PCT Day 14. Knife Edge terror and Goat Rocks grandeur.

Monday July 26, 2021. 18.5 miles hiked. PCT SOBO mile 376.3.

I wake early in the tent city and bide my time until Kracker Barrel opens at 8, at which point I charge my phone, have a breakfast sandwich and hot chocolate, mill about, and have phone chats and hiker hangs. So many sobos show up today! They DO exist. Around 10:45 I suppose I’ll hike out. I could stick around and have pizza lunch but I figure I’ll leave before the day gets to warm. Adios to my new nobo friends. Maybe I’ll see ya down the old dusty trail sobos. Back on trail.

I’d been warned of bad bugs for the first 12 miles, but it’s nothing compared to the mosquito hell north of White Pass. Plus my new deet is keeping the buggies at bay. Hike up then down then up. Snack, snack, snack. Water, water. Handful of people go by including nobo Presto who I chat with for a bit. I have good energy until about 5pm when I start slowing down. I’m entering the lovely alpine Goat Rocks area, trail gets steeper, views get better.

I stop for beans & rice dinner and am torn. Do I camp near here for a 15 mile day or do I keep going across the Knife Edge plus several snow crossings for an 18-19 mile day and camp in the heart of Goat Rocks beauty? Several hours of daylight left. I inquire with other hikers about the difficulty and get one “it’s real tough” and one “it’s not so bad”. What the hell, I’ll do it. The mountains will be nice in the waning light. The Knife Edge may be scary, but it’ll be over soon.

I pass my last campsite and am committed. I climb higher, it gets prettier. And much more exposed. The trail hugs mountains and cliffs with a long steep drop to the right, sometimes left, sometimes both. For miles. Scary. Occasional wind gusts too. I wish I had horse blinders. I’d love to take pictures but refuse to lose focus beyond the few steps at my feet. I occasionally catch a glimpse ahead to see where the trail goes, only to freak out and mutter expletives, so I stop looking ahead. Focus. You’re doing great! You are so strong! Lots of positive self talk gets me through it. One other hiker passes me up there. One snow crossing. Then another. I’m in the home stretch. I take the lower “stock” route versus the higher longer and steeper Old Snowy alternate.

Several sweaty miles later I cross my last shallow snowfield and find myself safe at an epically amazing campsite just after 8. So many tenting options too! Views of Rainier, Adams, St Helens, Goat Lake, and Goat Rocks. Waning, golden light. So many pinks and purples in the sky. I change into dry clothes, set up shelter, grab water, and take many pictures until it’s bedtime.

PCT Day 13. Mosquito hell to the Kracker Barrel.

Sunday July 25, 2021. 12.5 miles hiked. PCT SOBO mile 357.7.

Wake at 6:30. Much condensation, ugh. It’s chilly near this cold river. On the bright side, the mosquitoes are still asleep and I pack up mostly unbitten.

I hit the trail and it’s a race against the mosquitoes. So vicious! Power to town. Lots of lakes, ponds, bogs. The day slowly warms. I eat snacks and pass handfuls of hikers going north, most wearing bug headsets.

Eventually I’m free of the bugs and I make it to “town” in the early afternoon, a gas station called Kracker Barrel. Not to be confused with the Cracker Barrel. They’re very hiker friendly, holding resupply boxes, providing showers and laundry, have several charging outlets, and indoor and outdoor sitting spaces.

I spend the remainder of the day resting, doing chores, planning adventures ahead, and hanging out with other mostly nobo hikers – Onions, Stinky Cheese, Cabana Boy, JP, etc, etc. By sleep time, the side lawn is filled with a ton of mostly dyneema shelters and we have a real hiker tent city. Sleep.

PCT Day 12. Megan time, birthday treats, and mosquitoes.

Saturday July 24, 2021. 18.5 miles hiked. PCT SOBO mile 345.3.

Wake at 6 at Sheep Lake, trail at 7. Hike to trailhead by 7:40 awaiting Megan’s arrival around 8. A small group of people are singing happy birthday to their friend the the hatchback of their car. I wish the woman happy birthday, it’s mine too! She shares a Little Debby oatmeal cream pie, her “birthday cake”. Aw thanks, bday trail magic!

Megan arrives and we decide to hike together sobo on the PCT and take a detour to American Lake. The mountains and wildflowers are super pretty, the mosquitoes slightly ravenous. It’s fun chatting with Megan and nice to have the trail company. Snack break. Raven catches up to us just before the turnoff to the lake! I was wondering when if see her go by. Glad to see she’s still on trail.

