PCT 2015 – Section H – Cascade Locks to FSR 23 – Trout Lake Road – Overview

It’s now August  2016, nearly one year since Ken and I set off to finish the last section of the Washington stretch of the PCT. This was to be our most ambitious effort – 148 miles from Cascade Locks through to White Pass on Highway 12.  The best laid plans are not always met.  Several days into the hike my digestive system decided not to accept additional inputs and with the distances and the elevation change, the calorie equation was a little imbalanced: >5000 expended, <1200 consumed.  Fortunately, Clara convinced me to get a SAT tracking / texting gadget (Delorme Inreach Explorer) and I was able to reach her for.  We pulled out at  FS23 – the road to Trout Lake – 82 miles into our 148 mile trek, leaving the last 66 miles to finish this summer (2016).

Needless to say that was a little frustrating, and I was additionally remiss in not recording the trip highlights. Given the passage of time and my rusty memory, the following summary of the trip is in a single long blog entry, rather than the day to day entries of previous (and hopefully future) stories.  Thankfully Ken kept trail notes and we had a few (hundred) pictures which I’m relying on to tell the story.

Sunday Aug. 16th – Cascade Locks (2144.4) to a Camp on a Ridge (2154.1) .  9.7 miles.  Ascent – estimated from google earth –  2698ft.  Descent 428ft.

After a Saturday of shopping and preparation, we drove down from Seattle down to Cascade Locks on the Columbia River.  Clara and Hannah graciously made the trip down with us, and Dave G. volunteered to haul us home from White Pass.  Recently made famous as the ending point in the book ‘Wild’, the Bridge of the Gods is the southern entry point for the Washington PCT.  We were prepared for 10-12 days on the trail, aiming for a White Pass pickup somewhere around August 28/9.

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All this in 2 packs???

With the added distance, the food and supplies were a little heavier than for previous treks, and some might argue that a daily fruit ration was overkill, but there’s nothing quite like a fresh orange or kiwi for breakfast.  We arrived at Cascade Locks around 9:30 am, with the only concern being smoke in the air from fires burning to the south of Mt. Adams.

After the obligatory start of the journey photos, and saying our goodbyes, we headed up Section H of the Washington PCT.

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Things started off well.  The sky was blue, the first few miles sloped gradually upward and a number of through hikes made their way by.  The terrain varied quite a bit – from gravel roads, to powerlines to shale slopes.

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We kept up a good pace throughout the day, reaching camp mid-afternoon meeting our planned goal, a site on hillside.  Fortunately, we carried a few extra liters of water as it was IMG_0028a dry site.  It took a bit to re-establish the routine of setting up camp, but before long the tents were up and a dinner of hamburgers from last night’s bbq was sizzling over the Whisperlite stove.  A little tired, a little sore but very happy, sleep came quickly.

Monday Aug. 17th – Camp on a Ridge (2154.1) to North of Snag Creek (2164.8). 10.7 miles.  Ascent 1628 ft. Descent 2618ft.

DSCN0211 Despite it being a year ago, the aches and pains of waking on the second day and dealing with 45lbs of backpack are easy to conjure up.  The routine of breaking down camp and loading up the pack hadn’t changed much in the past year, and breakfast still consisted of a couple of  pouches of oatmeal with berries (if available), some fruit and a coffee or tea.  Before long (i.e. 1.5 hrs) we were once again on our way north.

IMG_0036 The PCT wanders through a variety of lands, often in different stages of managed forestry.  This section was no different, and so before long we were crossing an active logging operation.  Although this was a relatively small clear cut, the experience left impressions – even writing one year later.  Visually, I found the fresh clear cut was pretty devastating with ‘carcasses’ of left behind trees littered about. At the same time, the logistics and process of the operation were also impressive – and the fact that  they made accommodation for the trail to pass through an active site was appreciated.

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We did not run into a lot of wild life along the way, so I’ve made do with our trail friend – the slug.

