Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Skykomish, Mile 2472, Sep 9

Quick trail-town stop in Skykomish - Leaving a re-supply town is always difficult, particularly so when we have been visiting with such good friends as the Easthouse family. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with them although it was briefer than either of us would have likes, but there were two things that we didn't feel like we got enough time to do: relax and socialize with our hosts. As always we had to spend so much of our time taking care of the chores like sorting through our re-supply, going to the grocery store, catching up on the journal and so on that once they are all taken care of there is very little time left to relax and enjoy. Nonetheless, Kurt and Kim did everything in their power to make sure our visit was a great as possible; they even asked Scott was his favorite meal is and then prepared it for him. We dined on Filet Minion, Wilted Lettuce Salad and home made French fries (the later part being Rachel's craving). Just about a whole Costco family pack of steaks was consumed that night between the six of us, and what didn't disappear then was added to our packs before we left so that we could have a power snack on the trail.

On the morning of Friday the 6th we woke to the sound of our watch alarm going off at 6 AM. We had originally planned to leave for the trail at that time, but by the time we four adults said goodnight and went to bed the previous night we thought that it might be better to put the departure time off by an hour and get a little more sleep. It was most definitely a wise decision. We had a cup of tea and coffee, a piece of toast with ham and melted cheese, and then said our farewells to Kim, Ali, Garret and the two Japanese exchange students who had arrived home from Disneyland in the wee hours of the morning. We loaded our packs into the back of Kurt's car and then set off for the 40 mile drive back up to Snoqualmie Pass.

It is amazing how quickly time flies because it was about 8:15 AM by the time we arrived at the trailhead. We unloaded our packs, Scott dressed his blisters and then we were finally ready to strap on our packs and step foot back on the trail at about 8:35 AM. We didn't experience the usual anxiousness about returning to the trail as usual (or at least not as bad) for a couple of reasons: we know that we are within two weeks of finishing the trail and we are excited about that, and secondly, Kurt walked with us up the trail for a mile or more so we didn't have the usual hardship of walking from civilization and friends all in one. It was really very special to have Kurt join us for that first half hour of hiking, and it struck us that it is the first time that anyone has hiked with us since Rachel's mother joined us for a 3 miles stretch way back at Warner Spring in southern California.

We continued to make our way up the hill after Kurt turned back, but it wasn't long before two other thru-hikers (Gravedigger and Tin Mouse) caught up to us. The four of us hiked in a group the remainder of the three + miles up to the ridgeline, exchanging stories about our experiences along the trail. Once we reached the ridge, however, we took a break while the other two continued on their way. We wanted to stop and have a little snack and enjoy the views of the valley below. The relief was quite incredible and steep, dropping off very abruptly. We finished off the remainder of the Tollhouse cookies that Kim had made us and then we loaded on our packs again to head on down the trail.

The ridgeline was very rugged and there were many crags to be seen around us. Because of the ruggedness of the terrain the trail was a little rocky now that we were on the crest and out of the trees. We hiked along from one saddle to the next, each of which having a couple of lakes adorn either side of the divide. It wasn't until we crossed the second saddle that we made our way out of the realm of most of the day and overnight hikers. We had seen four or five parties while hiking up to the ridge, a couple along the ridge, and a handful more lining the shores of Ridge and Gravel Lakes.

After covering about ten miles we stopped for lunch at Huckleberry Saddle just before we began a long and difficult traverse below Chikamin Ridge. It was 3 miles of rubble on a steep slope and it seemed to go on forever. While there was no fear of slipping off the trail the rubble underfoot tired us out and made for slow progress. At last we reached Chikamin Pass and were able to look to the south-east and see our next objective, Park Lakes below. We had a mile and a half of switchbacks to navigate down to the saddle between the lakes and the going didn't get any easier. The rubble continued on, making the descent even trickier than the traverse had been.

From the Park Lakes basin we had a short climb up to a spur ridge of Three Queens and then we faced a descent that would see us loosing all of the elevation gain that we had sweated over all day. We would drop 2100 feet, along short tight switchback, down past Spectacle Lake, Delate Creek, all the way to the trunk stream of Lemah Creek. The drop had been described as "bone-jarring" in the guidebook, which gave us both cause for concern; the last time a descent had been described that way was when we dropped out of the Mt. Laguna Mts. down to the Anza-Borrego desert (in our first week of hiking) and it was on that descent that Scott hurt his knee which gave us so much cause for concern early on. Thankfully, however, neither of us found this descent half as bad as the image that those words conjured up. The worse part about the descent was that it was almost five miles long.

