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PCT section 2018, day 1: a feast for mosquitos

I wake up on the morning of my 33rd birthday an hour before my alarm clock is set when my cat Anoushka sniffs near my head, demanding attention. That’s okay. I pet her for a few minutes until she curls up, purring, next to my pillow, and then I get up and putter around my apartment, packing a few last items in my backpack, cleaning things up, and writing a couple notes for Alex, my cats’ unofficial godfather, who’ll be staying at my place and keeping them company while I’m gone.

At nine I carry my pack and my resupply boxes down to my folks’ place, and my mom and I drive to Ben’s to pick him up — then we hop onto the highway. From I-5, there’s just one turn en route to our destination three hours away: White Pass, Washington! I’m heading out for a month or so on the PCT, overlapping a bit with the end of my 2015 section hike. Ben is joining me for the first part of the hike — he’ll either hike with me to Trout Lake, or turn off when we’re near Mount Adams to climb a route he’s had his eye on. After that, I’ll be on my own.

We stop for burgers in Packwood and get to White Pass sometime after noon. Mom hands us some cookies, takes a picture, and nudges us off down the trail.

In my memory, the PCT south of White Pass immediately emerges in alpine wonderland, traversing a rocky slope above a broad basin. In reality, there are several lower-elevation miles to slog through first, through trees, and THERE ARE MOSQUITOS EVERYWHERE. While Ben had applied deet to his arms and legs at the trailhead, I’d brushed off concerns about mosquitos: “they don’t bother me much” is what I said, but what I meant is “I haven’t been around many mosquitos recently and I’ve totally forgotten how completely terrible they are.” Rather than borrow repellant (since, umm, deet is, well, repellant), I double down: “I’ll get used to them! They’ll stop bothering me!” I put my headnet on and hike as fast as I can manage to try and outrun them. It only sort of works and is also exhausting.

Eventually, though, after several miles, exhausted as we are, we emerge from the thick forest into the transitional alpine-ish environment I remember — low, scraggly trees, chunks of talus, grassy meadows down below — ah, and there across the basin, the trail slowly ascending as it traverses the rocky slope. Yes! That’s the stuff. It’s a bit breezier and less mosquito-friendly, thank goodness.

We follow the trail around the basin, picking our way across intermittent snow slopes by stepping carefully in the footprints of hikers who’ve come before us. Not too many — but a few. Earlier we ran into two women who’d hiked up from Cascade Locks, and asked them about the Knife Edge. “Oh, it’s okay!” they told us. We’re carrying ice axes and I’ve got my microspikes, but it’s looking like they’ll be unnecessary weight. Oh well. Later today, Ben will use my ice axe to dig a cat hole, so hey. Multi-use item.

We cross over the ridge, relish the alpine views, and then begin to descend into the mosquitos’ territory again. They’re not quite as bad here, but I still hesitate to stop for more than a moment. I’m probably not eating enough food. Ben is feeling pretty beat — he was already feeling less than awesome on the car ride, and racing mosquitos with a heavy pack has done him in. When we get to the turnoff for Hidden Spring, we decide to follow the advice of the women we met earlier and camp near the spring. Guthook says there’s a spot with a great view just a little ways past the spring.

We walk all the way to the campsite without stopping to look for the water (we’ve got enough for dinner). The view really is stunning — Goat Rocks arrayed in front of us. I try to find a spot with a view to pitch our tent, but we settle for a more sheltered spot and eat dinner with the view instead.

After dinner, we lie down in the tent and I read some of Moonwalking with Einstein, which I started reading a couple months ago after finding it mentioned in several “any books I should read before PT school??” threads online. I try to blog, but feel distracted and tired/not-tired. Ben’s not feeling well. There’s nothing I can do to help, so I keep reading while he crawls out of the tent to find a spot to sit, hoping that being upright might help a bit.

After a while, I hear a few drops of water hit the tent. When it becomes undeniable that it’s raining, though thankfully not very hard, I pull on my rain jacket and go find Ben, who’s sitting on a log watching moody clouds settle over the mountains. He’s feeling a bit better. We chat for a while and then he says he’s ready to lie down again. As we’re picking ourselves up, he points to the end of the log. “Want a loaf of bread?” he asks.

“What?” But I see what he’s pointing to.

“It looks like a loaf of bread.”

It does indeed, but it must be something else — a strange rock or a piece of bark or something. I walk over and poke it. Ben laughs at the face I make. “It’s a fucking loaf of bread!” There is a for-real dense loaf of wheat bread of some kind, just sitting on this log getting soggy in the rain. I look at Ben. “I mean… should we bury it?”

“How about I chuck it as far as I can?” he suggests. We’re basically on the edge of a cliff, so throwing it would get it pretty far away from us — and any future residents of the campsite — quickly and efficiently. I’m not sure what the correct action is here, but I hand the loaf to Ben (the underside is host to a few ants) and he tosses it over the edge. “Enjoy!” he calls after it.

“Please don’t come up here!” I add.

We curl up in our dry cozy sleeping bags, the sun sets the rest of the way, and we go to sleep.

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