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PCT day 20: alternatively

A few days ago we met a few nobo hikers who totally sold us on the Goldmyer Alternate. “The hot springs are great! Plus the trail is better maintained than the PCT, has less elevation gain, and it’s ten miles shorter.” Ok, ok, twist my arm. A mile into our hike this morning, we leave the PCT. We’re carrying several liters of water each, just in case the only water source mentioned for the alternate in Halfmile’s app is in fact the only water source available. Weighed down thusly, we start uphill in the sun.

Mercifully, we encounter two hikers coming the other way within a few miles. “There’s plenty of water!” they assure us. “A gorgeous lake at the top of the climb, prettiest we’ve seen, and plenty of water after that.” We dump some water and chug some of the rest, relieved, and climb in the heat towards the promised lake. 

We take breaks: first at the first creek we cross, which turns out to be “oh, maybe three football fields” short of the lake according to a group of hikers who’ve just gone for a swim there. Then at the lake itself, where I take off all my clothes and try (and fail) to dare myself to swim — I get knee-deep, but the water’s cold! Then above the lake, where the trail crosses an inlet and the inlet forms a beautiful blue pool below a dozen little waterfalls — here I take all my clothes off again, and this time I slip in semi-accidentally down a slippery rock and end up in water up to my chest, so cold I can hardly take a breath. But it feels good, too; as soon as I’m out of the water and back in the sun, I’m sweating again.

A few more switchbacks and we’re finally at the top. Off the PCT, the terrain is more variable and sometimes trickier and steeper. We’re slower on the downhill than we usually are, and the hot sun isn’t helping. We break one more time at another creek crossing, sitting in a shady clearing to snack, filter water, and debate the merits of pushing miles tonight. 

In the end, we don’t. We walk a few more miles and stop at a wooded campsite next to yet another stream. I’ve got a headache from the sun and/or from a good day gone less-than-awesome. Backup’s decided to get off trail, or at least to stop hiking with me, at Snoqualmie Pass, which is tomorrow night, unless we decide to spend tomorrow night at Goldmyer Hot Springs (assuming they have room for us) and extend this section an extra day (luckily, I am not eating anywhere near the 4000 calories per day I packed starting this section). I have mixed feelings. I hope that we both remember the last few weeks as mostly positive. They’ve definitely been challenging, but I’ve also enjoyed Backup’s company very much.

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