As we had come over the ridge of the Three Queens we had noticed that the few clouds which had been building throughout the day had multiplied and they were now dominating. We thought that it looked like the potential for rain off to the north, but for the time being we were safe. A couple of miles later we heard a distant rumble and wondered if it was thunder or a jet airplane flying over head. We soon forgot about it until a little while later we heard another rumble, just this time it was much closer. As we continued on with our descent the rumbling got closer and closer until it sounded like it was almost on top of us, and then it seemed to abruptly stop. Where we safe? Had the wind changed blowing the storm away? Whatever it was, we were glad not to have the threatening noise anymore. About half way down the lengthy descent, when the treat of rain was beginning to seem imminent, we had checked out the guidebook and realized that there were potential campsites about every mile and a half until we would reach Lemah Creek where were ideally wanted to stop so we figured that we would be alright. We made it to the last trail junction prior to Lemah Creek before we felt our first drop of rain. It was an isolated drop, but it was big and swollen. We had another 0.8 mile to go before getting to camp and we briefly debated stopping to weatherproof our packs before deciding instead to make a run for it. Scott charged on ahead to pick out a site so that when Rachel got there with the tent there would be no delay, and as it turned out there was no need for the rush as the rain held off a little while longer.

We had our choice of two sites, one on either side of the bridged creek. The first site had a makeshift platform constructed out of 4x8 boards left behind from the bridge construction. The other site was a normal dirt site out in the open. We opted to go with the platform site, even though it was not quite wide enough for our tent and vestibules, nor was it entirely level, but we figured that if the heavens did open up and dump on us, we would be much better off to have the boards between us and the ground, and as it turned out, we were right. The rain didn't start until we were just finishing off with dinner. At first it was a light mist dusting the tent and surrounding area, but before long it was a pounding rain. We lay there warm and dry inside our sleeping bags hoping that it would ease up by the morning. Rain all night for all we cared, just not in the morning. The rain eased off after half an hour or so and we settled in for a good night sleep.

The following morning we awoke to overcast skies, but no rain. We were thankful that wee were able to pack our gear away without it all being soaked and we started out on the trail at about 7 AM. As Murphy would have it though, a mile into our hike the misty rain began and we decided that it would be prudent to stop and pull out the garbage bags for our packs and get our rain gear out and handy. With that done we started our 2200 foot climb up towards Escondido Ridge. It was a 6 mile climb, but for the most part it was a gentle and steady grade. We had to stop to put our rain pants and jackets on shortly after starting up the hill, only to stop again to take the jackets off as the rain hadn't developed past a drizzle and we were sweating from the climb. Some time later we stopped a third time to put them back on again as the rain intensified, and then Scott shed his jacket for a second time a little while later. Such is that way with these light rains: we get hot and sweaty underneath the rain gear so we don't want it on if its not really needed.

As we rounded the summit of Escondido Ridge the rain started to dump on us. We had just finished our climb and were now looking at a traverse for a little bit before a lengthy 2200 foot descent back down the other side. We were no longer working our bodies as hard as we weren't climbing and we quickly began to feel the chill of the rain. We were at 5300 feet and the rain turned to light hail for a few minutes which was the visual cue we needed to further dampen our spirits. We were cold, wet and getting hungry, but to stop would be horrible as we would get really cold then.

As we rounded the ridge and began our descent back down the other side the rain eased up again. The heavy shower had only lasted about ten minutes but it had been hard enough to soak everything. To the north of us there seemed to be a lightening of the sky and the sun was bursting through the clouds over our right shoulders, but we tried not to get too hopeful as we had seen that for brief interludes a couple of times already that day. This time was different however. As we continued to hike the clouds gave way and the patch of blue began to spread, consuming more of the sky. We came across a small clearing at the edge of the trail and decided that it would be a good opportunity to stop and get a little nourishment into us as the rain had momentarily ceased and we had the benefit of the weak sun to keep us from getting too cold. We dropped our packs and perched ourselves on the nearby rocks to wolf down our bagel with peanut butter, chunk of cheese and cookies before rushing to get moving again so that we could warm up. The sun continued to win the battle with the clouds and by the time we reached Waptus Creek at the end of the 4.3 mile descent we were confident that the rain was over and the sun was going to be with us for the rest of the afternoon. We stopped to shed our rain gear once again and then continued on.

