PCT Photo Journal, Part 8: The Home Stretch

I’m finally back in my home state, and in this 246 mile section of trail, I walk across the iconic Bridge of the Gods into Washington, pass by Mount Adams and through Mount Rainier National Park, and visit my hometown near Snoqualmie Pass.

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I have a bit of an extra lie in in the morning in my cozy motel room in Cascade Locks, before heading to the post office and meeting up with Bear Bait, Fun Size and Shake n’ Bake.  The latter two want to press on today, while I’m going to take an extra day to let my neck and feet heal up a bit more.  Bear Bait chooses to stay too, as his ankle and heal are bothering him.  I get my resupply from the post office, plus a care package sent from my friend, Pickles, from back home.  After doing some more errands, including ordering sturdier shoes from REI to be delivered to me in Trout Lake, I head to the brewery with Bear Bait.  More hikers are packed in there than regular patrons, and things are getting interesting.
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The Bridge of the Gods

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The Columbia River
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The next day, we climbed up to the Bridge of the Gods early in the morning, our gateway into Washington, and the woman at the toll booth hollered ‘congrats’ to us as we passed by.  We walked slowly across the bridge, stopping to take in the views of the Columbia River and its forest flanked banks.  The wind whipped through my hair, and I was beaming.  I was about to cross into my home state, a place so special to me; a place where my love of nature and hiking was born.  Halfway across the bridge, we came to the sign for the state line, and I stood looking through the grates of the bridge to the river below.  Then I looked forward, and I made my first steps into Washington since leaving home to hike this trail.
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On the other side of the bridge, we regained the trail after crossing a highway.  It immediately climbed up a hillside, disappearing into the forest.
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We stopped at a sign for Table Mountain after an exhausting climb from 150 feet elevation, the lowest point on the PCT at Cascade Locks, to over 2000 feet.  We sprawled out below the sign, had some lunch and filled up on water from the nearby creek.  The trail kept gaining after lunch, and we passed by crowds day hikers and weekend warriors.
We came upon several campsites just before the bridge at Rock Creek, all of which were packed full.  There was a group of weekend warriors in one site, drinking bottles of wine.  Some other thru hikers were drinking with them, and they enthusiastically invited us to join them.  I was nearly sleep walking at this point, and passed on the offer so that I could go make camp on the opposite side of the creek.  I found a nice spot across the bridge, nestled within some old growth Pacific Cedars and Western Hemlock.
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We spend the morning climbing through lush, green forest, passing abandoned dirt roads along the way.  We stop for lunch at a large creek, with an arched wooden bridge, and sit along the bank eating and soaking our feet.  It’s a warm day, and the sunshine feels good now that the weather is in the beginning stages of autumn

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We walk across open meadow, where we see an interesting sight lounging in the trail: a praying mantis.  I’ve seen one in the wild before, and was completely unaware that they existed in Washington.
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From the trail, we catch views of Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams to the North and Mount Hood to the South.  We make camp in a clearing along a ridge, with panoramic views to the south, and watch as the sun washes the hills in gold as it sets into the horizon.

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We got up early and shove through the forest to the road crossing at Crest Horse Camp, 12 miles ahead.  We get there by late morning, and the campground is full of bow hunters and people out foraging for berries and mushrooms.  It’s a Saturday, so we’re hoping that there will be traffic heading into Trout Lake today, despite it being a dirt Forest Service road.  We get lucky when we catch a man returning to his car from the trail, and Sailor asks if he can spare any room for a couple of dirt bags like us.  He’s happy to oblige, and he takes us into town.
Trout Lake is a tiny town, with only a small store, a cafe and a gas station, but it’s hiker friendly.  I go to the store and pick up my box from REI, containing my new shoes.  I’m going to keep my trail runners on me until my boots are properly broken in, just to be on the safe side of things.  I go to lunch at the cafe, devouring a cheeseburger, onion rings and huckleberry milkshake.  Back at the store, I see packages for both Fun Size and Shake n’ Bake, and Bear Bait goes about drawing phallic pictures and writing abuse across the boxes.  We’re a bit surprised they aren’t already in town, as they took off a day ahead of us.  We don’t wait around, however, and hustle a ride back to the trail from a local with a vintage pickup truck.

 

