Saturday, September 20, 2008

Steak in Stehekin

In 2003, crazy rains in Northern Washington washed out sections of
the PCT and destroyed bridges on about 10 creeks/rivers between
Skykomish and Stehekin. For several years the trail was detoured
through this section. In 2006, when a few bridges had been rebuilt,
more floods swept the progress of restoration away.

For five years, very little trail maintenance occurred and hundreds of
trees fell over onto the trail. None but the most adventurous have
seen the Glacier Peak Wilderness via the PCT for a long time.

But then 2008 came around, bridges were built, and a large log spanned
the breadth of the Suiattle river. The downed trees, known as
"blowdowns," were mostly still around, but it was the river and it's
log that everyone cared about.

Yogi, the author of a key guidebook said that scooting on her butt
across the log in 2007 was the "scariest thing she's ever done in her
life." She's hiked the Continental Divide Trail, which is five times
scarier than the PCT.

Since we entered WA, to do or not to do the original PCT has been
nearly as frequent a conversation topic as bodily functions (the #1
topic of the trail, hands down).

So it was that we left Skykomish with most of our crew and the intent
to brave the blowdowns and the log...

Before getting to the frightening stuff, we encountered: two hunters
who said they had just seen a mama grizzly with two cubs an hour
before meeting us, thousands upon thousands of vertical climbs and
descents, several black bears eating berries in the distance, the
beginning of what looked like a forest fire, the coolest sunrise of
the trip, and Rapunzel, a friend who we haven't seen since Agua Dulce,
2000 miles before.

Unfortunately, our chance meeting with Rapunzel was marred by the
returning pain in her knee which had kept her off the trail for three
weeks and which was now keeping her from finishing altogether. She
turned on the jets in Agua Dulce and was a month ahead of us by the
time she got to OR, but her stories of stopping only twice a day for
ten minutes each because of the terrible mosquitos through ALL of
Oregon, made us grateful to infinity plus one for being slow and
taking this trip at the pace we have.

But I digress. How was the log? Well, first you've got to walk through
two miles of trail that takes about 2.5 hours because of blowdowns.
These obstacles can be a single tree, several trees splayed out in odd
angles, or in a few instances, a 6 to 8 foot tall old growth behemoth.
It was an obstacle course that sapped our energy, but was actually
better than we thought it would be. It also made us appreciate
maintenance volunteers who keep the rest of the trail clear - the PCT
would be impossible without them.

At the end of the blowdowns is Vista creek without a bridge. Vista's
log crossing had all its branches sticking up and out and the trunk
was barely a foot wide. I watched Clearwater walk across without
trouble and said to myself, "ok, if he can do it, I can do it."
We both made it with only a minor pause in the middle. Only 2.4 miles
to the big one, now.

The old bridge across the Suiattle river was 50 yards long, I'd read.
The log was 8 feet off the water, I'd heard. If it was wet, it would
be twice as frightening. The forecast in Skykomish said rain on
Thursday. We arrived at the log on Thursday.

So we get there. The log is 8 feet off the water. But the sun is
shining, and the log is only 30 feet across. I hand the camera off to
Jane, and before she had time to worry about me, I just walk across.
She almost didn't get a picture.

Everyone else crossed successfully and we congratulated ourselves at
imagining something so terrifying that the real thing was easy. I was
more scared at Vista creek.

Now we're in Stehekin, which you can't get to in normal life by road,
and the steak I dreamed about was enjoyed thoroughly last night at
Lorenzo's birthday party. After dinner, he treated everyone to
birthday cake, champagne, beer, and wine in one of the hotel common
rooms, which we filled with laughter late into the night.

Rain is coming. Since we haven't seen rain for three weeks in WA, we
figure it's about time.

Presently, my parents are flying to Seattle and will make the long
trip to Stehekin tomorrow, by which time we'll be gone. Oh well, we'll
see them in Canada.

I almost forgot, for those of you unfamiliar with the Pacific
Northwest, this picture is an example of what passes for a creek up
here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Snoqualmie to Skykomish

Up, down, up, down, up - this pretty much sums up this section, in which we climbed about 13,000+ feet total in elevation over the course of 75 miles. For more detail, read below.

