7/19/17 to 7/25/17
Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass
I hardly sleep but the hostel bed is so freakin comfortable to just lie in, so who cares. A pillow even. What euphoria! Why can’t I appreciate beds this much when I’m not hiking? In regular world a bed just feels… regular. How amazing life would be if they always felt this good! This is why I hike, I guess.
In the morning I go slowly about this thing called embodiment, walking lazy and unfocused into the sun, peering in the windows of the closed shops of Winthrop. I have breakfast with another hiker, a young man who double majored in philosophy and english literature and already, tragically, has shin splints. (He’s rested a few days, though, and is feeling better.) Once the gear stores open I buy a few tiny things (always while thru-hiking I am going into gear stores and buying the smallest things in the store) and then I mail away my ice axe- general consensus is that in this next section we will need microspikes only. I hope this is true, because now my ice axe is gone.
I eat 18oz of blueberries in one go while standing outside the grocery store staring at nothing and it is ten minutes of pure unadultarated bliss, after which I ride the squeaking loaner mountain bike back to the hostel and pack up my bag. I’m finally ready to hike out.
Two hitches gets me back to the PCT by 5:30 and 6.5 miles through the warm low forest along bridge creek gets me to my campsite next to the water. A very kind German couple is there, who I started with at Harts Pass. So far they are Very Impressed with the nature here in this country. So am I, I tell them. So am I.
Hiking fast through an abundance of ripe huckleberries towards Stehekin, listening to the audiobook of Evicted, which is about poverty and the affordable housing crisis in the U.S. It’s a great book and I learn a lot and once it’s finished I think about the complexity of a white man writing about the ghetto and winning a pulitzer prize. I mean it’s a great book, very accessible and will appeal to white people and sneakily get them to empathize with poor people of color and how fucked they are in the current housing market, and that’s important and maybe this is what it takes to bring the conversation to the mainstream, like no-one was listening to the actual poor people of color talk about their lived experiences but maybe they’ll listen to this white man with a PhD and a mcarthur genius grant who “studied” the poor people? Also his descriptions of extreme poverty bring back memories of my own childhood and I think about the complexities of that, being a white person who grew up basically on no money, eating from food banks (I still don’t understand canned government issue corned beef hash, like what it is and where does it come from), staying in shelters and not having any soap, then finding a $20 bill and blowing it on candy, because no-one knows how to #yolo like those living in extreme poverty. And now I’m an adult who makes her living partially by creating media of nature for other white people, most of them well off, who are trapped in cities, and all of the privilege inherent in that lifestyle. Anyway I want to talk to someone about all this stuff, but there are only trees, and huckleberries.
The bakery in Stehekin is less mindblowing than I remember because my hiker hunger has not yet kicked in but it’s still, to be honest, really really good. I eat chickpea soup and a huge green salad and some thai rice noodles and a massive GF carrot raisin muffin. Then I am in a food coma and I walk to lake Chelan and look at the dreamy turquoise water and remember how in 2014 we took kayaks out onto the lake, all the way to the cliffs on the other side. At 5:30 I’m on the last shuttle out of the village and I walk 4 miles uphill to camp. 15 miles today. Between here and Stevens Pass is the most difficult section, as far as elevation gain and loss goes, of the entire PCT. We’ll see how I do, with my wobbly new hiker legs.
I sleep almost, but not quite, enough, after which I walk uphill through the enchanted forest for sixteen miles straight. I’m not sure how much elevation gain total today, but I think it’s a lot? Maybe 6k? Glacier peak makes itself known through the trees- I’ll be walking in a half-circle around it, up and down up and down. Over passes.
The day ends with an epic descent that shatters my feet all to bits, beautiful as it is with the springs coming out of the mossy convoluted bottoms of the huge trees and the soft light just-so through the cedar boughs.
I camp next to the roaring Suiattle river with another hiker. 23 miles today. There are enough sobos around that I’ve camped near other hikers almost every night, but could also camp solo if I wanted to, which is pretty cool. The river is deafening and churning with silt and the white noise lulls me to sleep. I’m pretty sure a mouse runs across the hood of my sleeping bag a couple of times as I’m drifting off, but maybe I’m just imagining it?
That was definitely a mouse running across my bag last night. As a result my sleep is not awesome but oh well, what can you do. Eat caffienated cliff shot blocks, is what.
The other hiker, who does not yet have a trail name, and I spend an hour in the morning walking up and down the eroded riverbank looking for the log across the raging Suiattle that will take us to the overgrown “old PCT” alternate, which I took in 2013 and which was one of my favorite parts of the whole trail. Alas we do not find it, and finally we set out in a forwardly direction. (Some hikers behind us do find it, so it is still there, I’m just not sure exactly where.)
Some flat stuff through massive old growth but it’s overcast so the light is not good for photographs and to be honest, I do not know how to photograph a forest. I tell myself I’ll try harder. Or maybe I’ll just keep these images for myself, in my own brain, because I love the forests here so much.
Midday there is a 5k foot climb that absolutely breaks me. But then I’m high off endorphins and also on top of a pass that feels like being in the sky, and I remember why I like this shit. I put my mosquito net over me to keep off the swarming blackflies with their sawmouths and sit in the dirt eating jerky and dried whole bananas and everything is fucking great.
