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