PCT Week 16: Diving deep into the Washington Wilderness

The section from Trout Lake to Snoqualmie Pass begins with circumnavigating beautiful Mount Adams. Then we are entering the jaw-dropping landscape of Goat Rocks, where the trail follows a skyline ridge with views of Mount Rainier. A short side quest leads up to the summit of Old Snowy Mountain which provides outstanding views. Mount Rainier will follow us until we dive into the hilly forest again. This, along with some trail magic in between, makes this section very enjoyable.

PCT Day 91: Mount Adams

FS Road 23 (mile 2229.9) to mile 2254.7
40.4km (25.2mi) / 9h / elevation gain of 1,136m (3,727ft)

Today we have great views of Mt Adams while we circumnavigate it. Mount Adams is a 12,281-ft volcano with a glacier that welcomes us into the wilderness of Washington. It’s a 10-mile climb on the flank of the mountain, first through lush forest but moving into burned areas higher up. We are having lunch after 12 miles. It’s been a long time since I made 12 miles by lunch. There are a lot of bugs. It’s either annoying black flies or mosquitoes. I rather take the flies over mosquitoes, but none of them are nice. The trail constantly alternates from groves to clearings, with many small ups and downs through gullies and volcanic rocks. There is a rather sketchy crossing over a fast-flowing glacial river where we can go over a log.

My left foot hurts, but it’s a different pain than the stress fracture. That puts me in a bad mood. I’m slow and can’t keep up with the others. And I hate the fact that hiking in the last weeks was just about pain. At least it feels like that right now. I’m not a happy hiker anymore. I love to be out here but I don’t want to suffer anymore.

PCT Day 92: Berry blazing

Mile 2254.7 to mile 2277.3
36.3km (22.6mi) / 9h / elevation gain of 1,432m (4,698ft)

Today we find huckleberries everywhere and the berry blazing slows us down. First, there is not much of a view until we have a great but brief view of Mt Rainier around the corner. Today there are a lot of smaller climbs, nothing too crazy but it adds up.

The last 10km (6.2mi) are beautiful as we are hiking through an open landscape with lovely meadows, flowers, and killer mountain views. Some creeks are gushing through, there is even a waterfall right next to the trail. There is also a pass, the first pass since the end of the Sierra, and some snow. I know now why Washington is considered one of the most beautiful sections of the PCT. 

There are a lot of epic campsites up here but we are going to the last one before the alternate up to Old Snowy Mountain begins which we want to climb for sunrise tomorrow. I love to hike through the different light moods of the evening. It’s all topped by a beautiful sunset that gives the sky incredible colors. Shortly after sunset, we reach the campsite in the last light of the day. Sharkbait and Squiggles are already there as I took it slower today and tried not to push myself too hard.

My foot didn’t hurt that much today, at least not with every step. Just sometimes, but I was on Ibuprofen, so it’s hard to tell. I’m afraid of what is wrong with the foot this time or if it’s still the same problem. If I hurt myself again I’m done with the PCT, I can’t afford more time off trail. I try not to think about it and I’m kind of ignoring the pain.

PCT Day 93: A day full of excitement

Mile 2277.3 to White Pass (mile 2295.9)
32km (20mi)/ 9h / elevation gain of 1,058m (3,471ft)

We wake up in the early morning to climb Old Snowy Mountain (7,880ft). We walk a bit up the PCT, then take the alternate to the mountain. The sun goes up while we are climbing up and the mountains around us are glowing.

The way leads steeply through loose rocks, there is even some snow to cross. We leave our backpacks at the junction and the final meters involve some scrambling. The first few meters up the mountain I thought to myself why are we doing this? But the moment I’m on top of the mountain always gives me the reason. What a view! We can see Mt Rainier, Mt Adams, and Mt Hood towering above the landscape. Mt Rainier really looks like a tough thing to climb with all that snow and ice at its slopes. It’s 268m (880ft) of elevation gain up to Old Snowy Mountain, not too bad, and absolutely worth every step. 