We did enjoy the water sources along the way – despite the long dry summer to this point, the creeks, springs and seeps were able to supply sufficient water for the whole trip, and in this case enough water was flowing to allow a cleansing bath…

Tuesday Aug. 18th – North of Snag Creek (2164.8) to Panther Creek (2179.6).  14.8 miles.  Ascent 2222ft.  Descent 2759ft.

 

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After a couple of days of getting our hiking legs back, it was time to start putting in a few more miles.  We vowed to start a little earlier and trek a little further.

The trail had a little more variety – several miles of forest, but also some meadows and rivers to cross.  It was a rolling day with a few thousand feet of climbing and little more descending.

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Along the way, I found a great example of a forest throne, the only well developed one on this stretch of trail.  Pretty comfortable, though with a limited view.   Scenic toilets don’t seem to be as much of a thing in Southern Washington as they  are further north.

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As we trekked up to Panther Creek, we saw that it was also a day where ‘Trail Magic’ was in force. A cooler full of drinks and a party at a nearby campsite were sure to be big hits with the through hikerIMG_0081s.  This signaled the end of a long but successful day, with almost 15 miles under our belts.  With camp set up, and dinner done, it did not take long to drift off to sleep.

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Wednesday Aug. 19th – Panther Creek (2179.6) to Crest Horse Camp (2195.4).  15.8 miles.  Ascent 3884ft.  Descent 1294ft.

Once again we aimed to get up an at it early enough to put in another 15+ mile day.  Fortunately the weather cooperated, so that it didn’t get too hot.  There was a pall of smoke in the air as the fires burned on the South East flanks of Mt. Adams, but they were far enough away that they did not pose any threat to the PCT.

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As usual, the intrepid Mr. Dewit found the all important directions to water and we were never more that a few minutes of pumping from a stock of the Northwest’s finest fresh and clean water.  The weather remained good, though the smoke from the forest fires ebbed and flowed with the wind.

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Thursday Aug. 20th – Crest Horse Camp (2195.4) to Sawtooth Mtn. Trail (2211).  15.6 miles.  Ascent 2323ft.  Descent 1161ft.

DSCN0274After a good nights sleep, nothing like some oatmeal and a Kiwi to start the day.  In the distance you could see smoke on the flank of Mt. Adams, and hear the airborne efforts to quell the fire.  Once again, the plan was to get in some miles, with a net climb for the day.  The theme for this entire stretch of trail seems to be a lot of trees, with occasional views of volcanoes!

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Fortunately we were able to find a nice clean lake part way through the day, which led to the obligatory swim. I was please to find that my shoulder was holding together and that I could actually swim. It could be that the backpack represents a new medical device – strap 40+ lbs on your back and walk a long ways. The tension from the straps pulls the shoulders outward, opening up the chest… However, when I suggested this to my physical therapist a few months later after my surgery, he didn’t jump on it as a solution.

DSCN0282 Following our usual protocol, finding a meadow meant taking a little break. There is something particularly satisfying about sitting or lying in a grassy field with the warm sun radiating energy. We managed to put in another 15+ mile day. Unfortunately, I was starting to suffer some gastrointestinal issues – I found it hard to eat much – while I attribute this to the anti-inflammatories I was taking for my shoulder, it’s hard to know for certain. In any case, I was getting worried that the 1200 calories in for 5000 calories out equation was not boding well for completing the section.

Friday Aug. 21st – Sawtooth Mtn. Trail (2211) to FS23 road to Trout Lake (2226.4).  15.4 miles.  Ascent 1782ft. Descent 2544ft.

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A good nights sleep can sometimes resolve issues, but unfortunately that was not the case for me.  I was able to eat my oatmeal and fruit, but that was about it.  We hit the trail as usual – though wildlife was pretty limited, Ken was able to get a shot of our avian friend. We made our way through the fores with the goal of reaching FSR23, about 15 miles ahead.

