Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Stehekin, Mile 2569, Sep 14

Stehekin Town Campground - We stood on the side of the highway across the street from where we had had a late lunch for at least half an hour before we caught a ride back up the hill. Being that we were leaving a small town we had thought that it would have been quite easy to catch a ride, but were obviously wrong. Highway 2 is a bit of a through-fare which tends to be harder to hitch on, but even the vehicles that were pulling onto the highway drove right past us without even slowing down. At last we got a ride from a young guy pulling out of the gas station after filling up in route from Seattle to Spokane. We reached the summit of Steven's Pass around 4:30 PM and crossed the road to the trailhead. Aside from White Pass, Skykomish was probably one of our fastest re-supplies of the hike.

We set out with the idea in our mind that we would hike about five miles, but considering the late start we only got 3.5 in before stopping to camp. The first couple miles of the hike were really easy, along an old abandoned road at a very gentle grade. After that, the trail started to climb a little and we came out of the trees into a clearing that was a meadow with a relatively descent camp site on it's edge. While we had though about going another 2 miles to Lake Valhalla, it would have been a climb up there and Scott wasn't much in the mood to get all hot and sweaty so late in the day.

It was a nice camp, but when we woke up in the morning it was as though it had rained because the dew had come down so heavy that the plants were all wet, as was our tent fly. After lounging in our sleeping bags and having a leisurely snuggle, we packed up our gear and then hit the trail at about 7:30 AM. We started climbing right away and soon passed a second meadow before climbing higher to the saddle overlooking the beautiful Lake Valhalla. From there we hiked along to a trail junction where we encountered a couple of people on horseback. We stopped and talked to them briefly and then continued on for another 1.8 miles to a cascading creek for breakfast.

After finishing our breakfast we hiked for another couple of miles to where we passed by Lake Janus and then began another 1000 foot climb up to the crest. It was a sweaty climb as the humidity was high after a few days of rain, but we finally reached the top and were treated to lovely views to the towards Glacier Peak off to the northwest. Our reward for the climb was not restricted solely to the immediate views, but we were also treated to a nice crest walk for a few miles. We meandered our way along from saddle to saddle, rounding a few minor peaks along the way before stopping for lunch on the west shoulder of Grizzly Peak. We were having a nice day, thinking that we would enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery, and not push our mileage too much as this section was supposed to have some serious elevation gains and descents.

Those thoughts were running through Rachel's head as we left our lunch spot and resumed hiking. She was thinking of getting to Stehekin in a few days time, and then something occurred to her: what day of the week was it? It was Tuesday early afternoon and on our planned schedule we would be arriving in Stehekin sometime later afternoon/evening Saturday. That was when it hit; many towns have restricted Post Office hours on Saturdays. She commented to Scott that we needed to check our Town Guide to see when the P.O. hours were on Saturdays, if they have them at all.

We spent the next 2 miles hiking in silence, each of us running different scenarios though our minds and both of us knowing that we were either going to have to push it to get to town earlier or we were going to have to lay over until Monday. The thought of laying over until Monday made us both feel sick to our stomachs; that would put us a day behind and we wouldn't make it to the finish for Scott's birthday. For a long time now we had been saying that we wanted to finish no later than September 19th and now we were faced with the very real possibility that we would not finish until the 20th all because of the Post Office.

By the time we arrived at Wenatchee Pass, a low point saddle, we stopped and decided to pull out the Town Guide so we would know what we had to deal with rather than fretting about the unknown. What we found was both a relief and a cause for stress both at the same time: the Post Office did have Saturday hours, but they were from 10:45-12:45 only and we would have to take an hour long shuttle bus ride into town that only left the trailhead four times daily, and we weren't sure what those times were. With a little back-of-the-envelope figuring,, we determined that if we did 24 miles a day (instead of the planned 20) we could make it to the High Bridge Ranger Station where the shuttle does its pick-up by 9 AM on Saturday morning, probably in time to catch the first bus. With the new plan we set off on the trail again with slightly brighter spirits and another few miles tacked onto our days goal.

