Friday 19th August
Start: Bushcamp, mile 2506
End: Bushcamp, mile 2519
Today has turned out very unexpected. When the alarm went off at 5:20 it was still dark in the cover of the trees. We were ready for a big one. We had briefly sized up the map last night and knew that today’s climb was going to top everything that had come before it.
We said goodbye to an elderly hiker camped nearby who goes by the name of Floater (I didn’t ask). The first couple of miles through the morning cool, we were alone walking through a moss-covered forest. There were lots of streams, some of them cloudy from the glacial melt. I also noticed a strong smell of sulphur at one point, and then shortly afterwards a trial junction to a nearby hot springs.
Whilst taking a photo of the broken bridge at Kennedy Creek we met a Canadian girl called Sarah. We hiked with her for a couple of miles before I gave up trying to match her pace. It was uphill. In those miles of conversation it transpired that she had stayed with Becky and Ed in Trout Lake just a couple of days after we had enjoyed their hospitality. What a small world. Sarah’s last resupply box had not arrived, so she was low on food having raided the hiker box. We gave her a few of our snack rations, hoping that we might not require a full day of hiking into Stehekin. Either way I guess we are unlikely to starve!
Today there have been a lot more blow-downs than in recent days, but still nowhere near as bad as in southern Oregon. It just slows us down that little bit more. As we tackled a bundle of trees to mount Glacier Ridge, the smell of smoke hit me. Out on the horizon far away the sky looked pink and hazy. Slightly concerning. Yesterday a couple had told us that the darkened sky we could see to the east was likely the Idaho fire, which is still sadly blazing hundreds of miles away.
Slowly navigating a rocky decent down Fire Creek Pass, we met a hiker coming the other way. He had a larger area map, and pointed out the source of today’s smoke. There is a wildfire ablaze in Buck Creek, which on the map looked close by, just slightly south-east of us. He assured me that a mountain range between us made it safe. Phew. As we continued on at a snail’s pace I kept noticing the copper-coloured hues in the rocks around us. Maybe it is copper?
We finally reached Mica Lake, which appeared like a mirage from nowhere. It was tucked into an enclave, perfectly blue, framed by a backdrop of tall jagged cliffs. As soon as I saw the water I wanted to jump in. We thought a quick foot soak and maybe lunch at that point would be a good plan. We had done 12 miles so far. Whilst eating our P&J pita breads, Dan arrived. He had noticed the same issue as we were just discussing. From the descent to that point we had seen across the valley were the trail was heading – it was not good. Imagine someone taking a marker pen and scoring a line sharply zigzagging up a massive hill. That was the trail ahead.
The main issue presenting us was the lack of camp options due to this extreme elevation. There was a place in half a mile by a stream, then nothing for 8 miles on the other side of the ridge. To get to the second campsite we would have to firstly descend 3500 feet into the valley below us, then embark on the climb up the switchbacks with the afternoon sun on us.
Dan said he was 50:50 on whether he would attempt it today. He planned to hike on nearly 4 miles to a creek, cook, and then decide. He was assuming that he could find an unofficial place to throw up his tent at the creek. Just after he left the lake, we jumped in to cool off, still undecided as of what to do. The water was cold, but not freezing, and felt so refreshing. As we were redressing, a couple of young hikers arrived coming south. We asked them about the trail ahead and camping spots. The outcome of that exchange was that we would not be able to camp at the creek, and it would be crazy at 3pm to start out for the top now. The decision was made!
Despite both of us being disappointed with our miles today, actually having some of the afternoon to just sit and rest besides a creek has been great. This is what hiking the PCT was supposed to be like! If we had made the camp as planned, we could have possibly knocked off a night’s camping to reach Stehekin a day early. That is not going to happen now, but at least we got to enjoy the rest of our day. I think we deserve it!