In 2013 and 2014, when I was northbounding, I was so strong by the time I got to Washington that I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel the ascents, I didn’t feel the descents. In 2014 I did 33 and 34 mile days through this section. I rode my legs like a frickin segway, like they were a detached, motorized part of me that only needed to be fed bars and they could go, and go, and go forever. But this time, fresh from the sedentary land of chairs, I feel everything. And I see everything, as the weather is perfect and clear (not like the fog-rain of September 2013) and I’m not yet numb to the views. I crawl up the mountains in absolute wonder, feeling every pebble beneath my very sore feet, marveling at every cluster of lupine. This feels like the ideal way to start the PCT, assuming you can hike the whole trail in 4 months (which is how fast you need to go to get through the sierras before the first winter storms if you start at the Canadian border July 15, when much of the snow in the North Cascades is gone). Of coure starting in the wild up-downs of Washington on such a tight timeline creates a higher chance of overuse injury, so there is that as well.
The eleventy billion switchbacks down to Milk Creek are super overgrown, like nothing I would expect on the PCT, and I’m sweating and thirsty and I really have to shit but these salmonberry bushes keep trying to force me off the trail and down the steep slope to my right, and I can’t see the ground for the plants and I never know if I’m stepping down onto earth or thin air and one time it’s air and I fall and twist my knee but really I don’t mind, because it’s interesting to see how quickly the growing green things reclaim this 18 inch wide strip of cleared earth. I pretend for a moment that I’m in a post-collapse dystopia and the PCT is abandoned and I’m trying to hike it anyway, which is fun. Then I’m on a footbridge over raging milk creek and partway up the other side is a campsite tucked into a cluster of hemlocks. I set up my bug net and sit for a while doing nothing, just staring at my feet and noticing the pains that ricochet around my body. Today’s 20 miles felt like a lot.
In a few days another hiker will tell me that today I climbed a total 8,500 feet, but this morning I don’t know that yet, thank god.
I sleep like a million dollars and then hike up through more wet overgrown salmonberry to Mica lake, which is glacier blue and still partially frozen- there’s no summer at Mica lake, as the old saying goes.
A man in yax trax is teaching his son how to fall on a snowpatch next to the lake and he demands to tell me the “beta” about the snowfields coming up as I walk by. I humor him, even though I’m pretty sure I know more about the upcoming snow and how to cross it safely than he does. Being a woman in the world, amirite? Turns out the snow patches on the way to Fire Creek Pass are very small and very chill and I don’t even need traction.
I crunch my way across them and then sit on top of the pass, watching the fog rise up from the drainage way below and inhaling bars. Today is day 10 and I can feel my hiker hunger rising up inside, the engine burning hotter and hotter like a freight train comin through until soon my digestive system will vaporize snacks on impact and I’ll never be satisfied, I’ll fill the daylight hours dreaming of watermelon and roast chicken and all yall will think “why does she obsess about food so much”.
First long climb of the day finished, I pound way down into a dim warm forest where there are blowdowns, real legit ones where you have to think for a while how to get over and for a moment it seems impossible but then you figure it out! And then the trail is a river, slosh slosh slosh, snowmelt taking the path of least resistance. I’m tired but I make a deal with myself- just keep walking, as long as you don’t stop you’ll get there eventually.
The climb up to Red pass takes me through multiple, layered worlds. Out of the forest back into the alpine, more snow patches on the gentle green mountains and glacier peak lording over everything.
The sun is dropping and half the land is draped in shadow. Slow, slow, just don’t stop walking. At the top of Red pass I see, I shit you not, two marmots engaged in a death match for primo marmot territory- although they scamper away, seemingly unharmed, at the end. I actually got a video of this but don’t have the service right now to upload it- here’s the winning marmot afterward, surveying his territory:
The trail follows the ridge after the pass and the view is so beautiful I literally cry. A whole panorama of snowy peaks, and ranier so small in the distance!
Alpenglow is creeping up on the land and I race it, my feet yelling at me. They’re not ready for this yet!
I set up my shelter at reflection pond, which still has a big snowchunk in it, and use the last of the light to stuff dinner into my face. 24.5 miles today.
My feet hurt so bad at night that I have to take an ibuprofen to sleep. I try not to do this because ibuprofen is bad for gut flora, but not sleeping is bad for all my systems, so… first ibuprofen of the trail. May my body adapt quickly, so that I hardly need them.
Up and down through the alpine flower garden where I now, apparently, live. The sun roasts me and my feet hurt like whoa. They’re ready for town. Tomorrow, I tell them. Tomorrow! I get so hot I dunk my whole body in a stream, and then I am new again. I cruise on or around the ridge all day, just me and the paintbrush and the yarrow and the daisies and the tiger lillies and the biting flies and the bees. I find a flat spot just after grizzly peak and make too much dinner and eat it anyway, fall asleep before it’s even dark. 22.5 miles.
It’s downhill almost all the 13.5 miles to the highway and stevens pass and I get tunnel vision thinking about hashbrowns with ketchup and before I know it I can see the highway below me, winding like a grey snake through the mountains. Then I get reception and the pings start coming in my phone and I feel anxiety for the first time in a while and I have to talk myself down off this ledge of anticipation because I’m going to trip over a root and break my leg if I don’t pay attention to the trail.
There are a bunch of hikers at stevens pass and five of us try to hitch to Skykomish, which seems impossible, but then a van pulls over! In skykomish I have an ok lettuce burger at the deli and we catch another ride to the Dinsmores, who are kind trail angels 6 miles outside of town. They have a bunkhouse and showers and loaner clothes and there is a dog there to pet!! Bless!! And time slows down and I feel alright again. I fall asleep in a bunk surrounded by other snoring hikers with the door open to the outside because we all require Lots of Air and BNSF intermodals blow by in the night, on the highline en route to Chicago. Tomorrow I am going to hike very little, if at all.