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IMG_0161 As the day progressed, it became pretty clear that we’d have to pull out. I was able to reach Clara by texting on my Explorer. Unfortunately my message was a little confusing so she initially started out right away. After she suffered an hour of crappy traffic in Seattle, my next message got through – lets meet tomorrow – so she turned back home and planned to come rescue us on Saturday morning.

DSCN0301 We camped the night along FSR23, and ‘donated’ all our excess food to a through hiking couple from Victoria BC.

Saturday Aug. 22nd – “The Rescue” – Walked ~5 miles down FS23 before being picked up.

After a good nights sleep just off FSR 23, we got up, prepared the usual oatmeal and started walking the road to Trout Lake.  The fires around Mt. Adams made there presence felt with a light rain of ashes and smokey skies.  Our attempts at hitching a ride were unsuccessful – so we sauntered down the road for 5 miles.  Unfortunately, the Explorer texting was also unsuccessful, so on we walked until Clara and Chris received our message a couple of hours after they arrived at Trout Lake.  Finally at 5 miles in, they met us on the road (glad I didn’t have to walk the final 8 miles) – and we headed back to Trout Lake for something to drink.  Once done, we headed  north to Seattle, and started thinking about finishing  the Washington PCT in 2016.

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Road 23 – See you next year!

Posted in 2015, Backpacking, PCT | Leave a comment

Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie – #1003

June 15th, 2014

Looking forward to testing out this great gift!  Thanks Clara.

Looking forward to testing out this great gift! Thanks Clara.

I’ve been spoiled again with the perfect fathers day weekend – Friday – picking up an awesome kayak as a gift from Clara for fathers day and my birthday (still coming up); Saturday hauling a load of ‘stuff’ from my garage that will find new homes when it is resold to raise funds for a school, then stopping off for Bourbon ice cream (yes it is a key ingredient) at Snoqualmie Ice Cream and ending the day watching a movie; sleeping in until well past 8:00 on Sunday morning, getting up to eggs benedict and espresso, hearing from the kids, a walk in the woods, and coming home to a surf and turf dinner.

About that walk in the woods – While Barclay Lake has been a good standby, I’ve been scouting around to broaden choices for trails that are easy for the smaller crowd, and less challenging for the acrophobic, but that still offer scenic rewards. This weekend, I convinced Dave G. to check out the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie trail with me. After a delicious lunch (como bread, liver pate, cappicola, cambazola etc.) – thanks Clara – we headed east on I-90 towards the mountains. Crossing Lake Washington, we went from light drizzle into full rain storm, but in Seattle you can’t let a little rain deter you, and besides, looking ahead there were a few holes where bright blue sky was visible through the clouds.

Middle Fork Trailhead with Dave G.

Middle Fork Trailhead with Dave G.

Travelling from Seattle to exit 34, just east of North Bend took about 45 minutes, and after a short drive north past the TA truck stop, we turned east (right for the challenged) on SE Middle Fork Road. For the next couple of years, the road will be under construction, with an anticipated completion of paving in 2016, so keep your eyes open for closures or delays.  Despite the steady drizzle, a number of cars were pulled out at various spots along the river and white water kayaking was in full swing.  After a few miles of asphalt, then ~ 10 miles of gravel we reached the trail head. The last 0.25 miles were pretty rutted, but there were several cars in the parking lot. As I pulled on my trail boots, I also got out the rain shell, since there was a constant drizzle, and the patches of blue sky had disappeared.

Through the trees the granite peaks played in the mist.

Through the trees the granite peaks played in the mist.

The valley and surrounding ranges that comprise the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie watershed are developing into an outdoor wonderland.  From the lush lower lands along the river, to the tributary rivers and creeks and upstream to the Alpine Lakes, there are trails for walking, climbing, cycling or horseback riding, not to mention kayaking and fishing in the rivers and creeks.  This should be fair warning – if you are looking for solitude you might want to find a more remote location. Even on this rain soaked afternoon we met a number of outdoor enthusiasts.  If however, you need a convenient fix of classic Northwest forest and river, soon to be accessible by the luxury of a paved road, this is a great place to come.

