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.
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
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…
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I hate hiking in the rain. Once the shoes are wet on the inside it’s game over – I want to be somewhere warm and dry. Anywhere but huddled inside this damp tent, listening to the pelting, unable to get the stove out. Everything is dirty.
The day didn’t start this way. It was a typical Washington morning – cloudy. But I’m starting to get used to the mist. The difference here is that it usually burns off by mid-morning. Today it didn’t. In a strange way I enjoyed the dramatic effects the sky was playing with the mountain tops. Visibility was low (I’m sure Mount Rainer is around here somewhere?), but it felt fresh and atmospheric.
It is the weekend, and the closer we got to the highway at Chinook Pass, the more people we encountered. We kept asking for weather updates. The consensus was that rain would come later in the afternoon, with a possible thunder-storm tonight. We took few breaks and kept pushing on. If only we could get to a suitable camping spot before it started…
Just south of Chinook Pass we walked through a section carpeted with wildflowers. It was beautiful, and contrasted vividly with the grey rocks and mist. So much purple. Whilst taking photos at the forefront of my mind was the temptation to hitch off the trail at the highway and wait out the impending rain somewhere civilised. Conrad had thought of the same, but with reluctance we decided that it could jeopardise our ability to reach Canada if we used up the days. We trudged on, hopeful that the clouds would simply blow over.
We ate a quick lunch at Sheep Lake whilst doing our only water filter of the day (it was so cold we wasn’t drinking much). From there to camp the weather just kept changing, making it impossible to regulate body temperature. One minute it was cold (we enjoyed a high of 10 degrees celsius), then a peak of sun, then spitting, culminating in full-blown rain by 3pm. Did I mention that I hate walking in the rain?! It is so difficult to pee in full rain gear and gloves! What are we doing here?
Predictions for tomorrow’s weather are similarly not good. Come on! I at least need a window to dry clothes and shoes out and to cook a hot meal. Pretty please.
We had to get out of Packwood. If I had stayed there I would be obese! We had gotten into the habit of eating for the sake of eating, and none of it was healthy. So following our last real coffee for a while I grabbed my cardboard sign and was back on the highway trying to hitch a ride.
It took perhaps 25 minutes, but finally a kind Mexican man named El Salvador picked us up. He was driving a pickup full of oysters from the coast to Yakima, a town around an hour east. He knew everything there was to know about oysters! Luckily for us it was very overcast and cool, so we didn’t have to deal with a fishy smell. Mount Rainer was no longer visible, shrouded in cloud.
Today I was the optimist (for a change). I viewed the noticeably cooler weather as a good thing – it would be much easier to make the miles. Conrad, on the other hand seemed to see it as a sign that a bad weather front is coming in! Doom and gloom. It just occurred to me that I maybe jinxing the chance of a storm tomorrow by writing this. I hope not.
During the morning hike through a forest dotted with tiny lakes and ponds we kept bumping into horse riders – it’s Saturday and there is a horse camp near the trailhead. This meant lots of poop to avoid, and stopping to let them pass. It sure did look easy sitting up high on the back of a horse. One lady was drinking a beer (it was 9am), and another smoking away. What a jolly! Shame they couldn’t carry out bags for us!
We met a British girl on the trail. I thought I was the only one! Alex, from Vauxhall, was hiking south-bound having completed the entire trail north-bound last year. I guess she must have loved it so much she decided to turn around and do it all again! It was great to talk to her, I am inspired by all her globe-trotting. Maybe we should travel some more too 😬
Just before we stopped for lunch at Snow Lake we heard through the hiker grapevine that Dan was an hour ahead of us. That guy is super sneaky! Turns out we never caught him up all day, as he must have broken 20 miles. Maybe he has decided to ditch us! He missed out on a cold pizza lunch, watching bright blue dragonflies over a quiet lake. I wouldn’t dream of eating cold pizza back home, but out here it is a rubbery-cheese luxury – albeit a very heavy one!