We traversed along the Waptus River and then above Waptus Lake for a couple of miles before turning to the north to make some headway towards the border. It had been nice to have a couple of miles reprieve once we reached the creek before we started to climb again, but once we turned away from the lake we began our steady ascent to the next pass. This climb was to be the biggest one yet, about 3000 feet, but fortunately we stopped at the mid way point to camp at Deep Lake so the climb was broken up into two more tolerable stints.

It may have only been a 1500 foot climb to the camp, but it had been a tiring day and we were ready to be there a couple of miles before we arrived. It was an uneventful climb that provided us no views or great scenery until we topped the second series of switchbacks and arrived on a bench from which we could see Cathedral Rock towering high above us. From there, we departed from the Spinola Creek canyon for a little bit and we missed the accompanying sound of its cascading waters as we made our way around a secondary ridge before rejoining the creek shortly before entering into Deep Lakes basin.

We didn't actually venture to the lake shore as we were in search of a suitable campsite and preferred to find something in the trees rather than out in the damp meadow that surrounded the lake. We stopped at the first grove of trees that looked to house some sites and we carefully selected one which would not pool water should it rain over night. We set up our tent pretty quickly and then crawled inside to begin our evening routine. We zipped the fly closed and bundled up inside trying to stay warm; the clouds had cleared away and the temperatures were dropping quickly. It was going to be a cold night. Even as we had been walking the last couple of miles up the hill we had felt the crisp coolness of the early evening as our noses and ears and hands had been cold despite the climb and our hard working bodies.

It was a cold night, but not as bad as we had expected. We woke in the morning to find that the condensation had not frozen to the inside of the fly as the temperature was a degree above freezing. We were slow about getting moving as we were anticipating the coldness, but we eventually got up and were on the trail by about 7:30 AM. We have been getting later and later starts recently, partly due to the shortening of the days and partly because of the rain and cold that we have been experiencing but we are still managing to get our mileage done although we have reduced it by 3 miles per day because of the terrain.

It was one of those mornings when we were thankful to be starting off our day with a climb. We had 3 miles in which to climb another 1200 feet to Cathedral Pass and it was a good way to warm up. Unfortunately we were climbing on the west slopes so we didn't get the benefit of the sun to help warm us, but by the time we reached the pass we were treated to some sunny slopes.

At the top of the pass there was a posted sign informing us that the next 4.5 mile segment of the PCT was closed due to lightning activity in the area and the treat of fire and the re-route which we were directed to take was 4.5 miles longer than the closed segment. The note didn't even phase us in the least as we had met a south-bounder a couple of days before we reached Snoqualmie Pass (about 5 days previous) who had informed us that the trail was fine and that the Forest Service was just being extra cautions as they no longer put smoldering trees out. In addition to the words of advice we had received from the south-bounder, there was a note pegged to the closed sign from another hiker stating that the trail was fine. So, with those two bits of information, we headed on down the closed section of trail (and subsequently met a few other hikers on that section).

We dropped off the pass and began a descending traverse down into the Cle Elum drainage. Shortly after leaving the crest we smelt some smoke and then a few minutes after that we saw two plumes of smoke rising from the east a couple of hundred yards below the trail. We hastened our pace a little and soon left both the sight and smell of smoke behind. We dropped quickly and soon crossed a creek which the guidebook warned may get treacherous, but for our crossing it was little more than a boulder hop to the other side. Another mile or so further and we were at the head of the Cle Elum drainage and we began our climb up the ridge to Deception Pass. Thankfully the trail took advantage of the low ridgeline at the end of the basin as we had feared that we could traverse along the opposite side of the drainage before climbing to the higher ridge.

Deception Pass was not terribly noteworthy. Not only was it in trees, butt it had no particular height to it which would have provided great views. Instead, we rolled off the north side of the pass and traversed along the side walls of Deception Creek for a few miles before we reached Deception Lakes. About half way there we stopped for lunch at a trail side campsite with a stream running by, and then as soon as we were back on the move again after our short break we realized that the clouds had rolled in again while we were under the cover of trees and things were looking a little ominous. By the time we reached the lakes we were getting spit on and we stopped to put the plastic bags over our packs.

Along the lake shore, we reached a trail junction and we realized that we could take either route. The non-official route appeared shorter in length and traversed around a peak, rather than up and over it. We briefly contemplated taking the "shortcut", but with the worsening weather we opted to stay with the official route, rather than chance poorer trail conditions in bad weather. So, we turned left and began our approach towards Pieper Pass. It was a 2 mile, 1000 foot climb up sometimes very steep switchbacks, but worse than the climb was the turn in the weather.

