WA PCT Section J – Part II, Day 5 – Last day on the trail

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Part II, Day 5. Miles hiked: 14. Elevation gain/loss: +2170/-3610.
Spectacle Lake to Pete Lake Trailhead

(Day 2-5 insta pics click here)

Last day on the trail! I wake around 6:30. Granola and coffee. Chat with Nitro and Foxy. Hit the trail at 9. Up, up, up to the high point. It’s smoky today and views are diminished. Down to the pond. Success! I find my dirty socks just where I left them on a bush. Mark’s carabiner is not there. Snack. Might as well get going.

I retrace my steps and go up to the high point, then down, down, down. Past the Spectacle Lake junction, down through the burn, through Lemhi Meadows. Right turn at the Pete Lake Trail junction. After 1.5 miles I find Nitro and Foxy there waiting for me to cross. The ford is not so bad, just cold. Down the Pete Lake Trail – a walk in the park compared to the Mineral Lake Trail – it’s mostly level with some elevation loss. Past Pete Lake and a few day hikers. Jared will meet us at the trailhead sometime between 6 and 7pm.

We reach the trailhead at 5:54. I use the portapotty and toss some garbage in the can. Lo and behold at 6pm on the dot Jared arrives! Great timing. We load up and drive out to Snoqualmie Pass. The smoky haze is thick. At the pass we celebrate with fantastic food (for me a burger) and Dru-Bru beer at the Commonwealth. Bid farewell to our new hiking friends. Down I-90, over the ferry, and back to Vashon. The End.

WA PCT Section J – Part II, Day 4 – Through the burn to Spectacle Lake

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Monday, August 13, 2018
Part II, Day 4. Miles hiked: 13.5. Elevation gain/loss: +3115/-3725.
South of the Waptus Pass Burn Trail to Spectacle Lake

(Instagram pics days 2-5 are here)

I wake at 6 and lay there hoping some of the condensation outside and inside will evaporate. I read a little and eventually get up at 7. The other hiker is gone. So. many. mosquitos. I don my mosquito outfit and make breakfast of hot granola+coffee. Drying my rainfly in the morning sun works marginally. Pack up. On trail at 8:20.

One by one (and sometimes 2 by 2) I pass NOBO PCT hiker guys. The area up here is beautiful and stunning! The smoke obscures it somewhat, but there are spectacular views of the Three Queens and Four Brothers. Burn area. Down, down, down to Lemah Meadows. Water refill. More non-PCT hikers are on the trail now. Through the Lemah Meadows, cross the Lemah Creek on a downed log.

Then up, up, up through the exposed burn area in the hot midday heat. Nuun is good. Tiny shade and lunch break. Onward, overlapping a few other hikers bound for Spectacle Lake, too. At the junction I go down the 0.5 miles to the lake and make a beeline for the peninsula where the best camping is supposed to be. I find a spot to myself by 3:30 and settle in. Yardsale my stuff to dry, set up camp, filter water, take a dip. Dry. Read. Lounge. Write. Look at maps.

While eating my dinner and listening to a podcast, 3 women in their 60’s walk through my site. “Mind if my friends stay in your site?”, one of them says as she hikes on past. Damn I was hoping for some solitude. “Uh sure”, I say and crank my podcast to high volume, hoping they’ll move along. They end up deciding to set up in another spot, but we get to talking and they are Nitro and Foxy, 66 and 61 respectively, and they’re going to catch a ride when Jared comes to pick me up tomorrow. I’ll hike the 3 miles to tag the pond where Mark and I hiked to last week, hike back, then hike out and meet the ladies a the river crossing. Later in the evening they move their tent to my site – theirs is too rocky to stake out their tent. By now I’ve warmed up and am happy to share. Read. Sleep at 9.

