Washington: Cascade Locks to White Pass
August 5, 2003.
I did not want to leave Cascade Locks one little bit this morning, but my
feet were carrying me onward, toward Canada and the End. Not only was
today the beginning of the end for my summer, but I was leaving my friend
for perhaps the last time. I was taking an alternate route after crossing
the Columbia which would cut off about 20 miles from the hike. I was going
to walk a variety of roads for 15 miles to reach Panther Creek campground,
where I could pick up the PCT again. The PCT-only route is abut 35 miles and
goes up and down a lot through a land that seemed to be an extension of the
frustration and boredom inducing lands south of the Columbia. I wanted the
good stuff as quickly as possible and for that I was sacrificing some
purity. Sharon was taking the PCT and was not leaving Cascade Locks for
another hour or two, which meant that I would be more than 25 miles in front
of her when the today was over. She might be able to catch up, but it wasn't
too likely. With my donuts finished and my pack ready to go, there was
no longer an excuse to stay. We parted again after our brief reunion in
Cascade Locks and it seemed likely that we would not see each other until the
October Gathering of ALDHA in New
Hampshire. And so I struck out on my own again, walking up the street
to where the Bridge of the Gods crossed the Columbia and Oregon gave way to
I dug a quarter out of my pocket to pay the toll, but the keeper of the gate
told me that PCT hikers got across for free, a privilege of having walked
2150 miles to get here. The bridge had no space for pedestrians, but traffic
was light and the greatest danger was not being hit by a car, but rather being
swept off the bridge by the gusts of wind that blew down the Columbia gorge
en route to Portland and the Pacific. To match my mood, the day was grey and
the sky dark, with the mighty river looking as unappealing as possible.
Rain was possible, but there didn't seem to be a storm coming, at least not
I stopped on the bridge to look about, to look back, to look forward. The past,
the land behind me, seemed so much more appealing than the land in front of
me. It wasn't for any scenic qualities, but rather for what I knew was in front.
I would walk until the end of the summer, and then my summer would be over, my
beautiful thing completed. I felt like turning around and heading south, felt like
walking back to Mexico and telling Indiana University that I would not be returning
in the fall, or ever. Even though most people would find the amount of vacation
time that I had most appealing, to me it was no longer enough. Had the summer
ruined me, or set me free? I couldn't bail out on Indiana so rapidly for a
variety of reasons and so had to move forward, into Washington. I took one
last look at my past and set forth again on the Bridge of the Gods. Washington
tried to welcome me, but I was in no mood to be thankful.
At the end of the bridge the PCT hurried into the woods, but I turned left down the
small road and followed the north bank of the Columbia. It was blackberry season and
the bushes along the road were heavy with fruit. My fingers and palms were
quickly stained purple from their juice and my progress along the road impeded by the
frequent stops to pick another handful. The road was quiet this morning, with only a
few cars driving up and down it. The road was wide and had an ample shoulder, which
made the walk relatively safe. A logging truck or two came barreling down the road,
overloaded with former trees, their diesel engines piercing my mind with a painful
whine. Stevenson was not far down the road and seemed like a pleasant town much
like Cascade Locks. It didn't take long to out-walk the town and get into the
countryside yet again. I found a wide spot on the shoulder of the road next to a
blackberry bush and sat down to rest for a while. Traffic was picking up on the
road as the morning went on, and my break was about as restful as sitting by the
side of the road at home. I wasn't on a schedule and could sit here for as long
as I wanted, which was some improvement on road sitting at home. However,
I did want to get back to the trail some time soon and so set out after only
ten minutes of lounging in the dirt and gravel.
I turned off from the road onto yet another and headed into the nothing town of
Carson. A figure was coming down the hill toward me, wearing a small pack and
running shoes. Both of us recognized the other as a long distance hiker.
The man was about my age and had set out from Canada a few weeks ago hoping to
make it all the way to Mexico before returning to Alaska. He taught high school in
a remote native village near Lake Clark National Park. I found this rather
fascinating and we traded bits of information based on this. I would describe the
resupply options further south and what the land was like, and he would offer
tidbits about getting a job like his in Alaska. What kind of food could be
had at Crater Lake? Is there any way other than float plane or boat to get to your
village? Does the isolation bother you? Does it bother you? With a new load to
think over, we parted, heading in opposite directions but hopefully to end at the
Carson came and went even faster than Stevenson. The two towns were about the
same size geographically, but I now had something to think about other than the
End. A new world of possibilities was opening up for me. I had been entertaining
the idea of the Peace Corps after finishing at Indiana and now could
compare and contrast that with a remote Alaska teaching job. Eventually my
thoughts gave out, forced out of my head by my full bladder. When on the trail,
I could go to the bathroom wherever I pleased, as long as it wasn't into a
water source. But, on the road I was constrained by the additional rules of
civilization and needed to find something soon. The sun came out and added its heat
to my growing list of problems. My feet were hurting from the road walk and
I still had the bladder problem. I passed a large timber processing plant on the
far outskirts of Carson, though I left this obvious source of intellectual
amusement alone in my rush to find a shady spot where I might rest my feet and
relieve myself. Another mile passed before I left the last of the houses and
found a thick wood by the side of the road. I ducked and took care of all three
of my needs and even filled my belly a bit. I could see the bridge over the
Wind River gorge just ahead, which put me only five miles from the PCT and the
last few of these were along gravel access roads. My road-walk was almost over
and I was glad that I had taken it. If I hadn't, I never would have met Alaska
or been able to eat so many blackberries.
I came out of the woods and resumed my walk alongside the road. A large SUV
drove past heading my way, slowed, and pulled over onto the shoulder. The driver
wanted to know if I was a thruhiker and would I like something to drink? I
nodded once and then twice and he hopped out of his vehicle with a grin.
In the trunk he had stacks of supplies and a cooler filled with chilled drinks.
