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PCT day 5: mountains and marmots and meadows, oh my!

I wake up at the usual time, enjoy the pit toilet, crawl back into my sleeping bag, doze again. It’s been raining on and off since the early dark hours, sometimes hard, sometimes a drizzle. Summer in the North Cascades! It’s an excellent excuse for a lazy morning. I read a few chapters of The Martian on my phone. I don’t know what time it is when we finally get up — or slightly more up, anyway. The rain hasn’t quit entirely, so we cook oats and coffee in the vestibules of my tent, still mostly wrapped in our sleeping bags. I make my oats hot for the first time — I’ve been cold-soaking them, mostly out of laziness — and they’re delicious! This morning it’s a mix of quick oats, chia seeds, powdered milk, and sugar. Yum. 

The sun shows up a little later and we finally start packing up. I spend a while chatting with a couple who camped nearby, Leisure Suit and Little Feet, who’ve sectioned most of the trail and are up here to hike the stretch to the border and back, assuming the weather takes a turn for the better; they’re quick to admit that they’re fair weather hikers. It’s some ridiculous hour of the afternoon by the time we hit the trail, but I don’t regret our lazy morning. 

The trail emerges from pine forest into a alpine bowl or valley; we can see all the way across it to where the trail continues at pretty much the same elevation we’re at now, following the topo lines. Backup and I make a bet about whether the elevation will really be the same on the other side. I win; it is. 

Five miles in, we’re looking for a spring that’s mentioned in Guthook’s app, but we’ve gone past where it should be. As we’re looking back along the alpine slope we’ve just traversed, Backup spots a marmot trundling down the trail away from us. We watch as it hops over rocks on the slope and then disappears. 

We end up backtracking in its direction to the tent site nearby, where we find “H2O” with an arrow scratched into the dirt. We follow the path down to the prettiest little alpine spring you ever did see, complete with several cute marmots lounging on rocks nearby. Backup does the wildlife photographer thing, crawling on his belly to get as close to them as he can, while I filter water. We hear a high-pitched squeak and just catch a glimpse of a pika as it peers over the top of a rock and then disappears again. 

On the way out, I put rocks over the scratched message and arrow, spelling out the letters — no one should miss this spot! We’re sad to leave, especially when we look down from the trail a little later on and spot an amazing campsite in the meadow next to the spring. But we want to get a few more miles in, to make some progress towards Stehekin. 

After a couple more miles of alpine gorgeousness, the trail starts heading downhill on a long, long series of switchbacks. We’re heading into woodland, bear land. There’s a couple camped at the tent site we had our eye on on the map, but they point us a bit further away from the trail towards a spot next to a creek. We haven’t seen any scat since up near the border, but there are old scratch marks on trees near where we set up our tent. We cook dinner at a clearing a bit away and are visited several times by a skinny deer munching on greenery, but no bears so far. Our bear canisters, which we picked up in Hart’s Pass where we’d left them at the guard station, are heavy to carry, but they’re a bit reassuring tonight. I still can’t wait to mail mine home from Stehekin, though. 

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