7/28 – 8/1
Snoqualmie Pass 2390.6 to White Pass 2292.4 – 98.2 miles
Total miles hiked to date: 366
This segment should be titled ‘Hiker to Hiker Trail Magic’
First, I hit two milestones in this section: I passed the 300 mile point and, more significantly, I completed my first 20+ miles a day here. In fact I did 3 in a row and ended up hiking this 98 mile section in 4.5 days. But my feet are a wreck and I just can’t seem to get my middle back muscles to relax. Yes, I’ve stretched and rested and get temporary relief but with the pack on it just comes right back. Because my heals are in agony due to painful and rotting calluses, I’ve been stepping on the ball of my feet first for 98 miles. As a result, the balls of my feet including my toes are numb. If there is any improvement it has to be my plantar fasciitis improving thanks to the persistent stretching I’ve been doing.
I had to take a zero in Packwood to try to recover a bit before the next section which is 66 miles over the Goat Rocks Wilderness. If my heels and back don’t improve I may have to get off the trail for a longer period to recover. Enough about my feet.
I felt strong enough to push on a little further even though I knew I was over the 20 mile mark for the day. And this was my second 20+ mile day in a row. When I crested Scout Pass at 6500’ in the shadow of the 4th highest mountain in the CONUS (Continental United States), I knew instantly that I was stopping here to camp. The view of Mt. Rainier was the best I’ve seen yet and I felt strong about both sunset and sunrise images from the same vantage point. The wind was cold and damp and the ragged edges of stratus clouds raced over the pass only to dry out and disappear on the leeward side I just hiked up.
The pass was not labeled as a campsite on the Guthooks App or Half-Mile maps but 10 feet from the hitching post was a slopped spot just barely big enough to pitch my tent. The stench of horse urine was worth the views. I ate a quick dinner in the lee of some trees and quickly set up camp shivering the whole time. The sun was lighting the fog below with evening blue shadows bathing the glaciers of Rainier. Smoke from nearby fires drifted in front of the summit. I was happy with what I had so far and spent an all too short, barely warm enough night where the wind never quit. Unlike valley winds, ridge top winds tend to increase at night above a pronounced inversion.
The 5:15am alarm came early but I got dressed quickly wearing everything I brought to catch the first light on the mountain at 5:40 am. I started breaking camp at 6am after sunrise shots. My hands were cold enough to wear my gloves for the first time. In all my excitement about making images I lost my spoon. I was already leaving later than I wanted as I was desperately searching the area for it. Not having anything to eat with felt almost as unsettling as running out of toilet paper with 3 days still to hike to the next trailhead.
Around 6:45am another SOBO wanders up to the pass and sees me pacing back and forth searching for my spoon. It’s a nice young hiker whose trail name is “Neemore” (standing for need less, want more.) He asks me what I’m looking for and upon hearing about my loss says he hasn’t used his spoon in 300 miles and just gives it too me. He is “stoveless” and has subsisted on pop tarts, cliff bars and eating dry Ramen noodles. I’m not ready for that extreme yet. I’m fine carrying a stove. Neemore also knows something about cameras and photography. A successful AT thru hiker from Georgia, Neemore produces “How To” backpack videos and has a Youtube channel. It is always good to chat image talk with other PCT hikers.
I enjoy my breakfast with my new-found spoon and get off a little later than planned. But that turned out be the best day of this section as the trail stayed high in the Norse Peak Wilderness with commanding views of Rainier, Mt. Adams, and the Goat Rocks. This day more than makes up for the depressing forty mile section of clear cut logging I had just walked through. For Southbounders, you definitely notice the trail improving and getting faster in this section over anything further north.
The day before, I run into a large volunteer trail crew, a joint venture of the PCTA and WTA, Washington Trail Association. I spend an hour and a half making a few portraits and documenting some of the work they’ve been doing.
Slowly but surely I am adopting to the PCT style of backpacking. You are here to hike the trail, not chill in camp. So I’ve fallen into a routine of getting my hike started before or at 7AM. I spend 12-13 hours on the trail. Sometime around lunch I break and dry my tent and any damp gear. Even though the weather has been stellar this section it is still always damp in the morning. Around 5-6PM I stop for dinner near a water source, then continue hiking for another 1-2 hours before finding a high camp. If I want solitude I avoid camping near water sources – especially lakes. It has been relatively easy to pack 2-3 liters another mile or two to a quieter dry camp.
I am meeting more and more hikers who are just tackling the PCT in state sections, Oregon, Washington, Oregon and Washington together. A few hikers, including a long distance hiker and life coach in her 60’s, “Dutchess” ask me why it is important to do the whole trail in one season. With all the time I have alone walking for 12-13 hours you would think I would have an answer but I don’t. I fumble to explain why. I’m also warming up to the idea of maybe not doing the entire trail in one season. At this age you are more cautious about doing permanent damage to your body. I’ve always been a strong hiker but a 5-7 day backpack trip is a completely different experience from a 5-month backpack trip.
I take each section at a time and try to listen to my body and be realistic about what it can handle. The Goat Rocks section is coming up and it looks like weather will clear after a wet and cold zero in Packwood. I will plan on 4 days through this 68 mile section.