PCT Mile 2321.3 (Day 2)
Section, Chinook Pass SOBO to White Pass
Hiking the Washington portion of the Pacific Crest Trail
It was later in the morning than my 6:00 AM departure time that I had wished for. The sun is bright in the clear blue sky and it is already hot. I sit side by side with the Man in Charge on white plastic chairs outside the small, worn cabin we had rented the night before. We talk about the logistics of the planned route on the PCT I am to hike today and tomorrow with Bugles and Roots. It is my call I know, and I make it. There will be no hike today.
My heart sinks. I know this decision ruins the chance of a thru-hike of the Washington portion of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer. The temperatures are going to be even hotter today, soaring into the 100’s. The mosquitoes are in war mode in the section we are to hike. Water is a concern after yesterday’s observation that the seasonal creeks mentioned in the Yogi Pacific Crest Trail Handbook have so far, been dry as a bone. In our team novice hiker mode, for Bugles and Roots safety, I know this decision is the right thing to do.
The Man in Charge surprises me with an alternate plan. He suggests we drive north and find a section of the PCT higher in the mountains, Somewhere where the temperatures might be cooler. He asks if I have any ideas of where we could go.. A shorter section of trail is what he is looking for. This would make it easier for the support team to help out if needed. I know the place.
It is never easy to get Bugles going in the morning. The support team works to convince him to get in the shower. It helps that we have pop tarts for breakfast. I can hardly believe I had bought them an hour earlier in our search for coffee in the small town. I’m horrified that I am feeding junk food to the support team and the two hikers. They however, are completely ecstatic. After twenty times or more of Bugles asking, “What’s for breakfast, can we have a good day,” and, “Are we going to hike on the PCT today,” we somehow manage to convince him to get into the truck. We drive to the next place that we will hike.
If one is a hiker, it is a good thing to know how to navigate a map. I do not know how. The Man in Charge believes I should learn. I am holding the jumbo Washington State Map book that I bought the other day as we drive up the Wind River Highway. I am supposed to find where the Pacific Crest Trail intersects with the road. But I’m lost navigating the map and we drive right on by the trail. The Man in Charge is shaking his head as he backs up the truck. We get out and walk around just because. I know I will be back to hike this section when it cools down.
I have lot’s of time to practice my map navigation skills for the rest of the morning. We bounce along on narrow, windy, forest roads that climb tall mountains. In the backwoods that we will never pass through again, we find a small store, a closed pizza shop, and the most incredible views of the east side of Mount St. Helens. We stop at a view point to take some pictures. It is a good time to visit with a man on a motorcycle that has stopped for the same reason. He talks about a hike that he did last summer on the volcano and how the top of St Helens remains as destroyed as it was after it’s original eruption in 1980. I think to myself that maybe I want to hike there someday. Who am I kidding? I still have to figure out how to hike the PCT..
The forest road dumps us out in the town of Randall on Highway 12. The Man in Charge finds himself a coffee stand and than we drive to Packwood. We find a restaurant that serves the best hamburgers in the world. It’s possible that we think this because hiking has a way of making any food other than backpacking food taste like something that has come from heaven. While we eat we realize that I am missing a couple of maps I will need for this next hike. It doesn’t help that we failed to realize that the ranger station is back in Randall. We don’t want to drive the 16 miles in the opposite direction of where we are going. So we don’t.
Chinook Pass is our destination. The narrow road winds a curly path steeply up the jagged mountain side of this pass. Look over the edge and it’s a long way down. I am intimidated but do not say it out loud. There is a bridge that is the PCT that runs over the top of the road and we park nearby. Everyone climbs out, and the Man in Charge unloads our backpacks neatly side by side on the ground. Once again Bugles takes his time getting out of the truck and he says he will put on his hiking clothes and pack only if I answer his questions just one more time.
We are finally ready to go. I ooze pretend-confidence, and lead the way, Bugles and Roots follow behind. The only problem I have is that I’m not quite sure which way is north, which way is south. After going back and forth across the bridge a couple of times, I head back to the truck to admit I’m lost. The Man in Charge gives me a short lesson on map navigation…again. I am proud that I’m the one that figures out which direction of trail will ultimately lead south. I wave goodbye to the support team and lead Bugles and Roots one more time across the bridge.
