[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Carrot Update #5

Hello from Seattle (actually it's suburbs),

This may likely be the final installment of the "carrot update" series 
for a while since my PCT hike for this year has now ended, and I'm about 
to return to the usual fall line-up of trail-related work projects. 
Since I finally have lots of time, I'll write a lot more.

Washington, for me, was everything I had heard it would be, and in some 
ways better because the weather remained perfect through-out, something 
relatively uncommon in September. The first section north to White Pass 
ended up being the only part of the whole hike from Donner that I went 
alone, and thus did more miles per day than at any other time, averaging 
26. This was because I wanted to reach Snoqualmie Pass in time to meet 
AJ and Chris when they arrived there. Mount Adams, a huge, 12,000+ 
volcano was the first main highlight. The PCT skirts the entire west 
side, staying below tree-line at the 6,000 foot level before dropping 
off on the north slope. I could actually hear the sound of a shifting 
glacier high above. Only a day later I was already in the even more 
spectacular goat rocks wilderness, where the trail reaches 7,000 feet, 
crosses some glaciers and traverses a sharp knife-edge ridge with 
Rainier right in front of you (see jardine cover). It was on the 
smallest of the permanent snow fields - only about 50 feet wide - that I 
had the biggest scare of my hike. By 11am the sun still had not touched 
it, and was therefore rock hard. With no crampons, ice axe, or even 
poles, I faced the situation of falling 1 to 2 thousand vertical feet 
down if I was to slip. So I kicked in one-inch steps with my boots, and 
it felt like chiseling out of solid ice. I made it across, but not 
without tearing a whole in the sole of one boot. If I'd been there only 
a few hours later, it would have been nothing to write home about.  

White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass was very much a mix of scenery, and I 
ended up hiking that section with a guy from Bellingham who was doing 
Washington. After about a day we ended up right on the Mount Rainier 
National Park boundary, with the 14,000+ foot peak directly in front of 
us. For over 30 miles the trail stays very high and begins to take on 
the appearance of the North Cascades section that everyone always talks 
about. We saw two mountain goats (most people see more), and at our 
campsite by Basin Lake we heard the whistles of Elk all night, the sign 
of mating season. Then, after Government Meadow, the sights changed 
suddenly and dramatically, from ideal sub-alpine ridges to many miles of 
checker board clear-cut, through which the PCT is now permanently 
routed. It is definately an amazing feeling to pass from clear-cut to 
old growth/virgin stand (very big trees) in a matter of seconds. The 
contrast is intense, and is something that should be experienced by 
everyone, no matter what a person's position on logging. 

For a mountain pass, Snoqualmie is far too busy, crowded, loud, 
expensive, and whatever else a hiker new to the area wouldn't expect for 
such a location, but I was looking forward to being there anyway since 
that was where AJ and Chris were to join me. On the same day that they 
flew in from New England, had to buy a new stove in Seattle because the 
airlines refused to let them board with it, drove all the way up to the 
trail head to meet me, plus being out of thru-hiker shape, we managed a 
2,500 foot climb out of the pass and seven miles before dark. They were 
running on pure adrenaline, which was helped by the sights of some very 
rugged, sharp topography. For them it was a great introduction to the 
North Cascades. The entire way to Stevens Pass consists of the Alpine 
Lakes Wilderness area, filled with jagged peaks, glaciers, and, as one 
might suspect, lakes. It's nice enough that it was at one time 
considered for National Park designation. It was through here that we 
met three more of the few thru-hikers to have made it throught the High 
Sierra durring the near record June snowpack. I listened to them trade 
dramatic tales of having to literally swim across evolution creek, and 
making the discovery that yes, backpacks DO float. It made me glad that 
I made the decision to postpone my High Sierra hike until another time.

By Stevens Pass, Chris was having some significant blister problems, and 
after a night in Skykomish, he made the decision to take a break while 
AJ and I hiked the next section to Stehekin, where we'd meet up with him 
again. As we approached the Glacier Peak Wilderness, arguably the 
highlight of the northern PCT, a snow storm was looming in the forecast. 
So we decided to try to time our mileage so we'd be below 5,000 feet 
when it hit, which meant doing some big days. In the end, however, the 
storm failed to materialise, and the weather stayed perfect all the way 
to Stehekin. From the west slopes of Glacier Peak itself, we could see 
the entire range from Baker in the north to Rainier in the south. 
Meadows went right up the sides of the mountain, and marmots were 
seemingly everywhere - we got a photo of one three feet away while a 
mama bear and a cub were running up the meadow at the same time. 

