PCT SOBO Journal: White Pass to Cascade Locks

In this 150 mile section of Washington, we tackle the Knife’s Edge in Goat Rocks Wilderness, battle more hoards of mosquitoes, get some unexpected trail magic, and start hitting the Northbounders head on.

Hey everyone! Just a quick update on the hike and the fundraiser:

I’m doing well on trail, with no injuries to report and I’m keeping a positive attitude. I’m really crushing the miles and I’m happy with my gear choices so far. As far as the blog goes, thanks for your patience. It’s difficult keeping it up at times because I have to do it my phone. Formatting and editing are a challenge, so sometimes spelling and other errors slip through.

My campaign is going well, and I’ve raised over $1600 so far for suicide prevention with AFSP National. Please consider donating to my cause by clicking the link below:

https://afsp.donordrive.com/campaign/Hiking-for-Hope-and-Healing

Day 21: White Pass to Goat Rocks Meadow, via the Knife’s Edge, 20 miles

I’ve been brutally attacked; the mosquitoes from the day before munched on my legs all day, something that I apparently had failed to realize. When I wake up in my bunk in the ski lodge at White Pass, my poor legs are swollen, sore and unbearably itchy. Not only is there large red bumps covering my skin, but there’s small half moon bruises surrounding some of said bumps. And when I go into the bathroom, I discover the worst of it: it’s covering my butt too.

What kind of sick, vicious monsters are we dealing with here?

I eat a cold slice of pizza for breakfast, trying to keep the whimpers of misery to myself. Chance brews up some strong coffee, and we try to get the explosion of hiking gear that’s all over the room in order.

After lingering around the Kracker Barrel store for a bit, we finally head back to the trail. We start climbing almost immediately, and the mosquitoes and blackflies take notice. No rest for the weary in these woods, you’ll be eaten alive.

Midday brings full exposure to the sun, and a climb up a scree covered trail and into the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Mount Rainier makes an appearance, peeking her face over the ridgeline. We stop for a long break at a creek flowing across the trail; it’s a mental preparation for what’s just ahead, the infamous Knife’s Edge of the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

The ascent meanders, at first, through lush meadow dotted with fluffy white Pasqueflowers, lupine and columbine. We then head into the snowy hills, occasionally crossing a glacier or two. Once we begin our traverse of the Knife’s Edge, a narrow and rocky ridge path that takes us high above subalpine meadows and valleys, a powerful wind picks up and we are careful to maintain good footing. From The Edge, we have epic mountain views, with Rainier to the north, and Adams and St. Helens making a scenic show to the south.

We have a brief rest near the trail junction for Old Snowy, where Cheesy Puff spots a herd of mountain goats grazing just below us. I stuff a Clif Bar and some gummy bears down while taking in the views, and then we push on in hope of finding a campsite within the next few miles.

We’re all thoroughly spent after the miles of massive climbing we just accomplished, yet camping doesn’t come easily. The weekend warriors are out in large numbers, and in addition to all the thru-hikers, there isn’t much space left for these weary three. The mosquitoes come back with an insatiable appetite just as we’re already teetering on the cusp of insanity, and we eventually settle on a slanted clearing hidden within some alpine trees. We dash into our shelters before the swarms can begin feasting, and I eat my dinner from the comfort of my sleeping bag.

Day 22: Goat Rocks Meadow to Watermelon Meadow, 21 miles

I wake up unusually late, and by that, I mean 5:30 a.m. Chance is just beginning to rustle around inside of his tent, and Cheesy Puff is still passed out. After all of our morning rituals are complete, we start hiking, with Mount Adams on full display ahead of us.

The morning is bright and beautiful, with wildflowers swaying in the welcome breeze as we begin our climb up to Cispus Pass. It’s an easy enough ascent, taking us gradually up and along the side of a snowy peak.

We take a few minutes to rest at the top of the pass, gazing out over the river valley below and the rolling hills ahead. It’s a lovely moment, however, that soon fades once we begin our descent.

Once we start losing elevation and drop back into the woods, the mosquitoes and blackflies become unbearable. It’s hard to stop even for a minute before getting completely swarmed. We stop for water a couple of times and are eaten alive. And after several hours of hiking through the heat, we nearly collapse from exhaustion at a creek to have our lunch. Again, we’re viciously attacked. We’re literally losing our minds from these motherf*cking bugs.

The trail takes us slowly down through more forest, and I’m so mentally and physically drained that I want to cry. I’m covered in bites, have a heat rash on my chest, and my feet are throbbing. We settle into a campsite in a meadow, and group morale is at an all time low. Chance has barely spoken a word all day, and he quietly pitches his tent and disappears inside for the night.

