One of the workers at the bakery yesterday told Backup that the post office opens at eight this morning, so at eight I trot over there and find a sign indicating that it opens at ten. Oh well! I kill a couple hours carefully packing my pack (everything but food) and checking on the new books I downloaded to my phone — I finished The Martian yesterday.
At ten I trot over again and pick up our resupply boxes. Much to my chagrin, they have been labeled by the postmaster with their weights. Backup’s is ten pounds, ten ounces, and mine is ten pounds, 13.5 ounces. Yikes! Gonna be a heavy carry starting out.
We take over a couple of picnic tables outside the store and spread out the contents of our boxes. I have leftover food from the last leg, still, so I have a little leeway in what I need to take and what I can leave in the hiker box at the post office. Even after some finagling, though, six days of food is kind of ridiculous.
Backup decides to keep his bear can, but sends home the tent he’s been using to make up for it. We’ll just share mine. I send home my bear can, stuffed with a few miscellaneous things, a priority mail label slapped right on top.
From the post office we start walking towards the bakery, a couple miles up the only road in town. A mile in, we stick out our thumbs when a couple drives by in some kind of off-road golf cart, and they pull over, laughing, to pick us up.
The bakery smells just as good as it does yesterday. I settle on a pesto-and-onion homemade hot pocket thing, plus a bottle of chocolate milk. I already bought and ate a cinnamon roll the size of my head when we were here yesterday. After we’ve been munching for a while, Paint Your Wagon shows up just off the town-bound bus from High Bridge and greets us enthusiastically. Then a guy across the bakery greets him enthusiastically — they met back in April at Lake Morena at Kick-Off. “I was just thinking about you the other day!” the guy tells Paint. “I was recounting a story you told us, about the scientists cutting butterflies out of cocoons.”
“Oh yeah,” Paint remembers. “It doesn’t work. The struggle pushes fluid into their wings. They need to struggle to break the cocoon to be strong enough to fly. Strength comes from the struggle.”
It’s past two when we finally catch the bus back to High Bridge, and three when we hit the dusty trail.
I’m a little sad to leave town. I’m having trouble getting into any kind of groove as we stumble over roots and rocks and push through heavy overgrowth. Backup makes conversation by coming up with creative meanings for the PCT acronym, and we trade them back and forth. Pockmarked Cranky Traveler. Potential Cougar Territory (maybe a bit too on the nose, that one). When we pass by a huge downed tree, he says, “I bet that one used to be a Peaceful Canopy Tree.”
“But now it’s a Prone Cadaver Tree.”
“Well, at least it didn’t get the Particleboard Chemical Treatment.”
We lapse into silence with a few miles to go. I gotta admit, my morale is not high. I have deep dark thoughts about having bitten off much more than I can chew. I’m afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of being alone. I’m afraid of Backup and I driving each other totally batty. I’m afraid my feet will never stop hurting. I’m afraid my shoulders will always ache.
One footstep at a time, I guess.
We make it nine miles to a campsite near the creek we’ve been following for much of the afternoon. Tent set up = great, dinner made = great, bear hang = not so great. Our food doesn’t fit yet into my Ursack and Backup’s bear can, so we’re hanging a stuff sack as well. The third or fourth time Backup tries to throw a stick, tied to the cord, over the branch he’s aiming for, it crashes down and hits me in the head. The cord keeps getting caught on sticks and plants on the forest floor. We’re frustrated and cranky, it’s getting dark, and I just want to crawl into the tent and blog and read my book.
Well. Mama didn’t say there’d be days like this, but I kinda knew there would be anyway. Guess I need the struggle to get the strength to fly. Shoulda known what I was getting into, choosing a trail name like Fledgling.
Wake up, take another shower just for kicks, eat slices of french toast and piles of hashbrowns for breakfast, hop on the shuttle to town. Since it’s pretty much a tourist bus, we stop at Rainbow Falls (a very short trail to a very pretty waterfall) and the bakery, which we’re so very very much looking forward to stopping at again on our way out of town tomorrow.
More “very” about today: very lazy, very warm, very clean (relatively speaking). We’re just hanging out in tiny Stehekin, eating and drinking things (Snickers ice cream bars, beers, etc). We also spread out the contents of our packs, looking for things we haven’t used or can live without to send home. I know that getting comfortable carrying less water is the biggest way I can save weight, but every ounce counts, so bye-bye spare sports bra and bye-bye sleeping pad stuff sack and, yep, bye-bye fancy baseplate compass.
It’s gonna be hot in the next section, though, so I’m gonna keep the extra Platypus bottle I haven’t used since day three.
I spend most of the afternoon figuring out how to get photos from my camera to my blog via my phone. Et voila!
