It was basically all downhill the last eight miles to White Pass, and I started out early enough to make it to the road a little after 10am, which is to say, just a bit after 6am.
The previous night, after I had gotten snug in my sleeping bag, two men had come by, yelling at each other. I think they wound up sleeping near the lake too because I saw a headlamp in the woods as I began my hike.
I spooked an elk cow walking down the trail ahead of me just after dawn. She stared back at me until I tried to pull out my phone, then darted into the woods before I could get a video.
The trail passed lake after lake and write a number of early hikers. I stopped often for pictures but never for snacks. There was real food waiting at the Kracker Barrel store.
I arrived at the store at the same time as three northbound section hikers ending their hikes. They informed me the section ahead of me was nice and clear. They stuck around basically the whole time I was there waiting for their ride to pick them up.
While at the store for the next five hours, I
Got a shower
Got my laundry done
Picked up a full resupply and packed it
Bought a number of treats, like chicken fingers, homemade cake, root beer, beer, and a Mountain Dew Kickstart.
Charged my phone and battery
Uploaded a blog post
Wrote a Quora answer or two
Downloaded some podcasts
Let Jordan know I would be arriving in a week exactly (spoilers!)
Received a bag of perfectly tart and sweet yellow apples for free
I hiked out a little bit after 3pm. When it seemed like it was getting a bit late, and, more importantly, I didn’t feel like hiking anymore, I took a promising looking unmarked side trail a half mile to a campsite on the shore of Hell Lake. It was a beautiful little spot with a view and I had it all to myself.
Well, myself and three very bold and persistent camp robbers, that is. I probably shouldn’t have tossed one of them an apple core.
I woke up well before dawn. Morning twilight was just beginning as I hiked out past the lake. Everything was perfectly still and quiet. A single bird glided over my head and the sound of its feathers vibrating in the air stood out enough in the silence to startle me.
Even though I was the first out of camp that morning, I wasn’t the first on the trail. I met two hikers coming up from the parking lot in some dashing trail fashion. I arrived at the parking lot a few minutes later to see that there were already a number of visitors. Sometime had even car-camped in an SUV with an infant.
I took advantage of the clean and well-stocked Chinook Pass toilets, of course, as any thru-hiker would when faced with such luxury. They even had trash cans inside so I could lighten my load. Moreover, they had been stocked with so much excess toilet paper that it could not all be secured on the lock bar. Which is another way of saying that there was somehow one less roll when I left than when I entered. I wonder where it got off to?
I met a woman in the parking lot who was setting out to run the entirety of the section of the PCT between there and White Pass.
“It should take me about 7.5 hours. At least, that’s when I told my ride to go me up.”
“29 miles in 7.5 hours, huh? That’s…a pace. Is that going to be enough water or do you have a filter with you?”
*adjusting the small bottles on her running vest* “It should be enough. I’ve done this before. But I’ve got a Steri-Pen just in case.”
“Wow. I think… I’ll be happy getting there tomorrow.”
I should note that, judging from her face, this woman was probably 20 years my senior. Something to aspire to, I guess.
Anyway, I crossed the highway on the hiker bridge and entered the national park. I issued myself a backcountry permit at the self-permit station and set off down to the lakes. There were a number of other folks hiking that day, but none with any interest in chatting. There were plenty of views and plenty of camp robbers watching me closely every time I stopped, particularly when I stopped for lunch.
I finished my day near Snow Lake, picking an established site in the woods far from the trail and the water as per regulations.
Because I had stopped so early the preceding day to stay at the Mike Urich cabin, I already had everything ready for a full day’s hike before I went to bed early. And because I didn’t need to pack up my tent, my 4:45am watch alarm propelled me to be on the trail and hiking by 6am. There was an entire hour of deep quiet hiking in the dark before the morning twilight began and the birds and elk started waking.
The trail crossed a ridge and entered a burned zone from which the rising sun was readily visible. By the time I had to stop to swap my headlamp for sunglasses, I’d already hiked 6 miles.
The sandy soil was absolutely chewed up with the hoof prints of elk using the same trail, and the bellows of hulls resounded from every direction.
On a couple of occasions, I accidentally sneaked up on one or more cows incidentally upwind of me. They wouldn’t hear me until I stopped. On one occasion, I was able to get my phone out and take video before they noticed me and took off running.