We were no more than a 1/4 mile up the trail before we had to stop again, this time to put on our rain pants and jackets. Wearing the waterproof gear made for a hot and sweaty climb, but it provided us with some protections against the bushes that lined the trail, waiting eagerly to dump their loads of water on us as we walked past. We made our way along the trail, taking pains to knock the bushes with our trekking poles so that they would drop their loads before we walked passed them, but it only helped to a certain extent as our shoes quickly became drenched and our feet were squishing around inside our shoes. We have noticed that of all the different types of bushes that line the trail, there are two that are particularly bad for holding water, lupines and blueberry bushes, and we make particular efforts to give those bushes a knock before we brushed past them.

We reached the summit of Pieper Pass and looked over the edge to see the beautiful Glacier Lake seemingly right below us. There was no delay before the trail started on the two mile, 920 foot descent. A series of steep, tight switchbacks down the east side of the pass along through a boulder-strewn terrain to a bench just above the lake before we began a traverse though the trees a hundred feet above the lake shore. At that point we came to the Surprise Lake Trail junction which provided us with another option for a shortcut. This trail would take four miles to reach Highway 2 instead of the 14 mils that we had remaining along the PCT. Again we briefly contemplated the option, this one being particularly appealing because it was raining and if we went into town we could get a motel room, but as the two trails did not meet the highway at the same spot (the PCT came out 6 miles further up the pass) we decided to stick with the PCT. As the afternoon and evening progressed, that was a decision that a part of us regretted on more than one occasion.

After making our decision and passing by the Surprise Lake Trail we began another climb, this one 1000 feet up to Trap Pass. Like the last pass, it was steep bushy going and we were thoroughly wet and tired by the time we reached the summit. Again in similarity to the previous pass, we looked down from the summit up a emerald green lake, many hundreds of feet below us, but this time we didn't drop directly to it's shores but rather stayed higher and traversed around the inside of the cirque after a few tight switchbacks.

We were aiming for Hope Lake, another 3.8 miles away, but the going was slow with the rain and we were getting wet, tired and cold which together make for a bad combination. The rain was coming down steadily now, and it was as we were traversing across the cirque that Scott realized that his left leg was feeling cold. He knew that his pants inside the rainwear were damp from sweat, but he noticed that each time he passed by a bush and it dumped a bounty of cold water on him that his leg was feeling distinctly wetter. He stopped in mid step and bend down to unzip his rain pants only to find that his pant leg inside was absolutely drenched. This was not the kind of moisture that one gets from sweat, it was definitely the result of leaky pants. That was the final straw to make for a terrible afternoon as we continued on along the trail getting wetter and wetter with ever step we took. We now began to look for a suitable campsite prior to Hope Lake, somewhere that would be reasonably dry and we would not wake up in a puddle in the morning.

We continued to hike, passing across a meadowed bench, with a small creek and a tent already set up in the grasses, complete with a blue tarp strung over top of it. We continued on past, thinking to ourselves that such a set up on the wet grass out in the open would be our last resort, but we hadn't come across too many level and clear spots since the other side of Trap Pass. Rachel began too look under every fir tree and she pointed out a couple of spots that would have done in an absolute pinch, but Scott kept on electing to push on, hoping to find something better. At last we came across a small grove of trees just before climbing to a small knoll. While the ground wasn't very level, it had obviously been used as a campsite in the past as it had a fire ring. We selected the most level spot and then quickly put up the tent during a short break in the showers.

With the shelter up, Rachel left Scott to get inside and out of his wet clothes while she went off to get water at the nearby steam. When she returned Scott was half undressed and getting the stove ready to heat water for a hot beverage and to warm the bath water. By the time the bath water was ready Rachel was getting cold and tired and she had a melt down in the tent while listening to the sound of the rain beating on the tent fly. It wasn't enough that we were dry inside the tent, she wanted to be warm and cozy at home with the cat on her lap and a cup of tea in her hand and the tears flowed freely or a few minutes before she could pull herself together again. Once we had bathed, put on dry, warm clothes, and crawled into our sleeping bags, the world took on a slightly more tolerable appearance. Next thing on the agenda was to get a hot meal into us, so we cooked up some beef stew with mashed potatoes, a nice hearty meal. As we were getting ready for sleep the rain was still beating against the outside of the tent, and while we were hopeful that it would let up over night and we would have clear skies in the morning, we were warm and dry and badly in need of some rest.

Some of our wishes were fulfilled that night. The rain let up, but Scott did not get a good night sleep. We had pitched the tent on the most level spot to be had, but it still left him with a knob under his upper body and a slope down to the foot of the tent. He couldn't get comfortable and tossed and turned through much of the night. By morning he was tired and grumpy and in no mood to face the trials of a new day, despite that it was a town day.