We wake at six but it’s nine by the time we hit the trail. I’m more or less okay with this. I take my time eating my oats (cooked) and sipping some hot chocolate, then spend the last hour reading The Martian while Backup finishes getting his pack all packed. We’ve only got 17 miles to High Bridge, where we’ll catch the shuttle to Stehekin. If we manage an okay pace, we should get there in plenty of time.
The best part of the trail happens early today: lots and lots of thimbleberries! We race each other to the next patch with ripe berries, then realize our pace is slipping. From there it’s just walk walk walk, up and down but always at relatively low elevation, hot and dense trail. We do stop to admire a perfect bear print in a muddy patch on the trail — we can count the claws! And yes, by “stop to admire” I do mean “talk unnecessarily loudly for several minutes as we look this way and that while hiking.”
We take a bit of a break at the second-best part of the trail today, on a rare open slope with a stream cascading down it. There are big rocks to sit on, cold clear water to collect and filter, and four impressive runners to chat with, who ran from Rainy Pass to Stehekin yesterday and are running back to their cars today. There’s also a misguided butterfly convinced that my purple bracelet and purple hat are flowers and a little dude bird trying very hard to impress a lady bird nearby. The bird flaps his wings like crazy, chirping repeatedly, and every time his lady friend gets close, the chirping gets even more high-pitched and fast and urgent.
When we’re ready to move on, I stand for a few minutes in ankle-deep cold water in my shoes and socks. It feels fantastic.
But most of the day is just about covering ground, pushing through the bushy plants overgrowing the trail, and kicking up absurd amounts of dust. The last three or four miles are particularly difficult. I count down the last two thirds of a mile as though I were walking down the street to my apartment, noting landmarks on the way. I’m still several blocks away when the trail finally ends at High Bridge, a little sooner than expected. Whew!
We annex a picnic table while we wait for the shuttle that will take us to town. Shoes off, contents of our packs scattered everywhere. We wash our hands and feet with baby wipes. A group of day hikers joins us, and then the shuttle shows up — the other shuttle, en route to Stehekin Valley Ranch, which offers food and showers more immediately than the less clear options in town. Oh, all right. We hop on and rent a tiny cabin for the night.
I wear my hiking clothes into the shower to wash them, and go to dinner wearing just my skirt and still-smelly fleece. We chow down on veggie burgers and Backup eats four slices of pie. After dinner we get access to the little bit of wifi available, and I’m able to chat with my mom a bit. More laundry in the sink, reading, then bed. I mean, a real bed.
miles hiked: 110
blisters: zero! (though I do have a couple little hot spots after walking through every stream we passed today)
total calories consumed: probably not enough
total calories carried: 21,000
favorite gear: my fleece or my skirt or my spoon or my shoes or…
least favorite gear: my pack
favorite part of the trail so far: north of Hart’s Pass (Backup and I agree)
funniest day hiker comment: (to Backup) “Tell her she looks like an Athleta advertisement! She’s so cute!” (I guess it’s the skirt?)
showers taken: one
biggest food craving: orange slices!
The bears and even the deer leave us alone all night. We have ambitious plans today — 26 miles to get from one side to another of North Cascades National Park and set up an easier day tomorrow into Stehekin. But we’re slow taking down camp, and right away my right knee, which was feeling a bit creaky on the descent yesterday evening, is pretty much killing me: sharp pains underneath my kneecap when I step, particularly downhill.
Nothing to do but walk on. Eventually my legs warm up, I guess, and the pain dulls. The trail heads down and down, till we’re well out of the alpine environment we’d gotten used to. The trail is overgrown, dense, almost claustrophobic, with big bushes on either side. I’m longing for the sweeping panoramic views we’ve been enjoying so much.
But then! Backup spies a ripe huckleberry. We’ve been seeing the plants since day one, but they’ve been empty of berries or not quite ripe. And now, at lower elevation, they are everywhere! We gather handfuls and make appreciative noises as we move down the trail. Next, Backup finds a wild raspberry bush, and we’re stripping it of ripe berries when two section hikers headed north pass by. I offer them the last two tiny raspberries, and they tell us about the thimbleberry bush from which they harvested all the ripe berries just a few minutes ago around the corner. Neither Backup nor I is familiar with thimbleberry, but Backup has an e-book of edible plants of the PNW on his phone, and he pulls up the info. Just in time — around a corner we’re in thimbleberry heaven. Turns out thimbleberries are delicious. Like, really really. We eat all the ripe ones we can find, which is not enough. Once we head back up to higher elevations, the berries are all unripe again. Oh well; things to look forward to as we head south!
Amid the berries there is lots of bear sign. Turns out bears do shit in the woods.
Later in the day, Backup and I clash a little about our speed and mileage. We’ve been having a bit of a difficult time meshing our hiking styles. I’d prefer to be hiking early in the morning while the sky is still pink. He’d rather sleep in and enjoy his oats and coffee leisurely. I’m slower than he is, especially when I’m tired. He doesn’t mind night hiking. I hate it (I’m maybe a little bit afraid of the dark). So today we spend a few hours hiking mostly separately, sort of annoyed at each other.
