Icicle Ridge and the PCT, Alpine Lakes Wilderness
For the first time in a long time (since the morning of the first day of my last backpacking trip) it was actually cloudy and misty in the Puget Sound area. Despite not liking to hike in bad weather, I set out, after rush hour broke, for Stevens Pass and a planned seventy five mile hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the local playground for Puget Sound. With only two other cars in the parking lot, I was fairly certain that I'd be spending a lot of time along during this midweek trek. The low clouds and mist gave the ski-run-tortured hillsides a spooky, interesting aspect that was, surprisingly enough, a most welcome change from the normal.
August 1-5, 2005
I passed a large group of Boy Scouts and their leaders resting just a few minutes below the top of the ski run, and two more of their leaders on top. The Scouts were out for a trip along the Icicle Ridge trail and were heading all the way to near Leavenworth, a long and arduous trek. Definitely better to be a Boy Scout out here than in the Chicagoland area, where I grew up. I said goodbye to the leaders as I was starting to get a bit chilled in the damp air and began dropping down the PCT toward my first trail junction.
By some, certainly explainable but odd, change in local conditions, the plants along the Icicle Creek trail were more coated in water than those on the PCT. And they were overhanging on the trail, which meant that I very quickly had feet as wet as if I'd just forded a creek. As I moved through the mist and the brush and crossed over Icicle Creek, I began to worry that I had missed the trail junction leading up to the Chain Lakes and that I would have to take a less scenic, though certainly easier, route up to Frosty Pass. I quickly checked my map and concluded that I had either missed the junction or that the trail no longer existed. Just as quickly, after putting the map away, I crossed the trail and began the very steep climb up toward Chain Lakes. Despite the chill in the air, I sweated profusely as I powered up the trail. Never tired, winded, or exhausted, my body and mind were working as one and the steep grade presented no difficulties other than occasionally wiping the sweat from my eyes. As I topped out the first of the Chain Lakes came into view, surrounded by high cliffs and mountains, shrouded in a fog that made the place seem like Scotland. Not that I've ever been to Scotland; just what I imagine the place looks like.
I kept on the track and passed to the second Chain Lake, where the trail began to climb and Bullstooth, the sentinel of the pass I was aiming for, came into view. The main problem was that there was no way my trail would lead to the pass, given that the second and third of the lakes were in the way. Another indicator was the fact that I could see a trail carving its way up the side of the cliffs on the other side of the lake. Back I went, crossing the trickle where the second lake seems to drain into the first. I continued on a trail on the other side, running it along until it began to drop toward the base of the pass. Memories of the trail I had spied, high on the slopes above me, came back and I retreated, a little frustrated. Sitting in the lee of the cold wind, I rested and looked at my map for clues, then decided to stop a little early and camp here. The lakes were stunning, there was no one around, and if I waited until tomorrow morning I might have clear weather and enjoy the pass more. I picked a particularly nice nice overlooking the steel blue second lake and set up camp, quickly putting on warm clothes.
As it was only 5 pm, I had plenty of time to do those important things that one generally misses if one hikes until bedtime. Things like making tea and playing with sticks and having cocktail, post-tea of course. After tea and a few sips of 120 proof rum, I walked down the trail I had retreated along, then climbed up through a boulder field, surprisingly the rock dwellers, and eventually cut the correct trail. I walked back down the trail to see where it intersected my original route: About 20 feet from where I camped there was a fainter trail that split off, marked with a minor cairn, from the one that I had followed. I pondered the mystery of why I had missed such an obvious thing, but not for long.
I wrote for an hour in my journal, sipping rum all the while, reclining on my sleeping pad with a boulder as a back rest and the mist for my companion. I was surprised how quiet everything was. Still, like in the desert. I wrote and wrote and wrote some more, pouring out the experiences and emotions that I'd had and felt in the previous few days at home. Things I thought were all done had walked back through my door, if only for a few hours. Writing helped sort them out. The stillness of the place helped soften them. The mist, floating by unchained, helped put them in perspective. Satisfied with my writing, I cooked up some ramen noodles and sat back to read a series of essays by Roger Penrose. The math involved was straightforward for me, but I have a doctorate in mathematics. How a non-mathematician would understand it was beyond me. As he was using mathematics and mathematical physics to help, eventually, describe a theory of the human mind, I found it dubious that the argument could be understood by the general public. I picked up Edward Abbey after an hour and enjoyed his sermonizing much more.
