Thursday, July 23, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 100: Burn, Baby, Burn

Not a sunset. This was taken in the middle of the day.
DAY 100
1620? to 1632
August 2nd, Saturday

I woke up the next morning feeling lousy. The smell of smoke hung thick in the air, but unlike my dreams, I could see the pines above our tent. I heard Stumbles stirring oatmeal in her pot and Black Death was packing up. Zach was still asleep with a frown on his face. I nudged him awake and we sat in our tent, eating cold oatmeal in silence.

We said goodbye to Stumbles and Black Death as they hiked on, then packed up slowly. Neither of us had slept well, and we were exhausted as he plodded along the trail, which was a rocky up-and-down route that headed into ever-thicker smoke. 

We were now hiking up to a mountain pass, with patches of blue sky above us. However, when we reached the pass, we saw an unnerving sight.

The entire valley, both in front of us and behind us, was filled with smoke. It lay like sediment, grayish-orange, shrouding both valleys from sight. The air was filled with a smell like a thousand campfires, and I suddenly found myself craving hot dogs. Bits of ash drifted around us. Up above we could see a blue sky, but it looked dark and gray around the edges, as if someone had burnt it.

There was nothing to do but keeping following the trail, although we were relieved to see that it was following the ridge of mountains that stood above the sea of smoke. So on we walked.

The smoke was thickest at the ridge near Summit Lake, blotting out the sky above with orangish-gray smoke, but then started to clear from there. When we stopped to get water we could see in the distance smoke pouring from the trees— but it was on the other side of the mountains, with a barren ridge of rock serving as a barrier. We began to relax, knowing that only a sharp wind could take the fire over the mountain to our side. Still, being less than two miles from a forest fire was a bit unnerving. And a bit exciting.

In the afternoon, we had actually hiked out of the smoke, and were winding through a familiar pleasant woodland. We found an old ski cabin and paused nearby to make mac n’ cheese. Stumbles came walking up and ate lunch with us, even giving us some dehydrated butter and homemade chili powder to season our mac n’ cheese. We learned that she was a teacher, and had a great talk about education. It was so refreshing to talk about something other than fire and the trail!

We all hiked apart for a while— I felt heavy with simple carbs, and I managed to hyperextend my knee, which made me limp— but met up with Stumbles again at a large pleasant pond called Paradise Lake.

Stumbles said she saw a bear just a few miles back. She tried to scare it off, but it actually started walking down the trail toward her! She made a hasty retreat, and saw only after she backed up that she had been standing between the bear and its cub, which was hiding in a tree. The cub scampered down the tree and both bears took off.

Stumbles walked on, but Zach and I sat by the lake, smelling the pine and clean air and grateful that we were out of the smoke. My knee was still feeling tender, but at last I felt good enough to walk on, so we slogged through another five miles. We stopped to chat with some weekend hikers and told them this was our hundredth day. They had no idea that they were hiking into a forest fire, and we warned them to be careful.

We ended up at Buckhorn Spring, which was a water source near the top of the mountain in a field of grass with a pine wood nearby for camping. I set up camp in the dark trees while Zach gathered water and tried in vain to make pleasant conversation with a stoic hiker. 

We had a feast for dinner: peanut butter/honey/walnut tortilla wraps and hot chocolate. We were out of the smoke, and assumed that the worst was over. We climbed into the tent and happily fell asleep. Zach said he heard a huge animal circling our campsite that night, but I barely came to the surface. I was exhausted— too exhausted to wake up when the smoke crept over us again that night.


1 comment:

  1. That scares me just reading it about the smoke and the fires.