8/15 Mile 2568-2573

Got up at 5 AM this morning when I heard Endless and QB rustling.   We don’t have much mileage today, so I lounge in my tent for 30 minutes making some coffee and oatmeal.  I get packed up at 6 and we all leave together.  
Last Night’s Campsite
Virtually all PCT hikers use the GutHook app to navigate the trail.  One of the neat features in the app is the ability to put comments in at various waypoints like streams and tent sites.  Useful things like “Nice flat spot to the left of trail” or “seasonal stream is flowing well”.  Well in my boredom over the last 6 weeks I have been rating every tent site a score of 1 to 10 based on the quality of my stay.  I call it the Salty Scale, a scientifically precise methodology encompassing all the important factors in rating your stay.   
While we are walking, QB mentions that there was another of those Washington style pit toilets outside our camp.   I explain the Salty scale to her and she agrees to be a guest rater.  She feels that since the camp was next to a nice creek and the shitter had a nice private view of the water.   After I probe with a few other questions, she assigns the site a Salty 7.   
Couple hours of easy hiking and we hit the so called “High Bridge” over the Agnes.   
Endless and QB

Just over the bridge is the shuttle stop and ranger station.  Stehekin is a weird place.  Look it up on a map sometime.   Stehekin is on the north end of lake Chelan, a 60 mile long natural lake that ends at a small town called Chelan on the southeastern tip.  Stehekin is in the middle of a National Recreational area.   The only way in is either a 4 hour ferry ride or walking in on a trail.   There are a bunch of vacation homes here and the community has a small school. 
There is a host at the Ranger station to answer our questions.   Only problem is, he doesn’t have many answers.   I ask about Stehekin Valley Ranch and their legendary cabins and 3 meals a day.  He’s never eaten there.  Someone else asks about the produce farm, he doesn’t know much about that either.  Seems our host only knows about places that are government owned and operated.  
Anyway, the shuttle shows up on time and drops a stream of fresh smelling day hikers.  We are greeted by a grumpy bus driver and climb aboard with 5 or 6 other PCTers.   We drive over a bumpy dirt road for 10 miles, then get on (the only) paved road and stop at the bakery.   This place is privately run and serves a cornucopia of Danishes, pies, croissants, cinnamon rolls, and the like.   Endless, QB, and I enter a feeding frenzy.  I buy a ham and cheese, croissant, a Danish, OJ, and large latte.  Endless and QB load up as well.  Endless is laughing that he froze up at the counter and couldn’t order.  Too many options. 

We skip the bus ride to town and instead just walk the remaining 2 miles.   Nice to stroll along the lake shore.    
Last Call for Gumballs

About a half-mile before town we see this cool little wooden boat.  Endless is into sailing and bought a wooden one long ago to restore, but never got around to it.   His brother is a sailor and lives on some island off the coast of Maine (I think).   Anyway, Endless is interested and he stops to take a swim.   Me, not interested.   The water is cold.  I carry on to walk into town. 

