- Robert M. Pirsig
Monday, September 29, 2014
Day 1; August 13
I hit the trail at Wind River Road at about noon after being dropped off by Sheryl Ferris and her cousin Norma Fite. It was deja vu to see where I left off last year; I remember looking wistfully across the road to the trail ahead and being glad I was done for the year. I was light on water when I set out but benefited from a trail angel cache along the way.
I ran into PCT royalty Scott Williamson and took a selfie. He couldn't have been nicer. "Some people call me Dink," he said.
It was a dry camp on a "Volcano Cap" that night. I was glad to finish for the day, since the pack is heavy.
Day 2-5; August 14-17
There was a big rain in the morning before I hit the trail, so at least the trail dust was nil, a big difference from previous trips. I met Sister Sue at the road to Trout Lake. I'm at the front bubble of through-hikers for this year and women comprise about 20% overall. Most are with boyfriends, about half of whom have successfully proposed marriage.
When I got to Road 60 I received a banana and kindness from a Trail Angel. Minutes before I arrived, a through hiker had been picked up by EMT's. He threw up during the previous night, left his tent, got lost, and wandered about suffering from mild hypothermia before being found. You have to be careful out there.
When you start the trail and are asked where you started, most people will know where that's at. When you get in 60 miles, though, most people don't recognize the name or the place where you started. We all have a familiar geographical sphere we're familiar with.
I slept well for a few days but then it was hit and miss. I always spent about 9 hours horizontal, but spent half of them awake and thinking about everything. Why is it that after an exhausting day you don't just pass out?
I wear a meeting badge holder around my neck when I hike to carry my smartphone. It's my GPS, memo recorder, camera and audiobook holder. I listened to 5 audio books during the less interesting parts of the trail and while in camp. I listened to Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes, a good whodunit in his inimitable voice. Nothing supernatural. The ending put a lump in my throat, plus took a twist that raised the hair on my neck. One of his characters calls Chiropractors "Back Breakers".
I carry my PCT business cards and gave out a dozen of them to hikers who might need my help when they do the southern section. I'm also wearing a Fitbit - it works fitfully. One day that it did work it claimed I did 58,000 steps, but it was probably closer to 50,000. A 10,000 step day is considered the basic minimum for some kind of fitness. I lost almost 10 pounds on this trip even though I ate a lot of food.
For the first three days on the trail, it was like walking through a green tunnel with an overcast sky, cool and viewless. After four days in, the skies are clearing making for easier days with some views.
The Mount Adams Glacier has been described as a frozen waterfall. It’s an apt description.
I had a tough ford at the roaring Adams creek. It was really three separate running creeks side by side, with tricky rock-hopping and log-balancing to get across. Of course my feet got wet. I got expert assistance on both sides through semaphore signals on where to cross, the roar from the creek making conversation nearly impossible.
Later I passed several horseman with very skittish animals. I leaned against the slope of a narrow and steep traverse to allow them to pass. I worried for the riders. The perfectly named Muddy River appeared to be flowing with milk chocolate. I arrived at Lava Springs for "the purest water on the PCT" according to the handbook. I didn't filter. It was delicious.
I passed two of three Sheep Lakes on the trail. All along the trail you find duplicate and triplicate names. There are three Rattlesnake Mountains in Southern California. I camped near a mother, son and daughter having a wonderful time. They say you should always eat as a family, but taking a trip outdoors together is even better. I set up my tent in a slight depression which could have turned into a tub in a downpour. It’s always hard to find a flat spot to camp. I ran across a huge exhausted man that day, with a giant overstuffed pack, big tummy overlapping his waist belt, florid of face. He was "slowly" hiking to Goat Rocks with the bracelet of his son who loved to hike but who had tragically died two years earlier. "I'm going to toss his bracelet as far as I can at the Goat Rocks as a testament to his memory," he said. It was very moving.
I caught my first glimpse of Mount Saint Helens. They should call this the Volcano Section!
There was a water gap of 15 miles today. Nothing is more important than having enough water, and I knew I would have a 23 mile gap further ahead.