I would love to know what my pack weighs today. My back felt like it was slowly breaking. We have padded and pimped up our food supplies, opening up the dehydrated meals to add all sorts of extra stuff. Whilst I’m sure this is going to satisfy our appetites better, I would now benefit from a back brace.
Later I crossed my first ford that required the removal of shoes and socks. Conrad took a very high-risk approach of hopping over an impossible-looking combination of moving logs and stones. I stood ready with the camera to capture his impeding fall, but unfortunately he made it. At least I got a bonus foot wash. The water was freezing, but it helps to reduce foot swelling. The water in the many lakes and ponds we passed was much warmer.
Tonight we are camped off the trail at Two Lakes. It is night 8 of camping since entering Washington. A giant frog just scared me whilst I was taking a flannel wash. Other than that, everything is so calm. I can hear crickets and nothing else. I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow!
We took rest in Packwood today so couldn’t resist returning to the Blue Spruce Saloon for breakfast. It’s always night time inside that place! Whilst there I was observing the American TV coverage of the Olympics. Let’s just say it is gives a very different angle to that of the BBC!
Breakfast time? Who knows
Our feet are still very sore. I hope this doesn’t become a hindrance to getting back on the trail tomorrow. They seem to have permanent cramps in them, especially the toes which are red and swollen. Why now?!
There is not much excitement left to report. Having packed even heavier food bags ready for the morning, we now intend to take a nap, watch the Olympic Opening Ceremony, and go for pizza.
There are 367 miles left to go. My only hope is that the storms heading for the north-west coast from Sunday will not reach us in the mountains. The weather up here seems impossible to predict. There is also a wildfire in Grant County, about 120 miles east of the PCT. I hope this gets contained soon.
There is nothing like the promise of a shower and hot food to get me out of my sleeping bag, even if it is freezing!
Only 8 miles stood between us and Highway 12, where Mark’s car awaited us at the ski pass. Overall I would say that I enjoyed the hike (except the half-mile road walk at the end). It seems to me that an early 8 miles of not too steep elevation, followed by lunch and a shower is a civilised day out!
The initial miles took us up another 1100 feet through the forest, passing Shoe Lake, to where sweeping views opened up. Over the pass, we could trace the trail leading off into the distance as it skimmed around a large basin. On the horizon, a structure which we identified as the top of a ski lift was just about visible. How encouraging! I like to be able to see the finish line.
A marmot dashing out across the trail almost made me plunge off the edge of the mountain. They are funny creatures, a kind of squirrel-beaver hybrid. We also saw our first horses coming towards us. We had seen lots of signs of them along the way (i.e. their manure), but until now had not appreciated what an inconvenience it is when they come down the trail ahead of you! Apparently they own the trail. The remaining big descent down through forest to White Pass was uneventful. We did our best to dodge the mozzies, and declined the temptation to take a shortcut down the Chairlift Trail, which traces the lift vertically down!
At White Pass, we found the closed ski lift terminus, and a gas station. The Kracker Barrel shop at the gas station took $18 off of us to pick up our resupply boxes there. We felt ripped off, so couldn’t wait to leave. An online shopping order had dispatched everything separately so we had 6 packages in total. Much to our relief and delight, Mark’s car was parked there and the key worked. We piled our stuff in, and were about to drive off when I received a message from Dan who was 10 minutes up the trail. We turned around and drove to the trailhead to collect him, before heading the 20 miles to Packwood.
Packwood is a strange place. More of a road-side pit stop than a town really. There is no phone signal here. The one sports shop is closed, with a hand-written sign in the window which reads: “At Verns doing pickles”. Who knows what that means!
We checked into the simple motel and got a burger from the place next door. After that we kind of just wandered around. We replaced our gas canister at the hardware store (a place where time stands still), got an iced coffee, and then took a stroll around the grocery store. It is funny how air conditioning and looking at the local food selection is now entertainment!
