Sun. Sept. 19 Miles today: 28.9 Actual total: 2,648.6 miles

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Well, it rained quite heavily all night, but we stayed very comfortable under our tarp, with no problems, thanks to the heathery ground underneath us that soaked up every bit of the rain so that nothing ran along the ground.  It was still raining while we ate breakfast and started our packup, but stopped for a brief while as we climbed back up to the PCT and embarked on our last full hiking day!

The rain continued off and on for the rest of the day, sometimes heavily and sometimes lightly, but what made it bearable was that the clouds had lifted and we could see mountains and views once again.  Yesterday, though it didn’t officially “rain”, we were in clouds and mist all day and couldn’t see anything.  The scenery on this part of the PCT is so gorgeous that  rain or no rain, it was a blessing to be able to see it.   Temperature-wise, it was very cold, and I wore most of my layers all day.   We changed our snack times and meal times a bit–the governing consideration was “Look, it stopped raining for a little while!  Let’s eat now!”   Then we would gobble down a Snickers or whatever before moving on.  But at lunchtime, the rain finally stopped for an hour and oh joy!  We found some rocks to sit on–much better than the very wet and muddy ground.

All the colors of the landscape around us are definitely in “autumn mode”.  Even the grass is turning a golden-yellow.  I didn’t get many pictures of it, though, because of the rain, and I have to admit that my enjoyment of the autumn beauty was lessened by being so cold and having to deal with so much rain.  

As far as actual hiking went,  the first “landmark” of the day was reaching Hart’s Pass with its cute ranger station house.  I signed the register there, and was surprised to see that even though it was still very early in the morning, two hikers had already signed in.   I also noticed a lot of cars parked in the area, but no people walking around.  Did that mean we’d be meeting lots of folks on the trail?  We were very sad to see that pretty Meadow Campground, which lies just below the PCT, was devastated by a forest fire.  In the rain and cold, nobody was camping there, and it looked very forlorn.

From Hart’s Pass, the PCT takes a big climb up and up till it reaches “cruising altitude” at about 6200 feet, contouring along mountainsides for many miles, and occasionally dropping down or going up a bit to various “passes.”  At Windy Pass, we had a huge thrill–the highlight of the whole day!  We were sitting by the trail taking a Snickers break, when a MOOSE came strolling by in the meadow, not far away.  We both whipped out our cameras and started taking pictures!  Mr. Moose soon spotted us, stopped and stared at us for awhile.  He had a nice set of antlers, so we were a little bit concerned (we’d heard several hiker tales of  bad-tempered moose), but he finally “floated” away, obviously not worried about us.  I was amazed that such a big, heavy critter could move so effortlessly. 

With the clouds high in the sky, even though it was mostly raining all day, we still got awesome views of the huge U-shaped, glacier-carved forested valleys.  Everything in the landscape here seems to be on a “giant” scale.  Fall colors are everywhere.  Every mountainside is painted in yellow and orange–even the dark green forests are embroidered with bright colors.  We met a hiker who FINISHED the PCT yesterday (way to go!) and was hiking back south to get a ride out at Hart’s Pass.  He gave us welcome news of the hikers who have finished in the last few days, and among them were Trash Bucket and Happy Camper!  What a relief!  Now we know they are OK!

We were passed by The Graduate, who is on a tear for the border.  He plans to hike nonstop till he gets there.   Next we met a dad and daughter out backpacking.  The dad is very enthusiastic about the PCT–his son thruhiked successfully two years ago!  It was fun to talk to them, but we didn’t linger too long–it was coooold!  The trail took us to the top of a pass.  The “new” route then goes WAY down into a valley,before climbing  up again to the next pass.  The “old” route just contoured evenly over, but it was pretty much demolished by rockslides, so was abandoned.   Grumping a little bit, we headed down and began the climb back up. The rain at that point decided it was time to do a “cats & dogs” downpour.  Oh fun!   Bill has been having more and more trouble with big uphill climbs, and this was no exception.  I was soon well ahead of him, and planned to wait at the top.  When I got there I was surprised to find that somebody had set up camp (two tents, plus food hung from trees)  but no-one was there.  I waited for a long time, and no Bill.  Brrr!   The wind and rain were freezing, so I decided to hike along a bit farther to get out of the wind, and stop and wait again.   Still no Bill.  I began to get worried.   

As it turned out, he had taken his time climbing up to the pass, and once he got there he messed around for awhile taking pictures, and also trying to walk “back” a bit on the old PCT trail that’s been abandoned.  Meanwhile, whom should I see coming southbound on the PCT but “Balls” and his lovely little daughter (9 or 10 years old).  The last time I saw him was in the Sierras, when we were both glissading down a pass, and he zipped right past me.  Turned out that he had left off thruhiking because of a foot injury, and had only completed the California PCT– but his daughter really wanted to see Monument 78 (so did he!), so he took her on a little backpack adventure.  They’d been to the monument and were returning to their “base camp” at the pass.  Aha–so that explained the two tents!   Bill finally showed up as I was talking to them, and he and I headed on north together.  The afternoon was very cold and getting colder.  

Finding a place to eat some supper was very hard.  The wind was strong and there were few protected spots.  We finally huddled behind some trees and ate as fast as we could.  Brrrrr!   Then we mushed on fast, partly to stay warm, and partly just to get to a campable place before dark.  Those miles after supper included climbing up to the highest point of the PCT in Section L (7,000-plus feet) in rain, with wind so strong I could not use my umbrella.  Bummer!  I really missed the umbrella–it keeps my head and shoulders and the top of my pack dry, plus it breaks the wind so I stay warmer.  But this wind was far too wild and strong–I had to stow the umbrella.

The PCT went up and up into what on a nice day would be a lovely “alpine garden” area, but for us it was in the cloud, freezing cold and windswept.  We reached the top at last and began switchbacking down to near Hopkins Lake.  Side trails led to some campsites, hooray!  But it was still raining and everything was soaking wet, muddy and cold.  We disagreed about where to set up the tarp, but finally went with the spot Bill wanted.   I was sort of bummed because this was our last night on the trail, and I was hoping for a really nice campsite like we had in 2005.  No such luck, this time.   We barely got the tarp up in time before it was dark, as the rain continued.

Today was a tough haul–a challenge to be met, which is a good thing–but not at all fun.  The upside is that we actually got to SEE some scenery at least for awhile. The other thing that helps me to keep going is to “sing” in my head (not out loud–I need all my breath for hiking!) and I am very glad I’ve learned so many gospel songs and hymns.  I pick one with a good “hiking  rhythm” to it, and “sing” all the verses to myself, then pick another one.  A lot of the thruhikers listen to recordings as they hike–I would find that very distracting.   As the rain pattered on the tarp tonight, we had our last evening Bible reading.   Only 14.9 miles to go, and we are DONE!   I am looking forward to being warm, dry and clean, plus resting my very tired feet.

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