Some time after the trail gains some elevation and emerges from the bushes and trees (return to alpine wonderland!!), I find Backup waiting for me at a creek rushing down orange rocks, happily photographing a bush full of butterflies.
I’m feeling better too — the pain in my feet and legs is fading in and out and moving around so much that’s it’s easy to not take it too seriously. I’ve even discovered that I can get the tendon (or whatever it is) on the front of my ankle to stop hurting (when that particular pain comes a-knockin’) by carefully engaging the toes of that foot while I walk. I’m as surprised as Backup, but I’m making good time. I catch up to him when he pauses briefly to take photos or chat with other hikers, until eventually we’re hiking together.
I also realized a few miles back that I’d totally read the map wrong, and what I thought was the south edge of the National Park is actually the north edge. It’s an issue at all ’cause you have to have a backcountry camping permit for a specific site to camp in the park, and we don’t. Fifteenish miles of the PCT are in the park, and I thought we had to get through them all today. But nope! The trick today is to stop short of the park! So we’ll do 23 miles, not 26, camping just a mile or so north of the park border. We’ll walk through tomorrow and then catch the bus to Stehekin!
Mile 20ish is Rainy Pass, our first road crossing since Hart’s Pass and our first asphalt of the trail. Backup high-fives me when we arrive. “You seem to have gotten your hiking legs!” he says. I’m gonna reserve judgment on that till I find out what hurts tomorrow.
We spend ten minutes or a half hour at the Rainy Pass trailhead, moaning about our sore feet, before getting it together to cross the highway and get back on the trail towards our campsite, two and a half miles away. But we make it before dark. Just barely.
I wake up at the usual time, enjoy the pit toilet, crawl back into my sleeping bag, doze again. It’s been raining on and off since the early dark hours, sometimes hard, sometimes a drizzle. Summer in the North Cascades! It’s an excellent excuse for a lazy morning. I read a few chapters of The Martian on my phone. I don’t know what time it is when we finally get up — or slightly more up, anyway. The rain hasn’t quit entirely, so we cook oats and coffee in the vestibules of my tent, still mostly wrapped in our sleeping bags. I make my oats hot for the first time — I’ve been cold-soaking them, mostly out of laziness — and they’re delicious! This morning it’s a mix of quick oats, chia seeds, powdered milk, and sugar. Yum.
The sun shows up a little later and we finally start packing up. I spend a while chatting with a couple who camped nearby, Leisure Suit and Little Feet, who’ve sectioned most of the trail and are up here to hike the stretch to the border and back, assuming the weather takes a turn for the better; they’re quick to admit that they’re fair weather hikers. It’s some ridiculous hour of the afternoon by the time we hit the trail, but I don’t regret our lazy morning.
The trail emerges from pine forest into a alpine bowl or valley; we can see all the way across it to where the trail continues at pretty much the same elevation we’re at now, following the topo lines. Backup and I make a bet about whether the elevation will really be the same on the other side. I win; it is.
Five miles in, we’re looking for a spring that’s mentioned in Guthook’s app, but we’ve gone past where it should be. As we’re looking back along the alpine slope we’ve just traversed, Backup spots a marmot trundling down the trail away from us. We watch as it hops over rocks on the slope and then disappears.
We end up backtracking in its direction to the tent site nearby, where we find “H2O” with an arrow scratched into the dirt. We follow the path down to the prettiest little alpine spring you ever did see, complete with several cute marmots lounging on rocks nearby. Backup does the wildlife photographer thing, crawling on his belly to get as close to them as he can, while I filter water. We hear a high-pitched squeak and just catch a glimpse of a pika as it peers over the top of a rock and then disappears again.
On the way out, I put rocks over the scratched message and arrow, spelling out the letters — no one should miss this spot! We’re sad to leave, especially when we look down from the trail a little later on and spot an amazing campsite in the meadow next to the spring. But we want to get a few more miles in, to make some progress towards Stehekin.
After a couple more miles of alpine gorgeousness, the trail starts heading downhill on a long, long series of switchbacks. We’re heading into woodland, bear land. There’s a couple camped at the tent site we had our eye on on the map, but they point us a bit further away from the trail towards a spot next to a creek. We haven’t seen any scat since up near the border, but there are old scratch marks on trees near where we set up our tent. We cook dinner at a clearing a bit away and are visited several times by a skinny deer munching on greenery, but no bears so far. Our bear canisters, which we picked up in Hart’s Pass where we’d left them at the guard station, are heavy to carry, but they’re a bit reassuring tonight. I still can’t wait to mail mine home from Stehekin, though.