Tuesday, September 29, 2015

PCT 2014, Day 142: Snoqualmie Pass

Mushrooms in the morning sun
DAY 142
September 13th, Saturday
2385.6 to 2410 (with approximately 5.5 miles skipped)

Our alarm beeped at us from Zach’s watch at 6:00 that morning, and I practically launched out of bed, ready to book those 10.8 miles to the road crossing where Teresa would meet us. We wolfed down breakfast, tore down camp, and started down the trail by 6:40.

Gray jay!
We could tell it was later in the year— in the desert, at 6:40 the sun would already be pouring blinding light over you. But here, the sun was still below the trees and had barely started to wash the sky.

I was feeling chatty and downright upbeat today, yakking at Zach about anything and everything even though he was still half-asleep. We sped through the miles, alongside ferns and huckleberries and underneath feathery firs, past all manner of mushrooms and under the watchful gaze of gray jays. The miles were fairly easy, even though they ran alongside dramatically steep mountains. 

These mushrooms always made me crave pancakes.
When we were nearing our destination, we began seeing a ton of day hikers. Two women asked if we were Tabasco and Leftovers. “We met a woman named Teresa back at the road,” they said. “She just wanted to let you know that she’s there.” 

We thanked them and hurried on the last two miles. At last we burst out onto a dusty jeep road and saw Teresa with her SUV, smiling at us. “I brought you guys coffee and hot chocolate!” she said, opening the hatchback. “Oh, and some cookies, too.”

We piled into the car, eating and drinking all the while, and she drove us down the bumpy, washed-out, very narrow jeep road down the mountain. We chatted with her and learned that she and her husband had built their own house, a cabin near a lake. She talked about her years as a school teacher. Zach and I marveled at how kind she was being to us as the drive got longer and longer and more difficult. These mountains ran in steep angles, and the roads were kind of scary. I couldn’t believe she had gone this out of her way to help us.

At last the jeep road connected to a paved thoroughfare, and then a highway, and then Teresa pulled up to a Chevron station at a busy truck-stop-type intersection with a hotel and a pancake restaurant and a couple ski lodges: Snoqualmie Pass. “I’ll stick around until I make sure you have your box,” she said, smiling and getting out of the car with us.

We walked into the Chevron and found the post office, but the teller’s booth was empty and locked. Our hearts sank. We asked an employee about it, but English wasn’t his first language and his answer left us more confused than ever. However, Teresa, who had stopped by the station earlier, said that she had seen a room in the back full of hiker boxes, and she asked an employee about it. Soon we found ourselves in a warm stuffy unused refrigerator room, packed to the gills with a disorganized jumble of resupply boxes. There must’ve been a hundred of them!

Now we rummaged through, shoving boxes hither and thither, stacking and re-stacking, sweating in the un-air-conditioned space, getting more and more worried.

It’s logical that “it’s always in the last place you look,” but I’m fairly certain that we were literally looking at the last box in the room when we found ours. With a cry of joy we yanked it out and showed it to Teresa like a trophy. With a small smile, she said, “All right, I’ll be on my way, then.” 

We thanked her profusely, but found ourselves at a loss for words. She smiled, climbed into her car, waved, and drove off. She became yet another person on a long list of people who we’ll never be able to pay back.

Now that we had our box, we could relax. We had seen a cluster of picnic tables beneath a tent on the edge of the parking lot, and headed over there to see a group of hikers sitting, chatting, and gutting boxes. 

We said hi to everyone, happy to see some people we knew: Zen Dawg, Don’t Ax, Shutter, and Smuggles, who had given us chocolate in Yosemite. All of them were giving away free hiker food from their boxes, some of it really decadent— we picked up two packages of really high-quality jerky, in addition to a bunch of bars, Dots, and crackers!

We decided to indulge in some gas station food: I got some pizza pockets, and Zach bought tamales and chips. Both were very greasy but tasted good.

Soon the hikers were in a heated discussion about the newest alternate route on the trail. There were two options: the official PCT, which journeyed up the mountains and followed the ridge through rocky moraines and across a sheer drop-off called Kendall Katwalk, or the alternate route, which skirted the mountains through a verdant valley and led hikers to a hot springs resort. Most people were taking the alternate route, wanting the hot springs. Zach and I, who couldn’t afford the hot springs, had had a bad experience with the previous detour we took in Oregon, and had already lost a lot of hardcore points by skipping 5.5 miles today, decided that we’d brave the mountain. Several people tried to talk us out of it, but we insisted that we weren’t going to cop out… this time. We’d already done enough of that today!

