Day 118: Another zero

I spend the day with Jeremy and Tawnya. I eat a lot of food. I get a new water filter and a new water bladder and a new pair of sun gloves, which I’m very excited about. I wore a giant hole through the palm of the old gloves. I upgrade my down jacket, deciding to bring a warmer one back to the trail. Even though we’re currently in a heat wave, the long-range forecast shows frigid temps on the way. 

Delicious dinner made by Jeremy!

I nap and post a few blog entries and organize my resupply. I have an excessive amount of food for the upcoming stretch of trail. I’ll be able to eat to my stomach’s content. 


Day 117: Snoqualmie Pass

22.3 miles (2368.3 to 2390.6), plus 0.2 to Chevron 

The day’s hike to Snoqualmie Pass features steep ups and steep downs and very little flat or nicely sloped trail. Wang and I bravely walk closer to gunfire, then pass by target shooters just out of sight below the trail. She gets ahead of me and I don’t catch up until Mirror Lake, where we eat lunch following a steep, hot climb. 

Mirror Lake

Wang leaves the lake before I do. We’re both meeting family at Snoqualmie Pass, but my meeting isn’t until 6:30 or later, so I splurge on relaxing in the shade at the lake. Finally I hike on. 

The trail is exhausting. Every step I take is on steep uneven ground, or rocks, or exposed root masses. I come upon a woman picking huckleberries. She asks about my hike and is surprised when I tell her I’ve been out here since May and that I started at the Mexican border. She tells me she recently lost her brother. She’ll be spreading his ashes at Lake Chelan, and she’s picking huckleberries because they were his favorite. This sweet, sad story stays with me as I hike. 

Near Snoqualmie Pass, the trail climbs where it should descend. The highway is well below. I’m never going to get there if I keep climbing. The highway climbs too, however, and when I finally get my first glimpse of the pass it’s not as far below as I expected. I walk under ski lifts and into dense forest, then emerge on a gravel road to find a bunch of hikers sitting in chairs eating. Trail magic! I take a few baby carrots and a handful of trail mix and chat for a few minutes before continuing. 

Snoqualmie Pass

Down the road I go. I find my box easily in the Chevron, then sit and wait for my cousin Tawnya (Jeremy’s wife). She find me and takes me home to a dinner of barbecued burgers, fresh greens, and tater tots. Tomorrow, I’ll enjoy what may be my final zero before reaching Canada. 

Day 116: Dreary

23.6 miles on PCT (2344.7 to 2368.3), plus ~0.8 on dirt road and 0.2 to/from spring 

Rain hits my tent during the night. In the morning, my sleeping bag is damp. No wonder – our campsite is inside a cloud. We pack away our wet things and eat eggs and bacon for breakfast, along with green smoothies and fresh melon. Then Wang and I say goodbye and thank you to Jeremy and begin our walk back to the PCT. After a short hike up a narrow dirt road, we find our trail. 

It’s no longer raining – at least, I think not – but the mist is so heavy that it’s practically rain, and the trees wring moisture out of the sky onto my back. I hike with my umbrella up. I started carrying my trekking umbrella again when I entered Washington, and I’m happy to have it today. 

Everything out here is drenched. I manage to stay relatively dry under my umbrella and rain kilt, which blocks rain-soaked plants from dumping their water on my pants. 

At intersections, I see signs with information about Kris Fowler, a hiker who went missing in October of last year. The missing person signs are even more heart breaking in this dreary weather. 

Clouds begin to break up, then quickly reform. Not until noon do we receive consistent sunlight. Wang and I eat lunch on a ridge with a view to the Enchantments – and another plume of smoke. As we hike on, we enjoy views of Rainier and an expanding smoke plume from the Norse Ridge Fire. Since yesterday, part of the trail closure has already reopened: hikers can now get as far as Chinook Pass before having to detour to Government Meadow. As usual, my timing stinks. 

The trail climbs and descends steeply, then does so again. In the distance, the Norse Ridge smoke plume continues to grow. 

Norse Ridge Fire and Mount Rainier.

Wang and I make camp on an abandoned dirt road. We’ll reach Snoqualmie Pass tomorrow afternoon, and may not see each other after that, as our plans differ. She’ll be spending time with a sister, while I’ll go home with my cousin Jeremy for a zero. 

Day 115: White Pass

8.2 miles on PCT (2284.2 to 2292.4), plus 0.3 from Hidden Spring and 1.2 to/from Kracker Barrel 

Wang leaves camp before I do. The trail immediately climbs 1,000 feet. Near the top, there’s supposed to be an outstanding view of Mount Rainier. The smoke is far less dense today; I hope to catch a glimpse of the mountain. On the way up, I spot a Northern Goshawk. Cool! As I come over the ridgetop, the peak appears. It’s beautiful. I’m thankful for this one perfect view. 