I had to know the story behind the man and his goodies. His name was
Steve and he was out driving support for his wife, Ready. The name was
familiar from the summer, but I couldn't quite place it. She was a thruhiker,
he told me, and had flip-flopped up north with a few other thruhikers: Sunburn,
Shutterbug, and Cliff. Aha! Ready and Sunburn were encamped on the south slopes
of Mount Baden-Powell, way back in Southern California. I had spent the night with
them there and saw them again in Agua Dulce, though not since. They had been taking
a lot of time off to go on side trips, such as to Death Valley and to Carson, Nevada.
Facing the prospect of a harsh end to their hike, they had executed a flipflop.
A flipflop is a method of long distance hiking where you hike in one direction
for a while, they drive, hitch, or bus to a place further up the trail and
begin hiking back to where you got off. They had gotten off the trail at
I-80 near Donner Pass and were now hiking from Cascade Locks to Canada, before
returning to Cascade Locks and hiking south to I-80. They had set out from
Panther Creek this morning, which meant that I would run into them tomorrow sometime.
What a surprise that will be for them!
Steve and I talked for a while before it came:"Would you like a ride to Panther
Creek?" I was determined not to hitch from Cascade Locks, but now that it was offered
and I was only a few miles out, the situation was changed. My feet were tired and
I was ready to be back on trail. I thought for a moment and then agreed to it.
Quickly we sped over the bridge in air conditioned comfort and I was deposited at the
trailhead ten minutes later. I said goodbye to Steve and set off, now on nice, soft
trail. The land was much like northern Oregon and I immediately took a break on the bridge
over Panther Creek. I was here an hour and half earlier than I thought and had no
need to rush. I was determined to keep every day at 30 miles, rather than hiking
till 8:30 or later, as I had in Oregon. Everything was peaceful now that I was away
from the road, though the ride put even more distance between Sharon and I. Hiking
with Sharon was so very easy because there were no expectations between us. I liked
the solitude of the area, but I also liked seeing Sharon from time to time during the
day and I would miss that. She might catch me in Stehekin, but I thought not.
Leaving the bridge the trail began climbing up into the mountains again and for now
I was mired in the woods. Little and Big Huckleberry mountains were the lumps that
I was working on, though as I gained elevation on the switchbacks the forest
slowly began to thin, giving the trail a pleasant lightness, if not the grandeur that
characterized so much of the summer. Reaching the top of the climb the
trail began to contour and jiggle as the clouds began to come back. The temperature
dropped slightly and a cool wind began to blow, presaging some form of storm.
With this in mind, I arrived at a small, partially developed campground by a dirt
road, and spotted an outhouse. I took advantage of this bit of civilization before
finding my way over to a picnic table and another rest. Laying flat on my back I
could keep my eyes on the clouds and try to guess which portions of the grey sky
held the rain that would hit me eventually. I had had much luck with precipitation
thus far this summer and a little rain now would not hurt. It certainly
wouldn't make the land any less dull, but might bring out some new scents.
I spent close to an hour at the campground, completely alone, with only one or
two ATVs providing a break in the stillness of the woods. The woods are rarely
silent, but rather still. When I started hiking again I had my packcover on
and my rainjacket and sun hat on my person. The rain was coming down in a fine
mist and was more pleasant than annoying. The trail continued to pass through
woods, though occasionally it would break out into broad meadows holding some small
pond. I was expecting to see no one, as only a thruhiker or the dedicated soul
would come out here on a day like today. Ready and Sunburn and the others were
well ahead and Sharon was still far back, making me the only person in a
significant radius. Seven thirty found me at Green Lake, a minor, stinking pond that was
about thirty miles from Cascade Locks, watching its surface wiggle under the weight of
the misty rain. Just beyond Green Lake was a large meadow that seemed a pleasant
enough place to camp and I found a dry patch of land on its border, about a hundred
yards off the trail. The mist subsided just in time for me to put up my tarp in the
damp air, knowing, but not caring, that I would be condensed on hard tonight.
Snuggling into my sleeping bag and under the tarp, I pondered what the future might
bring and the reasons I had for returning to Indiana. There was nothing there for
me other than my job and my stuff, neither of which I was particularly attached to.
I had signed a lease for next year and I had to honor that. I had agreed to teach
next year, and I had to honor that. After that, could I truly make a break from
academia and live a different, alternative life? A life of the present was a
scary thought for me. What would I do when I was old and could not work? A life
in the present meant that I would not be able to save much money for retirement and
thus might face difficulties in the future. Were the rewards enough? A little
rain fell, but mostly the mist persisted, and my sleeping bag was quiet wet
well before I closed my eyes. No stars graced my bedroom, giving the dark
underside in the wet field a most sad air.
Everything was soaked this morning from the condensation in the field. I knew better
than to sleep here but just didn't care last night. However, I was confident that the
sun would be out this afternoon and I would be able to dry my gear during lunch time.
Stuffing my wet sleeping bag into its sack, and doing the same with the tarp, chilled
my hands deeply as it was still cool this morning. The tall grass of the meadow was
heavy with water, which promptly drenched my feet and legs as quickly and surely as a
downpour would have. The sun was working on the morning mist, but it would be a few
hours before it could burn through and bring a semblance of warmth to the otherwise
dank forest. The trail took uphill again, switchbacking steeply in places. I was
determined not to hike more than 30 miles today. Just 30, an easy day at this point.
The humor was not lost on me: 30 miles is a long, long hike for almost anyone,
thruhikers included. But, because of the way that I walked, long but not fast, a thirty
mile day was pretty easy at this point. Thirty miles would get me to the base of
Mount Adams, the third highest peak in the Cascades and a mammoth of a mountain.
The trail tomorrow would loop around the peak, high on its flanks, and should
provide for a relief from the forest walking of yesterday and today.
