Day: Tuesday, 27th September 2016
Miles: 2480.0 – 2503.0 (23)
Pear Lake 2480.0 – Remote Site 2503.0
Unexpectedly it rained last night, and whilst thankfully it was not the deluge of last week, it was enough to wet my tent and make the pleasant camp near Pear Lake pretty damp this morning. As I got up, I remarked that I was the first into camp and yet the only tent in the damp zone, given the trees sheltered everyone else! Obviously I have much to learn about choosing a spot in damp weather, but I plead ignorance as this storm was a gift from the gods. The puddle I noticed yesterday near camp was now a large and beautifully reflective ornamental pool right beside my tent. The damp and chilly day prompted a late departure, and it was almost 9:15AM when I was finally packed up to leave.
After decamping, FlyBy, Corndoggie, and Breakway all started ahead of me, whilst I once again gave in to curiosity and went in search of a random “TOILET” sign close to our spot. Once again, I enjoyed a glorious experience of remote seclusion as I made use of these very nice facilities!
Pear Lake was a pleasantly sheltered spot, down a short distance from the PCT. As I ascended a little on the link trail back to the PCT, I heard some more voices ahead, S’rocket Blue, Sprinkles and Homegrown! They had unfortunately camped on an exposed ridge that was still inside the cloud line when they awoke, and so all of their gear (and themselves) were more than a little damp and miserable. They were hoping to stop and dry out so I continued ahead, hoping to meet them later on. The day was cloudy and dull, and whilst my weather forecast did not foretell of another dribbly morning, I was not entirely sure what way the weather would turn.
Navigating northwards and the trail stayed atop the ridges just below the cloud-line for most of the morning. It was pleasant hiking, passing through groves of evergreen trees along with some patches of rockfalls, the stillness punctuated with chirping Pika’s going about their business. The color palette of the morning was grey, dark grey and dark green in every direction, mystical masses of cloud drifting past. Veils of raindrops coated the leaves and spiderwebs by the trail, for which I could not help[ but stop and admire. It was a little magical in its own way.
I spent a good deal of time this morning pondering the weather. Mostly because this storm was so entirely at odds with the weather forecast I had saved when leaving Seattle yesterday. Did this mean that my confidence was misplaced around the storms coming next week? What if I now put myself a day late and risked completion. The conversations with myself of course were non-sensical, but thats how the human mind works.
Around mid-morning, and suddenly a warm brightness began to assert itself overhead, that moment when the sun is finally capable of warding off the invading clouds. As I wandered further, the sky became an immensely dramatic dance of clouds and blue, the warmth rising and the ground steaming with moisture. As I finally came to a large height after a long climb, I broke the clouds finally, with the views ahead revealing themselves.
By mid-morning, the low clouds and mist were all but gone, replaced with a new magic, in the form of incredible fall colors in every direction. Whether I had passed into a microclimate, or over a ridge that caused a rain shadow – the colors of fall and intensity of the berries and plant life was immense. Reds, oranges and beige hues blended with deep greens and occasional glimpses ahead to the snowcapped Glacier Peak.
In some places, the countryside was like a painters easel, with liberal spatters of color folding into the ridges ahead. It was another moment to look, to smell, to listen, to breathe.
I was looking forward to some lunch by the time I arrived to Lake Sally Ann. To my surprise everyone was there, the gang from last night as well as the damp crew, who were drying out still from last night!
After lunch, and Glacier Peak became much more focused ahead as our next target. Looking at the map, it was closer than the trail would allow, with a long series of switchbacks and indirect ridges before we would arrive at the foot of Glacier Peak. I discussed plans on camp spots when S’rocket was leaving the lunch spot, and had a mileage in mind that would put me close to Kennedy Creek, and its iconic broken footbridge.
Arriving to the base of one ridge, I was quite excited to get a side-profile picture of FlyBy and Breakaway at different points of the ascent. I’ll admit, I was very tired at this point, and the idea of hiking up this ridge was absolutely not what I felt like doing at this moment in time!
As the sun moved to the western side of the mountains, the views back towards the South were pleasant, with an ambient golden hue again visible on the meadows and clearings. I spent a lot of time stopped and admiring these views, it was a shame to rush especially on such a clear day. As of yet however I had not seen Mt.Rainier to the South, and I longed for another little glance at the giant.
With the evening pulling the sun towards the west, I was overtaken by a sense of PCT nostalgia as I consumed the amazing views in every direction. I’ve always been a sunset guy, but it seemed like this might be one of those moments I would not forget in a hurry, and there was few moments for more PCT sunsets in my future! The trail kept ascending, and would top out at an enormous ridge just Southwest of Glacier Peak. By my pace, my eagerness to enjoy the moment, and my intense desire not to rush, I suspected I should really look at camping in advance of my plan.
Reaching a saddle between two ridges, I took a break at Reflection Pond for my usual ‘salty-snack every 5 miles’ plan that has helped to get me this far. It was a good place to stop. I looked at my plan and mileage, as well as a long haul up to the next saddle, and figured that my target would not be possible without some hardly necessary night hiking. I started to ponder an earlier stopping point.
Leaving the grove of trees and the pretty lake, and finally Glacier Peak was cloud free ahead. Its immense cone against the blue skies was truly magnificent.
As I started to tackle the second to last haul of the day to the next high saddle at White Pass, it was cold in the shadows. I was certainly happy to see that the trail followed an exposed westerly facing ridge so I could get back into the sun (not to mention take in another epic sunset!) after the pass.
I really liked the slightly passive notation on this sign at White Pass. NO CAMPING does sound a bit aggressive, so these guys went for “PLEASE CAMP ELSEWHERE”.
Cresting the ridge-line at White Pass and I was not to be disappointed by the enormity view ahead, and the incredibly bright sun, low in the sky to the west. I was also pleasantly surprised to finally receive a panoramic view of the ridges we had gained some glimpses of to the west. They were far bigger than anything I expected to the west of Glacier Peak, and I decided that its an area I must explore at some time in the future.
Unexpectedly I then hit another milestone with the 2500mile marker. Im rocking out my worst Jackie Onassis look with my sunglasses, but assure you that they (and my puffy) were required for this chilly westward walk tonight!
Ascending further and further towards Red Pass, and the enormous sun gradually slipped into the darkness. The alpenglow surrounding me gradually began to ebb, and as I advanced to the top of the saddle, a beautiful wispy series of white clouds began to invade the valley from the north, leaking over a ridge like some kind of milky flood.
Looking south from just below Red Pass, and I was finally provided me with the view I had longed for now all day, the distant enormity of Mt.Rainier and little Tahoma, clear against the southern horizon. I sat for a while. The stillness of the view was breathtaking. No sound. No movement. Only the gentle hues of the setting sun changing before my eyes.
Finally reaching Red Pass, and the trail takes a very sudden easterly turn into an enormous and sweeping valley, virtually devoid of any vegetation. Snowbanks still lined the flanks as it gently curved towards Glacier Peak. It was an enormous and beautiful view, gradually sliding into darkness, as the sun behind me was already set.
As I descended towards camp from Red Pass, the darkness now firmly established over this desolate valley, I finally caught up with S’rocket, Blue, Sprinkles and Homegrown by a roaring creek. They had made camp in a nice sheltered spot, and after a little mileage-hesitation, I decided that I would make camp here. I figured some ambient falling water to help me sleep, and good company before bed would be a good thing, and I had no idea how far my two compadres had gone! I had my favorite dinner of Avocado with Fritos and a packet of Mexican flavor rice all rolled up in a burrito for dinner. Just the ticket to end a long hike in the Washington hills. What an amazing day!