Ralph viewing North Cascade Mountains

Now is the test of the boomerang

Day 55, Hart's Pass to Tentsite at Mile 2633.5

Sunday, June 30, 2019

After sitting and waiting and viewing the online snow gauge at Hart’s Pass countless numbers of times, the day finally came for me to return to the Pacific Crest Trail.

My wife Kim and I had flown to Washington, and after visiting family, a few tourist spots in the Seattle area, several breweries and a winery, we spent last night in Winthrop.

We met my friend Ralph there, and today he was joining me for much of my hiking over the next 25 days.

Weather Partly sunny with a high temperature in the mid 50s; becoming cloudy with a late afternoon thunderstorm
Trail Conditions A few, small patches of snow, otherwise most dry and easy
Today's Miles 9.8 miles
Trip Miles 713.2 miles

For the next couple days, we will hike north from Hart’s Pass about 30 miles to the Canadian border. The pass is the trailhead that is closest to the border. Then after walking there and touching a marker, we'll begin walking back south on the same trail.

Northbound hikers who have secured a permit are allowed to enter Canada at the border, but that’s not practical for those of us intending to walk southbound. It’s not legal to enter the U.S. from Canada via the trail and driving back to Hart’s Pass from Canada would take too much time.

It’s worth noting here that the mile markers I will be using for the rest of my hike are all based on distances from the Mexican border. I decided to do this for consistency.

At this point, I’m thinking of flipping again at some point back to Kennedy Meadows and might hike again northbound, so that’s another reason for using northbound mileage.

In the count of total miles I give each day, I am including the extra 1.2 miles I walked in the detour of Mount Baden-Powell and the endangered frog closure. I will also include the miles to and from the border, as those are all PCT miles, but I won’t include side trails or such when I leave the trail for resupply.

Gravity and Polecat (Ralph)

Kim and I met Ralph for breakfast this morning in Winthrop, then drove to Mazama, a small village where the road to Hart’s Pass begins.

When I planned for returning to the trail, I was curious about the condition of this road and found a YouTube video of someone driving up to the pass. As soon as I saw the winding road was one lane, gravel, and had no guardrails, I knew Kim would not want to drive back down after dropping me off.

I was grateful, then, that Ralph said he would drive to Washington. He would be able to drive us up to the pass.

Ralph and I said goodbye to Kim and began the drive at 9 a.m.

Driving to Hart's Pass

The drive up to Hart’s Pass was the same as it appeared in the video. Ralph handled it with no problem, but seeing the road confirmed for me that Kim would have been terrified to drive it on her own, especially in a rental car.

Ranger cabin and hiker registry at Hart's Pass

When we reach Hart’s Pass we talked to Broken Toe, an AT and repeat PCT hiker who was helping hikers and providing some trail magic.

We signed a hiker register that was posted near a ranger cabin. Many SOBO hikers, plus a few flip-floppers like me, had signed the register in the last day or two.

We elected to park at a hiker parking area less than a mile farther up the trail. When we hike back this way, Ralph will get off the trail, then drive to Rainy Pass, where he’ll meet me again.

Ralph with Jim from Huntsville

We had only walked about 30 minutes when we met a hiker named Jim. He said he was from Huntsville, Ala., which is where Ralph grew up. They had lots to talk about, but eventually, I was able to coax them into walking again.

Jim wasn’t able to keep up with us for long, but the trail wasn’t easy for someone just beginning a hike.

Trail on ridge slope

The trail in the northern half of Washington, roughly between Snoqualmie Pass and the Canadian border, covers more elevation change than the Sierra Nevada, from Kennedy Meadows north to Tuolomne Meadows.

Once I tag the border and begin hiking south, it will take me a little over two weeks to walk the 240 miles to Snoqualmie Pass. In that distance, I will have to walk up 57,000 feet and down 57,000 feet in elevation.

Ralph stops to take a photo

The scenery was spectacular and we had to stop several times to take photos. The sky was gradually becoming cloudier.

Because today was a Sunday, we saw many day hikers, along with a few SOBOs who had already tagged the monument at the border.