My first break was nearing just as the sun was breaking out and the world warming. Voices
could be heard ahead of me from somewhere up above. I knew who was in front and thought
my timing fortuitous. Arriving at the crest, I found Ready, Sunburn, Shutterbug, and
Cliff sitting around on the trail in a patch of sun drying their damp gear out. It took a
moment, but Ready and Sunburn eventually put me together with Baden-Powell and
Agua Dulce. They were surprised to see a northbound thruhiker already, having
missed Will and Wall. I told them of my meeting Steve the day before and that Sharon
should be almost a day behind me at this point. Stories of the land south of
Cascade Locks and north of Donner Pass was of particular interest, as they would have
to traverse this area starting in mid September. I thought their chances of finishing
the PCT to be somewhat slim, but tried to give them as much good information as
possible. Weather has a strange way of forcing people off the trail at the most
inconvenient times, although they should be able to clear Ashland before
too much snow had fallen. They regaled me with stories of hiking in Death Valley
and what Carson, Nevada, was really like. About how they made the decision to
flip flop and what the fall might bring. They left while I was munching on a
brick of cheese, though I was sure I would easily catch them in a few hours, and
there was no sad parting.
Dropping down off the crest I heard more voices, but the bodies attached to them
were not those of the four flipfloppers. Rather, coming steeply down hill,
I spotted two men, one tall and lanky, the other short and lanky, on the
banks of a small alpine lake. I needed water here and waved at them, on the other
side, as I filled up my water bag from the lake. Shortly thereafter, they came
across me as I was taking a break on the trail, enjoying a little sun and some
water. I placed the two men as Canadians as soon as I heard their voice and asked them
where they were from. Surrey, they told me, just outside of Vancouver. I had been through
Surrey many times. In fact, a friend of mine taught high school French in Surrey, and
I tried to test the "Small World" theory. Did they know a John Grant? It had worked
before with Jay Powell, way back in southern California, before Idyllwild, but not
this time. We talked a bit about various adventures in Canada and where they
were going, which was home, in fact. They came out for a couple of weeks a year
to do a long hitch on the PCT and this was the year they would finish up the
state of Washington. The States, they asserted, were great for hiking. Lots of
long distance trails in relatively accessible areas, with plenty of wilderness
thrown in. Canada had, easily, much more wilderness left (and true wilderness
at that), but few trails to explore it on. Conditions, as I knew from my time in
northern British Columbia, were very difficult and hiking a long leg was
tough, both logistically and physically. Massive rivers, thick forests, big
mountains, and tons of glaciers made the act of long distance hiking not
very feasible in British Columbia, and the lack of settlements made resupplying
impractical without airdrops or caches. To go into the Wilds of Canada, you
had to be committed, able, and ready to suffer for your wilderness. We parted,
both parties happy and pleased that the other saw things as they did.
Rumbling through the woods I occasionally was able to glimpse the land ahead or
to the side when the forest would thin slightly. But, mostly, I was just rumbling.
Small lakes and tarns dotted the countryside, though they were only viewable
when I was fortunate enough to be on a narrow ridge line. So far, Washington was
boring hiking, but I knew that the good stuff was not far ahead. After Adams, I
would hit the Goat Rocks, an area that is usually listed as the best on the PCT.
After the Goat Rocks, I'd get, eventually, to the Mount Rainer area, although the
trail didn't get within 10 miles of the peak. I dropped down to meet a dirt road,
where I found Sunburn et. al, lounging in the sun, eating lunch, and drying more
gear. I wanted to get further up before lunching (besides, there was no water
here) and so stopped only briefly to chat in the sun. My brief chat turned into a
sit-down break for thirty minutes, which seemed to surprise them. How was I
covering 30 miles in a day when I was walking slower than them and taking so
many breaks? I couldn't quite answer that, other than by pointing out that I
generally started hiking an hour or two before they did, and hiked maybe three
hours more after they stopped. They did hike faster than I did, and it seemed
took fewer breaks, but it was the time that I spent during the day that
made up the difference. They had found a way of living on the trail that they
liked, just as I had. There are no rules for thruhiking, save one. If you
are not enjoying yourself, you are doing something wrong.
Picking myself up off the sandy ground, I said good bye to them for the moment, and
headed off for the creek that I knew was only an hour or so away. A few Native
Americans were on the other side picking berries. On that side of the road,
berries were not to be picked by anyone else. On the side of the flipfloppers,
berries could be picked by anyone. When I left, Shutterbug had just polished
off a peanut butter - blueberry burrito that was more blue than brown. Tasty
little nuggets, these things. The creek was an easy, flat walk through the
woods and was nicely bridged. I slid down its steep banks to get at some
water with which to cook my lunch, set the pot of water going, and proceeded
to hang up my gear in the sun to dry. All the bushes around me were littered
with my gear: A burgundy sleeping bag dangled on one, a long piece of white
Tyvek on another, my grey tarp across the trail, my black thermals on yet another,
and my white-grey-brown socks just below the thermals. In a matter of minutes, I
had transformed a small clearing into a mass drying rack. My water had boiled and
I dumped in a packet of stuffing mix, accompanied by a good 1/2 cup of olive oil and
sat down, in the shade, to wait for the Stovetop goodness that would come in a
couple of minutes. Ready appeared just as I dug into the stuffing and she stopped
to talk while I ate. They were planning to go to the next creek, where there was
not only water but also semi-official camping spots. They were meeting Steve at
a road crossing just beyond tomorrow morning to go into Fish Lake, a small village
that had a few amenities. I was planning on hiking another four or five miles
beyond the road junction today and perhaps six or seven past their campsite,
which meant that I would not see them again. The rest of the group ambled up and
the four set off together, leaving nothing by the sound of the gurgling creek
next to me. This was an easy place to be lazy, especially since I had to give
my gear some time to dry out.
I had been at the creek for more than an hour, eating and resting, and it was now
time to continue north to Canada. My pack comfortably on my back again, I set out
through the woods, with nothing to look at other than the trees and perhaps a
heavy blueberry or huckleberry bush. I came across the flipfloppers quickly as
they rested by another creek, taking one last break before getting into camp.
