Day 124: Stehekin and a brief touch of paradise…

Day: Friday, 30th September 2016

Miles: 2564.2 – 2580.6

Five Mile Camp 2569.2 – Six Mile Campsite 2580.6

Its town-day! Although to refer to Stehekin as a town might be a little excessive. What will be my final resupply point was just 5 miles ahead, and its certainly a special place that I will remember forever. Stehekin is a uniquely remote village nestled in the northern corner of Lake Chelan on the eastern fringes of the Cascade Mountains. Access is solely by foot, seaplane or boat, and services are sparse – a park lodge, shop, restaurant and post office. My last resupply box was being sent to Stehekin by my cousin Carey, and I was excited to release my last shamrock covered box after it was packed way back in April! I was also excited to finally visit the renouned bakery at Stehekin, which is another Pacific Crest Trail milestone – its enormous cinnamon rolls the subject of much trail lore!

Our camp was chilly this morning as myself, Breakaway and FlyBy awoke to glistening peaks in the morning light, high above. The forest canopy was almost entirely deciduous forest, and so many wonderful colors graced the slopes around us. We were on trail by 7AM and planned to walk a brisk march of 5 miles to the High Bridge, the end point of the single road in Stehekin, and the point at which we could catch a bus down to town, on the shores of pretty Lake Chelan.

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Initially I hiked with my camp-mates, who set an eager pace, leaving me in the dust! I bumped into Flying Dutchman, whom I had not seen in some time and shared the last few miles. The trail at this point was mostly flat, and followed the river at a distance, before dropping to a series of large river crossings (the now large Agnes Creek) near to the aptly named High Bridge over the Stehekin River at 8:45AM.

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A fantastic sight was to greet us as we crossed the bridge, hundreds of lake-salmon (Kokanee) were idling in the eddies beneath, taking a rest on their spawning run. It was an amazing sight, their bellies bright red, vivid against the blue hues of the crystal clear water. This is the Pacific Northwest alright, where the rivers team with abundance.

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By the time the retro-styled red bus arrived for the 8 mile trip to Stehekin, there was a large bunch of hikers assembled at the bus stop. Everyone was in great spirits, and why would we not be! It was cool but sunny, it was town-day, Canada is just a few days away, and we’d made it in time for a quick in-and-out at resupply.

As we rode the bus on its pretty route alongside small farms, all eyes turned to the bakery. The bus operates on a simple schedule from Stehekin to High Bridge, with a brief stop each way at The Stehekin Bakery. The quick stop at the bakery being just long enough for all of the bus passengers to engorge themselves through their eyes and their stomach, on delicious pastries, bread, pizza, ice cream and essentially everything a hungry hiker could want. Six and Outro, my old hiker friends were there on their outbound trip to the trailhead, and Six offloaded a jar of Peanut Butter and a Jar of Grape Jelly, as he had bought so much in the bakery that he could not fit it all. I have no idea why I decided to take them, as it added lots of weight, but it came in useful later! Getting back on the bus and every one of us was feasting on some form of sticky oozy breakfast goods.

Arriving into Stehekin, and I was immediately struck by just how beautiful its location is. This is a well known destination in Washington, but the effort to get here hints that its notoriety is in the trouble to get here, as much as the location itself. It was an epic and appropriate remote an outpost for our last resupply. Some people were milling around the small harbor but the town was largely deserted. I reminded myself that its nearly October, and the throngs of tourists have already thinned to just some remaining curious visitors along with the PCT northbound hiker herd.

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I visited the post office firstly, to get my resupply package. Walking in the front door of the little house which contained the post office, and I was immediately immersed in classical music. A gentlemen wearing an eye patch came from the back and tended to my question as to whether a ‘shamrock clad’ box might be around here somewhere. The post office was literally covered from top to bottom with hiker boxes, stacked in every possibly corner. The walls were bedecked in all manner of posters for musicals and kitsch old-school art. I sensed a certain benevolent irritation from the post master – that kindness in a slightly gruff manner that we’ve received in post offices across the west at this point. I do think this little post office had something special though, and definitely a personality that was unique. After going through my resupply box to figure out any extra food I might need, and after reading a really nice ‘finishing note’ from my cousin, I stumbled onto some treats she’d popped in there for me, and decided to keep the little nip of Jack Daniels for the border!

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I was really psyched to get this note from my cousin.