The Goat Rocks (video) is one of the most beautiful and dramatic parts of the PCT, but the trail is steep, rugged, perilous, and exhausting. I met a German hiker up there on his second through hike. He’s called "Refill" because he always loves a refill, I suppose of soda at a break from the trail when you can't get enough to eat or drink. He asked if I wanted a photo up there and it was an important reminder to help fellow hikers get a memory of the trail with your camera. I've learned that taking time to visually concentrate on important or dramatic parts of the trail is a practical memory device. I'm able call up visual memories of the trail if I've seriously focused on them. I have many photos but I feel my visual memories are just as clear.
I passed through 300 yards of snow on the way up, carefully putting my feet into previous hikers’ impressions and firmly placing my hiking sticks in the snow. I have no desire to glissade down to the rocks below.
Later on I ran into Mr. President, who said, "Later I want to take my time through the Goat Rocks to experience it better." I don't agree.
Day 6; August 18
Reaching White Pass was a relief. A half mile west off the trail are the Kracker Barrel and the White Pass Village Inn. I ate a big lunch, washed my clothes, got my resupply, and communed with through-hikers. The inn and the store are part of the same outfit that has ski slopes across the highway. If you blink you'll miss the whole thing. For dinner I ordered a salad "as big as my head", a Salmagundi of everything fresh and edible in the store, which is not on the menu. It fed three hikers; including myself, Mr. President, and Arctic Fox.
Day 7; August 19
Last night I slept in a perfectly decent Murphy bed, but slept poorly and felt enervated in the morning. I felt like giving up. Character is trudging on when you don't feel like it. I was truly exhausted all day.
Today I met Timberline and Knockout. There are so many interesting trail names. I'm Magician only because I've never been named on the trail so I’m going with the eponymous moniker. I think I met or passed 75 or 80 people during my 15 days on the trail, less than half of them through-hikers. Most are people on a day-hike or a several day journey between mountain passes. I also saw a dozen or so equestrians. If you want to be mostly alone, go for a hike.
I've read John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. Nature's OK but I don't have a strong connection with the plants and the trees like they did. I don't go into reveries in the wilderness. True, there are high points along the way. A dramatic view (video), a high mountain pass, a tough river crossing, an azure lake and a beautiful stand of trees. But I'm drawn to the trail for the challenge and adventure. I've realized that I have enough discipline, concentration, and drive to accomplish this very difficult task. That is very rewarding. The effort necessary to keep walking uphill with your house on your back is astounding; strenuous does not come close to describing it. Meeting the challenge is incredibly satisfying.
Today I met "Grandfather", age 56, with his twin granddaughters, maybe 8 years old. "We walked 7 miles today!", one of them said. I met Clarence and Sterling at camp that night. We broke bread together. Clarence is a self-described "Cradle Catholic", and Sterling is a retired Marine Sergeant from South El Monte, my home town! They were just two older guys out for a few days on the trail. Clarence said, "I don't like sports and gave up pork like the Orthodox and it cleared up my health problems. It's Biblical." Yet they were eating MRE's and bacon wrapped hot dogs. Great characters.
Day 8; August 20
Fording Bumping river was a bit tricky, but luckily I only got a wet toe. A later hiker sunk to his knees. River crossings are spooky. I crossed Chinook Pass. It’s a big pass, but there is no town, only a large turnoff with a toilet and parking. I finally saw a big group of mountain goats and wondered out loud if they're native to Washington. (They are.) A through hiker I was walking with said, "Hell, we're not even native!"
I met Ali and Greg at camp with their dog BB on a five-day hike. He'd proposed a few days before. I gave them my PCT business card and asked for a "save the date" card. The dog carried his own food in a backpack.
Took a spill today. My right pole slipped off the trail with such force it spun around 180 degrees and bopped me in the head as I fell to the ground. I'm fine but it was hilarious.
Arctic Fox and The Duchess, a guy, are walking together. We refilled our water at a spring before a long dry section.
I had a very uncomfortable night. I wound up in a poor campsite and slept only about 3 hours of 9 in the tent, rolling around in a depression with my head below my feet. Mr. President and Just Bill slept near me.
Met Pooh Bear, a hiker in her 50's who had her act together. She had already finished the AT and was now doing the PCT in sections like me.
I finally found some huge sweet huckleberries at a high knife ridge. I’d been told that this was a late season but these were very tasty and giant-sized.
Wonderful trail magic was provided by “Tent Monster" at Tacoma Pass. He'd set up a large camp grill and was serving french toast, bacon, and plenty of orange juice. What a wonderful young man. Turns out he'd hiked the first 1000 miles of the trail this year, with Mr. President, who was there, too, but suffered an ankle injury and had to stop He returned to the trail to do a solid for the hikers. He kept pushing bacon on me and it was wonderful.
