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[pct-l] A Day on the PCT...

Dave and I had started our day a couple miles before Kennedy Hot Springs
on an unnamed creek coming off the west side of Glacier Peak. The night
before I'd wanted to stop at Chetwot Creek but Dave was in a manic phase
and wanted to make sure we were where we thought we were as the trail
had been in thick forest for miles. 

There are times on the trail when you're hiking with someone else when
you're tired, thirsty, and ready to stop, and they aren't. He wasn't and
I was. I felt the "flash of fire" in my chest, signalling a major "screw
it, do what you want." 

I opened up to whatever peaceful center I had and let out a big breath
as I stared through the trees at the deep blue sky, and let it go. I
sighed and said OK, let's just do it. Dave, realizing he'd won, looked a
little guilty, but not guilty enough to stop. We hiked another three
quarters of a mile to a lovely unnamed creek. I thought about
relationships, obsessions, The Eternal, my own tiredness, and listened
to "The Ants go Marching One by One" in my head as I walked. Dave said
he was satisfied we were where we thought we were. That was enough for
him to mellow out and set up camp. I used my capitulation to his madness
to get him to do all the camp chores. 

I took a bath in the quart and a half cooking pot, making sure I didn't
get soapy residue near the stream. Nothing like the feeling of glacier
water numbing the skull to the degree that teeth ache. We'd started near
Stevens Pass four days before or so, when it was 90 degrees in the
shade. After the first couple hours when we crested our first pass, we
came upon a guy lying in the middle of the trail with one 70 year old
woman doing CPR and another breathing into his lungs. They'd been at
this two hours. 

We'd met a fellow at the trailhead who had stopped another car with a
cell phone. He'd called in the SAR people.  A couple minutes after we
arrived a helicopter landed and the search and rescue people descended
on our little group. The first guy to reach us asked how the patient was
and the ladies explained they'd been giving CPR for two hours. The guy
relaxed and looked a little disgusted. No one to save. Just a body to
transport. Dave and left the merry scene feeling just a bit spooked. Hot
and sweaty already, and a dead guy on the trail. 

Over the next three days it had gotten increasingly cooler, but was
still in the 60s. Beautiful hiking weather if we stayed hydrated enough.
But the sweat and dirt quotient made washing mandatory if I didn't want
to hike with a rash between my rubbing thighs and under my arms. I found
out on this trip that with age the skin loses something important, and I
now had to pay attention to being dirty and sweaty, where just a couple
years earlier I never had to wash... 

The next day's hike was utterly spectacular. It was cool hiking up
Kennedy Ridge, and the flowers were out in abundant, magnificent and
awesome profusion. You could kneel and put your eyes at flower height
and almost no green would show, just a sea of color. The trail was
pretty contoured and views beyond description. I spent much of the day
slowing down to a stop and waking up to the fact I was standing in the
midst of pure beauty. 

The climb up to Fire Creek Pass warranted more stops, and I did. Dave,
with his quarter to half mile an hour faster pace than I was usually out
of sight. That's the way we hiked. I only resented being slower when
he'd jump up as I walked up to him and put his pack on, chomping at the
proverbial bit to get on. I'd wave my hand at the trail and say, "Just

The north side of Fire Creek Pass was almost completely snow covered.
The trail hooked to the left and traversed gently across an almost
vertical mud and rock ridge for a hundred yards or so before loosing
steepness. The trail switchbacked to the right, and the left again
before heading down the glacially carved basin. About 100' from the top
of the pass was a snowbank that was nearly vertical. We survey the scene
and decided we could make it across this bank and the one another 50'
further on. It involved kicking steps in the snow and digging in with
hands, sidling across the 20' bank facing the bank, pack hanging out
over the rocks below. 

We got across the first snowbank and hiked the 50' or so to the next. It
was just too vertical. I tried to kick a step but it felt too risky, too
dangerous, to stupid to do. I was disgusted with us. I'd suggested going
up the ridge and around this section, climbing on boulders but Dave
hought we could make it and I didn't care enough to argue. I also
thought we could do it, but it would be taking more risk than I liked.
But I couldn't blame Dave, as much as I wanted. I'd concurred in the
choice of routes. 

The only option was to go straight up a mostly wet mud slope and then
traverse across mud and rocks above the snowbank. I didn't think about
what a stupid situation we were in. I just felt disgusted that we had to
go up the mud. I took off my pack, which was a feat in itself as I was
standing on a small outcrop and leaning up against the nearly vertical
bank. I put my body on the mud, reached up, and started to crawl/climb
up the 20' to safety. 

This was about the stupidist thing I'd done backpacking in a long while.
It ranked right up there being bored hitchhiking out of Yosemite Valley
in 1969. I decided since no tourist was going to pick up two long
haired, very dirty 18 year olds I would climb the 50' face across the
road. I got about 20' up after planning the route and got stuck at the
end of a 1" wide crack running 45 degrees right to left. I was six
inches from a good hand hold, and the only thing to do was leap for the
handhold and fall to the scree below, or head down the way I'd come. I
went down, cursing my idiocy, vowing never to do something so arrogant
and asnine again.  Well, here I was, on the verge of slipping down mud
to decent sized boulders beneath me. 

I made it of course, just doing it, not thinking or feeling the
underlying self-disgust for being in that situation. I sat down on the
little ledge I'd aimed for and looked down at Dave. I took out the 1/4"
food bag rope and unrolled it down to him. I hauled up my pack and then
Dave tied the rope to the haul strap on his. While he was trying to tie
off the rope I got out the trusty olympus XA-2 and took a couple
pictures of him, one of which was of him complaining about having to
stand there with his face in the mud while I took pictures so I could
humiliate him at parties when we got back. I hauled his pack up and he
held onto the rope with one hand and climbed up to me. I was tempted to
release the tension, but didn't. 

The hike down from Fire Creek Pass, past Mica Lake, which was still
mostly frozen at the end of July, was starkly beautiful and beautifully
uneventful. We hiked down the switchbacks on the Milk Creek Canyon Wall
to Milk Creek where we had planned to spend the night. It was the only
flat spot for a couple miles in any direction, including down, the way
we didn't want to go. It was the worst campsite of the trip. It was an
avalanche slope that the creek raged through, with six foot high brush.
There was a bridge (at that time) across the creek. 

We scouted around, realizing we were going to have to camp on sand/mud
for the night. Clouds were building too. There was a flat spot 30' or so
off the trail up the creek.  Dave put his tent up while I pitched my
ground cloth to fall asleep with the stars. 

We ate dinner and bagged food, toothpaste, repellant, etc., and Dave
hung it from the bridge. He came back a bit bemused. He'd met a guy and
his girlfriend who had hiked up from the Suiattle River Trailhead up
Milk Creek. They were planning to do the 30 mile loop, up milk creek,
hang a left on the PCT, and when it crosses the Suiattle River Trail,
back to the trailhead in two days. They'd made it about six miles, with
about 24 to go. And, the only food they'd brought were six Whoppers... 

Apparently the guy kept assuring his girlfriend they would be fine,
they'd make it, and they weren't turning back. We sacked out and two
hours later I threw my stuff in Dave's tent because it started to rain,
which it did for the next three days before we arrived at the High
Bridge trailhead and took the bus down into Stehekin, stopping at the
bakery for rich, rich bakery goods... 

It was a good day, wrought with danger and disgust, beauty and more
beauty. A good day on the PCT. Yep, a good day.  

Jeffrey Olson
Laramie, Wyoming