Repeating the pattern of all the other encounters with them, I stopped to talk for a
while, though did not sit down. I was planning on taking a break at their campsite
and so would be able to say good bye in a proper way later today. For now,
though, the woods were a constant reminder that something better was not far
away. If the day stayed clear, I ought to be able to get a glimpse of Mount
Adams soon, and that was something I wanted.
The trail wound up hill, switchbacking from time to time, though never seriously.
I was hill walking now, rather than mountain walking. In hill walking, you go up
and over sequences of hills, up and over, down to a gully, and continue.
Mountain walking involves long ascents to a pass, then perhaps along an
aesthetic ridgeline for a while, before something gruesome forces you
back down into a valley. Then, head to the next pass. Hill walking
could be much more tiring than mountain walking, particularly here where there
were no rewards for the work. I reached the flipfloppers future home for the night and
sat down in the middle of the bridge over the creek to rest. Two tents could be seen
through the woods, though their owners could not. Ready et. al. would have a little
company tonight. As before, she was upon me almost immediately, having walked the
distance between their breakpoint and the bridge at a faster rate than I had.
The others soon appeared, deep in discussion about a huge tree that I had
apparently walked right by without noticing. After poking around the bridge for
a moment, they went to meet the owners of the tents and find their own place.
The sound of the creek muffled the sounds coming from the camp, giving the
bridge a serenity that is usually fouled by the presence of more than one mind.
I didn't particularly feel like leaving the place, but I knew that I had to if I wanted
to make the base of Adams tonight. That would allow me to get high on Adams in the
early morning crystal of light. Tomorrow morning, I would be back in the mountains
leave the hills, temporarily, behind.
I said my final goodbyes to the flipfloppers and wished them luck this fall. They would
need some with the weather if they were to finish this year, although I knew that an
actual finish probably meant little to them. Enjoying your time is the only thing you
have to do. Walking a set amount of distance holds no value if you do not. And so I
walked, and tried to enjoy the hills as much as I could. Rolling up and rolling down, there
seemed little point to much of the work that I was putting in. I did pass a couple of
equestrians before crossing the road to Fish Lake, from which the bulk of Adams could be
barely seen. It was not because it was far away that it was hard to see, but rather because
the sun and clouds had conspired to present Adams in its icy glory, with the sun to the
west of it, shining right in my eyes. A long inspection of Adams would have to wait until
I picked up one last load of water and took a break at a creek just past a
trailhead parking area. There were a few cars and the occupants could only
be heading on the PCT to Adams. I would have company tomorrow, for sure. Winding up
the trail, through yet more forest, I began to look for a campsite. I had crossed the
30 mile mark for the day back at my last rest stop, but did not want to camp near the
water. The trail was climbing through thick woods, which meant that a place that was
both clear and flat was tough to come by. But, by 8:15 I had found a spot about
forty feet from the trail, clear and flat and without widowmakers overhead. The
mist and rain of yesterday, combined with the grey sky, convinced me to put up the
tarp for a second straight night, the first time that this had happened since I
put the tarp up at Christie Springs and Crater Lake. The end of the day also brought the
sadness that had so characterized the last few days in Oregon and all of Washington.
Whereas during the start and middle of my trip the end of the day had been spent in a
wonderful display of light and the hope for the future, the end of days now gave only
a grim future. Washington wasn't grim, but the end in Canada was. I could have another
two weeks of joy, but then that was it, my ration of fun would be over for a while and
I would return to a life more ordinary than I wanted. My job and my stuff, my job and
my stuff, my job and my stuff. Like counting sheep, the idea lulled me to sleep,
in the thick blackness of a starless night spent deep in the woods.
It had rained over night, although I never woke up from it. In the early morning water
was dripping from the trees and there was a thick mist hanging about, but no rain
was actually coming down. I had less than two hours of hiking before I started to
go around Mount Adams and I hoped that the mist might burn off. The pessimist in me
saw the un-naturally thick mist and realized that it would take most of the morning and
part of the afternoon to burn off. The optimist in me...well the optimist was
buried somewhere far away. Logic said the mist was here for a while and I should just
get used to it. Not that I was happy about this, but there was nothing to be done other
than make the best of the cool temperatures. I packed up and retraced my steps through
the woods and continued the winding climb to the high slopes of Mount Adams. Within a
few minutes of walking my beard had wicked enough moisture out of the mist to become
quite saturated. Even though it wasn't raining, it was still wet. The land began to
spread out, although with the twenty feet of visibility, I could not tell was
was beyond. The trees were beginning to thin and the soil was taking on that
gray, sandy appearance that indicates you are some place very interesting.
I just could see it. Why couldn't this have happened yesterday, when there was
nothing to see? Why now, on one of the great parts of the PCT was the mist
determined to hang about and soak my beard? To ward off my growing depression,
I broke out in song, fully aware that others would hear my poor, crackling voice
well before I could see them. I sat on a dry looking rock and continued my
rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, cutting bits of cheese to assuage my
morning hunger. The map indicated that I only had another two hours on the
slopes of Adams before dropping back into the woods. I already knew when I the
weather would clear, but hoped that I might be wrong for once.
Continuing around the mountain side, I could feel the presence of Adams to my
right, although I never saw its bulk. I could see the glacier rivers and
bits of snowmelt coming down from its high summit, but only for twenty
feet or so before they disappeared into the thick mist that had swallowed up the
mountain. My singing had ceased and I decided to give the sun a little longer to
work. I took a seat near a popular campsite and gazed upward to where the sun should be.
I could detect a slight bright spot against the grey canopy, but that was it.
Two older hikers with large packs came walking from the opposite direction and
stopped to chat. They were locals and were very sad for me due to the conditions
at hand. They gave me some information about a new bridge that some boy scouts just
recently built that would make an upcoming stream crossing a bit easier. I thanked
them and cut into something called "Hunter's Sausage" that I had bought in
Cascade Locks. Vinegary, musty, deplorable. What had the people done to this poor
bit of leftover meat? A thruhike can eat just about anything, as a thruhiker is
almost hungry. The sausage went back into my food bag, as unappealing as a
bit of roadkill. Convinced that I was not to see Adams today, I set forth down the
trail, where I quickly found the stream system that the elder hikers had talked about.
