Book Six, Chapter Four – The Top of the Ninth
I’ve been trying to decide of there’s an appropriate metaphor for hiking the PCT. Maybe a baseball game?
Announcer Joe: A haggard-looking Smokebeard takes the mound for the top of the ninth inning. After all this work, his clothes are falling off his frame, and boy, look at that 5 o’clock shadow! You have to wonder how much he has left in the tank.
Announcer Jerry: You’re right, Joe. This is by far his longest outing, and there’s no one warming in the bullpen. It’s all on him to put this one in the books.
Joe: The velocity is down somewhat over the past two innings, but the command is still there. I don’t know how much we’re seeing is fatigue or if he’s pacing himself. He definitely looks capable of going the distance. He was knocked around mid-game, and there was that mound visit from the trainer, but he stayed with it to keep the lead.
Jerry: We’ll see how this plays out as he faces Stevens, Stehekin, and Manning, three of the toughest opponents. And it looks like we’re going to finish this one in the rain.
Sept. 2 – 9.7 miles
Crossed mile 2,400 today. Awesome views of Rainier and closer, smaller ranges on the multi-mile, multi-thousand foot climb from Snoqualmie Pass.
The trail is getting more rugged, rockier, and cooler. Views everywhere, a bit of challenging footing, and back to a sense of wilderness. 249 miles to go.
I heard that this was the area where some guy fell down the ridge and had to be airlifted out. Someone said they saw him and his phone far away, smashed. I bet he stepped too close to the edge to get a selfie. To the right is a sheer drop.
I also heard that later, a woman fell down this same area, the Kendall Catwalk, and sadly died.
Sept. 3 – 25
A 25-mile day, starting at 4 a.m. Why? Because I cowboy camped under clear skies, which turned to clouds and rain at 4 a.m. Quickly packing and eating in the dark and drizzle, I couldn’t start hiking, or rather, didn’t want to start hiking in the wet and dark, so I sat there under my umbrella with my rain gear on. I even dozed. It was kind of a low point.
Incredible views today. By 10 or so the skies were clear.
Here’s a grainy shot of a pica. Picture a small, short-eared rabbit. They inhabit high-elevation rock areas and squeak loudly to sound the alarm when you walk by. Then others take up the chorus. They all bitch at you until you leave.
A couple of big climbs, especially the one this afternoon, although the views, water availability, weather, and trail footbed made it feel pretty easy.
Another 23 or so tomorrow, then a 13 into Stevens Pass.
This other hiker, Thumper, asked a day hiker if he had seen me – “A guy in his 40s, big gray beard, long hair, light shirt?”
The hiker replied – “I saw a guy in his 50s with a big white beard…”
Yet by a sense other than sight Pippin perceived that Gandalf had the greater power and the deeper wisdom, and a majesty that was veiled. And he was older, far older. “How much older?” he wondered, and then he thought how odd it was that he had never thought about it before.
Sept. 4 – 22
Called it early on account of dark and tired. Still 22 though, 14 to the pass. Lots of climbing this morning and a 7:15 start, the first half of the day was slow.
Took the Surprise Pass alternate. Happy just to sit and watch the sun set on the canyon walls, with the pica squeaking, and Glacier Peak shining in the distance. This was one of the reasons I came out here.
Good day. Faceplant showed up at the end. We got philosophical about the ten remaining days, and how April was so long ago.
Sept. 5 – 20 at Valhalla Lake
14.2 to Stevens Pass, then beer and grilled cheese and ice cream. The people there were super friendly. Three hours later, we headed out.
Here with many thru-hikers: Smiley Face, Two Pack, Baby Blanket, and Faceplant. I think there are others here, tucked in the trees at the meadow’s edge. In the gathering dusk, Baby Blanket saw a fox creeping around the stream. Pretty cool.
Maybe a 23 tomorrow? We’re now racing the weather; it should be good through the 10th, enough to get us to Stehekin. After that, though, it turns to shit. And the hotel there is already full.
It’s very weird to think that there are only nine or ten more nights out here. Even with the two fire detours, we’re under 200 miles.
With ten more days to go, I’m starting to think of things like – how many more catholes will I have to use? How many more times will I wake up at 2 a.m. to refill my air mattress? Will I get a shower before Canada?
Hint: too many, too many, and no.
Sept. 6 – 23.7 at Sally Ann Lake
A fucking long day. 6,100 feet up and 5,500 feet down. I don’t think I have another day in me like this one. Ever.
But still, epic views, beautiful woods, streams and lakes, and great company.
