Slept late after the 15 mile day. Pack is too heavy and is causing aches and pains. And my pace sucks. Figuring out the sweet spot, but not yet.
I met a thru named Tim while having a trail side snack, and his hiking buddy Kara (Badass) came along a bit later. We started chatting about trail names, and she said they are either given to you based on something that happened, or are based on a story. She asked me about my backstory, and I talked about how I learned to hike. As an example, I told her how Dad had taught me the rest step, and, as an aside, that this week was the one year anniversary of Dad’s repose. She said that Rest Step would be a great trail name, and bestowed it on me. Henceforth, I am Rest Step!
In the early afternoon, I passed the Grassy Knoll trail junction at mile 2189, and almost immediately crested a ridge. As I summited, I was hit in the face with black clouds and thunder. My destination was 1.8 miles down hill and I needed to be there to get water; I only had ½ L left, and the next water after that was well over 2 miles away. I made all kinds of speed, but got hit with the worst storm I’ve had on the trail in the last several years. Torrential rain, and hail ranging from ¼ to ½ inch. And it didn’t stop. I tried sheltering from the lightning, but I hit the proverbial lightning vs hypothermia dilemma, and had to continue down the trail. It wasn’t too far to the tentsite (and the necessary water). I couldn’t set up my tent without soaking everything, so I stood next to a large tree (in a heavily forested area, so much less lightning risk) and marched in place for probably another 20 minutes, to stay warm. When the hail had subsided, and the rain had started to slack, maybe 45 min later, I threw the tent up and got my cold soaked self inside. My NeoAir kept me off of the soaking wet tent floor, and I bundled up completely, while pouring calories into my system.
After the storm subsided, I stuck my head out of the tent. Two women were across the trail and invited me over. The Warden (Terri) and Firestarter (Ginger) are from Oregon, and are section hiking as well. They were getting a fire going, and we stood around steaming our clothes dry. Fun evening with good people.
Late last night, I had to come up with an exit plan. There are several access trails along this stretch of the PCT, going east and west, but ultimately I chose to go back four miles to the eastbound Cady Creek trail; it was familiar from last year, the PCT segment was familiar from yesterday, and it dropped the fastest into less exposed territory. I would end up at a trailhead in the neighborhood of Lake Wenatchee. The only problem with the trail was that it is overgrown. Not as in “push the brush aside,” nor “I need my machete.” This was overgrown as in “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” And sodden brush of that caliber gets your raingear soaking wet in a hurry. But it was still the best option. What I didn’t realize was that, given the fire danger, the Wenatchee Ranger District had closed every single one of its trails, including the eastbound ones from the PCT. I texted Steve to meet me at the Cady Creek (Little Wenatchee Ford) trailhead, probably mid-afternoon.
In the meantime, I spent the night reheating my bottles. This was yet another reason to bail: I was using a lot more than my budgeted fuel; I always have extra, but at this rate there was a chance my canister could be empty before I hiked down the Suiattle.
Steve didn’t get the bailout message until very early Sunday morning. And I didn’t get his latest until the same time. Apparently they were now predicting wet snow.
Within an hour of getting my message, he was on the road, with (per my request), lots of dry clothes, towels, etc.
I got up early that morning, stuffed all of my Snickers into my rain shell pocket, and began the process of keeping the must-stay-dry stuff into heavy duty plastic, while separating it from the can-get-wet stuff, and then shoving the tent in the outside of the pack. This totally threw off the balance, especially because the tent was much heavier than normal.
As soon as I was done, I turned on my music, and headed south. It was crucial to keep going; even stopping for a couple of minutes made it hard to warm back up. I kept munching the Snickers, and heading down the trail. My plan was that, if Steve hadn’t arrived yet, I would hang out in the trailhead privy, wearing my sleep clothes and my quilt, until he got there.
I did stop for a minute at the Cady Creek junction, to say goodbye to the trail; even though I was doing the right thing, I was still mighty sad.
9.5 miles, lots of heavy brush, a few scrambles, a heavy creek to ford, some rather interesting blowdowns, and 5 hours later, I arrived at the trailhead, and my waiting husband. The first thing I said to Steve was “252 miles…this year.”