We get back down to our backpacks and take the other route back down to the PCT. And it gets more and more beautiful. We are doing this otherworldly ridge walk with some ups and downs and awesome views. Finally, we descend into a valley with a meadow full of wildflowers and a river gushing through it. We’re taking a break here, not because we already did a lot, but just because it’s so beautiful that we want to stay a little longer.

After our break, we descend further. Sharkbait and Squiggles are already way ahead of us, but we are just enjoying ourselves. And if all of it isn’t magical enough there suddenly are some lamas that make up their way up the hill. I’m just amazed at how this day gets better and better. 

The descent brings us back to the forest. We take another short break to get some water and then climb up again. Here the day starts to turn. It’s hot and humid and I’m sweating a lot on this ascent. I’m pushing myself really hard to go up the mountain until we get a nice view after we get out of the forest again. My legs start to feel shaky and I eat a chocolate bar on the go. After a while, I feel better to be able to continue. But I thought about resting right where I was a lot. Funny enough, this just happened due to a misunderstanding. Both of us wanted to take a lunch break earlier but thought the other one wanted to continue. I also get a little bit frustrated as I’m obviously quite slow as everybody is passing me except the ones who struggle a lot. I don’t feel that slow as I’m giving my best but it doesn’t seem to be enough. I know that shouldn’t bother me but it somehow does. I don’t want to be the slowest. At the beginning of the trail I was one of the fastest but then the others started to get fitter and faster and I just got stuck at my pace. Shouldn’t I get faster as well? Why don’t I? What’s wrong with me? Of course, my foot hurts and I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. But I can’t get out of that feeling. The good side of the misunderstanding is that we are almost up the mountain now and don’t have much left before it’s all the way downhill to the road. 

After lunch, we do the last 70m (230ft) up and have a nice view of an unreal blue-colored lake below us. There is even an alternate route to this lake but we don’t have much time left. We found out that the store where we are going to pick up our resupply packages closed at 6pm and we wanted to get our early tomorrow before they open. Squiggles and Sharkbait arrived hours before us but they weren’t allowed to pick up our packages. 

So we basically rush the last two hours without any break down the mountain. I’m pushing myself way too hard but we make it 5 minutes before the store closes. Frustratingly, we find out that Popeye’s package is delayed and not here. So we rushed for nothing. 

But the excitement for today is not over yet. Popeye almost blacks out and later smashed his finger with a rock trying to pitch the tent and almost blacks out once more, Squiggles has some kind of a stomach issue and is even thinking of skipping the next section to go home for a couple of days (she lives 2 hours from here) and my foot hurts. Sharkbait is the only one who’s doing fine. So, in the end, everything works out because the delayed package gives us a reason to stay a little bit longer and rest. Both Squiggles and Popeye are dehydrated for different reasons. I think we all pushed ourselves too hard the last few days. 

We didn’t have any time to prepare our cold-soaked dinners for tonight as we didn’t take any breaks after lunch in order to make it in time to the store and we don’t have enough time at the store to get food. But another hiker gives us two large pieces of pizza. The trail provides. I do some first aid on Popeye and try to nurse both of them back to health with medical electrolytes, the good stuff that doesn’t taste good but helps a lot. We will see how they feel tomorrow. I feel fine, it’s just the foot that hurts. The rest of my body is doing well and I’m not even exhausted. I’m just thankful for that. 

 

PCT Day 94: Mosquito hell

White Pass (mile 2295.9) to mile 2309.6
23km (14.3mi) / 5:15h / elevation gain of 446m (1,463ft)

Today we get a late start, no package showed up with today’s delivery. But we are able to bounce it and Popeye can resupply here, mostly from the hikerbox and some additional food from us. But it was good to rest a little bit more and to take a shower. A 8$ shower by the way but it felt really needed.

We walk back along the road to the trailhead and follow a gentle climb uphill through the forest. On the way, there is a beautiful lake where we take a break. We are passing a lot more little lakes on our way that leisurely leads us flat or downhill all the way to the campsite. There are heaps of blueberries to munch on the way. The only annoying thing are the mosquitoes that are trying to eat me alive. I try to outrun them but it’s not possible. I stop to put on some bug spray only to find out that I just run out of it. Great spot to run out of repellent. There is a river crossing before the campsite but a big log over the river keeps our feet dry. There are a lot fewer mosquitoes at camp which makes the place quite pleasant. We are falling asleep to the sound of the river.

