Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Of Mice and Mountains

Day 137-143:
This section is from Stevens Pass near Skykomish to the remote, not easily accessible town of Stehekin ( a Native American word meaning "the way through").
This town came about in 1890 with the "Homesteading Act", when the government was giving out free parcels of land to people who wanted to do remote subsistence farming. The town is also situated on the banks of Lake Chelan 50 miles long and 1486ft deep located in one of the deepest ravines in North America and is only accessible on foot via the PCT or via ferry across the lake. It was no picnic getting here and I suffered quite a bit. The terrain was extremely steep and I had three days of non stop soaking, cold rain. Victory will not be easy!

Day 137:
I had breakfast with Indie, Art Gypsy and Legend at the Cascade Inn diner and was picked up to be taken to the Dinsmore Hiker Haven in Baring, nearby. I felt so welcomed by Andrea and Gerry who run this wonderful place.

The hiker lounge felt like home and last year PCT hiker "Soup Nazi" (named after a character in Seinfeld when he was overheard rationing his hiker partner's food), hung up a South African flag here, which I signed. Super fun! Thank you Andrea, Gerry and all those who volunteer there for all you do for the hikers. 

I was kindly driven back to Stevens Pass to resume the PCT, hiking past gorgeous Valhalla Lake 

and making it to tranquil Janus Lake by sunset where I discovered a great campsite on the shore of the lake where a weekend backpacker named Jamie was already camped. I felt safer camping near another hiker and was grateful for that.

Day 138:

A 20 mile/32km day. It was tough with a lot of accumulated elevation gain. The highlight of my day was seeing two bear cubs frolicking in a meadow and scampering up and down a tree. They were grunting gently in conversation with each other. I did not see mamma bear but was sure she was nearby so I kept walking and didn't stop to try and take photographs. The memory photos I have in my mind are amazing!

I saw what I thought was Mnt Baker which was exciting because I've been told that when I see it, it means I've almost completed my journey. The abundance if blueberries and huckleberries slowed me down somewhat as I couldn't resist eating handfuls enroute. 

I reached Sally Ann Lake at sundown and here I met a south bounding section hiker called "Lollygagger" who just happens to be a nurse. 

We camped near each other at lovely campsites beside this scenic alpine lake which was filled by a waterfall off to the side and enjoyed talking over camp food supper.

I am elated and excited that Josh is going to meet me in Washington at the end. He texted me via the satellite phone that he had just booked his airline tickets. I feel so blessed to have him in my life. He had been my most incredible trail angel and has gone above and beyond for me for which I am most grateful. 
Today was perfect weather and I'm sure I saw Washington at it's best.

Day 139:
I was awoken by the crack and boom of thunder and lightening. As I looked out of the tent door, the sky was heavy with thick, dark thunder clouds. I jumped out of my tent and tried frantically to pack up camp before the heavens opened but the rain came bucketing down shortly after that, so I crawled back inside and hunkered down for awhile. After about an hour it let up enough for me to pack up camp and I hiked on in my rain gear including Frogg Toggs, Golite umbrella and a pack cover that kept everything dry.

It was a day of beautiful vistas even though it rained half the day.

By noon it had stopped raining and I reached Reflection Pond where I had a lunch break and dried my tent out in a little patch of sun.

The trail then ran along a mountainside with more epic vistas and dropped down into a forest, crossing many rivers and creeks. 

"Guy on a Buffalo" came charging past me. I hadn't seen him since California, so it was nice to see a familiar face.

I ended up camping at the trail fork to Kennedy Hot Springs next to a hiker who made a campfire in the middle if the trail and proceeded to talk either to himself or his invisible friends which was a little disconcerting. I hoped that I would be safe as there were no other people anywhere nearby and had difficulty falling asleep.

Day 140:

At 2am I heard the rain starting again and the other hiker who didn't have a tent but slept between a sheet of builders tyvec which makes a crinkly noise was fidgeting and throwing more wood on his fire. I could hear critters scurrying around outside my tent all night too. I even thought I felt something run across my sleeping bag too but in the dark, told myself not to be paranoid. It happened to be real though because in the morning when I woke up, a big hole had been gnawed into my tent and there was mouse poop everywhere. 
When I got out of my tent at 6am, the strange person was gone and I packed up in the drizzle.

The topography of the trail today was gnarly with an unbelievable amount if climbing and descent. I climbed up near to the top of some snowy peaks in the Glacial Peak Wilderness where I was being blasted by wind and rain and on the start of my descent was rewarded with the sight of exquisite Mica Lake.

