Hunger and hazards in the Glacier Peak Wilderness

Day 9 Zero at Stehekin

As my shin has betrayed me I was doomed to stay and zero while the others hit the trail. We were all sucked into the wifi that we haven’t had in a week. It is actually pretty nice to skip all the news, social media and contact with the outside world. News on trail and the situation on the coming stretch are going mouth to mouth from hikers going to the opposite direction.

We were totally unknown about the next stretch of the trail since we couldn’t access any reports on the trail. Apparently at least eight people had made it through, some had turned back a few days earlier. I was bummed for that because of my injury I’d have to do the Glacier peak national park alone. But then again if one has to self arrest one has to do it by herself anyway. But it is easier to walk behind somebody on a snowy traverse than kicking steps on your own. Also decisions about alternative routes or bailing out are easier to do together with others. Besides it was sad to depart from ones tramily with which one might not be able to reunite again.

I went to the famous bakery again and tried not to do too much physical activity. It was super hot and it was difficult to cool down ones shins when living in a boiling tent on a campingsite and not having access to ice. The lake offered some chance of cooling down and the grocery store had beer to compensate all the tears once again.

Day 10: 12,5 miles Stehekin – Tentsite at 93.1 miles

After the zero my shin was still a bit sore but better. I got so tired of not hiking while time was ticking that I packed my backpack and headed to the trail. Since I took the ranchbus I only started around 1 p.m. My speed was not normal, I could only walk 2 mph even if the terrain was not difficult. Most of the path went in a forest and followed a beautiful river. I met some hiker going north (sections or flipflop). It was very boring to hike alone and it felt scary to need to do the Cloudy pass alone the day after. I was camping by a roaring river in a spooky area and a deer came to visit me.

Day 11 15 miles Tentsite at 93.1 – Miner’s creek

It was an awful day, I was alone and there were so many insane blowdowns I have never seen something like that. It was like the whole forest had been blown upside down. Also I had to cross some very thick bushes over switchbacks so that you can’t see the trail at all. I almost fell of the trail.

Day 12 15.5 miles Miner’s creek to tentspot at mile 124

Another awful day. It started with a rain and then blowdowns and bad news for the coming passes. I met two hikers who said Dolly Vista is easy but Fire Creek Pass is really badass bad. Well the “easy” Dolly vista pass that was supposed to take 1,5 hours took 4,5 hours. I was so scared I tried to avoid exposed snow traverses by climbing over some melted vegetation. The whole day I walked 12 hours but only made 15.5 miles progress. At the top the view was great though, and I saw two marmots chasing each other. Had an epic tentspot in the middle of snowy slopes.

Day 13: 8 miles. Tentspot at Dolly Vista -Tentsite before Fire Creek Pass

I had slept in the most epic tent place in the middle of snow on a small melted spot. I had a lot of anxiety over coming passes. There were barely any hikers around and a couple that walked “wrong way” said it would be difficult. Another person just passed Fire creek pass and said it was complicated and that they got lost. Promising.

This days hike was mostly really bad bushwacking in switchbacks that had a vegetation higher than me and you couldn’t see the next step. In Farout comments somebody had fallen to a switchback below and that almost happened to me too. Luckily I managed to stop the fall with my knee. I got wounds all over both legs.

I planned to camp before snow and maybe wait out a friend who was 1-2 days behind. Fortunately I had her Inreach saved as there is no internet or mobile connection on the trail. I had had it with hiking the stressful snowy paths alone. But then another hiker passed by and said he’s doing a 20 mile day. What is it with all these 20 – 30 year old guys who run 26 mile days over the snow and often do not even have microspikes? I had death anxiety over every single pass (because most of them ARE really dangerous) and that was partly making my progress so slow.

I got more motivation seeing another young guy just run past my restingplace and I grabbed my stuff and hiked the rest of the miles to a camping place closest to the pass. Too bad it was all covered with snow, so I was setting my tent on it. My sitpad flew into the melting water under the snow in the wind.

Day 14: 5.6 miles. Tentsite before Fire Creek Pass-  Pumice Creek mile 167

This was the most f**d up day on the trail! I climbed the pass that has the reputation as the most dangerous pass alone (Fire Creek Pass) after having slept on snow. I followed steps by the previous hiker who had just climbed the snowy mountain straight up. I was doing the same and was so exhausted the last meters I was just screaming by myself to pull myself over the ridge. I felt empowered for having done that pass alone. But soon after that I got lost and jus couldn’t figure where the trail goes. All spots in the snow looked like footprints. I tried even climbing an extra mountain to get to the trail. Halfway I realized that was a stupid idea and that it was way too steep. I started going down and took a fall. I had to selfarrest several feet before the glide stopped. Finally I found the trail but it looked so damn dangerous that I decided to turn back to bailout and wait for my friends until the next day. However going back turned out to be equally dangerous and I was too thirsty so I turned back once again. On the way down I met a guy who went before me to the very sketchy snow crossing that had a deadly drop down if you slip. I followed him and climbed behind the snowwall to avoid the possibly fatal fall. Then I followed footsteps that went directly up from a scary traverse. I was so stressed I had to shout loud: “Left, right,left!” In Finnish to stay focused in every step. On top of the climb I met the same dude I had met before. He was smoking something and asked if I wanted some. I do not normally use drugs but I was so stressed I said yes to calm my nerves.