With our minds made up, we checked our map and decided that we’d better get going if we wanted to get through Kendall Katwalk before dark. We packed up, weighed down with our resupply and all the awesome food we’d been given, and trudged down the road. I felt like I was sweating grease.

The climb to Kendall Katwalk was about 3,000 feet of elevation gain in six miles, so it was a brutal set of rocky switchbacks that routed us up the side of this fir-shaded mountain. We huffed and puffed on the way up, meeting a lot of day hikers who were hiking down. Many of them were middle aged, and we saw two different women who looked like they were in their 70s, which blew my mind. Old people in Washington stay fit, I guess!

The trail zigzagged up the side of the mountain, then skirted along the side of a steep ridge, crossing many scary steep scree fields and cliffs. I felt my heart racing and fingers sweating as they had in the Goat Rocks, and Kendall Katwalk in my head was just like the Knife’s Edge all over again, except worse. I practiced breathing exercises and hummed as I walked behind Zach, as always, letting him know I hadn’t stepped falsely and gone hurtling off a cliff.

At last, we saw a notch in the ridge up ahead, and knew that Kendall Katwalk was here. Legs shaking, we walked forward… and emerged onto a section of trail about five feet wide, hugging a sheer wall upward on the left and a sheer cliff downward on the right.

This was so much wider and safer-looking that many other things before, I actually laughed in relief. Zach still hugged the wall of rock, but I edged near the precipice and looked down, fascinated by it the massive bowl of a valley and the jagged ridges opposite me, swathed in the shadow of the mountain ridges. It was so vast and impressive and open, I just stared and admired.

After a while, though, Zach was very much done with the cliffs, so we hurried on, tracing the trail downward among scree and meadows and scattered trees, to our destination for the night: Ridge Lake. Unfortunately this was also a destination for a ton of other people, mostly weekend hikers— there were probably thirty different people camped around the lake. We had to hunt around before we found a patch of ground on a little knoll that was flat enough for camping. 

Zach was feeling sick again tonight, and this time I was worried about him. However, he felt well enough to sit and eat some tuna wraps (I would definitely pack more of them if I ever did another backpacking trip– they’re so good, especially with a little olive oil and Parmesan). Then we laid in the tent and he read to me, sweeping away the world as we lost ourselves in the story.



  1. That would've been horrible not to have found your box, and it truly is always "the last place you look." So glad you had your re-supply. It's like every time you go to the grocery store and you have more good stuff to eat all at once and suddenly, you can't get enough! LOL And, your five-foot ledge on top of jagged ridges sounds pretty scary to me, but now you are old pros at this thru-hiking! I'm terribly afraid of heights!

  2. I'm sorry if this is taken the wrong way. I just want to point out that "middle-aged" or "old" people are not any less able than any other group you might ignorantly (and innocently) discriminate against...I like this blog but every time you mention how amazing it is for middle-aged people to hike, it's like a stab in the eye--probably just as you felt when those firefighters were amazed that a woman could hike the trail.

    1. Anonymous, thanks for taking the time to point this out. As you may have guessed, it had never occurred to me that these comments could be condescending in any way. I certainly didn't intend for them to be offensive or to discriminate against anyone, although I can understand why you take it that way.

      There are a couple reasons that hikers of late middle age (60s and 70s) impress me so much, and why I take special note of them. (These reasons will probably confirm your thesis that I'm ignorant, but here goes.)

      1. In all my years of hiking in Missouri, I have seen people of all shapes and sizes out hiking the trail, and many ages too— but never, as far as I can remember, anyone who appeared to be more than 50 or 60 years old. I'm not sure if it's just the Midwest culture or if I tend to hike at different times than older people would, but it's just not something I've ever seen. Thus, when I was on trail and saw a gray-haired person miles from the nearest road, it really stuck with me.

      2. Everyone in my family and most people in my group of friends, even those who were very active in their 30s and 40s, have slowed down or become incapable of hiking very far once they reach their 50s and 60s. For instance, my dad can barely walk a couple miles on flat ground because he has very bad joints, and my mom can't walk much farther because of a medical condition she developed in her late 40s. All four of my grandparents (and grandparents-in-law) were hobbled by various ailments by the time they were in their early 60s.

      So, when I see a woman my grandmother's age hiking a trail that I, with my young limbs and young joints, am struggling to hike, it really impresses me— because it's something outside of my experience. But a woman hiking was outside the firefighters' experience, too, so I guess this is all just confirming what you've said. ;)

      Anyway, thanks for helping me think about a different perspective.

      With respect,