Day: Thursday, 22nd September 2016
Miles: 2390.0 – 2408.8 (18)
Snoqualmie Pass 2390 – Remote Camp 2408.8
As I looked out my window from the Summit Inn this morning, I lamented the enormous drop in elevation that I had given up yesterday. Those were feet that I would have to get back today, I pondered. Only today, Im loaded with 4 days of food. Thats the nature of the game but it doesnt get easier even after 2390 miles! However the one thing which changed my attitude was when I walked outside and turned around at the spectacle that lay ahead. A wondrous and drama filled craggy alpine wonderland was just to the north of here. If the weather would behave, the trail from here through to Stevens Pass would be a glorious experience in Washingtonian immersion, and I was eager to throw myself in!
After some home-phone calls and final planning with my sister for my zero-day out of Stevens Pass (I figured I may not have cell-service until then), I went for a big breakfast at the iconic Pancake House next to the Summit Inn with FlyBy. The servings were hearty, if service a little forgettable, but then we’ve been spoiled in some of the wonderful trailside food-spots along the PCT.
Opening my resupply box, fresh from family in Pennsylvania, I found some electioneering presents from my cousin! Thanks! I think…
I called by the Aardvark Express food truck once again, and they suggested one of their chicken sandwiches as a good item to pack out. I got a big ziplock bag of chicken and all the trimmings to make the sandwich myself up-mountain. These guys really know their hiker-audience!
Hitting the trail, I finally found a sign for Seattle and Interstate 90 West. This road starts in downtown Boston, MA and ends in downtown Seattle, WA. It felt good to cross it, as it seemed in some way to connect Boston to the PCT (on some weird personal level).
The trail northbound out of Snoqualmie Pass was, as expected, relentless from the beginning. The initial switchbacks in the trees finally gave way to some incredible views across the entire valley to the south however, along with the extended ski area and up the mountain to the high pass above. The colors and views were exactly what this guy needed to keep up the momentum. In the distance little pikas intermittently chirped, and slowly the sound of traffic on the highway below dissipated to a low murmur.
Eventually the trail followed a distinct valley crag towards a high pass. On the west side the dramatic peaks pointing in every direction, and the beauty was hard not to notice and stop. I started to slow my progress from just wanting to take it all in and savor this moment. These mountains are incredible.
Eventually reaching the summit, and in very short order, I became aware that the sunny skies to the north, partnered with distinctly cloudy angry skies to the northwest. Ahead, the peaks quickly clothed and unclothed themselves in drapes of mist, as the storm clouds quickly flowed between the cracks in the peaks. Intermittent sunshine illuminated areas of the beautiful burnt auburn and reddish slopes, along with the deep greens of ever-sparsely populated tree-lined slopes.
Gazing back to the south, and I was aware of just how quickly I had made progress in gaining altitude and following the direct northerly track of the trail. The highway seemed to be an enormous distance away already.
Some beautiful lakes way below, announced further gaps between the ridges. I could see the trail ahead as it weaved between the peaks miles distant. I love being able to look ahead or behind, and admire the view of what Im about to hike (or just completed!).
Finally ascending to the cloud line, and I walked across a barren and exposed area with little vegetation and exposed rocks. It seems like this is the transition zone between the wet western edge of these mountains, and the distinctly drier eastern side of the Cascades. A line denoted in the space of a few hundred feet, such is the pronounced difference between ridges here. The trail became a steady northeasterly climb along an exposed ridge of rocky tallus as the sun began to drop, further compounded in low light levels by a heavy cloud that was seeping into the valley through one gap in the ridge. This was a dramatic and very beautiful hike.
As I circled further around this enormous bowl shaped ridge, I could see clear skies at varying points but by and large the cloud level was dropping. The light colors of a setting sun balanced against these same clouds provided just as much drama and interest as the rocky ridges surrounding me however. I enjoyed the solitude, the quietness, the serenity of experiencing this moment, and whilst sharing it with someone might have been nice, sometimes the joy of the trail is just being on your own at these moments.
As darkness fell, I finally reached the high point of my planned hiking day, and the trail quickly dropped into a valley in the darkness shortly afterwards. In two directions I could see distant camp fires, hikers already settling in for the night, but how far away, it was impossible to tell. The trail was dark but it was cool and a very pleasant night just now, and I pushed further and further to meet my days goal of close to 20 miles. I was making slower progress than hoped, and might have to adjust this goal accordingly
I would have preferred to have enjoyed hiking in this area during daylight, but the ascent was worth slowing down for, and I figured this valley inside the tree-line was likely less of an opportunity cost to cover under nightfall. At around the 16 mile mark, I decided that it was time to call time on the evenings walk. I was tired after the ascent and the trail was becoming rougher and more difficult to follow. As I looked for a good spot to camp however I found the best spots already taken inside the grassy and undulating sheltered valley the trail dropped into. I ended up aiming for a water source at Delate Creek, marked as a waterfall on my maps. This involved one further ascent and descent of a low pass. As I eventually completed the two miles to the creek, I was disappointed to find every space at the close-by tent side taken. Not just taken, but really tightly packed. I squinted my eyes to try and recognize a tent or anything familiar, but nothing looked like any of the gear of the hikers that I knew. A little disorientated and demoralized and I realized I’d have to go on even further. Following the trail around a few more bends, and I eventually found a sheltered little space off-trail in an area covered with pine needles beneath some low evergreen trees. My little camp spot was accidental but probably one of the most comfortable I had on the entire PCT, soft and sheltered, with the sound of the distant waterfall to waft me to sleep! I made my sandwich from the Aardvark Express spoils, and settled in for good sleep at 11PM. Exhausted but happy. It had been a beautiful evening.