He gave me an enormous hug, and after I had changed into my dry clothes, we headed down the road. There were barricades in place, due to the closure, but we just drove around them. The next stop was burgers and shakes at the 59er Diner, and then we headed over Stevens Pass towards home.
I woke up to a bit of very infrequent rain, and so I put my fly and quilt out to dry. But all of a sudden the wind picked up dramatically, and the rain started dumping, from a squall line coming through. The wind was strong enough that there were whitecaps on tiny, sheltered Pear Lake. I pulled all my gear back inside, grabbed my Ursack, and had breakfast in my tent. When the squall passed, I quickly threw my gear together.
The guys began to stir as I was breaking camp. One of them was in a hammock under a tarp, but two of them had pitched an inexpensive tent on a deceptively flat space with no duff or other debris on it…in other words, a puddle in the making. They were afloat this morning. I gave them the updated weather forecast; my guess is they packed it up and headed downhill.
The destination today was Lake Sally Ann. The cool thing about this was that I’d pass the Cady Creek Trail, which was where I joined the PCT late last September, for a brief section to White and Red Passes. Connecting more dots…gotta love that.
Just a little ways after I started this morning, I had my first really decent view of Glacier Peak. And that is something I’ve been waiting for, all year long.
Unlike Friday, the rain was much more enthusiastic today. But every once in a while I’d get a glimpse of the sun.
The terrain here isn’t the up-and-down-the-ridge variety of Section J (although I know that’s coming). The less rigorous workout made it easier to maintain my body temperature under my rain shell.
Five miles and 1200 ft in, I got to the junction with the West Cady Ridge trail, which leads to the North Fork of the Skykomish road. I had hiked this trail in July of 2014, although I was stopped short by traverses across snowfields. But it was kind of like connecting a dot.
From there, it was two miles to the Cady Creek Trail junction. This was where I had joined the PCT for the White/Red Passes section last August.
And then it was four more miles of open, uphill ridge traverses until I reached Lake Sally Ann, at Mile 2491. This is normally a gorgeous hike, full of beautiful foliage and a large population of grouse. But on this day it got wetter, and wetter, and windier, and windier, and colder, and colder. Is anybody detecting a trend here? By the time I reached Lake Sally Ann late in the afternoon, it was VERY wet and VERY windy and VERY cold.
I set up my tent in record time, in a fairly tight grove of trees, and away from the lake to keep wind exposure to a minimum. Setting up camp in heavy rain is predictably more complex than in other weather situations. For example, the gear in ziplocs need to be sheltered while I pull my mattress out of its waterproof bag; I then inflate the mattress, which keeps me off of the damp floor, and then get all of my gear into the tent, making sure that everything is inside plastic. This doesn’t protect things from the damp air, but it saves putting my gear in the inevitable small puddles.
I filled every one of my water containers and got in the tent. While this was happening, the wind was increasing even more, and because I wasn’t moving while gathering water, and because I was keeping my main insulation layer in the tent, to stay dry for that night, I got very cold, very fast. Later that night, I estimated the wind was steady at 20 knots, gusts to 30, and that was inside my grove of trees. And the rain was torrential and quite literally sideways; it didn’t let up at all. The lows were probably in the mid 40s. I can only imagine what the lake looked like; I am sure there must have been whitecaps.
Once in the tent, in my quilt, with a large space blanket under my mattress (to reflect heat back upward), and in all of my dry sleep clothes, I made a massive dinner and poured the calories down the throat. Cheesy pasta, hot lemonade, two kinds of candy, you get the idea. From there, I made hot water bottles from each of my two smaller water containers. I couldn’t boil, as they would have melted, but they were mighty warm.
I was able to text Steve again, and asked for a very specific weather forecast: the region around Glacier Peak, about 5000 ft elevation, for a week, beginning tomorrow. That forecast? Winds staying steady, rain staying steady, and low temperatures dropping into the mid 30s. The hypothermia risk in that kind of weather is about as severe as you can get.