Southern Washington: Cascade Locks to White Pass (August 22-27)
August 22. It was remarkable to cross the Bridge of the Gods into Washington, and immediately notice a transition to lush growth and forest greenery, complete with large fern fronds (Western Sword Fern) framing the trail. Clearly this area experiences more rainfall than most of the landscape along the trail. Weeks later, I look back on Southern Washington as a section of moist conditions, cooler weather, and larger banana slugs than I’d known existed.
August 25. On this day I woke up in Trout Lake, a truly welcoming trail town. Throughout the trip, in several towns I’ve gotten the sense that a busy tourist season combined with peak thru hiker traffic is taking its toll on local business owners. In other words, I’ve felt that thru hikers are sometimes more of a burden than a help, in spite of being an income source, in a town already stressed with limited resources. Several times, I was able to find a hotel room after checking in with the front desk clerk, in spite of “no vacancy” signs outside. I’ve often seen general or grocery store staff visibly tense and anxious by the number of thru hikers and tourists flooding the store.
All that to say, it was a relief to feel truly welcomed in Trout Lake. I’m not sure how the general store and café owners were able to find the patience and calm that other business owners lacked, but this town was so amenable to hikers. Hikers walking into the general store for the first time were greeted with a smile and a helpful introductory spiel on laundry, shower, camping and charging locations. A local church offered their lawn as a donation based camping area. When I attempted hitch hiking back to the trail the next morning, the locals who passed by offered a shrug and wave, as if they wanted to help, but weren’t going in that direction, and were offering their apologies.
In the morning, I gathered with several hikers at the single café in town. 15 minutes beyond the posted opening time, I had just decided to sit at an outdoor picnic table and eat comparatively unappealing trail snacks for breakfast, when the owner appeared, gave a good-natured wave, and said he’d be opening, shortly. And who all wants coffee?
Eventually the door opened, and a group of us went inside to sit down and place our orders. A group of local men waited at a table inside, clearly familiar frequenters of the café. Throughout our breakfast, different men from that table went behind the counter to the coffee maker, picked up the pot, and made their rounds about the café, filling up cups yet again. Quite the cozy, friendly atmosphere.
I loved sitting there at that table with other hikers, laughing, eating a good breakfast of sweet cream pancakes and strong coffee, and looking around at the photos of heavy winter snows, town history, ski adventures, inside that warm wooden café.
Trout Lake, which I’ll remember as my favorite trail “town” and breakfast of the trip (technically termed, census designated place).
August 26. The huckleberry and blueberry plant leaves are reddening with the fall, adding a brilliant splash of color to the Washington landscape. I think I’ll always remember Washington for these red mountain slopes. I’m so glad to be hiking through at a time when these colors emerge.
August 27. The plan for this day was to hike through Goat Rocks Wilderness, then meet my brother, come all the way from the east coast to meet me for a few days’ hiking, by day’s end. The details were yet to be determined for our meeting spot and time, with that added challenge that comes from having limited phone service in a wilderness.
The views were stunning as I began the morning’s hiking, climbing higher in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, and looking back towards Cispus Pass. Lots of beautiful green meadows, mountains, talused slopes. Expansive views, haunting grey cliffs, misty patches, waterfalls, snow patches. I could easily imagine goats living in this landscape, though I was not lucky enough to spot one on that day.
I kept glimpsing two hikers ahead, and caught up to them after we crossed a surprisingly large snow field. Fortunately steps were packed down deeply into it, because the slope was steep, the fall would have been unfortunate.
These were two funny friends. One asked me if I wanted to pass him, then when I hesitated and said I didn’t care, he said, “Okay!” and comically ran ahead with awkward steps, exaggerated goofiness. They were good hiking companions.
The views continued to be amazing, in spite of being limited by misty patches. Much mist laid on high, and then we climbed up into it. The trail traversed a narrow ridge, and I often felt the misty cold wind rushing up the mountain sides and hitting us up there at the crest. At times I had to pause and gather my courage, because the path narrowed to a two foot width, a knife’s edge, with wind rushing over it, visible to the eye because it carried mist, and the slopes so very steeply falling away on either side. I was tempted to crawl those sections, but I made it standing, walking quickly through, trying not to think about it too much.
We finally descended down off that ridge and down out of the mist that hung and swirled up there.
Once below the mist, the views were stunning. Looking up at a band of white swirl, with Mt Adams poking out above. So many colors and sounds. The rushing sound of the wind in the mist overhead, the white mist clearing in spots, light blue sky, more crags revealed, snow patches, green gold red grass, plants, healthy green forest, firs, bird song, vast deep blue mountains in the distance, sweeping grey green talus cliffs.
I thought of how sobo and local hikers had often told me, “You’ll love Washington, you’re really in for a treat.” Nearly every post is me exclaiming over the most recent beauty, but Goat Rocks Wilderness truly was one of the most beautiful days. One top of all I mentioned, it was so encouraging to see healthy looking forests full of fir trees. I saw some areas of burned forests, but also plenty of unburned forests, as yet.
Though the sweeping landscapes were so beautiful, it was relief to descend even further down into the green tunnel of forest, and hike among the trees once again. To feel sheltered after hiking miles through vast, exposed landscapes.
In the evening, I found a camp site at White Pass, and managed to text Daniel some final directions.
I slept a few hours, trying to listen for a car approaching as I rested. Around midnight I heard a car park, then footsteps approach, and a voice call my name. We both laughed when I unzipped my tent door and looked out to see Daniel, who had made it at long last, after luggage complications back at the airport.
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