Washington’s Final Act and a Trailversary: PCT Part 4
I cried leaving Washington. Real, honest to goodness, tears streaming down my face. I wasn’t ready to leave, but all I could think about was what lay before me. I felt proud with my accomplishment, but humbled by my sense of tiny-ness in this vast universe.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Despite my difficulties hitching into town, I had my thumb up for about 30 seconds before a car headed to the Pass pulled over for me. I had packed out some town lunch, which I ate at the trailhead before heading back into the woods. It was a highly anticipated section, with the renowned Goat Rocks Wilderness and Mt Adams Wilderness Areas coming up. I chugged up the south side of White Pass, and the heat quickly returned my freshly laundered clothes to their natural state: sweaty, stinky, and covered in a fine layer of dust. At the top of the climb, I crossed into Goat Rocks and was immediately rewarded with a long traverse with killer views.
Dry camped just a few miles from the beginning of the storied Knife’s Edge in order to get up there first thing in the morning. I had been hearing conflicting reports about the snow cover, and I am a sucker for hiking in the early morning light. The climb up there was very steep for the PCT, but I could sense the greatness it was bringing me towards. As I gained the ridge, there is a sign warning trail users about the narrow passage ahead.
The Knife’s Edge is a well-named traverse that somehow clings to the side of a ridge, crossing over the top several times to work around impassable areas. I was deeply relieved to not find any snow along this stretch. The trail crossed about 7000 feet one last time as I walked beneath the summit of Old Snowy. Looking back across the ridge to where I had started the traverse, Rainier glowed spectacularly in the morning light.
With the big attraction done for the day, I headed down into the lower reaches of Goat Rocks, which held amazing gems of its own. I walked under the sun through fields and bowls filled with wildflowers, and lots and lots and LOTS of hikers. I met Puck and Cashmere a few hours apart, both of whom hiked California and Oregon last year and were finishing Washington this year, as well as Rock Biter and Bat Runner who went all the way thru last year but hadn’t had enough of Goat Rocks.
I stopped for lunch (and my last town beer!) just before Sheep Lake, which is listed as a water source. When I got to the trail junction, I saw a sign for Sheep Lake and took off without reading any other signs. What I found out, about 45 minutes later, was that Sheep Lake is just off the PCT on a trail called Nannie Ridge. As I hiked further in a southwesterly direction, I seemed to remember my maps showing the PCT travelling south-EAST. A total of 90 minutes and probably about 3 miles later, I was back on track after my embarrassing and tiring mistake. I camped a few miles before the southern boundary of the Wilderness, looking forward to my trip around Mt Adams the next day.
My journal entry from that day begins: “Fucking Kick Ass day today.” And it really, truly, was all that and more. Early on, I hit 400 miles and entered the Mt Adams Wilderness. I was developing a blister on the ball of my left foot, but pushed through it since I can’t be bothered to do anything but just walk walk walk. The pain goes to a corner of your brain, where you can acknowledge its existence but ignore its effects. This compartmentalizing is a learned skill, not something that comes overnight. About 10am I arrived at Lava Spring, an absolutely beautiful gusher of a spring flowing from the base of a huge lava flow. I had already put in 10 miles, and was feeling just so damn good. I camel-ed nearly a liter of water while I was there, then continued south. I climbed to about 6000 feet, at which elevation the PCT circles the western flank of the volcano.
I stopped for lunch at Killen Creek, which flows through a field filled with wildflowers in the shadow of the 12000ft summit. I pondered for a bit where I might be eating lunch that day in my off-trail life, and had an introspective moment of joy and wonder. What is this thing that I’m doing, what is this place where I find myself, that this has become the norm for me?
The trail then passed through a series of meadows, lava fields, and forested patches. The landscape around Mt Adams is unique to anything I have seen so far, and I saw it all in a day. I met Pinecone, Almost Cowboy Camping, and Pickle Money, who are hiking northbound this year but flipped north to avoid the conditions in the Sierra when they got there. As I began to round the south side of the mountain, I topped a rise and saw Mt Hood again, much closer now than my first glimpse. After descending through a large burn, I made camp by a spring just after 6. I had completed my first marathon day, and it felt amazing. My body has turned into an incredible, awesome, efficient machine. Still, my blister had gotten worse through the day, and with Trout Lake only a few miles down the trail, I was excited to get to town for my resupply.