Small patch of snow on the trail

There were a couple of small patches of snow on the trail, but none posed any danger or difficulty.

I joked to Ralph about waiting all that time for the snow to melt and being fooled into thinking it was now gone. I didn’t mind this kind of snow, really. I was only trying to avoid walking for days and weeks over snow.

Ralph on a switchback

We stopped near a stream for lunch at 12:30 p.m. and Ralph worked on a "hot spot” on one of his feet. He’s an experienced backpacker and knew if he didn’t take care of it as soon as possible, it would become a painful blister.

View of a glacial valley

The trail always followed along the side of mountain ridges, never across the top. For much of the way, the ridge was on the side of a wide and deep glacial valley.

Crossing another small patch of snow

Later in the afternoon, the sound of thunder rumbled across the ridges and valleys.

Looking at flowers on the PCT

We stopped so Ralph could put the rain cover on his pack, but rain didn’t fall and we didn’t need to put on our rain jackets.

lobeleaf groundsel

Though the terrain was obviously different than what I had seen in the desert, one thing remained the same and that was an abundance of wildflowers. Up here, their peak season is right after the snow melts.

Everywhere we looked we saw the bright yellow of the lobeleaf groundsel, a member of the aster family.

Indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush flowers were also a common sight. They are most often a bright red, but the ones I was seeing here were coral in color.

Descending trail into trees

Late in the afternoon, the trail dropped to Foggy Pass, then continued with a more gradual descent.

The sky was getting darker and it seemed that a storm was building, but we were uncertain which direction it was heading.

Shaw Creek

After crossing Shaw Creek, we came to a campsite. It was large enough for us and a few other hikers if they should decide to stop here, but wasn't an ideal spot to camp. The spaces that were clear enough for tents were all sloped slightly.

While trying to figure out where the storm was heading, we also looked for other camping options. We discovered the next site was a little more than an hour away, so we chose to stay where we were.

Tent in camp

At 4:25 p.m., this was an early time to set up tents, especially when we had a late start this morning. With iffy weather, however, it seemed like the right thing to do.

Several more hikers arrived soon afterward, so at least we had already taken the best spots for our tents.

BRS Outdoor BRS-3000T stove

A light rain fell as I was about to prepare dinner.

I brought with me a different stove than I carried in the desert because I was looking for ways to shave a few ounces here and there in my pack. The stove was a BRS Outdoor BRS-3000T, weighing only 25 grams.

I had only tested it briefly on my patio before coming to Washington. That turned out to be a mistake.

Perhaps I was in a hurry because of the weather, but I didn’t notice how hot the flame was getting. It was so hot the pot supports began to glow bright red. This caused the supports to bend and the pot of hot water to spill.

When rain started falling again, I collected my dinner and took it into my tent.

It was an early end to my first day back on the trail.

I have already hiked 54 days on the PCT, but to no surprise, the experiences for the rest of my hike are going to be different in many ways.

Flipping my hike from the desert to Washington thrust me into a completely new environment. From an arid, wide-open landscape, I am now hiking in a terrain that is wetter, more mountainous, and much more green.

One big benefit from this is I no longer have the allergic effects I had while walking in the desert. The cough and runny nose I developed there cleared immediately when I boarded a plane to fly home.

Another significant difference is I am no longer hiking in a large tramily. It’s good to be hiking with a friend, though, and of course, I expect to make new friends.

When I started hiking from the Mexican border, I was a little apprehensive about my ability to complete the PCT. I wasn’t sure then if I was up to the demands of another long-distance hike.

Obviously, I had been successful hiking the Appalachian Trail two years ago, but that hike took a lot out of me. This trail was considerably longer. I will have to push myself through the same physical and emotional challenges I had before, but now while hiking more miles per day.

By the time I finished the desert section, I felt stronger and more confident. Though intangible, this feeling is the most significant difference for my hike as I attempt to complete the rest of the trail.

Now is the time past believing
The child has relinquished the reign
Now is the test of the boomerang
Tossed in the night of redeeming

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