By keeping my breaks short and far between, I managed to finish the 21 miles to Sheep Lake by 5:15 pm. After picking out the campsite farthest from the water (in accordance with forest service regulations), setting up my tent, and cooking dinner while being serenaded by coyotes, I walked around the lake to visit with the three old men camped there.
They had just walked the 2 miles up from the parking lot at Chinook Pass, dropped their packs, and took a little jaunt up to Sourdough Pass (the last pass I had crossed before descending into the lake basin) and over to an adjacent pass then back the same way. I thought maybe I could yogi a beer or a shot of whiskey from the old fellows but no luck. They were a super fun bunch though.
Eventually, I gave up and returned to camp to finish out my nightly routine and prepare for another early rise.
I woke to hear a distant whistling sound I don’t recall hearing before. I thought it was maybe a hunter whistling for dogs, but I would soon learn the truth.
This little section of trail was surprisingly popular. I met at least half a dozen people going north just after lunch. Most of them told me they had spent the preceding night at the cabin at Government Meadows. And that I would be guaranteed to see elk there. So I decided I would stay there as well.
I arrived pretty early in the afternoon. It wasn’t that far. Soon I could hear tons of elk bulls making herding calls in every direction. And the overtones of those calls were precisely the whistling I had heard that morning. Soon I saw a small heard of cows crossing the side of the meadow. My first elk sighting!
I had the cabin to myself, so I went to sleep just as it was getting dark. I set an alarm for 4:45 in the morning so I could get up and out well before first light and have enough time the next day to make up for the short mileage I had done that day.
Later in the night, I heard mice scurrying up and down the walls. So I didn’t have the place completely to myself. But they didn’t chew through any of my straps, so I didn’t mind them.
This wasn’t a particularly interesting section of trail. There were some nice views along the way. I don’t think I got up particularly early for this one. And I arrived at my intended destination well before dark. I don’t recall seeing anyone else out hiking the whole day. Maybe a couple of day hikers. I sure crossed a lot of dirt roads throughout the day.
In other words, what I had been told about this little bit of trail being boring was not completely inaccurate. But my eyes were on the future, and I knew things would be getting interesting soon.
It rained right through to morning and I had zero drive to get up before morning light. But once it was light, I peeled myself from the sleeping mat to deal with the world wet from rain outside and condensation inside. I immediately had to poop.
And no sooner had I finished doing that than the day hikers started showing up. Good timing me.
At this moment, I found myself wishing I had slept in the hotel. I would have arrived at this exact spot at this exact time, having used a proper toilet, and I wouldn’t have been faced with the prospect of having to pack up a wet tent and everything else at least somewhat damp.
On the bright side, that was to be the last of the recent spate of rain for some time. The hiking ahead looked beautiful.
After I packed up, I walked down to check out Lodge Lake, like every day hiker that came be seemed to be doing. They said it was nice when they came back moments later, so clearly it wasn’t a long side trip. It was tricky, though, since the trail was full of water and mud. My new boots made quick work of it. The lake was… okay.
The rest of the day’s hike was not very interesting. I got a late start, obviously, so I hiked fast. I watched the world dry out, the rocks and trees literally steaming in the sun.
Lunch by myself on a rock next to Mirror Lake. I’m not sure it deserved the name. Droves of day hikers continued to pass on the trail above me.
Yet as soon as I got past Mirror Lake (and finding the continuation of the trail beyond it was not an easy task), the day hikers dried up as quickly as the trail had.
And for good reason. There wasn’t really much of interest beyond that point. Some have said that the 40 miles south of Snoqualmie Pass are the most boring section of trail in Washington. It honestly could have been worse, and I did see worse in California, but I didn’t take very many pictures during the latter half of this day.
Stopped where the trail met the end of an infrequently used road just as the light was dim enough to require a headlamp. Rolled out my still wet tent and climbed into a still damp sleeping bag, worn out in a dispirited sort of way.
This one will cover an entire week’s worth of time! But since it didn’t happen while hiking, the subject of this blog, the detail will be minimal. Lots of pictures though.
However, I did promise a while back to talk about what I want to eat when I return to civilization, and since this post documents a brief respite in civilization, this would be a good place to do that.
If you’ve paid attention to my meal photos from town days, you may have some guesses. But the basic idea is that I want hot things, I want fresh things, and I want root beer. And occasionally some just plain beer.
Common targets for consumption include:
Something I can put hot sauce on
This is why you should not be surprised to learn that on my first morning off the trail, the familia went to the hotel’s attached diner for breakfast and I ordered steak and eggs.
