All my hopeful predictions were correct: I was so tired by the time I reached my camp that I slept no problem. I woke up a few times and peered out of my tent, but all in all I slept just fine. It helped that there were people camped, just out of sight, on either side of me and that the moon was incredibly bright. It lit up the whole lake so instead of waking up to a dark unknown, I woke up to a silvery fairyland. The trees cast shadows in the moonlight and the lake reflected a perfect mirror image of the ridge above.
I woke up refreshed and feeling excited again. Ned woke up with “OH MY GOSH WE’RE STILL HERE ON THIS AWESOME LAKE” and went swimming. Again. Repeatedly.
For having woken up at six it’s sort of ridiculous that I didn’t actually hike out until 8am, but hey, we were enjoying the lake (Ned still swimming). The trail follows the lake and then cuts north up the ridge to Piper Pass. I didn’t see anyone until I was almost to the top. I stopped for my self-enforced 9am snack break (I made myself a schedule after not eating enough the day before). It levels off then drops briefly downhill before heading up the actual pass. Ned barked at a couple hikers who came up while we were stopped. Ned is 100% friendly on the trail but, it’s funny, as soon as we stop moving he goes into camp mode and will alarm bark at anyone who approaches. Dogs are funny creatures, aren’t they?
I climbed the rock at the top (center photo) and found the reports of cell service to be accurate, just barely. I was able to send and receive a few texts and managed to report to Partner that I was on schedule so far. My touch of civilization was brief though, as Ned was impatient for Lady to come down off the giant weird rock he couldn’t climb. Then it was the long walk down the side of the valley of Deception Creek. There are gorgeous views all along this of Mount Daniel, Mount Hinman, and Cathedral Rock.
Honestly the trail through the woods around Deception Pass all kind of blends together for me. Here’s a sign in the woods:
I crossed Deception Pass and headed down the valley to the several stream crossings. This is where the potentially difficult ford is. I didn’t even have to get my feet wet since it was August and the stream was low, but apparently the crossing held other, unexpected dangers for another hiker just the day before I crossed it. Someone I stopped to talk to told me that a girl had been hit in the face by a falling rock while sitting in the gully and had to be airlifted out. Luckily a group of boy scouts had just passed and someone ran up the trail to catch them. The were able to come back with an emergency beacon and the girl was airlifted out in a few hours. I haven’t been able to find out anything more about her, but I hope she’s okay.
There are two stream crossings here and I’m a little confused about which is which, but I think the northern one is the potentially dangerous one. The southern crossing was, on my trip, much more difficult. The trail approaching it is washed out so you have to scramble down this dusty chute that’s so steep Ned and I could barely stop on it at all. We had to do this weird little routine where I would step one foot down and try and brace it on a rock or the side of the chute then, while I held his collar, Ned would take a step. Then I’d tell him stay and he’d have to dig in all his claws and slide to a stop and we’d do the whole process over. One step at a time we made it down into the gully, and then we had to climb across boulders, leaping from one to the next to get upstream to where the most likely crossing appeared to be. This is not Ned’s forte (he’s adorably clumsy) and he needed a lot of help. The stream splits in two just upstream so after we crossed the first half we were in a little island between two channels. It was here, in this interestingly symmetrical place that I met the only other female solo hiker I saw the whole trip. She was going north and I was headed south. I wanted to stop and talk with her, but I think we were both anxious to put this precarious crossing behind us. She gave me advice about how she had crossed her side of the stream and I gave her advice on how I crossed my side and we both proceeded on in our opposite directions. We were on the same path just in different directions. All I really remember about her is that she was blonde.
I used a very precarious log to cross that I would not recommend to anyone else and Ned just flailed his way right through the creek.
It’s a good thing I decided to refill my water here because after this it’s up up and up to Cathedral Pass with no water until you get to Deep Lake. Climbing the pass, I was starting to get tired and miserable again, and I was just in the middle of feeling real sorry for myself when I stopped to chat with a guy going the other direction. He asked me if there were people camped at Hyas Lake. I didn’t know, since it’s off the main PCT and I hadn’t stopped there. Apparently he had brought two lighters and they had BOTH run out of lighter fluid. He’d been borrowing lighters every time he camped. Me, being the champion worrier that I am, had a Jet Boil stove (which lights itself) and a lighter AND waterproof matches. You know, just in case. So I gave him my waterproof matches. Seeing his relief, it made my whole fucking day brighten back up again. I don’t know, there’s just nothing that cheers me up more than being able to help someone.
So with a renewed sense of optimism, I climbed that motherfucking pass.
You can see Deep Lake from the top of Cathedral Pass. I don’t know why, but having my destination in sight made me giddy. I giggled my way down every single one of those switchbacks down to the lake. I felt light, like I had burned through all the doubt and anxiety I had and now I was just empty. It was the most incredible euphoria I’ve ever experienced and it carried me all the way to Deep Lake. It wasn’t just a temporary buzz either, that lightness stayed with me, to this very day. I feel like some dam had been built up in me, holding in me a lake of anxiety and sadness. Over thirty miles though, that dam cracked, then leaked, then shattered and a river of grief and fear rushed through me. At the end of day two, that river had run it’s course, the water had cleared, and when all the sediment settled back down I was left with clean clear water. By the time I reached Deep Lake I was fearless, I was tireless, and I was happy.
I crossed the creek to the camp ground at about 7pm and stopped to chat with a couple who were filtering water. Apparently they had come the same route I had but in three days. They said their GPS had tracked it as 38 miles. So now I’m wondering about the milage for this route and how accurate the milage in my app is. I can tell you, it sure felt like more than 15 miles a day, but who knows. Either way, I settled down for the night, got into my sleeping bag, and slept like a baby.