A large field of pumice, stone, and earth marked what appeared to be a massive
landslide, with gullies and ditches strewn throughout. Water was coming off of the
mountain and, before the slide, was probably quite orderly. After the slide, it had become
a jumbled braided affair, with numerous bits to cross. Most were easy rock hops or
even step overs. Some required a bit of care, others none at all. The main crossing
was where the new bridge was supposed to be. I looked down stream to where I had been
told it was located. Nothing resembling a bridge. Up stream was hopeless, so I walked
down the slope hoping to find something. Still, no bridge. I found a log that had
been tossed across and pondered if this was the quality of the construction that
the Boy Scouts wanted to be known by. It was a bridge in the sense that it got me
from one side of the water to the other without getting my feet wet, but that was
the only sense in which it was a bridge.
Passing the slide area, I pinned my ears back and began to hustle as the trail dropped
off Mount Adams and toward the woods. As I expected, once I was off the mountain the
weather began to lift. The sun burned through the mist and I was sure that Adams was
growing more and more spectacular by the minute. The guidebook mentioned that the
greatest water source on the PCT (or anywhere) was just up ahead, and I that gave me
some measure of comfort. Lava Spring was a flowing spring, with a few pools here and
there, that did look enticing under the now clear, blue sky. I drank deeply from
the water, but didn't come away overly impressed. It was good water, but no
better than almost every source in California. It was distinctly better than most in
Oregon and in Washington so far, but it wasn't as magical as I had hoped. I sat next
to the spring for a while, drinking, before pushing on. I wanted to make it across
the nearby road before stopping for a break. With the clear weather, tourists
would be coming up the hill to Adams and I had no desire to talk with them.
Dropping lower, the forest got thicker, and as expected I began to pass a stream
of slow moving hikers. One group of four, then a group of eight. Near the
parking lot a group of six. In the parking lot several other groups getting ready
to start walking. I crossed the road, found the other trail on the other side, and
regained my solitude.
The weather was now perfect, though all I could see were the trees and a few shrubs.
This area was ugly, even by Oregon standards. I would soon enter the Goat Rocks
Wilderness, although it would take me until sometime tomorrow to get the jewel of the
complex. For the rest of today, I was forest walking. I found a small stream with
some shade and decided that this was the place I was meant to have lunch. I had
perfected my lunch time stop so that no moment was wasted, no extra energy expended:
Water fetched, water put on to boil, sleeping bag, ground cloth, and tarp on the
bushes in the sun, butt on pad, relax, eat. No one but a thruhiker would access the
Goat Rocks from this side, and day hikers would go to Mount Adams from the road,
assuring me some quiet during my rest. I stretched out, eating bits of noodles now
and then, but mostly doing nothing. Some people call hiking a sport. I call it the
perfection of laziness. Where else is a prime goal to find a good place to
Lunch had concluded and I was up and hiking away toward the Goat Rocks now that
my unfulfilling encounter with Adams was over. With luck, I'd get some views from
near the 30 mile mark and then be able to camp somewhere, hopefully aesthetic.
Today was going by quickly and I expected to be in camp by 7:30, or even earlier.
Oregon's ugly sister continued, as I began to fight my way past swarms of
mosquitoes, thanks to the ingenuity of the PCT planners, who thought that the
trail should be routed past a sequence of lakes. While I generally like lakes,
I don't like small mosquito ponds. The relatively dry winter had left the
lakes low, shallow, and perfect for skeeters without any rewards for a hiker.
I had originally planned on stopping at one of the lakes for a siesta, but when a
mosquito was able to fly up and bite me on the nose, I was determined to push
on. I was highly skilled, at this point, in the art of killing mosquitoes. That
one of them was able to avoid detection and sneak up on to my nose, landing
gently enough for me not to feel it, and then bite me was not a good sign.
Either I was getting soft (unlikely), or the mosquitoes here were more
skilled than further south. And so I hiked until I started going up hill and
was free of the bastards.
It was actually starting to get cold, even in the sun. I took a break at a place
in the sun with a view of the mountains I would be traversing soon and had to
put on my rain jacket for warmth. It was only the early evening, yet it was
cold like the Sierra were cold at this time. I had no mosquitoes to kill and
the sun was out, but this place just didn't feel very welcoming. I cut my
break short and started rumbling down the other side of the ridge that I had
just climbed, making a B-line for a large lake just before the next climb.
It was supposed to be popular with hikers, but it was close, it was at exactly the
30 mile mark, and I wouldn't have to climb any more hills to get there. With the
temperature dropping, I did not think the mosquitoes would provide too many
Walupt lake was one of the larger ones that I had encountered in Oregon or
Washington and its popularity led me to start looking for a campsite
early. For one reason or another, I discarded several viable campsites before
reaching the junction with a trail that led to it. The junction held
plenty of flat ground, and that flat ground held a reasonable amount of
garbage. In the city, I never would have noticed this in litter. But, out here,
even the smallest bit of plastic stands out, just like the Elephant Man would
at a country club. A few ramen wrappers. Some charred bits of aluminum
foil. No matter, there must be some place around the corner. But, nothing
was around the corner except for exceptionally thick vegetation. The trail began to
It was 9 by the time I found a reasonable place to camp. I had made most of the
climb that I had reserved for tomorrow and profited much by my efforts. The
trail had switchbacked violently, leading from the dense vegetation, where there
wasn't a place to camp, to open slopes where there was nothing but air. Air and
views back to Adams. The sun was well down when I was able to spot its mass to the
south in the deep purple of the evening, striking and stunning. I could look down
to the lake and see small bits of light representing campfires, and hear the
voices of the inhabitants as they laughed over some joke, or made a good oath.