I took just a couple of puffs of something (hasch) and kept on walking. Just 15 minutes after that I got suddenly extremely stoned. The whole trail was swinging in front of me and it was like a dream where I am crossing a dangerous exposed path and then I wake up and realize I am actually doing that. I had to really focus to understand whether the trail was snowy or not. I felt no fear but my brain realized this was very dangerous. So I had to lay down on a melted spot in the middle of the trail to try to sober up, still having the microspikes and iceaxe on. I put snow inside my hat and just tried to breathe. I was staying like that at least for an hour, but I was so damned thirsty and hadn’t drank any water since the Fire Creek several miles before, so I forced myself to continue hiking. That is why I had to walk totally stoned all the way to Pumice creek that was also surrounded by snow but I found a perfect spot for one tent and somehow managed to set up my tent and crawl in it.

Day 15: 9.8 miles. Pumice creek – mile 146 in a forest

I woke up sobered in the most amazing tent spot. My friend had inreached me telling that she was camping only five miles away, so I had an excuse to nero at the perfect stop. A nobo couple passed  by and said everything after next 3 miles should be easier until Steven’s pass.

My friend arrived already before noon. She was with a group of five guys so I started hiking with them. The trail was so easy in comparison to the previous days. Only a couple of miles of snow, not much bushwacking, less blowdowns than the stretches before. It was the first day without death anxiety. Also it was easier to keep up a good pace in a group.

We camped in a middle of a random forest since the official tentsite at the altitude of 4900 feet was covered with snow. One of us missed that and couldn’t find us so he camped alone.

Day 16: 17 miles Mile 146 – Tentsite at mile 163

I woke up at 5 before the sun had gone up and we started going at 6, apparently this group always does early mornings. It was thick fog everywhere and we had to cross the snow covered Red Pass. At first it seemed easy but the pass just continued and continued. Afrer one exposed snow hill another one was revealed. Finally after an exhausting and long climb we came up to the top and we could finally see something on the other side. Finally some melted switchbacks! But our joy ended after a couple of miles. White Pass, another snowhill and after that a snowy mountain and after that more exposed switchbacks and then snow in a forest..I think about 10 of this days miles were covered in snow since we were walking in a relatively high altitude the whole day. At some point I just had a snowburnout.

Most of the people stopped using their microspikes, I was putting them on and off every 10 minutes. At one point I didn’t have my spikes or iceaxe and I took a glissade on my ass that I couldn’t stop. I think tolerance for high risk snow situations gets higher after being exposed to them over and over again in weeks. I was walking some steep snowy steps with a long fall beneath me without thinking about it too much. That kind of a situation would have scared the shit out of me two weeks before.

We camped at lover altitude at a tentsite that had place for all our six tents and a hammock.

Day 17: 21.4 miles. Tentisite at mile 163 – Nason Creek

I woke up at 5 as usual and we started hiking uphill at 6. It was foggy and it even rained a tiny bit – for the first time on the trail. Three hikers saw a big bear going just before and after me, so I guess it was in the bushes when I passed the place. As I am the slowest hiker of the group I was left behind but by this time one is so used to all the snow crossings that evaluating the need of and putting on microspikes/ice axe is routine and is done up to dozens of times nearly every day.

We summited three mountains. We climbed up over 5000 feet and went down the same amount today but still the day felt easier than previous days just because there was a lot more snowfree sections. The trail felt easier than we had imagined it would be even if you had to cross short snow sections or hike in mud a lot.

The Grizzly peak that had made people bail out just a couple of weeks earlier had almost melted. An early nobo came down running the snow without spikes and just said the trail is fine south from Steven’s pass. Another nobo at our camp that night asked us not to miss the Eagle Creek alternate, Crater Lake alternate or the Bic Lake Youth Camp. He said the snow is ok from now on for us and that we could soon send the axes home.

I lost the crew in a long downhill and since I hadn’t eaten in nine hours decided to have lunch on my own instead of finding the crew. Just then I happened to come to Janus Lake and immediately took a swim in it as a surprise to some fishers. All in all there were more dayhikers/section hikers that day than any day before this. I stopped to chat with many of them and they wished the best of luck for the trail. I passed even Lake Valhalla but decided it was bad omen to take a dip in that one.

The group had left me a written message on the path (since modern technology does not work here) and we ended up walking just 4 miles from end of this section and doing the longest day, my first over 20 miler on this day. It felt easier than a 14 miler on a very snowy trail.

Day 18: 3.8 miles. Nason Creek – Skykomish

For the first time the group was in time for the start of the day as we were going to nero (do a nearly zero miles day) in Skykomish. We walked in a record speed to Steven’s Pass ski resort while making an impro story with Rebound. The main character was Columbian Poopy Pants that had been lost on the trail. From the pass we got a hitch from a previous PCT hiker and spent the day eating breakfast buffet, doing laundry, going to Leavenworth for resupply and some beers and finally drinking tequila at a local wearing only rain clothes. Town days take surely as hard on you as being on the trail.

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