Monday, October 12, 2015

Pacific Crest Trail Section 30 - Washington State was on fire.

Barb Reinsma dropped me off at Steven's Pass.
 I lifted my gear schooner to my shoulders and took off to a mostly level first day.  I walked into the "Walden Zone", the section that was to be my last on the PCT, and a lot of it was on fire.  I had already known about and planned for a detour, but it would be about 200 miles from Steven's Pass, Washington, to Manning Park, Canada. I saw a dozen day hikers. One pair questioned me intensely about the contents and weight of my pack.  My pack weighed 34 pounds including 4 liters of water. I always take more than I need as a safety blanket. It wasn't a burden and lightens quickly. The move towards lighter gear has helped us all greatly. Some people's weights have gone way down, farther than I could imagine myself doing.

The first camp was at Janus Lake, 9.6 miles in. I was all alone next to the Lake. There are privies
 in this area, and I had never seen them before on the trail. They sure came in handy; no catholes necessary. It's often difficult to filter water from a lake, always easier in a flowing stream. At a lake you struggle to find a perch above the muck over a deep enough place to dip your prefilter. I weigh mine down and drop it in belly side up so it doesn't filter silt. 

I ran into blueberries. Wonderful! Washington State is awash with berries, mostly at altitude. You could spend a lot of time picking these sweet trail snacks. I limited myself to several handfuls because I had promises to keep. I walked over Grizzly Pass at 5500 feet
 with a gorgeous panorama of Alpine peaks.  Although there was smoke in air during most mornings from the fires, I had no problems with breathing. Growing up in Los Angeles in the late fifties and sixties I know the discomfort of polluted air.  Ran into Jabba near a river. He was back on the trail after a break and was flip flopping south. Sally Ann Lake is a beautiful spot, a rare grassy patch to sleep on next to the lake. Met Seven, a 67 year old retired Berkeley professor whose trail name comes from climbing all 7 highest peaks on each continent. Yes, that includes Everest. Pride is not a sin if you do it right. I love to tell people about my accomplishments, but I'd rather listen to others before allowing them to pry mine out of me.  Seven was a good listener. He was going to road walk around the Blankenship fire closure, 107 miles, just to be pure. That's more pure than I am. I don't know if he succeeded because Hwy 20 closed a few days later.

I got an early start the next morning but didn't beat Seven. Through hikers can pack up in minutes. Lots of continuous practice. I have to get back in the groove every year. I ran into a representative of the Washington Trail Association guiding a teen volunteer back to civilization. She said she'd seen Bill Redman at Reflection Pond. I guessed I was still about a day behind him. Crossed the White Chuck River, happy to see a good bridge. Can't remember which river I filtered water in that day but it was so silt-filled that it appeared to be chocolate milk running downstream from a glacier. I got about 4 liters before my filter was completely plugged up. I wasn't able to back-flush it till the next day. I won't do that again. Pick a clear stream! Saw a marmot, the first since the Sierra, and also a mountain goat.

Caught up with Trekker from Texas. I'd spoken to him by phone. He's done the CDT and AT and hoped to finish the PCT this year. I hope he did. Got to the most beautiful vista on the trip. I camped at mile 2508.3 before the descent into Kennedy Creek. I sent satellite messages to my wife and Facebook morning and night. These devices are miraculous but tricky.  At times I'd get a message out of the tent under the trees. Other times it would sit with clear sky view and take an hour to send. I'd bet it depends where the satellites are in the sky. Very handy though to comfort loved ones of your safety.

The next day I took the wrong trail, White Chuck Trail, descending into Kennedy Creek.
Missing all the signs, I wasted an hour and a half before arriving at an abrupt end to the trail at a landslide.
The trail had sheered off 100 feet over Kennedy Creek. I had to walk up out of the canyon to reconnect with the PCT. I was exhausted before I had started the day. I was up in my head about the Kennedy Creek crossing but it was an easy task over a busted bridge inches above the water.  The climb out of the creek was enormous.  Arrived at breathtaking Mica Lake. Aquamarine water in a nearly muck-less shore surrounded by a dramatic cirque. Got water and took a swim. Must go back.  On the trail, campsites are as rare as hen's teeth. The trail data showed no campsites for five miles past Mica Lake. I had to make up for my mistaken trail in the morning so I took a leap of faith and kept walking. I found the sweetest, snuggest campsite a half mile from Milk Creek. I lucked out. It wasn't on any list. I had a good rest. 