PCT Day 95: Mount Rainier

Mile 2309.6 to Bear Gap Trail Junction (mile 2330)
32.8km (20.5mi) / 8h / elevation gain of 1,465 (4,806ft)

We are climbing a hill full of blueberries and from the top, we have a beautiful view of Mount Rainier. This view leads to the research of what the climb of this mountain looks like. Usually, it’s a two-day ascent over a glacier, so you need to know what you are doing or hire a guide. Also, there is the Wonderland Trail that goes around the mountain. I put both hikes on my list.

We get some more beautiful views of Mount Rainier until we descend to a nice little lake where we are having a lunch break. Not far from here is another pretty lake, Dewey Lake, which is supposed to be even better and great for swimming and we continue soon to get to this one. I go swimming there, the water is nice, the outside temperature is warm enough and there are no flies or mosquitoes. It’s quite perfect.

Sharkbait is way ahead of us and lets us know that there is trail magic at Chinook Pass where the trail hits the road. That is incentive enough to get us going. There is another little climb, we pass another small lake and then reach the parking lot where trail angels put up a taco bar. There are warnings starting from White Pass that norovirus is going around. Norovirus is highly infectious and I’m really scared to get that sick out here. And trail magic can be like a superspreader event among hikers. But how is it possible to say no to trail magic? It’s not. We are enjoying tacos and sodas and hoping for the best. Squiggles is saying goodbye here as she’s still not feeling well and she got a hitch to her house that is not too far away from here. We will reunite at Snoqualmie Pass.

While we are sitting there clouds are rolling in and it gets really cold. I have to put my puffy on but I’m still cold. It’s hard to believe that I was swimming not long ago. It’s already evening when we tackle the last miles to the campsite and there is a climb ahead of us. It leads us along the shores of Sheep Lake, a pretty alpine lake where there are a lot of people camping. Not PCT hikers, but families and other overnighters. We get some water here as there is no running water between Chinook Pass and the campsite. To make sure I put chlorine tablets in my water. Common water filtration systems like the Sawyer and Katadyn BeFree don’t filter out viruses. 

It gets colder and colder but it’s still beautiful how the clouds are rolling through. Finally, we get to the highest point and descend from there to reach the campsite that is down below a steep slope. But there are no spots left, so we look around for others. It’s getting dark and there is just a steep slope beside the trail. No campsites. So we are going further and find semi-flat spots under some trees right next to a junction. It starts raining now and we have no choice but to stay here as we don’t know where the next possibilities would be. It’s dark, wet, and cold and nobody wants to go any further. We are happy to get in the tent and be warm and dry. This will have to do for a night. At night the wind is very loud and it rains on us. It’s quite unpleasant. I keep waking up but I’m happy to be inside. 

PCT Day 96: Wet and cold

Bear Gap Trail Junction (mile 2330) to mile 2349.6
31.7km (19.8mi) / 7.5h / elevation gain of 818m (2,683ft)

It’s very hard to get going in the morning as it’s still raining, it’s cold and the clouds are hanging low. It’s just not very inviting to leave the warm sleeping bag. There are not many people passing by, so I think others feel the same way. It’s supposed to be a nice stretch of trail, but at the moment there is nothing to see. At 9pm we finally manage to get out and start hiking. It’s still cold and I put all my clothes on. But actually, it doesn’t take long until the clouds lift up and give the first views of the mountains and the blue skies. Mount Rainier pops out of the clouds and it’s jaw-dropping. 

The day switches from being hot to cold all the time. As soon as the sun is out it’s quite hot but gets down to 8°C when it disappears. We are getting into a spooky-looking forest as the clouds are hanging into the burned trees. There are beautiful flowers where sparkling raindrops are hanging off. We are reaching a cabin in the woods which normally is a popular campsite but comments of other hikers say that norovirus is going on here so we keep going. We missed some trail magic on a dirt road crossing today as they ran out of food at 2pm, way before we get there in the evening. We are passing some mighty huckleberry bushes where a family is picking a bunch to make milkshakes. One of them carries a gun in his pants which kind of scares me. My American friend says it’s quite normal to carry a gun out here but for me, it will never be normal to see guns. And why would you carry a gun while picking huckleberries with your family? 

