Adventures (and Misadventures) in Washington – Part 2/3
Let’s see, where did we last leave off? Right—the magical Alpine Lakes Wilderness…
Not caught up? Read Part 1 of the adventure here.
The day me and Caesar set off into Alpine Lakes was by no means easy, but there’s something about epic views that seems to lessen the struggle to some degree. Luckily for us, the views on this day were in no short supply.
The last few miles to camp, though? Those were something else entirely…
We were at the last water source for the day, and I could feel the magical, fatigue-reducing effects from the views finally wearing off. “Do you think we could start looking for a place to camp in the next couple of miles?” I asked Caesar. Taking pity on me, he agreed that was fine and we set off in the direction of camp for the evening. About two miles in, we came across the first campsite—it was cozy and sat perched along the edge of a scenic ridgeline, but unfortunately it had already been taken. We continued climbing and reached the next potential campsite, which I’m sure would’ve ordinarily made for a very decent place to make camp, but the day had taken a rather unordinary turn. The weather had turned nasty, the sun had set, and apparently, this was the last sheltered site on the climb because every little nook and cranny had already been staked with a tent. We had no choice but to go on.
We quickly donned our rain jackets and headlamps and made the final push to camp. We arrived at the top cold, hungry and ready to seek the refuge of our tents. Shining our lights around in the heavy, damp air, we scoured the small pond and surrounding area for potential tent sites. The terrain was rocky, not ideal for our non-freestanding tents, and it appeared that every potential spot was again, taken. Surely there had to be something, I thought. This was our last option due to a fragile area that was closed to camping for the next two miles, and I didn’t have two miles left in me—plus, it was well past hiker midnight. We walked up and down, traipsing all over the area until at last, we found a couple of spots that we could make work.
I had just enough room to squeeze my tent onto a semi-flat surface in-between some rocks. I hadn’t had enough room to fully extend my vestibule doors, which wasn’t ideal considering that it was still raining on-and-off, but it would simply have to do.
I went to use the toilet one last time before climbing in for the night and was horrified to find a pile of unburied human poo just steps away from my tent.
Sighing, I climbed back into my tent and forced down some trail mix and bars for dinner. I was so exhausted that I quickly fell asleep despite the sounds of the constant flapping of my poorly-staked vestibule doors in the wind. Good night.
The next morning, we laughed as we hiked and recounted the unideal ending to the previous day. A marathon complete with 8,000 feet of elevation gain alone had made for a tough day, other circumstances aside! It had been tough, we agreed, but the views from the earlier part of the day had certainly made up for it. We had a fantastic time over the next couple of days and it seemed that the more time we spent together, the more our friendship grew.
In a couple days’ time, we reached Stevens Pass and I had the incredible opportunity to reconnect with friends that I made while hiking back in 2020. I was so grateful that the timing had allowed for us to meet up—meeting up with people while on-trail can be challenging sometimes! They even provided trail magic for us and many other hikers that day and wow, was Gnome’s grilled cheese on another level. What a treat.
After filling up on food and hugs from these lovely people, me and Caesar hitched into Leavenworth and were once again reunited with Wall-E. We had a blast in this touristy but fun Bavarian-styled village (would 100% recommend making this a resupply stop—stay at the KOA!) and returned to the trail once more, eager to start on the next-to-last leg of our entire journey…
It was during this section of trail that this realization—and the emotions that came with it—really began to sink in. Every day for the next 108-mile stretch, I found myself crying at some point, usually during the quiet, reflective hours in the afternoon. The day we got back on-trail from Leavenworth, Wall-E, Caesar, and myself met up for lunch and began to discuss the logistics for finishing the trail. What day did we think we would touch the terminus?
What we were discussing, I realized, was the trail coming to an end—and that would be sometime next week.
Following this conversation, I tried to keep my emotions at bay—it was of no use to cry, I told myself. I shut off my music, which I realized wasn’t helping matters, tried to focus all of my energy on the climb…and began to sob. I didn’t want anyone to see me in this state, but knowing that I needed to talk to a friend, I pushed myself forward in the direction of Wall-E. He helped me sort through the anxious thoughts that had been swirling around in my brain and eventually, my tears slowed, then stopped altogether.