While checking out, a lot of northbounders gathered in front of the hotel getting ready to begin their hikes out. These included Mowgli, Sunny Side Up, and their cat, whom I had not seen since Mammoth Lakes, so we got a quick pic together.
We decided to do a little light walking in nature with the rest of the day. First, we drove to Snoqualmie to visit the falls. We walked half a mile down to the river, and when the others didn’t feel up to climbing the hill back to the parking lot, I went up and drove the car down to pick them up.
Then we had lunch. Amazing burgers from Herfy’s and a drive through coffee stand. Then to No Boat Brewery, a brewery weed been recommended by a couple at Dru Bru, but I didn’t find a single beer there that I liked. The root beer was great though.
Then a drive down to Rainier NP late in the afternoon to visit Paradise. The inn was closed and boarded up, but we walked to a nearby waterfall, ate some bilberries growing next to the the trail, and just before we left, the clouds moved enough to see the peak. We drove back down at sunset and checked out the park’s other inn before driving back to Puyallup to check in to our hotel.
The next morning, we took our time leaving but eventually headed west toward the Olympics. We spent some time in Aberdeen, where I visited a sporting goods store and Walmart to pick up some things I needed. We went to a downtown coffee shop while waiting for another recommended brewery to open. But it didn’t open out enough so we visited Mount Olympus Brewing instead. Mikella and I each got a flight. On the way out of town, I got a “halfway finished” pie from a small supermarket.
From there we went to the coast to buy a famous brand of ice cream from a sweets shop in a cute coastal town. It rained the whole time. I should note it rained a bit almost every day for the entire week I spent off the trail, which was a large portion of the reason I didn’t mind the fact I wasn’t out hiking.
We ended the day at Quinault Lodge by the lake and ordered takeout dinner from a nearby restaurant. I had salmon followed by some of the pie.
The next day was a drive up the coast, starting with a visit to a beach for some tidepooling.
Then into the Olympic National Park to walk through the Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest.
Then lunch from a taqueria in Forks that only seemed to have forks available for customers.
After that, we drove to Poulsbo and made it into Sluys Bakery just before it closed. We bought nearly one of everything they had and sat outside a coffee shop on the street sampling everything. I decided to visit one of the town’s breweries, Valhalla Brewing, after that. It had an amazing cider on tap. Mikella had no interest in drinking. We ended the evening with a walk on the wharf docks after dark before driving to a hotel in a completely different town.
The next day we returned to Poulsbo to get a Viking Cup and some other things we hadn’t tried the night before, then to the water to eat at a restaurant at had spotted there overlooking the bay. Followed by another visit to Sluys, where I finally found the best item in the store, and the cafe for sweet espresso drinks to go. It occurs to me that Seattle could have become a coffee epicenter even if Starbucks had never been thanks to how much less miserable the rain is when you have a hot latte.
For the afternoon event, we drove over to Bainbridge Island to visit a vineyard tasting room. We tried a lot of wines, some pretty good, but I don’t know anything about wine, so it is never as exciting as beer. Needless to say, Mikella planned this stop.
We caught the next ferry from the island over to Seattle proper and checked into a hotel right on the waterfront. Then we spent several hours in the hotel planning and generally lounging. By the time we decided to call an Uber to go get some pho, nearly every Vietnamese restaurant had closed, including the one we had routed to. No problem. Our driver was very friendly and took us past the bridge troll on the way to another place we ordered take out from over the phone.
The other goal for the evening was a brewery visit, and there was a very nice one just a 15 minute walk from the pho place. We spent the remainder of the evening sampling Floating Bridge beers and eating pho in the tasting room. We Ubered back late and went right to bed.
The next morning, after some small delays at the hotel, we began a trek in the rain. After a brief jaunt along the piers in the wrong direction, we finally found our way to the Pike Place Market, which seemed considerably reduced in activity in the age of COVID. It stopped raining for us here, so we took the remainder of the morning and early afternoon wandering around here. The original Starbucks was closed but the Beecher’s Store was open, so cheese and crackers was had. We also stopped in at a fancy café with drink combinations you’ve not heard of.
For the afternoon, we walked to the space needle area to visit Chihuly Gardens and Glass. On the way, Mikella got more coffee and I got a local kombucha. She wanted to walk through the garden with a coffee but that wasn’t allowed. Still, we took our time and got plenty of pictures.
