Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hiking the PCT, Oregon Border to Snoqualmie, Days 10-15: Never Trust A Lake Named Sheep

I rose blearily from the couch in our tiny condo at White Pass, feeling bummed out. The traffic on the road and the extreme heat had kept me awake all night. I could easily have done without the shower and convenience store food. However, I knew salvation awaited just down the trail. Two cute boy thru-hikers named Stumbles and Hobbit had told us that they had heard that the mosquitoes were gone after sixteen miles. However, they glumly brandished industrial size containers of Repel, just in case, the only size the store had.

As we ascended the well-worn path by a creepy lake named Leech, a lithe man with a small daypack and trekking poles galloped past. "Is this still the PCT?" he asked, and we said we thought so. (Days later we realized we had seen the mythical String Bean, enroute to a new supported record of the entire trail--53 days. Amazing.) At first the mosquito horde attacked with a vengeance, but then...like magic...it thinned. The rumor had been right! Elated, I hiked on through a slight drizzle and some thunder to a lakeside campsite at exactly 16 miles.

We were set to cross many heavenly lakes the next day, and across Chinook Pass, teeming with clean dayhikers. It's true that when you have been in the backcountry your sense of smell changes, becomes sharper. Clouds of shampoo and soap wafted from the people who passed us. We didn't want to think about what they were smelling in return.

Nice tarn before Chinook Pass
Our idyllic night at Sheep Lake, though, turned into a nightmare, with howling winds that kept us up all night. I was gratified to know that my tent could stand up to 40 mph, but as we blearily packed up, we listed all the questionable mosquito-laden ponds named "Sheep Lake" that we had passed on this hike and decided: No more Sheeps for us.

Sheep Lake, looking all sweet and innocent.
My able companions, much more the planner types than I, had done the math and determined that the next day had to be long--about 23 miles-in order to set us up to camp near water on successive nights. Once again water was scarce, trickling out from piped springs and small ravines. Secretly I was excited about the 23 mile day, the longest I had ever backpacked (we did a couple of 22.5s last year). On this hike I had felt like I never came close to my capacity. Bring it, I thought, as we walked through some deep primeval forest, some clearcuts, and across some roads, culminating in a steep climb and a downward descent, during which MG and Flash saw something in the trees, but were unsure if it was a bear or a mountain lion. Oh well, it didn't attack us, so all was fine. Twenty-three miles felt great. I knew I could do more.

We woke at our unlovely spot along a road at Tacoma Pass, knowing that this was our last night on the trail. It had gone so fast! I had braced myself for an ugly day of massive clear-cuts, but it turned out to be a pleasant walk through blueberry laden bushes, past some old roads, and a few powerlines for good measure. We paused when we saw a sign for Stirrup Lake, only a half  mile away. Maybe we could camp there! How hard could it be? After pushing through dense vegetation for at least a mile, we indeed came out on the shores of a heavenly lake. Contemplating a night's stay here, we shivered as the cold wind blew. Thoughts of Sheep Lake went through our heads and we retreated, climbing to an anticlimatic "throw-down" site that once was an old road. So much for a last scenic campsite on the PCT! But that's the trail for you. It's never quite what you expect.

It was an easy 11  miles out, and we wandered through more blueberries, encountering another trail legend, Scott Williamson, who has yo-yoed* the trail and once held the unsupported fastest known time. He was going for it again, yet he took a few minutes to tell us that we were on the oldest part of the PCT, which in this state was known as the Cascade Crest Trail.

All too soon we saw the ski lifts of Snoqualmie Pass. Thirteen nights, fourteen days, and we were done. Flash and I had hiked all 507 miles of the Washington PCT. I would be home tonight instead of on the PCT. As much as I wanted to be there, I wanted to keep going, up through the North Cascades to Canada. Or go south, back through the mysterious poison oak, down through Oregon and the Sierras. Just never stop.

*yo-yo: Hike the entire trail and then turn around and hike back, all in one season.

What's next, you ask? I have a plan I am super excited about for next summer! I'll write about it in my gear fails and successes post, coming soon!


  1. Sounds like a great trip!

    a) hiking for speed records or any records at all, and hiking as a race, seems so abysmally awful on so many levels to me. Yech. How did this even get to be a "thing"?

    b) that trail is DYING to be mountain biked.

  2. Congrats. It's always fun to read about your PCT outings.

  3. The only comment I have about your next adventure: Can I come too!?


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