It was peaceful up here, even if I was cold and tired. The moon came out to guide
my footsteps safely as I went higher, always higher. The switchbacks soon gained
me a thin ridgeline before returning to climb up on the mountain on the other side of
the ridge. Looking around, I found a small, flattish spot behind a tree, just large
enough to get my tarp pitched. After the past few nights, I wanted to get the tarp up and
this was the first spot. I was shivering slightly when I finally crawled into bed, after
having covered nearly 34 miles today. I started running the numbers in my head during
that nearly silent time of night before the animals come out to eat, the predators
stalking and the prey being stalked. For now, nothing was moving and I could think
clearly. My long day today would put me in White Pass tomorrow, but when? I needed
to resupply there and hoped that the store might be open late. If so, I could get
out of White Pass early the next day. But, when did the store close? 5? 6? 7?
I had to hope for 8, as I suspected that the Goat Rocks would slow me down with their
beauty. I was almost to them and was nearing the pass that would take me out of the
forest and into the alpine for an extended jaunt. I should have most of the morning
up high and in the open, spend a few hours in the forest, and then go back into the
high stuff near the end of the day, before dropping down into the forest near
White Pass. Tomorrow had great potential, but so did today. A spot of bad weather
had spoiled that, but the view of Adams this evening made up for much of it.
I just had to wake up to find out what the day might bring, I just had to show up,
to be there, to let it happen.
Mount Adams was barely awake when my feet started moving down the trail. A
milky white tower in the distance, Mount Adams would be a glorious, easy
climb. I planned everything out as I made my was past Sheep Lake toward
Cispus Pass, the notch in the mountains that would launch me into the alpine
wonderland of the Goat Rocks. The Goat Rocks were supposed to be the hikers
equivalent of DisneyLand and I couldn't wait to get there. The weather was
close to perfect and the mist that had obscured my circumambulation of
Adams had not made a repeat appearance this morning. My Adams planning was
simple: Take the PCT up to the base, then in the early AM make a lightning
fast climb to the top from near where I spat out the Hunter's Sausage. Stand on
top with the coming of the light for a show that could never be paid for, let
alone have a price hung on it. Plans and more plans. It was clear that I was
nearing the end of the trail since my thoughts were starting to drift more
frequently. Earlier in the summer I could think abstractly about the future, but
rarely concretely; there simply was too much in every day to pay much heed to the
future beyond tomorrow. Now, I was setting time tables again, thinking
firmly about what I might do when I was done with this beautiful thing.
The PCT was launching me higher and higher and the trees began to fade away into the
land below. Small shrubs still poked up among the rocks and the soil, but mostly
the vegetation was comprised simply of short grasses and moss. The world loomed
over me, trying to convince me that this climb really was the route to Cispus
Pass, that the gap that I was heading to was the true pass. But, I was far too
wily of a hiker at this point to be drawn into the illusions of the vertical.
I hadn't gained enough altitude and I hadn't gained enough horizontal to be
making the final ascent to Cispus. Even though I could see a pass above, I
could not see what was behind it, and so had to go on logic and feel. The
prime mistake that new (and some old) hikers make is in letting their desires
cloud their intuition and logic: Wanting the pass to be the true one doesn't
make it so.
I topped out on the climb in a sea of waving grass and admired the scene: The
deep valley I had climbed out of one one side and a vast bowl on the other. The
trail held tightly to the flank of a mountain heading straight for a gap on the
other side. There was my pass. I felt more at home now than I had for quite
sometime on the PCT. While Oregon had its moments, notably around Mount Hood,
Jefferson Park, and the Sisters, it never lasted for long. I had a good,
long walk in front of me and nothing but grandeur to soak in. An alpine
land in good weather is tough to beat. Even the desert in spring bloom
cannot overawe the alpine mind. I skipped along the trail, occasionally
kicking rocks down the side, heedless of the steep falloff to my left.
If I fell, it would hurt alot. But, I wouldn't fall at this point, my
feet were too sure. And so I danced toward the pass in the pleasant weather,
a few clouds overhead, but nothing to worry about, with a joy that was unknown
to others. And all I was doing was walking, simply walking.
A bit of steep snow lingered just below the lip of Cispus Pass, forcing me
to stop my dance and kick steps for a few vertical feet to the stop. On top was
a small sign indicating where I was and what the elevation was. I sat in the
faint, cloud diffused sun to take my first rest of the day and snack a bit.
The woods are never silent, only still. The Alpine is silent, except for the
wind. I sat and ate a Snickers bar and listened to the wind, to what it might
tell me, or at least hint at. The future was in front of me and the wind was
blowing from that direction, though reading it was a task beyond me, for now.
I could smell the wind and I could feel the wind, but my ears and my eyes
could not yet learn much from it, other than being comforted by its feather touch.
Before leaving my perch above the world, I stripped off my thermal underwear,
though I left my rain jacket on to keep a little more heat in. I was going to be
up high most of the day, including a crossing of the Packwood Glacier.
The trail dropped off from Cispus Pass and following the side of a mountain
around gardens that could never exist in a civilized society. Too disorderly and
random to have ever been planted, and without a theme in general. These gardens
were better than any botanical society creation, better even than the best
homemaker could come up with. Lush grass and pleasant streams, cascading down the
mountain side, gave the place a fresh look, with the few tent-scarred campsites
giving it a lived in feel. I saw a few tents at some choice locations well off
the trail, their occupants unseen, but presumably still asleep. Winding around
and around, the trail finally began to climb back up to the crest of the
mountains, steeply at times. Away from trees once again, I could hear faint
voices carried by my friend to my ears and ten minutes later a few forms came
into view, heading in the same direction I was going. No packs, which meant that
they were quite possibly the owners of the tents. A young woman and an older
one were out hiking and were a bit surprised when I blew by them at the 3 mile
per hour pace that walking almost 2200 miles had made effortless.
