Stevens Pass to Stehekin
Mile 2461 – Mile 2569
Fueled by friendship
If BooBooBoy or Indie had told me that the mysterious stranger looking for me down by Chinook Pass had been using a golf club as a walking stick, I would have known it was my buddy Chris straight away. A pillar of good cheer and support from the outset, Chris cleared his schedule midweek to meet me for lunch in Skykomish and give me a lift back up to the trail. He also agreed to hike a few miles with me north from Stevens Pass. True to form, he brought his 3 wood along with fresh fruit and a little something to toast the last leg of my journey. I reveled in the most relaxed, companionable miles of the entire trail. Of course Chris also brought a golf whiffle ball and proceeded to launch one down the trail perhaps inventing a whole new sport- trail golf! I have since done the math and making some conservative assumptions, par for the PCT would be around 9,328. Knowing Chris’ game, I’d bet the under.
Dyslexic good cheer
Chris in classic trail form
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue the matters”…W.Churchill
Chris had also shared the above words that returned to me over the next several days. I had imagined that I would float through the last miles on the trail but the end game proved far more challenging than anticipated.
Lake Sally Ann
Glacier Peak Wilderness
Things started on a high note. After saying goodbye to Chris, I made good miles and enjoyed a warm evening under the stars. Although the air was a bit smoky, the next day found me entering the alpine wonderland of Glacier Peak Wilderness. I passed a trail crew that had been doing some blasting in the area in an effort to improve the way along a steep ridge. I navigated the aftermath of their day’s work and camped at a high pass. From that point on, my trials began.
You never know what’s just ahead
Wild flowers of the Cascades
I descended the next day into damp clouds that delivered light rain on and off all day. I was soon soaked and with no way to get dry, I determined to just keep going in an effort to stay warm until it was time to camp. A brief break in the showers gave me enough time to pitch my tent before stuffing it full of my wet self and everything else.
Wet cloud cover
If you have never had to don wet, cold clothing in the early morning, you have been missing out on a special kind of misery. At least the rain had stopped and I told myself that generating body heat by hiking would eventually make me more comfortable. I had not considered the low brush along the trail, each plant holding a few tablespoons of ice cold water, just waiting to be touched so as to release said water into my shoes. With no way to avoid it, I pushed through. My shoes were soon sloshing and my feet were losing the battle for thermal supremacy, overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught.
Smoke filled valley
“It will all be over soon” came my mantra and sure enough, by the time I had finished with the day’s challenging elevation changes, feeling had been restored to my feet.
I had also arrived at another trail closure due to wildfire. The suggested detour looked benign on paper though it added an additional 15 miles to the 20 needed to reach Stehekin. Again, things started great and I camped atop Cloudy Pass that despite its name, relinquished glorious views.
Epic tent spot redux
Red sunrise on a smoky morning
The next morning I walked down into a smoky valley, past Lyman and Hart Lakes and through the curious Holden Village. Nothing was open when I passed through but residents were up and about doing various chores. Near as I could tell, Holden Village is an isolated, intentional community of sorts attached to an active copper(?) mine. Filing it away for future research, I sought the ’10 Mile Creek’ trail designated as part of the official PCT detour. Purportedly 17 miles in length, the trail climbed steeply up a burned out canyon choked with smoke haze. The unimproved trail had not seen much use but there were signs that efforts had been made to clear and mark the way. What went undisclosed on the alternate map was the ~5000 feet of elevation gain and commensurate loss going down the other side. Near the top the trail became a sketchy goat track with dire consequences for any slip or misstep. “That’s not even really a trail”, confided a local I spoke with after eventually emerging on Stehekin Road. “Most folks are taking the boat up the lake (Chelan) from outside of Holden” he continued. Despite the harrowing ordeal, I had nothing but mad props for the folks who opened the way and made a walkable alternate possible.
PCT detour trail
I reconnected with the PCT at High Bridge where bus service runs hungry hikers down to the famous bakery near Stehekin. I had been dreaming about the place and its fabled cinnamon rolls for months. The experience did not disappoint though I did hedge my bet by adding on a sticky bun and ginger cookie. Heaven!
While visiting at Snoqualmie Pass, Gary asked me what being on the trail was ‘really like.’ In the moment I struggled with a coherent answer. Upon reflection I’d characterize my experience as a contest of will. I have shared the highlights here and hopefully have provided some sense but of course most of the time has been spent in the between moments. I have been a human doing, ever poised to continue forward while observing and managing my inner life. Sadness, joy, despair, elation, tedium, and excitement have visited me in turn but I have never been bored. The low grade state of tension underlying every trail day will soon be over and I’ve started to wonder about life afterward. Regardless of what comes, I am confident my time on the PCT will forever fuel my ability to face forward with optimism.
80 miles left to go!