After a cold night, I was happy to find the sun just beginning to strike the top of the cliffs on the other side of the second lake. I boiled water for tea and struck camp quickly, wanting to get a jump on the day despite the cold air. I was to follow a no longer maintained trail after the pass to get to Frosty Pass, where I was to hit solid trail once again. That bit of uncertainty propelled me.
Picking up the proper trail I hauled up toward the pass at a furious rate, trying to generate some body heat as my side of the lake was still deeply in the shadows. Twisting, turning, and climbing always, the trail led around the cliffside and eventually up the gully below the pass. The rubble gave way to a patch of forest before returning to rubble just before breaking out into the sunshine and open expansiveness of the alpine.
The combination of the sunshine and the spectacle of mighty Glacier Peak was almost intoxicating. Intoxicating not like a stiff drink, but rather in the way that one describes a particularly attractive and interesting woman. Something you would notice even if you were blind. The Monte Cristo group of mountain struck up alongside Glacier Peak, with dagger-like Sloan Peak the most recognizable. Somewhere out there was Mount Pugh, one of the first trips I did in the area when I moved here almost a year ago. Even Mount Baker, that most beautiful (Mount Hood excepted) of the Cascade volcanoes, could be seen, its white cone prominent even in the pale sunshine from the East.
I stayed on the pass for a few minutes enjoying the sun and the view and then began dropping down the loose soil that formed a sort of trail down the pass. The steepness and uncertain footing gave my gait a slowness that caution always demands. Not like the consequences of a fall would be at all serious; I just didn't want to get my shorts dirty by falling on my backside. After 10 minutes of careful walking, the footing became more sure and the track more definite. I rounded the first of the Doelle Lakes, passing by several nice campsites. While this place would have been nice to stay at, I was glad that I had waited on the weather on the other side of the pass. Looking back at that thing, with Bullstooth standing guard and the lake in between, with nothing but blue overhead, I was struck by the beauty of the place. As always happens when I'm in a place like this, I asked myself why everyone wasn't here. Where were the crowds that such a place should draw? I felt compassion when I reminded myself that today was Tuesday and that many people were sitting at a desk right now, beginning a work day at a job in a cube. I felt compassion for those people who would never get to a place like this, either from lack of time or, even worse, lack of interest in being immersed in beauty.
The trail faded completely after the first of the lakes and so I had nothing to do but head in the direction of the second, moving cross country through the minimal brush of this subalpine region. The second lake came into view below me, and along with it a nice, dug trail near the outlet stream. The day was warming nicely and I had solid trail, for now, to follow. Less than three miles to Frosty Pass, I reminded myself. Although the trail would occasionally fade out, particularly in a large meadow near Goddough creek, it was never hard to follow and was remarkably brush free for an abandoned trail. The trail climbed to a minor pass on the mountain ridge it had been traversing, where another trail came in. Couldn't be Frosty, I thought. But I rested anyways and took off my jacket as the day was pleasant now. Continuing up the mountain ridge, the trail climbed steeply at times before breaking out for good onto the other side. Devoid of trees, the alpine landscape would have been stunning, except that I could not spot where in the world Frosty Pass could be. Time-wise, I should have covered the distance to Frosty Pass by now, but it was nowhere in sight. I looked over my map and pondered. Giving up, I continued on the trail, which bounced around, but generally headed downslope, which is bad if one is trying to climb to a pass. When the track faded out completely near a drop into a ravine, I had a sit and looked at the map and my watch. The map, then the watch again.