 

WA PCT Section J – Part II, Day 2 -A little rain and a little ford

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Saturday, August 11, 2018
Part II, Day 2. Miles hiked: 13.5. Elevation gain/loss: +3560/-4035.
Just shy of Trap Lake (WACS2453) to somewhere above Hyas Lake (WACS2440)

(The pictures are here)

I wake at the usual time – around 6:20 – to misting from a cloud. A bit of water condensed both inside and outside the tent. I hope the misting outside lessens, but it continues so eventually I get going, pack up my soggy tent, and head up the trail to make breakfast in a drier spot. I hike inside the cloud that envelopes the mountains. I pass those 3 guys who came by last evening, who hammocked not too far away. Under a tree I find a small spot to make my coffee and cook my oatmeal. Nobody passes by as I eat my breakfast.

I continue past the unmarked trail for Trap lake, then up, up, up the hill. And down, down, down to the Surprise Lake and Glacier Lake area. I chat with a guy who had struggled up that hill and plans to spend the day at Glacier Lake. I run into an old sprightly foreign man who tells me that he already had some rum this morning. A few more hikers go by. I stop to poop at the Glacier Lake toilet and get mobbed by mosquitos and try to make it snappy. Lots of folks passing by or camped in this area.

I pass an abandoned trail through Surprise Gap and enter a landscape of barren rock and marmots. Stark in it’s beauty and contrast. Talk with a chatty hiker. Up, up to Piper Pass where I take a lunch break. I’m still surrounded by cloud, but it’s starting to lift. Down, down, down 5 miles. Just after Deception Lake I stop at a campsite to air out my stuff to dry, but largely fail because a) it’s cloudy and b) I’m in a forest filled with shade. After 30 minutes and the threat of rain I pack up and hit the trail. Within minutes it starts to rain. I don my rain jacket. More rain. I don my rain pants. More rain. Past Deception Pass. The rain lets up and the sun sort of begins to shine. The rain has kept the temps cool so I can’t complain too much.

Stream crossing. Then to the ford. I get my feet wet but manage not to fall in, so it’s a successful crossing. I see 3 other hikers further downriver crossing in what looks like a much more difficult spot. I give a trail runner the crossing beta as he passes. Filter water. Eat a bar. I’m really digging the nut-butter-filled and smoothie-filled Clif bars right now. Up, up above Hyak Lake to CS2440 on the Halfmile maps. There’s supposed to be a seasonal stream, and while I can hear water above and below, there’s none to be found. I set up camp anyway – early, it’s 4:30pm – but it’s a good secluded spot, semi-shielded from any more rain by the forest, with opportunity for others to camp nearby. Dry camp, but I have enough water to make dinner. And I don’t feel like hiking another 6 miles, so call it at 13.5 for the day.

I set up my tent and hang my clothes to dry. Take my time. Write. Read. Cook my ramen with tuna (Nong shim plus the no-salt-added fancy tuna makes for a tasty pairing). I clean up and listen to an episode of the Cascade Hiker podcast about the UPNorth Route (a hiking couple is linking the PCT, PNT, Idaho Centennial Trail, and Oregon Desert Trail). I hear others up the way which means they’ve set up camp nearby, which makes me feel a little more comfortable. Between the busy trail with lots of other hikers and the CBD oil I have, I’m feeling more and more comfortable sleeping solo out here.

I read for a while and formulate my plan for tomorrow: 15 ish mile goal. Off to sleep…

WA PCT Section J – Part I, Day 4 – Hikin’ in the heat to get to Popeyes

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Part I, Day 4. Miles hiked: 3.5-4. Elevation gain/loss: +665/-700 ft
North end of Lake Kachess to End of the hike

I wake at 6:30. I was sure Bigfoot or some other monster would attack me in the night. Alas! I slept well and nothing got me. I take my time getting ready, wash my feet, make coffee, cook ramen for breakfast, pack up, and head up the hill around 9am to see if Mark is awake and how he’s feeling. He’s awake and feeling well enough to get on the trail and GTFO. We’re on the trail shortly after 9. So many ups and downs along this little ol’ trail. We go at a slowish pace but keep on chugging so we can get outta there before the heat of the day is upon us. The morning is already hot. At a water break we fill and eat a snack. Mark promptly throws up. 😦 Such a bummer to be feeling so crappy. It’s so hot.