From the low point at Wenatchee Pass we began another 1000 foot climb that would see us back on the crest surrounded by beautiful views. We started out by climbing to the Top Lake Trail junction. Scott was out of water and he was getting a little desperate as we neared the junction. We had passed by a roaring creek on the way up, but it was down in a ravine and it looked like it would have been a real scramble to get down to it. He was beginning to think that he would have to detour off trail a little way to Pear Lake and that he would have to settle for lake water, but just before we reached the turn off for the lake we came across a little brook making its way across the meadow, headed for the steeper banks from which we had just come. We both dropped our packs and filled our water bottles at the cool fresh stream before continuing on with our climb.

Feeling better about facing the remainder of the sweaty, humid climb ahead now that Scott had water we continued our upward quest. We made our way around a minor peak and then found ourselves traversing across a steep talus slope, containing massive granite boulders, before we engaged in some extremely steep, tight switchback that would take us up a cliff wall to a small gap on the crest. We stopped there to take a break and look at the map. It was 4 PM and we still had 8.5 miles to go in order to make our new destination. We quickly wolfed down a chocolate bar each and then resumed our march. We weren't quite done with the climb; we still had a little further to go as we made our way along the west side of the crest in the afternoon sun.

We had a very pleasant meandering hike along the crest for a few miles, gaining a little elevation every now and then, and then loosing it soon afterwards. We spent much of our time hiking through open meadows that were alive with the changing colors of the wildflowers. We hiked across Saddle Gap, which was appropriately named, and then shortly after that we began an 800 foot descent down to Pass Creek. It was nearing 5:30 PM by time we got to the creek and encountered a couple of southbound hikers camped there. We were beginning to wonder whether or not we would make it the remaining 4 miles and 1200 foot climb before dusk so we questioned the two south-bounders abut possible camp sites prior to Lake Sally Ann. The mentioned one meadow before the pass, but it didn't sound too promising. Thanking them for their help we departed and started our climb up towards Cady Pass.

It was a relatively uneventful climb. We took it at a pretty good pace, but still it seemed to go on and on forever. We wound around the ridge a couple of times before finally making the crest. From there we still had 1.7 miles before reaching Lake Sally Ann, but we were tired and would be losing daylight shortly. We descended slightly off the pass and then began a long traverse around the inside of a basin. We could see a creek running across the trail off in the distance, on the far side of the basin, and we realized that this at least gave us options to camp short of the Lake. We passed by a couple of grassy flat spots because we figured that the water was still too far away, but then we came across a larger meadow with a little creek running through it. It was a perfect spot. The grass was soft, dry and level and the view was stupendous, not to mention the added benefit that we would get first light being on the west slope with no major ridges in front of us.

We bunked down for a comfortable sleep, but shortly after finishing up with the foot rubs we had to get out Scott's earplugs. Around the meadow were rock embankments that made comfortable homes for many marmots and pikas, and as we found out, the pikas make their eeking noise all night long. Rachel fell asleep quickly and wasn't bothered by the sounds of the pikas, but each time Scott took his earplugs out throughout the night he had to put them back in again to muffle out the high pitched noise.

The alarm went off at 6 AM and like the old times, Scott was up like a bullet. We had 24 miles to hike and he didn't want daylight to be a limiting factor in achieving that goal. Rachel, as usual, was a little slower to get moving (although it was fast compared to usual) especially as she has gotten used to morning snuggles which she was not getting that morning. The sun wasn't over the mountains quite yet, but the sky was lightening up with every minute that passed and there was more than enough light to see what we were doing. We packed up our gear and were delighted to find that our tent fly was dry due to the gentle breeze that had blown down off the ridge throughout the night. Having that dry made a huge difference to the weight of it, and how warm our hands stayed while we folded it up.

