Day 58: Skykomish Zero

Tuesday 16th August

Start & End: Skykomish, off mile 2461.6

So there’s not a great deal going on in Skykomish.  In less than a day since arriving here we had exhausted all the local cuisine options.  This included a tour of the gas station minimart!  I was feeling frustrated by the lack of choice.

Our hotel – The Cascadia Inn

This led to our decision (mostly driven by me), to hitch to a larger town to buy food.  Following a bagel breakfast at the Liquor and Deli store, a cardboard sign was made and we were on Highway 2 wearing big smiles.  It took 10 minutes for a local named Bob to stop in his pickup truck.  He was easy to talk to, a university-educated 1960s liberal (how he described himself), who said he will move to Canada if Trump gets voted in!  He dropped us off in the Safeway car park in Monroe, 40 miles west.  I’ve never been so excited to go to a supermarket!

Hitching in Gold Bar

Monroe is another railway line town along the Skykomish River Valley, but much larger.  It is only 30 miles northeast of Seattle.  There is a small historical downtown area which still exists, and posters were hanging for the Evergreen State Fair which we will sadly miss by a week.  We had brunch at the Main Street Cafe, and posted back to California the results of our most recent kit explosion – lets just hope it doesn’t rain in the next 2 weeks!

Monroe’s colourful food scene – next to the fertilizer plant

Following a long browse and small food shop in Safeway, where I couldn’t buy half of what I wanted due to weight issues, we popped in McDonalds for a cold drink and a McFlurry.  I couldn’t believe that this was the first Mucky-Ds visit of the trip, and Conrad didn’t even have a burger!  Maybe he is sick?  We took the local transit bus as far as we could back, which was a small town called Gold Bar.  From there we assumed it would be easy to hitch the rest of the way back.  We were wrong.  Despite plenty of cars, we stood in the heat on the highway for nearly an hour before anyone stopped!  I was beginning to feel panicked.  Thank you to Peggy, who in her Prius drove past her home in Index to take us back.  She also shared a detailed local history, which was interesting.

McFlurries out here are double the size!

My thoughts now turn to the hike ahead.  This last section was the shortest, and stunningly beautiful, with alpine lakes and striking jagged mountains.  Despite this, the elevation change and extreme heat made it the most challenging.  We didn’t break 20 miles once.  This makes me apprehensive for the next leg of our adventure – 108 miles to Stehekin.  How we can possibly carry enough food, and sustain the physical effort for 6 days straight, I am unsure.  But we have less than 200 miles to go now, so the countdown feels on.

Day 57: Easy ride to Skykomish

Monday 15th August

Start: Bushcamp, mile 2451

End: Skykomish, off mile 2461

Miles: 10.8

We said goodbye early to Paul and Joe.  The mosquitos had made camp particularly unbearable this morning.  I wonder if they have followed us all the way from Oregon?!  At least they forced us to scale the first mountain in the relatively cool morning air.

Early morning shots

We passed through lots of pretty meadows dotted with small lakes.  At the top of our second climbing section we met an unusual character.  A guy thru-hiker who had left Mexico exactly 1 month before we started Oregon (that means he has hiked 1716 miles more than us in that time)!  He had dreadlocks and hikes in sandles and fleece socks, carrying a pack no bigger than a day bag.  No wonder he wasn’t keen on standing around talking to us – he had to get to Stevens Pass for food!

Topping up on our radiation
So so sweaty! Lucky you can’t smell us.

Stevens Pass is another closed ski resort.  The only sign of life was a handful of hikers, and a small open giftshop.  We picked up our resupply package there, and enjoyed a toasted sandwich.  Whilst polishing off an essential icecream and chatting to a retired hiking couple, a young guy dressed in black approached us to offer us a ride!  Easiest hitchhike ever!  I really wasn’t looking forward to standing on the highway in the heat with my little cardboard sign.  Turns out that Spider completed his PCT hike 6 days ago and was in the area collecting some of his gear.  We were so grateful for the ride.