Gary, a local trail angel, was already headed up the road with a load of hikers in the morning, so it was an easy ride to town. Before I even went into the store, I dropped my pack and hit the cafe. If you follow me on Instagram (@henriehikes) you’ve already seen my breakfast, but oh sweet HikerTrash God in heaven that breakfast was amazing. Huckleberry pancakes, thick bacon, hash browns, and eggs. I was in a fog, despite several cups of coffee, and I knew that I was breaking down and spending the night. Rest, let my blisters heal, and I’m still getting to Cascade Locks at the same time.
I had a great day lounging around, taking care of a few gear replacement calls, visits to the cafe, and draining blisters. The rooms behind the store are beautiful and comfortable, and even had a fuzzy pink bathrobe! Most importantly, I sent home my ice ax and microspikes, and a few other items. My pack is now almost 2 pounds lighter!
I slept well, dreaming of breakfast in the morning. I got to the cafe a bit after it opened, finished a plate left by another patron, then got a full order for myself. Gary got me back to the trail, and I rumbled off with a full belly. On trail, I met Seinfeld, Bluebird, and Wookie, all headed into town. Seinfeld is finishing up from last year, and is also an AT alum. I started getting warnings about bad mosquitoes coming up in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. I stashed a bunch of snacks on the outside of my pack, and got ready to jam.
The forest was glowing and I felt great. I met Fashion Mom and Perry, flip floppers hiking from Lassen. We talked about camping options in either direction, then headed on. At this point, it’s getting on in the afternoon and I feel like I’ve barely made it anywhere. I stopped for another snack at a Forest Service road with a view of Adams and St Helens, then took a breath and headed into the buggy Indian Heaven Wilderness.
I made it to Blue Lake, and as soon as my pack was on the ground I was set upon by the flying, whining hordes. Long sleeve layers and head net on as fast as possible, set up tent in record time. Even though I executed my plan well, I still lended up with dozens and dozens of angry, itchy bites. I spent the rest of the night laughing while the vicious insects struggled in vain to reach me through the mesh.
I got up earlier than usual to pack up before the bugs got too thick, and made a beeline for the road where, supposedly, the bugs magically disappeared. On my way, I climbed to a ridge where I saw Mt Hood, and my best volcano south, Mt Jefferson!
At the road crossing, there is an established camp complete with toilets. Not about to expose myself to another round of mosquito torture, I went in one and shut the door. Actually, as far as campground toilets go, this one was fairly clean, but this is still a very HikerTrash move. After about 15 minutes, I poked my head out and found the bugs to be, in fact, magically gone. Ah well, it was still a fun time.
I paused at a nice spring, 10 miles down by 9:30. With another spring coming up in just two miles, I sucked some water down and moved on with just a few swigs left in my bottle. I ate my second candy bar of the day but was still feeling even hungrier than usual. As I neared where the spring should be, I came across some northbound hikers who said they hadn’t seen it yet. And the next water wouldn’t be for 11 miles. And I have less than a 1/4 liter left. Shit.
Not 5 minutes later I arrive at the spring, with a sign easily visible from the trail. Not sure how they’d missed it, but I was glad I hadn’t. I ate lunch and rested, looking at my maps. Panther Creek, where I planned to camp, was just a bit over 10 miles away at that point. I left the spring at noon, confident today would be my longest day yet. I topped one last ridge then began a big descent. Just at the bottom I met Locomotive and Bronco, who gave me some solid tips for the rest of my day. The camp hosts at Panther Creek are hiker friendly, so I’d get some clean water there. And there is trail magic before Trout Creek! And it’s flat in between!
I left Panther Creek, 23 miles into my day, at 4:30. Through the valley I walked, passing behind houses and through lots of developed areas. And then, as promised, by the side of the trail was a tupperware full of cookies!
And so ended my one month trailversary. A beautiful, fun, 28.6 miles hiked, and my feet soaking in Trout Creek as Willy as the shoes could be removed. I slept very well that night, looking forward to my last full day in Washington.