Confused and a bit frustrated, I wandered about looking for a trail junction that I had to have missed, but found none. I convinced myself to go up and began traversing upslope above the ravine. Within minutes I was on solid trail again, more confused, but reassured, than ever. I bounced along, passing bits of garbage that had fallen out of people's pockets in the past, and eventually ran into Frosty Pass. According to my watch, it had taken my nearly two hours to go from the second Doelle Lake to here. I found the distance estimate of 3 miles to be somewhat lacking in size. After resting a bit, I set off on the Icicle Ridge trail as it climbed around, heading toward Ladies Pass. Three women were met, who found my pack size to be rather inadequate for the task at hand and told each other than I must be eating grass for dinner. All in good fun, I suppose. They were each carrying perhaps twice what I was and looking very tired, despite it not yet being noon.
I thought about asking them about what they were carrying and why they were working so hard, but thought better of it and continued climbing toward the pass, which was clearly visible above me, or so I thought. Fields of lupine swathed the trail in pleasant purple tones and added a bit of scent to the otherwise sterile alpine air.
From the pass I looked back on the route taken this morning, using Bullstooth as a guide. The ridge and the ravine near Frosty Pass, the grey granite of the more distant mountains. It was so perfect here, with the sun and the warmth. These are your public lands. This is your land. My land. Our land. Just come out for a walk. Take some time off and breath a bit of mountain air, get a sense of what we have lost as we have gained. Some one told me recently that I needed to have more luxury in my life. I thought about that critique very seriously now.
I took a break, waiting for the women to get to the top so that I could have someone to celebrate this place with. I looked more carefully at my map while I waited. There were no named passes in between Frosty and Ladies, but there was a pass nonetheless. I'd later find out that this was Mary's Pass.
I looked down the trail, hoping to spot the women hikers, but they were out of sight and I was tired of waiting. The trail ahead was just too inviting to sit around in the sun like a tourist at the beach. In the alpine, one can see forever, in all directions, giving the surroundings an expansiveness that can't be ignored. In foul weather such places are absolute nightmares. In this moment's weather, they were heaven.
I loped along the trail as it dropped down on a few switchbacks before following a proper traverse toward a minor gap above a perfect alpine tarn. Confronted on the other side by what looked like an impossible cirque in the distance, I wondered where in the world the trail was going. Either nowhere, or someplace very interesting. I hoped that the local trail managers had had too great a supply of dynamite when building this trail. Unfortunately, the trail cut over, dropping down and climbing, far away, toward the true Ladies Pass, just below Cape Horn, which seems also to be called Ladies Peak.
I rolled around the basin and up to the pass and was disappointed to finally realize that the trail was not going to be blasted along side the cirque, but instead ran on the other side of Cape Horn. While disappointed, I took solace in the fact that it would be hard to top the actual trail.
After practically climbing to the top of Cape Horn, the trail dropped down from a notch and headed straight toward an sapphire tarn situated in a tan basin, broken by bits of green grass and bordered by rugged mountains. Lake Edna, someone had named it in the past. It could be called Lake Sewage for all I cared. It was one o'clock in the afternoon and time for lunch. But, first, no lake like this could be passed up by someone with time on their hands. I dropped my packed and stripped down and took a plunge into the clear, cold water, sputtering and shouting at the bracing effect it had upon me. Edna was deep for such a high lake and I was quickly unable to touch the bottom. I swam out a bit, diving and frolicking and generally doing what one does in a lake. Sitting naked in the sun after my swim, I thought again about the lack-of-luxury critique and realized where it came from and why it was valid, at least in the reviewers mind. In her world, I had little that could be called soft or luxurious. I slept on a futon, directly on the ground. I had a futon sofa to sit on. I had two restaurant chairs and a 2.5 ft by 2.5 ft table to eat off of. My bookshelves and dresser were from Wal-mart. My coffee table dated from the 1970s. I stored snow tires in my bedroom. She was right using her perspective on things and her values. But I was sitting naked in the sun in one of the most beautiful places I'd ever been, eating landsjager and had nothing more strenuous to do today that go for a walk, take a swim, and work on my tan. And have a laugh at the distances listed on my maps. According to them I'd walked about six miles in five hours. In five hours I normally would cover twice that distance. It didn't matter much. I just wouldn't be as far on my map as I thought I would.