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The trail is lined with thousands of huckleberry plants, fruiting and ready to eat.  I can’t help as I walk along to graze at the sweet berries, but I try not to overdo it so as not to suffer the consequences later.  We stop at the bug infested Sheep lake to fill up on water, then push on up exposed switchbacks in the afternoon heat.  We pass the 2200 mark in the evening, and then make camp at Blue Lake.
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The next morning is cold, and the lake is covered in a dense layer of mist.  We promptly head out, trying to warm up in the chilly conditions.  Once we get to Bear Lake, we stop to have a light breakfast and filter some water.
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The afternoon never warms up, and the fog creeps its way into the woods along the trail.  We ramble along through forest, with no view to take in.  Midday, we come up behind a group of day hikers, who have irritated a bee hive in a rotten stump beside the trail.  Bear Bait gets the brunt of the disturbance, unfortunately, and is attacked by the bees.  He suffers several stings, including a nasty one just below his eye, which makes the right side of his face swell up.
By early evening, the weather has improved and the sun has made an appearance, although it is still chilly out.  We come upon a paved road crossing, where some trail magic has been left in a bear proof garbage can.  There’s little left for us, however, except for a few random items that were left by other thru hikers.  We cross the road and make our way to the next established campsite, but it’s already full of people and their dirt bikes.  We push on, hoping to have better luck ahead.
We finally find a spacious spot next to a creek, where some familiar thru hikers are already making camp.
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Having camped next to the creek, it was a frigid night.  When I got up in the morning, everything was damp, including the inside of the tent.  I shake everything out as best as I can, and start hiking.  Just after leaving camp, we enter the Mount Adams Wilderness and the volcano makes an appearance above the trees.

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Our day is spent trekking through lovely alpine meadows, dotted with reflection ponds and silty running streams, and Mount Adams dominating the scenery.  We stop for lunch midday at Riley Creek, and lay on our Tyvek sheets in the adjoining campsite.  The day is clear and warm, and the sunshine feels good on my skin.  After lunch, we catch up to All The Way, who continues to amaze us.  For a person who just turned 70, he has more stamina and strength than the two of us combined.
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By late afternoon, we leave the meadows behind and enter dense forest again.  The trees and shrubs are changing now, displaying beautiful gold and red autumn leaves.  I spot a pine martin scurrying up a tree, and I stop to watch it for a bit, and it watches me right back.  We arrive at our camping destination at Lava Spring by the evening, and we’re both feeling pretty tired.  Almost all the campsites are full, and we’re forced to camp in a very cramped spot just off the trail.  We get water from the spring, which is flowing out of a bed of lava rocks, and eat dinner just as an enormous elk bull struts through camp.
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We leave camp in the morning and trek across more meadow, filled with huckleberries and sub-alpine fir trees.  Mount Adams is now behind us, fading away behind the hills.  Ahead, we can make out Mount Rainier in the hazy distance.  We follow a scree covered trail along a ridge for a while, head back into dense forest and then enter the Goat Rocks Wilderness.  We pass by a group of friendly bow hunters midday, and then stop at a small stream to have some lunch and make some coffee.  I take off my boots to relieve my feet, which are aching and have fresh blisters.  The boots are still stiff and not broken in yet, but I’ve only had them for a couple of days now.  I switch to wearing my old trail runners for a bit, and we hike onward.

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Early in the evening, we climb over a saddle into the Yakama Indian Tribal land.  There are stunning views of a deep canyon with Klickitat River flowing through and Gilbert Peak towering overhead.  We climb up a series of switchbacks, and crest at Cispus Peak, where All The Way comes up from behind and joins us for taking in the surrounding views.  We spend the rest of the evening snaking along the side of a steep mountainside, crossing over seasonal streams and flower filled alpine meadow.  We fill up on water at the icy Cispus River, and our fingers become numb from collecting water.  We hike on for another mile, and settle into a campsite perched on along a ridge.  We pitch the tent as the sun sets into the horizon, and I retire after dinner.
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View from Cispus Pass
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sunset at camp in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

 

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The morning is bitter with cold, and we quickly pack up and start moving.  It’s a bright, sunny day, but we’re walking in the shadow of the mountains and it’s unbearably chilly.  We climb rocky switchbacks, and encounter snow and panoramic views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams at the top of a ridge.  We take the Old Snowy Alternate route, climbing even further up until we’re staring down at the infamous Knife’s Edge, an epic walk following the crest of a narrow ridge.

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Mount Rainier
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Bear Bait takes the lead, walking along the Knife’s edge  It’s a steep trail, covered in loose scree that clanks under your feet like shards of glass.  I take it slow, gingerly placing my steps so as not to lose my footing and fall to my death.  We stop for a break behind some huge rocks, protected from the wind, and eat some food and admire the mountain scenery. 
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We keep going, descending rapidly into a lush valley with a creek.  My feet and knees are killing me, and Bear Bait races ahead.  I finally catch up to him at a trail junction, where we encounter a mule train being lead by a horse and its rider.  We stop briefly for a break, and I change out of my boots once again and into my shoes.
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We climb again, and the trail follows another ridge.  In the valley below, we spot a herd of mountain goats, grazing peacefully in a meadow.  We decide to push to White Pass, where we both have resupply boxes waiting for us at the store.  Our Yogi Guide suggests taking a side trail to a chairlift at a ski area, where we can take a shortcut down to the pass and shave some time off our journey.  It’s late in the afternoon, so we decide to take this route.  At the junction for the chairlift trail, I stop to have a wee behind a tree, and I notice that I’m peeing blood.  It’s painful, and I fear I may have a kidney stone.  I realize after some long thought, that I’ve likely taken too much ibuprofen over the course of the day.