With Spider, our trail magic
The South Fork bridge entering Skykomish

We got dropped off outside our hotel in the tiny hamlet of Skykomish.  The place consists of an active train line, and a few historic wooden buildings along it.  That is about it.  The trains are also by law required to honk their horns when entering ‘town’, so it promises to be a fun night!  The Cascadia Inn is simple, but fine (there is nowhere else).  My biggest disappointment was that they had sold out of pie.  What a blow.

Historic Great Northern Rail road train parked in town
Knotty Knitters art project

Day 56: More Climbing

Sunday 14th August

Start: Deep Lake, mile 2432

End: Bushcamp, mile 2450.7

Miles: 18.5

When the alarm went off at the all new early time of 5am this morning it was still pretty dark.  The idea was to beat the heat.  But there was a snag.  As amateur campers we didn’t realise that when erecting a tent on a lakeside plot one should use the waterproof tarp to prevent condensation.  Hence, we packed up a wet tent and sleeping bags, adding yet more weight to our bags!

Cathedral Rock in early morning
It was much cooler than yesterday as we immediately began our first ascent up Cathedral Rock.  The switchbacks gave us views of our campspot fading away far below.  The pinnacle of Cathedral Rock got closer and closer.  Not far up the trail I had a personal issue – heat rash caused yesterday was giving me chaff up my skirt.  The only solution was to go commando!  Guess it will save on washing.

Creative PCT marker
At the end of the descent into a steep valley, we tackled a particularly challenging ford crossing.  Signs had warned of a dangerous ford from a couple of miles back.  The water was thundering all the way from the top of the mountain into the creek below.  It would have been dangerous to ford it because of he flow.  Luckily we were able to get creative with a number of boulders and deadwood to slowly hop across.

Upon finally reaching Deception Lake outlet, we came across Dan who was filtering water.  Conrad hung a clothesline and the sleeping bags went up to dry.  Feet went in the creek to cool off.  Sadly we finished the last of the Pringles.  Today we are really mindful of staying hydrated, so we downed all that we could and carried heavy loads – all this climbing in the sun is thirsty work!

Deception Lake
Mmm – Nutella and crackers! Gets old.
Apex the dog travelling in comfort
After lunch we had a hot climb up Surprise  Mountain (surprise – it’s steep!) in the afternoon sun.  It felt brutal, but the views across showed a spectacular mix of alpine forest, unforgiving craggy rock drops, and a carved out lake perched up high in the distance.  

Over Piper Pass and Glacier Lake appeared below us.  The very rocky black and white granite path led us down steep switchbacks, making my knees shudder.  Another climb followed, this time up Thunder Mountain, which had the steepest gradients we have faced so far, and right at the end of the day!  It nearly finished me off.  I was staggering up, barely conscious.

Glacier Lake with Glacier Peak just visible in the distance
Just over Piper Pass
Switchback fun (not for the knees)

We made camp at around 6:30pm next to a small stream, a few miles short of where we intended.  Above us squeaking marmots are making a racket.  After we arrived another 2 solo male section hikers set up camps nearby and chatted.  Plus we met a young girl named Flower who is attempting to break the south-bound PCT record for fastest unassisted hike.  Basically she will reach Mexico in less time than Conrad and I hiked the smallest 2 states!  She is averaging 45 miles a day.  I cannot comprehend this. 

Jerky-tastic!

Day 55: Alpine Lakes

Saturday 13th August

Start: Bushcamp, Goldmeyer mile 17.38

End: Deep Lake Bushcamp, mile 2432

Miles: 15.47

I am writing this update from a particularly special camp spot beside Deep Lake.  I am guessing the name refers to the gigantic ridges towering around us which make the lake look like a deep blue sinkhole.

Some early morning views

There are some pristine lakes out here.  The further from road access, the more tranquil and unspoilt they seem to be. Today there was not a single access road anywhere near.  We had whole lakes to ourselves.  The moment we passed over Dutch Miller Gap and caught a glimpse of Ivanhoe Lake sparkling below, I felt privileged to be there.  I really wanted to jump in as the water was so inviting, but it was too early in the hike to stop and relax.  Sometimes this hiking does feel like a job!  We were worried given the slow progress yesterday that we would never make the miles.  I vowed to one day return, and camp by that lake so that I could enjoy it.