We hit the end of the trail at 12:30 amidst several giant campgrounds. Port-a-potty bathroom break. We’re surrounded by sites full of families with their grills, trucks, and water toys. We find the registration hut and inquire hopefully about gatorade for sale. Nope, only water. We fill our bottles at the spigots and relax for a minute. How will we hitch out? Mark has a little service but not much battery life. (I lost his charger/carabiner at the pond. Whoopsies.)

We walk to a good hitchin’ spot and stick out our thumbs. Five or 10 cars pass by, some even peeling out in the process. Dang that’s cold. Mark gives one of them the finger. Eventually a guy with his family show us some humanity and stops. His wife gives him a hard time, but we gratefully accept the ride. We crawl into the covered cab, bounce down the road, and get out at the I-90 junction. One of the young daughters shows us her creepy severed doll head. We awkwardly laugh and thank them for the ride.

Another nice guy with two large dogs in an SUV stops to give us a ride to North Bend. The A/C is blasting. We chat about hikes. Mark naps in the back. I have service and text Jared, who is able to save us from North Bend soon! We get out near the truck stop, intending to shower, but are easily distracted by the allure of icy cold Gatorade (limon-pepino and lemon-lime, please) and Popeyes chicken. We devour a few chicken strips and I pick up several biscuits as a thank-you-for-saving-us gift.

Before we know it, Jared has arrived! It’s 2pm. The three of us drive to Wallingford where we drop of Jared to work from a cafe before meeting up with our other friend Marc. Then Mark and I continue on northward to Stevens Pass to retrieve my car. A stop at the Sultan Bakery in search of the elusive buttermilk bars. We settle for incredibly rich, incredibly large cookies. I feel sugar-high-sick three-quarters of the way into my reese’s cookie but manage to polish it off. Around 5 we’re at the pass. I get my car. Drive back to Seattle. Pick up Jared. Over the ferry and back to Vashon. THE END of Part I.

WA PCT Section J – Part I, Day 3 – A day at the pond, then assaulted by nature

 

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Monday, August 6, 2018
Part I, Day 3. Miles hiked: 6-8. Elevation gain/loss: +515/-3170 ft
3 miles shy of Spectacle Lake to the north end of Lake Kachess

(Insta pics from the day)

I start stirring around 6 am. Get up around 6:45. Mark is feeling a little bit better. Then he smokes some weed, coughs, and feels like shit again. The plan: we’ll see how Mark is feeling and go from there – bailing off the PCT at one of three spots. Either Deception Creek (35+ more miles of hiking), Pete Lake (11 or so miles of hiking), Mineral Creek (10ish miles), or backtrack to Snoqualmie Pass (13 miles). I drink coffee and eat my oatmeal. Another woods poop. Argh I must be eating too much food. There was a lot of dew last night and I dry my wet rainfly in the sun. We chill in our tents mostly to avoid the hungry mosquitos. Mark naps. We continually shift our tents to the shade of trees and out of the path of the hot sun throughout the day.

I listen to some podcasts, clip my nails, write, take a dip in the pond, enjoy the sun, and scratch my growing number of bug bites. Eat snacks. A hiker comes by looking for a toilet. Sorry dude, you’ll have to dig a cathole. Tape my blisters. Watch bugs. Think about life.

At 4:15, after the heat of the day, I check in on Mark. He’s feeling better! Or well enough for a bit of hiking at least. We decide the best plan of attack is to exit the trail via the Mineral Creek Trail, which intersects the PCT only 20 yards or so from us. No climbing, just downhill. Manageable, we hope. We pack up and are on trail around 4:30pm.

