Day 2.101-106: Home State of Mine

Cascade Locks to White Pass
Mile 2144 – Mile 2292

Home state advantage

At just above sea level, crossing the Bridge of the Gods marks the lowest point of the PCT but it hardly felt that way. At the risk of melodrama, I reached for the finale of Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung as my musical accompaniment but I should explain…

Seattle Opera’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Like most kids(?!), when Kayla graduated from high school her wish was to see The Ring Cycle, a four opera epic of gods and heroes that culminates in Götterdämmerung. Seattle Opera’s renowned rendition was dubbed the ‘Green Ring’ for its use of Pacific Northwest forest as the motif for its production design. The first opera, Das Rheingold, opens on a idyllic forest glade amid towering fir trees and mossy undergrowth. Fast forward to the final sequence of the last opera, as Valhalla burns and the gods are cast down, breathtaking stagecraft returns to the opening scene but now with a large nurse log, lit by a shaft of sunlight, giving life to new saplings. After some 17 hours of Wagner’s stirring, dramatic score, at the end of the last movement of Götterdämmerung, a single chord finally resolves creating the most sublime moment of theater I have ever experienced.

Who knew Bifröst used steel grating?

Okay, so it was all a bit much for my 6am walk across the Columbia River into Washington but I allowed myself a moment of triumph nonetheless. After a good day’s walk through forest that felt like home, I happened to camp in a spot that I imagined could have been transferred directly from the opera’s stage creating a strange echo of my morning’s reverie.

Just beyond my tent flaps

Walking the hills up and out of the Columbia Gorge I began to encounter ripe patches of wild berries. Blueberries, salmon berries, and tiny mountain blackberries, encouraged me to ‘stop and eat the berries’. Less exciting, I also began noticing more unsightly blooms of white toilet paper littering the sides of the trail. I had thought Washingtonians would be far more trail savvy about leaving no trace and packing out all trash. Entering high season, I encountered many more hikers than I’d seen in either Oregon or California so perhaps more traffic explains part of the problem but certainly provides no excuse.

Sighting a wild Keegan

In any case, getting closer to home also allowed for more rendezvous opportunities with loved ones! A family camping trip near Mt St Helens brought back Kayla and Chuck, my youngest son Keegan along with his brother Cole and Beth their mom. We met at a crossing where the PCT intersects with a forest service road. A closure apparently made for quite an adventure in creative navigation to reach me. While I lounged by the roadside munching wild blueberries, I was struck by the realization that after 100+ days on the trail, I have experienced almost a complete absence of waiting. Town days aside, I just do the next thing when the time seems right and trail life falls into place. At the same time, I felt no impatience and was perfectly at peace when the crew arrived bearing food, beverage, and best of all, the comfort of family. We caught up on life’s happenings and talked about what’s next.

Beth, Cole, Keegan, Kayla, and Chuck

Immediately ahead for me, Mt Adams Wilderness beckoned. Hot weather had created a heat haze that almost looked like smoke in all directions. The stagnant air unfortunately hampered my attempts to capture the scenic beauty of the place. Glaciers tumbled down the western face of Adams to meet slopes of shale and lava that eventually gave way to serene alpine meadows. High temperatures contributed to impressive run off and created one interesting, if unexpected, creek crossing flooded with glacial melt. Since I had kept my boots dry all the way north from Tahoe, I stubbornly hiked upstream until I found a somewhat dubious rock hop to avoid fording the silty torrent. A literal leap of faith turned out well for all of involved and I enjoyed the satisfaction of crossing dry.

