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PCT 2019: Day 79, White Pass to Tentsite at Mile 2281.6

Since it costs a lot to win and even more to lose

Hike with Gravity

Mt. Rainier has dominated my views of the mountains for the last four days on the trail. It will remain in sight for a few more days, but as of today it will be in my rearview mirror.

There will be many more magnificent mountains to enjoy ahead, so I won’t be missing out in scenery.

Date
Weather Cloudy, becoming clear by afternoon; high temperature in the mid 60s
Trail Conditions Mostly smooth path with only a couple rocky sections; moderate elevation change
Today's Miles 13.8 miles
Trip Miles 1,108.0 miles

Ralph and I wanted to get an early start today, but we were hampered a little by the schedule kept by Packwood businesses.

The only full service restaurant in town didn’t open until 8 a.m. We didn’t want to wait that long, so we went to a coffee shop called Mountain Goat. It didn’t have much of a breakfast menu, but we were able to get enough to eat.

After a 25-minute drive from Packwood, we arrived back at White Pass at 8:45 a.m.

Ralph parked his truck at the Kracker Barrel after first checking with the cashier. From there we walked three-tenths of a mile down the highway to the trailhead.

A registration box was located at the trailhead. Free permits were required for backcountry camping in Goat Rocks Wilderness, which was where we were heading.

I already had my PCT permit. It is required for any hiker intending to walk 500 or more miles, but the U.S. Forest Service still asks thru-hikers to register for the Goat Rocks permit. This allows the agency to keep track of the number of hikers entering the area.

After following the trail a couple of miles, we entered Goat Rocks and began an easy ascent.

A few miles farther, the trail passed chairlifts on the slopes of Hogback Mountain. They were just outside the wilderness area and were part of the White Pass ski resort.

The trail continued to climb to within a few hundred feet of the summit.

Past Hogback’s peak, the trail followed a rugged ridge and past an igneous intrusion called Pigtail Peak.

It was not surprising then when I saw several rocks along the way that looked like Swiss cheese. The scoriaceous rocks were formed when magma or lava rose to the surface from a volcanic vent, then cooled and became solid. Pockets (vesicules) formed during the cooling as volcanic gases collected in the rock.

If it appears that I know what I am talking about, it should be understood that Ralph was the geologist among us, not me.

We were above 6,500 feet at this part of the trail. Below us was a deep, broad valley. We couldn’t see it, but the north fork of the Tieton River was in the valley. It flowed from a glacier near to top of Old Snowy Mountain in Goat Rocks.

The trail remained easy as we followed the long, steeply-sloped east side of the ridge, gradually climbing the entire distance before passing through a small gap to take a short stretch across the west side.

Looking back in the direction we had come from, I could see a small part of Mt. Rainier’s snow-capped summit extending just above the ridge.

Ahead lay more snowy peaks, all between six and seven miles away and part of Goat Rocks. The tallest of these was Gilbert Peak, which stood at 8,182 feet in elevation.

It was given that name in 1949 in honor of a Boy Scout leader from Yakima.

Where the trail briefly crossed to the west side of the ridge, I met a hiker named Moses. As we talked, I learned he was from Tazewell, a small town near where I lived. With this information we suddenly realized, though only with a foggy memory, that we briefly met in 2017 while on the Appalachian Trail.

A flip-flop hiker hiker named Firesox also passed me during this section.

A few minutes later, a couple of northbound hikers stopped and said, “Is that Gravity?” They told me their names were Jordan and Amber. By now, Ralph was well ahead of me because he hadn’t stopped to talk to Moses. He met Jordan and Amber a few minutes before me and told them I was trailing behind.

After taking in one last view of Mt. Rainier for the day, I followed the trail on a long descent from the ridge, where caught up with Ralph.

For the next 5.3 miles, the trail dropped nearly 2,000 feet and entered a burn area.

The burnt forest was the result of the Miriam Fire in 2018, which affected about 5,400 acres. It was started by a lightning strike.

During that fire, northbound hikers had to take a poorly-maintained alternate route through chocking smoking to reach White Pass.

On the descent, I saw Izzy again. She was still doing well after her feet problems a few days ago. Sadly, she told me Flawless was continuing to have trouble with her feet and decided to go back to Yakima.

Izzy didn’t say Flawless was quitting, but I wondered if that would be the outcome.

Once the trail reached the bottom of the descent, it crossed the first of two streams. I needed water by then, but I wasn’t thrilled about filtering from water populated by several frogs.

A northbound hiker had mentioned to Ralph and me that an injured hiker named Cheerio was stopped just up the trail. I had not met anyone with that trail name, but I had a hunch it was Six Pound.

When we saw a tent pitched just off the trail, we decided to check to make sure the hiker was okay. It was Six Pound, but she now had a different trail name because she had replaced her miserably-heavy tent with one that was much lighter.

Cheerio had hurt her knee and had been camped here since yesterday. She was taking the advice of friends to stay off the knee for a day. She told us she was feeling better and hoped to resume hiking tomorrow.

We tried to think of a way to help her, asking if she had enough food and water, and was taking ibuprofen. She remained cheerful, befitting her trail name, but her eyes revealed to me she worried she would have to end her hike.

Less than an hour later, Ralph and I met Firesox again. She was now camped with a hiker named Saunter and was nursing a sprained ankle. As with Cheerio, she was trying to think positively.

I’ve had enough ankle sprains to know they don’t have to be hike-ending and I wished her the best.

Ralph and I hiked about 30 more minutes before we found a flat campsite partway up a long climb. We were the only hikers there. The location would put us in good position to finish the climb to reach one of the most spectacular sections of trail, the Knife’s Edge.

After setting up our tents, we prepared our dinners. That’s when Ralph proved once again what a good friend he is. He reached into his food bag and pulled out a celebratory beer.

This would be his last night on the trail with me. Tomorrow he will hike the Knife’s Edge with me, then turn back to White Pass. He plans then to meet up with his wife and travel to Seattle and San Francisco.

Later, my thoughts returned to Flawless, Cheerio and Firesox. All three were strong and determined young women who were now struggling with painful injuries. I hated that for them.

I was sure they wondered if it was time to end their hike, or if they should try to push on for at least one more day.

This struggle happens often on the trail. It’s an emotion that’s difficult to recognize at first, or maybe it’s easy for a while to block. You don’t feel it happening, but your intense drive to finish a long-held dream is slowly being chipped away by pain, frustration, and loneliness. Everything is going well, yet your resolve is losing its footing.

Then suddenly you catch yourself falling and questioning whether you can hold on. Can you pull yourself back up, or is your hike still worth the discomfort?

I speak of this from experience. I felt this way more than once on the Appalachian Trail.

I didn’t know it tonight, but I would soon find myself again walking on that unstable ground.

Since it costs a lot to win
And even more to lose
You and me bound to spend some time
Wondering what to choose

Goes to show, you don't ever know
Watch each card you play and play it slow
Wait until that deal come round
Don't you let that deal go down, no, no

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