PCT mile 2338.? (Day 3)
Hiking Washington State’s PCT
Chinook Pass to 2292.4-White Pass

27.7 hiking miles going SOBO
(cont…)

I am awake and it is still night. I sit up and pull my sleeping bag around me. A cold wind moves through the trees, over the bumpy meadow to push it’s way through the door of our tent. I watch as pale light punches a hole in the dark sky, painting it bigger with pink, orange, and finally blue. The sun will be here soon. I lie back down as Bugles and Roots are still asleep but think I should get up soon. My eyes close and I almost fall asleep again but a rumble of noise growing louder concerns me. I quickly sit up again.

The ground rumbles now and Bugles and Roots are awake. We are living Lion King. A herd of deer burst into the air, flying towards us. We are either going to live or die here because there is no time to pack up and move. We watch in wonder as the herd parts in perfect order, deer running on both sides of our tent. They let us be. My eyes lock in spirit with soft-brown eyes of one who is closest as she flies by. I will never forget. They are gone and we stay, knowing we have been given a gift of nature’s way.

It occurs to me that there might be a reason the deer are stampeding and I think maybe it is because a bear or cougar is chasing behind. Again I think we may live or die but if that is so, I am not afraid. Bugles, Roots and I talk about what we have just seen and than we watch the sun as it climbs up to light the day’s new morning.

It is time to get breakfast, pack up our camp and get going. Bugles is having a hard time doing so as he is stuck in an OCD loop of having to repeat a sequence of questions in which we must answer in the exact way that he wants us to. Tic-Toc, than time stops as we wait for him to move through the OCD moment but he does not. I am mad because Bugles’s OCD has us all at a complete standstill. Instead of making the breakfast I had planned, I make sure Bugles and Roots have plenty of snacks to eat along the way, stashed in the side pockets of their backpacks. My first mistake of the day, I will learn later not to refuse to make breakfast ever again.

It is a beautiful morning that hints that it will turn into a hot day. The sky is without clouds and when the trail we hike breaks away from the trees, Mt. Rainier, covered in snow, is standing tall beside us. Roots and I are wary of mosquitos and wear our rain jackets and have head nets ready when the mosquitoes appear. Roots refuses to take off her head net no matter what but I can’t stand to wear it and push it up and off my face whenever I think the mosquitos are gone. Bugles’s long sleeve shirt, jacket and net are flying everywhere but near his body as he refuses to wear any of it since he is getting hot.

We hike down the side of one mountain into a valley with a lake that overlooks layers of blue mountains to the south. I say to Roots that we just have to climb the “one more that is closest” and we will be in White Pass. I will find out much later how wrong I am but for now, we hike endless ups and downs for the rest of the day.

It is mid-morning and we reach a river. I look for an easy crossing such as a bridge or a shallow area but do not look hard enough. Shoes off, I tie them to my backpack and help Bugles and Roots to do the same. The water is ice-cold, deep to mid-calve, maybe higher, and moving fast. I step carefully using my trekking poles to help guide the way. On the other side, I turn around to talk Bugles through. Roots refuses to put her feet in the water and looks for another way instead. From the other side, and a little ways upstream, three hikers appear out of nowhere and appear to float mid-air, across the river. I now notice a big tree that I had not see before, that has fallen over the river and acts as their bridge. It is not visible from the side we have come from, but easy to find for those hiking north. Mistake number two for the day, and a dangerous one, I had not taken the time to look for a safer way to cross. I call out to Roots to let her know about the tree-bridge and when she gets to it, she straddles her legs over each side and scoots on her butt all the way over.

Before the three hikers melt away north into the forest, one of them calls out to let us know that the mosquitoes are really bad a mile or more down the trail and continue to be so on into White Pass. He lets us know of a good water source with advise to make sure and fill up. “You are not going to want to stop after the water,” he says. I do not pay close enough attention to where he mentions the source is and end up never being able to find it. I also do not take the time to make sure our water supply is full before hiking away from the river. Mistake number three and four and never ones I want to make again.

The temperature soars as the day turns into afternoon. “It must be close to 100 degrees,” I mumble to myself. Sweat drips off my face. Our water is running lower than I like and we need to stop for lunch. But when we do so at a small lake that we have to scooch and weave off-trail to get to, the mosquitoes swarm to land on us. Roots is crying and I am close to doing so as well. The bites sting and burn, it feels like maybe we are in Hell. I scramble to get my pack back on, Bugles and Roots do not care about lunch anymore, and all we want is to get as far away from the mosquitoes as is humanly possible.

