Washington H

July 13, Wed.–21.5 miles–Washington H

Wed. July 13     Miles today: 21.5    Total miles so far: 1,121.6

It was cloudy this morning, but we weren’t worried–they looked like clouds that would burn off soon, and we were VERY excited about going into the famous Goat Rocks.  Right away the trail began to climb, giving us a view of the valley with its several lakes and the clouds slowly lifting overhead.  As we climbed higher, the wildflowers grew more and more amazing.  We contoured across steep grassy hillsides with much evidence of elk–many tracks, scat, and even some elk crashing off through the trees as soon as they spotted us.  But pheeeew!  Those high meadows smell like my uncle’s old dairy farm we used to visit when I was a kid.  There’s a LOT of elk manure up there–no wonder the grass is so green and lush!

At one point, we stopped for a rest, enjoying the views of the amazing rock formations as the clouds lifted and started to blow away,  and along came another hiker named “Pika”. He is supernice, and we saw him off and on for the rest of the morning.  He is doing the Oregon and Washington PCT–he did California last year.  He offered to take a picture with us both in it and Goat Rocks in the background.  It came out great!  Thanks, Pika! 

We were fascinated by the variety of rocks in Goat Rocks.  Everything is volcanic, of course, but you find rocks of seemingly every color and type, including some that look like jade.  There was a whole section that looked like the “Devil’s Postpile” formation in California, only turned on its side.  And everywhere, around every corner, were AWESOME wildflowers.  We felt like we’ve been “surfin’ the wildflower wave” as it sweeps northward through the high country.  We were also eyeing “Old Snowy” mountain and wondering what walking the PCT across its glaciers would be like.

I was so excited about the wildflowers and the beauty and wanted to see more and more of it, that even though the trail was quite a climb, I got into “Charge!” mode and Bill had to ask me to PLEASE slow down, because he could not keep up.  (Boy, did that change later on!)  We met four backpackers–two dads with two boys, about 10/11 years old.  The boys eyes were absolutely shining with joy and you could tell they were having a wonderful time!  And so were we! 

When we got to the next trail junction, we stopped for a rest.  Our policy (which changed later when the days grew shorter and we had less daylight for hiking) was to stop and rest every 60-90 minutes, depending on how tough a “march” we’d had.  Well, the last hour had been tough–pretty steep uphill climbing–and we wanted to just stop and soak in the beauty and the views.  We had a grand view of the famou “Split Rock” which is an enormous rock, literally split in two, with a tree growing in its middle.

Our next march took us to the snow and we found the first snowfields were not too steep or too scary.  Off in the distance lay still partly-frozen Goat Lake.  When I stopped to take a picture of the lake from up on a ridge, there was a whole group of people by the trail, peering through binoculars.  I’m used to seeing people doing that along the trails back home, so I cheerfully asked, “You guys birding?”  One of them looked at me strangely and said, “No, we’re GOAT-ing!”  Duh, this was Goat Rocks…I should have thought of that.  Turned out that they’d already spotted some mountain goats and were looking for more.

After easily crossing another large snowfield, we reached Elk Pass and stopped for lunch.  On one side of the pass was a 1,000-plus foot dropoff and on the other side was a rocky slope with a nice view.  No question for me about where to eat lunch–on the rocky slope.  I do NOT like heights!  (And boy did that make it hard for me later in the day!) 

After lunch, we headed out on a nasty bit of trail.  First we had to climb up some rocks, then make  a  traverse of steep mountainsides( with a 1,000 foot dropoff at one side of the trail), and the trail itself was either a snowfield OR else made of large, loose, clinking rocks, ranging from booksize to watermelonsize, that wobble the minute you set foot on them.  Fortunately, the rocky parts were wide, and had an edging of big rocks on the “downhill” side.  The snow bits were more scary, because we’d sent our ice axes home at Agua Dulce, and all I had were my trek poles and other peoples’ footprints to step into, but it turned out to be do-able.  Actually, I had a harder time on the “rocky” trail, because I have loose, twisty ankles and I didn’t want a sprain! 

