Archive for the ‘Washington – K’ Category

Wed. Sept. 15 Miles today: 26.7 Actual total: 2,564.7

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

An “interesting” start for the day today–I misread my watch in the early morning darkness and thought it said 5:30 am when in actual fact it was only 4:30 am!  We sat up, ate our breakfast, and started packing up under the tarp, wondering “Why is it still so dark?”  We could tell that it was cloudy, but that didn’t account for the blackness.   Then I took another look at my watch and said, “Oh no–it’s WAY early!  No wonder it’s dark!”  So we draped our sleeping bags over us and lay down for another 20 minutes, till the light was better.  As a result, we got an early start on our hike today, which was good, because I had labelled today as “Scary Day,” due to the upcoming crossing of the “unfordable Suiattle River.”

The sunrise was gorgeous as we hiked along the PCT–all colors, and beautiful cloud formations.  We were still surrounded by snowy peaks, and the trail continued to climb gently through a very alpine area before it finally launched into another10 kazillion switchbacks down into the valley below.  Partway down is Dolly Vista camp (and yes, the vistas ARE awesome!) where we met another thruhiker just packing up.  He said he was so thrilled with the beauty of the view and the sunrise that he just sat and watched the sky instead of “hitting the trail” as soon as he woke up.  Then he said, “I may be wrong, but I really think the PCT yesterday was at least 2 or 3 miles longer than the guidebook says, with all those long new switchbacks.  What do you guys think?”   Well, we fervently agreed!

Then we continued down the switchbacks.  Marmot holes were everywhere, sometimes located one right above the other in a hillside, and even right next to the PCT–but there were no marmots in sight anywhere.  Were they all still asleep?  Did they start hibernating already?

Once we got down into the forest, the “fun” began.  The trail was constantly being blockaded by blowdowns of HUMUNGEOUS trees.  Their trunk diameters were enormous.  When I stood next to one of these fallen giants, lying on its side, it was taller than I am.And often when one fell, it took a bunch of other trees down with it, so we were being faced by some really complex obstacle courses.  Sometimes we detoured way out around the blowdown mess, fervently hoping we’d be able to relocate the PCT on the other side.  At one point, I really thought we HAD lost the trail and was trying to figure out what to do.  Sometimes we climbed over the huge fallen monsters.  Sometimes we sort of squiggled through them.  On one in particular, Bill was busy looking for a way to climb over, while I wandered off a bit to the side and discovered a way to squeeze UNDER.   Later on, we met another hiker who said he actually used a rope to climb over that tree, only to discover after all his efforts, that he could have squeezed under it farther “up the line.”  His comment was, “GRRRRRR!”   I was also kind of “grrring” because the bottoms of my pant legs are so beat up after 2,500 miles, that they were catching in everything and getting torn up even worse.  My solution finally was to tuck them into my socks. 

But aside from the blowdowns, the forest was lovely.  It looked like sort of rainforest to me.  The trees were huge, the plants were lush and green, and the creeks were pretty.  We had a couple of creek crossings–Bill logwalked, and I forded.   If I tried to logwalk, it would take too long. 

Eventually we reached a much more open, drier forest and the trail headed straight for the notorious Suiattle River.   We’d been told to follow the rock ducks to where a log provided a safe crossing of the “unfordable” river.  Sure enough,  when we got to the bottom of the valley, there was a vast, wide “moonscape” that was the bed of the river when it’s in full raging torrent.  It was all sand and boulders.  Footprints and ducks led off to the right, upstream, but we could see glimpses of the river.  I thought to myself, “That doesn’t look any worse than some of the Sierra rivers we had to ford.”  and thought about suggesting that we just go for it and ford the Suiattle.  But I decided maybe it would be better to use the log, since everyone seemed so emphatic about that being the ONLY safe way across.

We slogged along through the sand and rocks for quite a ways before the “trail” turned toward the river, and there was The Log, which other hikers had described as “substantial.”  My first reaction was, “Substantial, hah!  That’s one skinny log!  I thought it was going to be a big moose of a thing, like those blowdowns we got through earlier.”   And I would agree that the Suiattle AT THAT POINT was definitely unfordable.  It was roaring and obviously deep, because it was in a narrow place (which is why the log fit all the way across). 

Bill crossed first, just walking carefully, and was soon on the other side.  There was no way I was going to walk that log!  So I got down and crawled across,  making sure of each move so that I would not slip.  Fortunately, the log still had its bark on, so that gave a good secure, non-slippery surface to hold on to.   It was still very scary for me.  I just kept moving along, praying as I went that I would choose the right spots to hold on to and that I would be OK.  And the only problem I had (sigh) was that out in the very middle, where the current below is at its worst, there was the root part of another tree that had caught against The Log I was crossing on.  One of the roots caught my trek poles which were lashed to my pack  and I had to sort of sit down and disentangle the root from my poles before moving on.   To say I was glad to reach the other side would be a huge understatement!    This kind of thing scares me tremendously, and I told God I was VERY grateful for His help, courage-wise!  Bill also gave me a hug, and that helped, too!