It was 6:45 AM and we hit the trail. We finished the traverse around the basin and soon came across Lake Sally Ann. There were a few hikers still lingering in their tents and as we walked around the lake we was that Kelly was one of them. We hailed her a morning greeting as we passed on by. Leaving the over used lake behind we began a beautiful hike across the slopes of Cady Ridge and across open meadows with expansive views to the north and east. We stopped for breakfast on the ridge before making our switch-backing descent to Indian Pass, and while we were finishing up Kelly came hiking along. She stopped to have a snack while we packed up and continued on.

We we on the descent down to the Pass when we passed by a hiker heading up the trail. We had the usual brief exchange of "Hi, how you doing?" and then passed on by. As we were half a dozen paces past this hiker he called out after us, "Are you guys thru-hikers?" and when we responded in the affirmative he asked "You wouldn't happen to be Scott and Rachel would you?" He introduced himself to us as Eric Jensen, one of our online journal readers who had sent Rachel a birthday greeting. We stopped to chat with him for about twenty minutes, getting the update on who was ahead, what the terrain was going to be like, and so on. At last we had to say goodbye and head back on down the trail if we were going to make our mileage for the day.

While we had been chatting with Eric, Kelly and Raven passed us, as did two hikers doing a day hike from their base camp. We hit the bottom of the pass and then leap-frogged past the other four hikers as we made our climb back up to the ridge top. They passed us again as we stopped for a snack at White Pass, but then 2 miles later as we were rounding Red Pass we said passed them again. Kelly and Raven were stopping there for lunch as we were pressing on to get a few more miles in before we stopped for our mid-day meal. We had only hiked about 11 miles by the time we reached Red Pass and on those days when we have to do a lot of mileage we like to get half of it over with before having lunch otherwise the afternoon seems too long.

We dropped down off of Red Pass into the White Chuck River drainage. We began to drop quickly, hiking alongside of a few remaining snow patches that have been hiding from the heat of the sun on the north side of the pass. The further down we dropped, the more plentiful the run off creeks and rivers became and we crossed over one a couple of times before finally stopping for lunch 3 miles down from the pass. We tried to enjoy our lunch as much as possible, but we had to make it quick as the flies were incessant. They were so plentiful that it was enough to drive a person mad, landing on every part of our bodies, getting caught in our hair, and biting available flesh. We finished up our lunch and in order to get some relief from the flies we continued on our downward journey, dropping further down towards the Chetwot Creek.

The creek crossing signified the beginning of our long climb back up to the crest, but first we had to navigate the ford. There were three log bridges, two of which were broken in the middle. The third one was just three smaller trees tied together to provide enough of a foot bridge to make it across without getting wet. Just as we were getting ready to pull out of the campsite on the other side of the creek, however, we heard a small splash. Raven had come up behind us and only seen the first, broken and moss covered log. She had attempted a crossing, slipped and fallen in. She was alright, but had a bruised ego and had lost her trekking poles in the water. A quick rescue effort saw her poles retrieved and her back on track to continue with her hike.

The climb up from the creek started with a bank of 6 switchbacks which took us up a couple hundred feet, but after that we followed the ridge line on a steady ascent for the next couple of miles until we reached the pretty Glacier Creek. We stopped at the creek to drink some water and take a break before pushing on up the second half of the climb. It was nice to have the creek there as it broke the climb up into two parts, the later of which was much easier. We left Glacier Creek and took a few more switchbacks before settling into a traverse that took us around the nose of the ridge before dropping slightly to Pumice Creek. By the time we reached Pumice Creek it was 6:20 PM and we still had about 2.5 miles before reaching our desired camp spot for the evening. We briefly considered stopping short but then decided to push the daylight hours a little and continue on to Fire Creek. The hike to Fire Creek was not a straight forward one. We began by traversing over to another ridge, but it involved drop ping some elevation and then gaining it back again with a few switchbacks. Once we reached the ridge we then had a steep switch-backing descent that made our aching and tired knees and ankles groan. We dropped quickly, and then made our way across the basin to the creek where there was a small campsite up on a little knoll just across it.