Ivanhoe Lake from Dutch Miller Gap
Waterfall above Ivanhoe Lake

On the climb up to Dutch Miller Gap from camp I was pondering just one thought – where are my hiking legs?!  Surely, 55 days into this hike and it should be starting to feel a little easier?  It isn’t.  Maybe our bodies are just exhausted, and if we had a week off we would come back fighting.  We don’t have that time to spare.  It did get me thinking about the PCT ‘thru-hikers’ who started on the Mexican boarder.  Most of them will be coming through this section in a months time, likely in fresh snow.  I take my hat off to them as I don’t know how they manage to sustain themselves through 2659 miles in one season.  Mentally and physically.

Broken bridge across Ivanhoe Lake outlet
This sort of thing does not help!
Prize for best trail blow-down – triple whammy!

Talking about physical issues, I would love it if a day could go by without my feet cramping up!  At lunch today we found a creek to soak our feet in to numb the pain in the icy water.  Whilst drying them off a lump of skin on the top of my toe just fell off!  Surely that’s not good?  My hiking shoes are 1.5 sizes larger than my regular shoes, so I don’t know what the problem is.  It could have been the heat.  Tshirts got dipped in the lake, and we kept taking breathers from the exposed switchbacks, but it felt brutal.  Us English people are just not used to operating in these conditions!

Ivanhoe Lake tshirt dip

We made camp at a much earlier time of 5pm tonight, deciding not to go any further.  Yesterday was such a massive day, and arriving at camp that late and that tired makes for no down time.  We want to take a moment to enjoy our surroundings more.  All too often we are in auto-pilot doing chores or making miles to appreciate the majestic sights around us.

The view of Deep Lake from camp
Evening treat – hot chocolate & Snickers

Day 54: Goldmeyer Ups & Downs

Friday 12th August

Start: Snoqualmie Pass

End: Bushcamp, Goldmeyer mile 17.38

Miles: 17.4

Leaving Snoqualmie we decided to take the Goldmeyer alternative trail north. This is a 26-mile stretch that someone told me was once the PCT official route, before they changed it to include equestrian users.  The big selling factor had been a 10-mile saving.  We needed no further convincing!

Endless rocky switchbacks up

A few hours in and I could see why this trail was deemed not suitable for horses! It had been fairly busy on the initial 3 miles up to Snow Lake.  A popular day hike, I was feeling frustrated by the noise and having to share the trail with people carrying virtually no weight.  My pack must have been close to 40 pounds.  It was back-breaking, and made me miserable in the heat.  I decided that when we get to the next stop I am going to post anything back to The Marshmeiers that I can.  If the weather forecasts are promising I may even shed my waterproofs!  I can’t carry this weight again.  And we must stop buying food.

Snow Lake

Azure blue water
Snow Lake is the most photographed part of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  It is picturesque, with crystal clear water, and surrounded by steep jagged cliffs.  Some still had snow patches dotted near their tips.  As we ascended over the ridge leaving the lake behind us we were suddenly alone.  We didn’t see another sole all day until Dan at camp.  It felt like the path a lot less travelled, which surprised me as the route features in the PCT Halfmile maps. 
Start of the Rock Creek Trail down from Snow Lake
Definitely rocky!
This is actually a trail shot. Just can’t see the trail. And the bush is very wet!

The endless switchbacks down into Rock Creek got me thinking maybe we had made a mistake. The trail was very overgrown, slippery, and not well-maintained. This was evident by the number of blow-down trees left to rot in our way. We faced the ultimate in defeat twice today, with blow-downs that gave us no choice but to remove our packs in order to get past them. What a pain! It is strange to think that this path was once the PCT, it felt abandoned, with bridges warped and trail crumbling away.

Oh err!

The Washington weather system is really playing with us now.  Just 3 days ago we were hiking in every piece of clothing we had.  Today, it is 90 degrees, and so sticky!  The humidity in the forest made it feel as though we were bush-whacking through the jungle.  The moss-covered path and loose rocks were the reason for me slipping 4 times.  Luckily each time I saved myself from completely falling, and I wasn’t really hurt, but it shock me up and made me ultra careful about each precarious step.   That probably explains why the 4-mile section to Thunder Creek took us nearly 4 hours!