After lazing about for an hour in the sun, I dressed and set off for Chatter Creek. I had hoped this to be an all downhill run (be careful what you wish for), but the land on the other side of Edna was tortuous, broken, upheaved. When I finally got to the top of the pass, also unnamed, I was rather sweaty and felt distinctly less clean that I had after the swim. The valley holding Chatter Creek sprawled out beneath me, a very, very long ways down.
The trail decided not to waste time and plunged down on loose, pebble sized rock. I lost traction many times, but never fell. I'll neither go up nor down Chatter Creek again. By five in the evening I found myself on the Icicle Creek road with my legs jellified more than they had been since descending Volcan Concepcion in Nicaragua. Filthy from the trail dust, I was looking for a place to stay the night. I walked down the gravel road to the Rock Island front country campground, which held a few tents and families who were out enjoying a bit of the outdoors in a highly civilized way. I left them to enjoy the front country, found my next trailhead, and set out to find a home for the night. Near a river, I found a clear area just large enough for my tarp, with a large, oddly shaped fir tree for some character.
After getting camp set, I wrote in my journal for an hour, once again, while enjoying my overproof rum, once again. The day had been spectacular and I was tired from it. Sometimes such rewards require a little work. My mind lingered on the luxury critique once again and I tried turning it over in a different direction to see if something new would fall out. The few words she had used were proving to be extremely fruitful thinking material. The rum was dulling my head, however, and I quickly gave up trying to think. I gave up on Penrose over dinner and instead through myself into Abbey as the sun began to set. I nestled into my sleeping bag, grey silnylon overhead, bug netting draped around and tried to think of something that I wanted but did not have with me. I couldn't think of anything. Luxury.
My campsite had a favorable eastern aspect and I awoke to find the sun shining on my tarp a little before 7 am. I didn't get out of my sleeping for a half hour, choosing to take a half liter of Assam tea and Raspberry Strussel breakfast squares from the comfort of the down cocoon. I quickly broke camp and set up the dusty trail, which was littered with many horse droppings, but also had the gentle grade that equestrians like so much. I rolled comfortably along, enjoying the morning air and the easy trail and reflected, with compassion, on the people sitting down to work, stuck in traffic, or otherwise shackled. In the movie Fight Club, Jack is in an airport looking at a digital clock and tells the audience, "This is your life, and it is ending one minute at a time."
After a bit of brush on the trail and a rock hop of Jack Creek, I set up the winding Meadow Creek trail, which would be my escape route to Paddy-Go-Easy Pass and the PCT. I liked the name of the pass and was looking forward to getting to it and, eventually, the PCT. This particular area held memories of Weasel Butt peak and the beginnings of something that turned painful over the last two months of classes and the first month of the summer. The trail broke out into an open meadow with stunning views of red mountains in the distance, and looming Harding Peak, a grey-white granite, on my left.
In the meadow the trail began to fade and then become overgrown. The overgrowth increased to the point where I had to take a bushwhacking approach to the trail. Pushing through the brush, which scratched my legs and pulled at my pack, was a frustrating experience, as it always is. At times the brush came up to eye level, completely obscuring the trail. I even took a picture of the trail, looking directly down it, to remind myself, later on, what this particular trail was like. And then the trail became more overgrown.
At least there were plenty of ripe blueberries and, even better, huckleberries. The track finally crested out on a divide between two drainages and, faintly, dropped down toward French Creek. The brush died down and by the time I reached the, long dead, remains of a cabin and the junction up to Paddy-Go-Easy, I was back on solid trail and ready for lunch. While not as nice as my lunch spot at Edna yesterday, especially as this place had clouds of houseflies and an odd amount of broken glass (odd because it is rather far from a road), I thoroughly enjoyed the hour I spent beside French Creek. The murmuring of the flowing water, the warm sun enjoyed from cool shade, and a sense of nearness to a place that two years ago changed my life all contributed to a feeling of overwhelming well-being.
