Success! We leave town while it’s still morning. The first five miles are all uphill, first through the woods and then below the ridge we’re slowly approaching. We can see the trail stretch out ahead of us and rise to the ridge, and it reminds us of the trail further north, when we’d see it far away across valleys hours before we’d walk those sections.
There are clouds coming over the ridge that we’re a bit worried about — the weather forecast calls for potential thunderstorms after 11am for the next few days. The clouds are tinged a beautiful but ominous red. When we’ve almost gained the ridge, Backup starts to ask a group of hikers coming towards us about the weather. Before he can get the question out, they answer him — about the fire! The clouds we’ve been watching aren’t weather but smoke. When we cross over the ridge, the smoke is unmistakable. To our left, the sky is blue, dotted with white clouds; then there’s a crazy seam in the sky where the smoke meets the blue sky, and to the right, the red-black-yellow smoke at cloud level, hazy blue below it.
The trail curves and we get an otherworldly view of Mount Rainier, partly shrouded by smoke. Backup manages to get a text through to his mom, who’s able to call a ranger, who’s able to text Backup. While we sit on rocks on a scree slope facing Rainier, the ranger asks for some information and gets in touch with the Mount Adams ranger station for us — the fire is down there, it turns out. It was started yesterday by lightning but, according to the rangers, the PCT is not in any danger. Phew.
We walk on and descend back into forest. The smoke has given the day a perpetual evening kind of feeling. The light the sun casts through the trees is golden orange. Golden hour goes on and on — until suddenly we turn a corner and day comes back. There’s no sign of the smoke or fire at all.
The rest of the afternoon we descend and climb and slowly leave the woods behind. Alpine wonderland! We’re camped tonight just on its edge, not far from a steep glacier-fed stream, protected from any inclement weather (though it’s been clear all day) by a little stand of trees.