September 22nd, Monday
2541.2 to 2560ish
That morning we glanced outside the rainfly to see ominous clouds gathered above our semicircle of trees. The ring of mountains in the distance were lit up with a pink sunrise and bright golden clouds, but dark clouds were encroaching. We watched the mountains and sunrise clouds in awe until a sheet of driving rain and steam rising from the Siuattle River Gorge obscured them. A few minutes later, it began raining on us. Zach and I waited for it to let up, and when it stopped raining quite as hard, we jumped out and packed up as quickly as we could, trying to stay under the shelter of the trees.
Our camping neighbor was up and at ‘em, crouched over her Jetboil making oatmeal. She introduced herself as Ouzel— a native of this region, she was taking a month to hike the Washington section. She said that the forecast, the last time she had seen it a couple days ago, looked grim: snow was on its way. “As much as a couple of feet,” she said.
This struck fear into my heart. We were not equipped for snow. If it was as bad as she was predicting, we might have to stop hiking until it cleared. We really, really didn’t want that delay.
Nothing to do but keep hiking. We started walking at a pretty decent hour, along a narrow path between a low cover of huckleberry bushes. Although only a mist was falling, the rain-drenched bushes soaked our pant legs within minutes, and we shivered as we hiked along, slowly absorbing all the water around us. Zach stubbed his toe on a root so hard that he cried. Our feet squelched with icy water and I couldn’t feel my toes.
Still, the sun came out in fits and starts, and whenever it touched us, it brought us warmth and hope that the rain wasn’t going to last all day. We plunged further into the valley, hiking through rain-drenched moss-covered fungus-riddled woods. Everything the sun touched steamed like a hot meal on a cold day, creating an unearthly fog rising all around us.
We hiked into an old-growth forest, where the trees were huge and raggedy. We were following a new PCT route. It was seven miles longer than the previous route, but it crossed the raging Siuattle River at an actual bridge instead of a few logs. The longer route was definitely worth it to us.
The bridge was an impressive construction, especially considering the remote location: it was about forty feet long, more of a boardwalk than anything else. Its center was bathed in sunlight, so we sat down on the wet wood, with a foaming brown river beneath us, and ate “lunch” (nuts and Starbursts). We pulled off our wet shoes and socks and tried to let them dry. They steamed in the sunlight, but the air was simply too humid to dry anything.
We put on new socks, hanging the wet ones on the outside of our packs, then put our cold wet shoes back on and kept hiking, out of the river gorge. We struggled up the ascent, with our inadequate lunch doing little to help us.
Being cold and wet made me feel like I was burning twice as many calories, but since we were near resupply (we’d get to Stehekin tomorrow), we only had a few snacks left. By the top of the hill, I felt ready to eat my own leg, and I felt tears fighting toward my eyes with determination. Zach, seeing I was on the edge of a breakdown, announced that we were going to stop and have supper even though it was only 3:30.
Zach set up the stove in a little camping area while I went to gather water. I was still cold, and the water involved a scramble down a steep bank. As I did so, my feet hit the rocky bank and a splintering pain shot up one of my shins. Gasping in pain, I realized that I had a shin splint. From the feel of it, a bad one.
Even though my shin splint in the desert had magically vanished, I couldn’t expect the same thing to happen with this one. I was hungry and wet and cold and scared and in pain, and I began blubbering. I cried as I filled up the water bottle, and I cried as I filtered it, and I cried as I walked back to join Zachary. He asked what was wrong and I said I had a shin splint, and he quickly handed me a bowl of mashed potatoes like it was medicine. At this point I was crying so hard that I couldn’t even eat. Zach fixed me in a severe glare until I finally got ahold of myself enough to eat a few bites, and then a few more. At last I had eaten the whole bowl, and the warm food and simple-carbs rush made me feel like life wasn’t completely terrible now.
I rested my leg, elevating it, for a while, but Zach and I agreed to hike on as far as we could. We definitely wanted to get to Stehekin tomorrow. Zach gave me both trekking poles and I relied heavily on them, limping along after him. Despite the pain in my shin, I was in decidedly better spirits. Mashed potatoes to the rescue!
We climbed a mountain, leaving the forest for a mix of meadows and groves of trees. We snacked on huckleberries, hopped over rills, wound through the thick turf, and at last decided to camp at a designated spot in an alpine meadow near a slope full of trees. We limped over, crossing a meandering stream, and found a flat dusty spot where we were allowed to camp.
Ouzel was there again, and we chatted with her some more. We learned that she worked at the North Cascades National Park (where we’d be hiking in a few days), keeping an eye on the bird population there and cross-referencing with other wilderness areas to keep track of the ecological health of the region. Pretty fascinating!
Since we’d already eaten dinner, we decided that we would just have a snack. We made a batch of oatmeal, and huddled in our tent to eat it, sitting on the damp polyester. Then we snuggled in, feeling damp but not too cold, and passed out.