After a few inquiries, I find the PCT camp site on top of the hill and head there.   Along the way I bask in the glory of a brand new, government issued bathroom at the welcome center.  It is, well, wonderful.  When I finally get to the camp site, Endless and QB are there setting up.   I put my tent up and head back to village to grab second breakfast/lunch.  While I’m there a ferry pulls up and off-loads a 100 visitors.  Seems there are 2 or 3 which are doing runs all day.  
I talk to a few locals and get a flavor for the Stehekin story. 
Living in the West, I know places like this have a colored history.   Usually it starts with homesteaders taking up residence, killing a bunch of Native Americans, and scratching out a living.   It usually ends with the government taking over all the unclaimed land then squeezing out the homesteaders one way or another.   
Stehekin is in the middle of squeezing phase.  When a home comes up for sale, the gov buys it and either turns it into a cabin rental or tears it down.  Of course, being the government, the cabins retain their “historic nature” which means they slowly decay under coats of “Forest Service Brown” paint.  The gov owned store sucks, the gov owned restaurant serves generic  over-priced burgers, and some of the empty ex-commercial buildings are slowly decaying into “historic” structures.   
Anyway, the place is beautiful, I hear the fishing is good, and I’d definitely put it on my list of places to return to some day. 
More hikers come in and begin filling up the PCTer site.  Couple of young gals I crossed on the trail show up and we get to know each other.  Bugeye and Short Stop.  They are doing Washington northbound, so almost done.   Bugeye is a teacher in Seattle, Short Stop is an Alaskan nurse who grew up on fishing boats.   Dog Bite shows up and reminds everyone his birthday is tomorrow.  
In the evening we all sit around and talk about completing the hike.  What does it mean?   What is everyone doing next?  How to rejoin mainstream society.   Interesting stuff, but like hiking, the answers must come from within.   The circle of folks is next to my tent and keeps expanding as darkness falls.  I lay down and keep the doors opened listening to the steady trickle of funny stories, side conversations, jokes, etc.  Today is Sunday.  Tomorrow the Post Office will open, folks will resupply, and take off.   This is the last time I’ll be in a thru-hiker circle like this.  I just want to savor it.  I slowly drift off to the sound of laughter. 

8/14 Mile 2544-2568

I woke up at 6:30am in a grumpy mood today.   Last couple days have been through overgrown trails and over a bunch of fallen trees.   Adding to my distress are these constant descents deep into river valleys followed by 4k climbs back out.  Was looking at my plan today and took a pic
Another Shitty Salty Climb
I packed all my crap, rolled out of the tent, took that down, and finish packing.  The gal I camped near last night climbs out of her tent after I put my pack on.  She introduces herself, Jessie.   She looks to be late 20’s / early 30’s and is full of questions.  I yank my pack off and start talking.  First thing she asks is “Do all you PCT’ers arrive late and get up early like this every day?”   “Yup, it is all about getting the miles in”, I reply.  We talk about gear for a bit.   She is Southbounding the Washington section of the PCT which is around 500 miles.   She is close to the start so probably has only been on trail for a few days.   I have a look at her setup.  Ultralight tent, bag, foam pad, etc.  A long-distance thru-hiker in the making.
Bunch of questions about how many miles I average, where I started yesterday, etc.   Then comes the the question everyone asks…. “What do you like about the trail and the experience?”  I start down my usual spiel.  “You meet wonderful people on the trail, interesting folks off the trail, everyone helps each other, beautiful views, blah blah. ”   Then my bad mood takes me WAY off script and this comes spilling out with no filter:    “…flies biting your ankles, inhaling clouds of mosquitos, 4k climbs up and down mountains sweating your ass off, fucking trees everywhere that are either blocking the trail or blocking the view…..Man, I just want to go home.   I want to sit on a couch with my wife and watch movies for a week.”   
I stop ranting and just look at her.  She is processing.   Finally she says, “It sounds like you are getting a little homesick.”  Heh.   Yes I am.  I pick up my pack and mumble a “good luck”.  Enjoy the outdoors.
In my darkened mood, I head off to climb YA4K (Yet Another 4,000ft hill).   
The Magical Forest
I climb over a bunch of these leviathans