By the time we got to Lake Chelan (Stehekin), we had distinctly passed 
from the wet (west) side of the range to the dry, eastern rain shadow 
side in town. The difference is about 100 inches of precipitaion per 
year (120 at Red Pass and 20 at the lake). Lake Chelan is one of the 
deepest lakes in the US, and is reminiscent of Norway's fiords in the 
way the topography rises out of the water. The town is also unusual 
because it's only accessible by boat or floatplane, so when all the 
tourists go home, it's very quiet and isolated. Of interest to 
thru-hikers, it also has free showers, free camping, and quite possibly 
the best bakery anywhere on the big three trails.

With Chris back on the hike, the three of us had our one and only real 
rain day the second day out of Stehekin, coincidentally occuring as we 
went through Rainy Pass, so we were glad to find someone to take our 
picture in front of the sign with our rain jackets on, and looking quite 
cold and wet. But a few days later we were quick to notice that Foggy 
Pass was not foggy, and Windy Pass was not at all windy. The last thirty 
miles of the hike to Canada brought us through the Pasayten Wilderness, 
which for AJ was very similar to the grandeur he had experienced in the 
High Sierra last year. A much drier area than the western side of the 
range, most storms are less severe by the time they get here, and I 
noticed that the resulting tree-line is about a thousand feet higher 
here as well.

On the afternoon of the 22nd we reached the Canadian border, which 
simply consists of the cleared swath, monument 78 (with register inside 
if you can lift the damn thing), and a nice PCT northern terminus 
monument. After camping on the Canadian side, we pushed the last 8 miles 
out to the road the next morning, failed miserably in our attempt to 
hitch to Vancouver, and finally settled for the bus which got us there 
comfortably in one piece. Unfortunately, I was unable to see my friends 
Marmot and Monk in town, who I know from my original AT hike, but 
managed to reach them by phone, and they'll both be at the ALDHA west 
Gathering. The final leg of our trip was an awesome Amtrak ride from 
Vancouver to Seattle, which was enhanced by a phenomenal sunset over 
Puget Sound, and a great $11.00 ticket price (AJ has a legendary talent 
in finding good deals).

All of that takes us up to the present moment. I'm at AJ's Uncle's place 
for a few days, and will be visiting the Pregnant Rhinos starting 
tomorrow evening, whom I haven't seen in over seven years. They were a 
very big part of my first thru-hike, and even gave me my trail name, so 
needless to say, I've been looking forward to this for a very long time. 
I'm also hoping to look up some more friends here in Seattle before 
heading south next week back to Cascade Locks for the annual ALDHA-west 
Gathering, which will be followed by a grueling 70 hour bus ride back to 
the east coast where I'll be just in time for the annual ALDHA (east) 
Gathering. For those who don't know what that is, just consider it the 
long distance hiking world's version of a family reunion. After that 
it's back to AT projects, first in PA, then 2 weeks at Laurel Fork Gorge 
in November (TN), then 3-4 weeks on another project in GA, which will 
last almost to Christmas. 

I'm certainly not finished with the PCT, and I plan to be back next 
year, hopefully for the whole thing, and maybe more than that. We'll 
see. Some have wondered if the sheer scale and beauty of western 
mountains and hiking in comparison with the east would make me less 
enthusiastic about being on the AT, but I think it has instead created 
the opposite feeling. Being out here has made me appreciate and miss the 
Appalachian Mountains more than I ever have, because they are so 
different, and offer a kind of beauty that exists no where else. In a 
relative world, a satisfying long distance hike need not require miles 
of open views and glacier clad 12,000 foot peaks. A long green tunnel 
can offer just as much, and I haven't had my fill of either. Take care 
everyone, and keep in touch. Until next time,

Greg, "The Weathercarrot"

Get Your Private, Free Email at http://www.hotmail.com

* From the Pacific Crest Trail Email List |  http://www.backcountry.net   *