The climb up to the pass was, as its name implies, was easy. I was climbing into a gap in the red mountains that I had spotted from far below in the meadows. Winding up through forest, then into open subalpine and alpine lands, the trail leveled off and then contoured over to the broad pass. Sweat poured off of me, but I could sense no tiredness in my body. Aligned once again. From the pass the spectacle of Mount Daniel and its permanent snowfields dominated the horizon. Cathedral Rock, a prominent spire next to Daniel, was dwarfed. I'd be there tomorrow.
The deep drop in front of me almost reminded me that I would have to work to get back up on the otherside. Almost, but not quite. I strolled down the trail without worries or fears or hesitation until I found a shady spot with a view where I could have a proper sit, despite being out barely an hour from lunch.
I sat in the shade and swatted at the flies which seemed very interested in my legs, but did not bite. I sat and swatted and drank the still cold waters from French Creek. My watch told me it was 2:30 in the afternoon. Rush hour would be starting soon in the Puget Sound area. I hadn't seen anyone for almost 24 hours. I tired of sitting in the shade and decided to walk down to the road, far, far below me, which I could see snaking its way through the valley, following a meandering river. It was hard to imagine that the trailhead I had left from is barely 50 miles from Seattle megaplex. Dropping down, I once again pondered luxury and what is was. Defining terms like this either leads one to a personal, non-extrapolative definition, or to a Platonic ending with a desire for the Good. Neither is of much use when the sun is shining and everything is just as it should be. I was surrounded by beauty, and it didn't seem to matter too much what luxury might be.
I eventually reached the gravel road and walked up it to the Cathedral Pass trail head. I couldn't pass up a bridge over the river I had seen, which seemed much more powerful from this vantage point, and had another gratuitous sit. It wasn't even four in the afternoon and I was only going another 2.7 miles up to Squaw Lake, just below Cathedral Pass and the PCT. The flies were still out, which was moderately annoying, but there is something about sitting on a bridge and watching a river flow that is surprisingly relaxing. Not the water, or the rocks, or the logs. The river as a whole, as a logical entity distinct from its constituent parts, as something greater than the causes which brought it into being.
I walked up the steep trail and took another sit at the top, on a rock with a view of Paddy-Go-Easy pass, 45 minutes after standing up from the bridge. I had passed three day hikers on their way down, the first ones I'd seen since leaving Rock Island, about this time yesterday. I hadn't intended to stop again, but the rock was in the shade, yet had a view, and the flies seemed to be less intense than down at the river. People were commuting home, getting ready to make dinner out of a box or watch the local news. Or stuck in their car wishing they were somewhere else, somebody else. Perhaps going home to someone they loved and adored. Girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, children, cats, dogs, whatever. Hopefully something that gave meaning to their lives, rather than something that brought pain to them. Hopefully not to a night in front of a television, watching a show about reality, trying to forget that they had a life of their own.
Squaw Lake was fifteen minutes up a, sometimes, steep and winding trail and was an absolute jewel of a lake. Half rimmed by a high, sheer cliffs and of the most exquisite blue-green color, I had gotten to the lake at the perfect time, though not for picture taking. The sun shone directly from above the cliffs on the other side and a rock provided a perfect place to sit. To sit, that is, after stripping down again and going for a swim in the sun-warmed waters. Amazingly enough, there didn't seem to be any flies or mosquitoes or other pests. Perhaps the patrolling dragonflies, swooping low along the lake and coming over to investigate me at times, scared them off. Whatever the reason, sitting naked on the rock in the sunshine was almost cathartic: Anything inside of me of a negative quality seemed to be flushed out of my system. Squaw Lake was a special place.
I sat on the rock, sometimes thinking, other times drinking, until the sun dipped close to the cliffs and the temperature began to cool. I had spent almost 90 minutes on the rock, and realized that I should probably set up camp. I put my clothes back on, reluctantly, and donned some warmer ones as well for the coming cold. There was a roped off area where I was told not to camp, but next to it was a bare patch of flat ground with no roping. A view of the lake. My rock. Everything was right here.