I’m bitching to myself into a negative spiral.  Why the hell do the trail maintenance crews have to use two person hand saws to cut this stuff?  It would take all day to get through the log pictured above…..if there is even a saw long enough.   Give me 2 days with a can of gasoline and a decent chain saw, all of this would be cleared.  Stupid Forest Service.  Stupid trail.   Then I hit this carnage. 
Junk Yard
Yes, the trail goes right through the center of that picture.   Takes 20 minutes to pick through this mess and get to the other side.   When I finally get there, I drop my pack and sit on one of the many logs available to me.   Never a shortage of those.  A black fly lands on my arm.   I watch it bite a chunk of my skin off.  
I need to change my mood.   I dig around my food bag and discover I’m all out of candy.  My remaining meals consist of disgusting Breakfast Skillets and one Spaghetti which I’m saving for dinner.  I have this taffy I bought somewhere and try it.   Ugh, it it black liquorish variety and it tastes like dirt.  I’m becoming desperate….this is a Bad-Mood-Emergency and it is time to bring out the big guns.  Back when I started the trail in Oregon, I visited a Cannabis shop to buy a couple joints for special days.   Before I left, I also bought one edible on a whim.
For Emergencies Only ! 
A few puffs of a joint is one thing.   Edibles are a whole different level because the effects last all day.   I never consume these things.   Well, the day can’t get any worse and I need a reset.   Plus, it is made with dark chocolate which is top on my list of things-I-wish-I-had-right-now.  Save me, Han Solo !  
I eat that, put on my 60’s hippy music playlist, turn the volume up to 11, and continue climbing.   I finally get out of the dense forest and get some better views


Around 1:00 I cross this. 
The Finish Line is Near
Yes, I’m in double digits now !   Counting down from 100.   Cresting the Cloudy Pass, the trees fall away and I get some spectacular views.

Even the creek crossings are cooperating.   
Don’t Get Swept Away !
After cresting at 6k, I’m on a long descent that will eventually end at 1,500 and the intersection to Stehekin.   I figure if I do another 25 mile day, that will put me 5 miles from the Stehekin shuttle which picks up a little after 9:00 AM.   
Dog Bite catches up with me later in the afternoon when we hit a big creek crossing.   The bridge here is washed out, but fortunately a large log crossing is available.   This one is a layup.  Wide with plenty of traction.    When I get to the other site, I video Dog Bite coming across. 
Moving on are a few more easy crossings and good trail.   The recent deadfall has been cut off the trail.   Near the end of the day, I reach Agnes creek which carves a deep canyon through the valley.   There is a pretty waterfall that I video. 

Shortly after taking this video, I saw a couple stop at the side trail leading to the water fall.  Both wearing light packs, the guy has an Orange hat.  It is Endless and QB!   I met those two at Scissors Crossing when I was doing my May shake-down hike in the desert.   He is a firefighter from Boston and she is from Queens NY.  He’s got that thick Bahhston accent, which I always find groovy.  Super couple.   Stormtrooper thought they might catch me before the end, they have been doing 30’s for most of the summer.   We spent some time catching up, hiked together to the next camp spot, and setup.   Spent the evening over dinner trading stories about folks we met on the trail. 
And that is how it goes out here.  Truly one of the things I love the most about thru-hiking.  You meet someone you like, get separated for various reasons, then months later turn a corner and, there they are again.   My day went from a lonely funk to hanging out with some old friends.   Thank you Han Solo ! 

8/13 Mile 2519-2544

I left a few minutes ahead of Dog Bite this morning and headed up the 500 ft climb to Fire Creek Pass.  The pass is at about 6,300 ft.     
Ready for Today’s Activities

Once I hit the top, I stopped to eat a little breakfast and dry out my ground sheet.  It got soaked last night from the grass.   Dog Bite shows up shortly after and I get a hero shot of him on the pass.  
Dog Bite
Next up is a 4k descent to the Suiattle River at 2,300 feet.   Shortly below the pass is Mica lake.  A pretty little alpine lake.   Wish I would have camped here last night.  