The night before I was too tired to cook so in the morning I made a hot meal. Those Mountain House scrambled eggs might have been the best food I’ve ever eaten in my entire life (no one is paying me to advertise anything by the way but if anyone wants to… please, by all means, send me money). I woke up just as the sun was touching the tops of the mountains, although it took me a bit to get my phone out for a photo.
I finish my coffee and check Ned before I pack up. I notice that he’s starting little blisters on the pads of his feet. They’re tiny right now, but I know we have miles of rocky terrain ahead of us. I’m torn for a minute, disappointment and worry warring in me. If it were just me I’d tape up my feet and keep going, but I know I can’t make that choice for Ned. I realize, now, that all my maps have really great detailed information about the PCT, but nothing about the surrounding trails. So I walk over to the two horse backpackers camped nearby, and they tell me they’re cutting out early with a lame horse, going the four miles to Waptus Lake today, then taking the eight mile trail out to the Salmon la Sac trailhead. They show me their map, I figure out the route, then I go back to Ned.
Well buddy, it’s a good thing I brought your emergency booties. For some added cushion I lend him a pair of my smart wool socks to wear under them.
The four miles to Waptus Lake go by quickly, but it’s getting HOT out. Of course I picked 90 degree days to do the PCT, and coming down to lower elevation it just gets hotter. Ned has to stop for rest breaks so he doesn’t get overheated, but his paws seem to be doing just fine under his boots. Waptus is GORGEOUS, I had no idea it was such a pretty lake.
We get to the lake by noon, and I sort of don’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the day. When you’re hiking everything is sort of structured. There is the part of the day where you break camp. The part of the day where you walk. There is dinner, and all the small tasks it requires. Then you go into your tent. Ned farts in the small space. Structure.
From noon till dinner there’s no real structure. I lie on the lake shore. I swim. It was nice, on the one hand, but honestly I was totally overcome with itchy feet. I wanted to be back on the trail. I wanted to keep hiking. I enjoyed my lakeside vacation, but during this time an idea wrote itself on my heart.
I’m coming back.
I was coming back, without Ned. I wasn’t afraid of sleeping alone anymore and more than anything I wanted to be back in this magical land of trail and lake and mountain. As I fall asleep that night I am already planning my trip back, before I’ve even gotten out of the mountains. I fall into a deep and perfect sleep.
I wake up at 5am, and we get on the trail by 6am. I know it’s going to be another hot day out and I want to get Ned off the trail before the heat of the day. The unintended benefit of this is the incredible early morning light that made this one of the most beautiful hikes of my life.
I could tell that Ned’s feet were tender yesterday, but he seems to be completely comfortable in his booties as we head out.
Pretty much immediately we come to the stock crossing of the river, and apparently the footbridge is out. I’m worried about Ned’s paws on the rocky bottom of the creek, so I take off my shoes and my pack and sling my seventy pound labrador over my shoulders and carry him. Across this:
Then I go back for my pack. Two trips and a total of almost a hundred pounds across this river. Ned, for his part, hung like an obligingly still sack of potatoes. He’s very accepting of the various things I do to him, despite probably not understanding the reasoning. He just goes with the flow.
After this river we had miles of incredibly beautiful forrest to hike through, illuminated with early morning light just coming over the tops of the mountains.
I think it’s good that Ned didn’t end up with wet paws, because we had a long way to go. In fact, it was way more than the eight miles I was promised, it was twelve. Those four extra miles moved our exit time from 10am to 11:30am, and it was around 10am that it started getting so hot that Ned needed frequent rest stops to cool down. I started squirting him with my water hose to help keep him cool. After miles in sweltering heat, we made it out to Salmon la Sac. There were tons of people… arriving. After walking loops in the parking lot I found an obliging mountain biker who was heading out and who gave us a ride to Rosyln. He turned the AC on high and I swear I have never fully appreciated the incredible invention that is climate control. We talked about our mutual appreciation for the outdoors and Ned went straight to sleep on the floor by my feet. After thanking him, repeatedly and profusely for the ride, we got out in Roselyn and called for pick-up. Ned and I found a nice shady bench by the Eagles Club and settled in for our two hour wait. Ned decided that underneath the bench was the coolest place to be, and I whiled away time taking pictures of him.
I can’t say enough about the kindness and friendliness of the people in Roselyn. We were given three bottles of water, just in case. We had a circle of people stop to chat before heading into a memorial service at the Eagles Club. Then I had a little old lady come out to smoke and encourage me to go in and help myself to the free booze and food. I was hesitant (I’m not really one to steal from a funeral) and stayed outside. She came back out a little later with a carrot cake cupcake “for strength.” On that bench (and under it) we were never lonely, never thirsty, and never hungry and I now love Roselyn even more than I did before (it’s also home to The Brick, which is one of my favorite pubs and is the oldest bar in Washington).
This trip didn’t go as planned but I have no regrets. It was an incredible experience and I am not the person who I was when I started. That, I think, is the hallmark of a true adventure. I’m sitting now, staring down an unknown future (did I mention I quit my job?) and I am not afraid. When my water filter breaks, I will keep going. When I think I can’t go another step, I’ll keep walking. I know that whatever my next adventure is, I’ll make it through. And maybe, for once, the finish line will actually be the one I’m expecting to cross. But maybe not. No matter what, I know I’ll make it.