After setting up camp, I returned to my rock and wrote for a while, but words seemed superfluous, unnecessary, sterile. I turned my attention again to luxury, and again concluded that there was nothing that wanted out here and did not have. A new question arose in my mind, one that I had not pondered yet. Something else was falling out of the critique. Whereas before I had thought in terms of physical goods, it now occurred to me to consider whether or not I wanted someone else here with me.
My thoughts on this continued over dinner and then over rum. Did I want someone to share this place with, right now? A good woman, an intelligent, deep friend, Edward Abbey, anyone? I finally concluded that I did not. At least not right now. The presence of another consciousness is intrusive. Tomorrow, next week, in a year, I wanted to share this place with someone, to have someone around to revel with, to experience this place as I had. But not now.
I awoke at the shockingly late hour of 7:15, with sun pouring down on me. It was going to be a warm day for sure. I skipped morning tea as I was running low on fuel and really wanted to get up to Cathedral Rock and the PCT. I quickly broke camp and was hiking up the trail, full of energy, though feeling a little guilty over how great things were out here. I felt guilty because I knew that I was privileged to be out here, to have the time. Guilty because I knew that this sense of privilege had been growing, over the last few days, toward a state of arrogance and superiority. I didn't want that and promised myself to try to keep my ego in check today. It was hard to do when I rounded a bend and Cathedral Rock was thrust up into the air in front of me.
When I hiked the PCT in 2003, this area was near the end. I was a little over a week from Canada and the end of my beautiful thing. I pondered then, as I had all summer, what it was that I was going back to. The only thing that I could come up with then, as now, was that all I had at "home" was my job and my stuff. I hadn't made much progress since then, I thought. A little, but not much. I had had grand plans, but most of these, except moving West, had failed to materialize mostly due to lack of effort. It is easy not to do anything, to let time slide by, to pass by opportunities, as I had. The last few months, I thought, had changed much of that for me. While I desired for nothing while I was out here, those months had shown me, quite painfully at times, how hollow my life outside of wilderness really was. The Ego was shut down completely as I walked contemplatively along the PCT.
The land looked different from what I had remembered in 2003. When I came over Cathedral Pass then, I ran into a large group of British military types who had just finished joint training exercises at Fort Lewis, next to which I now live. We had walked down the trail together, talking about their training and my hiking, the differences in the US and Britain. I passed by the creekside campsite where they stopped for the day. The creeks were dry as a bone this year.
I strolled along eating berries when the urge struck me and watched the world roll by at the relaxing pace of three miles per hour. The berries were particularly abundant and just coming into ripeness. Sometimes I'd stop and get a handful to munch on, at other times picking single berries. I sampled the still un-ripe blackberries to see what they tasted like. I drank crystal water from streams flowing off of Mount Daniel's immense snowfields. I kicked rocks over the edge of the trail to see where they would land. I whistled at butterflies as they flitted about around me. Out here, in this place, I had all the luxury I could ever want.
After cresting over Deception Pass I dropped down to stunning Deception Lake, which I remembered perfectly from 2003 and stopped to have lunch by its shores. The last of the landsjager and a warm, gooey Snickers bar stuffed into a peanut butter burrito made a perfect lunch, washed down by the last of my snowmelt water, formed a perfect repast, marred only by my lack of swimming and the houseflies.
I hiked up toward Pieper pass, remembering the exact spot where Birdie found me going to the bathroom just off trail. We had hiked most of California together and had then only seen each other a few times. I had left Crater Lake an hour before she did, and didn't see her again until Timberline lodge, near Mount Hood, and then only for a few minutes. Three hundred miles apart. We spent a day along the Columbia, and then, getting an hour head start on her, didn't see her again for a week and almost 230 miles of hiking through southern Washington. She caught me at Snoqualmie Pass, where I stopped for the night in the local hotel, but in the morning I was again out before she left. After she found me on the side of the trail, we wouldn't be apart again for very long and finished the trail together. I don't think I've ever been more closely in-tune with anyone in my entire life.