I give myself a bit of a sponge bath at the nearby creek, then go about eating my cold soaked red beans and rice. Just as I’m about to give up on life completely and cry into my dinner, a trail angel named Roger appears, with the most beautiful, uplifting thing imaginable: a fresh cut watermelon, served up on the lid of a bear canister. I can hardly believe it, and Cheesy Puff and I wolf it down as soon as it’s dangled in front of us.

I feel so lucky, having been in the right place at the right time. After such a brutally awful day, the trail actually provided. And I can fall asleep with a smile on my face once again.

Day 23: Through the Mount Adams Wilderness, 24 miles

The day begins on a better note than where we had left it. The bugs seem to be sleeping in, and we break camp in peace. The trail welcomes us with dewy meadows and cheery flowers, and stunning views of a snow capped Mount Adams.

By lunchtime, the day is scorching hot. Despite the force of the sun, the mosquitoes are still chasing us, although they’re not as bad as before. After crossing a silty river and lava field, we enter a stretch of burned out forest, where we’re exposed to the afternoon high sun. The skeletal trees are curled over, shaped by past wind storms and clawing at the trail like long, thin fingers.

We stop for a quick break among the ash and charred wood, and there’s no escaping the blistering heat. We fill up on water from a low flowing spring below the trail, but the blackflies keep us from enjoying ourselves too much.

When the evening approaches, we descend into shady, dense forest and welcome the escape from the heat. The blackflies, however, can only be described as atrocious. By the end of the day, I feel as though I’m hobbling the last few miles into camp. We’ve had very few breaks again because of the bugs, and my feet and legs are feeling it. I waste no time once I make it to camp, and throw my shelter up, eat a quick dinner, then go straight to bed.

Day 24: Hiker Hunger Strikes, 25 miles

I’m dangerously low on food, as is Chance and Cheesy Puff. Somewhere, along this stretch of the PCT, our hiker hunger struck with a deep, insatiable vengeance. In the few hundred miles leading up to this point, I could easily pack out a small bag of candies and allow that to last me at least five days. Now, I plow through the entire bag like it’s nothing. I’m ravenous. The only food I have remaining is Clif Bars and a few dinners to cold soak. All hope is lost.

Shit.

And then, a miracle. Only a few miles in from where we camped, we cross a dirt road where there’s several cars parked, tents pitched, and picnic tables overflowing with food. It’s early yet, but a man is up and making coffee in a percolator. He waves us over, and wakes up the rest of his camp mates.

“Wake up, there’s thru-hikers here. You don’t want to miss them!”

The man’s wife and friend emerge, and without hesitation, they begin preparing breakfast. He offers us snacks, fresh coffee, sodas, fruit and beer. We’re left a bit stunned and delirious, but dig into the food and stuff ourselves. They give us snacks to take with us, as well as a beer. They’ve saved us from the fresh hell of being snackless and in caloric deficit. Hallelujah!

It’s difficult to tear ourselves away from the comforts of camp chairs, real coffee, and human conversations that don’t revolve around food and bowel movements, yet we somehow manage. They give us one last parting gift: a beautiful family size bag of potato chips.

The rest of the day is spent walking through more dull forest, where slimy mosquito ponds are around every corner. After 22 miles, I’m feeling drained from the heat and the absence of tread on my now 800 mile old Altras. We find a pond with a potential campsite, but upon inspection, we’re attacked by more bloodthirsty mosquitoes.

We push on to Blue Lake, where the weekend warriors are out in full force and taking up all the designated sites. They have so much stuff, it’s borderline madness. They eye us as we approach, with an expression of distaste that says ‘there’s no way you’re camping with us.’

We head up into the woods above the lake, hoping to stealth camp. But there’s weekenders there too, with all their things scattered about. We’re tired and grumpy, and Cheesy Puff insists they make room for us. They do with some hesitation, but we’ve already claimed a bit of flat ground and are sitting in a circle, drinking our gifted beers and voraciously eating the potato chips. Negotiations are over.

The group is bothersome through the night; staying up late, starting an illegal campfire and yelling over one another. I pop in my earbuds to drown out their frat boy behavior, but Cheesy Puff is having none of it and kindly tells them to shut the hell up.

Day 25: Blue Lake to Panther Creek, 23 miles

very hot day, piped spring, lunch at other spring, winding dusty trail, lots of northbounders, camp near panther creek

The morning is cool, and the turquoise waters of the lake are still. We pack up, giving our Tyvek sheets an extra good shake to let our obnoxious neighbors know we’re on our way out.

