Washington K

July 29, Fri.–No miles–Stehekin

Fri. July 29       No miles today     Rest in Stehekin

We didn’t get up till the generator started at 7:00 am, and planned to eat, eat, eat as much as we could today.  The Ranch food is truly awesome, and as thru-hikers, we really can eat!  When I went in for breakfast, I saw a lady who was busy writing a big stack of postcards.  Usually in summer, that would be me, writing to all “my” Awana Club kids.  So I started talking to her, and it turned out that she is ALSO an Awana leader, and that most of the kids she works with are from families who never go to any church, but want their kids to “learn about God” so they drop them off at Awana once a week.   Sure enough, the lady’s stack of postcards were going to “her” Awana kids!  Kids LOVE Awana.  They have a blast playing games, memorizing Bible verses, singing, etc.  It turned out that many of the staff here at the Ranch are Christians, too.  I was so blessed and encouraged to be able to hang out with some other Christians!

After breakfast, I went to the Ranch library to work on writing journal stuff, while Bill went to town on the hiker bus.  The library is well-stocked with plenty of Bibles and good Christian books, as well as LOTS of great trail guides and outdoors books. Downstairs, I could hear some teenage boys who work at the Ranch.  They had come in for a snack, and what were they talking about?  Well, first you have to “see” them.  They were tall, suntanned,  well-muscled, wearing cowboy clothes that were obviously well-used.  And their topic?  Last week’s Sunday School lesson on Psalm 23!  “Yeah, dude, that is like all that’s important to me–the Lord is MY shepherd, and He will like show me where to go and take care of the bad stuff.”  I was blessed all over again, just being able to listen to them!  They were big, strong, hardworking boys who handle horses and drive tractors, but they know God in a real way.  Awesome!

Later on, while I was still scribbling furiously, who should walk in but a very dusty, tired, hungry Pika, just off the PCT.  The Ranch cook fixed him up with a huge sandwich, cookies and fruit, and he was happily eating when I came by to say hi.  Pika said he wants to spend some time at the Ranch stables, since he works as a volunteer at Point Reyes National Seashore (a place where Bill and I do LOTS of hiking, back home!) which has a Morgan Horse Ranch.  The Morgans are being raised and trained as trail horses for rangers to ride.  Pika said he has missed being around horses, and was looking forward to getting to know the horses at Stehekin.  The Ranch has Morgans, of course, but they also raise a rare Norwegian horse breed.

Bill returned then from town, full of enthusiasm about beautiful Lake Chelan, so after lunch (yum!) and sorting through the resupply box Bill had brought from the post office, plus getting a few more things from the “backpacker shack” at the Ranch, we BOTH went back to town on the hiker bus, stopping at the famous Stehekin Bakery, where I got a big pecan sticky bun.  It was great!  Two hikers who’d just gotten in off the PCT were also at the Bakery, pigging on pie and ice cream.  They told us they’d done the whole PCT from Skykomish, on the alternate trail, in only 3 days.  Wow.  It took us 5 days.  Turned out they were a father and son, doing the Oregon & Washington PCT as a “celebration” of the son graduating from high school.  I felt sorry for the son.  He was painfully thin,  and limping, obviously in bad shape, while his dad was all gung-ho and charging ahead, everywhere they went.  The dad was bragging on how they’d been doing 30 plus miles per day.  I only hoped the son would make it.  He seemed determined to finish.

Back on the bus, we arrived at “town.”  The bus driver jokingly warned everyone, “Now you’d better be careful down at the docks.  It can be pretty rough there,” so as I got off, I said, “Thanks for the warning.  I’ll be careful of those dock riffraff!”  Well, the docks were right on truly spectacular Lake Chelan.  It’s 55 MILES long and surounded by the precipitous north Cascades. Wow!! We did a bit of resupply shopping, then sat by the lake eating ice cream cones and having a cold beer, while watching the seaplane take off, plus all the boats and windsurfers.  I almost felt as if I were home again on San Francisco Bay!   The lake is a beautiful deep blue, and the Stehekin River which feeds into it is an amazing shade of turquoise studded with sparkling, foaming white rapids.  (A favorite activity here is whitewater rafting, apparently!)  There are no roads to Stehekin.  You have to fly, boat, or hike in.  It’s a spectacular, special place. 

But today, it was also a HOT place.  People waiting for the bus back to the ranch were all huddled in the shade.  I fervently wished I’d brought my “swim suit” from my pack.  (Again, if I knew then what I know now, I would have just taken off my shoes and watch, and jumped right into the lake for a swim, clothes and all!).    The bus was full going back, because Ranch dinners are famous.  Tonight it ws BBQ chicken, ribs, corn on the cob, etc., and more PIE.  We are totally stuffed.  This time we ate IN the cookhouse, which is a really fun place–lofty ceiling, sawdust floor, log tables, fireplace…great ambiance!   Bill and I then went to bed early–we need rest as much as we need food!   And it is wonderful to know that we are “surrounded” by Christian people here who know God in such a real way.