A runners group showed up for a hundred mile Cascade Crest endurance run. Over the next 40 miles of the PCT they treated hikers like royalty at several aid stations with food, drinks, snacks, and beer! I love beer but it turns my legs into rubber on the trail, so I stayed "dry” in Washington. I got to one large station ahead of the runners and they made a big fuss with applause and attention as if I were the leader of the pack! It was very sweet. They told a story (which was verified later) that last year some through-hikers stopped, took off their packs, joined the race, and were in the record books for 2013. Then they put their packs back on and continued down the trail.
I Met Dang It and Ferdinand lunching at a minor pass. Dang It said, "We've made a big mess here. Sorry about that." Whenever we unload our packs it looks like a trash can has exploded on the ground. I'm a little sheepish about that, too. No reason to apologize but we're keeping up appearances. They are flip-flopping all over the trail because of snow and other weather. I gave them my card and let them know I could help them here in San Diego.
Day 9-10; August 21-22
I slept great last night! I heard the remnants of the 100 mile endurance race go by in the dark. There must have been a clean-up crew behind them, since there were no marker ribbons or trash left on the trail when I woke up. They are good stewards of the outdoors. One more big climb today before Snoqualmie.
I checked into the Snoqualmie Inn after a descent over vast open ski area. I washed my clothes, cleaned up, and ate a terrific meal at the Aardvark Food Truck. There were lots of through-hikers around, many taking the Goldberg Hot Springs alternate for a complete soak, some being picked up. I’ve been listening to the Maltese Falcon audio book, and when I got into the hotel room it was on TCM at about the same place as I left it. Great movie.
Day 11-12; August 23-24
Had a pancake breakfast with Just Daniel at the Pancake house. I needed those carbs because walking out of Snoqualmie was hard. Lots of up and then an endless traverse of a talus-covered trail up to a major ridge. I don't know where I got the energy to trudge on. This last section is beautiful but has the most gain and loss of altitude of any part of this trip; one up and down after another, thousands of feet daily, with over 16,000 feet of gain and loss in elevation to Stevens Pass. There are lots of section-hikers here, all of them apparently enjoying themselves more than I am today. I’m ready to be done.
I'm not afraid of heights, but I do have a profound respect for them. I'm very careful on narrow, steep traverses, sharp drops and ridges. I know if you trip or fall on a hike, and you will, you could tumble down to injury or death. I fell or tripped 5 times on this trip, but luckily I wasn't hurt. I skinned a shin but otherwise was fine. You have to be vigilant.
I've said if you want to feel good about humanity go for a hike. Some of the best people are in the wilderness. The worst I can say is that there a few people who are weird; not dangerous, but odd. (Of course this means I'm sane.) I met a guy at a stream I wanted to filter at. Dressed like a garden gnome with a backpack wearing bicycle shorts, he said, "I never filter more than a liter of water." Well, I'd used nearly 3 liters getting to that point and the day wasn't over! He didn't know what he was talking about. He was probably single. A man needs a good woman to remind him when he's gone off the rails. What a character. I had met Old Timer earlier on the trail He just wanted to talk and talk and talk. He shared his life story without being asked. He said "I'll pay for some oatmeal," so I just gave him some tortellini. Always carry an extra day of food in your pack. I wonder if his family knows where he is on the trail.
I forded a couple of creeks today, one with an intact bridge, the other washed out with a log crossing. I felt like a tightrope walker without a net. There were two flyovers today by fighter jets, one loud and close, only a couple of hundred feet above me. I imagine this must be one of the perks of being a hotshot pilot, zooming through mountain passes at top speed. It happened once before to Bill Redman and me in the Sierras.
I topped the highest pass since Snoqualmie and met Sarah and Nathan picking blueberries and huckleberries. Blueberries are much rarer on the trail and Sarah sweetly gave me a dozen she'd picked. I ran into them later in camp at Waptus River. What a delightful couple.
Jay and Liz from Canada were there, too. Jay was in a fright because he'd had an allergic reaction to a fly bite, broken out in hives all over, and was nervous as hell. Liz, an RN, had given him Benedryl and it was starting to work. I donated some triple antibiotic for his rash and bite. We talked him down and shared a meal. They ate a packet of my Seabear King Salmon and loved it. "It tastes like Lox," they agreed. He'd proposed on the trail and she'd accepted. Bruce, a hiker my age, talked my ear off. "I have to hit the sack for an early start. I'd love to talk, but....."
