PCT 16: Wet Dog Days of Washington

With Town hitching a ride with an awesome volunteer/trail angel at the WACC (Washington Alpine Club Cabin) I was the last one left of the original trail family. Bird was of course my new trail family, who I was so happy to have with me, but it is a hard thing to watch chapters come to a close when only weeks or months before it felt like it would never actually happen.

One of Bird and I’s last days with Town on Trail as he soaked in the PNW lakes and mountains

To match the melancholy mood of a farewell with Town, the rain continued to pour. With out much effort Bird and I agreed to stay an extra day and wait for Ultra, a friend of Birds from earlier on the PCT, to join us with two dogs. We spent the day resting in the WAC cabin and playing board games with Bean Sack and other hikers who were sheltering from the less than ideal hiking conditions.

While waiting the volunteers swapped out and we met other people coming up from the Seattle area who wanted to volunteer their time in the mountains. On the morning that Ultra arrived we quickly gathered up our things and set about putting on our game faces for the wet weather ahead. I had briefly met Ultra at Casa De Luna and had heard many fond tales of Birds time with him on trail so I was looking forwards to hiking with him and the two dogs he was bringing along, Loki and Katie.

Ultra had originally set out to through hike the PCT but had to get off trail part way into the Sierras due to his commitments at his work. He was very excited to come back and join us and we enjoyed talking about the trail miles we had experienced. He found it hard with some of his coworkers to explain why one would wish to live and walk through the woods and mountains for months on end, I feel he enjoyed being back in through hiker company.

We were met with an immediate climb up and out of the Snoqualmie Pass area and we slogged up getting to know each other to pass the time. Ultra, being an Alaskan, was very kind in food sharing and trading, so he brought us awesome snacks to enjoy as we started out. At our first break spot the dogs agitated a wasp nest by accident and Bird was immediately stung multiple times! Luckily, I was not stung and with my fear from the allergic reactions I had gotten in Oregon, I carefully worked my way around the angry nest where we collected ourselves and tried to give the wasps some distance.

Bird, Ultra, Loki and Katie enjoying the beautiful Washington Views

The terrain at the top of the climb was beautiful and the ridge line came in and out of the clouds showing the stunning peaks and green valleys below. The rain was also intermittent and we had moments of respite where we could take off the waterproof layers and enjoy the Washington terrain as it transitioned more into the qualities I associate with the North Cascades.

It was a blast having the dogs along and they loved running around chasing squirrels and chipmunks, easily doubling the mileage us humans were covering. Ultra had a massive three person z-packs tent for him and the dogs and we spent the first night hanging out playing cards after enjoying the lake views below us. I was painfully aware of not putting my tent in another low spot and woke up to no wet bottom to the tent but a considerable amount of condensation on the fly.

The second day out from Snoqualmie was beautiful with sun shining through the clouds for half the day. Ultra and I nerded out sharing our favorite science fiction novels and geeking out while Bird was forced to listen.

We passed a nice waterfall and Bird was still feeling sluggish after her bout with stomach problems from the previous weeks so we took our time.

We took a lakeside alternate parallel to the PCT and after some side trail exploration discovered a spit of land sticking out into the lake that would be perfect for camping. We all enjoyed having a fire and hoping the rain would delay until we were safely back in our tents. With such a nice camp spot we struggled with moving at a fast pace in the morning but were rewarded with beautiful colors and a rain less sky.

Me, goofing off while practicing the “patented” Xena pole twirling techniques
Some unashamed photo posing
The gang posing for the “gram”
Making our way over to the little spit to camp
A beautiful morning from out camp spot
Loki enjoying the island life
Bird, Ultra and the dogs enjoying a slow coffee morning with no rain

The ridge line trails continued and I loved looking at the diversity of the trees as we gained and lost elevation. It made the forests of Oregon look relatively bland after walking past so much diversity.

I stopped for lunch at a stream feeling myself bonking and let Bird and Ultra get ahead. It didn’t take too long to catch up as we were seeing many non through hikers and we were enjoying sharing stories from our experiences on trail.

Bird Ultra and I pushed onward and eventually we arrived at a gorgeous lakeside spot to camp at. The lake was extremely scenic and very popular with day hikers and we saw several families and couples who had only hiked in for a few nights. We found a beautiful spot to camp with decent rises to put up our tents and avoid the low points with water.