I don’t look back. I know the Man in Charge is worried about us and I do not want him to think that I am unsure of being able to hike the 27.7 miles to White Pass. I can’t help the feeling of excitement that is erasing being afraid. Bugles and Roots are unaware of any of what I am feeling. Bugles is content as he talks to himself, pleased that he is hiking once more. Roots has recovered from the mosquito attacks of the night before and has renewed interest in the hike especially with the changed scenery of which we are hiking.
It is warm but cooler than yesterday. The trail is wet in places and there is still sometimes snow. Fresh water creeks are everywhere, and the water is cold. Roots puts her hand out to scoop up the water to drink and remarks how good it is. A snow tunnel has formed on the trail and we climb behind and between it and the side of the mountain. Than we hike, the mountains surround us, a crystal blue lake is to the left. We hike up and over a ridge, more of the same mountains, and lakes as the trail winds it’s way to somewhere. And we know we must go on.
Hours melt by and that is ok. It’s an easier afternoon than the day before despite having to stop the many times we do for Bugles to tie his shoes, get a drink, and have his bathroom breaks. We move more as a team this afternoon, helping each other to get our water or snacks out of our backpacks. We hike down the side of a mountain and I call out when there are rocks and knarly tree roots on the trail. I do so to keep Roots aware that she needs to be careful. Her eyes see a different way than we do and I do not want her to trip and get hurt.
It is later and a good time for dinner. We cross our first creek that is deep enough that if we fall in, we are going to get wet. I guide Bugles across and he helps Roots. The mosquitoes attack for the first time and we scramble to get on our head nets and rain jackets. We hope this will stop their assault.. But the mosquitos are ruthless like their southern cousins of yesterday afternoon. They easily bite through the running leggings that Roots and I are wearing. Bugles remarks that he is getting bit. This does not stop him from taking on and off his long sleeved shirt and mosquito net. For the rest of the night, I plead with him to keep his clothes on.. It doesn’t matter. he will not listen.
We stop for dinner at another creek. Roots filters water, I get dinner ready, Bugles slings his backpack down and takes off his shoes and socks to take care of a foot itch. We are done eating and we hike some more. We see a tent and a hiker calls out a
greeting to us.. We stop and say hello. His trail name is Hamstring. He explains that he is currently hiking sections of the PCT in Washington state. He is inside his tent, wrapped up in his sleeping bag and in the PCT thru-hiker way, invites us to camp with him. But I know better. With Bugles unable to control how loud he is, it is not a good idea to stay. We wish Hamstring well and hike on our way.
It is sunset. Mount Rainier looks like it belongs in heaven, surrounded by a pinkish-orange mist of clouds. I know there is a campsite a mile ahead. We arrive, it’s almost dark and there is a tent already there. Two girls call out to us that there are more campsites ahead. We move on and now hike in the dark, head lamps on. The side of the trail on the left falls steeply down the hill and is not a place to trip and fall. We could die. Bugles is mad at me because we didn’t camp with the girls and will not stop with the same question and answer dialogue as to why that is. Roots is doing amazingly well hiking in the dark but I know she must be getting tired. It is time to stop.
The first flat ground we find, we hurry to put up the tent. Roots is good at this and in no time at all, the three of us are inside our own sleeping bags. No matter that there is a definite downward slope to the right. Roots holds on to me so she doesn’t roll over and against the side of the tent. There is a good-size ground hole underneath my sleeping mat but I don’t care. The three of us laugh about who-knows-what-really. But it is a good time, in the dark, in our tent, in the middle of nowhere. “Look at the STARS!” Roots exclaims. I think I will never forget what I see. “WHOAA…. mom, LOOK at the STARS,” Bugles shouts. An explosion of bright twinkles in all the constellations of what we can see, I have not seen stars so alive since I was a child. It is a miracle, I think to myself and almost cry at the beauty of the night sky. In what must be a spiritual gift, I am deeply grateful that Roots in this moment of time, is able to see clear enough, the starlight above.
Our laughter quiets. There is a cool breeze and the stars remain bright. Bugles and Roots fall asleep…
We end this day with a good night….
(to be continued..)