All along the trail, the forest floor was a lush carpet of ferns and mosses along with patches of salmon berries and clumps of devils club.

All along the trail, the forest floor was a lush carpet of ferns and mosses along with patches of salmon berries and clumps of devils club.

Stepping out of the truck and into this landscape  I feel an immediate sense of home.  Having grown up in the countryside near Chilliwack BC, and as a child, having traipsed around in the hills and along the Chilliwack and Vedder rivers, this setting is  familiar.  Moss covered trees, lush undergrowth, devils club reaching up to 10 ft or more, leaves dripping with dew (or in this case raindrops) and salmon berries in their orange and red hues are all happy reminders of my youth in the Fraser Valley.

Bridge across the river at the start of Trail #1003

Bridge across the river at the start of Trail #1003

Just a few hundred feet out of the parking lot, we crossed the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie and at the T,  took trail 1003 to the east (left). The Pratt Lake Connector trail (to the right) will have to wait for another day. Did I mention it was still drizzling?  Despite this, the trail was in great shape, with very little standing water.  We meandered along the river, then a little ways up into the woods, coming out below a huge rock face at Stegosaurus Butte.    This trail provides a quiet walk through the woods, with great views of craggy mountain peaks and waterfalls across the river valley.

Looking straight up the rock face at Stegosaurus Butte.

I came back a week later and took this shot looking straight up the rock face at Stegosaurus Butte.

As we hiked along, two boys on mountain bikes cruised by, soon followed by their sister who looked to be about 10, and their parents.  We also met up with a couple of US Forest Service rangers and some other day hikers on their way out. Its good to have your actions validated by others – if we are a little nutty to be out on the trail on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, at least we aren’t the only ones!  While the views were not spectacular, all the play of the mist in the trees and surrounding peaks, the various flowers in bloom and the feel of a mossy forest floor made for a rewarding afternoon.

Now you see it.

Now you see it.

Now you don't!

Now you don’t!

As we hiked further, the path took us through the forest, though the river was never out of earshot.  All along the way, we passed through patches of salmon berries, which provided refreshing snacks.  We also crossed a number of streams, where the winter run-off was  making its way down to the river.  A few miles in, we crossed a large creek, with great boulders and trees / branches strewn around the forest floor.  It’s not hard to imagine the potential raging power of spring run off in full force.  Eventually the trail returned to the rivers edge.  By this time, we were thoroughly soaked – time for a new rain shell.  Looking upstream, the destination bridge across to the Dingford trailhead was still not in sight, but given the wet conditions, we decided to make our way back to the truck.

For me, its one of the most appealing aspects of living in Seattle –  just an hour from homeI can step into the forest, walk along a river, eat salmon berries fresh off the bush, or jump off a snowbank into an alpine lake.    It’s a continuing testament to efforts of the people who provide us all with an incredible system of trails that let us wander around in our small corner of the world.
Life is good.

Judging by the rocks and trees, this would be quite the creek during the height of run off.

Judging by the rocks and trees, this would be quite the creek during the height of run off.

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Mirror Lake Hike

Sunday, June 8th 2014.
It was a beautiful afternoon, and I had not had a chance to get out on a trail yet this year, so I hopped in my trusty pickup and headed east on I-90 to scout out a short hike up to Mirror Lake.  Ken and I camped at Mirror Lake last summer as the final stop on our White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass PCT trip.  While the PCT trail to the pass covers 9 miles, I heard about a short trail (1-1.5 miles) up from Lost Lake Rd (FS 5480).