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We take the side trail and it spits us out at a dirt road.  According to the notes, we should have a plain view of a chairlift, with the store in sight below.  The only problem is, there are several chair lifts and absolutely no view of the store, or let alone the pass.  We’re angry now, and the store is set to close within the hour.  We race around, trying to find the route, and decide to follow along the dirt road.  We come across a chairlift, where the area below it has been recently mowed, and can make out the highway below it.  We clamber down the steeply graded area, scraping up our legs in the process.  Once we have the view of the store, we speed ahead, getting there with only five minutes to spare.

 

 

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By the morning, I’m no longer peeing blood and feeling better.  We head up the highway and get back on the trail, late in the morning.  I’m avoiding taking ibuprofen now, but my body is a wreck with aches and pains.

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We do a bit of climbing through the woods, and encounter several people on horseback along the way.  We plan on making camp next to a stream about 12 miles in, but once we arrive it’s full of equestrians.  We move on, finding a camp among the trees a couple of miles further, next to Bumping Creek.  Its infested with mosquitoes here, so we quickly set up and then retreat into our tents for the night.
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We ford the creek first thing in the morning, and its icy waters numbs our feet.  Bear Bait is struggling today; his feet and heal are giving him a great deal of pain.  We take it slow, but still manage to make decent mileage.  We reach the Mount Rainier National Park Boundary by mid morning.
The day is much cooler than the previous, with a light breeze making us layer up under wool long underwear.  The scenery surrounding us is beautiful, with the trail skirting Mount Rainier and crossing alpine meadows. 
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We descend to Chinook Pass and Highway 410, where there’s a parking lot and outhouses.  We make use of the toilets, and hope that one of the tourists will grace us with some trail magic.  They all seem preoccupied though, and we go unnoticed.  From the parking lot, the trail climbs back into the hills.  We decide to make camp at Sheep Lake, after a somewhat short day.
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It rains through the night, and when I wake up in the morning, I’m laying in a puddle of water.  The tent is soaked through, but thankfully my gear made it without getting damp.  It had been a rough night, with a large group of hikers staying up late and partying in the nearby campsite.  That, coupled with the driving rain, had kept me up for a good chunk of the night.  We quickly pack up and head out, hoping to make it to the Urich Cabin before it gets too cramped with people.
It’s a miserable day: powerful winds blowing the rain in sideways.  It’s terribly cold, and hard to function.  We’re both shivering from the cold, and can’t seem to get warm no matter how fast we hike.  We stop for water and a quick break at a spring, and one of the hikers from the party crowd catches up to us.  He says they’re headed to the cabin as well, and Bear Bait and I give each other a look of “oh shit.”  They were bothersome enough from the next camp over, and we’re pretty convinced it’s only going to be worse inside a small cabin.
By the afternoon, we’re both stiff from the cold and incredibly tired.  We decide against the cabin, as the rest of the party crowd has passed us.  We find a campsite in the trees next to a creek, set up the tents and crawl inside for the remainder of the evening. 
By morning, the storm had passed and the sun was shining once again
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We gain significant elevation in the afternoon, stopping for lunch on a hillside and letting the tents dry out in the sunshine.  I’m suffering from severe PMS, with painful cramps, lower back pain and a dull headache adding to all my other aches.  We cross several dirt roads and pass a clear-cut area, and then start to descend into the forest again.
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The party crowd catches up to us, and we ask where they plan on camping so we don’t end up in the same place as them.  As expected, they are going to the same spot we had planned.  We cut our day short, and settle on a spot in the woods next to a trail junction for a creek.  We meet another hiker there from Tasmania, who goes by the fitting name of Taz.  I pitch my tent in a lumpy, awkward spot, and then go to bed early to try to sleep off my period pains.

 

 

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It’s another dreary morning, with sporadic rainstorms throughout.  The forest is thick and green, and the recent rains have made it a mushroom lover’s paradise.  We push on through the woods into the afternoon, and I come to a sign with my name on it at a dirt road crossing: it’s a crudely drawn map with the PCT and the dirt road, directing me to follow the road to a camp.  It’s from my old neighborhood friends Pickles and Davie, who are staying at an elk hunting camp down the road.  I take Bear Bait along with me, and call out for my friends just outside the camp.  They give me hugs, and spoil me with beer, hot coffee and pulled pork sandwiches.  There are other familiar faces there too, people I’d known from my childhood.  After we chill for a while, we press onward.
The weather changes again for the worst by the evening, and we make camp after a 20 mile day at Mirror Lake.

 

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(photo: resupply boxes at the Chevron at Snoqualmie Pass)   I get up early the next day, eager to get to Snoqualmie Pass.  The trail climbs a bit away from the lake, and then begins a long, slow descent towards the freeway and pass.  I cruise ahead of Bear Bait and haul down the trail, cutting down the ski lifts to meet a familiar, loving face.
My family has come to collect me, and I head into my home town for the rest of the day where I’m pampered with cheeseburgers, a hot soak in the bath, fresh laundry and puppy kisses.  It feels so good to be home!  But I know I shouldn’t get to comfortable, and head back to Snoqualmie Pass in the evening to continue my hike north to Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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