Dusk was upon us as we pulled into the camp and set up the tent. We were deep in a basin and the setting sun was glowing against the high exposed rock cliffs above us setting quite a mood. Regretfully, the light did not last long and we soon were encased in darkness. We dove into the tent and then set about our nightly routine of cooking dinner, doing a little journaling, bathing and rubbing feet before drifting off into a well deserved sleep. We had done 25.9 miles that day and we gave ourselves a pat on the back for it; the terrain had been tougher than we have had for a long time, but we had exceeded our goal for the day and we were on track to get to the post office in Stehekin.

The next morning we woke early again to the sound of the alarm. We were packed up and on the trail by 6:45 AM and we were eager to get going as we knew it was going to be an even tougher day than the previous one had been. Right away we started with a climb, 1000 feet up to Fire Creek Pass. From the pass we were able to look past all of the snow fields and glaciers down into the Milk Creek basin 2500 feet below. We began a rocky and steep switch-backing descent into the basin and soon found ourselves on the rim of Mica Lake. That lake was one of the most picturesque we had seen in quite some time, nestled into a little basin of its own, surrounded on one side by a steep talus slope of auto-sized boulders. The water was clear and clean, as were the few campsites that adorned the shore and we wished that we were in a position to spend the day there. Instead we will just have to add Mica Lake to our list of the many places that we want to return to.

Leaving the lake we continued to drop. Four miles in total, only to cross the glaciated Milk Creek at the bottom and then immediately begin a 2.5 mile, 2000 foot climb back up the other side. As we had been dropping down towards the creek we had looked over at the next ridge and we had seen the switchbacks cut into the bank like knife strokes, zigzagging their way up and up and up. We knew it was going to be a long climb so we pushed ourselves to get down and across the creek as soon as possible so that we could start climbing back up before the day progressed enough that the west facing slope would be in full sun. It was a big enough climb as it was that to have done it in the sun would have been brutal, but as it turned out, we managed to time it so that we were about half a mile from the ridge before the sun was on us.

Once we reached the ridge and the end of the major part of the climb, we stopped for a proper breakfast. With our appetites satiated for a little while and 8 tough miles already behind us, we continued on along the trail. The climb wasn't over yet, however, we still had another 300 feet to gain as we undulated our way up and around another ridge, dropped into and traversed around a basin and then climbed to a saddle. With that all behind us, we began our next descent. This one make the previous descent into Milk Creek look like a warm up exercise. This descent would take us down 3150 feet with 59 switchbacks over the first four miles. Even when we got to the bottom of the switchbacks we still had another two miles of downhill to go before we finally reached the low point, and then our reward for all of that descending... yup, we got to start climbing again, 3100 feet back up to the next pass.

We had had lunch at the base of the switchbacks on the banks of the Vista Creek. We frantically swatted flies while we ate and then as soon as we were done we continued on with our trek, stopping again for a break just short of the Suiattle River crossing and the start of the major part of our climb. With a chocolate bar in our stomachs as fuel for our engines we began the long grinding climb up to Suiattle Pass.

As with the first major climb we had done that day, the hike up to the pass was not as bad as wee had been fearing it might be. This ascent was actually very pleasant, but long. We crossed over Suiattle Creek and then navigated a handful of switchbacks before curving around onto the north facing slope of the ridge which we would follow up for the next 3 or more miles. We were following Miners Creek up the drainage, under tree cover with a nice forest duff trail underfoot. There were no scree slopes or blow-downs to contend with and despite the constant uphill grade, we found the going quite pleasant and we were able to make good time. We reached the crossing of Miners Creek just before 6 PM and, as with the night before, we briefly contemplated the idea of stopping short to camp rather than pushing the remaining 4 miles to our desired goal. But, just as we had done the previous afternoon, we decided to push on and try to make the mileage before dusk.

