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PCT day 34: Pacific Crest River

When we wake up there’s little bits of ash on our tents, but there’s also a bit of light drizzle falling off and on. The rain kindly holds off for the most part until we’ve breakfasted and packed up. While Backup finishes getting his things together and fills up his water bottles, I sit on a log and read Midnight’s Children, until I’m startled by a loud buzz and a poke in my lower back. It’s a hummingbird who mistook my fuchsia rain jacket for a flower! When I stand up, it swoops around me once, confused, and then flies off. 

It drizzles all morning. It would probably be pretty if we could see much of anything. 

Seven or so miles in, we hit what Guthook describes as “a rocky creek” and which is in fact a river, both turgid and turbid, dividing and recombining in a series of volcanic channels. There’s no obvious way to cross, and we pace the bank up and down, trying to decide whether to go for it. In the end, we pick our way across three different channels on tiny, scary logs, placing our trekking poles carefully in the rushing water. When we make it, we laugh in relief and high-five, then continue on our way. Less than a mile later, we meet a nobo hiker and warn him about the crossing, and he says, “oh yeah, the Boy Scouts back there told me there’s a log about 200 yards upstream?” Man, no one told us about the log. We make it our personal mission for the day to let everyone else know about it. 

A bit further on, we meet a couple more nobos, and while we’re chatting with them (about the log), a sobo hiker catches up with us. His name is Beowulf, and when we ask him if he’s getting to Trout Lake today, he asks how far it is. “Ten miles,” we say, and he shrugs. 

“I wasn’t planning on going that far, but what the hell,” he says. He started this morning twelve miles north of us, which means it’ll be a 32-mile day for him when we get to the trailhead at Road 23. 

The three of us hike together as the rain gets harder. And harder. I’m pretty sure the terrain around us is pretty — burned trees with bright wood that looks almost orange in the flat light; little green yellow red plants; rocks; views, I’m sure, in clearer weather, of Mount Adams and other mountains — but as we start to wet through, we pretty much just put our heads down and hike hike hike. We sneak up on the remarkably oblivious Boy Scouts and pass them one by one (“Excuse me. Hello? Can we sneak past you? EXCUSE ME. HEY GUYS CAN WE GET PAST PLEASE? Ah, yes, hello, thanks.”) and truck on. 

The rain is ridiculous. Well, the rain is rain. What is ridiculous is the water all over everything. It’s been so dry here for so long that nothing is soaking in. It’s just rushing in torrents down the mountain and down the trail. In some spots the trail is full of puddles around the edge of which we try with limited success to skirt; in other places it’s hopeless — the trail is a river, ankle deep and moving fast, with rapids and foam and waterfalls and the whole nine yards. Our feet are soaked. Our rain jackets are wet through and everything is soaked. 

We fantasize about what might be waiting for us at the end of the trail: a building full of dry towels and hot food. A sauna. Maybe a car waiting for us to arrive, to sweep us off to warm dry places with pie. When we finally, finally stumble off the trail and onto Road 23, there is a car — we assume it belongs to someone currently on the trail, out for a night or a few days. But no, there’s someone in the driver’s seat! When he opens the door, we ask, “Is there any way we could get a ride into Trout Lake?” And get this, he’s waiting for a hiker who never showed. He’d love to give us a ride. He’s glad he didn’t drive out here in vain. He’ll drop us off right at the store. They’ll fix us up and help us find a place to stay. This, ladies and gentlemen, is real trail magic. 

At the store, I dazedly buy chocolate milk and a plastic baggy full of homemade chocolate peanut clusters, and Backup buys an entire huckleberry pie. The almost incomprehensibly kind, patient, and friendly woman who works there calls around looking for a place for us to stay. All the usual places are full, but some locals who have a bunkhouse for hikers (which is full) on their farm are happy to let us sleep in their wood-stove-heated workshop. Warm and dry? We’re sold. Next, the three of us tromp down the block to the cafe, where we order veggie burgers and fries and cups of hot cider. When we return to the store, the woman who works there tells Backup she sold his pie… because the local woman who makes them brought some new ones over, so she saved him one that’s hot, fresh out of the oven. We and the pie are loaded into her car and she drives us to our home for the night, where another hiker has already built a hot fire in the stove. I finally peel off most of my wet clothes and warm up enough to stop shivering. It’s cozy and warm and there are cots and there is conversation and everything is good.

(Yep, that’s all the photos. After the river, my hands and phone were so wet that I couldn’t use the touchscreen, and didn’t want to take my hands out of my gloves anyway. My camera, of course, was safely buried in my pack. So you’ll have to take my word for it about the trail-river.)

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