When I woke up this morning, the first thought to enter my head was the date: July 21. This was a significant day for me because Kim and I were married on this day forty years ago.
We weren’t together today to share our anniversary and that made me feel a little melancholy.
|Date||Sunday, July 21, 2019|
|Weather||Clear skies; breezy in the morning but quickly becoming calm, high temperature in mid 60s|
|Trail Conditions||Mostly smooth path with steep sections, long section of burnt forest |
To be clear, I remained happy to be on the trail, but I also missed my wife.
Mostly, my spirits were a little low because I wished I could talk to her and hear her voice. I wanted to wish her “happy anniversary” and tell her I loved her.
The morning began with a slight breeze, but it could have been windier if we had been in a more exposed location. Our campsite was protected because Green Pass was a saddle in a ridge formed by Blowout Mountain. The pass was roughly 1,000 feet below the mountain’s peak and less exposed than other parts of the ridge.
As I left this morning I noticed the forest in the distance looked “patchy.” All over were timbered areas in various stages of growth.
The wind quickly died down shortly after I began walking.
Within 30 minutes, Mt. Rainier came into view again. As with yesterday, the sky was clear and the massive white mountaintop was a dazzling view.
I passed a sign identifying the trail as Trail 2000. I hadn’t seen many of these, though Trail 2000 is in fact the Pacific Crest Trail.
Before the signing of the National Scenic Trails Act in 1968, the PCT was an unofficial attempt to string together previously established trails. The U.S. Forest Service used a numbering system for all of the trails it was responsible for. When the PCT was included as an official National Scenic Trail under the act, the Forest Service designated it as Trail 2000.
Similarly, the Appalachian Trail is designated as Trail 1000, but I don’t remember seeing any signs to identify it that way. That is probably because by 1968, the AT was well-established and consistently marked with white blazes.
Now more than 50 years later, the PCT still doesn’t have a consistent use of markers or signs. Though I don’t know this for fact, it seems there are some parts of the trail where you can walk for days without seeing a marker of any kind.
When I stopped to collect some water and eat breakfast, I met a NOBO hiker. We swapped details about the trail ahead.
Shortly after I began hiking again, I met another NOBO hiker and he instantly recognized me. I confessed my memory of him was a little fuzzy, though when he told me his name, Ratatouille, I remembered meeting him. I just couldn’t place where.
It turned out that Ratatouille’s memory wasn’t necessarily much better than mine. He had met Ralph on the trail, who had asked him to pass a message to me, so he knew I was ahead on the trail.
Ralph wanted me to know where I should expect to find him, which would be later today.
Ratatouille helped me remember where I met him when he pulled out his phone and showed me a photo. It showed our campsite in the desert on my Day 5. Ratatouille remembered I was with the Woohoo Crew. That night while we were together eating dinner, Hootenanny took his trail name.
The trail continued an up-and-down path along the top of a ridge before crossing a large area still recovering from a 1988 forest fire. A large sign was posted there a year later as part of a Boy Scout Eagle project and it described the fire, which was known as the Falls Creek Fire.
According to the sign, the fire was started by loggers. It burned for several days and more than 3,000 acres burned before fire crews and prison inmates could bring it under control.
From there, the trail descended back into unscarred forest. The footpath remained smooth and easy to walk the whole day.
When the trail made another climb along the ridge, I got one more spectacular view of Mt. Rainier. The sky was still cloudless.
The trail descended once again into the forest. This time, I saw another NOBO hiker I had met in the desert. It was Dan, whom I met on my first day on the PCT. We continued to see each other several times in the desert.
I remembered him instantly when I saw him and told him my best memory was how he had a knack for finding a shady spot to take a break.
Dan lives in the Seattle area. Similar to what I did, he went home for a few weeks because of the snow in the Sierra and Oregon.
After saying goodbye to Dan, I continued to walk another mile or so to a large grassy meadow called Government Meadows. This location has been a popular stopping point for centuries, starting with Native Americans using the Naches Pass Trail as a trade and hunting route.
The Longmire family rested their oxen here for two days in 1853 during their long and arduous trip from Indiana to the Puget Sound. The route they took was so difficult that few other westward pioneers attempted it.
Government Meadows is now a popular stop for hikers in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service says it’s one of the most popular snowmobiling destinations in Western Washington.