When we reach the campsite on the side of a dirt road we hear gunshots in the forest. I really don’t like that. But we have a nice spot for ourselves. That’s the nice part of not being in a big group as you can find nice small campsites. I don’t know what’s going on with me at night as I’m quite cold and keep waking up because of that. It’s actually not that cold, it was definitely colder in the Sierra than here. It’s for sure not below freezing but I’m still cold.

 

PCT Day 97: Best Trail Magic ever

mile 2349.6 to mile 2371.8
35.2km (22mi) / 8h / elevation gain of 1,190m (3,904ft)

I’m quite tired in the morning as I keep waking up feeling cold. I also didn’t eat and drink enough yesterday. But the clouds are lifting and we can see Mount Rainier from our campsite. Below us are still clouds rolling through and the sun fights its way through them. I never can get enough of these views. When I start walking my eyes keep closing and it’s a wonder that I don’t fall on the first 3 miles to the water source. After a little break, I start feeling better to tackle the next climb. We have a nice view of some rugged mountains in the distance. 

It’s more pleasant today again as it’s much warmer. At the highest point, we have a nice view of the forested hills around us. I’m feeling good now and making a good pace. I don’t want to stop as I want to make use of being in a good shape today. We still have 71km (44.3mi) to the road, so we need to make two 35,5km (22mi) days which worried me a bit this morning. I needed the entire day yesterday to make the 20 miles. It’s hard to believe that I used to make 39km (24mi) every day. But now I’m feeling good about this again. 

We hear about trail magic further up the trail from southbound hikers and we are looking forward to that. So we don’t take long breaks today to make it there. And we reach the trail magic right in time for dinner – with a view of Mount Rainier. I even know two of the hikers already sitting there from the desert. We haven’t seen each other in a long time and it’s nice to catch up. The trail angels here go out of their way to make great trail magic for us. They serve beer and cocktails and for dinner, it’s rice, Korean-style chicken, and vegetables. They also have a lot of stuff hikers could need – from first aid to insoles. It’s amazing and we are really enjoying it. A lot of people are staying here tonight but we want to continue to shave off some miles for tomorrow. It would already be a long day tomorrow and it would be even harder if we would stay here. But it’s very tempting as they serve breakfast tomorrow morning. Other hikers tell us about a shortcut that they will take tomorrow to make it to the road but I don’t wanna skip miles.

We have a little bit of a climb left and right when it gets dark we reach the campsite.

 

PCT Day 98: Back to civilization

mile 2371.8 to Snoqualmie Pass (mile 2394.1)
36.2km (22.6mi) / 9h / elevation gain of 1,031m (3,382ft)

The day isn’t very spectacular. Mostly we are going through the forest and climb some hills with no views. It’s hot again today and the exposed parts make me sweat a lot. I’m looking forward to a shower and real food. I also declare an end to the cold soaking experience after this section. Hot food just tastes better. I’m good with cold-soaked ramen or ramen bomb which I will continue for lunch but everything else is just not good. Or I didn’t find the right food yet. Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting my stove back. 

There is a shortcut today that you could take for a faster and easier way into town but we don’t want to skip anything for no reason. There is no better view or anything, it’s even quite a road walk. Most of the people who camped at the trail magic yesterday to get breakfast in the morning take this shortcut in order to make it but we go all the way which results in quite a long day. We are pushing 21km (13mi) to the lunch break at a beautiful lake, the highlight of the day. It’s just a little bit more uphill and then mostly downhill from here.

The last 4 miles to the road are longer than thought as the terrain is full of rocks and roots which makes it difficult to walk on. Also, there is a last hill to climb until we make the descent down to Snoqualmie Pass where Squiggles picks us up and takes us to her house in North Bend which is just 20 minutes away. I’m sleeping in a real bed tonight which I haven’t done for almost 3 weeks. 

 

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