Heading down is a long drop through a million short switchbacks.  As I lose altitude, the terrain changes from rocky, alpine meadows to overgrown, muddy, wrecked trail spiced with lots of fallen trees.   The biting flies are back to munch on my ankles. 
Climb This
It is hot and getting hotter the lower I go.   Mosquitoes join the biting fly party.   I try to time my slaps so I can squish both a fly or two and a mosquito in one slap.  Bug parts smear my hands while I’m stumbling through the now invisible trail.   All the while, I’m hearing the increasing roar of the Suiattle getting closer.  I can also here the low thump of boulders being rolled downstream.  There better be a bridge over this water….   Once I’m near the river, the trail turns west and follows it for 3 miles.
Apparently, the old PCT route had us fording the river.   Now it is routed to add 6 miles taking us to a bridge.   I found out a few days later that two guys decided to cut that route short and did the ford.   They said it was terrifying.   
Walking along the river, I’m in a old growth forest filled with huge trees.  Alice is furiously sending me messages on my inReach that I’m “off trail”  She must be looking at the old route…you know the one where you try to cross the river and die.   After a few exchanges we have that settled and I carry on.

This next photo captures just how old the forest is.   Take a look at these trees.  They are over 6 feet in diameter.   I spot a couple that look like Treebeard.   
The Ents Live Here
Dog Bite catches up when I reach the bridge.   He tells me it had been washed out and rebuilt recently.   Wish I’d taken a video of the river when I crossed.   it is a churning mess.  I can both see and hear the boulders getting shoved down the channel.   Can’t imagine fording this beast.  


The highlight of the day starts with this sign

And ends with a with a satisfying trip to my forest throne. 
Enjoying Nature
Dog bite is going to call it a day and is looking for a camp site.  I decide to press on for a couple more miles.   I want to be setup for the climb tomorrow.   I reach my target site around 8:30pm in the fading light.   There is another tent here with a gal in it.   I say hi, setup, cook some dinner, and crash before 10.  Another 25 miler.    

8/12 Mile 2494-2519

Today I rolled out of the tent early, determined not to repeat my late start yesterday.  At least get out by 7.   Strapped up I said a few words to some local backpackers when I saw a guy approaching with his pack on.  Since I’m ready to get on the trail, I need to assess whether to let him pass or take off ahead of him.  
Did my usual thru-hiker assessment of this young man.   Tall, in good shape, color coordinated expensive outdoor clothing.  His pack is an expensive ultra-light brand, grossly over packed.  He smells like a bouquet of flowers.  Conclusion: A daisy…. Me first.
I cut him off on the the trail intersection, say something like “good morning” and never see him again.   I sometimes talk to other thru-hikers about these encounters.   Most of us do the same thing in one way or another.   Usually only takes a glance to identify a thru-hiker.   If you are still not sure then take a sniff. 

A few miles North of Lake Sally I ran into a big trail maintenance crew.   About a dozen kids around 20 years old or less.   They were all hanging out next to the trail clowning around and playing grab-ass.   The funny thing is about 20 minute later I met this gal about my age working on a ledge next to a stream.   She is muscling around a 300 pound rock using a 5 foot metal bar as a lever.   I stop for a few minutes and chat.   I suggest maybe getting a few kids to do this.   “Naw”, she says, “I prefer to work alone.” 
Patches told me last night he was headed to Fire Creek, about 25 miles away.   Sounds good to me.  It is time to ramp up my pace.  

Smoke is back and it is going to be another hot/humid day.   Legs are hiking, miles flowing, bugs are bugging, the earbuds are rocking.   Punk music.   That is the theme for today.  I’m passing a bunch of weekenders in groups going southbound.  This must be a popular section for the fancy Seattle people.
Stopped at 10 and decided to choke down my least favorite Mountain House meal of all time…the dreaded Breakfast Skillet.   

On the surface it seems like a hearty backcountry breakfast.   Hash browns, sausage, eggs, onions, etc.  After rehydrating, the hearty breakfast dream turns into a mash of soupy potato and onion strings with 1/2 inch cubes of partially rehydrated egg product floating on top.   Said another way, imagine having the family over for a big traditional breakfast.   Afterwards, all the plates are scraped into a bowl, add a little dish water, then drop some crunchy scrambled egg cubes on top.   After each bite, I had to pause to suppress a gag reflex. 
The morning was mostly light climbing around 5k altitude.   Lot of meadows and ridge walking here, so the views were pretty good, although truncated by a smoky haze.