July 28, thurs.–19.9 miles–Washington K

Thurs. July 28     Miles today: 19.9 PCT plus 2.2 other miles    Total so far: 1,406.6 miles

It was a clear, cool morning, but hard to get up–we were SO tired! Yesterday was tough.  But the thought of food and rest at Stehekin was very motivating! The morning’s hike began with a climb up Suiattle Pass.  There were mountains all around us–very impressive and beautiful.  We ate breakfast (which included our last candy bar) at a turn in the trail with a big dropoff and fabulous view.

From the top of Suiattle Pass, it’s basically downhill all the way to Stehekin, following the valley of the South Fork Agnes Creek.  The day was already very warm and cloudless–it promised to be hot.  So for that reason, and to save a couple of miles, we took the old PCT trail that follows the creek. It was a route strongly recommended by the PCT guidebook.  As a result, we crossed Agnes Creek high up in the valley, and a good thing, too, because the farther down you go, the bigger, scarier and roarier it gets.  The old PCT mostly travels through a SHADY (niiiiice on a hot day) forest of magnificent incense cedars and Douglas fir with glimpses of the high valley walls. 

But I have to be honest–there were sections of the trail where we literally had to fight our way through a tangle of bracken, thimbleberry, etc, and I got soaking wet from all the dew on the plants.  It felt good to stop every couple of hours for a rest and a snack, and the wet dew was actually a plus–it cooled us off a bit.   At the rest breaks, we put to use a “technique” we figured out recently.  We discovered that if we lay our packs on the ground, then lie down with our legs resting on the pack (sort of draped over it), oh boy, does it make our tired legs and feet feel good!

A lot of side creeks come down to join Agnes Creek, and some of them were quite sizable.   At each creek crossing,  somebody had installed a flattened log bridge.  I’m getting a lot braver about these, as long as they are wide enough.  We also saw a lot of bear scat and bear-clawed trees.  We stopped for lunch at Cedar Camp, next to a pretty cascade in Agnes Creek, then trudged on into a very hot afternoon (86 degrees in the shade).  The guidebook said the trail becomes a “rollercoaster” in the lower canyon–no kidding!  It was up and down, up and down, and pretty steep, too.  We were glad to rest by a pretty little waterfall on Pass Creek near Five Mile Camp, and glad that the trail was in FOREST on such a warm day!  I personally don’t do very well hiking in heat, and was looking forward to Stehekin and dinner.   The only food we had left in our packs was a bit of peanut butter and crackers.

Finally we reached the High Bridge, which soars 40 feet above now roaring whitewatering Agnes Creek, and hurried to the trailhead to catch the hiker bus.  But lo and behold, the trailhead bulletin board said that the road (washed out in 2003) was STILL not fixed, so we needed to walk over 2 miles farther on to Stehekin Valley Ranch.  I was so hot and so tired that this was megabummer news.  Our choices now were   1) Eat our peanut butter and crackers now and risk missing dinner at the Ranch  or  2) Mush on fast, even though we were very tired and hungry,  and hopefully make it to the Ranch in time for dinner.   Well, #2 won–we wanted a real DINNER!

So we pushed our tired legs as fast as they would go along the road through a very pretty valley.  The Stehekin River was roaring along next to us;  it is an amazing, beautiful blue-green color.  I have never seen a river like it.  We got to the washout section, and it was a mess!  Basically, the river decided it liked running down the road, and it still was.  I was all for wading right across and Bill vetoed that (he hates getting wet if he doesn’t HAVE to), so we had to climb up a steep bank to get around the washout section.  A deer was climbing the bank at the same time we were!  

At last we saw through the trees the green pastures of Stehekin Valley Ranch, where yes, dinner was being served–pork loin roast with all the trimmings, and lots of different kinds of pie.  It was all you can eat, and we ate till we could barely waddle, outside on the cookhouse porch.  (We figured we still smelled rather strongly of eau de trail, and the other guests would probably like to avoid sitting too close to us!)   Mr. Courtney, the Ranch owner, came out to talk to us, and encouraged us to stay at the Ranch instead of the motel in town.  For $60 a day each, we could get a real log cabin to stay in,  3 big meals, laundry, and free rides into town as often as we wanted.  The total of $120 for one day was a bit of “sticker shock”, but when we did the math, we realized that actually, it was a good deal when you factored in all the perks, especially 3 all you can eat meals.   Another guest was also eating out on the porch–a doctor from Texas, 70 years old, who was also out backpacking in the North Cascades.  He said he had never seen the flies and mosquitoes so bad as this year, and he did have a point.  I haven’t said much about the bugs lately, but they have been bad–flies especially, and those rascals BITE!  (though not as often as mosquitoes, thank goodness!  They sort of crawl around on you deciding where to bite, and that gives you plenty of time to swat them.)

So we agreed to stay at Stehekin Valley Ranch, and after our wonderful dinner, I did our laundry in the Ranch washing machine.  While the clothes were washing, I took a shower, then hung the laundry on the clothesline next to the horse pasture, figuring that the warm night breeze would dry them nicely.  The Ranch electricity al comes from a generator, so they hve no clothes dryer.  At 9:00 pm, the generator goes off, and so do all the lights, except the battery-powered ones.  We had a battery powered lamp available in our log cabin, as well as an oil lamp, but we didn’t use either of them–just went straight to bed!  “Tired” does not even begin to describe how we felt!