The bears and even the deer leave us alone all night. We have ambitious plans today — 26 miles to get from one side to another of North Cascades National Park and set up an easier day tomorrow into Stehekin. But we’re slow taking down camp, and right away my right knee, which was feeling a bit creaky on the descent yesterday evening, is pretty much killing me: sharp pains underneath my kneecap when I step, particularly downhill.
Nothing to do but walk on. Eventually my legs warm up, I guess, and the pain dulls. The trail heads down and down, till we’re well out of the alpine environment we’d gotten used to. The trail is overgrown, dense, almost claustrophobic, with big bushes on either side. I’m longing for the sweeping panoramic views we’ve been enjoying so much.
But then! Backup spies a ripe huckleberry. We’ve been seeing the plants since day one, but they’ve been empty of berries or not quite ripe. And now, at lower elevation, they are everywhere! We gather handfuls and make appreciative noises as we move down the trail. Next, Backup finds a wild raspberry bush, and we’re stripping it of ripe berries when two section hikers headed north pass by. I offer them the last two tiny raspberries, and they tell us about the thimbleberry bush from which they harvested all the ripe berries just a few minutes ago around the corner. Neither Backup nor I is familiar with thimbleberry, but Backup has an e-book of edible plants of the PNW on his phone, and he pulls up the info. Just in time — around a corner we’re in thimbleberry heaven. Turns out thimbleberries are delicious. Like, really really. We eat all the ripe ones we can find, which is not enough. Once we head back up to higher elevations, the berries are all unripe again. Oh well; things to look forward to as we head south!
Amid the berries there is lots of bear sign. Turns out bears do shit in the woods.
Later in the day, Backup and I clash a little about our speed and mileage. We’ve been having a bit of a difficult time meshing our hiking styles. I’d prefer to be hiking early in the morning while the sky is still pink. He’d rather sleep in and enjoy his oats and coffee leisurely. I’m slower than he is, especially when I’m tired. He doesn’t mind night hiking. I hate it (I’m maybe a little bit afraid of the dark). So today we spend a few hours hiking mostly separately, sort of annoyed at each other.
Some time after the trail gains some elevation and emerges from the bushes and trees (return to alpine wonderland!!), I find Backup waiting for me at a creek rushing down orange rocks, happily photographing a bush full of butterflies.
I’m feeling better too — the pain in my feet and legs is fading in and out and moving around so much that’s it’s easy to not take it too seriously. I’ve even discovered that I can get the tendon (or whatever it is) on the front of my ankle to stop hurting (when that particular pain comes a-knockin’) by carefully engaging the toes of that foot while I walk. I’m as surprised as Backup, but I’m making good time. I catch up to him when he pauses briefly to take photos or chat with other hikers, until eventually we’re hiking together.
I also realized a few miles back that I’d totally read the map wrong, and what I thought was the south edge of the National Park is actually the north edge. It’s an issue at all ’cause you have to have a backcountry camping permit for a specific site to camp in the park, and we don’t. Fifteenish miles of the PCT are in the park, and I thought we had to get through them all today. But nope! The trick today is to stop short of the park! So we’ll do 23 miles, not 26, camping just a mile or so north of the park border. We’ll walk through tomorrow and then catch the bus to Stehekin!
Mile 20ish is Rainy Pass, our first road crossing since Hart’s Pass and our first asphalt of the trail. Backup high-fives me when we arrive. “You seem to have gotten your hiking legs!” he says. I’m gonna reserve judgment on that till I find out what hurts tomorrow.
We spend ten minutes or a half hour at the Rainy Pass trailhead, moaning about our sore feet, before getting it together to cross the highway and get back on the trail towards our campsite, two and a half miles away. But we make it before dark. Just barely.