Next was a 1k decent into a river valley with 3 sizeable creek crossings.  These are being fed by the glaciers above and have a strong current.   First was a nice bridge, then a busted, but serviceable bridge, and finally…uh…no bridge.    

Log crossing.  No bark, slick, wet from all the water spray.  My kryptonite.   I wish someone was there to video my terror.   First I tried to take a couple steps out to test my balance, then instead of focusing on the log, I look at the churning water and start to lose my balance.   I take a couple steps back to my starting point with my heart racing.   Next I try sitting on the log and sliding, but my feet are dangling too low and will get pulled by the water.   I stand back on up on the rocks and think about it.   Somewhere between, “There must be a better way” and “Get it over with”, I find myself rapidly walking across this log to the other side.  I live to fight another day.
The rest of the day is spent climbing over gigantic fallen trees, crashing through overgrown and washed out trail, stumbling over roots and rocks I cannot see, and several more tricky creek crossings.
That’s a Big’un
Didn’t take many pics in the afternoon, since all you’d see is some plant hitting me in the face.  Made it across Fire Creek around 8:00 with dry feet.   Major was here with his buddy Raccoon.  Raccoon likes to be tidy, washing all his hiking clothes at every stop.  He is busy doing his routine.   We chatted for a bit about how shitty the trail was today and our log crossing terror stories.  The guys tell me that Patches stopped a few miles back, so he’s not showing today. 
View from my Tent
I find out that another tent on the hill contains Dog Bite.  I head up there and have a short chat with him.   He’s pretty happy to see me.   Tells me he is staying a couple days at Stehekin for his 65th birthday.   I figure we will be lapping each other tomorrow.  
Got my 25 miler in today. 

8/11 Mile 2475-2494

The other guys took off early this morning.  I got a late start of 8AM.   With the goal today of ~20 miles there is no need to rush.  Snapped a pic of the site before I left. 
Camp Site at Lake Janus
Although today is a low mileage day, there is going to be a ton of climbs and descents.   5k total.  The sky was clear and there were plenty of open areas to take in the view of nearby mountains. 



This morning I rediscovered why I should get up earlier in the morning.   It was 80+ degrees by 10:00 which normally would not be a problem.  100% humidity is.  I was covered in sweat regardless of how much I dialed back my pace.   Just one of those days.   By mid-day I had a nice outline of salt forming on my shirt that followed the straps of my pack.   The Salty hat was also earning another growth ring.
Spent most of the late morning / early afternoon trying to find a lunch spot that met my criteria: No bugs and shade.   Spent a couple hours finding one.  Finally I crossed some scree and found a hole to crawl into beneath a big bolder.  Got to take what I can get.
Seating for One
Lunch View
Made it to Lake Sally Ann around 6. 
Hello, Sally
There are hikers all around here.  Couple of nice ladies were setup right next to the lake and all spread out for a long stay.     Found Major setup in a nice single spot looking all comfortable.  He just got back from a swim in the lake.   Patches had arrived a few minutes before and setup on the North side.   I found my spot near him and setup.   
It turns out that the good state of Washington has dug a nice pit toilet here and put a wooden box on top with a lid.   I give it a try.   While taking care of my business I had a 180 view of the valley and the trail leading up.   Saw a couple hikers on their way up.   They got a nice view of me on the toilet.   Everybody wins. 
Since I got into camp a little earlier than usual, I decided to do something with my collection of huckleberries stored in an empty Gatorade bottle.  I boiled up half-liter of water, dropped my berries in there, then furiously poked and smashed them all up with a spork.   After a couple more reheats and stirs, poured the mash back into my Gatorade bottle.   Yum.   If I had a sugar packet or two this mix would be over-the-top delicious. 
Got to sleep early.  Sally treats her guests well.