The land just kept getting better and better, with distant vistas showing the
powerful mountains off the route and jagged spires poking up around me. The
land became more and more sandy, with less and less vegetation. I was keeping
my eyes open for a shelter that the guidebook indicated was up here, somewhere
amidst this portrait of heaven. A tent was encountered, with a man and his
two sons cooking breakfast near by. They recognized me instantly as a thruhiker
and I spent the next twenty minutes fielding the standard questions. I wanted to
be as cheerful and friendly as possible, but I also wanted to get back to the
world around me. It isn't that I mind answering the same questions over and
over again, but rather that sometimes I would rather be doing something else.
I tried to encourage the man and the boys to give thruhiking a try. I wanted
them to see even a small fraction of the joy that I was feeling, that I had
felt. In the end, this just isn't possible, but I hoped enough might rub off
for them to think about it sometime in the future.
After leaving the family, I was convinced that there was no shelter any more.
The guidebook had mentioned some built-up rock walls for sheltering tents
that were supposed to be just before the actual shelter. The family was camped
behind a rock wall and still there was no shelter. Without the trees, I
could see in every direction for a distance limited only by the curvature
of the earth. The air was so clear this morning that, had the world been flat,
I could have seen the croissants in Paris been baked at this very moment.
The trail made a dead swing to the right, exposing a huge glacial valley below
that ran straight to the Big Guy: Mount Rainier.
The top of Rainer was cloaked in clouds, exactly how it should be, with only the
base and the middle giving warning that something big was ahead. A woman, bundled
up against the chill and the wind, was sitting with a tripod and camera, doing
nothing. She must be a photographer, waiting and hoping for the clouds to lift.
But, I suspected she just liked to sit a spell in very, very pretty place. I smiled
at her, but didn't say a word. She knew, and I knew. She smiled back and I walked on,
beginning a short traverse of snow. The snow was firm under foot and far, far
safer than anything in the Sierra and so I easily picked my way across it, heading for
the knife like ridge on the other side. Less than five minutes found me standing
on the other side of the snow, with an impossible grin on my face. The world
just kept getting better this morning.
Whomever built the trail up here was a true aesthetic. Nothing in the world
could top this: Not the Himalaya, not the Coast Range, not the Mojave, not
the Sierra, not Death Valley, not the Grand Canyon. All of these were incredible
places that had their own charm and were not outdone by the Goat Rocks. But,
they could not outpace this magic land. The Goat Rocks were ridiculously
easy to get to on foot, whereas the others took a little commitment to see
properly. I began walking along the trail, blasted out of the side of the
mountain when necessary, other times just going up and over the various
peaks. I couldn't take it any more. My heart was getting ready to explode
from the world around me and I thought there was serious danger in my
fainting from ecstasy. I topped out on a minor peak with a few small shrubs
and flopped over in the dirt, not even bothering to take my pack off. I wasn't
tired, I wasn't exhausted. Indeed, I felt like I could have run the range here
and now. I just had to stop for a while, to do nothing in this land. I tried
closing my eyes and relaxing, but it would not happen. Impossible valleys
split off from the the ridge I was one. Towering peaks thrust up above me and
uninhabited coves dotted their flanks. I could spend weeks in this spot of land
and not get bored. I couldn't live in Indiana anymore. I couldn't be cut off
from places like this for nine months a year. I just couldn't.
A few small figures were carefully negotiating the stretch of trail below me.
It existed only because someone had too much dynamite on their hands and
wanted to blow something up. Instead of being destructive, they had carved a
path of such quality that it was a mystery to me why this land wasn't over run
by tourists and backpackers. Why in the world would people go to Mount
Rainer when the Goat Rocks where here? Slightly more calm after sitting
for thirty minutes, I began the descent toward the struggling hikers and
realized that the patch of snow that I had passed just before the break
was the infamous Packwood Glacier. This was really rather funny to me and I
was still chuckling as I slipped past the nervous hikers, without a care that it
was a long, long way down if I misplaced a step and went too far to the left.
They were pressed hard against the wall, clinging to it to give me as much space
as they could, incredulous that anyone would try to pass on a trail like this.
There was plenty of space, though, and I smiled and said hello on my way by.
The trail kept to the high stuff for a while before the ridge finally gave out and I
was dumped into yet another paradisaical valley, complete with alpine flowers
and numerous crystal clear streams, whose water seemed to be begging to be
consumed. However, I knew that the valley was the prelude to the forest which
darkened my mood somewhat after the high of the alpine. The forest was not far
ahead and I took one final break at the edge before entering the forest.
Laying in a deeply scented patch of alpine flowers, their intoxicating aromas
spewing into the air as I sprawled among them, I thought about staying here.
About just sitting here the rest of the day, and maybe tomorrow too. This was
a bit of foolishness on my part, but it was pleasant to think about, at least for
a little while. I slaked my thirst on the water next to me before beginning the
drop into the forest once again. I had several hours of forest walking before
I would come back into the alpine, and I wanted it done with as quickly as
On the way down I passed a woman in a skin tight, cut off camouflage t-shirt
wearing camouflage shorts that could only be described as "belt-like"
and an anti-UN baseball cap hiding long blond locks
of hair. I was a little unsure if she was for real or not and so said hello very
timidly, afraid that I might be talking to thin air. She grinned as if not to
give me the pleasure of knowing that she was actual flesh and blood and not some
alpine induced hallucination. I kept going, however, a bit nervous about my
mental state. Shortly down the trail I encountered two men, one in full camouflage
battle fatigues and another wearing blue jeans and dirty white t-shirt. Both
were carrying sidearms, though this did not frighten me. I had to know, however,
if these people were real or not and said hello and stopped in front of them,
forcing them to acknowledge me. They cheerfully said hello and asked about the
trail ahead, at which I burst out with a sequence of adjectives, fired off in
rapid succession, that seemed to worry the men slightly. With a big grin, I
left them and plunged deeper into the forest.
It was several hours later when I had just about had enough of the forest. I
was on my way out of it and back to the alpine, but the climb was draining me.