A group is also headed to American Lake too, they hiked the WA PCT section last year and wanted to camp at the lake so came back. A short spur spur brings us there. It’s lovely and blue-green and beautiful. Megan brought some awesome beers and snacks and a mini cheesecake! We chat with the others, I take a dip in the lake. Can’t think of a better way to spend the day.

We hit the trail again and go our separate ways. Incredible Rainier views. Mosquitoes are BAD. I don my bug suit. Rice and beans dinner by Roaring Creek near a small group of section hikers. I hike another mile and a half to the next campsite by another raging snowmelt creek. I can’t set up my shelter fast enough to escape the bloodsucking insects. Sleep.

PCT Day 11. Basking in the glow of Rainier, contact with the outside world.

Friday July 23, 2021. 16 miles hiked. PCT SOBO mile 326.9.

A short day today. I wake at 7 in the burn zone. No dead trees fell on anyone, a win! My four young camp mates are packed up and gone.

Much exposure on open slopes today. I find patches of ripe wild strawberries and snack. The tiny berries are much better than the cultivated ones. I leap frog with a dude. Generally folks I pass a chatty today. The views of Rainier are getting better around every bend.

At noon I have cell reception and stop in a meadow with a grand Rainier view. A few phone chats and messages exchanged – contact with the outside world! I decide if I want to make this hike/adventure work, or be fun enough to make the slog worth the effort, I’m really going to have to double down on side adventures off trail. I hope friends will want to meet me at various spots. The upcoming week or so looks promising, but we’ll see after that. I’m looking forward to meeting Megan on my birthday tomorrow.

The day is warm and my water resources low, so I regrettably cut phone time short to push on out of cell reception where I can find the next water source. By mid afternoon I reach Sheep Lake, my destination for the day. I’m only 2 miles from Chinook Pass where I’ll meet Megan in the a.m.

I set up camp and chill. Wash up in the creek, a rarity for me on trail. My ankle is still pretty swollen from yesterday’s fall, though I’m walking fine. Surrounded by weekend warriors here. I soak in the sunshine on the lakeshore. Sleep early.

PCT Day 10. Rainier views, ankle twist, injured hiker.

Thursday July 22, 2021. 19.5 miles hiked. PCT SOBO mile 310.8.

I awake at 7:30 at the end of my dirt road and do the usual morning things, pack up, and hike on. It’s sunny today, feeling decent. Amazing how easily influenced by the sun my mood is. Am I photosynthetic?

I decide to have a chill, go with the flow day (shouldn’t they all be?). Cross some dirt roads, climb to a local high, and bam! Rainier views! What a majestic volcano. It must have been hiding in the clouds yesterday. Some phone signal. Second breakfast.

I try to gracefully step up/jump a downed tree, but it spins as I step, I lose my balance, and am thrown to the ground, landing on my back, body sloped downhill. The force even sends my phone flying out of my shoulder strap pocket, thankfully the blow is cushioned by my pack. I manage to twist my left ankle in the process, shit! It hurts. I find myself secretly hoping it’s injured enough to get off the trail (hmm, is that an indication about my state of mind? And perhaps I should take heed …). After cursing, tears, and a blow to the ego, I get back on my feet and walk it off. I think it’s going to be fine, swollen and sore for a while, but walkable.

Walk/hobble on. Break at a beautiful spring and chat with a fastpack/trail running couple from Alaska. Afternoon in the zone, I hike and hike. At the Mike Ulrich cabin I stop for a break, chat with Butters/Wilbur, and a father-daughter duo Attrition and Walkie-talkie. Walkie-talkie has an extremely swollen ankle from some sort of bite and is waiting for help getting off trail here. In the trail-log I look for the names Jetpack-Jedi and Chirp, friends of friends, but don’t see their names. I do see the name Salty (who I met on the Colorado Trail and dated for a few months) written on the 18th, so he’s only 4 days ahead of me. Funny, I hadn’t heard from him since February, but I just got an early happy birthday text from him this morning!

Continue on 5ish more miles mostly uphill. Slim pickins on upcoming campsites. I opt to camp near a spring in a burn zone with 4 young sobo guys in their early 20’s – Butters/Wilbur, Balto, Hawaii, and ?. We squeeze 5 shelters in a space for 2. We chat over dinner. In a break from my usual beans and rice I have my favorite Thanksgiving trail meal (stuffing, rice, mashed potatoes, craisins, gravy powder, cashews, mushrooms, and veggies). I drift off to sleep and hope no dead trees fall on me in the night…

PCT Day 9. Boring, Cloudy, Cold Day.

