Location: Snoqualmie Pass, Washington
Avocados: 54 (they’re expensive up here!)
“It’s the hard parts that make it so great.” Right? RIGHT?!?!
Could have used a rain jacket. Could have used some rain paints. Could have used an extra set of extremities.
When buying gear for this hike I looked into many rain jackets and noticed a theme: the more expensive the jacket, the worse the reviews. I gave up and told myself I’d buy a rain jacket when I got closer to the Northwest. Never got around to it. Oops.
I joined the Warriors for pizza on our last night in Packwood and I listened to their stories on the lovely topic of “the coldest you’ve ever been.” This proved to be an extremely helpful pizza party because this week I was really cold, but not even close to what those guys have been through, thus telling myself “you’ll be fine” more easily and actually believing it. I got back on trail Tuesday around noon. A trail angel named Holly gave me a ride back to the trailhead. Holly was in town shuttling hikers back and forth and thus gaining first-hand info from us to use towards her thruhike next year (excellent research strategy). Tons of enthusiasm that Holly, she was awesome.
I had quite a heavy pack this time. I had 100 miles to hike and with the increasing elevation gain, colder temps, and bad weather, I needed more food. I also wasn’t sure how fast I was going to go, so instead of packing for 3 nights, I grabbed some pathetic looking oats from the hiker box in case I needed 4 nights to get to Snoqualmie. Unfortunately my pack didn’t get much lighter as I ate the food because with the rainy weather all my gear became water-logged.
It was cloudy out, but it stayed dry as I hiked 20 miles to camp. As I set up my tent in a tiny opening in a cluster of trees, it began to rain. Got really lucky with that one! It rained the rest of the night but all my stuff stayed dry so the morning wasn’t too terrible.
I left a few notes on the trees outside my tent for the Warriors to see in the morning. As I was shuffling around my tent I heard Rant and so he came over to chat for a bit. He hiked ahead as I finally got myself to get out of my tent and take it down. There is nothing worse than taking down a wet tent when you can’t feel your hands. Nothing.
I caught up to Rant a few miles later and we hiked to Chinook Pass together. He and the Warriors are on the Combat War Vets sponsored hike so they had a meeting at the VFW in a town off Chinook Pass. At this point it was wet, cold, and really hopeless looking. I considered hitching into a town and waiting out the worst of the rain, and then realized if I did that I wouldn’t finish this trail until 2017. So as Rant hitched into town for a hot cocoa, burger, and shelter, I hiked up Crystal Mountain and was rewarded with no view. But first, I took a picture of Rant taking his weekly selfie.
The rest of the day was actually pretty okay. Intermittent showers. Whenever it WASN’T raining I was so hopeful. I was so happy. I was so confident. Hiking was fun! Then it would start raining 5 minutes later and I would consider eating the red berries for a quicker death. Sounds extreme, but don’t say the weather hasn’t ever had an immediate impact on your mood.
The last 2 hours of the day it stopped raining and I was so grateful. I hiked until 7, pulled my wet tent out of my outside pocket, and set it up. Bad news, the whole tent was soaked. In a frenzy that morning I rolled the wetness into itself, now the whole inside was drenched. I didn’t have anything dry to wipe it down with (I forgot to pack out my beach towel) so I took a semi-dry bandana and gave it my all. I then laid out a garbage bag and a few other semi-dry items and topped it with my sleeping pad. I mistakenly threw in my soaking wet backpack inside my tent down towards my feet (like I always do, because it’s always been dry). It was a rough night. It didn’t rain tooooo badly, but it was so damp inside my tent that in the middle of the night I woke up to boil water. Another phrase I’ll never use lightly again is “chilled to the bone.” I was chilled to the bone. I wasn’t surprised though, I was sleeping inside a wet tent, in a damp sleeping bag, with my feet resting on a soaking wet pack. I also had to watch every movement because everything surrounding my sleeping pad was wet, there was no time for trail nightmares tonight toe touch! If you even as much as SKIM the wall of your tent you’ll die of hypothermia! Die!
So where are we? Oh yes, 2:30Am. I boiled water, poured it into my water bottle, and threw it in my sleeping bag for my feet to play around with. It was heaven. I had a handful of almonds to aid in the warming process and fell back asleep. I woke up, stared at my wet ceiling, and geared myself up for another day. You know what the worst sequence of events is?