We spent an hour at this lake. Here’s a pic before the rocks were covered in hikers and wet underwear. I went in, and it was literally breathtakingly cold. If the lake looks a cool aqua blue, that’s because it was. #nofilter
Spot the marmots (there are three).
As I got to camp tonight, utterly drained, hungry, crabby, and thinking dark thoughts, I saw that Faceplant had left arrows and “SB” written in the dirt to where there were good sites. My mood improved considerably. As in, I no longer hated hiking.
Sept. 7 – 22.2
At Pumice Creek solo tonight, although there’s no pumice here. I managed to time the rain almost perfectly. I got the tent set up during a brief intermission in the drizzle, which started around dinner time. As a bonus, once I got everything set up and inside the tent, it stopped raining for a few minutes, allowing me to get back outside and adjust a few of the lines.
I’m pretty pleased with myself today. As we’ve entered the Glacier Peak Wilderness, the views have gone from good to ridiculous. I forced myself to take a break and spend some summit time at the top of a long climb today, where I had about a 270 degree view of truly epic mountains. People I have talked to said that this rivals the Sierra. It’s different but it is as good. I can’t say that one is better than the other.
Oh, yeah. I crossed the 2,500-mile mark today. I’m very happy to say that I will not be walking 500 more! (Sorry, Proclaimers)
What I’m also happy about is that earlier today I decided I was only going to do a short (22) day so that I would have time to blog and read and journal and rest my feet. While Faceplant wanted to grind more miles so that our last day into Stehekin would be easier, I stuck to my guns and pulled into camp about 6:30. Also, it was raining.
So now I’m sitting in my tent eating cold-soaked lentils, beans, and mashed potatoes, and listening to the rain hit the fly. It is one of my favorite sounds of all time. The only thing better is the rain hitting a shelter roof, since you do not have to pack it up in the morning.
Yesterday ended badly, with me getting to camp nearly out of gas and in a very bad mood. What I told Faceplant today was that if there are really only nine or ten days left and I am miserable for them, I will never forgive myself. Of course, that being said, tomorrow I think I will do 25 miles, mostly because the last ten or so are downhill. I am optimistic that tomorrow will go well, with the short day today and tomorrow being more downhill than up.
These days the trail has a sort of “party’s over” kind of feel to it. It’s like going to the beach after Labor Day or hanging around a college campus after graduation. There are still a few people wondering around, but the crowds are gone, along with some of the energy. There are a few travelers here and there, taking advantage of what’s left of the sunny days. But even at noon, the sun is definitely low in the sky and the shadows are long. There’s a sense that this is sort of the last hurrah before fall sets in for good. For those of us still hiking, it’s an enjoyable, quiet time because you end up with the trail pretty much to yourself. This is contrasted, however, by a growing sense of anxiety about the weather and a finish date. You can no longer assume that you will have clear skies every day.
Sept. 8 – 24.9 Suiattle River
There are supposedly four tent sites here, but I’m counting ten tents.
Long, rainy day, packed up wet and hiked wet for most of it. Sections of the worst trail to date, almost totally unmaintained.
I caught Faceplant at lunch, and we hiked together for the rest of the day. She’s my rabbit – a thru-hiker term meaning someone you follow who sets the pace. A good, strong pace that you can do, but forces you to push a little.
Down by the river, the trees get stupidly large.
Met two flippers (people who started in Mexico then later jumped to Canada and walked south), Pickleback and Jimminy Cricket, who told us how awesome Holden Village was.
Came down to a very milky river through old growth forest. I set up my wet tent and tried to dry everything. Failed because it was 50 degrees, dark, and next to a river.
Plan tomorrow is 12 or so on trail, then ten to just outside Holden village. Then the next day, in for breakfast AYCE at 7:30. Then hike 17 miles through the fire detour, over the pass to the Stehekin road in time for the 6 p.m shuttle.
I’m not sure why exactly but I’m always hungry now. Haven’t lost any weight, in fact getting a little plump, but just hungry. And talking about food of any kind makes me ravenous.
Sept. 10 – 18 Off Trail
Spent all day on the reroute, beautiful trail but rough. You can really tell you’re off the PCT. The grades are steeper, the trail is narrower, and there are more roots and rocks. Basically just like New England trails. Northern Washington reminds me a little of Maine and the Adirondacks in New York.
The reward for this grind was the last miles of trail, a combination of airy ponderosa forest, and dirt roads. Despite the long day, we got to the road at 5, and hitched in, saving eight bucks, which I then spent on dinner.
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