Wednesday July 21, 2021. 23 miles hiked. PCT SOBO mile 291.3.

I wake around 7:30, on trail an hour later after the usual oatmeal. Walk, fill water, snack, repeat.

In the forest, mucho cloudy, breezy, and cold. I’m kind of tired and bored. I finish my audiobook, Braiding Sweetgrass (good book), so I’m left with my bored thoughts. I pass a handful of folks headed north throughout the day, quick hellos exchanged. A couple doing trail maintenance (thanks!). Crossing of many dirt roads, some powerlines.

Dinner at 6 near a creek, a NOBO is camping nearby and I partially regret my choice not to join her but instead to hike on another 2 miles, so no friend tonight. 7:30 camp time at the end of a dirt/forestry road. A quiet sobo sets up nearby. Sleeep.

PCT Day 8. Japambulance ride back to trail.

Tuesday July 20, 2021. 9 miles hiked. PCT SOBO mile 268.3 (skipped miles 80.7-259.5).

I wake at 7 in a comfy, cozy bed at Sam and Megan’s wondering how to get back to trail. I remember my friend Miranda, with a matching Japambulance, is in town from Denver and headed for the mountains. I can snag a ride, but she’s leaving before noon. Ok!

Get ready for trail/friend time, then walk to meet Miranda and her friend at Trader Joe’s. Donuts, chai, japambulance time, drive to Snoqualmie Pass. Thanks for the ride!

I pick up my resupply food box waiting for me at the Summit Inn, pack up, pick up snacks at the gas station (should’ve snagged better/cheaper food at the TJ’s), and hit the trail around 2:30. Here we go. I’m still having mixed feelings about being on trail, but here I am, so I suppose I’ll walk…

My body feels good after the rest, the weather is lovely. Foresty forest. I chat with a NOBO, Rugby, for a bit. Dinner by Mirror Lake. I’m thinking 10ish miles today, but this spot is nice and spots ahead look lame. Resist the urge to push, push. I set up shelter by the lake, realize there’s a good site just up the hill, move camp. Sleep.

PCT Day 7. Stehekin ferry to Seattle.

Monday July 19, 2021. 0 miles hiked. PCT SOBO mile 80.7.

Stehekin. I wake at 7 and eat my leftover burger for breakfast. Breakfast of thru hiker champions. I sip a hot chocolate from the restaurant. Ever since I accidentally quit coffee, I’m embracing the no caffeine life. For now. I chat with other hikers and finally figure out my plan: pack up, PO at 10, ferry at 10:40, go to Seattle, stay with Megan and Sam! I’ll get back on trail at Snoqualmie Pass after city time with friends. Hopefully I can find a ride to SEA…

I buy my ferry ticket at the Fly Shop. At 10, the PO opens, I get my food and share with Phish and the hiker box. Mail my excess to Flagstaff (definitely didn’t need that ice axe or microspikes, there’s no snow after the crazy heat wave here a few weeks ago). I get Phish’s number, I might cache food and water for him outside of Moab when he gets to the Hayduke Trail, probably in October!

Ferry time. A quick time in Stehekin, I could stay here for days, but I suppose it’s time to go. I sit with Raven and Mercury. Raven plans to skip this next section, but continue her speed hike for herself – not for a record – further south at Stevens Pass. I venture outside of my comfort zone and ask everyone on board if they’re going to Seattle, and if so, can I have a ride. A woman with a sick adult son(?) offers a ride.

We arrive at the dock, I hop in their car, and it isn’t until I’m sitting that my ride is like, “… and yeah we think it’s covid”. Oh. Of course. Welp I’m here. Windows down, masks up, let’s do this. We try to chat and listen to a podcast on interspecies communication, but hearing is next to impossible with the whoosh of the wind. We did manage to talk about listening to and following your intuition and what my ride called the “golden carpet” – how everything seems easy when you’re doing what you feel is right. Nice. Thanks for the lift.

Arrive in the city in the afternoon. Some phone time before the Seattle busses help me to Sam and Megan’s place. Good catch-up time with pals. Jose and Heidi meet Megan and me for tacos then fancy drinks. How long will I stay in town? A few days? Planning is for tomorrow. Late bedtime.

PCT Day 6. A Bear and A Bakery.

Sunday July 18, 2021. 17 miles hiked. PCT SOBO mile 80.7.