 As I continued on the downward plunge of never ending switchbacks, I could see another set of never ending switchbacks going up the mountain across from me and knew with dread that I would have to climb those. 

Once up the other side and near a viewpoint on a ridge with a camp called Dolly Vista Viewpoint, I saw a lot of marmots again and the foliage was so wet that my shoes and clothes were sodden. I continued down the side of this next mountain along the switchbacks with too many blown down trees to count and make it to Vista Creek by dark.
I set up my tent as darkness and the rains fell and patched up the mouse hole with some tenacious tape on the outside and duct tape on the inside, hoping it would hold out and prevent repeat offenses from mice.

Day 141:

 Another sleepless night in a torrential downpour. I was awoken at 0148 by a mouse scurrying over me in my tent again! I'm not sure whether it was the same one as the night before who perhaps hitched a ride in my backpack, because he looked very dry. There was however, a new hole chewed into my tent door which I darned closed with my sewing kit at 2am after evicting the mouse. I had a full bladder all night and didn't want to get out in the rain, added to the fact that it's cold out there!

I packed up my tent in the rain and of course everything was soaking wet. I wore my long hiking pants, long sleeved running shirt and Frogg Toggs all day and they kept me warm and dry. Without the pack rain cover and umbrella, I would not have had a single dry item.
I haven't seen another person in two days of hiking. It's wet, cold and the climbs are brutally steep and relentless.
Eventually after hiking all day and into the night, in the spooky, dark, damp woods, I camped by myself next to a river in a wet tent. Fortunately I had a space blanket which I placed on the inside floor of my tent to act as insulation against the cold ground.

As I pulled my tent out of the side pocket of my pack, guess what popped out? A mouse! He lounged there for a bit, one foot draped over the rim of the pocket and looked at me as if to say, "How ya 'doin"? Gosh, the nerve!
Only 6 miles into Stehekin tomorrow, thank goodness.

Day 142:

A six mile hike to High Bridge and I caught the bus to Stehekin, a quaint, tiny town with a ranch, a veggie garden, a famous bakery and a lodge. 
The bus stopped at the bakery and "The Garden", a wonderful veggie produce farm where I bought two delicious, huge, juicy peaches.

On arrival at the lodge I heard people call out "Two Feathers" and I knew I was amongst friends again. It was great seeing so many hikers I knew, but my priority was to dry out my tent and sleeping bag, do laundry and resupply for the final leg of the journey.

The town has no cell phone service, no internet and one public phone. A ferry and a seaplane brings people over from the outside world. 

I found out that the store at the lodge would be shutting down for winter in 12 days time. Good thing I made it just in time.
The rain continued and I'm hoping for improved weather tomorrow.

Day 143:

I actually slept in until 0730 which is rare and had blueberry pancakes for breakfast at the Stehekin Lodge restaurant overlooking beautiful Lake Chelan and the surrounding mountains. 

Then it was a rush to pack up and catch the shuttle bus to the trail at High Bridge.
I set out on the final leg of the trail with nine fantastic hikers, Topshelf, Banjo, Shutter, Sad Fish, Happy Feet, Smoky, Goosebumps, Ranger Jan and Kokopelli.
It was pleasant hiking uphill as the gradient went up gradually. We passed Coon Lake and various creeks and ended up camping at Fireweed Creek campsite.

 What a treat to camp with such an awesome group of people and not be alone in the woods at night. The mice are still a huge problem, more so than the bears. Many hikers have come down with diarrhea and they think it might be due to the rodent problem and having their food bags broken into by them. I'm also not the only one who has had holes chewed into their tent!
I found a new use for a space blanket: wrap it around your food bag. The mice wont chew through it and if they try, it'll make a crinkly sound and wake you up.
Goodnight mice, bears and things that go bump in the night.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Up in the wild mountains

Day 133-136:

"Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints."
"We are part of the earth and the earth is part of us" Chief Seattle

I had to make up my mind today whether I was going to take the alternate route out of Snoqualmie which loops and rejoins the PCT or just stay on the regular trail. I decided to take the alternate and left during the early afternoon. 
I had to walk through the quaint ski resort village of Alpental to the start of the Snow Lake trail at a fairly steep set of switchbacks up the the stunning alpine Snow Lake. 

Going up I "talked story" with so many day hikers who were interested in what I was doing and I was showered with delicious trail magic by Janet and her friends, including chocolate, an apple and an energy drink.