Not long after lunch Mark messaged me to say he and Steve were an hour from the trailhead. Conrad drove back to White Pass to meet them both, whilst I unpacked our hiker boxes. We enjoyed a drink with them and Dan. They offered to give us a ride to a real town an hour away, which was highly tempting (there is a cinema and a Costco there which I ascertained from Google Maps)! But we resisted as it would have been more difficult to get back on the trail. It was funny to hear their stories of the last few days. Hiking just a few miles behind us, they would ask south-bound hikers about the ‘British couple’ and get updates on us through the hiker grapevine!
Diner was at a ‘spit and sawdust’ kind of place across the street called The Blue Spruce Saloon. Full of locals, with a shuttle board table and a dark horseshoe-shaped wooden bar, I felt like I was in a Western. Time now for ice cream to finish off the day…
This morning we woke in the clouds. Both of us were wearing nearly all our clothes as we left camp. Last night I fell asleep wearing two pairs of leggings, a hat, a down coat, and Conrad’s gloves (mine were wet). It was sad to put our wet shoes back on.
It had been disorienting yesterday, walking in the mist and rain, without being able to recognise any mountain tops. Luckily today after the first freezing mile, we reached a point along a ridge where we finally broke through the clouds. Out in front of us big fluffy clouds hovered low. I was so happy to see blue sky revealed.
Dan caught us up as we traversed around and up to Cispus Pass. At 6474 feet, and made up of rocky shingle with a steep drop off, we agreed that the right decision had been made last night not to attempt it in the wind and rain! Dan informed us that his thermometer didn’t rise above 50F all day yesterday. I was just amazed that he carries a thermometer! As we climbed the pass we had fabulous views looking down into the valley below, including meadows and a tall waterfall. We were on Yakama Indian land. What a beautiful place.
Over the pass we crossed a number of seasonal streams, and the Cispus River. Here we collected water and carried it to a campsite to cook breakfast. It had been too cold to eat at camp. I threw everything and anything into the oatmeal, and it tasted magic! Probably helps that we didn’t have a hot meal last night too. We ate sitting on a log gazing down at the wildflower-coated valley below as the sun heated up.
Dan crossing a Cispus River outlet
Freshest water you can drink
Facing the Packwood glacier, and at over 7000 feet, hikers have a choice to continue along the PCT, or take an alternative route up Old Snowy. We choose to stay ‘pure’ and keep going, across the snow fields. I admit this decision was based purely on the lowest elevation approach. This section is known as the ‘highest and most dangerous section in Oregon and Washington’. The snow traverse was not too bad, a little slushy, the worst bit was getting on and off it as the loose dirt just crumbled away.
One of the most photographed images I have seen of the Washington PCT is the infamous ‘Knife’s Edge’. Not an official name, but more a literal one given to a stretch of trail running along the shoulder of a ridge like a roller coaster. Sheer drop-offs on both sides are alarming. The jagged peaks are the remnants of an eroded volcano.
Underfoot the path was very rocky, mostly loose scree, which shifted as we stepped on it. I was concentrating hard. At this opportune time Conrad pointed out to me that his shoe treads were completely worn away!
Traversing scree towards the Knife Edge
Deep drainages off the ridge form alpine meadows, dotted with lakes and glacial streams. We enjoyed lunch by one such stream, taking the time to soak our feet in the water as we had not sat down since breakfast. We dried out our shoes and socks in the sun. We saw no one, and relaxed listening to the sounds of the running water. Before leaving we stocked up on electrolytes. So far today the hike had been very exposed (people have died of hypothermia up on the Knife’s Edge), and it was baking.
In the late afternoon we re-entered the forest. The mosquitos were back, but this was the price to pay for some shade. We passed Dan who was hitching his tent trail-side for lack of any nearby alternative. The last 1000 feet ascent nearly finished me off. The blow-downs didn’t help. Feet throbbing, we finally reached the Hidden Spring trail junction and walked 0.3 of a mile off trail in search of a wet camp.
I am disappointed that we have taken a third night of camping to reach White Pass. It has been a long day; 12 hours on the trail, yet only 18 miles to show for it. I guess that is how it goes sometimes! But tonight I will sleep happy in the knowledge that tomorrow we will get a shower and a bed! And real food.