It wasn't raining when we woke up, and hadn't been for some time as the outside of the tent was almost dry (but the inside was covered in condensation). We packed up our gear and headed out towards town. As wee had feared, however, even though it wasn't raining, the bushes that lined either side of the trail, choking our foot path, were heavily laden with raindrops and our feet were drenched within minutes of hiking. Any effort to stay dry was fruitless and we eventually resigned ourselves to the fact that we weren't going to dry out until we were either out of the bushes or the sun was high enough, and hot enough, to evaporate the moisture from them. As we walked along, making progress towards the highway, Scott would grumble that for all it mattered to him it might as well be pouring because he was getting just as wet anyway.

We made our way to Hope Lake and then climbed slightly to Mig Lake followed by an unnamed crest saddle from which we dropped a couple hundred feet back down towards Josephine Lake. From there we could see the first real signs that we were nearing civilization again: the top of a chair lift of the Steven's Pass Ski Resort and a set of high tension power lines climbing over the ridge. Seeing the ski resort was enough to get Rachel excited and eager to cover the remaining 4 miles to the highway. We dropped down past Lake Susan Jane and then traversed along the inside of the bowl to a maintenance road underneath the power lines. Our next objective, the top of the ski lift, was in sight, but as we got to the road we reached a detour. The ski resort was actively working on the ski runs and we were detoured off the PCT, along the maintenance road for safety reasons. Fortunately the detour wasn't too much longer of a route and we were rejoined with the PCT at the ridge saddle just to the north of the chair lift. From there we looked down the west side of the ridge and saw the majority of the ski resort below as well as the highway. Another 2 miles of switchbacks and meandering our way along the ski runs and bushy paths and we finally emerged at the ski resort parking area just after noon.

We were re-supplying in the small town of Skykomish, 14 miles east of Steven's Pass, so once reaching the highway we quickly crossed the road and put our thumbs to work. We stood there for about 20 minutes before we got a ride, watching all of the cars and RV's go zooming past us without so much as a glance. As we are not used to having to wait so long to get a ride Rachel started making some minor adjustments to her appearances to accentuate the fact that she is female and we are a couple; the first thing was unbuttoning her shirt a little to show that she wears a tank-top sports bra underneath and when that didn't work she let her hair out from under her hat. Whether it was due to the adjustments she made or just a game of odds that once enough vehicles drove by someone would eventually stop, but shortly after her hair was loose around her shoulders we were picked up.

Our ride dropped us off outside the Chevron gas station as we pulled into town. He was going to take us across the bridge and actually into town but as he was about to do so we saw North standing at the phone booth at the gas station. Knowing that if North was around other hikers were not far off, we unloaded our gear from the van and asked North for directions to the Post Office. As it turned out the Post Office was literally the first building on the other side of the bridge. We walked over there and found a whole group of hikers (Theresa, Gravedigger, Tin Mouse, Kelly and Raven - whom we haven't seen since starting the High Sierras) waiting for a trail angel to come and give them a ride back to the pass. Apparently the whole group, including T who had already returned to the trail) had rented a room above the Post Office and they had all had a good time celebrating North's 23rd birthday a couple of days early. We had just enough time for a quick reunion with Raven before the trail angel arrived and the five hikers loaded their packs and bodies into the truck to return to the trail. Of the group, the only one who was staying in town for a little longer was Tin Mouse, and we enjoyed the opportunity to get to know him better.

We retrieved our parcel from the Post Office and then set about pulling our gear out of our packs and laying it across the loading zone at the side of the building so that it could dry in the sunshine. Before we got a chance to start going through our supply box the Postal employee came outside and asked that we try to keep our stuff off the tarmac and move it onto the lawn. Fortunately most of our stuff was dry by then so we were able to just pack it away and then laugh amongst ourselves at how persnickety "Sharon" had been. A little while later we had been through our re-supply box and sorted everything out and we groaned under the weight of the newly loaded down packs. With that part of the re-supply done, we walked back across the bridge to the gas station where we were able to pick up the few supplies we needed for our lunches and than we went to the restaurant across the street to have a quick meal before hitching back up to the pass.

We had a great burger and fries for lunch and we enjoyed Tin Mouse's company while we dined, but when the meal was done he went off in search of the library while we went to make a couple of quick phone calls to our parents and then we resumed our position at the side of the highway so we could return to the trail and try and get a few miles head start on the next section.