Thursday

After a lovely breakfast at the Pancake House, we left Snoqualmie around 11:30 with hopes of doing 15-18 miles. The terrain was tough with lots of loose rocks and as MoonPie says, "PUDs" (pointless ups and downs). Around 6:30 we decided we were at 15 miles and called it a night. MoonPie, Clearwater and Jesse joined us at mosquito camp (yes, we still deal with mosquitoes, they just haven't been as bad lately). About an hour later, we saw a headlight coming down the mountain, and it was Don't Panic. Hoffa, Dangerprone and Hawkeye were ahead, but it was nice to be together with this little group.

Friday

An exciting day indeed. During the middle of a nice big climb, we heard jet sounds in the canyon. We look over and a fighter jet was actually below us in the canyon, flying toward the mountain - he pulled up at the last minute. It was awesome.

After a lunch with MoonPie, Jesse and Clearwater, we were going to hike another mile and fill up on water. I let LandShark go ahead with the boys and I waited for MoonPie. When the boys arrived at the water, there was a bear in the field - our first one we have actually seen on the trail. Unfortunately, by the time MoonPie and I got there, he had disappeared into the woods. I was sad, to say the least. I have a feeling I will hike all the way to Canada without a bear sighting.

We camped at a lovely site by a river and built a fire and roasted hot dogs MoonPie had packed out. We had a campfire discussion of what we have learned on this hike - one of those discussions that is meaningful and insightful.

Unfortunately, we had to deal with something we haven't had to yet - mice. At 2 am, I was rudely awoken by LandShark shining a bright light in my face saying "we have a mouse in our tent." The little guy had chewed a hole in the mesh and welcomed himself in. It took several minutes of chasing the mouse around our tent to finally build a ramp out the door with my sleeping pad and chase him out. I'm pretty sure he came back, but when I told LandShark about it, he said, "it's fine, we can just sleep with him in here." Needless to say, it wasn't a good night's sleep for anyone.

Saturday

We had planned on a 26 mile day from the start. More of the same - big climbs, big up and downs. When we descended from our last climb looking for the campsite, we never found it, so we kept going. After a bit, we ran into a couple camping who didn't have room at their site, but said Hope Lake was only another mile and there was lots of camping there. MoonPie, Jesse and ourselves hiked into the dark to reach Hope Lake. We set up camp, cooked and went to bed. Fortunately we didn't have any more mice that evening, but both MoonPie and Jesse said they were wandering all around their tents until about 11, when the mice decided it was their bedtime as well.

Sunday

Only 8 miles to go to Stevens Pass, and from there we would hitch into the Dinsmores - a trail angel family that invites hikers into their home. We had a couple climbs up and out, but the terrain was steady and it was over with quickly enough. We met up with MoonPie and Jesse at the top of the last climb before descending down to the road, and we enjoyed a nice conversation of religion, stereotypes and life in general.

At the road, it took approximately 16 minutes to hitch a ride before a VW van pulled over and we hopped in. This particular hitch acted as a bookend of sorts for LandShark and I, as the first hitch we ever got was from a VW van back in Julian, CA, and now our last hitch into town is a VW van as well. Maybe we haven't come so far after all.

The Dinsmore's are great, and they have built a whole hiker cabin above their garage, which you can see from the picture. There were many familiar faces here, and we have enjoyed our stay. Eleven hikers total loaded into the back of Mr. Dinsmore's truck and we went to dinner at the Cascadia Inn, where the special was chicken fried steak, which most of us ordered.

We also met a couple old friends here, Splash, who hiked southbound a few years ago and we met just outside of Warner Springs at mile 100 when she was section hiking back to the kick-off, and Eric D, who we met just before the Pines to Palms Highway at mile 142 - he finished on Aug. 16 and hiked back here to hang out for a few weeks. Last year he became the second person to yo-yo (hike from Mexico to Canada and back again).

Only one more trail town to go - and we can barely believe it's almost over!