Week 18: Washington Heat Waves, More Fires and Goat Rocks!
An extra half day is taken in Cascade Locks, Oregon. It’s the start of a heat wave so we’ll set out later in the evening. Most of our time is spent at Thunder Island Brewing, one of my favorite breweries. This watering hole is special part of the PCT and Cascade Locks, as it has been a huge supporter of hikers for many years, and since the Eagle Creek Fire has expanded from a small shack on the river to a two story fully operational brewery. It’s a must stop and a free drink is always offered to hikers passing through. It also has air conditioning, and on such a long hot day, it’s absolutely necessary.
My absolute favorite spot in Cascade Locks would be the East Wind Drive-In. In 2015 I was introduced to their soft serve, and it has been my favorite ice cream by far. Of course I had to get my cone like I do every time I am in town. As I order my large ice cream, the crowds around us look in amazement. I have been dreaming of this moment since day 1. This amazing little town has so much to offer hikers. It’s a special place on the PCT and like any town on the trail is a must stop. I will be back in 2 weeks for Trail Days but for now we must continue north.
It is finally time to cross the Bridge of the Gods. It has cooled down a bit and we are ready to enter Washington. This moment has been on my mind all trail long. As I take my first steps on the bridge, I start to reminisce on everything I have experienced on the trail. Crossing into Washington is special. You should be proud to have made it this far, and now in our final state, it’s time to finish this trail.
Our first tent site of Washington isn’t too far, as we only hike out a couple miles for the evening. We have a substantial climb ahead of us and with a heat wave in the forecast for the next couple days, this first section will be more difficult than anything we have had in a while. Along the trail, blackberries are starting to come out. We are a little early but as we go north, more and more berries will become prevalent. Our first night in Washington is one for the books. I go to sleep excited for what’s to come.
While Oregon did not have much climbing, immediately out of Cascade Locks, we must climb. The morning sun is hot, and it’s only going to get hotter. Good news is that there is plenty of water and shade along the trail. As we go higher up, the Columbia River Gorge is visible below, and the tip Mount Hood peaks behind the Cascade Range. We are definitely no longer in Oregon.
Heat Waves and Wildfires
Deeper into Washington we go, and with every climb bigger and better views are all around us. While it might be hot, the green forests help us get from water source to water source. Good news is that from here on out we won’t have any big water carries. I’m forced to take a couple extra breaks every 5 miles or so. Clearly the heat is not fun, and as the day continues on it just gets hotter. There will most likely be lots of night hiking in the foreseeable future. The sound of small cascading creeks keep me going forward, and I reunite with Babe, Baja, Pickles, and Zen at the next water source.
As I get out of tree cover, I hear a notification on my phone. Even deep in forests of Washington I still have service. Social media platforms are blowing up, there’s news from the trail, our first major wildfire has started. It was inevitable. The Califronia/Oregon border is closed down. The majority of the bubble is still in California and now entering Oregon. I take a moment to reach out to friends out on trail. Wildfires are unfortunately a normal part of this trail now. A combination of heat waves and thunderstorms make this trail difficult to fully complete ever year.
All I can do now is push forward. I pass south bounders, the news has reached everyone. Many are worried they won’t be able to fully complete the entire trail. There’s nothing I can do but keep the optimism going. More stormy weather is approaching every section of trail, with some hope, this heat wave will dissipate. Camp is reached, it’s pitch black, but I can see multiple tents set up around a large forest service road. It’ll do for the night.
We awake early. It’s a cooler morning and we need to take advantage of this weather. The heat will eventually come, so the more early miles we can do the better. Today’s goal, get as close to Trout Lake as possible. The small town is the next resupply and to get there a hitch is required. Good news is that the general store has a scheduled pickup every day. Ideally we’d arrive for the first hitch at 8am.
We’re finally over the first hump of Washington. At the top, the first big views of Mount Adams. Behind us, Hood is fully visible, it’s crazy to think just a couple days ago we were on the base of Hood. I take a moment, these views are only going to get better. Down into valley we return. Only one climb left until we reach the main road. My phone dings, another notification, Oregon is on fire. I worry for all the hikers, the entire bubble is now somewhere in Oregon, and more sections of trail are closing. I arrive to camp late, I’ll reach out to friends first thing when I get to town in the morning.
Trout Lake and Mount Adams Wilderness
I awake at 4am. 15 miles to get to the road, 4 hours before the first hitch of the day to town. I’m basically running down the trail. Plenty of tents still up as the early risers start getting ready. Because of the heatwave, my mileage was off and I was behind schedule every day. As a result, I had a lot of extra miles to the road. Thankfully I make it to the hitch with plenty of time to spare. I averaged nearly 4 miles an hour, reaching 15 miles by 8am. We make it to town, and the news of wildfires dominate the conversations. More fires had started in the last 24 hours, and many sections had closed, the bubble was coming north, many hikers decided to skip all of Oregon and go straight to Washington.
My early start date made it so that I would never be in the bubble. It was part of the reason I chose it and the pressure of knowing large groups of hikers would start bottlenecking the trail was worrying. Of course I felt bad for those who were forced off the trail, a lot of my friends were still down there, I knew my mileage would need to start going up. My original plan was to resupply immediately and head back on trail. But between the early start to the day, and rushing to get all my gear ready, I felt it was better to stay the night and start fresh in the morning.
