Washington is Beautiful but Really Dang Hard
Stehekin to Stevens Pass/Skykomish (SoBo)
After flipping north and touching the Canadian border, I was feeling very energized and proud of myself. Washington was cool, refreshing, and awe-inspiring, and flipping to hike southbound meant I was out of the big crowd of hikers and enjoying more solitude in nature.
But this last section was super challenging and left me as exhausted as I’ve been since Ridgecrest.
Remote Trail Means Rough Terrain
This is a particularly remote section of trail, and I spent an entire day climbing over, under, and around the most challenging blowdowns I’ve experienced. I’m normally not too bothered by blowdowns, but this was a lot. The trees were enormous, to the point where I was asking myself what kind of trees these were—could these be giant sequoias? I knew they weren’t, but climbing over them was like climbing over refrigerators. Especially when two or three trees were piled on top of each other, and when the severe slopes made navigating around the dead trees impossible.
I also had a bad fall. I was looping a leg over a dead tree, my right foot planted on the ground, and the sandy slope beneath my foot collapsed. I slid down the slope, arresting maybe 6 feet below the trail. I was very lucky I wasn’t on a more dangerous slope. Even as I clawed my way back up to the trail, I was sort of thankful it happened: by falling here, on a less dangerous section of trail, I became more careful about my footing on blowdowns for the rest of the day.
After a day of fighting with blowdowns, I reached the Milk Creek Valley. Here, the trail was severely overgrown. It reminded me of when I’d wandered around Brazilian jungles (minus the monkeys). The entire valley was filled with vegetation higher than my head, brambles and thick leafy plants the I had to push through with every step. It had just rained, and so the plants were soaked, meaning I was soaked. It was like going through a leafy green car wash.
The next day, I needed to cross Kennedy Creek. I had seen numerous comments on FarOut about Kennedy Creek and the challenges of crossing. Most people seemed to suggest crossing on a fallen log upstream, but I was uncertain. After a bad fall on a slippery log in the Sierra, I’ve been a log skeptic. I would have gotten to Kennedy Creek around mile 19 of that day, so in the late afternoon as I was getting close to wrapping up. But I met a couple who had just hiked it, and decided to wait till morning. The woman told me repeatedly the crossing was a “big deal” and very challenging, and the man said I probably shouldn’t do it alone. “Well, I am alone, so there’s that,” I said. They showed me a video she took of him trying to cross on the log, and as we parted ways he said “Make good decisions. Don’t be like me.” And she looked me in the eye and said “It’s a big deal.”
So with all that, I decided to wait and cross in the morning.
I felt anxious hiking to Kennedy Creek. I could hear the rushing water long before I could see it, and I felt my body tense and adrenaline start moving through my muscles. But when I saw the creek, my first feeling was relief. Yes, it was a fast-moving creek crossing and it would be a pain to get over. But I’ve had to turn back from a hike due to an impossible water crossing, and I knew this wasn’t that.
I spent a long time assessing various routes over Kennedy Creek. I dismissed the log after giving it a hard look. I ended up crossing in a section of the river that had a bit of a rock island in the middle. I planted my poles and stepped into churning water where I couldn’t see the bottom, and felt the yanking force of the water against my legs. The water splashed up to my upper thighs at its deepest, but in a few steps I was through and on the other side.
Leaving Kennedy Creek, I felt genuinely proud of myself. I’d managed one of the hardest water crossings of this trip—and frankly of my life—and it hadn’t been that bad.
But the adrenaline took a toll. As I tackled the next 18 miles, I just felt beat down. It was probably the accumulation of the challenges from the whole week. It didn’t help that when I stopped for a lunch break at the top of Red Pass I was swarmed by mosquitoes—which truly do not belong at the top of a gorgeous pass—and managed to get bitten well over a dozen times in just a few minutes. I packed up after only a brief break, feeing very grumpy about the mosquitoes.
The views here were incredible. I’m grateful to be here at a time of year when the nights are cool but not freezing and the snow is very navigable. There are still wildflowers blooming and the hiking weather is cool and perfect.
But even so, I was tired. Waking up in my tent the day after Kennedy Creek, knowing I had another two days to get to Skykomish, I felt tired. I just wanted to turn off my alarm and crawl back under my quilt and sleep.
This isn’t how I normally feel on trail. I’m normally up before my alarm and energized in the morning. So it’s unusual for me to wake up feeling so beat-down. I started wondering if I needed to make an adjustment in my plans, maybe decrease my mileage (which is hard to contemplate because I already dropped down to 20 mile days) or taking an extra zero somewhere.
I reached Stevens Pass at noon on a Sunday. I was greeted by a trail angel named Ron who offered me a cold drink and some chocolate. There’s something so supportive about trail angels. More than any practical assistance (which is greatly appreciated) it just feels good to have someone waiting at a trailhead, offering support and asking how things are going.
A kind family finishing up a backpacking trip agreed to give me a lift to Skykomish, and I made it down to the Cascadia Cafe for a Beyond Burger and chocolate milkshake. Then I found an adorable dress in the loaner clothes box at the Cascadia Inn and flounced around in filthy sneakers and a flowy dress while I did laundry and ran errands.
The Skykomish Outfitters are a relatively new gear shop. They were closed when I arrived but agreed to come open up so I could grab fuel, and they were running free shuttles back to the trail. Like everyone I met in Skykomish, Sky Outfitters were incredibly nice.
My resupply box was held up at the post office until midday Monday, so I ended up taking a slow morning in Skykomish—talking to loved ones, sitting in a coffee shop, cleaning gear. Even though there’s a nervous part of me tapping its foot and telling me to hurry up and get back on trail, in some ways I’m glad I need to wait a few extra hours for my package. I think I need the rest.
Overall Washington is wonderful. The peak views are incredible, the weather is lovely, and the people I meet are kind. It’s been harder than I expected, and in particular it’s been more technically challenging than any other section of trail. But the 1,700 miles I hiked to get to this point have taught me a lot about how to manage these challenges. I feel ready for whatever happens next.
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