We had another 1500 feet to climb after leaving Miners Creek, and it was tougher going than the first, longer leg of the climb had been. We were now on the south facing slope of the valley, exposed too the hot late afternoon sun, and we were dealing with switchbacks up a dusty, rocky path. The benefit of this later part of the climb, however, was that we were no longer in tree cover and we were treated to great views to the south where we could see Glacier Peak as well as Fortress Mountain, both with their glaciers hanging off of their steep faces and in amongst their cervices and bowls. At last we made our way up the last little bit of the climb and we finally topped out at the summit of Suiattle Pass. To the north of us we could see the South Fork Agnes Creek valley reaching out for miles ahead of us, and we took pleasure in the knowledge that we would be following that drainage down to Stehekin the following day. But, in the meantime, dusk was almost upon us and we still had to find and set up camp . We rounded over the pass and began a descent down into a meadow basin with a creek running through it. There was a designated campsite there and we quickly went about getting set up and beginning our evening chores. It had been a long day (26.2 miles) with an incredible amount of elevation gain (>6303 feet) and descent (>5683 feet) and we were ready for sleep.

We woke up at our new usual time of 6 AM to the sound of the alarm beeping in our ears. We were quick and eager about getting moving on that day as it was a town day. Despite having been dewed on pretty bad that night and having wet gear, we got our stuff packed up and we were out on the trail by 6:45 AM. We hiked along for a fraction of a mile before we came to a trail junction with what was the old PCT route. The newer route stayed closer to the crest on the west side of Agnes Creek while the old one basically followed the creek down the drainage on the east side until the two route rejoined again a few miles down stream. After looking at the map we decided to take the old route which was slightly shorter as it would help to get us to the shuttle bus stop a little bit earlier so that we would maybe be able to catch the early afternoon shuttle.

The alternate route was very beautiful. What it lacked in elevation and views, it made up for in the lushness of the forest and the greenery that surrounded us. It started off steep as we navigated a few switchbacks, but after that it leveled off to an easier gradient and we gradually made our way down to Hemlock Camp and the rejoining of the two routes. Whenever we leave the official PCT route for any reason we always breathe a sigh of relief when we reconnect with it. Even though the trail that we were on was well maintained and clear there is still this strange nagging fear that something may happen like we will wind up going in the wrong direction or something. Anyway, when we finally rejoined the PCT we were relieved enough that we finally stopped by the creek for our breakfast of cold oatmeal and granola or Carnation instant breakfasts and granola.

After breakfast we were quick to get going on the trail again. We continued on descending down the South Fork of the Agnes River passing by tributaries and campsites as we went. We didn't stop for much along the way as the lure of trail town was pulling us forth. At last we reached the junction where the South Fork and the West Fork of the Agnes Rivers converged and we finally then shortly after that we stopped for an abridged lunch. We gobbled down a chunk of cheese each and then added a chocolate bar to the equation by forewent on the cookies and the bread and peanut-butter in the interests of making good time. As we didn't know what time the shuttle bus left the High Bridge Ranger Station the thought was that we should get there as soon as possible and then eat the rest of our lunch if we had to wait.

We arrived at the Ranger Station just before 2 PM and sure enough, we had to wait. The next shuttle was due to arrive at 3 PM so we had plenty of time to finish off our lunch and relax while waiting. The shuttle bus was an old retired school bus that had been painted blue. The owner operator, Jim, was a real riot of a guy. He loaded our packs into the back of the bus, along with those of the other hikers who had come in via the National Park Service shuttle from Bridge Creek campground. Once we were all aboard the bus and the packs loaded Jim asked how many of us were thru-hikers. When we informed him that we were, he went to give us a permanent marker so that we could sign the ceiling of the bus, but after seeing so many other thru-hikers names (many of which we recognized) and comments on the ceiling we had already taken the liberty of adding our own. As Jim started up the bus and headed down the dusty gravel road towards Stehekin Landing, the two of us sat there reading the names and comments that so many of our friends and hiking companions written.