The other side of the pass dropped off to Glacier Lake, a very large lake which, much to my surprise, has an excellent view of Glacier Peak. I remembered not being able to see Glacier Peak until getting north of Stevens Pass, and this bothered me some. Why I had not seen the mountain, I could not say. Perhaps it was cloudy out. I didn't remember that either. Once down at lake level, I ran into two men who were camping in the area and out to hike up to Surprise Mountain. Thinking I was a thruhiker, they had seen me coming down from the pass and had waited at a trail junction for me. I remembered the rockstar status that thruhikers had at this point in the trail and hoped I might meet some, though doubted it.
I also remembered well the grinding climb up the other side to Trap Pass. At this point in 2003 I had hiked more than 2400 miles to get here, and the climb was still hard. And hard it was today as well. But not long. On top were two women from Philadelphia who were hiking from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass over the course of 10 days. They almost apologized at the time they were taking. I don't know why. They were spending ten days along one of the most scenic stretches of the PCT. Ten days of beauty. I congratulated them and then set off on the other side of the pass, high above Trap Lake, even more beautiful than Glacier Lake.
I buzzed along the trail, taking breaks every hour. I had no set destination, but needed to get out tomorrow as my food supply was dwindling. Hope Lake, while not particularly appealing after my campsite last night at Squaw Lake, was empty of people and there was a nice, flat spot right next to the lake where I could throw up my tarp.
I sat down against a rock to have a little rum before getting camp set up and again asked myself if I was lacking in anything. I was, today. I wanted to sear up some fat sea scallops in butter. I had instant mashed potatoes and hickory smoked tuna, with home dried vegetables, for dinner instead. Somewhat less appealing. As I was contemplating the company-question, and old man showed up to fish for a while. We talked as he waded about the lake, completely naked, as is proper in such places. He offered me some fish for dinner, but only small trout that would be more of a pain to clean than anything else. I got my tarp up and turned to my journal for a bit, but again the need to write was not present. Aside from the scallops, I was content and had been for the last few days. The old man said goodbye and hiked back toward his car, leaving me alone by the lake. I was not lonely, nor had I been since the start of the trip. Solitude killed me on the CDT earlier in the summer, but not now. I had confessed this to a friend when I got back. "Don't you thrive on that sort of thing," she said. I had mumbled, in response, something about not being aligned at the time. While true, it wasn't the entire story. When you have complete solitude, there is nowhere to hide from yourself. If you are not happy with yourself and your life at the time, this will shear you in two with great efficiency. I was better much now.
Last morning under the silnylon and bug netting. Tonight, I'd sleep under blankets and on a futon, rather than an 11 oz. foam pad. I made tea from the comfort of my sleeping bag once again, extra strong for this last morning. The sun was shining on me already and, as with yesterday, it was going to be a hot hike. I had only eight miles to cover to get back to Stevens Pass, then the drive home. Traffic was going to be bad.
I hiked along in a groove to Lake Susan Jane, which I had barely seen when I came by it on Monday, so thick was the mist then. I sat along its shores and realized that I was becoming growingly impatient to get to Stevens Pass and my car. Butter seared scallops. Maybe some squid salad. No more flies. Cold homebrew.
As I left the shores of the lake, a strange thing happened. The same thing that happened a week ago when I was coming down from Eagle Peak in Mount Rainier National Park. A young blacktail deer walked the trail directly in front of me, occasionally looking back to see if I was still there. For almost half a mile we wandered together, never apart by more than ten yards. I wondered, that is if I was one of those New Age types, if this was the Universe trying to tell me something. It entered my head that I might not be seeing a blacktail at all. Fortunately, eventually another hiker was coming in the other direction and saw the deer as well. Slowly, and reluctantly, the deer moved off the trail. The other hiker, Don was his name, was hiking in a pint of Hagen-Daas for a thruhiker he was meeting. And then he was going to run back with him. I didn't even have to ask who the hiker was. David Horton once held the speed record on the Appalachian trail until it was recently broken by a mailman, Pete Palmer. David was out trying to break the PCT speed record this summer and had enlisted an army of supporters to help him down the trail. Don was bringing the ice cream in as a treat. We stood and talked for ten minutes, admiring each other's shoes (we had the same pair). But Stevens Pass was too close and I wanted to get down to my car and the Espresso Chalet.