I was calmer, albeit energetically drained for the last few miles to camp. At that point, Caesar had caught up to us and when he’d seen that I wasn’t my usual bouncy self, he insisted that I walk in front of him. Sandwiched between my trusty compadres, we walked together and made it to camp just before sunset—and what a spectacular sunset it was.
The following day was beautiful—I walked and talked with Caesar for much of it and we witnessed some incredible views, which I’m sure would’ve been even more picturesque in the absence of a hazy atmosphere. We were aware that there were multiple fires burning east of us in Lake Wenatchee, but they were far enough away that the only direct impacts they had on us were those related to air quality. At camp that night, we did a round of “High, Low, Buffalo” and I shared that I had been on a high the entire day, which was good because I would need that momentum to help carry me through the following day…
Y’all—Glacier Peak Wilderness is beautiful and she is also fierce. First thing that morning, we safely crossed the raging waters of Kennedy Creek. We had a couple of sizeable climbs and treated ourselves at lunchtime to a long break (and a quick dip) at Mica Lake, which was possibly the most beautiful water I’ve seen outside of the Sierra. Soon after that, we began our final climb of the day and what I consider to be the single most hellacious climb in Washington—quite possibly on the entire trail. By some miracle we all made it, exhausted but still able to somehow laugh about the experience. We walked together and admired the views, all while listening to a family of marmots whistling (and doing whatever else it is that marmots do) up above the trail. Once at camp, we shared a lovely family dinner and watched yet another brilliant sunset unfold from the front-row seats of our ridgetop perch.
The next day was much more low-key in terms of elevation gain, but there was a series of seemingly never-ending blowdowns to contend with instead. The morning was long, and in the afternoon, me and Caesar engaged in deep conversation and it was at this time that I verbally acknowledged just how close I felt I had grown to him. After he shared that he felt similarly, the remaining miles for the day seemed to pass by much more quickly.
The last morning into Stehekin, I strode with purpose, excited for town and grateful that we had successfully made it through a difficult stretch of trail. It felt that everything was right with the world (especially mine), but I was about to learn some information that would indicate that that was not the case. When we reached High Bridge, the pick-up location for the shuttle to town, we learned some devastating news—the northern terminus had been closed due to not just one, but multiple fires and would not likely reopen for the season.
It didn’t feel real. In fact, I didn’t feel anything—it was as if my brain couldn’t accept this new information, this sudden and enormous roadblock which prevented me from reaching the goal I had been working toward for months. After coming all this way, I wouldn’t be able to walk the last 30 miles to Canada?
That night in Stehekin, hikers commiserated over the difficult experience that we’d all shared that day. The atmosphere was strange—ordinarily, the last town stop on-trail would’ve been celebrated, which is what I think people had still hoped to accomplish at this gathering. To me though, the “celebration” felt like an honorable, but unsuccessful attempt to help ease the pain and confusion that we all felt. Me and Caesar stuck around for a little while, then walked off in search of a quiet and peaceful spot to spend the twilight hours on the shores of Lake Chelan. That evening, as we looked up at the stars and listened to the soothing sounds of the water lapping against the dock, I still didn’t quite know what to feel. Somehow though, I knew it would all be okay—and somehow, having this person by my side assured me of that even more.
The following morning, the three of us hiked through North Cascades NP and went on to Rainy Pass, where me and Caesar said our goodbyes to Wall-E. He wanted to go back and do the closures in Oregon now that they were open, and hoped that the situation would be different by the time he returned to Washington.
Me and Caesar continued on toward Hart’s Pass. Beyond that, we were uncertain of where exactly our journey would take us, but we knew that somehow, some way, we would make it to Canada. There were a couple of options for how to make this happen, but we, Caesar especially, were more set on one in particular. The logistics were complicated and I was uncertain as to how it could work—a small part of me even doubted that it would. However, those uncertainties would soon dissipate as the events inexplicably—magically, even—unfolded over the next couple of days.
To be continued…
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