I left home around 1pm, and thankfully traffic out of the city was surprisingly quiet, so that I reached exit 62 east of Keechelus Lake in ~1 hr.  After exiting to the south, and a  mile of pavement, I turned northwest on FS 5480.  Unfortunately there was a car just ahead of me, and it was a dusty gravel road.  The road crosses the John Wayne Iron Horse trail – which has now inspired a new thought – crossing the state by mountain bike on this trail – but that will be an adventure for another day.  FS 5480 follows Keechelus Lake – steadily climbing, then turning west towards Lost Lake – which looks like a beautiful place to car camp.  The road continues climbing on the north shore of the lake, eventually ending in pull out, leaving an ~0.5 mile climb up a rough road to reach the trail head. There were a half dozen cars, and a large group who were all smiles as they had finished up their hike.

Mirror Lake Trailhead view.

Mirror Lake Trailhead view.

I made my way to the trail head, shot a photo of the road up, and headed off on the trail. While  to this point it had been dry and dusty, within a few hundred yards, I was walking on and around snow patches.  I find this time of year particularly beautiful – winter slipping away with the snow melt, spring flowers fed by rivulets, and a beautiful blue sky with the warm sun on my back indicating summer just around the corner.

Trilliums on the forest floor.

Trilliums on the forest floor.

The hike was as advertised – a short distance – absent the snow, it would probably take ~15 minutes to Cottonwood Lake. In my case, with a little exploring, and a touch of extra caution to avoid post-holing or sliding down snow banks it might have taken 30 minutes. As I made my way around, I could hear the happy sounds of a family group testing the limits of the edge of the snow/ice that covered 75% of the lake.

Exploring the snow banks at Cottonwood Lake

Exploring the snow banks at Cottonwood Lake

An old trail marker indicated that the hike up to Mirror Lake was just another 1/2 mile. While this should have only taken another 15 minutes, the route was uphill, and completely snowbound. On the way up, despite my naturally light footfalls🙂 I managed to break through and post-hole a few times. I took advantage of the slash marks in the trees, as well as the hiker tracks to make my way up to the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail. As Ken will attest, it looks quite different when the snow has melted off!  With a little off trail exploration, and the time I took to enjoy the little things – the flowers, the melting snow, the rivulets, the birds and squirrels and my fellow hikers, it may have taken all of an hour to reach mirror lake.  Time well spent!

PCT Trail Marker at Mirror Lake

PCT Trail Marker at Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake - Snow Bound

Mirror Lake – Snow Bound

After a short break at the lake, I retraced my steps – I rediscovered the role of my heels in the softening snow and steep downhill banks. In short order (~20 minutes) I was back at the trail head, mission accomplished. Later in the summer, this would be a perfect approach for an easy weekend stay at Mirror Lake.

Melt underway at Cottonwood Lake

Melt underway at Cottonwood Lake

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Day 8 – Mirror Lake to Snoqualmie Pass

Wednesday Aug. 28, 2013
9 miles, 860 ft ascent, 2010 ft descent

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Ken modeling a pack cover and gaters.

The last night on the trail was also the best nights sleep, despite the on and off rain.  With camp a little damp, but packed up, and breakfast (including the last of my oranges!) eaten, we started on our last 9 miles of trail along with Scott who was planning to spend a few more days out on the trail north of Snoqualmie.  With the intermittent showers, for the first time on the trip I decided to use my pack cover.

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Grouse along the trail.

Not long into the trip, we flushed some grouse and Ken showed great patience and the upside of carrying a good camera with the shot he captured. Though we had a few short climbs, the majority of the hike out was spent descending.  The last few days we had moved out of the back country and were experiencing more and more of civilization, which I greeted with mixed feelings.  Looking forward to home and family, but hard to give up the absence of responsibility.🙂 The return was most evident today, as what sounded like a distant river was in fact the traffic noise from I-90.

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View from the trail north of Mirror Lake.

We stopped for a break at the edge of a clear-cut, crossed a few forest service roads and skirted Ollalie Meadow.  We met a WTA volunteer crew working on brushing out and improving tread. This was the third volunteer group on the trip – high fives to all!  Once past the crew, we traversed a huge scree slope and re-entered the forest.  Not unexpectedly, we began to meet more and more day hikers who had started from Snoqualmie Pass.  Just past Lodge Lake we passed through a group of ~15 seniors who were on their way back from an ~5 mile round trip.  I was more than impressed at how spry they were, considering they had climbed the ski hill, hiked down to Lodge Lake and were now heading home.

