Day 111, August 13th
Start: Camp near Mica Lake, at Mile 2531
End: Camp at mile 2566
Miles Hiked: 30 (The old PCT alternate cuts off roughly 5 miles of trail.
Elevation Gain: 9,000 Feet
Last night was crazy. We set up our tents and tarps with could cover over Mica Lake, but it wasn’t raining. Around 11 PM, it started coming down hard, and the wind swept down the mountain right into our exposed location. Although it was a beautiful camp site overlooking a frozen lake, it was not an ideal place to camp if a storm came through (something I often overlook). We were on a bald outcropping above the lake, no tree cover, and up high. The opposite of where you’re supposed to be with nasty weather on the horizon. But the view was too good to pass up, so we took the spot… and paid the price.
Wind flapped my tarp all night, and sideways rain came splashing in, soaking all of my gear. I still slept a good amount of the night, as I was warm enough bundled in all my gear, but I knew my gear would be soaked in the morning, as the water was puddled up on the tyvek.
When I wake at 5:30, everything is soaked, as I expected. No longer is it raining or windy, and on this ridge, we are high above the clouds. I hike out with Tiny and Woody, traversing the slopes down several thousand feet and into the clouds. The three of us try to take an alternate that woody has found on the map. We bushwack a few hundred yards before seeing that the river is completely impassable, and the bridge that was there at one time is completely washed out. All that is left are large stone foundations rising above the river.
Once at the bottom of the descent, we start our first big climb of the day, roughly 4,000 feet. I try to keep up with tiny, and I do, but I’m practically running. He’s 6’4″, and doesn’t slow down on the uphills. I’m 5’7″, and I take 3 steps for every 2 he takes! He’s so fast! It’s a fun challenge trying to keep up with this gladiator of a man, and I feel accomplished reaching the top with him (yay!).
Trapped in clouds, we hike on, and it gets pretty cold up top. I find Woody and Brainstorm stopped at a seasonal creek running from the snow next to us. We can’t see more than a few yards in front of us as the fog is so thick. It only takes a few minutes before I’m too cold and wet, and need to keep moving, so I head out with Woody as Brainstorm and Tiny make some coffee.
“This is miserable,” Woody says, “I’ve got extreme anxiety. So cold and wet, we can’t see anything. So stupid!”
I can sense he’s pretty worried about it, and I tell him we’ll be just fine, pushing him to hike fast to warm up. Woody hates the rain. We all dislike it, hiking in cold rain sucks, but Woody despises it, and I don’t blame him. It’s no fun hiking in cold rain and wondering when you’ll ever warm up/dry off.
We hike down out of the clouds and warm up as we do, entering a magical forest. Damp, dark, and eerie, the forest engulfs the two of us. It’s quite, as no sounds can get through the thick trees, moss, and bushes. How did I even get here, I think to myself. This wet forest, mist going through the trees. I’ve never hiked in anything like it. I touch the moss on the bark as I walk by, and marvel at how alive everything feels.
Woody and I reach the old PCT junction with Brainstorm and Tiny, and look at the first river crossing. This used to be the official PCT just 10 years back, before the bridge washed out. Once it did, the trail was re-routed down the valley where a new bridge was constructed, and the old PCT was completely forgotten, and has been unmaintained ever since. We all feel adventurous, and don’t like the idea of hiking 5 extra miles down a valley when we can take this unmaintained trail, so we go for it.
The first river crossing is pretty easy, on a downed tree, and we all get across safely. Then the old growth obstacle course begins! Downed trees block the overgrown ‘path’. We go over them. More trees are down, with many branches. We bushwhack around them. A smaller downed tree, and Guthrie kick jumps off of it.
“parkour!” he yells as he jumps off the trees and back to the trail. “Parkour!” A good tribute to JrSr, indeed.
We make a game out of the two miles of downed trees, jumping off them, heel clicking around them, and doing anything ridiculous we can. It turns into a game, and we laugh the entire way. A lot of people talk about trail culture, and this is it. Acting ridiculous, and making our own entertainment while going through the woods. In what could be viewed as a negative (slow going, downed trees everywhere, hard to find the trail), we turn it into a fun game of jumping off trees doing ninja kicks and yelling Parkour at every move, and no longer does it feel difficult or annoying. This is why the trail is so fun. This is why I hike with these people.
We get to the Suiattle River, and find it swelled and raging. I look for a place to cross, but struggle to find anything that crosses the furious water. Tiny, Brainstorm, Woody and I all search around, eventually finding a fallen trees that stretches the length of the river. We had heard that this was here, an it was good to find it still intact. It stays roughly 3-4 feet above the silty river, but it has no bark on it. It’s wet from the rain, and the splashes of the river water hitting the rocks below. It spans roughly 15 yards over the river. Woody doesn’t like it, and looks around for another option. Brainstorm and Tiny are hesitant.
It’s now or never, I think to myself, as I walk right up to it. I test the grip of my shoes on the wet wood, and find that I am able to plant the food and be stable pretty easy. ‘No more thinking, just go’, I tell myself, and soon I’m walking across the wet log, looking down at a river that would likely take my life if I slipped and fell in. No thoughts, just balancing and moving forward. The grip on my shoes works much better than I thought, and before long I’m across the river safely. Phew! Tiny follows behind, straddling the log and scooting his way across. Brainstorm follows, easily walking his way across, and even stopping to take a picture of his feet! Woody hesitates, as he’s not comfortable with the situation. He surveys around a bit more trying to look for any other possible route, but this is it. We shout some encouragement from the other side of the river, and he gives it a go. I snap a few pictures of him crossing the log, and soon he’s pulling himself onto land.
“Thank you baby Jesus!!!” he shouts as he gets on solid ground. “I am never doing that again. Ever. Not even if there’s a fire!”
High fives are given, and soon a ray of light shows from the sky. The sun is shining through! YESSSS. I am so happy to see the sun. Maybe I can dry off, dry all of my wet gear. We bushwhack a bit back to the PCT, and soon find a nice spot in the sun. Time for a yard sale!
An hour and a half later, everything is dry, and we’re headed back up another giant gain. This one, however, is graded at a much less difficult slope, and we crush, getting to the top extremely fast as we all try and keep up with Woody, who is on a mission to get to camp before it ever starts raining again. Smart man.
We traverse past tree line, then down below again. The sky opens up a bit, and we can see the surrounding mountains and valleys. The relief on these slopes is unreal. Much different from the mountains in Colorado that I frequent. Here the slops drop at a very sharp angle for thousands and thousands of feet into giant valleys. Clouds hover above on the top ridges, and are soon painted bright orange and yellow as the sun sets behind the adjacent peaks. It’s a beautiful sight to see and share with Tiny, who I’ve spent most of the day with. We slow down a bit taking in all of the views. It’s been all day since I’ve been able to see any mountains, and just before camp, they finally show themselves in this light. What an amazing day. One I will surely never forget. Just add it to the list…