It’s still kind of warm. The trail is steepish, overgrown in patches, has poor footing, and clings to the hillside in places. In the river valley we’re overcome by dense overgrowth – vine maple and slide alder for several miles. It’s clear that this trail has not been maintained in some time. (I later read the most recent WTA trail report from a year ago that describes the experience as such, “I noticed that it’s been over a year since there’s been a trip report for this trail and after hiking it I can see why. Something like 35 years ago I hiked this trail and from what we encountered it looks like it hasn’t seen much  maintenance since then. To say it’s brushy is like saying those ZZ Top guys have a little stubble on their chins. Although in the heavy brush areas you can tell where the trail is, it’s so overgrown that the brush whips you, grabs you and assaults you constantly. I felt like there were hidden hands reaching out and grabbing my pack much of the time, making progress that much more difficult. It’s also very steep, unrelentingly so, and rocky and seeing the uneven footing through the brush is often challenging… I would say if there’s someone you really don’t like suggest that they hike this trail. Otherwise I’d stay away unless you really want to get to Park Lakes and don’t want to make the much longer trek from Snoqualmie Pass. This trail could likely qualify for WTA’s lost trail suggestion list except it’s got so many steep sections that simply brushing it out would only solve part of the problem. On the plus side, you’ll likely have the trail to yourself.” Ha! That pretty much sums it up. It. was. tough. It really makes me appreciate trail crews and well maintained trails that’s for sure.

We run into one other hiker just after the slide alder section who asks if the trail is poorly maintained where we came from too. He’s in for a treat. At least we’re going down. Bushes whip my shins. I am cranky and feel assaulted by nature. We cross mineral creek. I fill my water and eat a snack. Maybe food will help. We enter onto the Little Kachess Trail. The tread gets increasingly a little better minus one washed out section a few hundred feet above the lake which is actually incredibly terrifying. I’m on the verge of tears but somehow manage to cross the 30 foot section with neither plummeting to my death nor breaking into full-on tears. So much for the seemingly easy lakeside trail we were hoping for. The trail goes up and down, up and down over blowdowns and the like. The ups leave Mark feeling like shit. A reroute brings us up a steep hillside and we pop out into a clearing above a large rock overlooking the lake.It’s 8:20. Camp here? Yes.

Take in a few views of the lake at dusk. Oh Little Kachess Trail, your splendid views somehow make up for all these trail hardships. We pitch our tents and go to sleep. Whew.

 

WA PCT Section J – Part I, Day 2 – Kendall Katwalk and Getting Sick

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Sunday, August 5, 2018
Part I, Day 2. Miles hiked: 11. Elevation gain/loss: +3975/-3520 ft
Just north of Snoqualmie Pass to 3 miles shy of Spectacle Lake

(See the great Instagram pictures here)

I wake at 6:30. I had to pee twice in the night. I always wish I could sleep the whole night through… I was woken once in the night by the headlamp of a night-hiker shouting “Hiker coming through!” In my sleepy delirium I was convinced he was walking literally through our campsite. But alas- he was on the main trail. He must of mistaken the reflective bits on our tents for night-time animal eyes because he added “Sorry to wake you!” and continued on down trail. Our goal today is Spectacle Lake, 14 miles away, or beyond if we’re feeling good.

I wake Mark by throwing sticks at his tent. We pack up and are out of camp a little after 9. Much more ambitious than our noon start the previous day. Up to the Kendall Katwalk. Very beautiful. The real start of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Snack at the view. It’s a warm day with lots of sun and exposure. Great views of the aptly named Red Mountain throughout the morning. Gravel Lake, Ridge Lake, Alaska Lake. Some steady climbing, ups and downs, then Joe Lake. A break for lunch in the shade. The alleged “seasonal creek” is nowhere to be found. Damn. Note to self: read the Guthook app notes about each water source before running out of water. Mark runs hot and the heat does not make him a happy camper.