Thunder Creek crossing
Burnboot Creek
That water is flowing fast! Do not fall in.

So 11.5 hours on the trail later and we had accomplished only 17 miles.   Impossible I thought, re-checking the GPS.  What a day!  I don’t think there has been a single flat bit!  We climbed nearly 6000 feet, and descended 5300.  Washington is tough.

Essential trail nutrition

Day 53: Snoqualmie Zero

Thursday 11th August

Start & End: Snoqualmie Pass

Miles: 0

I had a terrible nights sleep despite the bed.  I ended up downing a load of painkillers to try and help me sleep.  Maybe the 2-hour nap yesterday afternoon had been a bad idea!  I am so glad that we are not hiking today – my body feels exhausted and obviously needs a rest.

Resupply box contents
Zero days generally involve trail ‘admin’, which is tedious but necessary.  These are the tasks we completed today, rewarding ourselves with food and rest inbetween:

  • Empty resupply boxes and sort food bags
  • Buy more food – stuff that we are not bored with
  • Find the local hiker box to donate our surplus to
  • Study the maps for the next section
  • Back flush water filters
  • Wash up cook set
  • Do laundry
  • Update blog
  • Eat.

Got all the essentials

We now have 268 miles to go!  There are some very big climbs ahead in this next section, but at least the weather looks more promising…
Will have to stash my knife I guess!

Day 52: Iron Horse Trail

Wednesday 10th August

Start: Bushcamp at Keechelus Lake

End: Snoqualmie Pass, off mile 2390.7

Miles: 9

We woke up to a dry tent!  A good start to the day.  It was noticably warmer at this elevation, despite a lot of cloud cover.   Packing up camp felt far less painful than previous days.

Keechelus Lake

Keechelus Lake was not really what I had expected.  It looks like a man-made reservoir, fed by some natural creeks, but flanking Interstate 90, which we could clearly hear just 3 miles away.  Not exactly scenic.  But who cares, we were so close to our next resupply point!

For most of the 9 miles we followed The Iron Horse Trail, which was once the Milwaukee Road railway line connecting Chicago to the Pacific.  The Washington section was converted into a State Park after the company went bankrupt in the 1980s.  Not much remains of the railway itself in this section.  The path was gravel, but looking closely I could make out the odd rusted remnant of steelwork, and if we had continued we would have come to a dark 2-mile tunnel which runs under Snoqualmie.

Historic?

I was so happy to arrive at the pass.  It always feels strange in ski resorts out of season.  We had walked past a couple of seemingly abandoned lift areas on the approach.  Such large parking lots, without a single car.  I bet this place will be buzzing in a couple of months.  Snoqualmie Pass showed more signs of life.  It seems to be a popular truck stop, and general drive-through rest area.

Heading straight to the sole hotel – The Summit Inn, we found Dan in the adjoining Pancake House.  Yes we had eaten our oatmeal today, but it was still technically breakfast time at 10:30, so we ordered seconds!  The eggs and pancakes were bliss.  We chatted away with Dan, debriefing on this last section.  Thanks to his early start out of Packwood, and a massive first day, we didn’t see him for the entire time.  At noon we were allowed to check into our room.  

So good
Following a browse around the small local grocery store, which was disappointing, we took a nap.  Next stop was a snack at the Aardvark food truck popular with other hikers, where we sat outside feeling groggy and joining in with the typical trail conversations.  Not long after we enjoyed dinner at the bar in The Commonwealth, a restaurant attached to Dru Bru microbrewery.  As we closed the place and was chatty with our fellow patrons, the bartender gave me her last cookie!  What a triumphant end to the day!

Day 51: Breaking Records

Tuesday 9th August

Start: Bushcamp, mile 2349

End: Bushcamp, near Keechelus Lake

Miles: 24.9

Today was the most mundane, non-eventful day of our hike.  We took few photos, and just concentrated on making miles.  It lightly rained on and off throughout – just enough to prevent us from really drying out.  We bided the time listening to podcasts and eating lots of snacks.  There was some rare phone signal at points, but that was about all to get excited by.

