One September afternoon Steve returned us to the PCT from Trout Lake, Washington. We were welcomed with a light downpour of rain. We put on our ponchos for the first time of the whole journey and wore them the rest of the day. Later on the rain turned into a downpour and I put away my camera. It was a wonderful feeling to be walking through a misty, wet forest.
Welcome to the Washington Cascades.
Without stopping for a break, we hiked about 10 miles until we reached Sheep Lake as the daylight was fading. We set up a tent; it rained all night. Lancelot and Cache Money, a couple majoring in business in Pennsylvania, set up camp near us. They attempted to build a fire but couldn't get the drenched wood to burn. Finally they gave up, and we all went to bed.
Once the clouds cleared for the sun to break through the following morning, we were in for quite a surprise! We had no idea that we would be seeing such incredible views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams from our campsite!
|Mount Adams to the east.|
|Mount Rainier, north of us.|
|This deer pranced into the meadow below us for a morning meal.|
|The entire forest around us sparkled as the sun illuminated all of the rain drops.|
|A new friend I met in the lake while filling up our water.|
|We took a morning snack break overlooking this meadow and the procession of clouds rising and falling over Mount Adams.|
|A couple of marmots looking on as we walked past.|
We stopped in the afternoon to dig into our trail mixes once again, and soon we had some visitors begging for food. Of course they were none other than some Canadian gray jays!
|This guy just snatched a bit of food off of Freebird's tongue!|
After the birds had their fill and left us, we noticed a side trail turning left off of the PCT. The trail led us to a ridge overlooking Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens. For the current weather conditions, this was the perfect place to set up camp.
|The elusive pika that you rarely see but always hear stopped to pose for a couple minutes, allowing me to approach closely!|
|Freebird's tent, with Mount Rainier in the background.|
|A walk back over to Mount Adams to watch it glow with the setting of the sun.|
For yet a second day, the peak of Mount Rainier wasn't hidden behind clouds. This actually happened very frequently for the next few weeks, which was unusual in the Cascades' typical rainy climate.
|Waking up to a beautiful view of Rainier on the horizon.|
|Mount Saint Helens.|
|Another pika has shown itself to us!|
|Returning to the PCT via the small side trail.|
|Another view of Mount Saint Helens.|
|A heart-shaped pond, dedicated to my friend, Michele!|
|This stream was so pure that we drank straight from it with no filtering.|
|The morning lights up this colorful marsh and pond.|
|Some volcanic rock formations.|
|One Track's feet|
As we dropped down the ridge into a forest below, we met two amusing thru-hikers along a stream - One Track and Jolly Lama. They had just woken up from a long nap and wanted to go back to bed soon. They were very relaxed for being thru-hikers. We learned that they knew Saint as well; they had journeyed with her for a month, until they flip-flopped and started southbound on the trail. They were hoping to meet up with her soon in Trout Lake. Jolly Lama, who received his trail name because he would read passages of the Dhammapada aloud to other hikers, was scarfing down mashed potato burritos. His mother had sent him double the amount of food that he needed, thinking that it would be more convenient, but in reality gave him too much weight to carry. So, he was trying to devour as much as possible! One Track told us of his love affair with blueberries and hot springs, two things that really slow him down on the trail. When we told them about Kelly's B&B that was waiting for them in Trout Lake, with the hot tub and complimentary breakfast, they were excited. One Track's jaw dropped, and Jolly Lama, wide-eyed asked, "They have breakfast?" One Track retorted, "Duh, they're a B&B!" Jolly Lama then deeply contemplated the matter while continuing to take bites of his burrito.
It was fun talking to them (I can see how Saint hiked with them for a month.), but we had to find a campsite. We continued on for probably a mile and then found this beautiful lake...
|Doing some laundry.|
The next day we saw so many types of mushrooms, way more
varieties than I've ever seen in any particular climate.
Before ascending back up the ridge to Goat Rocks, we passed a couple and their son. Freebird and I had heard about Buddy Backpacker, the youngest boy ever to complete the AT (in 2013 at age 5). Lately people had told us that he and his parents were in the midst of thru-hike of the PCT. Could this be that family? Freebird called back to the mother, "Hey, I have a question for you." Sure enough, this was the well-known Buddy Backpacker!
During our talk we learned more about Buddy - his favorite places on the trail, his adoration of pizza, and his incredible memory and love of correcting his mom. Buddy recalled their hikes in the Mojave Desert, which he remembered differently than his parents. "We would wake up VERY early before the sun rose, and then walk until we found shade! And then we would nap ALL day!" His mom responded with a sigh, "Buddy... you never took a nap." "...Oh YEAH!" Buddy giggled.