Once I was done with my post office errand, I decided to do some laundry and take a shower at the pretty little alpine-style log cabin which contained the public facilities a little ways up the road from the now hive of activity on the docks. Showers and laundry were available for a small fee. Whilst my laundry was running I repacked some of my bag and had a really great hot shower, then turned to strategizing our evening with Breakaway and FlyBy. After some discussion of times and logistics, we decided on making camp at Six Mile Camp north of High Bridge tonight. This was an access-controlled camp, so Breakaway suggested making a reservation at the park office, to ensure we played by the rules. It seems a little silly by now to be worrying about permits, but this area is particularly heavily used, and arriving into camp to a full site, or getting questioned for not following the simple (and free) reservation system wasn’t really our style. Its one of the first places on the trail where access to a legal on-trail remote camp is not available to us rule-prudes!

I then walked to the visitor center a little way from the dock in the center of town. I had an hour to hang around and revel in my cleanliness. I sat on some of the comfy Adirondack chairs outside the harbor lodge and enjoyed the site of people coming and going. It was a busy spot by now, seaplanes had come and gone, and the ferry arrived to regurgitate some new visitors and board a few passengers. I saw one or two hikers getting on the ferry, but I was extremely happy that I mailed my resupply to Stehekin and avoided the long trip down to Chelan, at the southern end of the lake. I spoke with a number of people including a lady from Spokane, WA who was curious about our thru-hike and where we had all come from. She spends summers in WA, and winters in AZ, so this trip was her last visit before avoiding the coming winter. It sounded like a nice way to do it!

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The busy seaplanes buzzing in and out of Stehekin, WA

After this pleasant little moment of downtime. I joined Breakaway and FlyBy at the waterfront park where we had decided to base ourselves. The bus ran a few times a day to High Bridge, and whilst it might be nice to take a night in Stehekin, everyone was intent on getting back on the trail as the weather forecast ahead was turning decidedly mirky. Possible snow showers were showing for later next week, with rain and heavy clouds in the early part of the weekend. This refocused attention that we still have a job to do here. I repacked everything for a final time. It seems like I repack my bag about 20 times on town days, but you just never can rearrange your tetris-game backpack efficiently enough! This was certainly one of the most glorious spots to pack and repack however!

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As we boarded the big red bus in the late afternoon for our return trip to High Bridge. On the way, we briefly met up with the new arrivals off-trail including Blue and S’rocket. It was one of those tough moments where everyone is running to their own schedule and target completion date. For me, I was now set on finishing October 3rd but some of the other groups have set on October 4th or later. So its a sad moment to wave goodbye, knowing that this might be the last time we see each other on the trail. The opportunities to bump into long lost friends after weeks on the trail is becoming very limited sadly. We briefly stopped at the bakery once again on the way, and I filled up with a cinnamon roll and a big French bread pizza for the road.

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It was nice to get back on the trail, although I was conflicted about leaving some people behind, yet trying to catch up to some ahead. The trail is glorious, but its also really hard. In times like this sometimes you have to be selfish, however hard it is. Setting off from High Bridge northwards, and I really did feel an air of finality around this moment. As if to match up to my mood, a golden sunset hue was bathing the trail for the first miles, before it turned to the northeast away from the Stehekin River.  We passed a horse-train heading southwards, and initially stayed low in the valley, in a heavily wooded area of colors and textures.

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The colors in the lower parts of the valley were magnificent, and some of the enormous leaves were simply astounding. I have never seen deciduous leaves quite this big!

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As the trail rose higher in the valley we passed into a new line of vegetation, and some clearings providing views back south to the valley we emerged from earlier today.

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As night began to creep across the valleys in the form of stealthy slow moving shadows, we crossed the large Bridge Creek on a wooden crossing and followed the creek on its north side for the rest of the evening. We also passed the pretty Maple Creek tributary (which sadly was devoid of any apple syrup whatsoever), before the trail dropped back down towards Bridge Creek.

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Some clouds were sopping in the peaks around us by now, so it was much less dramatic than the sweeping miles from Cloudy Pass all the way down to the High Bridge that we so enjoyed yesterday. Still, I wanted to go slow. I wanted the moment to last. It was just beyond dark, around 7PM when myself and Breakaway arrived into camp, after following a cut-off trail that led directly to the river from the PCT. FlyBy was close-by, and Corndoggie was already there and well established. It was a sheltered spot close to the river, and with some warnings about bear activity, we did our best to ensure we kept a clean camp by eating well away from our tents, and storing our food properly. It was around 9PM when we all retired to bed. As a rain shower passed, I hoped beyond hope the weather would not spoil this last sprint to the border. I have about three days to go. Three days to breathe it all in.

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