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Crossing the scree.

We finally crested the ski hill and looked down on the resort below.  Another 20 minutes of trekking and we reached Scott’s car.  He gave us a lift to the truck which was parked at the north trailhead across I-90.

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The ski resort at Snoqualmie Pass.

We agreed to meet for some lunch at the Summitt Pancake house, and as we drove back over, who should we see but Oakland and Voodoo.  They had taken a ‘zero’ in Seattle (trail parlance for a day  with zero hiking) and were now heading to the trail-head to begin the push to Canada.  We wished them a safe journey, and made our way over for lunch – a big salad, a burger and in my case a beer.  On that note, we wished Scott an enjoyable few days in the mountains, picked up an iced coffee at the stand next door, and pulled onto I-90 for the trip home.

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Eight days, 100 miles, ~8lbs, and ready to move on to the next section! Another great trip in the Cascade mountains!

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Day 7 – Stampede Pass / Lizard Lake to Mirror Lake

Tuesday Aug. 27 2013
9 miles, 2060 ft ascent, 1550 descent

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Camp at Stampede Pass.

This morning we learned why camping along a logging road is a not a very good idea.  The first truck came down the hill with full air brakes at just around 4:30 am.  If that wouldn’t wake you up, the next 3 or 4 trucks would be sure to take care of things.  Still, I managed to doze on and off for a few hours, finally getting up as the trucks made their way back with full loads. Once again it was a bit of a struggle to get started on the day, since it had rained a fair amount overnight.  We packed up our damp gear (it felt a few pounds heavier), had the usual oatmeal, coffee and an orange and headed out.  Scott started with us, but decided to go a little slower.

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Lunch site at Twilight Lake.

Since we had only 18 miles to go, we decided to take two relatively easy 9 mile days, and spend the night at Mirror Lake. The morning started with a nice climb, then a steep descent.  We walked through some incredible forest where the trees seemed to reach a few hundred feet. As we continued to descend, we noticed signs from Seattle Public Utilities not to trespass off the trail, as this was part of the watershed for the city.  Down below we could see our lunchtime destination, Twilight Lake.  We hiked off trail across the marsh to a nice spot near the edge of the lake, and kicked back to enjoy a bit of mid-day sun.

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Beautiful Mirror Lake.

After some R&R we got back on the trail with just a mile or so to go, and a 600ft climb up to Mirror Lake.  While we could have pushed on to Snoqualmie Pass, the lake was beautiful, the sun was out and we agreed on the original plan of spending the afternoon and evening there.  Scott joined us again at the campsite.   Once set up, it took no convincing to get into the water and wash up.  Two or three days without a good swim was enough for me!  The water was perfect and we spend a good half hour swimming and washing up.

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From whence we came. Looking back across the valley we had crossed on the way to Mirror Lake.

With the early stop, we explored the area and chatting with some other campers, we learned that there was trail to a forest service road so that you only had to hike a couple of miles to reach the lake.  That explained the dozen or more kids hanging out on the shore across the water.  A definite consideration for a short day hike, or overnight at an alpine lake.  Walking back just a few hundred yards we also had a great vantage point looking out over the valley we had just hiked from.  This site ranked along with Snow and American Lakes as the best places we camped on this trip.

Unlike our last trip where there was only one meal left in the pantry on the last night, we had a choice and prepared  curried couscous with  berries and lanjaegers.  Typical of the Cascades, the weather shifted rapidly between sun, cloud, and downpour.  While we were finishing up, Wight, who demonstrated the ‘vortex’ a few days back, came hiking through.  We had a great conversation that included Indonesia, Chaucer and ghosts.  When the next squall hit, he cinched up his jacket and moved on, expressing the view if your tent isn’t set when it starts to rain, you might as well hike on.  With more than 100 days and 2394 miles under his belt, he has the experience to make that call!