We continue on up through the exposed terrain. Another shade break. Very low on water. Mark is too kind and shares some of his with me. Just in time we find a tiny alpine lake where three other hikers are hanging out and we grab one more liter of water each. The landscape is beautiful and dramatic. Ridges, mountains, and alpine lakes for miles. We wind our way inside the ridge just below Huckleberry Mountain, Chickamin Peak, and the Four Brothers. A few sketchy drop-offs make me nervous (maybe a new trail name for me: Nervous Nelly? Will have to think on it…)

At a snow patch we take the opportunity to cool off. Mark is officially not feeling well. We eventually cross over the pass into the Parks Lake Basin and wind our way down, down, down. Lovely views of the Park Lakes. Three miles to go to Spectacle Lake. Why don’t we stop at this pond and camp for the night? It’s been a long day. We pull off the trail around 5pm and take a dip in the cool-enough pond. Feels great. Relax for a minute, then we set up our tents as escape from the ravenous mosquitos (the dark side of so many alpine lakes). Mark crawls into his tent and promptly falls asleep. He feels like garbage.

I chill the last of the wine – leftovers from Goldmyer which we’ve been toting around for too long. Look at maps. Get situated. Write. Sip wine. Cook dinner – Good-to-Go Thai Curry – which is pretty good and incredibly filling despite it containing only 750 calories. Poop in the woods at dusk. On my way back to my tent I startle a deer, which startles me. Mark is not feeling very well but manages to eat a few snacks between his naps. Asleep between 9 and 9:30pm…

 

Part I, Day 1 – Blowdowns, Snow Lake, and Gatorade

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Part I

Saturday, August 4, 2018
Day 1. Miles hiked: 13ish. Elevation gain: apx 4000 feet. Elevation loss: apx 1500 ft
Goldmyer Hot Springs to PCT Section J just north of Snoqualmie Pass

(Beautiful pics of trail – click here)

I wake around 5:30am as Jared wakes and packs for his crack-of-dawn departure. I go back to sleep and wake again at 8:30am and eventually get out of my tent. We all rise, enjoy our coffee and mostly-oatmeal-dominated-breakfasts, slowly pack up, and leave camp at 11:50am, just in time for our noon departure. Group selfie. The 6 of us hike to the Dutch Miller Gap/Middle Fork Snoqualmie trail junction and part ways after a small discussion about getting B.O. out of hiking shirts (try Oxyclean and/or Techwash from REI?).

Mark and actually hike back past our campsite, and after only mild confusion, find the old busted up footbridge across which we hobble/scramble with our enormous packs to cross the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. Somehow we manage to not fall in or get swept away. Success.

The next 3.5 miles is along the somewhat overgrown flat section of the Middle Fork Trail. Over a handful of blowdowns. Up, up, up 3,000 feet and many switchbacks on the Rock Creek Trail. Over 4 miles. After the forest we are met with sunshine and heat. A few snack breaks. We see one woman on the trail. “Good luck at the Zoo” that is Snow Lake, she says. Eventually, through the overgrown brush and blowdowns, we reach the Gem Lake Trail junction and immediately see a half-dozen hikers – several of which are blasting music from their bluetooth speakers. Entering the Zoo. Snow Lake may be crowded, but it is beautiful. Our first of the alpine lakes. We fill our water at a stream where two women take pics and selfies with their dogs. Up to the overlook. Down, down, down the 3+ miles to the Alpental Parking lot. Small trail traffic jam.

Thumbs out. We catch a ride with a nice family – mom, pop, kid, dog – in their truck. They deliver us to the Chevron where we promptly buy gatorade and V8. We eat a burger-filled dinner at the Aardvark Express food truck in front of the Chevron, momentarily overtaken by our fleeting cellphone reception. The friendly assistant manager of the Summit Inn inspires us to get back on the trail to escape his chatter.

A short road walk brings us to the spur to the PCT. We’re on the PCT for a few hundred feet before taking an immediate left – a shortcut down the abandoned-but-well-maintained Commonwealth Basin Trail – to cut off a few switchbacks. Shorter = steeper 😦 We pass a few people including a family set up camp by the river. Back on the PCT. It’s approaching dark and we snag a spot just in time to set up our tents and for me to dig a cathole for my first woods poo. We’re tired and we crash at 9:30pm, just past “hiker midnight”.