PCT 2019: Day 90, Wahtum Lake to Muddy Fork

I heard a voice telling me to flee

Though I was able yesterday to set aside my negative feelings about being on the trail, they didn’t take long to come running back to me this morning. We left camp at 7 a.m. and before long, I began to think about the trail ahead. I wondered if I still wanted to hike it.

If I were to finish all of the PCT, I still had about 1,400 miles to walk. At first, during this conversation with myself, I was simply doubting myself. I questioned whether I had it in me to complete that many miles before winter arrived.

DateMonday, August 5, 2019
WeatherClear and warm, with a high temperature in the low 70s
Trail ConditionsA long, rolling section before a moderate climb and a steep descent
Today's Miles21.4
Trip Miles1280.2

Later, I switched from wondering if I could hike it to bluntly asking why I was still hiking. I counted the number of miles I had walked so far on this trail and added them to all of the miles I walked on the Appalachian Trail. This made me realize I’d already walked well over 3,000 miles.

Wasn’t that enough, I asked myself? What’s the point of hiking more than that?

I had allowed myself to get into a funk, and the farther I walked the deeper I wallowed in it.

The first part of the day was pleasant, but that wasn’t improving my mood. The trail made a gradual climb from our campsite on the lake at 3,785 feet to about 500 feet higher.

On the way up, some nice views of Mt. Hood appeared. The mountain was now only 14 miles away “as a crow flies,” but we won’t reach it until tomorrow after hiking more than twice that distance.

The trail passed the junction of Eagle Creek Trail. Before the 2017 fire that raged through the gorge, this was a popular alternate route for PCT thru-hikers heading to or from Cascade Locks, as well as for day hikers. The gorge was said to be one of the most scenic sections on the PCT and featured a tunnel that passed behind a tall waterfall.

The trail was still closed because of the destruction left by the fire. Conditions were too dangerous to allow hikers because of many dead trees. In some sections, hiking was impossible. A number of wooden bridges had been destroyed by the fire and soil erosion had caused a large rock slide.

We were surprised to find Bogwitch and Muffy at the top of the climb. They were enjoying the view across the Eagle Creek area and beyond the Columbia River Gorge. Far in the hazy distance, about 47 miles away, was Mt. St. Helens.

This part of the trail across a slope of Indian Mountain was like a bald on the Appalachian Trail. It was scrubby with few trees, though the elevation didn't seem high enough to be above the timberline.

A fire lookout station had been located for many years at the 4,920-foot summit of Indian Mountain. It was constructed in 1917. The forest service lookout who stood watch here the following year was Nita Vogel, who was reported to be the first female fire lookout in the Oregon national forest.

The lookout house had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1923 and again after another fire in 1932. The station was deactivated in 1964 and torn down in 1967.

Views from the mountain were a nice diversion, but by the time the trail led me back into the forest, I was feeling sorry for myself again.

My dispirited mood was stoked further when I realized my friend Ralph was just finishing his travels with his wife on the west coast and soon would be driving back home. If I called him before he left, I thought, perhaps I could catch a ride with him.

I should have stopped myself right there but I failed. I was making matters worse by giving myself an easy way out.

After walking eight miles I arrived at a spring at the edge of the trail. Growler was here filtering water. I had not seen him since I met him at Trout Lake.

After refilling my water bottles I ate an early lunch, but it didn’t perk up my mood.

More beautiful views of Mt. Hood also didn’t do much for my bad attitude. By the middle of the afternoon, I was beside myself with misery.

In a fitful moment, I turned on my phone to see if I had a cellular signal. Seeing that I did, I tried to call Kim. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to say to her, but it was probably going to be something like, “I think it’s time for me to come home.”

No doubt, she would have questioned why I wanted to do that. She would have reminded me that a thru-hiker should never quit on a bad day. That might have been all I needed to hear, but she didn’t answer her phone. I had forgotten that she was traveling today to meet some college friends.

Not talking to her was probably a good thing. It had the effect of telling me today was not the day I would quit.

My pathetic mood wasn't yet entirely erased, but that soon changed.

Shortly before 4 p.m., I reached Lolo Pass. A small, hand-written sign caught my attention on the other side of the paved road. It was the kind of sign that would brighten any unhappy hiker: trail magic!

The sign pointed to a small picnic area where two 2018 hikers, Skunk Bear and Sashay, provided a nice selection of snacks and drinks.

While we were there, I confessed to Dave that I was having a bad day. I didn’t mention I had come close to quitting but said I wasn’t sure I could keep going. “It just seems like 3,000 miles is plenty,” I told him.

“We’re going to finish, Gravity,” he answered. “We can do this.”

And that was all I needed to hear. I suddenly felt better.

Energized by the trail magic and Dave’s pep talk, I didn’t mind the climb of nearly 1,000 feet in the two miles after leaving the picnic area at Lolo Pass.

I was no longer falling behind but stayed in pace with Dave, Austin, and Dane.

From the top of the day's last climb, the trail was an easy glide down, dropping an extra 500 feet more than we ascended.

Muddy Fork was at the bottom of the descent. It was a deep creek with a couple of massive logs lying across and well above the water to form a bridge.

Apparently as an added safety measure, a rope was tied to one of the logs to create a handrail of sorts. The rope looked worn and frayed. It seemed a little sketchy and I wondered if it would hold anyone if they grabbed it while falling. I didn’t bother with it. Instead, I balanced my weight over the side of the roped log and didn’t have any trouble crossing.

Our campsite was a short distance up an embankment on the other side of the creek. Plenty of flat spots were available for tents and a couple of hikers were already there when we arrived at 7 p.m.

Growler showed up several minutes later and camped with us. He had stayed longer at the trail magic than we did.

When Dave said to me this afternoon, “We can do this,” his words were a simple reminder to myself that I had the skills and strength to complete my hike. I have known this all along, but I was thrown briefly off course by my bad mood, and the possibility of an easy way out weakened my resolve.

After he said that to me, Dave then tried to explain it was natural to wonder if you can finish a thru-hike when you near the halfway point. He might have been right, but I wondered if he was just trying to give me an excuse to get over my bad mood.

Whether he was sincere or only using a little trail psychology, it didn’t matter. He’d already helped me summon back the mental and emotional bearings I had and needed.

Dave helped me remember I have the ability to complete an entire thru-hike. Heck, I’ve already done one that was harder than this one. More to the point, however, he reminded me I’m not hiking this hike alone. I will always have good friends and a supportive family whenever I need them.

I heard a voice telling me to flee
The very same voice I always believe
Said, a lot of trouble's coming
But it don't have to come to you
I'm telling you, so you can tell
The rest what you been through
Don't you turn around, no
Don't look after you
It's not your business how it's done
You're lucky to get through

From “Gomorrah” by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia (Jerry Garcia Band)


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.