Aside from the signing of the bus, the rest of the ride into Stehekin was quite entertaining. Jim was more than just a bus driver, he was a tour guide. The first stop on the drive into town was at the Stehekin Valley Ranch, a secluded get-a-way ranch with cabins for rent as well as what is reputed to be a great cook house. After dropping off half of the passengers at the ranch we carried on towards town, but Jim next took us on a side trip to the old orchard which grows Standard Delicious apples. Apparently the bears have developed a taste for these apples and they can often be seen feasting in the orchard, but unfortunately we were not lucky enough to see any. Back on the main road, Jim's next stop was to pull in at Rainbow Falls, the second highest (after British Columbia's Della Falls) year round waterfall in North America. Most of the remaining passengers on the bus filed off to walk the hundred yards up the path to have a closer look at the falls, but the two of us remained on the bus resting our feet. The next and final stop prior to reaching the landing was to pull in at the bakery. Everyone had told us to make sure we go to the bakery so this built in stop made thing easy for us, especially considering it is two miles up the road from the landing (and there isn't a lot in between). Everyone filed into the little bakery to purchase a goodie, and Rachel came out with a big cinnamon bun while Scott elected to have the Mocha Almond Fudge ice cream. With treats in hand we all filed back onto the bus to go the remaining couple of miles into town. As we drove along the waterfront Jim pointed out all the main attractions such as Purple Point campground, the Post Office, the showers and laundry and then finally the lodge and restaurant.

It was about 4:15 by the time we had made all of the stops and we arrived at the terminus in front of the Lodge. As soon as we grabbed our packs from the back of the bus we headed straight back to the Post Office as we wanted to be sure to collect our parcel before it closed at 4:30 PM. With that done, we left our packs and parcel outside on the bench while we wandered off to find out about dinner at the restaurant, to drop in on T in his room at the Lodge, and then to return to collect our belongings outside the P.O.. As we were walking up the steps to the P.O. a gentleman was walking out and he started asking us about our hike. It turned out that he was the husband of the Postal Worker, come to pick her up after work, and the four of us spent some time chatting about the PCT and what life is like living in Stehekin. After about twenty minutes we said good-bye as they went off home to their guests who were staying for a few days and we went off to the Laundromat.

We loaded our clothes into the washer to get the done as quickly as possible, and while we were waiting for that to happen we sorted through our re-supply box. There were two English gentlemen, on holiday with their wives, finishing up with their laundry while we were getting organized so we answered their many questions while doing our chores. Once they wandered back to the lodge and we had our second load in the wash Rachel went off to set up our tent at the Purple Point Campground. Scott came by a little later and then we both returned to the laundry facilities and had our free, hot showers next door while waiting for our clothes to finish. The afternoon was slipping past and before we knew it, the time was 7:30 PM and we were due at the restaurant for our dinner reservation. Scott's clothes were still in the dryer, so Rachel stayed behind to wait for them while Scott went off to the restaurant to meet our reservation and stall the waitress for a bit. We had a nice dinner, but being that we were a little late and the last people of the evening to be seated, the wait staff began clearing away the salad bar before we were done eating. We suppose that they aren't appraised to just how much PCT thru-hikers can eat otherwise they would have known to leave all food stuffs ready and available. On second thoughts, maybe they were all to familiar with how much thru-hikers can eat and that was their motivation for clearing it away.

As we were finishing up with our meal, Sno Leopard came into the restaurant to say hello to us. He and most of the other hikers had been off at The Ranch for dinner and the bus had just brought them back to the landing. He was heading upstairs to T's room and told us that everyone was gathering up there. Once we finished eating we wandered upstairs also and joined up with the group. There were a number of us (T, North, Theresa, Fancy, Sno Leopard, D-Low, Luke, Gravedigger, Meadow Ed and the two of us) there and we all sat around sharing stories of the trail. It was a time of emotion; Stehekin is our last trail town and we know that this is the last time we will see many of these people again. Once we hit Manning Park we will all go our separate ways and re-enter "normal" life. We talked about the good times and the bad, the people who are behind, those who have already finished and those who didn't make it. We talked about future goals and dreams and what the last few days on the trail was likely to hold in store for us. We talked and talked until a few hours had passed and it was time for us all to retire to our beds. We vacated T's room with the knowledge that we would see most of these people again for a brief time in the morning, but then we would jump on the first shuttle back to the trail and that would be "Good-bye".