Finally we made it to “The Knife Edge”, which we’d seen so many pictures of and thought about for so long.  Basically, it’s a very narrow, winding ridge between two very deep valleys.  BOTH SIDES of the trail immediately drop off for thousands of feet.  From the pictures I’d seen, I thought it ran, oh maybe 300-400 yards.  From reading other people’s PCT journals, I knew that if you have trouble with heights, you will have trouble here.  So I stopped to pray a bit and ask God to help me not be a wuss and get through OK, because the Knife Edge presented me personally with two tough problems.  1) I don’t like heights, and this trail had big dropoffs on BOTH sides of a narrow trail.  2) I have trouble when a trail SURFACE is like ball-bearings, with lots of loose, rolling little rocks on a steep incline.  The Knife Edge had both of these.   I knew that God was with me, and trusted that He would help me be brave, and started out.  I didn’t dare glance to either side–just focused intently at the trail right in front of me, and forced myself to take one slow, terrified step after another.

After going up and over a couple of humps, the ridge widened a bit, and I felt brave enough to turn around and take a picture of Bill, who was thoroughly enjoying himself.  (He told me later that the views were spectacular, and I’m sure they were!).  Up and over a couple more humps, and I was telling myself, “OK, you’re almost there!” as I climbed up the “last” one.  Even though I was so scared that I wanted to just lie down and cry, “I can’t go on!” I kept going up.                                                                                                 

 But to my horror, when I got to the top of the hump, instead of seeing nice “normal” trail ahead, I saw what looked like Knife Edge going on forever.  My 300/400 yards, it turned out, were actually one and a half MILES.  At that point, I did literally feel like I could not go on.  So I turned to Bill and cried, and said to him, “Please, please pray for me–I feel like I can’t do any more of this.”  Bill very patiently and lovingly held me close and prayed for me.  (And it is really true–other people praying for you really makes a difference!).  So I sniffled and gulped and got a fresh grip on my trek poles and went on for what seemed to be an eternity of forcing myself to take one totally terrified step and then another and another.  Was God helping me?  He sure was–giving me the strength I needed to battle overwhelming fear and not let it stop me.  Was my being so afraid a dishonor to Him?  (After all, surely I just should happily trust Him that He would keep me safe).  My only conclusion is–“I don’t know about THAT, but I DO know that to keep going IN SPITE of fear, BECAUSE I trust God, well, that DOES honor Him.”  In the end, it took me two hours to cover the 1 1/2miles.  And I kicked myself afterward for not having given the camera to Bill, because I was too scared to take pictures, and he says the scenery was gorgeous!

We finally got to “normal” steep mountainside trail (whew!) and met some horses and riders,out enjoying the beautiful day and mountain scenery.  We followed the trail as it contoured down and down, and even though there still was a big dropoff at the edge, it was only ONE edge of the trail, and I felt brave enough to actually look at the north side of Goat Rocks. Very spectacular!  But once we were really and truly DOWN off the mountain, I suddenly felt totally overwhelmed with tiredness, and all the tears I had “clamped down on” during the Knife Edge trek came out.  I had to just sit down by the trail and cry, while Bill patiently waited till I felt better.  I didn’t really feel like myself again for at least a couple of hours, but was finally able to get up and keep going.  I felt terrible about being so slow and so emotional, and tried to hike as fast as I could to make up for it. 

But at sundown, we had such a hard time finding a place to camp that we ended up in the only flat spot we could find, right smack dab by the trail!  I went to bed aching, tired, and VERY GRATEFUL to God for such a loving, patient husband (for whom heights and slippery rocks are no problem) and of course very grateful to God for answering our prayers and giving me the strength to get through a big battle with fear.  And we looked forward to reaching White Pass tomorrow–food, food!  We both feel so hungry all the time now!


July 12, Tues.–24.9 miles–Washington H

Tues. July 12    Miles today: 24.9       Total so far: 1,100.1         Washington Section H

We woke up to gray clouds, cloud drip, and dew, but NO mosquitoes!  And since we were headed for a whole series of glacier-melt creek and river fords, I was glad to be on the trail by 5:30 am.  The earlier the better, with that type of fording!  We came to a lava flow, and I was very happy to see the fine trail going through it.  Some of the PCT footway through lava flows has been pretty bad.  we came to Mutton Creek first, where the roaring water was WHITE with glacial “flour”.   The water looked like nonfat milk.  We crossed it on a handy log.  The next creek was smaller and also had “nonfat milk” water.  Inbetween creeks, we enjoyed gorgeous early morning views of Mt. Adams, once the rising sun broke through the clouds.