With the night approaching we chatted into the dark and watched as a very tired Katie and Loki half attempted to scare away the mice that were making their presence known. The following morning the lake was like glass and we soaked in our time among the old growth trees and the beautiful lakeside views.

The day was a beautiful sunny one and we worked our way towards the point where Ultra would part with us. After much discussion with Bird we both convinced her to join Ultra for a few days in the Seattle area so she could enjoy some zero days and non trail culture. I had already taken many zero days between Bend and Portland and was happy to continue onward. knew Bird would push herself to catch up with me before the border of Canada.

The beautiful morning as we approached Stevens Pass
Ultra teaching Loki to like strangers

We wound down to the top of Stevens pass and enjoyed talking with a mom of three who was very excited to introduce her little kids to through hikers. “Some day you could try and walk from Mexico to Canada as well!” she told them excitedly and I hoped that this would stick with them, instilling an itch that wouldn’t relent until they gave something like this a chance in their adult lives.

After seeing the kids I remembered in college going out for a three day backpacking trip and running into many PCT hikers coming down Eagle Creek and becoming hooked on the wish to drop everything and join them. I did not want to leave the mountains and forest and wished to continue on leaving behind classes, and the responsibilities of a stationary life. Looking back I wished that I could reassure my college self that I would eventually accomplish that dream; but perhaps the angst of not knowing if I would ever accomplish something like a through hike is what motivated me to work hard and send my life in the direction that allowed me try it.

At Stevens Pass we debated about where to try and find a place for the night and after receiving some awesome trail magic beers and fruit from some PCT alumnis traveling through the area, we decided to hitch down to the Bavarian tourist town of Leavenworth and improvise. We enjoyed bar hoping and eating tons of German themed food while lugging our packs from one bar to the next. Eventually we drunkenly wandered into the middle of the city park and set up our tents to squat for the night and save ourselves an expensive camp spot or hotel.

The following day we wandered several miles to a golf course restaurant after getting hooked by the greasy delicious photos on their google maps page. We were initially nervous about going so far out of our way but were rewarded by some great staff and delicious food.

While walking back into Leavenworth I parted ways with Ultra and Bird. It was great to hike with Ultra and get to know him better after our brief meeting many months prior in the desert of Southern California. I gave Bird a hug and knew she would probably push and catch up.

Back in Leavenworth I was trying to figure out whether to stay one more night or to continue hiking when I got a message from a friend of mine from earlier on trail, Raspberry, who was in this section of trail so I decided to quickly resupply and join up with them.

Once back at Stevens Pass they had already resupplied from a bounce box and hit the trail. I hiked to catch up to them and we enjoyed saying hello before pushing onward into the rainy evening.

The views disappeared behind clouds but it was a different kind of beauty to watch the weather pass by providing the rain that kept this part of the world so green and alive. Our camp spot was very slopey and the rain continued through out the night. The weather forecast gave a very high chance of rain for almost every day of this week so every moment with out rain was a blessing. I found myself hiking alone for much of the time having a different pace and I enjoyed the solitude I hadn’t had since Northern Oregon. Time to think and to be in my own head with no music or cell reception to distract me.

The common Washington view of clouds and ridgelines

The trail was extremely muddy and the second night I found myself at a beautiful camp spot by myself with Glacier Peak trying to poke out through the clouds above me. The following day I slept in and thought I would perhaps not see Raspberry or her trail family again since we had gotten separated early the day before. To my surprise I ran across them a few miles into my day having them pass me with my lazy morning start.

A new trail companion

The trail continued to be slippery and messy. The climbs were steep and I got the feeling of remoteness that I hadn’t felt since the Sierras with so many miles between me and the other roads and towns in the area. The day was the hilliest of this section and there was a massive climb, followed by a big drop into a beautiful valley before climbing all the way back out again.

More wet and muddy trail but with a desolate beauty

At the top of the second massive climb I set up camp and was eventually joined by Raspberry and her friends as they finished out the day at their own pace. Just as they finished setting up the weather struggled between a light drizzle and small snowflakes as the temperature dropped.