1. Sitting up
2. Changing from dry clothes into wet clothes
3. Putting on heavy, sopping socks
4. Putting on soaked sneaks
5. Taking the first step in your wet gear
6. Unbuckling your rain fly when you can’t feel your hands (I’ll save you the rant)
7. Handling your metal tent poles when you can’t feel your hands
8. Shoving your wet tent in your wet bag
9. Realizing you haven’t even pooped yet
The most difficult part of the week was knowing it was projected to get worse and worse. Wednesday was not suppose to rain until the evening. Thursday was suppose to be on and off. But Friday? Friday was suppose to rain, and then rain some more. Saturday was the light at the end of the tunnel, cold and rainy morning, but possible sun if you stick it out that long to experience it.
I woke up Friday ready and excited for a wet n’ wild day! Woooo! Whatcha got Washington! It was really cold, but didn’t start raining until 5 miles in (right around the time I start to gain strength back in my hands). I hiked the morning with a young married couple from South Africa, Hiccup and Flapjack and we stopped at a really random cabin in the woods. I first met these guys early on in the desert so it was great to see them. They mistakenly bumped up their cold weather gear so I’m not sure how they made it through that section in shorts. Insane. Once it stopped pouring I began to hike again and 5 minutes later it started raining again. Oh well, I tried.
Friday, oh, Friday. Rain, cold, climbing. You know who was MVP of Friday? Roger. After hiking at an incredibly consistent pace (the grade didn’t matter, I actually probably hiked faster up the mountains than down) for nearly 6 hours, I stopped suddenly in my tracks. I crossed an unpaved forest service road and there was a big truck and canopy set up. I couldn’t see people, but I saw hiker poles laid out in the rain, good indicator. I peaked my head around the wall and saw 4 hikers huddled around a fire and then a guy named Roger. “Want a hot drink?” He laughs, as if it’s not even a question. Who would deny a hot drink? I don’t even need flavor Roger! Gimme hot water! First I’ll pour it all over my body, then I’ll chug it. I mean, hot cocoa please!
He had a table of fresh fruit and was making hot drinks for us. He kept the fire going and it took a lot of discipline not to throw myself in it. I knew Gumby and Indie, 2 females hiking together since the Sierra, and then I met 2 new guys, Lawless and Crafty. Gumby and Indie decided to spend the night there by the fire and under the tarp, but the guys headed out for more miles, and I followed suit. Roger is an engineer living in the Seattle area and was out here because it was “something he’s always wanted to do.” We told stories around the fire, thanked Roger incessantly, and I watched as Indie lit a hole in her sock drying by the fire and laughing about it. “Ohhhh welp there goes that!” Laughter is the best way out of misery.
I went another 6 miles and set up camp around 7 again. I did a better job packing up my tent that morning so it wasn’t completely soaked. The bad part was that I gathered water and decided to hike another 2 miles. I didn’t realize it’d be up a mountain. It was good to get my blood flowing again, but bad because I was now looking to spend the night 1,000 feet higher up than I should have been. Cold. It was windy, dark, rainy, and I pitched my tent on what I prayed was an “abandoned” unpaved rocky forest service road. Everything about it was dangerous and creepy. The last line in my journal entry reads..”I’m scared.” Hahaha. Another solid end of the day by Toe Touch.
I slept warmer that night because I stuffed myself in a garbage bag before stuffing myself in my damp sleeping bag: success! I also had a weird quinoa Mac n’ Cheese for dinner, so my tummy was warm and happy. Oh, and a pink frosted sugar cookie! Gas station special!
I woke up on Saturday having 26 miles until my resupply point: Snoqualmie Pass, a ski resort with a motel and gas station. I decided that if I stayed dry, I would take it easy and camp a few miles from “town.” If I remained soaked, I was high tailing it to town. Luckily, 6 miles into my morning, I crossed another unpaved road and found Brian. Brian’s wife, ALTA (an acronym for “At Least Till Ashland”) is thru-hiking and since he just retired, is driving the camper up the country and making her dinner every 3-4 days when they meet-up. It’s adorable. It was a really cold morning, I tried eating an apple but I kept dropping it. My grip strength was pathetically low. When I saw Brian he said the sweetest of phrases “Coffee Bars Open!” I started cheering, I don’t care how embarrassing I looked, I was so happy. It was good coffee too, I even grinded up the beans in his Java Mill. Best on trail coffee, hands down.