Day 13-14; August 25-26
I had a tough double river crossing (video) the next morning. I walked like a Wallenda over logs several feet above the rushing water below, and then found that there was another tough one right around the corner. It was the same creek with a deep dip into rocks and a near vertical climb out. The trail had been washed away for several yards. It was more like rock climbing than hiking.
I ran into 3 stylish middle-aged ladies hiking south called Sappy, Cedar and Owl and gave them a heads-up about the difficult river crossing ahead. I worry about novice hikers. I see them on a giant climb, over-packed, no water for miles and no camping nearby, occasionally part of a small group with the experienced hiker walking ahead, which is a crime. Stay with your group, especially when there are new hikers, or don't go out there.
Day 15- August 27
My last camp tonight is at Deception Lake, a peaceful and pretty place belying its name.
Joining me were Sean and Nikki, a delightful couple who were experienced climbers spending a few days hiking between Stevens and Snoqualmie Pass. He'd started a new business after years with Microsoft. We dined on a big rock overlooking the lake and I did some magic for them. Storm clouds formed to the east and Sean said, "Probably rain." "Being from Seattle you probably know," I said. There was a 50% chance of rain in the forecast for the night, but none the next day.
Day 16 - August 28
I suited up in the morning for the final miles thinking, “I don't care if I'm dry or wet, I'm finishing today!”
I fell in with Feast, a 27 year old bartender from San Francisco, with a degree in Civil Engineering. He'd walked the last 80 miles with his golden retriever, Bailey. I'd met him briefly a few times in past miles and at the last campsite, and although he was a faster walker than I, he was kind enough to wait for me to catch up when he took a break, lunched, or in one case took a bath in a lake. Feast is a nice, intelligent and voluble young man. We hiked over the last ups and downs of the trail. I wondered out loud about getting a ride at Stevens Pass, and he offered a ride with his mom who was delivering a resupply box. She never made it to the pass, but we hitched down to Skykomish for a night in the Cascade Inn. Mom met us there and I bought us all lunch and his favorite trail treat - a chocolate shake. Feast complained a bit to his mom that she'd forgotten his rolling papers for his trail Ganja. I never had that conversation with my parents nor needed it, but that was a long time ago.
Day 17-18 - August 29-30
Luke Reinsma of Seattle picked me up at the Cascade Inn. I'd met him and his son, Nathan, on the trail about 5 years ago. He's finished the trail in sections, the last being the dreaded Southern California section. He shuttled me back to his home, put me up, and showed me the town. He is a deep reader and a semi-retired Professor Emeritus of English at Seattle Pacific University. His home is lined with thousands of volumes of compelling literature. We had wonderful conversations about our mutual vice: Books! I felt like a dilettante in a wonderful Salon. He and his lovely wife, Barbara, took me out to dinner and then to Seattle's best ice cream parlor - Molly Moon’s. The next morning he took me to Pike Place, which is a wonder, then later off to the airport for my trip home.
All told, I walked 288 miles in the PCT Washington State Wilderness in 15 days, from a low of 1072 feet to a high of 7600. I passed in full view of Mount Saint. Helens, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier, with daily climbs of 2000 to 5000 feet. I crossed dozens of creeks and forded several rivers, passed gorgeous lakes in pastoral settings, miles and miles of dense forest and the near equivalent of exposed rock faces with narrow trails and 1000 foot drops. At the perilous and astounding Goat Rocks I crossed long snow fields to see unparalleled views of western Washington, unspoiled wilderness and logged private lands dotted with Christmas tree farms of replanted clear cuts. I've never done anything more heart pounding and physically demanding.
I met dozens of hikers, some going all the way and some out for a few days, but all of them nice and interesting, most of them young, idealistic, and full of life. Don't hang around anyone who doesn’t have a dream.
I encountered heartwarming trail magic: French Toast and bacon at a forest road; Ginger ale and the applause of a running group as I exited the forest. If you want to feel good about humanity go for a hike.
Next year I'll finish my grand adventure at the Canadian border.
"To live only for some future goal is shallow.
It's the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top.
Here's where things grow."