The following day was a surprisingly beautiful one with no snow on the ground. I got up last and enjoyed hiking by myself with a beautiful view of Glacier Peak, the first real view I had of it despite two days of being in its vicinity.

The trail worked its way miles around a river and passed through a massive old growth area. The humongous trees towering above me felt primeval and I loved the feeling of being an ant surrounded by these giant trees.

My backpack doing an inadequate job of showing size

I continued on to a large bridge and I caught up with Raspberry and Co. for a nice lunch in the sun. The rest of the day was dominated by a big climb but I pushed ahead to get to camp early and prep a fire, not having enjoyed one since being with Bird and Ultra.

When everyone else showed up I was just getting it going, they were excited to see it and hadn’t enjoyed a fire since southern California. Knowing full well that the trail was drawing to a close we all sat by the fire making dinner and chatting about our favorite and worst trail memories, how we felt like this experience had changed us and what we hoped for afterwards. Having already finished two other long distance trips I knew that despite the tired feeling I had these days from hiking and pushing myself that I would greatly miss this life on trail and tried all the more to be in the moment every chance I could.

We were camped only 16 miles from the cut off to Stehekin and I pushed out early after having woken up to a completely swamped out tent. The nice evening had lead to a rain storm that didn’t quit for almost eight hours. I rushed out of camp, soaked and wanting to make the 12:00 bus to Stehekin saying a brief goodbye to everyone else who had drier camp spots.

The hike down in the dark rain was exhilerating with swollen streams everywhere reminding me of the big melt in the Sierras but with out the snow. Eventually I made it to the main river crossing and someone had set up a barrier blocking off a log crossing. They must have set it up before the rainstorm since the river was so swollen there was no safe way to ford it and the log crossing seemed super stable. I broke apart the barrier and safely made my way to the other side.

9 miles before the Stehekin cut off I had one and a half hours left before the 12:00 bus and I decided I should give myself one more trail challenge before the end, MAKE THE BUS! I tightened all my straps, thought of Ultra telling tales of running on trail with his pack, and set out wanting to cover the nine miles as quickly as possible. It was extremely painful since I was completely conditioned to a walking pace but I pushed myself onward knowing how mad I would be at myself if I arrived only a few minutes after the bus left, having slacked off for an equal number of minutes.

Running down declines and resting on the uphills I hobbled along trying not to roll an ankle and also trying to not think about distance, only how much time I had. I finally stumbled onto the road completely spent at 12:00 exactly. There was no bus there but there were two other hikers who I had chatted with at several other trail town locations. as I was walking with them to the bus stop and chatting I thought I saw a large vehicle around the bend and I exclaimed “guys the bus hasn’t left yet, you want to run with me to still make it?” And to this they looked at each other confused and said that the bus didn’t leave till 12:30…… The large vehicle turned out to be a random SUV parked and all my running and pain was for naught. I collapsed on the ground laughing and bowing out in exhaustion, happy I had made my goal of 12:00 despite the effort being completely unnecessary.

Once the bus did arrive we all piled on and I stuffed my face with two massive cinnamon rolls that I bought at the famous Stehekin Bakery to ease my screaming stomach.

The town was a beautiful place right on a massive lake. The only way into the town was by ferry or by hiking 30 miles from the nearest road access and the feeling I got in town was more akin to being on an Island rather than in the mountains. I enjoyed a trail beer as I used some wifi to contact Bunyon and my Parents who were waiting ahead of me at Rainy Pass.

They had agreed to road trip up to meet us and give us a ride back from the PCT terminus and with Heidi being ahead they had picked her up days earlier and were waiting on me so we could all finish the trail together! I was very excited to see Bunyon and also my parents with their old dog, Sage and I told them to expect me in the afternoon the following day. I also received word from Bird that she was pushing hard through the Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass section to catch up with me. Although I hadn’t gone “slow” in the last section I knew that I would be zeroing with my parents and Bunyon and was looking forwards to having her join us for the last several days on trail.

The Stehekin bus that had to be ferried in along with all of the other vehicles in the town

I sat drinking my beer, soaking in the views and loving the trail life, oh how the end seemed to be rushing at me a thousand miles per hour and all I could do was sit there calmly with a smile on my face watching the sunset and reminiscing about the last six months that felt like half a lifetime.

Watching the sunset and thinking about the wonderful trail life

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