Ralph was only planning to hike with me today until we crossed a ridge called the Knife’s Edge, which ended near the summit of Old Snowy Mountain. From there, he intended to turn around and hike back to White Pass.
He was unsure if he wanted to try to walk all the way back to White Pass today, but we agreed to get a little earlier start than normal to give him enough time.
Then I forgot to set my alarm. I didn't wake up until 5:15 a.m., about 15 minutes later than planned. Ralph said he didn’t mind, but I felt bad.
As it turned out, we were both ready to leave at about the same time. We were back on the trail just before 7 a.m.
|Date||Thursday, July 25, 2019|
|Weather||Clear sky, warming to a high near 70|
|Trail Conditions||Rocks and loose talus in steep trail over Knife’s Edge, then smooth and easy ups and downs|
We knew the scenery today would be memorable. The trail would take us up to just short of Old Snowy’s summit, a 7,900-foot peak connected to a range of other jagged peaks. They were formed by volcanic forces millions of years ago and shaped by glaciers.
The last major changes came during the late stages of the Pleistocene epoch, which ended more than 10,000 years ago. During that era, this part of the world experienced dramatic climate shifts, from cooling periods with massive glaciers to warming periods when large mammals like mammoths, saber-toothed cats and longhorned bison roamed the land. What we would see today were the results of these dramatic climate and geologic changes.
Our views were made all the better by today's climate, which turned out to be perfect. The temperature was comfortable and the sky was a cloudless, rich blue.
From our vantage point above 7,000 feet, we would be able to easily see 50 miles away and more. The only things we wouldn’t see today were mountain goats, which live in the area and are the reason the area is called Goat Rocks.
Within minutes of leaving our campsite, Old Snowy came into view, with Gilbert Peak, Goat Citadel, and Big Horn lined up on a ridge to its left.
We didn’t have to go far before trees gave way to an open cirque. Multiple streams flowed from the rim down toward a valley.
We stopped here to collect water that minutes before had been snow.
A few small patches of snow covered the trail across the cirque, but the mountainside's slope wasn’t steep and we had no problem.
The trail seemed to take us away from Old Snowy, but it was only taking an easier path to reach a ridge. From there, the climb continued up the ridge and circled back toward the mountain.
Once we reached the ridge, we could see Mt. Rainier and its sub-peak, Little Tahoma. Farther still was Whitman Crest.
The climb was sometimes difficult, but we didn’t mind because we made frequent stops to enjoy the views. Ralph also stopped to note geologic features, such as where a glacier had scraped rock bare and smooth.
If the views and the rocks weren’t enough, we could also turn our attention to the wildflowers, which were everywhere during the first part of the climb. Their colors were made brilliant by the bright, clear sky.
After climbing (and stopping) for just under two hours, we reached the Knife’s Edge. This section of trail gets its name because it follows the center edge of a ridge with steep sides.
The views were becoming more spectacular with each step we took. Looking back gave us one of the best views of Mt. Rainier and the Northern Cascades to be found on the PCT.
While I stood there gawking, a northbound hiker came by. He told me he had taken the regular PCT route, and if he were to make the choice again he would have taken the alternate trail. This was the second recommendation I had received for the alternate, so that became the plan.
The higher and farther we went on the Knife’s Edge, the more steep the trail became. One part was particularly steep as it went up and around a spire of jagged, crumbling volcanic rock.
On the way up, we saw a marmot, who greeted us with several short and shrill “peeps.”
When I reached where the trail split for the alternate trail, I could see one reason why hikers had recommended not taking the regular PCT route. It crossed a broad and steep sheet of ice, which was Packwood Glacier.
To say the trail crossed a glacier seems more dramatic than it was, however. The glacier itself wasn’t imposing as you might think of a glacier. It was receding after many years of global warming.
The alternate route we took was by no means easy. In some respects, it was more difficult. The other route was not steep, but this one climbed directly up the side of the mountain.
The trail was made even more challenging by being completely covered in loose talus.
The rocks made a “clinking” sound as I walked on them. Each footstep I took slipped just a bit on the flat, loose rocks. The sound and difficulty of walking made me think I was trying to climb a mountain of beer bottles.
Higher up the mountain, I saw more of the regular PCT route where it crossed the edge of the glacier.
I could also easily see Mt. St. Helens, which stood nearly 42 miles away, rising well above many smaller mountains.
When we reached the end of the climb, which wasn’t far from the mountain’s summit, Ralph and I didn’t want to leave. Of course, that wasn’t an option, but we stayed there for many minutes.
After a snack break and a few more photos, we said goodbye and headed in our separate directions.
Ralph needed to return to Seattle, where he was going to pick up his wife and travel to California. I still had more than 1,500 miles to go to complete my hike.
I was already beginning to feel some disappointment that Ralph would not be with me for any more of this trail.
Descending the trail from the literal and figurative high point of the trail was much easier than going up. I was soon back on the PCT's main route.
There was one long section of icy snow to cross. It wasn’t easy to walk on, but it wasn't treacherous.
About 20 minutes after leaving Ralph, just as I was wondering if I’d find another hiking partner, Dave came down the trail. He appeared as if from no where.
He didn’t sneak up on me, though. I just didn’t see him because I spent most of my time enjoying the view of Mt. Adams ahead of me as I walked across Snowgrass Flats
We struck up a conversation, as we had when I saw him two days ago. Then for the next couple hours, we chatted while walking together.
Dave was nearly 20 years younger than me. I figured he’d soon leave me behind, but until I stopped to take some photos I mostly walked at his pace.
Where I lost sight of him was where the trail made a wide arc around Cispus Basin. This cirque provides the headwaters of the Cispus River.
When I didn't see Dave anymore I said to myself, "That hiking partnership didn't last long."
Water poured down the sides of the basin and across the trail. It was easy to get water here, and though I didn’t need much, I stopped anyway.
As the trail curved around the basin and headed toward Cispus Pass, there was an opening down the mountainside. This provided another view of Mt. St. Helens.
The trail climbed nearly 500 feet in the next 1.2 miles to the top of the pass, but it wasn’t difficult.
On the other side of the pass, the trail was more barren as it followed a long ridge.
I still had more than seven miles to go to where I was planning to camp. The trail was mostly downhill the entire way, dropping nearly 2,000 feet.
Part of that distance was along the boundary of land belonging to several tribes of Native Americans, collectively known as the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
Late in the day, as I approached the bottom of the long descent, I could see Lakeview Mountain. Walupt Lake laid in front of it and Mt. Adams stood behind it.
The campsite I was looking for was near the junction of a trail that led 4.25 miles to the lake. The time was past 6:30 p.m. and I was ready to stop. I might have stopped sooner if I had seen Dave, but I figured he was far ahead of me.
The trail guide said the next campsite after the one at the junction with Walupt Lake Trail was two more hours away, so this one had to be the one.
Finding it turned out to be more difficult than I expected. There were no markers for it, but that is rarely the case on this trail. What I found was a confusing crisscross of false trails and animal trails. These were in addition to the PCT and the Walupt Lake Trail.
After scanning the area and failing to see any spot that looked like a campsite, I went with my gut and headed down a faint path. That turned out to be correct, and after walking about 200 yards I was rewarded with a big, flat space. There was room enough for several tents.
It was also about 200 yards or so from a large pond, yet surprisingly, there were not many mosquitoes to bother me.
Because the campsite was so difficult to find, I thought I would be camping alone. Then just before dark, a SOBO thru-hiker named Bird arrived. He was a young, ultralight hiker who completed the AT last year.
He told me he hikes up to 30 miles a day, so I figured, like Dave, tonight was the last time I would see him.