Then we followed a sometimes confusing “path” of hiker footprints and occasional rock ducks, back downstream to the PCT.  This side of the river wasn’t just sand and rocks–it also included a lot of logs, so that made the going a bit trickier.  The PCT headed uphill for our last big climb–to the top of Suiattle Pass.  Partway up, at the corner of a switchback, we stopped to cook some lunch, and another hiker caught up with us.  Crossing the Suiattle was the topic of conversation, of course!  We all agreed that it would probably have been easier to just ford the river down where the PCT “officially” crosses, since the river is wider there and no worse than the Sierra rivers.

The trail up to the pass was all in forest at first, with no views, but there was very pretty fall foliage along the trail.  Finally we got up high enough to see mountain views–but we also got a good view of the sky, and sighed when we saw that it had really clouded over.  This morning had been a mix of sun and clouds, but now it looked like the clouds had won, and were planning to rain.  At the top of the pass, we cheered, “Stehekin, here we come!” and began charging down the switchbacks.  The trail was very nice dirt, not all rough and rocky.

However, that nice dirt trail at one point had a little loop of root lurking, and I caught my left toe in it.  I was hiking very fast, and before I realized what had happened, I was flying through the air, off the trail, just barely missing a stump.  I landed on my back, and my pack took the brunt of the fall, so I was not hurt at all.  I was lying there thinking, “Thankyou, Lord–I’m OK!” and Bill, back up on the trail, looked down and said, “Wow, you did a great mid-air turn there, to land on your back!”  Well,  it wasn’t me that organized that mid-air turn.  I think it was just physics–my pack was heavy enough to pull me around.  And hey, I also give God some credit, too.  That could have been a really bad fall, especially if I hit the stump.  I agree with Joe Anderson at Casa de Luna–there is no such thing as “luck”–it was at least to some degree, God at work. 

Bill gave me a hand up from where I’d landed, and I looked myself over–all fine, except for mud all over my pant leg.  I now look very disreputable–one pant leg all torn up from climbing over blowdowns and the other all covered with mud.  

But a short time later, it was Bill’s turn to look disreputable, only in a much more serious way.  We had turned off the PCT to follow the  South Fork Agnes Creek Trail down toward Stehekin.  We took this trail in 2005 and liked it then, because it just simply and steadily heads downhill all the way, whereas if you stick with the PCT, you have a goodly climb first, then the downhill.  We’d gone a good distance on the Agnes Creek trail when we reached a very simple, steppingstone crossing of a creek.  I was ahead, and went happily across, then headed on along the trail, when I heard a yelp and cry from Bill.  I screeched to a halt and hurried back to the creek, to find Bill all bloody-legged and sort of tangled up on the rocks.  It turned out that he had slipped on one of the steppingstones and fell–not into the creek, but into more rocks.  He had badly gashed his shin and had blood everywhere, running down his leg and dripping on the rocks.  It looked bad enough that for a moment I was afraid he might have broken his leg.   But he managed to get to his feet and hobble the rest of the way across the creek, where we assessed the damage. Whew!  It was a nasty gash and a lot of scraping, but didn’t look like a hike-ending injury.  But it was pretty messy.  Bill had blood all over his pants, socks and shoe.  I cleaned up the gash and we put a large bandaid on it.   Then to add to the “fun”, as we were working on Bill’s leg, the clouds that had been threatening to rain decided “It’s rain time!” and there we were trying to fix Bill’s leg while the rain came down.  So we had to scramble to put on rain gear and get our packs into “rain mode”.

Finally all was done, and Bill began to cautiously walk again to see how his leg felt.  He said he could manage to hike OK, so we marched on through the rain, pushing through very wet bushes overhanging the trail. At times the bushes were so thick we could hardly see the trail.   Previous to this section, the trail had actually been very well-maintained, including bush-trimming.  Oh well.

We stopped for supper under a tree where the ground was still dry and decided to push on for as long as we dared, in hopes of minimizing the mileage into Stehekin tomorrow.   Bill wanted to make the 9:00 bus; I figured we’d never make that, but could at least walk into Stehekin Valley Ranch by lunchtime.    The rain continued off and on as we hurried along.  We reached Hemlock Camp, where the PCT and Agnes Creek trail rejoin and pushed on till 7 pm, when it was starting to get dark–we did succeed in reaching the next of the camps.  A light rain was falling as we set up the tarp and got ready for bed, which included me carefully cleaning and bandaging Bill’s very nasty cuts and scrapes.  His leg was a mess, but I think it will be OK, aside from probably a bit of scarring.  I am sure I will have a permanent scar on my knee from when I fell, weeks ago.  It still has not really healed, though it doesn’t hurt and shows no sign of infection.

We are at a much lower elevation here than we have been for several days, and it is noticeably warmer.  Agnes Creek is roaring close by.  I was VERY glad to finally crawl into the sleeping bag and listen to the rain pattering on the tarp.  This has been quite a day!