Buddy and his family finished the PCT in 2014, and currently they are preparing for a 2015 hike of the CDT (Continental Divide Trail). After completing his third cross-country trail, Buddy will be the youngest Triple Crown award recipient ever.
|Looking back at Mount Adams.|
|Another view of Mount Saint Helens.|
|We've arrived at Goat Rocks!|
|Some pentagonal rock formations.|
|A herd of mountain goats grazing in the area, hence the name, "Goat Rocks."|
|The PCT crosses a waterfall across a valley from us.|
|Another herd of mountain goats!|
|Looking back one last time at Goat Rocks.|
As we watched the eerie cloud formations over the last hour, they seemed to us to be potentially indicating some severe weather. We had considered camping up on the ridge, but now we knew for certain that we had to get back down in the forest. Rather than turning around, we chose to night-hike the upcoming 3-mile-long Knife's Edge, while the skies were clear of rain and strong winds. Freebird had traversed this ridge before in 50 mph winds during a blizzard, and strongly recommended that we cross through it now. Undoubtedly that night would be a more ideal time for us.
|A glacial lake and waterfall.|
|Nearing the tundra - the trees are getting shorter!|
|Crossing a glacier.|
|Looking ahead to Packwood Glacier and Knife's Edge.|
Standing on the ridge above Packwood Glacier, with views all around for miles of the Cascades (including Rainier and Saint Helens), Knife's Edge would have to wait. It would be a shame to miss out on the sunset here. And how glad we are that we stayed to watch...
As the sunset faded, we knew we must continue. Next we had to cautiously cross Packwood Glacier. There were no recent footprints for us to step in, and the ice was rather slick. If either of us fell, that would be imminent death. Freebird led the way, carving steps into the ice with a rock. We took each step carefully, making sure our feet were grounded. After about 10 or 15 minutes we made it across.
|Knife's Edge and Mount Rainier. Photo courtesy of another hiker.|
Next came the Knife's Edge. The gusts of wind were not as strong as when Freebird crossed in that blizzard, but they were occasionally caught my pack, shaking and startling me a bit. I was more terrified here than on that glacier, though the footing here was more solid. It was the darkness that I feared more than anything, just vaguely seeing glaciers on both sides of us and not much else. But the moonlight was bright enough, so we walked the whole ridge without headlamps.
An hour later we began our descent through the tundra. Soon we approached a few campsites. Freebird scoped out the area while I nearly fell asleep while sitting on a log. Some previous hikers had been lazy and left their exposed waste and toilet paper right near the flat areas, leaving no available spots for us. Disgusting! We had no choice but to continue walking until we found the next available site. All I wanted to do was sleep. Surely that day was the most mileage that I had ever done, and I could feel it in my body. I wasn't accustomed to this much hiking.
We made our way into a forest, following switchbacks for what seemed like an eternity. Then we came across a site and set up the tent, for surely it was going to rain that night.
I crawled into my sleeping bag, telling Freebird that I was going to skip dinner, and dozed off immediately. A half hour later, he woke me up with a warm fire and already-prepared food, insisting that I get something in my stomach. Then we both went to bed.
|A feather marking our campsite.|
|A lake nearby us.|
The next morning, the rains had come. We cooked breakfast and then waited for the rain to slow, waiting for the right moment to take down the tent. Freebird looked over the PCT data book and maps. According to those, he believed that we had hiked about 23 miles the previous day! That's around the typical pace of any thru-hiker, but much more than I was used to!
Eventually we were able to pack up everything and return to the trail, wearing our ponchos once again. This would be our last day of hiking this section; we would arrive in White Pass that evening.
We walked for miles along the trail through wind-swept ridges until we arrived at a ski area. With Freebird being rather acquainted with the area, he knew that we wouldn't make it to the store before its closing (We were completely out of food.) if we took the less-direct route of the PCT into town. Instead, we attempted a shortcut down a ski slope, following an ATV trail and trying not to slip in the mud. We arrived at the bottom of the hill then followed the network of roads that led to the highway.
We hiked into White Pass, right up to their gas station, Kracker Barrel, arriving only 5 minutes before closing. If we hadn't taken that shortcut, who knows if we would've found food that night. Carrie was mopping the floor, rushing to finish all of her duties so that she could pick up her friend at the hospital. Yet she still kindly offered to cook anything in the fryer for us. Instead we asked for some other food that was already prepared, and she gave us some free coffee.
Dale and Nick the cat checked us into a nearby condo. We hung up all of our drenched belongings to dry, ate a satisfying dinner, warmed up with hot showers, and then settled into soft, cozy beds. What a treat after an incredible, adventure-filled week in Washington's Cascades!