Clear timberline change

By early evening we were sat at a trail junction with a jeep road taking a break when a hiker in a kilt came past.  He had left Snoqualmie earlier today and warned us that it was likely to rain again this evening.  My heart sank.  It already felt very cold and it was not yet 6pm.  We studied the maps for an answer.

Shrooms?

Eventually we started moving again, but turned off the PCT down the jeep road.  Heading towards a large lake at a lower elevation, and an alternative trail called the Iron Horse.  Whilst walking down another forest service road a couple pulled up in a shiny white SUV.  They chatted to us, intrigued by the hike.  We accepted half-eaten sub rolls – I think that officially makes us hobos now?!  But most crucially the lady asked us if we would like to get to Snoqualmie tonight.  Despite every bone in my body screaming YES, we declined the cheat.  We are walking to Canada one way or another.  Reluctantly at that instance.  I can’t believe I could have had a bed and a shower tonight.

Keechelus Lake

We made it to Keechelus Lake two hours later.  Overall we probably saved a couple of miles, but the big gain was getting further down the mountain.  It’s been so cold in the evening and mornings recently that it’s hard to get the muscles to respond.  Our feet and legs have paid the price of every mile.  This camp doesn’t even have a log to sit on – boy I miss a seat!  We both downed a couple of antihistamines to help us sleep, and drifted off to the sound of thunder not far off to the east.

Day 50: Wet Feet Monday

Monday 8th August

Start: Bushcamp, mile 2332

End: Bushcamp, mile 2349

Miles: 17.57 miles

On exiting camp this morning I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes.  We were in the mist high up on Big Crow Basin, in a little site surrounded by trees.  Since the early hours the distinct call of elks sounded out around us.  But they were invisible, engulfed in mist.

Morning views

The hike was fairly gentle in gradient today, which was a relief.  Being cold and rained on with wet feet from the start made it difficult in other ways.  It is hard not to feel deflated in these conditions.  It might have been more enjoyable if we had the promise of finishing the day with a hot shower, food, and dry clothes.  We are still a few days off those luxuries.  Last night feeling hungry we caved in and lit the stove in the vestibule of the tent.  Not a recommended move, but we needed a hot meal!

Just keep on trekking

As our elevation dropt we came down from the ridge and into an eerie moss-coated forest.  It was very green.  I occupied my mind counting mushrooms and other fungi that seemed to be thriving there, and knocking rain drops off the undergrowth with my poles – what a riot!  Anything to stop my mind wandering onto the food I craved.  This cold weather spell is making us ravenous!  I decided I most wanted some banana cake, a loaded bagel, and a really hot mocha.

What a fun-guy! wa wa wah
Yep – still raining!

We had decided to aim for Ulrich shelter 13 miles in for lunch.  I had hoped that we would light the stove and dry our wet tent and socks out, but availability of wood prevented that.  The little dark wood cabin was sparse, but it provided some relief from the rain so that we could cook inside.  We were not the only ones with that idea,  Within a few minutes of arriving we were joined by a lady and her mother who were going south-bound.  We chatted to them whilst cooking a Thai curry (not my favourite freeze-dry), and then all hell broke loose.  15 Boy Scouts flooded the cabin, with 5 adults.

The Ulrich shelter

While chaotic to begin with, they were friendly enough.  Many wanted to chat because they liked our English accents.  A couple were trying to mimic us.  We gratefully obliged whilst trying to sort out our stuff and get going.  The rain had really picked up in the time we had been there.  Just before we left I was talking to some of the leaders out on the deck, and got offered food!!!  We had 2 homemade cookies each, some red vines, peanuts, and a packet of Skittles.  My day was made!

A final 5 miles in the rain and increasing mist led us up through an old burn zone.  We settled on a camp next to a small Spring on the hillside for two reasons: 1) There is no other water for the next 12 miles; 2) We didn’t want to walk anymore!  I hope that tomorrow is better.  I have no dry socks left.

Burn zone
A highly informative carved sign!