Naches Pass was at the opposite end of the meadow, but the trail didn’t cross to it. Instead, it stayed at the edge under a canopy of trees.
A cabin stood near the trail. It was constructed in 1992 with the help of snowmobile club members to replace an older cabin. It was named to honor Mike Urich, a forest worker who served in the area in the 1940s and 1950s.
I only stopped here briefly because I knew Ralph would be waiting for me up the trail. I topped off by water bottle at a stream just beyond the cabin and then kept walking.
The trail began a long and gentle climb and entered Norse Peak Wilderness Area. Within a few miles, I began to notice all of the trees looked brown, with only a few hints of green on higher branches. The bottom part of their trunks showed black scars of fire.
A tenth of a mile farther, the damage was much worse. Every tree was dead and as black as charcoal. The only signs of life to be seen were small clumps of weeds and moss.
The trail was entering a large area that was severely burned in the Norse Peak fire of late 2017. Because of its remote location within the wilderness area, firefighters had difficulty containing it, and it merged with another fire.
Before the massive fire was finally contained it had consumed nearly 56,000 acres. That was more than 18 times the size of the Falls Creek Fire.
Everywhere I looked was black and brown, except where a small stream flowed near the trail. Here, a variety of wildflowers thrived in bright sunshine. More notably, however, was the smell. The entire forest smelled like a campfire that had just been doused.
A few hundred yards past the stream, I found Ralph relaxing in the shade of a large, dead tree. He was sitting on one of the few spots he could find that wasn’t blackened by the fire.
Ralph had parked his truck yesterday at Chinook Pass, then hiked about 11 miles to a campsite he found just off the trail. He said the spot was protected from the wind and wasn’t covered in ash and charcoal. That sounded good to me, so we decided to go there to camp.
The trail continued to be easy for most of the way. Though the trail was still in the burn area, I was now seeing large clumps of lupine. Some clumps were dotted by columbine flowers. They were obviously thriving in these conditions.
Mt. Rainier came into view again late in the day. It was now a little less than 20 miles away and I noticed a few clouds were beginning to collect around it.
The trail became a little more rugged as it followed the contours of a ridge. It seemed we had walked out of the burn area, but that wasn't the case.
Soon, the trail re-entered an area of complete fire devastation.
For a while, the only green we saw was in a small meadow the trail crossed.
The trail then made a turn on the ridge and as I looked across a valley I had a hunch I could get a cell signal here. I was right, it was strong enough to make a call, but I didn’t dare move from the spot for fear of losing it.
I got to do what I had been thinking about all day long. I called Kim to wish her “happy anniversary.” We talked for several minutes.
When we finished our call and I caught up to Ralph, he was waiting patiently at the side of the trail near a gap in the ridge. He knew I would have walked by the campsite because it was not viewable from the trail.
The site he found was on a ledge. Though it was surrounded by dead trees, the spot was grassy and open. We would be protected from the wind and safe from the risk of falling trees. We also wouldn't be covered in black soot or feel we were camping in an ash tray.
The area provided plenty of room for our two tents, but we still took care for where we pitched them. There were many lupines blooming here and because we wanted to follow Leave No Trace principles, we tried to avoid trampling them.
Though I had started the day a little out of sorts, it turned out to be a good one. Of course, the best part was talking to Kim when i didn’t expect I would be able to call her.
There were other reasons earlier that also made today enjoyable. The weather was wonderful, there were some good views, and I got to see some friends I met during the first days of my hike.
And to put a fitting end to the day, our anniversary day, my campsite was surrounded in purple flowers, Kim’s favorite color.
I was missing Kim, but also I felt content to be on the trail. I could comfortably feel that way because I have a lifelong partner who wants me to be happy, just as I want her to be happy. We both like to laugh, and that helps a lot.
On our wedding day forty years ago today, one of Kim’s relatives let slip that he didn’t think our marriage would last. Each year on this day we have a nice chuckle over that.
One blue star sets on the hill
Call it back you never will
One more star sinks in the past
Show me something built to last
Built to last till time itself falls tumbling from the wall
From “Built to Last” by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead)
Built to last till sunshine fails and darkness moves on all
Built to last while years roll past like cloudscapes in the sky
Show me something built to last or something built to try