I was seated underneath a shady tree trying to admire the land around me, but found
myself instead constantly looking up the trail hoping that I might see some
indication that the forest was ending. I wanted to rest, but I also wanted
to be back up high. The laziness was beaten back and up I went, though
grudgingly. Shoe Lake appeared suddenly below me as I blasted out of the trees
once again and could see. A dark, foreboding lake, Shoe was a place that I
might like to use as a basecamp for exploring, but there seemed to be a few
camping restrictions placed on it. Like, don't camp here. No matter, I could
always camp up on the Goat Rocks, hauling water up from the valley below.
But, I couldn't imagine the frustration this must have engendered in some
people: The perfect spot, taken out of the public sleeping realm for a while.
Climbing up toward the mountain infront of me, towering Hogback, I could spot a
small orange figure sitting on something. Winding through the gravelly
land, I hoped Orangeman might leave before I got there, as I wanted the
pass all to myself. Such was not my luck to be, as the Orangeman was only
one of several day hikers, and he was waiting for his friends as they made
their way slowly from the other direction. Orangeman didn't feel like talking,
which suited me fine, and I began the contour on the other side of the pass
without stopping to hear more of his story.
Again, the land was there. Open and powerful, this might be the last of
the Goat Rocks from my perspective, but it was the beginning for people
heading from White Pass. This would serve to whet their appetite, even if
it was somewhat anticlimactic for me. It was great stuff, but it wasn't
the raw, soaring beauty from before. As I passed the other day hikers, my thoughts
began to turn to White Pass. After traversing, the trail began to drop down
through the forest on its way to White Pass, where I was planning to buy
supplies. My mind started wandering toward issues of time, though try as I
might I could not divine when the store would close. I rested for one
last time in a sweet smelling meadow and reckoned that I could make White
Pass by 6. That might, just might be enough. Country stores in the middle of
nowhere tend to close early, and White Pass was about as isolated as you
can get. My pace quickened, though not entirely because of the store
ahead. The trail was wide, slightly sloping downhill, and without obstructions
to worry about. I was moving fast enough to barely say hello to the two
beautiful women out day hiking that I encountered near the parking lot area.
Once I stepped out onto the road, all my energy was gone. There was something
about walking along the shoulder of a road that just takes all the life out
of me, that makes walking seem so pointless. I could see the store in the
distance, barely a half mile away. Ten minutes ago I was flying along at a
four mile per hour pace. Now I was thinking about hitchhiking the distance.
The lack of cars made this idea seem slightly unintelligent, and so I
stumbled, run down and tired, toward the store. More shuffling than
walking, I finally made it and found a touring family along with a
clutch of section hikers in the parking lot. The lights in the store were
on, but somehow it didn't seem so important to me to resupply tonight as
opposed to tomorrow morning. As I approached the store, the woman
attending to things came out with her daughter, locking the door behind them.
I was too late by a full hour. She looked at me nervously, knowing what I wanted.
She asked if I had a box coming, but all I wanted was to buy a few things.
She had long ago closed down the register and couldn't sell me anything tonight,
but would open at 8 tomorrow. Slightly dejected, I sat down next to the flower
pot by the door, with a stain of dried soda next to me, to have a think.
I had barely rolled a cigarette when one of the section hikers came over to find out
my story. I grunted out something about the store being closed and she asked if
I wanted some food. Trying to be more polite in my road-induced exhaustion, I
told her that it was kind of her, but I needed three days of supplies to get me
to Snoqualmie. She walked off and I lit my cigarette and thought about hitching
to some further town. The main problem with this is that I might have to hitch
all the way back to Cascade Locks before I found an open store. No, I was stuck
her until tomorrow morning. At least I could sleep in.
The woman section hiker was back. Might I like some granola? It has blueberries,
you know. I thanked her again for trying, but I needed three days of
granola, and her bag wouldn't get me more than a day for snacks. She said that
one of her group had to cancel and that they might be able to rustle up some food
for me. The tourists, somewhat drunk, came over to the section hikers and started
talking and gesticulating wildly. Not paying much attention, I returned to
feeling sorry for myself. Five minutes later, the woman was back, this time with a
heavy sack of food. She had taken up a food collection for me and proceeded to
show me what she had. Yes, I see, I might be able to use twelve juice cartons
sometime. Hmm, those fifteen "fun size" gummy snacks might hit the spot.
I tried to restrain my enthusiasm and not say anything rude, but then the
bag started offering up quality stuff. A box a triscuit. A pouch of
Ritz Snack mix. Several boxes of poptarts. A massive pouch of instant
potatoes done up with all kinds of goodies. A similar bag of polenta. Several
wonderful looking bags of couscous. And, of course, the juice, granola, and
gummy treats. I scratched my head for a moment trying to think if this was
enough or not as she looked on in hope. It might do, it just might. I smiled and
said I'd take it. No longer able to feel sorry for myself, I had to thank my
benefactors in person. The section hikers were very friendly and were one large
family: Mother, two daughters, and a son. The tourists were also a family: Mother,
father, and daughter. I talked with everyone for a while and half of a Little
Caesar's pizza was produced for me. The tourists wanted me to take several
cans of pork and beans, which I politely turned down four times. And then they
were gone. In a flash the tourists left along with the section hikers. The
section hikers were heading to the trailhead campground and that seemed like a
good place to head to for now. First, I had to eat my pizza and look over my
sack of goodies.
The walk back to the trailhead didn't seem nearly as long as when I made it
an hour earlier. I found one of the daughter's parking their car and followed
her to where the others were encamped. I put up my tarp quickly and went to work
on repacking the food and cooking dinner in between chats with the hikers.
They were out to hike and section and were glad they had run into a thruhiker this
early. I answered the usual questions about my gear and my pace, what
California was like and where the other thruhikers were. The talk lasted for
a while and I had consumed nine juice boxes before it was too dark to do anything
but sleep. Some drunks came wandering around looking for their campsite, but for
the most part it was quiet here by the side of Leech Lake. Tomorrow I would be able
to hike as I liked, with an early start, and with a normal effort make it into and
out of Mount Rainer National Park. If it was a normal day tomorrow, it would be a
great day indeed.