I imagine skin peeling off as blisters burn two of my toes. Roots is having a hard time dealing with her mosquito bites. Bugles casually mentions that his legs hurt and that he is getting stung also. It isn’t until much later that we discover he is head to toe in red-welted mosquito bites. We are hot and thirsty, and come across a fork in the trail in which we do not know the right way to go. Back and forth on the two different trails several times before we decide on the correct way using our Guthooks App. We hike some more. Thirsty again, we drink out of the water Roots is carrying in the Sawyer Squeeze, our water filter. I insist she drinks as well but she refuses saying she isn’t going to drink dirty water. I ask her what she means only to find out that the filter isn’t on the Squeeze and that she had watched without saying a word while Bugles and I unknowingly, drank the unfiltered and undoubtably, dirty water. 

We are still about five never-ending miles from White Pass and our water supply is almost gone. With no other choice we stop in the muck of a lake that is more like a marshy mud-pond. The mosquitoes land on us by the thousands, and it is miserable but we must filter water. Done, we hike on with Bugles loudly proclaiming over-and-over that we are, “lost in the middle of nowhere.” A thru-hiker passes us going the other way, hears Bugles and asks if we need help. I tell myself that I will never run out of water again.

Through thick trees with no view, we hike down one last mountainside. I recognize where we are as we have hiked this section of the trail before. It is longer than I remember and Roots yells that she never wants to hike again. Bugles’s voice is echoing off the trees as he loudly dialogues to himself and is surprised when someone calls out his name from far below us. “DAD, is that YOU?” Bugles “bugles” in surprise and I see a glimpse of the Man in Charge as he races his mountain bike on an invisible trail through tangled branches and thick, green undergrowth before disappearing somewhere into the forest.

I think it takes us forever to get to the trailhead and gravel road that leads to the Summit Inn where we are staying for the night. I want to stop into the store first for something cold to drink or maybe even a coffee, so we dump our packs on the log bench outside next to several other backpacks lined there. I walk inside and to the left, is a small corner with a table or two and some chairs. In the strange way that is the trail, the hiker from Switzerland, the one that I had asked to look for and who had found my sunglasses two days ago, sits there. “Hey,” I call out, rather lamely, “you’ve got my glasses…,” He digs them out of his pocket and gives them to me. I wish the hiker well on his last miles to Canada and than hobble out the door to meet up with the Man in Charge and the rest of the Support Crew who, taking their job very seriously, have been busy swimming the whole afternoon in the pool at the Inn.

Hiker hunger rules and Bugles, Roots and I eat through a pizza, bag of chips, gatorade and a carton of ice-cream. It does not matter that we usually eat much healthier. The Man in Charge asks if I have plans to continue hiking in the morning. I do not have an answer. Roots is done, Bugles is torn up by mosquitoes and my body feels like I have recently been hit by a truck. I see a group of thru-hikers setting up camp on a flat piece of ground on the inn’s property and I am envious of the ease in which they move after months of being on the trail.

I wake up to see the same thru-hikers cooking bacon, drinking coffee, as they break down their camp. My spirit is ready to be back on the trail with or without Roots who had quit the night before. But I have done nothing to prepare our packs. My food supplies are unorganized, our clothes dirty. I attempt several times to get our backpacks in order as the Man in Charge looks on, a serious expression on his face.

“You are not ready,” he says, watching me struggle to organize our gear. “You came in here beat last night and you’ve made some big mistakes. It’s going to be record temperatures out there again. I think you need need to rethink what you are doing.”

Tears spill from my eyes, I do not say a word. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this summer is a dream fast coming to an end. We load up the hiking gear in silence. I climb into the truck trying not to cry but doing so anyhow, disappointment in my failure, overwhelming. I look over at the spot where the group of thru-hikers had camped but they are gone now, having left without a trace. They hike on the trail that I love and I wish that Bugles, Roots and I are out there hiking as well. But I know that the Man in Charge is right. I am not ready and to go back out on the trail when unprepared is unwise, even potentially dangerous. It is time to go home…

-chris…