After the rain subsided, we had some hot chocolate and watched the clouds form over the mountains to the northwest of the lake.  As the sky darkened, I once again climbed in bed, feeling somewhat clean, and I passed out for the last night on the trail.

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Ken’s classic tree shot.

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Shameless Selfie🙂 Clara loves the hat!

Posted in 2013, Backpacking, PCT | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Day 6 – NFS Road at 2370 to Stampede Pass – Road at Lizard Lake

Monday Aug. 26, 2013
14 miles,  2210 ft ascent, 3040 ft descent

Waking up to a breeze and some sunshine makes for a dry tent and a good morning!  Probably even more significant – the NeoAir is a big winner!  I didn’t feel the rocky road through the night.  One last test – is it durable?  I’ll report back on that in a couple of years.  With breakfast on board, we hit the trail around 8:30.  Having camped around mile 2370, the map indicated water 2-3 miles ahead, though the description was a little vague “good water a few hundred yards off the trail at a switch back”.  This is a pretty typical waypoint description, and after some time you learn to trust that there will be an indication on the trail or a subtle clue (like the roar of a creek).  Rarely have we missed an important mark from the map.

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Hiking through the forest in the morning light.

So we headed north east through the forest on a rolling descent.  While flying high above the Cascades, you might have the impression that there there is a homogenous cover of green blanketing the mountain slopes.  However, when you walk the trail, you realize that the nature of the forest is constantly changing.  In mature forests like the area we were hiking through, the trees stand straight and tall, reaching for light, and there is very little undergrowth.  This can change quickly to dense thickets that are impassable except for the trail, or as you climb higher you might notice that every tree has a bend in its trunk, or that the trees are stunted and sparse. Or you might be so lucky as to walk through an old growth grove like we did near the Suiattle River last year.  I especially enjoy the forest when the light is filtering through the trees.

As  expected, at the turning point of the last switchback heading north we picked up on the sound of running water, and the red ribbon arrow pointing to a creek.  With fresh water in our bottles, we continued down to Tacoma Pass, then headed to the north west, climbing up to Sheets Pass.  Along the way, first I was nailed in the leg by a wasp, then Ken was also stung.  Fortunately I don’t have a strong response, so within a few minutes I no longer felt the sting, while Ken suffered a little more for a day or two.

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Coming closer to civilization.

After escaping the angry wasps, we stopped for a lunch of chicken noodle soup, then pushed on reaching the first of three sets of powerlines.  We crossed these lines and eventually reached the forest service road at Stampede Pass.  There was a person camped here, so our inclination was to walk down to Lizard Lake to see if we could find a site.  After a quick search we realized that was a no go, so we pitched our tents alongside Scott Smith, who was out for a few days of Cascade air.  After some conversation we learned that he builds and repairs violins, violas and cellos for a living.  Like me, he feels the call of the mountains (and has to convince his girlfriend that he’s ok out on the trail).

Though there was a rain squall moving in, I walked back down to Lizard Lake and managed a bit of a bath – though the lake bottom was pretty awful.  I was glad that I packed a pair of crocs on my pack, as they made for excellent around the camp and in the lake footwear!  With the rain moving in, we quickly whipped up and ate some alfredo noodles with chicken, and climbed into our tents to avoid the weather.

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Pumping water a few hundred feet off trail from a switchback.

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Day 5 – Camp Urich to NFS Rd. at 2370

Sunday Aug. 25, 2013
14.5 miles, 2100 ft ascent, 2440 ft descent

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Camp Urich in the morning.

I woke to a quiet and beautiful morning at Camp Urich, and when I had finished my morning ritual inside my tent, I leaned out and took pictures of the meadow.  With just a little more effort I finished packing up and put together some breakfast.  Over the next hour, the other campers rolled out of their beds and made preparations to head out.