We stopped to eat breakfast in a “sun-patch” sheltered by a grove of trees, when we heard a dog barking–or as it turned out, THREE dogs!  They belonged to an older couple who were camped in a meadow below the trail.  Fortunately, all they did was bark–we didn’t have to defend ourselves from indignant dogs. 

Then came more river crossings, one of which I had been worried about–the Adams River, which comes off the main glacier.  Its huge, bouldery river bed showed that it was obviously capable of going on a rampage, and from the wet sand/mud evidence we saw as we went across it, we could tell that yesterday afternoon it had been three times wider and much higher than it was when we crossed it in the early morning, on a single log.  I mention that log crossing very casually, but I still STRONGLY dislike walking across logs; Bill helps me a lot, and I am slowly getting better at it.

After that, the trail started going downhill and away from Mt. Adams.  The wildflowers–oh wow, here I go again–lupines everywhere, and buttercups, paintbrush and many others.  They brightened every turn of the trail as we wound down the mountain.  We were just coming down one wildflowery hillside, when Bill stopped in his tracks.  “Look!  Elk!” and sure enough, in a green meadow far below the trail, were some elk–but they had spotted us, too, and began to run.  But it wasn’t just a few–it was a whole HERD of elk!  We stood and watched them and I fervently wished I could get a picture, but the elk were too far away, even with the camera set to “zoom”.  We continued down the trail, which took a wide left turn, right across the direction that the elf herd had gone.  And when we got down to where the elk had been, boy, could you tell where they had run across the trail!  What a mess!  The trail was thrashed, and that wasn’t the only part the elk had messed up.  All through that “high meadow” section, elk hoofprints and elk damage were everywhere.  How about a hunter or so to thin them out?  Where we come from, the rangers at Point Reyes National Seashore thin the elk herds regularly.  We’ve watched them “at work” when we’re out hiking there.

Anyway, eventually we reached a pretty little lake with a view of Mt. Adams, followed by several miles of travelling through forest where part of it was recovering from a fire, and finally reached the famous Lava Spring, which gushes right out of a huge lava flow.  The water is very good and very cold.  We drank a lot of it and filled our water bottles before going on.  At Midway Creek, appropriately, we stopped to cook our noon dinner and air our gear.  Some SOBOs came by and we had a good chat.  We quiz all the SOBOs now regarding their experience of the PCT alternate route farther on (the PCT itself is closed there because of washed out bridges)–did they do the HIKER trail (steep, brushy, two bad river crossings) or the EQUESTRIAN trail (Forest Service roads and almost a day shorter)?  Many of the SOBOs had done the hiker trail, and said the river crossings were no worse than the Whitewater River in Southern California.  Bill and I discussed (again) what to do when we reach that part of the PCT.  We have not decided what to do.

After lunch, we began a long but gentle climb, including meeting a couple with a supercute, well-mannered little black Boston-terrier-type dog. What a hiker that little dog was on such stubby little legs!  At last we reached the ridgecrest, with a view of Goat Rocks where we will be tomorrow.  It was hard to enjoy the view, though, because we were back in the swarms of mosquitoes.  And as we went down from the ridge, the trail took us into a boggy, brushy, jungly valley, where the mossies were so bad that to eat our cracker and peanut butter supper in peace, Bill retreated into the net tent (just draped over him) and I got into “full mossie gear”.  Then we put in another couple of miles before setting up camp early near a trail junction.  We would have gone farther, but the map showed the next 4 miles contouring on a steep hillside with no place to camp, and we didn’t want to tackle that much so late in the day.  We were both very tired, and an early bedtime was very appealing to our two pairs of aching feet!  We set up the net tent under the tarp and enjoyed watching a pretty sunset through the trees in a forest full of the sweet smell of lupines.  And we cheered when we did our mileage math and discovered we’d crossed the 1,100 mile mark!