Last night I set my alarm optimistically for five and realistically, I thought, for 5:30, but in the end I snooze until six. Still, I’m out the cabin door by seven. There’s frost all over the meadow outside, and the sun is just starting to rise over it. Beautiful.
A little ways into this morning’s gentle uphill hike through the woods, I hear some rustling ahead of me and am considering the possibility of a bear when a very human voice says “hello!” A minute later the source reveals itself to be a nobo hiker — he thought I was a bear!
Just a bit later, I hear another big rustling and look up in time to see a small herd of elk running through the woods in the direction of the meadow.
I start the day in my puffy jacket and leggings, but it warms up quickly, especially once the trail leaves the woods and the sun comes all the way up. I stop to pull off all my layers and a group of hikers rounds a corner to find me with my shoes off, making adjustments. It gets all the way to hot today! The trail winds around and over ridges, into woods and out of them, into the sun and out of it, into the wind and out of it. With water sources a bit rarer than they used to be further north, they’re what stands out, every five miles or so: the first, a creek where I fill up while listening to storytelling podcasts; the second, a piped spring with cold, clear water; the third, Sheep Lake, 20 miles in, where I fill up at an inlet and then walk on. These water stops are my only breaks today, and I stop only long enough to fill my two 1-liter bottles and treat them with Aquamira (which is faster than using my filter).
Near the piped spring, I realize I need to go dig a hole (Backup’s and my preferred euphemism), and I tromp off-trail up some small use trails until I emerge at a small clearing, where I spot at least three different kinds of animal scat. I’m not tracker enough to know what animals produced them, but it makes me grin to be an animal among animals, shitting in the woods.
In the afternoon, I pass a nobo hiker who looks familiar, but I’m not sure why. A minute later, I pass his hiking partner, and she stops and says, “Did we meet at the REI in Seattle?” Yes, I remember! We met in the shoe department when Backup was replacing his beat-up pair. They told us then that they were nobos who’d gotten off trail at White Pass to solve their own shoe problems. “Glad to see you made it back to the trail!” she says, and we exchange the usual trail notes (campsites near the Knife’s Edge in Goat Rocks, the food cart in Snoqualmie Pass, etc).
I also tell her, “There’s a great view of Mount Rainier coming up! It’ll be on your left, just rising up between two hills…” and then I walk a bit further and crest a ridge and THERE is a phenomenal view of Mount Rainier, big and beautiful. The view follows me for what seems like hours, and I can’t get enough of it.
To the south, I can also see Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens (just barely). I think about standing on them both, a couple weeks apart, this past May. Summitting snowy peaks makes me feel simultaneously powerful and vulnerable, both humble and amazing. I want to stand on top of Mount Rainier someday and look down at the tiny ridge I’m walking now.
Sheep Lake is around the 21- or 22-mile mark. Already a long day, but we had grand ambitions this morning when we agreed to meet at Dewey Lake, 26.6 miles from the cabin according to Guthook. I’ve got enough daylight and maybe enough energy. The last five miles are conveniently bifurcated by a highway and trailhead at Chinook Pass — a nice landmark to aim for. Soon enough I’m past it and navigating some twisty switchbacks through a pretty semi-alpine landscape as the sun starts to set and golden hour light is splashed across the hills.
Backup finally catches me a mile or so from our destination, at a Wilderness boundary with a permit box. I’m writing him a note when I hear his trekking poles clacking down the trail; he’s hustling to catch me and get to camp before dark. We hug, then walk the last bit together slowly — I’m not moving so fast — and take the first empty campsite we come to by the lake. A marathon day! Our feet hurt. We spend a good long time sitting on a log moaning about our feet before we set up tents and make dinner, and it’s almost 11 by the time we’re ready for bed.