The next day was another big climb out of Milk Creek. Up and up but I felt strong. I stay in shape all year with a variety of exercise that always includes hiking with a backpack that weighs as much as the one I have on the trail. I also lift heavy things (weights, kettle bells), sprint, ride my bicycle and do calisthenics. Something to do nearly every day. In the interests of safety and comfort I'm in the middle ground. On top of this I'm always planning; learning something new about hiking, studying the trail, improving what I carry and understanding how to care for and use my equipment. I believe I'm obsessed. In a healthy way, I hope.

Glacier Peak came into view. With melting glaciers across the world it was uplifting to see it. I'm always hungry on a hiking trip. For the first three days I had a surprising lack of hunger. Shocking really. I forced myself to eat.  I've heard of others being affected this way but never experienced myself. Saw two fighter jets fly over fast and low with ear shattering sound. I'd do it if I could. A bit jealous. Spoke to my nephew Jack, an Apache pilot in the Army, after the hike and he said there are approved passes for them to hot dog. Nice. Slipped and fell 3 times on this trip. Once on mud. No injuries but hilarious and splayed out. Can't hike without falling.

I got to Vista Creek Campsite before lunch and a glorious reunion with Bill Redman. He'd been on the trail over 10 days since Snoqualmie Pass. We'd planned to meet up here and continue on around the current Blankenship closure to Canada.  We walked out that afternoon to the Sulphur Creek Trailhead, 22 miles from the nearest main road.  Walking along to the exit point, Suiattle River trail excitedly agreed to come back next year and do the closed area.  I've never had to stop, make a detour or miss a step in 12 years of hiking.  With a mental inertia that has kept us in good stead over the years, we knew that every step of the trail must be completed.  John from the Marblemount Chevron was there to pick us up, and we had already planned to accept his offer of a ride to Rainy Pass the next day to continue on to Canada. Thank goodness for satellite connections.

We ended up spending 2 days in Marblemount, during which time Hwy 20 was closed to Rainy Pass because of new fires on both sides of the Highway.  On the second day it became apparent that the fires were too intense to continue.  Washington was ablaze, the worst in a long time. By the time I got off the trail, 3 firefighters had died in a fire near the PCT at Rainy Pass. A tragic loss. Circumstances were bigger than my adventure in the woods.  My thoughts and prayers are still with firefighters Tom Zbyszewski, 20, Andrew Zajac, 26, and Richard Wheeler, 31, who lost their lives battling the worst fires Washington State has ever experienced. 

 So Bill and I took a bus to Seattle, and then parted ways.  I was so fortunate to be taken in by Luke and Barb Reinsma for 4 days until I was to make my way up to Vancouver.  Luke and Barb were so wonderful to me, even lending me a car to drive for a day.  I filled the time visiting Seattle's great museums and historical sites.

Finally I took a train to Vancouver to meet my wife, daughter, and good friends Bobby and Mary Dean.  The five of us had planned a great trip in Canada to celebrate the completion of the trail, and although the milestone wasn't accomplished, we still celebrated the achievement to come.  

I did get in 4-1/2 days of hiking before it ended. They were good and challenging.  It would eventually be 10 days before Hwy 20 reopened from Marblemount to Rainy Pass.  We made the right decision to abandon the trail for the first time in 12 years.  Bill and I will return to where we left off next year. We'll be able to visit Stehekin, a big dream for all hikers because of its remote location. It's only accessible by boat or on foot. My only regret is the next adventure won't start till August 2016. See you then.

Many thanks to Luke and Barb Reinsma for the hospitality. Benjamin Franklin may have said "guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days." I was there for 4.

Here's my super trail food. Thanks to Seabear for sponsoring my nutrition.