As soon as I headed back up the ridge in the morning, a sort of misty fog rolled over. I got some cool pictures at a small viewpoint where you can hang hundreds of feet above the trees below, then up up up into the car wash. If you’re not familiar with the term, imagine waist-high vegetation growing into the trail, soaked in dew. Every movement shakes the time droplets all over you. Rain never fell, but I was wet below my waist most of the day. And that was ok.
I joked with the people I passed that Washington was crying because I was about to leave. But really, I think somehow in this strange universe, the trail was giving me an important experience. It wanted me to see this mossy, enchanted forest in its element. It was beautiful.
I ate lunch on a bridge over a stream, with a longish afternoon ahead. I had a liter if water left, and had to get another 11 miles before the next source. “I’ll make it,” I think as I leave without topping off. The next climb warms me up and I crest 3000 feet for the last time before Oregon. I eat a second lunch in the cloud on top, with about 7 miles left to water. I had hardly touched my bottle, thanks to the cool misty forest, but was still peeing clear. I’ve been spoiled for water here, there’s so much I hardly have had to carry more than a liter at a time.
By this point, my feet are pretty damn sore. The constant wet, combined with a sad, dying pair of shoes, had me looking forward to camp. I caught my first view of the mighty Columbia as I came down the ridge.
I made it to a small creek that didn’t have much flow left, but it was time for me to be done. It was an early stop but set me up well for a quick nero into Cascade Locks the next day. I drifted off dreaming of town breakfast, and packed up quickly in the morning. I walked through a few clearings with views of the valley blanketed in clouds, and caught a strange smell.
Then I remembered many of the NOBOs telling me that Eagle Creek had been closed due to fire, and this was likely smoke from that fire. Eagle Creek is an alternate route to the PCT south of Cascade Locks, about 17 miles passing by and sometimes behind a series of waterfalls. Though unofficial, many thru hikers consider this a “not-to-be-missed” trail, so I was bummed that it might still be closed.
And then, there I was. I’ve seen it in pictures, but actually arriving at Bridge of the Gods was a moment of indescribable feeling. “How can Washington just be over?” I asked myself through confused tears of joy, pride, wonder, and a hint of sadness. I was lost in thought for the length of the bridge, but as I stepped into Oregonian soil, thoughts turned to food.
It couldn’t hold a candle to those huckleberry pancakes, but my breakfast at the Bridgeside was massive and awesome. There omelette was covered in gravy, and the cinnamon roll was roughly head-sized. Needless to say, I made quick work if it all. Then I went to pick up my next set of maps at the post office, and spent some time digesting in the warm sunshine. I walked down to Thunder Island Brewery, where I occupied a few hours consuming solid and liquid calories. They’ve got a sleeve of trail magic coasters, which people but and then they hikers can grab one for a free beer. What a great idea!
After finishing there, I checked out the Ale House, another notoriously hiker friendly establishment in town. I dropped my pack in their back room complete with trail register and hiker box, then tucked into some more beer. First one’s on the house! Then, somehow, it’s 4:30 and my cousin Lydia is here to take me to Portland for the night.
We went out for pizza and beers that night. It was so gourmet, having “big city” food, and I truly stuffed myself. Then, after an amazing breakfast complete with home-cured bacon, I headed off to Next Adventure, a local outfitter with a reputation of being good to hikers. I got a new fuel bottle and filled it up (denatured by the oz, hell yeah!), then started asking about shoes. I was going to try to push mine another 150 miles to Bend, but after learning that my shoes were simultaneously too narrow and too long, AND they had Altra Lone Peaks on sale, I finally made the switch. New shoes day is such a great feeling!
Lydia drove me back to Cascade Locks in the afternoon. I walked up to Shrek’s swamp, apparently just in time for a barbeque! This place is super cool: there is a Hobbit house AND a treehouse for sleeping. I cowboy camped in the treehouse, and the breeze was just excellent.
I want to write a more retrospective piece on my time in Washington. It is so difficult to distill my experiences, thoughts, and feelings into words, but I’m gonna work on it in the woods for the next few days. On Tuesday I’ll get to experience the famous breakfast buffet at Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood. Then I’ll see Jefferson Park! I’ll be stopping next in Bend, getting out at Santiam Pass in 150 miles
I fall harder and harder in love with this trail every day.
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