Wake at 6 after a fitful sleep. On trail by 7. A woodsy tree-filled day. Music motivation to hike on at a good pace. Going for the 3pm shuttle! Lots of gradual/down. I last hiked this trail on my way to Stehekin with friends and fiance for our “bachelor/bachelorette” party. Some cool suspension bridges, lovely creeks, pretty flowers.

I come around a bend and see something so turn off my music. A bear! Oh shit! I start yelling “hey bear” and waving my arms. A female voice in the woods responds with “it’s a bear! It won’t move! It’s been here forever!” Ha! The large black creature ambles slowly toward me. I keep shouting and start backstepping. Argh. Usually bears run away, this one looks big, old, and lazy, tho not threatening. I try the yell and backstep strategy. After that fails I decide to go hide in the woods and let the bear pass on the trail. What if it wants to go where I am? Once I can hear it’s beary breath, I regret this choice and abort that plan. Back to the trail. I try waking in the opposite direction – maybe I’ll find another hiker and we can confront the animal together? Ugh this won’t get me close to the 3pm shuttle. After a short while, another change of plan. I want to know where the bear is, so I walk back toward it and hope for the best, trekking pole poised like a javelin and hand on my SOS button. I begin shouting “hello!” at regular intervals. I get to where the bear was after what feels like an eternity, and continue on. Where is it? Keep going and yelling. I spy bear tracks going in the opposite direction, so odds are good it finally retreated to the woods, not the direction I’m headed. Eventually I come across a young couple. I warn then of the bear ahead and they’re totally blasé. Apparently they’d been informed already and are unphased. Ok.

Hike on. The temps rise as I drop in elevation. I arrive at the bus stop at 2 and chat with Audry and Walk It Off (sobos) and John (a section hiker). The awesome red bus picks us up at 3 and stops by the infamous Stehekin bakery, giving us 10 minutes. Everything looks amazing. I opt for a slice of pizza and a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie. So good. Then town.

Setup at Lakeview campground, sharing a site with Audrey. Casper is already here. Laundry. Shower. I meet Phish, hiking the Great Western Loop trail. He’s low on food for the next stretch so I offer him my resupply box food, which I won’t need since I’ve decided I’m skipping the next few sections, which I’ve already hiked. Dinner at the restaurant with a posse of hikers. Phish buys me a burger in exchange for my resupply. Thanks! Some internet time. Already 9pm. Sleepy time.

PCT Day 5. Blow downs, Raven, Rainy Pass.

Saturday July 17, 2021. 23 miles hiked. PCT SOBO mile 63.8.

I’m up at 7. Casper is already packed and gone. Easy morning. Some ups, some downs. Through the forest. I stumble and spill half of my trailmix, which I pick up and eat off the trail. A shit ton of blowdowns to navigate, which feels like an obstacle course and is actually kind of fun.

Lots of exposed side-of-ridge walking after a while through the woods. Sketchy at times for someone afraid of heights. I listen to Braiding Sweetgrass. Great mountain views and several passes (Methow, Cutthroat, etc). Not many other hikers. A side trail is closed due to fire. I can see the source of the fire – a smoke filled valley. Yet the smoke is so isolated I can’t even smell it in the air.

Snack break on a great rest rock 5 miles above Rainy Pass. Here Raven catches up to me. She’s been on my tail for a while apparently. We hike together and are fast friends, keeping each other company in this home stretch. She’s going for the supported women’s WA section of the PCT FKT! I immediately tell her that I’m not really feeling my hike and she admits that she’s feeling the same way about her FKT attempt. We discuss motivations, masochistic tendencies, taking it easy on ourselves, listening to oneself, and identity.

Near the road, Mercury, who is on Raven’s crew and an FKT setter herself, comes to meet Raven. They chat logistics. We arrive at Rainy Pass. I make beans and rice dinner. Fanny arrives and they eat and rest. (He drove the 8 hour detour around the normally 10 minute stretch of road!) He shares with me a McDonald’s apple pie (yay thanks trail magic!). Walk It Off, a hiker from Tennessee arrives and sets his tent up nearby.

At 7 I take off and push on another 2 miles to a solo camp site. I can’t decide if I want to go into Stehekin tomorrow or the next day. It’s 17 miles. I’m trying not to get swept up in the go, go, go mindset… But the bakery, laundry, and a shower are so close… If I hit the trail at 6:30 or 7 I could make the 3pm shuttle no problem… Sleep for now.