Washington: Snoqualmie to Stehekin (September 2-10)
September 2. After camping in some cold wet weather recently, I was so thankful that this day and evening were sunny and warmer. It makes everything easier. I took stock yesterday in a hotel room, drying out my tent, cleaning my bag, trying to re-fluff my sleeping bag, mentally preparing for more cold nights, but thankfully I felt warmer this past night than I have in a while. Didn’t even feel a need to sleep with my water filter, batteries, headlamp, phone, as I’d been doing.
The hiking of the day was a long climb up from Snoqualmie, but not so difficult on fresh legs, after a night’s rest in town. I feel like a machine lately, just zooming up these mountain climbs without too much effort. Coming at the end of a 4.5-month journey, it’s a pretty satisfying feeling.
The view of the Cascade Mountains keeps getting prettier, the crags, colors, lakes.
This afternoon I spotted a goat on a slope, then stopped to wait for the hikers behind me, to point it out to them. We all stood and watched him grazing on the talus mountainside, with a thicker coat and larger build than I’d imagined. I guess that’s what keeps them alive and thriving here. It’s wild too, to see that such a large animal can find its footing in this unsteady terrain.
September 3. Woke up to a warm morning, and felt so happy to be able to start in shorts for the day’s hiking.
It seems lately that each day is better than the last, as far as views go. On this day, it was beautiful to hike at all heights beside massive steep rock slopes, see scenes from above and hike down into them, or hike up from them to look down into them again. Similar to Sierra scenes, but even more beautiful to me, for the fir trees and red berry bushes. I also noticed Nootka Cypress alongside the trail, adding some citrus to the fresh forest smells.
September 8. Today I rose early and started hiking by 0615. Because it had rained overnight, the other hikers camped with me were slow to get moving and pack up wet gear.
I really enjoyed being the first to start hiking, having the morning to myself, knowing the others would catch up eventually. The views were stunning from the start. Wide-open expanses, hiking on the slopes among bright red berry bushes and yellow corn lilies.
I hiked to a pass that offered a view of massive Glacier Peak ahead, aptly named, with visible glaciers. Stunning.
I’ve been listening for hours each day to audiobooks, lately, but didn’t want to listen to anything all morning, I was so absorbed in the scenery.
Long climbs and descents the rest of day, but amazingly, not to beat the point to death, but lately nothing is too hard, not even long switchback climbs. The hiking takes less effort than it did earlier in the trip, and it’s really gratifying to think that my body has adapted to what it is now, that I am comfortable out here in a way that I wasn’t before.
More vast views, snowy crags, clouds hanging on the horizon.
Camped with my group of friends under a grove of pines, above a creek. Pretty area. We all ate in the dark by headlamp. We got to talking about movies, and one friend recommended to me, about a movie, “don’t watch it when you’re drunk,” and I muttered that won’t be a problem, and another friend laughed and laughed because he knows me. Nice.
I love this scenery, listening to my books (most days), being near these friends.
September 9. Woke up this morning around 0530, packed up, and headed out of camp, feeling I was getting an early start. Surprised to see everyone else had left already. I learned later that the other three had been repulsed by mice scurrying around and on them overnight.
They were all ahead of me all day! Perhaps fueled by the adrenaline of being crawled on by mice, ha. I was surprised. I felt content hiking on my own though, first climbing up to pretty views, peaks, then descending to the Suiattle River and hiking through a wondrous old growth forest, filled with giant trees, before crossing the powerful river and starting an ascent again.
We’ve hiked among old growths before, but this forest was on a different level, with more old massive trees (I believe a mix of Douglas firs, Western Hemlock, and Western Red Cedars) than I’d ever seen in any one area. It’s wondrous enough to see a single enduring tree like these, but this truly felt like a forest of old growths, with numerous gentle giants. It was peaceful and touching to be there. One friend described the awe and wonder he felt standing there, how it had touched his very soul.
On this day I climbed over 7100 feet! Fortunately, the ascent was more gradual after a bit on the final climb. I took a few quick snack breaks throughout the day, otherwise, aside from absorbing the old growth forest for a while, I kept moving. I loved the challenge of trying to catch up to the three hikers ahead of me by the end of the day, knowing that one had suggested pushing for a 30-mile day. (I only loved that because I felt capable of it, otherwise, it would have been a real chore and better left for the birds.)
I noticed some yellowing larch branches in the evening, pretty. The first time I’ve seen that, aside from a calendar photo.
I caught up to my friends by the end of the day, at a campsite. That was a nice surprise. The site was down off the trail, and when I headed down I thought I’d be camping alone this night because I was cutting my day shorter than the 30-mile suggestion. They’d decided to shorten their day as well.
Now we are all cowboy camping (sleeping tent-less in the open), the pika are chirping, two friends are playing checkers into the night, two other friends are chatting together about the journey ending and how it feels. I’m listening and writing. The stars are out bright overhead, shining down on us sleeping in this rocky granite bowl. I’m leaving my contacts in all night, so I can keep watching shooting stars and the Milky Way.
It’s beautiful and lovely, to be here.
September 10. Got up early this morning, around 0500. I was thinking how I wanted to make it with everyone else onto a shuttle by 1230, an 18-mile hike away. It was satisfying to wake early, hear the others stir, and see their headlights shining in their own camp areas as they quietly packed up, and walk out of camp by the small glow of my own headlamp in that great big basin. I hiked a few miles, appreciating the sunrise behind a craggy horizon, the great warm weather.
I took a break to sit and eat breakfast, and one friend caught up to me. We hiked together for a few miles, chatting. I enjoyed that, she’s the fastest hiker I’ve known, and she doesn’t often slow down to hike at my pace.
We got to the parking area, where a scheduled shuttle bus arrives a few times a day to shuttle hikers to the small unincorporated community of Stehekin. I was surprised to see a crowd of hikers gathered at the picnic tables there, after having seen few others aside from my own small group of friends in the past few days. This is pretty typical though, you often have no idea how many hikers are just a few miles behind or ahead of you, until you come to a gathering point.
It was neat to experience the peace of Stehekin, a remote community with no road access, accessible only by boat, plane, or hiking. (Per Wikipedia, only 75 permanent residents.) Stehekin mostly consists of campgrounds, a bakery, summer cabins, a general store/restaurant, and a ranch, spread out along a dirt road by Lake Chelan. As I went through all the typical town chores- laundry, shower, picking up a package, resorting it- I admired the pretty lake views, with craggy mountains towering above.
This is the final trail town! It is strange to say, and beyond my grasp right now- I think I’ll only really feel that truth once I’ve finished.
Back to the trail again tomorrow, with a plan to finish in less than one week.
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