin’ Lineman, Heather, and I.

Yesterday, I just hung out with Andrea, Jerry, and the hikers.  I really needed a quiet day, especially with all the emotions regarding my decision.  Jerry and I went down for coffee yesterday afternoon.  He’s got a large group of friends in the community, and they’re always meeting at the restaurant.  It’s kind of like Dad and the boys down at the marina.

Dinner was easy: we all pooled our money, and Jerry and a few of the hikers went down to Gold Bar to pick up pizza.  Lots of pizza.  Enormous quantities of pizza. Everybody hung out in the hiker dorm, swapping tales, inhaling dinner, etc.  Mellow and very peaceful.

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Pizza for the masses. These were enormous, and there was almost one pizza per hiker.
Dinsmores Pizza Night
Because if you’re gonna have a pizza party, it’d better be good! With Kirby, Rest Step, Patriot, Daniel, Valorie, Sam, Gretchen, TJ, and Kasey. *

So, the decision. I was correct to assume that the Dinsmores have the latest info. Andrea was talking with the powers that be on a regular basis, and posting what she learned in the hiker dorm.

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Blankenship Closure Info
Closure from Suiattle River north to High Bridge, the junction to Stehekin.

It’s clear what I need to do, and it’s not the decision I wanted to make.  I’m going to continue my footpath, north from Stevens (mile 2461) to the trail closure at Suiattle River (mile 2538), and come off of the trail.  The factors in that decision:

  • The PCT is closed from the Suiattle River Trail (mile 2538), north to Stehekin.
  • Highway 20 is closed west of Rainy Pass, at Newhalem, due to a fire and landslide. This effectively shuts off any trail access from the west, north of the Suiattle closure.
  • Highway 20 has been periodically closed east of Rainy Pass, due to the Okanogan Complex fires.
  • The only way to get to Stehekin is to take Highway 2, east over Stevens, to Chelan (via Wenatchee, if you’re on a bus).
  • From Stehekin, it’s possible to hike north to Rainy Pass, and from there to the border. However, Forest Service personnel, volunteers, and knowledgeable residents have warned about smoke and ash, due to the current fires, and due to the smaller fire north of Rainy Pass.
  • I have asthma, and I have a proclivity towards bronchitis.
  • Unlike hikers from out of state, it’s easy for me to get back on the trail next year, at Suiattle.

So for now, it looks like my hike is over at Suiattle River. That will give me roughly 300 miles this year, with another 100 and small change next year. Andrea recommends returning in early to mid July of next year, depending on the snowpack, so as to avoid the most dangerous part of wildfire season. And my guys completely get this, and are totally willing to support me as I return to the trail next summer.

This is NOT how I wanted my hike to end. I wanted to finish at the Northern Terminus. I guess sometimes we don’t get what we want, and it works out for other reasons. I’ll be home with Patrick at the beginning of school.  Not quite the first day, but the first week.  I get to spend time with Steve, learning about wine, which is his passion. But I’ve got to let myself grieve the plan that I had.

So I’ll enjoy my time here with friends, and then after breakfast tomorrow I’ll hitch up to the trail, and head north…to finish out this section of my dream.

*Photo credit: Jen Marie