Mt Adams in haze

Alpine cascade

The atypical muggy weather persisted and I had a fitful night trying to sleep. Regardless I was on the trail again by 6am to fulfill an astounding bit of orchestration and planning by my brother Dave. Weeks before he had mapped out a summer backpacking trip for himself and a few of his boys and timed it such that we would meet up. They planned to hike the PCT southbound from White Pass and meet me as I hiked northbound on the same section. When he first told me his plan I was over 200 miles away and skeptical of the distance. “If Train A leaves Mt Hood traveling north at 3mph and Train B leaves Seattle a week later traveling south… when will they meet?” Dave assured me the answer was noonish on Tuesday July 31st and incredibly, he was spot on. Never question the guy with the spreadsheet.

Dave and Joe hiking the PCT

Mountain gold

LittleBeast, ExtraCredit, PorkChop, TrailNuts, and Chloe

“AppleJack!” came the cry of William(aka TrailNuts) who was flying down the trail with his friend Chloe(trail name TBD). The vanguard was soon followed by Warren(LittleBeast), Dave(ExtraCredit), and Joe who was on just his third ever backpacking trip. Joe’s a strong kid, built like a tank, who looks like he could heft his own body weight up the hill so I dubbed him ‘PorkChop’ and he accepted. In an extravagant display of generosity and enthusiasm, not to mention a strong, young back, William carried in a six pack of beer and as many Costco muffins for 25+ miles to fuel our on trail celebration. The beer was even ice cold having been packed in snow. William had also made creative use of bug spray and a lighter to convert a towel into a sign just in case I walked past their camp spot. I paused once again in profound gratitude as counted the many blessings such supportive family and friends. Y’all are the best!

My all time favorite south bounders

As my brother’s merry band continued south, I traveled north through Goat Rocks where they had just been. Stunning alpine vistas opened before me with many crystal clear streams cascading down steep escarpments of loose shale amid hardy trees and other tenacious plant life. After crossing several enduring snowfields, I encountered the famous Knife’s Edge where the trail follows an unlikely and tortured path along a rocky ridge line with steep drops to either side. I pitched camp high on a ridge just after the precarious catwalk and wondered about the smoke plume ahead.

Goat Rocks Wilderness

Headwaters of the Cispus River

Walking the Knife’s Edge

Dave had told me that lightning had started a wildfire in the vicinity of White Pass and warned I might have trouble. Sure enough the last 10 miles or so leading to White Pass were closed when I arrived requiring a detour to a lower trail followed by a walk along the highway. Everything ended up okay. I claimed my resupply box at White Pass and spent the afternoon sorting food and completing chores.

Good morning my friend, Mt Rainier

8 Replies to “Day 2.101-106: Home State of Mine”

  1. Hello there: I am a stranger to you but have been following your blog since close to the beginning of your trip. I am not even sure how I initially stumbled upon it except to say that I was a panicked mother a few months ago when my 26 year old son told me he was planning on thru-hiking the PCT and I began reading everything I could on the PCT. I just want to let you know how much I enjoy reading your entries. You are a phenomenal writer and your blog is a lot better than many a book I have read! Reading your blog has brought the trail alive for me and has painted a picture of humanity at its best. It has also decreased my anxiety about this journey my son is on. For that alone, I am immensely grateful to you. I wish you all the best as you enter the final stretch and hope someday to read the great American novel written by you. Thank you again for taking the time to do this. Ann Marie Leichman – New City, New York

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    1. Thank you for the kind words Ann Marie! I am confident your son is having the time of his life and will remain safely held by the trail and its amazing community. Glad to have you along for the adventure!

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  2. Your posts inspire me! Thank you. What fun to have time with family on the trail, and what stunning photos. I’ve been longing for a gorgeous Cascade mountain photo-canvas for my living room. If you see more wildflower meadows, with peaks, snow etc… think of me. Maybe you’d be willing to share it?
    Hugs,
    Chris

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  3. How thrilling you are in your home state and better yet, closer to your family! My heart soars for you when I read about efforts family made to meet up with you. Wonderful!

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  4. So happy that our planned convergence at FS road 23 worked out! It was one of the highlights of our trip. Thinking a lot of your wonderful Mom today – memories of her ready smile and generosity fill my heart.

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