I left the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and climbed up to the top of a hill by a chair lift for the local ski resort. The bushes were devoid of berries, giving me nothing to do but to race along downhill, covering the two miles to my car in less than a half hour. At the trailhead were three hikers and two dogs getting ready to set out on a trip of their own. I thought about the impossibility of communicating all that I had been through in the last few days, all that I had seen, all that I had lived, when they asked me how my trip had gone. I just smiled and said that it was very pleasant. True again, but not the whole story.
From Lakewood, drive I-5 north to I-405, and take this usually clogged interstate to SR522. Follow SR522 east to its junction with US2, and follow that to the Stevens Pass parking area on the right side of the road. You need to stop off at the Espresso Chalet along the way, which is located in between the towns of Gold Bar and Index. You need a Northwest Forest Pass or other parking pass, such as the Golden Eagle Passport, to park in the lot. It is 120 miles from Lakewood to Stevens Pass.
Follow the PCT southbound to a junction with the Icicle Creek trail near Lake Josephine. Follow this trail, which becomes slightly overgrown, to a junction with the Chain Lakes trail. Follow this very steep trail up to the first of the chain lakes. Lots of use-trails are in the area and it can get confusing as to where to go. Where the first and second Chain lakes are separated by a little land (right at a campsite), cross over to the other side. Just after crossing over, there is a left trending trail marked with a little cairn. Follow it up. If you miss this junction, it isn't important as you can simply scramble up the boulder field later on to recover the trail to Doelle Lakes. Climb up over the pass and drop down on reasonable trail to the first Doelle Lake. The trail fades out, but don't worry. Hike toward the second Doelle Lake (it helps to have a map with you). When you spot it (probably from above), you'll also spot a trail heading out from it. Go cross county to the trail and follow that track, which is easy enough to follow. The track fades in a meadow, but it is clear where people have gone in the past. Cross the meadow and stay on the left, where you'll pick up the trail again. The trail is climbs along the side of a mountain, traversing up and along. It hits a pass with another trail on it, but you don't want this one. Keep going up on the traverse. The trail eventually crests out on a ridge and begins dropping down. Eventually the trail faded out completely on me, near a drop into a mini-ravine. If this happens to you, don't worry. Traverse the open countryside up and to your right and you'll cut the trail again. You won't see Frosty Pass at all until you are almost on it. It took me 2 hours to go from the second Doelle Lake to Frosty Pass. My map lists a distance of three miles, and I find this unlikely. If you want to avoid this stunningly beautiful trail for something a bit more maintained, don't climb to the Chain lakes. Instead, stay on the Icicle Creek trail a bit further, where you'll hit a more major trail climbing up to Frosty Pass.
At Frosty Pass, follow the Icicle Ridge trail up and across Mary's Pass (not marked on maps) and Ladies Pass and around Lake Edna. Past Lake Edna pick up the Chatter Creek trail and follow it, eventually to an un-named pass. Drop down the other side to the Icicle Creek road junction at the Chatter Creek trailhead. Follow the road to the Rock Island Campground. Cross the river and follow the signs for the Jack Creek Trail. Follow the Jack Creek trail to a junction with the Meadow Creek trail. Follow this trail to the west, fording Jack Creek almost right away. Beyond the first meadow where you get a view, the trail becomes massively overgrown in places. It isn't hard to follow the trail, but be careful with the brush and don't get off trail. The trail occasionally fades in meadows when the brush leaves you alone for a moment. Again, don't worry, just keep going in the right direction and you'll find the trail again. After cresting out on an un-named pass, the trail improves as it drops down to a junction with the French Creek trail. Follow this trail, which is well maintained and quite a relief after the brush. Climb to Paddy-Go-Easy pass and drop down the other side, eventually reaching a gravel road junction. Turn right and hike up the road to Tucquala Meadows, where you'll find the Catherdral Pass trailhead. Hike up this trail all the way to the junction with the PCT. Follow the PCT northbound back to Stevens Pass. I estimate that this trek is about seventy five miles and there is a lot of elevation gain and loss, sometimes very sharply, particularly off the PCT.