The first hitch back to trail leaves at 7:30 am. I’m refreshed and ready to move forward. There is still a buffer between myself and the bubble, I’d like to keep it that way. We enter into the Mount Adams Wilderness. There’s a climb first thing in the morning. As I go up, Adams and its incredible features become immense. We’re at the base of the mountain. We reach the top of the first climb, and around the corner, the first major view of Rainier is right in front of us. The Cascades are truly opening up now, I can see the direction we are going, the Goat Rocks ahead of us, it’s awe inspiring.
It’s a constant roller coaster of a trail, big climbs, big descents, winding switchbacks, we’re definitely deeper in Washington now. There is still plenty of snow to traverse. The mosquitoes are now back in full force. I did not miss them. It’s lunch time, unfortunately I’m not able to find any ideal location away from the mosquitoes. At least the heat wave was no longer happening. Always have to look on the bright side.
I push on, and reach Lava Spring, widely known as the best water source on trail, the water goes through a bunch of lava rocks, coming out clear, cold, and fresher than any other source I have ever had. I fill up and have an early dinner. I reach camp and the mosquitoes are swarming around. It’s not as bad as Oregon, but definitely not enjoyable.
The Goat Rocks, a Wedding, and a Magical Sunrise
A rainy morning slows me down. The laziness kicks in and I don’t want to hike in pouring rain. I choose to wait it out, and luckily it doesn’t last too long. I finally head off upwards towards the most beautiful section of the entire PCT, Goat Rocks. It’s going to be a long day, and there are lots of miles to make up today. The whole day is a non stop climb, but the views are special. Every direction is something out of a fairytale, I can feel today’s going to be a special day.
Cispus Pass leading towards Goat Rocks is a climb worth the effort. Behind me, Adams truly makes a statement. It’s tempting to stay here for the night. I keep going up and over into an incredible valley full of cascading streams and waterfalls. Again it’s tempting to stay here for the night. The trail wraps around into a covered forest, the sun is setting and Adams starts to change colors. As the trail opens up into the next climb, it opens up into a large meadow. A few tents are setup all around and it feels like a scene out of a movie. The most beautiful view of Adams is here. But I have my eyes set for an even more beautiful view, I must keep climbing.
Half way up I spot a couple all dressed up. I give them a friendly hello, and they stop me. They’re excited to see me, it’s their wedding day, eloping on the side of a mountain, with the most incredible view of the Cascades in the background. At this point I am in a rush to get to camp, but they ask if I am able to be apart of their wedding as a witness. Of course I say yes! The sun sets behind us, the most beautiful sunset I’ve seen on trail so far. The most beautiful moment I’ve had on trail. I wish them luck and I’m off to camp. I reached my tent site for the night. There have been plenty of amazing places to camp, but this spot I found is well worth the long day.
5am. Snow around me, a chill mountain breeze. I awake to the first signs of the morning light. There she is, Rainier! I arrived so late to camp that I didn’t get to experience the views the night before. I had setup camp on the top of Goat Rocks, with 360 degree views all around me. This is the most incredibly beautiful spot on the entire trail. The sun rises, Adams on one side, Rainier on the other. The most magical sunrise you can ever experience in the Pacific Northwest. Today’s going to be a good day!
It’s time to take on Knifes Edge. I have a smile on my face. Rainier is directly in front of me the entire way. I could relive this moment every day for the end of time and I would be content. As a landscape photographer, this is what I live for. Goat Rocks is truly the most beautiful place. Every switch back going up, down, and around this section gets more and more beautiful. The weather is perfect, and off to White Pass I go.
White Pass, NOBOs meet SOBOs
I reach the other side of the next climb, Goat Rocks and Knifes seems so far away now. I was only there this morning, but it feels like a whole day away. Rainier becomes bigger and its glacial features are clearly visible. I definitely stopped more today than any other day to take photos. The heat starts to ramp up a bit and so do the mosquitoes. The amazing views distract from all of this, and to add to the beauty, a gorgeous lake below the trail can be seen. If only I had more time, I could stay here all day.
The trail finally descends into White Pass Ski Area. We are parallel to more ski lifts! Just like when we went under the lifts in the Sierra, this is a unique and cool feature of being on trail. I can hear the highway now. After a few long days with lots of climbing, a nice easy forest trail feels quite nice. I’ve had a smile on my face all day, it’s time to reward myself with a nice town meal. White Pass Kracker Barrel is not far from the trail head so I decide to skip the hitch and walk the road.
I arrive to see lots of new faces. A whole group of south bounders have also reached this point. There are more SOBOs than NOBOs. Their experience in the Northern Cascades has been interesting with the late snow. The current status of the wildfires is brought up. Planning around these fires is going to be difficult for anyone going south now. We share a pizza and rather than keep going for the night, I decide to spend the night here.
While talking to some other hikers, the names, Moon Bean and Old Lady are brought up. Names I haven’t heard since the Sierra. They’re expected to reach White Pass tonight. Like most hikers I’ve met on trail, we have kept in touch throughout, but actually being able see old friends is the best feeling. Hopefully I won’t miss them. We have a fun night, enjoying conversations and snacks, and after a very long day I rest.
We awake early and wait for Krackel Barrel to open. This important resupply is necessary to get you to Snoqualmie. While many hikers send boxes, I am able to find everything I need here. It’s a quick breakfast and a reunion with Moon Bean and Old Lady. I’m ready to get back on trail and into our next National Park. I’m two days away from Snoqualmie Pass, and another very well awaited reunion.
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