Day: Saturday, 24th September 2016
Miles: 2437.3 – 2461.7 (24.4)
Dry Creekbed Remote Site 2437.3 – Stevens Pass Ski Lodge 2461.7
There was no hesitation at getting out of bed this morning, since the payoff would be an early meet-up with my cousins, my uncle and my sister in Stevens Pass. As I quickly ate my double oatmeal portion, I surveyed the elevation profile for todays hike. It was a little under 25 miles through to Stevens Pass, through undulating terrain that should provide some good views (not to mention a good workout). My hope for a 10miles by 10AM and 20 miles by 2PM plan was likely a bit ambitious even this early in the day, so I sent a message on my InReach device to warn my meet-up crew that I may be a tad late. The sun was shining, my pack was light and it was a great day for a hike! At 7:15AM I hit the trail, the sun having only just provided some illumination into the deep valley. In the distance I could hear falling water, a remnant of yesterdays somewhat miserable deluges filtering down the valley. Almost immediately I had a fun traverse over a river that was emerging from a very impressive rock strewn spill way that seemed to emanate high up on the ridge to the west.
Continuing beyond the river, and the trail quickly rose through a very pleasant area of high forests. I met some hikers aiming southbound and chatted briefly about the usual things – when I started, when I hoped to finish, and how has it been (a question I always struggle to answer properly). At times I gained some amazing views of the high ridge behind me, as they slowly revealed themselves after a few days of being hidden in the clouds.
Pushing northwards, I started the ascent to Piper Pass, the high point for today. I was once again into the cloud line, and witnessed a magnificent game to tug, between the sun and the clouds. Inversions swirled below in the deep valleys, occasionally allowing the light in, before the wind built up and once again hid the amazing peaks from view. I stopped many times to simply breath. To smell, to listen and to watch this natural drama of gentle movement.
By now the sun was established and I was virtually atop Piper Pass. The golden and red colors of the fall huckleberry bushes, mixed with blue skies, white clouds and deep greens of the evergreen state was really quite magical.
As I passed the ominously sounding Deception Lakes, the reflections and stillness of this sheltered spot was instantly inviting, so I stopped for a short snack, and to follow an unexpected sign for a toilet. I had to see what this was inferring (such a considerable distance from any trailhead), only to find a particularly pleasant wooden potty, built into a private spot a little way from the trail. Washington just keeps delivering on these little conveniences!
The final ascent to Piper Pass was far less strenuous than expected, if a little obscured through to the final reaches of the pass. Compared to the Sierra Nevada passes, Washington has many passes inside tree-line, where you might be barely aware that its a pass at all. Regardless, just before I dropped into clouds at the top of the pass, I received one last beautiful view of Cathedral Rock, all but obscured by cloud and darkness for the entirety of yesterday!
Beyond the pass, was blue skies and more jagged imposing peaks to the northwest, the direction the trail begins to follow through to Stevens Pass.
Dropping down into the valley by Glacier Lake, and more dramatic features of glaciation, weather and harsh winters were observed, the trail delicately winding its way through debris flows with rocks the size of houses.
Beyond Glacier Lake and once again I was in the clouds, occasionally being awarded glimpses of emerald and turquoise colored lakes below the trail. Almost as quickly as a picture was taken, the view would disappear or explode into a wondrous panorama of colors and alpine splendor.
Moving out of the close valleys around Piper Pass and emerged to deep valleys with enormous views to the peaks in the east and north. I was now on the sunny side of the pass and the sun was warm and pleasant with a cool breeze. At one point I rested up for a while, eating a wrap with peanut butter, chocolate chip cookies and strawberry jam. By now a predictable lunchtime treat. There was many day hikers in this section, and so I checked my map for any trailheads, finding that the Tunnel Creek Trail actually brings hikers to Rt-2 very close to my position. As the trail dropped in elevation to the trail junction, the crowds grew and grew. The trail now had all of the signs of overuse, with a heavily eroded tread, mud and alternate trails in many places where users were avoiding drainage ditches still filled with water from the recent rains. I was unhappy in this area. It was hard to make progress, my shoes were now caked in mud, and the huge amount of day hikers were not in the rush that I was to get to Stevens Pass! I was happy to pass the trail junction and crowds around Hope Lakes, and by the time I ascended my last ridge of the day, the trail was all mine once again! Seemingly the northbound trail was too steep for most day hikers, with barely and signs of use!
Following a really pretty saddle between a lake and a small river, I received my first glimpse of ski lifts on the horizon ahead. As I ascended a dizzying array of switchbacks taking me in the opposite direction of the final pass (at the top of Stevens Pass ski resort), I finally reached the Pacific Crest ski trail. This provided a magnificent view northwards, to the mountains I planned to hike tomorrow, along with the ski resort lodge below, where my family would meet me!
I suddenly had phone coverage once again, and virtually ran that last 2 miles down the hill to the lodge, surveying some nice looking ski runs in their sad looking fall state. As I walked every last inch of one final (and slightly frustrating) switchback right at the very end, I could hear my cousin calling to me from the deck. I had made it to Stevens Pass!
We all enjoyed a beer and celebrated the occasion (as well as allowing me to take a little rest!). It was around 4PM, quite a bit later than hoped, but the whole area was enveloped in a warm sunny glow, and it was great to catch up. After a while, we jumped in the car and headed to Redmond, near Seattle, for dinner, where my sister surprised the group by arriving from New York for a quick hello! We had a lovely dinner, before making camp at a hotel near the REI in Seattle itself (chosen thoughtfully by my cousin as he figured REI was a must-visit for me – and I did need new shoes!).
It was great to get cleaned up and share stories – to my uncle and sister, who had flown from Ireland and New York, and my cousins from Pennsylvania. I was awestruck by how much trouble everyone had gone to, so that they could join me on the trail for a few miles! It seemed like such a shame to only spend a night with them, and as I lay awake in bed that night, with dates and numbers swirling in my head, I once again remembered my PCT mantra ‘whats the rush?’. I would never be back here in this moment with my family again, it really was not worth leaving tomorrow for a NERO day, when I could make up that 10 miles another time. The decision was made. Tomorrow is a ZERO day!