As we were getting ready to continue up the trail, we witnessed the ‘hiker vortex’ phenomenon. This describes the situation where through hikers get comfortable at a hiker haven like Camp Urich, and have a hard time leaving to continue on there trek. In this case, Wight actually demonstrate a physical vortex, since he donned his pack, walked back to the trail, started up and then looped back to the camp and decided to stay for the day. Spitfire had done the same thing the day before – and by the time we left it was looking like he might have trouble leaving as well. If we see him up the trail, I guess he will have broken free.

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Heading out from Camp Urich.

While we were saying our goodbye’s, the horses took a shine to Ken’s backpack – probably looking for some trail mix.  Heading north from Camp Urich, we were heading into a 30-40 mile stretch of trail that passed through clear cuts and skirted areas where forest fires had stripped the trees bare.  While many of these areas were well into recovery or had been replanted, there were long open stretches as well.  We started with a  northerly climb out of the woods and met several more through hikers who with us enjoyed the feast of blueberries and huckleberries.  As an aside, I am still unclear as to the difference, so I decided – the powdery blue berries are ‘blue berries’ and the shinier purple berries are huckleberries.

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Blueberries

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Huckleberries

In either case, I came out the winner this year. The crop was abundant and delicious! Mixed with oatmeal for breakfast, picked in stride for a snack on the run, and by the handful at rest stops and in the evening, and a superfood at that.   I probably didn’t have to pack all those oranges!

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Fire damage from ~25 years ago.

Before long we hade hiked across clear cuts and through stands of dead trees stripped bare by fire, but oddly silver in the light. Continuing up, we reached Windy Gap.  After a short break we continued on, crossing the ridge.  From this point, the trail took an east north east bearing, following the ridge lines above the Green River watershed.  At around mile 2360 we stopped at a small spring and filled our water bottles.  From the start of the trip we had marked this spot which was labeled “North Bound Water Alert – No Water 12 miles…”.  When it’s on the map, it strikes irrational fear in your heart.   So I used my extra bottle and filled up with 3.5 litres (7.7 lbs), enough to add back all the weight of the oranges I had already finished! C’est la vie.  The spot was perfect for a break – a small creek trickling down the hillside, berries to pick, and a bit of sunshine.

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Mt. Rainier from the east.

After a short but relatively steep climb,  looking over our shoulders we were treated to spectacular Rainier views that had been obscured by the clouds the past few days.  When Rainier comes out, it only makes sense to stop and enjoy.  We continued on to the junction with the Bear Creek trail where we took a short break.  Not surprisingly, before long a couple of through hikers (Orbit and Blast) paused to chat.  We learned that just an hour after we left Camp Urich some serious trail magic occurred.  Magic Mike (?) showed up in his truck, and set up shop in the parking lot where he broke out the Krispy Kremes, bags of Snickers bars and ice cold Frappuccinos.  Apparently this stopped Spitfire in his tracks – he dropped into a lawn chair and experienced bliss. Good thing we had already left – as the temptations might have overcome the reticence of not being a through hiker.  Having shared this happy tale, they moved on.  Just as we were getting ready to continue on, who should show up but Spitfire himself – he had managed to escape and was hoping to still put in 30 or 40 miles before stopping for the night. This illustrated the difference between us and through hikers – we were happy to stop after 13 miles.

We continued on, descending towards the road where we planned to camp.  The site was at the end of a forest service road, and being gravel finally provided the true test for my NeoAir.  With camp set up, and a meal of mashed potatoes and lanjaegers in my tummy, it was time to crawl in bed.  Another night without a lake or creek to bathe in, and only the water we carried since we were not out of the ‘water alert’ meant I was getting a little ‘gamey’.  In that respect, hopefully things would be better tomorrow.

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Endless Cascade Ridges looking north from our campsite. It almost looks like a diorama.

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The endless Cascades!

Posted in 2013, Backpacking, PCT | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments