In this 100 mile stretch, we battle the extreme heat and mosquitoes, eat an on trail Thanksgiving dinner, hike through Mount Rainier National Park, and complete our first 30 plus mile day.
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Thanks to everyone who has donated so far!
Day 17: Snoqualmie Pass to Deep Woods Campsite
On our way back up to Snoqualmie Pass from my family’s home down in the valley, the three of us grab a drive through breakfast from McDonald’s and chow down. After I finish off my bacon biscuit and deep fried hashbrown puck, I feel instant regret as my gut swells. It seems as though I’ll be hiking with a bloated belly for the day. Ugh.
Chance, Cheesy Puff and I get a late start out of the pass, hitting the trail sometime after 9 a.m. We climb our way back up into the mountains, crossing beneath ski lifts and following a path lined with fiery orange Indian Paintbrush.
We enter the shade of the forest again, dodging crowds of day hikers and weekend warrior types. We stop for lunch at Mirror Lake, where the shores are lined with campers with impressively large tents.
We cross several gravel roads throughout the day, where Jeeps and large pickup trucks go speeding by and kick up clouds of suffocating dust. Gunshots can be heard from every direction. They’re only target shooters, but I feel uneasy.
We descend into a patch of dense and dark woods in the evening, and make camp in a tiny space that barely fits the three of us. We then have to make an additional quarter mile trek uphill to a spring to collect water, something that warrants much complaining from all parties involved. The spring is a shallow flow that we manage to slowly fill our bottles with from the ground seep, then we hobble back down to camp for dinner and some much needed sleep.
Day 18: “Trails-giving,” 21 miles
As usual, we break camp early and head out, stopping at the spring one last time to fill up on water. We spend the morning climbing through the forest, and occasionally crossing a forest service road where we catch clear views of Mount Rainier to the south.
We stop at a nice flowing spring, where we have lunch and fight off some mosquitoes and blackflies. After lunch, there’s more climbing, taking us into a new growth forest that’s exposed to the midday heat.
It’s been a rather uninspiring day as far as views go, a rare moment for Washington. We make camp in a meadow, our tents smashed together in the tiered spaces above a lovely little spring. For dinner, we have an amazing treat: instant mashed potatoes, stuffing, brown gravy and summer sausage, all rolled up in a tortilla for convenience. We call it Trails-giving, and I’m thankful for a lot, especially the fact that I’m not being stung by the multitude of hornets that are currently swarming by head.
Chance dies from exhaustion once we enter camp
Day 19: Hikers and Bears and Sheep, Oh My! 26 miles
The morning is cool and comfortable, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. As soon as the sun appears over the mountains, it floods the valleys with stifling heat.
The terrain is somewhat mild, and the forest canopy protects us from the brutal rays of the sun. All is well, until we are suddenly plunged into a terrible burn area. It’s a recent burn, from last year, and so otherworldly compared to when I came through here in 2016 on my NOBO thru-hike. I’m saddened and frustrated.
The forest is charred black, and we kick up ash from the scorched earth as walk. The smell of soot lingers in the air and fills my nose. We stop for only a moment at a small creek to fill up on water, and then try to quickly make our way out of the area.
We finally leave the burn behind when we cross a meadow, and we decide to stop for lunch near an icy spring. It’s such a stark contrast to what we had been in just a few minutes prior. We’re filthy, covered head to toe in ash and soot. We rinse the grime from ourselves in the spring, enjoying its coolness, and then find shaded refuge beneath a cluster of alpine trees. The blackflies don’t take long to find us, however, and thoroughly pester us during our lunch.
In the afternoon, we start to climb, inching our way closer to Mount Rainier. While high up on a ridge, a peer down into the valley below us and spot a large black lump staring up at us.
“Bear!” I shout, pointing down to the creature that is now bounding towards the trees. Cheesy Puff is especially excited, as she’s never seen a bear in the wild before. Rolling high on our awesome wildlife viewing, we head up and over a dusty ridge and then down towards our camp for the evening at Sheep Lake.
It’s been a long 26 mile day, and we’re all feeling it, both physically and mentally. We’re all completely knackered, and slightly sunkissed. After pitching our tents in probably the flattest spot I’ve camped in since starting the trail, we rush down to the lake and throw ourselves into its clear water. It feels so incredibly good, rinsing the sweat and filth from my tired and sore body. I scrub my hair, and then all of my clothes, washing away days worth of trail dirt and stink. It’s easy falling asleep that night, with such a refreshed and relaxed feeling, and the calls of coyotes echoing through the basin.
Day 20: Mosquito Madness, 31 miles
After packing things up, we hurry the first couple of miles down to the parking lot at Chinook Pass, eager to use the pit toilets that are there. If thru-hiking has made me appreciate any creature comfort on this earth, it’s a toilet and bountiful supply of toilet paper. After taking care of “business,” we cross the pedestrian bridge over the highway and head into Mount Rainier National Park.
While inside the park, we hike through green and lush alpine meadow, with Mount Rainier towering above us to the west. Her glaciers are a vivid and deep blue, and I can’t pull my sight away from her grandness.
Just as soon as we had entered the park, it seems we had exited just as quickly; not even a half day’s worth of hiking. We manage to get ten miles in before lunch, and take a lengthy break along the banks of Bumping Creek. I enjoy a Spam and cheese tortilla wrap, with gummy bears and crackers on the side.
By ther afternoon, we’ve entered more forest that’s teaming with small, slimy green ponds. This can only mean one thing, of course: mosquitoes, and it’s literally hell on earth. We can’t stop, not even for a moment to catch our breath, without being totally swarmed by the relentless bastards. We had planned on camping just a few miles short of White Pass, but once we reach that point, we make the rash decision to push on and escape these bloodthirsty fiends.
The Kracker Barrel Store at White Pass closes at 6, so we’re nearly running to get there in time. They offer pizza and beer, after all, and we all have resupply boxes to pick up as well.
We get to the highway, aching feet and knees and all, and we’re practically limping when we roll into the shop. Our friends Columbus and Blue Bear are there, and they pound wildly on the windows from inside as we drop our packs on the curb. Cheesy Puff orders two pizzas, and I grab some beer. I then head up to lodge and get us a small bunk room for the night; anything to get us away from those damn mosquitoes. We’ve earned it anyhow, having just completed our first 30 miler.
We spend the evening eating overpriced and greasy pizza, drinking beer, handwashing our laundry in the kitchenette sink, and the total highlight: a hot shower. It’s perfect, and there’s no swarms of tiny demons trying to eat us.