From Snow Lake I took the steep and not very well maintained switchbacks down to the Middle Fork trail which led through forests and across creeks to the tranquil Goldmyer Hot Springs, a zen like retreat in the forest on the bank of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. 

It is run as a non profit and limits the amount of visitors to 20 at a time. The hot springs are in natural rock pools with a cabana nearby and camping overnight is an option in one of their eight campsites. ( $15 for a day pass and $5 for camping). 

It was truly worth taking this route just to be able to "zen out" here. Going to sleep peaceful and happy here in my tent in the woods. 

Feeling grateful that I'm able to experience life in this manner.

Day 134:

Quotation found at the hot springs:
"May the divine principle of universe nestle it's way between decision making, imagination and the temptations of mortality. May today find the inspiration to unleash hidden potential, simplify and lead silently by example a contemplative, creative life. Bless all that our eyes and minds come across. We are a divine expression of life. We accept the uncertainty with serenity. We are one. Unanimous Anonymous"

I departed from the hot springs after chatting with Aaron, the caretaker who is also a passionate bread baker. He and his partner are planning on hiking the PCT next year. PCT hikers Indie and Art Gypsy were headed back to the warm pools as I left.

The Middle Fork trail hugged the Snoqualmie River for some time and it mostly climbed throughout the morning. I stopped to have lunch at the Dutch Miller horse camp and proceeded on the Dutch Miller Gap trail for the rest of the day.

 I did significant climbs, descents and more climbs on sometimes poorly maintained trail and sometimes on great sections including boardwalks. 

I stopped to have an early supper on a river bank by a bridge and saw Wisdom from France. He was the only person I had seen all day. 

By 6pm I went through the Dutch Miller Gap and was rewarded with the magnificent sight of Lake Ivanhoe, the beauty of which was spellbinding. 

The wind was picking up and it had started to rain so I decided to set up camp here due to the fact that I found a lovely sheltered little campsite.

After some hot chocolate and cookies, I called it a night early. It felt a little eerie being the only human at this vast and beautiful lake. I am thankful that I chose to do this alternate route as it is magnificent!

Day 135:

Well, I survived a stormy night out in the wild north Cascades of Washington. It's at times like this that I realize how potentially dangerous and absurd this quest is. It is very cold out there and I would have been in a very uncomfortable, if not hypothermic predicament if I had allowed people to do any radical pack "shakedowns". It never ceases to amaze me how often other people want to purge my backpack, when I am the one carrying it. I am so glad that I have everything that's in it.
As I left Ivanhoe Lake, it was swirling mist and drizzle. 

A little further down along the stream I saw a horse/mule encampment and  then continued to wind down the switchbacks to rejoin the regular PCT again.

It was a long, solitary day of mist and drizzle. My Frogg Toggs, Golite umbrella and pack rain cover were put to good use.

I covered 20 miles/32km passing Deep Lake, which was very picturesque being framed in the mist by the jaggered peaks of the mountains which loomed up behind it.

At one point I had to make a very scary river crossing by balancing whilst inching my way across it on slippery, wet logs while the rapids raged beneath me.

 I ended up camping solo in the damp woods at Deception Pass after finding a sheltered campsite just up along the Marmot Lake trail. I look forward to the time when I no longer have to fall asleep in fear, listening vigilantly to all the noises in the forest.

Day 136:

Upon leaving my sheltered little spot, I thanked it for keeping me warm and dry last night, but even so, my rainfly was drenched.

My day started out in the drizzle and mist but as I arrived at the gorgeous Deception Lakes, the rain stopped, the sun came out for a moment and I sat in the rocks at the lake and enjoyed a mug of camp style cafe mocha and dark chocolate covered acai berries.

This was followed by a climb up many switchbacks into the heavens and as the mist partially cleared I had some spectacular views.

As I meandered down I met a wonderful woman named Sue and her dog Darwin. 

We hiked together, chatting for hours and she became my trail angel by offering me a ride from the trailhead into Skykomish. I bought her a drink at the Whistling Post as a thank you.

Skykomish is a quaint, historic railway town which looks like a movie set. 

Tonight I am staying at the historic Cascadia Inn. 

While I strolled along the main street, a woman drove by and leaning out the window asked "Are you Heather Feather"? I never dreamed I'd be recognized in a tiny northern town like Skykomish, but it was Andrea Dinsmore from the Hiker Haven and she had bern following my progress. I plan to go up there tomorrow before hitting the trail again. My day ended with receiving trail magic in the form of an awesome resupply box of amazing goodies from my dear friend Mandy who lives in Canada. Gratitude remains my most dominant feeling. Thank you.