We see loads of Northbounders nearly all day; deeply tanned, filthy and shredded clothing, light packs and thousand yard stares. The trail is dusty today, with limited water sources along the way. We stop briefly at a piped spring stuck in the hillside, but thirsty hornets make it impossible to relax. We take our lunch instead at the next spring, a low trickling seep from the ground, and chat with a NOBO about his hike.

The trail winds through forest, which offers no escape from the day’s heat wave. It’s nearly unbearable to walk in, and we’re choking on the dust being kicked up as we travel.

For miles we descend down towards Panther Creek, our knees and feet aching and swollen. The clear water of the creek is too delicious to pass up, and we make it our destination for the night, cramming into a small space just upstream. Our space is lush and green, like a jungle, with the old growth trees dripping with moss and vines. After we make camp, we head down to the beach below the footbridge of the creek and have a dip. I scrub my legs and feet, freeing them of the grime buildup of a few days on trail.

I retire to my tent, enjoying the rushing sound of the creek, and feeling fresh and clean for the first time since White Pass.

Day 26: Panther Creek to Roadside Camp, 21 miles

Another hot and uncomfortable day, and my creek bath is null after only a few minutes on the trail. There’s a noticeable haze in the air today: smoke from wildfires in Oregon, as well as some new fires in northern Washington that has the PCT closed near Stehekin. We made it through just in time, but what’s in store for us ahead?

We cross through a few fields, resembling prairies and complete with a teepee in one of them. We’re then plunged back into rainforest like territory, climbing back into the hills on a slow graded trail. What an oddly beautiful corner of the world this place is.

We have lunch beside a creek, where I enjoy a boulder that is curved perfectly to cradle my bum. Hoards of horse flies harass as we eat, but we manage to escape without any bites, and also murder a few too.

After lunch, we begin a long, tedious climb through forest. We cross a couple of streams, but don’t get any water as Guthooks tells us there’s water at the top of the climb. I quickly drain my liter of water, as does Cheesy Puff. The exhaustion of climbing and the heat has us parched, but thankfully Chance saves us with an extra liter. As we near the top, we realize that the spring mentioned in Guthooks could be dry. We ask some passing NOBO hikers for any information, but they weren’t looking for water and haven’t any idea if the spring is flowing.

We find a spur trail for the spring near the crest of the ridge, ditch our packs, and head down with our water bottles in search of aqua. After a quarter of a mile, we find the spring: a mucky puddle beneath a busted pipe, little flow and a crumbling stock tank. We do the best we can to gather water, filtering around three liters of brown swamp water each.

We hike on a few more miles, settling into a campsite beside an old, little used dirt road. We share the spot with some fellow SOBO hikers, with some NOBO’s rolling in as it was getting dark.

Day 27: Roadside Camp to Cascade Locks, 13 miles

The three of us wake up exceptionally early, before first light, putting in the first few miles by the light of our headlamps. We’re hustling into Cascade Locks today, and putting Washington State in our rearview mirror. Chance’s girlfriend, Breaks, is going to pick us up and host us in Portland for two days, and I couldn’t be more excited.

The sun comes up as we’re trekking through the forest, and I hardly notice. We descend through the morning, passing some early morning day hikers out with their dogs. We stop only for a moment to collect water from a creek, then push on.

The trail leaves the forest the closer we get to civilization, and I can hear and smell the different levels of pollution I’m nearing. Suddenly, the trail ends and I’m face to face with the rush of morning commuters speeding up the highway. I wait for the other two, and we make our way to the Bridge of the Gods.

I peer down through the metal grates of the bridge as we cross, cars and delivery trucks whizzing past us. The Columbia River is far below us, and delighting us with a cool wind as we go. It’s a rite of passage for every thru-hiker, whether your northbound or south, and its both intimidating and exhilarating. We pause for a moment at the Welcome to Oregon sign, and then leave Washington behind.

In Cascade Locks, we go to a diner to wait for Breaks to pick us up, and we stuff biscuits and gravy with hashbrowns and fresh coffee into our faces. The waitress jokes that she’s never seen food disappear so fast. It’s glorious.

Breaks comes to collect us, along with her adorable pup Fiona, and whisks us away to Portland where we spoil ourselves with tacos, beer and most importantly, a much needed shower.

It’s pure bliss.

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2 Comments

  1. Edward Anderson

    I was rejoicing with you as you described getting into Oregon, and taking 2 days off. And How cool for the campers sharing all of their food at such an opportune time. Can’t wait to read more as you go thru Oregon.

    Like

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