Day 13: Stevens Pass to Hyas Lake, 21 miles
After getting back to Stevens Pass rather early, the three of us begin our climb back up the PCT into the mountains. My belly is full of deliciously wonderful town food: cold pizza, watermelon and strong brewed coffee.
The incline is steady, and already too hot and buggy. We stop at about five miles in to fill up on water, and I eat the rest of my cold pizza while Chance chases his pack as it tumbles down a hill.
The day is sweltering hot, and I’m sticky and gross feeling already, despite having had a shower less than 24 hours ago. While crossing a scree field, I take a small spill and scrape my bad knee, the very one I’ve injured on two previous thru-hikes, and it becomes swollen and bloody. I scold myself for being so clumsy, and then fall again a bit further on just to make sure my knee is good and shattered. Why is it so difficult for me to keep my leg meat attached to my knee bone?
A blessing comes midday in the form of Deception Lake, and upon laying our eyes on its lovely turquoise water, we immediately strip down to our undies and jump in. We float and paddle about for a bit before being driven out by stalking horse flies, and then we’re on our way again.
We make camp near Hyas Lake, where the mosquitoes are just as atrocious as the rest of day. Some weekend warriors warn us of a difficult creek ford ahead, but I’m far too tired to even think that far into the future. I eat my dinner inside my tent to escape the little demon biters, and doze off as a group of deer wanders through the camp.
Day 14: Hyas Lake to Alpine Meadow Pond, 22 miles
The day begins with swarms of mosquitoes, and the claustrophobic feeling of a bug net hanging over my face as I desperately try to break camp at lightning speed. After only a couple of miles in, the three of us face the difficult creek ford that everyone has been going on about.
There’s quite the rumor mill on the trail on a daily basis, with hikers making overdramatic claims about this or that. However, this creek is living up to the insane hype that has been lingering on the tongues of all of our mates since leaving Stevens Pass. In fact, it’s downright raging with white water and I’m actually frightened to try and cross it. We decide to ford it as a team, with our arms interlocking and creating a human chain. I enter the water first, and it numbs me from the waist down. Chance latches onto my arm, with Lauren swinging around into the fierce rapids and grabbing onto a large boulder on the other side.
We safely make it across, but we’re certainly more aware of our own mortality now. We sit along the bank, soaking wet and cold, and giggling from the mild insanity that has set in after facing an icy death head on.
The trail winds us up between peaks and over Cathedral Pass, with mosquitoes chasing us along. Our breaks are short and unsatisfying, and we keep pushing into the midday heat.
We plan to camp around the 20 mile mark, but once we arrive to a site in a rather swampy looking meadow, we decide to keep trucking. Menacing horse flies are stalking my face, and we’re desperate for some reprieve from the insects. We continue for another two miles, making our way up an exposed ridgeline and into an alpine meadow dotted with small lakes. We manage to find two extremely small bivy sites, and squeeze our three shelters in. There will be little privacy tonight between us, with Lauren and I unable to close the vestibules of our tents since they’re crammed so close to one another.
I hide inside my tent as a cloud of mosquitoes move in. I am a hostage now, so I eat dinner and go to sleep inside my cozy little prison.
Day 15: Alpine Meadow Pond to Ridge Lake, 20 miles
A breeze has picked up in the morning and carried away some of the mosquitoes, allowing us to pack up with some comfort and avoid a complete mental breakdown.
The trail keeps us climbing for much of the day, through huckleberry meadows and over rough on the feet scree fields that are hugging the sides of tall peaks. As we round a corner near a small pond, wispy clouds are making their way over the hills and filling the valleys. We enter a wall of mist, and the air is suddenly cool with low visibility.
We stop for a break in a patch of trees and heather when Lauren’s hand suddenly swells up. Her unrequited love for cheese and swollen hand gains her an appropriate trail name: Cheesy Puff.
We reach the top of a saddle late in the afternoon and start a long descent towards our planned campsite at Ridge Lake. The weather has cleared up some, and now we can see lovely Mount Rainier rising up over the rest of the Cascade mountains.
The campsite at Ridge Lake is windy and a bit cold, and we hurry eating dinner so we can head to bed early. Snoqualmie Pass is just ahead, and it promises us a hearty pancake breakfast in the morning.
Day 16: Ridge Lake to Snoqualmie Pass, 7 miles
We wake up to a scene straight out of Monty Python’s Holy Grail: it’s completely socked in, the wind is howling across the saddle we’ve camped in and I’m seriously wondering if a killer bunny is going to suddenly rip my throat out.
We pack it up quickly and hit the trail running. We want pancakes, and all the other breakfast foods there are in the world. We hustle down switchbacks, across Kendall Katwalk and through dense forest. A rather sinewy hiker who calls himself Oh Lordie comes up quickly from behind and joins us in our last push to the pass.
The four of us arrive at the Chevron early, before the hustle and bustle of car tourists has made its way through, and Cheesy Puff gets her resupply box. We then march over to the Family Pancake House to thoroughly stuff ourselves with syrupy goodness, and fresh hot coffee.
Oh Lordie pushes on after breakfast, while Chance, Cheesy Puff and I make our way down into my hometown of Snoqualmie to enjoy a NERO. After a trip to REI and a taco run, we spend the rest of the day chilling on the front lawn of my family’s home.