Naturally, after Brian told me it was going to 100% rain all day, the sun came out. I hung around for over an hour, dried out my tent and jacket, and we listened to a baseball game on his satellite radio. Pals. As he handed me my coffee he so carefully made, he said “oh! And one more thing….BISCOTTI!” He whipped it out from behind his back with such enthusiasm I began cheering again. Boy did we have a great time. His wife is a day behind me and unfortunately I haven’t met her yet, but with her being so close I hope to see them both again! As I packed up my stuff I asked if I could do anything for him for such an amazing cup of coffee, biscotti, and sleeve of Oreos, and he said yes, yes I could. “I do this for the same reasons I worked as an Emergency Room Nurse for over 30 years, I do it to help people, and the only payment I take is a smile.” So I smiled as big as I could and jetted off! Before I was out of ear shot he said hey Toe touch! You smell that? “No Brian, what’s that smell?” “CANADA!” haha, and I disappeared into the woods, continuing North into the patch of sunshine.
I stayed dry the rest of the day. I hiked slow because I didn’t want to get too close to civilization too early, because then I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation. In an incredible act of self-restraint, I set up camp early, only 3 miles from the pass. I took my time hiking, I actually stopped and picked berries and put them in a bag. Usually I just do a drive-by trying to pick them without ever slowing my perpetual motion. I sat on a rock and took a few deep breathes and enjoyed the quiet. I set up camp, made oatmeal, broke my spoon, and laid there so comfortably. I was warm, I was fed, I was so grateful for Roger and Brian helping me through this miserable weather, and I had plans to meet Camel for Breakfast at the Pancake House in the morning. I wasn’t scared anymore, I made it! What an incredible week to look back on, it’s been awhile since I did 4 nights without a resupply. Also kind of crazy that doing a marathon day after day weighted down constitutes my version of “taking it easy.” How normal this life has become.
I feel like getting to Snoqualmie Pass is a big accomplishment for Northbounders. We are about halfway through Washington, and the next 270 miles are said to be stunning (and thus extremely difficult). We are entering the Northern Cascades. The weather has turned on, so we will continue to do our best to co-exist with the low temps and rain, hoping to be granted as many views as the clouds will allow. As I hiked down to the Pass I felt such a large feeling of achievement, and I realized that from here on out I will be getting snippets of what Canada will feel like. Getting so close.
The overall motivation level here amongst the hikers is low. Camel said it best, “I feel like a super-senior, doing whatever I can to stay in towns longer, like failing bowling 101.” Again, motivation is low. The weather is making things much tougher on us. Sure, we expected this, but it doesn’t make it easier. The positive I draw from it is how much easier it will make the end. I surely won’t miss it as much as I would if I glided to the finish amongst the soft sun and butterflies. It’s always an easier break-up when your boyfriend is an asshole towards the end, right? So thank you, Washington, for making it easier on us, in the long-term at least.
To be honest, there were plenty of times I loved the misery of the weather. I felt pretty wild as I hiked through it and really strong as I tried to figure out ways to stay warm. I wouldn’t last longer than 5 minutes on one of those survivor shows, but I was really proud of myself for how I stuck it out. I didn’t even shed a tear, just laughter. When things get really bad, laughter is my only way out. Yeah, I wouldn’t last very long on those survivor shows, mostly because I wouldn’t pass the psych test.
One reason I wanted to do the PCT, and a motivating component in which keeps me going, is delayed gratification. I love going a long time without daily occurrences. The gratification for these things is tripled when you are cold and wet for 4 days. Hands wrapped around a hot mug of coffee after a 100 mile stretch like that one? No greater feeling.
Rumor has it we have one more storm and then a dry couple of weeks. I’ll take it. If you are a meteorologist or psychic and want to tell me otherwise, go for it. For once I am choosing to 100% believe in this rumor. After a shower, laundry, and a quality burger, my world has been turned around. I am excited to get back out there and hike with the elements again. I know I’ll get wet and my hands will be frozen to my trekking poles once more, but my confidence is high and this stretch is only 70 miles. 70 miles! A breeze!