Groin Chafe, Ear chafe, Free Bleeding and the Goat Rocks Wildnerness
After Trail Days I get a ride back to Trout Lake to continue north from there.
I’ve stolen Bahama Mama’s hiking partner and after winning practically an entire kit at Trail Days, Downhill Daddy looks nothing like a thru hiker hitting the final 400 mile stretch of a 2600 mile trail. His ‘undyed’ pack (it’s still fucking white guys) and fresh orange sun hoodie is brilliant against the absolutely ridiculous backdrop that is Washington.
Washington is insane you guys.
And it feels like coming home. I’m happy just to be here, even though it’s an arbitrary border.
A few people are complaining about the ‘green tunnel’ that we’ve been hiking through, but despite the humdity and close air, I revel in it. I loved the desert and the sierra is majestic, but I fucking love walking through the forest.
The ground is soft with pine needles, the trees are tall and the scent of pine and fir just makes me feel more Outside.
In the afternoon not far out of Trout Lake, we see a weasel, sleek and perfect.
It’s perched on a silver log right next to the trail holding a grey vole in its mouth. The grip of its slender snout indents the soft, furry body that hangs limp and swaying as it stares at us, apparently unafraid.
To cross a moderately raging river late in the day, I have to climb across a log on my hands and knees, throwing my poles across in front of me. I hate log crossings, and my heart is racing by the time I step onto the opposite bank.
Mt Adams shoves its way into all my photos. It will be shouldered out by Mt Rainier in the coming days, and Mt St. Helen will lurk on the horizon.
In the morning, I start hiking early and fast.
The rest of the group I’m with said they wanted to hike 30 miles today, so I figure I need to get a head start. I put on some disney music (thanks) and cover ten miles (16km) in a little over 3 hours. Moana is the perfect fast hiking pace for the gentle (ish) terrain. After a few hours I switch to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack and genuinley creep myself out a bit in the dense, dark forest. I hike faster.
As I cross a gravel road the sun streams out from behind the clouds and lights up the air with floating dustmites in broad, pale strokes. A hunched woman dressed all in purple steps out of the trees on the opposite side of the road. Her long grey hair billows out from under her hood, sweeping across her forehead and down to her waist. She is a southbound witch in Hokas.
By mid-afternoon I am developing groin chafe.
The creases at my thighs are red and raw and weeping. I borrow someone else’s chafe balm. It has a layer of grime over it and after I swipe it liberally around my crotch, there are some mystery hairs stuck to it that might have been there before or not. I share my chafe woes with a group of hikers at a water source and everyone lists their own personal chafe nightmare. It’s moist in Washington, and we are Salty. Dirty. Hot.
As the sun starts to set Downhill Daddy and I are climbing stone stairs up a mountain, finally in the Goat Rocks Wildnerness. Downhill has half my water because we’re trying to make it to the peak for sunset, and I’m a little dizzy in this very last stretch. We reach the peak and run out of trail for my first 30 mile day (the next section is the Knife’s Edge, which we don’t want to do in the dark). It’s 29.5 miles (37.2km) instead, with 5500 feet (1700m) of ascent. We watch the sun set and then dive into our sleeping bags behind our rock wall as the temperature plummets and the wind picks up. The pikas – tunneling through the gaps in our rock wall shelter – squeak all night.
In the morning the first thing we do is a snowy traverse.
How the fuck there is still snow at this elevation (5000 feet?) in late August after months of record high temps is utterly beyond the reaches of my little Australian heart.
We’re in the midst of the most incredible stretch of the PCT so far – The Goat Rocks Wildnerness – and with a perfect, clear day, it completely lives up to the hype.
We take the old PCT, get lost on it and do a little light bouldering to get back to the trail where we dump our packs to climb Old Snowy. At the top, we meet Ollie, who leaps all over the peak, sitting down briefly at each person’s feet as we take in the snowy peaks in every direction.
I get pretty shaky on the way down. I’m a rubbish climber and struggle with heights. A day hiker stands back and directs me down a tiny chute that doesn’t trouble anyone else, but turns my entire body to jelly.
Then we hike the Knife’s Edge.
By midday, we’ve only traveled 7 miles. Partly because it’s tougher terrain, and partly because we keep stopping to take photos and enjoy the views.
In the afternoon I’m feeling nauseous and dizzy; I’m really struggling. Every tiny incline makes me break out in a cold sweat and salivate, though I don’t actually vomit. The black flies are driving me nuts and I’m grumpy and tired. Then I run into a train of pack llamas. The lead llama, Bruce, stops next to me. I stand still as he sidesteps into me and reaches his nose out towards my face, bumping it against my mouth as he sniffs at me curiously.
Washington continues to be beautiful, but it’s also brutal.
Every climb is steeper than the last. In the desert I remember thinking any gradient over 350 feet/mile was rough. The PCT is largely a gentle footpath afterall. Now, if a climb is less than 600 feet/mile, I’m relieved.
It’s humid AF and thick, bushy greenery swamps the trail on both sides. There are brambles, blueberry fields, coniferous ground covers, wild raspberries and bracken. There are so many tall, lush conifers that half the time I feel like I’m hiking through a Christmas tree farm.
Burn sections still appear throughout Washington, though here the silver trunks of dead trees look magical. Dense greenery and purple wildflowers crowding the understory and filling the air with the scent of hot pollen.
My birth control isn’t due for weeks but I’m bleeding like a stuck pig. Maybe it’s the intense exercise messing with my cycle. I don’t have any tampons so I’m free bleeding (copiously) which is not helping my chafe situation. At least I have dark-cloured pants now, to shelter the sensitive sensory organs of delicate menfolk.
I also have chafe on the tops of my ears. My hat, my headphones and my sunglasses all sit on my ears and they now protest with rawness. They are very painful and I carefully clean them and apply balm several times a day.
I fear for the fungal population of my nether regions. And oh, the pack rash.
My whole back itches with the hairy breath of a dragon. A dragon with a yeast infection. I have three patches of permanently reddened, roughened skin on my butt and lower back where my pack sits. I haven’t gotten skinny enough to lose the skin on my hip bones, so this will have to do for battle scars.
My feet hurt. They hurt all the time. When I wake up they are swollen and stiff and I have to massage them before I can put on my shoes and walk. By walk I mean hobble like a syphilitic cowboy with a hangover.
But, finally, I am loving this. Almost all of the time.
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