We wanted to visit Holy Mountain Brewing after that but couldn’t get a beer garden reservation until the next day, so instead we Ubered back to the hotel and walked to a waterfront seafood restaurant across the street to eat fish and watch the sunset. Then we walked back to the upper edge of Pike Place so I could try out the brewpub there. We had a table outside on the edge of a precipice overlooking the city. We also had rats running around below us. The beer was very good. Some of the best I tried on this trail vacation.
A short but somewhat sketchy walk down dimly lit staircases and alleys returned us to our hotel to prepare for the next day’s drive.
The next morning called for us to pack up and drive ourselves from the hotel in time to join the first group entering the Museum of Pop Culture (formerly the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Science Fiction Museum and still retaining those elements). On the way, we stopped at a FedEx so I could mail myself a resupply to White Pass. We spent three or four hours in the museum, then left to make our early afternoon reservation at Holy Mountain. We had enough time to drive through a taco restaurant on the way to get food to eat with the beer. It was a strange location for a brewery beer garden and the beer tastiness was mixed, but I did find one I liked.
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving across Stevens Pass to Leavenworth. My second visit in as many weeks! This time I got to sample the nightlife. We walked through the cool touristy part of town to a little basement bar for dinner. I tried the local brewery’s IPA but it wasn’t that exciting. I tried a cider then that was amazing.
After dinner, we visited a sweet shop and bought an incredible assortment of saltwater taffy. Flavors I’ve never even heard of before! Then we returned to the car to drive to the KOA (just so Mama could see) and Safeway (to pick up a couple of items I’d forgotten.
Back at the very fancy hotel we had booked for our last night together, we went down to sit in the hot tub. It was a very COVID-friendly hot tub because it was flower-shaped and each family could sit at the end of its own “petal” far from the others and yet still talk to each other across the way if desired.
But then it was straight to bed because we had to be up and out at the crack of dawn, even before the fancy included breakfast room opened. (The hotel did provide us bagged breakfasts to go instead.)
Last day. Up and at ’em. On the road before it’s even fully light out because we have to be in Chelan before the Lady of the Lake leaves to make its morning run. No problem. We make it with time to spare waiting in a line and visiting the restroom.
Once the boat is underway, concessions begin, and I am first in line for a coffee. It’s a leisurely two hour trip across the country’s third deepest lake before my triumphant return to Stehekin.
Cliff is right there waiting with his white school bus, very confused about our lunch plan but ultimately happy to give us a ride. We travel to High Bridge for pictures and then back to the ranch where Bethany is, of course, happy to sell us lunch. Taco salad!
Soon after lunch, we catch the bus back toward town (though Mama took her time and nearly missed it), going the scenic way this time. Another visit to Rainbow Falls, now flowing somewhat better following the week of rain, a stop in the old schoolhouse where Cliff went to school as a kid (but we couldn’t find any pictures of him inside), a stop in the organic gardens to buy some creamy goat cheese, and of course, a visit to the bakery.
Back in town, we had an hour to kill before the departure of the Lady Cat. We visited the gift shop and walked the cabin trail, just as I had done during my first visit. Then we found and boarded the catamaran just before its departure. The express trip back to Chelan took only an hour or so.
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving back to Snoqualmie Pass while listening to podcasts on the car stereo. When we finally arrived at the trailhead, it was well after dark and raining. I declined an offer to spend the night at the hotel. It might have been a mistake in terms of getting miles done, but I could see no reason to spend the money when I had the energy to get some night hiking done.
After an interminable farewell photo shoot, we did the hugs and kisses thing and I started walking in the rain while the fam drove back to Seattle to get a few hours sleep before their early flight home.
I climbed the ski slopes in the rain by headlamp light and the trail was a stream. It didn’t take long before my socks were soaked through, though my raincoat kept the rest of me fairly dry.
The trail wasn’t in the best condition for these few miles, and the little trickling streams that normally crossed the trail were now huge washes that required a bit of study to avoid letting more cold into my boots. It was much slower going than it should rightfully have been. Also, I had spent a week sitting in the back seat of a Jeep Compass, so my legs aren’t exactly in walking condition anymore.
Eventually, I reached my spot near a junction, a place where I squeezed my tent between two trees on a slightly sloped ground, crawled inside, and changed into dry things to sleep in. It’s impossible to stay completely dry in my tent when it’s that wet, but mostly dry is good enough to get some sleep.