It was good to be hiking with Ralph again, though I didn’t see or talk to him much yesterday. The weather had been dreary and damp, and the trail was rocky. Instead, we focused on getting to camp. Today was going to be different. With only a short distance to reach Snoqualmie Pass, we had plenty of time to find a place to stay and figure out our resupply for the next section.
Day 72, Tentsite near Lemah Creek to Gravel Lake
Several times unconsciously I've stumbled on the path
According to what we discussed at our campsite near Trap Pass, Ralph planned to meet me on the trail today. For that reason, I tried to get moving and out of camp a little sooner than normal, and did reasonably well at that. I left at 6:30 a.m., which was before Val and the father-and-son section hikers woke up.
When I awoke this morning, my tent was soaking wet, though no rain fell last night. The reason was condensation. If the breeze that kept mosquitoes away last evening had continued through the night, my tent would probably have remained dry. The breeze died, so damp air settled and condensation formed inside the tent. Bluejay and Sunkist left camp while I was packing, but Val was still here. He was in his tent and only poked his head outside as I was about to leave.
Rain was falling as I woke up and prepared to leave camp this morning. It only fell for about an hour, but a pattern was set to link together the whole day. Rain, no rain, repeat.
Day 69, Stevens Pass to Tentsite Near Trap Lake
Someone called my name, you know I turned around to see
Ralph and I wanted to get an early start this morning. The drive to the trailhead would take about an hour. We also knew the trail had some big climbs today, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of hiking time. This intent was thwarted by breakfast. The only place in Cashmere to get it was, fortunately enough, only a couple blocks from our motel. Not-so-fortunately, Weeds Cafe didn’t open until 7 a.m. Then, though we were the first customers to arrive, the staff was slow to open and take our order.
My decision to flip-flop to Washington allowed me to skip dangerous snow conditions in the Sierra, but as I’ve said before, I now have a narrow window of time to finish the mountain sections before winter returns. This doesn’t only mean I need to stay mindful of my daily mileage. I could also jeopardize my chance to finish if I take too many zero-mile hiking days. Zero days might be time-consuming, but they are an essential part of a thru-hike. They provide an opportunity to rest, resupply, and prepare for the next trail section. These things can also be done with a nero (near-zero mile day), and logistically, a nero is often preferable because it saves time. Still, a zero is sometimes necessary or unavoidable, and that was the case today.
I have described before "a romantic ideal of the trail.” That is, the false notion that a thru-hike is somehow an expression of individualism, granting you the freedom to go it alone and do as you wish. It’s true that thru-hiking can be a freeing adventure, but the freedom is limited by practicality. To finish a complete thru-hike, you will still be tied to a schedule, you will still have basic needs that must be met.
When I flipped my hike to Washington and began hiking south, I removed a risk. I avoided hiking through the Sierra in difficult snow conditions. This was my way of minimizing some of the risks that could possibly prevent me from completing my hike. Yet at the same time, I added a new risk when I took a few weeks off after finishing the desert. Now, I face the possibility of winter returning before I have time to finish.
The light rain that began late yesterday continued to fall off and on through the night. It finally quit about the time I awoke this morning. Somewhat miraculously, my tent didn’t leak as much as it had during the last couple overnight rains.
A local Washington newspaper quoted a PCT volunteer a few years ago, who said the section of trail from Stehekin to Stevens Pass was "unambiguously the most challenging section in Washington." For my first two days in that section, I’m not sure I would call it challenging. Perhaps after completing the Appalachian Trail and roughly 850 miles of the PCT I’ve become jaded, but I didn’t think this section has been especially difficult so far. My opinion was about to change.
I felt good and thought I could do about as many miles today as I did yesterday. The trail had been mostly easy yesterday. The only difficult part came near the end and I wasn’t especially tired when I finished.
The steady white noise of a stream flowing near our campsite lulled me to sleep last night. I awoke this morning to the sound of a chirping bird. I’m not sure what kind of bird it was, but it sounded more like a cheap alarm clock than a bird. Ralph was heading back to Rainy Pass today and I didn’t expect to see him again for about four days. There are no places for him to park and meet me between here and Stevens Pass. I’ll be on my own until he parks his truck there and walks north to meet with me.
There was surprisingly little snoring last night in the hostel bunk room. Or put more accurately, I heard surprisingly little snoring. I cannot confirm nor deny I snored. The room was too warm, though, so I didn’t sleep well. I was feeling groggy when I got up at 6 a.m. and moved slowly as I prepared to leave.
Yesterday was my longest mileage day since returning to the trail, but with the last quarter of the miles all downhill, it didn’t feel taxing. I also finished earlier than expected, despite taking a long break at Hart’s Pass. Today was going to be an easy day, too. It would start out with a long climb, but my pack was light because I wasn’t carrying much food. I could tell by looking at the trail profile that after the climb, the rest of the way to Rainy Pass would be especially easy. Ralph and I planned to meet on the trail, then pick up his truck at Rainy Pass and drive into Winthrop to stay for the night. I had already prepared a resupply box, which was waiting for me in Ralph’s truck, so we didn’t even need to go shopping. If thru-hiking were always this easy, everyone would want to do it.
When I flipped to Washington, my first two days back on the trail were partly sunny. But after Ralph and I touched the northern terminus monument and headed south, clouds became increasingly darker and temperatures dropped a few degrees each day. Dreary, rainy weather isn’t unexpected for the Northern Cascades. At least, we’ve been lucky that most of the rain has fallen at night.