Mount Rainier, at last.

Looking back, I can see the highest peaks in Goat Rocks. Seeing them makes me sad. I wish the air had been this clear yesterday. 

Looking back at Goat Rocks.

I enjoy more beautiful, relatively smoke-free views on a traverse across a rainbow colored slope. On the far side, I catch Wang taking a break with a bit of cell reception. We continue together, now heading downhill toward White Pass. Shortly after, we encounter a day hiker coming up the hill. It’s my cousin Jeremy! It’s been many years (a decade or more?) since we’ve seen each other. 

Beautiful, smokey views on the way to White Pass.

Jeremy camped at White Pass last night. He has more than enough food for two hungry hikers, and his timing is perfect for shuttling Wang and I around the new fire closure. 

We walk down to the highway together, then walk to the Kracker Barrel to pick up our boxes. Stranded hikers mill around seeking rides around the closure. I’m lucky my cousin is here. Jeremy, Wang, and I walk back down the road to Jeremy’s campsite at Leech Lake, where he prepares bacon burgers for lunch. There’s coconut milk ice cream for dessert! Wang and I organize our resupplies. The fire closure cuts 50 miles out of the next stretch, so we don’t need all of the food we sent ourselves. 

Trail closed. Again.

As we drive around the fire closure, we see a few hikers walking along the highway. I’m glad not to be doing this one. There are two sections of road work on the highway, for one thing. This detour isn’t documented the way the other was, so locations of water and potential campsites aren’t available. And this closure is brand new. The boundaries are likely to change; I’d hate to get stuck somewhere along the way. 

We take a detour from our detour to enter Mount Rainier National Park and drive up to Sunrise for a spectacular view of Rainier.

Afterward, we continue on Highway 401 until we meet Forest Road 70. We take this up to a smaller road that eventually crosses the PCT. The dirt road soon becomes too narrow and rough even for Jeremy’s 4×4, however, so we turn back and make camp at a horse campground at the end of the road. A short bushwhack leads to a steep drop off with a view of the top of Mount Rainier. Jeremy and I enjoy the view and ponder the abundance of elk tracks in precarious locations. 

Wang and Jeremy in camp.

Clouds move in. The temperature drops. We eat a dinner of hotdogs, salad, and vegetables by the light of our headlamps. Today has been a grand adventure. 

Day 114: Goat Rocks

18.0 miles (2266.2 to 2284.2), plus 0.3 to Hidden Spring

A pair of Great Horned Owls hoots throughout the night. In the morning, smoke chokes out the views. I climb toward Cispus Pass and crest a ridge and enter the Yakima Reservation, and here encounter a red sun hanging above a jagged mountain. I continue toward the pass, photographing the red sun and eerie smokey lighting. 

Hiking toward Cispus Pass.
Cispus Basin

In Cispus Basin the views are smoke-filled but beautiful. Wildflowers abound, including one of my favorites, Anemone. I pass a waterfall. Onward I climb, through forest, into high meadow, then onto rock and finally above tree line. I reach a fork: the PCT heads left, the old PCT (and Knife Edge) continues to the right. 

I head right. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I know I’m not supposed to miss the Knife Edge, and furthermore, a portion of the regular PCT is buried under a snowy chute. I’d rather not traverse that. So I climb steeply on loose rock. I climb over 500 feet in a quarter mile and crest at an old sign marking the old PCT. The summit of Old Snowy is to the right. I’m not that ambitious. I continue to the left. I don’t like the look of the path ahead. I don’t like roller coasters, and this looks like the hiker’s version of a roller coaster: a precarious knife-edged drop down the main trail followed by another knife-edged walk and climb to the far peak – and that’s as far as I can see through the smoke. The view from here is supposed to be unparalleled. Unfortunately today it’s mostly brown smoke. 

Near the top of Knifes Edge.

I descend slowly and carefully, keeping my eyes on my feet, trying to avoid vertigo. There isn’t really a trail here: it’s a rough rocky path straight down the mountain. I look back and gasp. How did I come down that? It’s vertical rock! There’s more to come. 

I descend one step at a time. Below, two hikers are making their way up. Luckily for all of us, there’s a relatively wide spot in the path ahead. I ask one of them to take my picture. We chat for a few minutes, then bid each other farewell. 

On the Knife Edge.

At last I rejoin the regular PCT. Wang isn’t far behind me, having opted out of the Knife Edge and steep climb. I take pictures and wait for her to catch me. 

“You didn’t take the Knife Edge?” I say, wondering why she changed her mind. She was so excited about Goat Rocks. 

“Wait, what?”

Oops. She meant to take the alternate over the Knife Edge, but accidentally took the regular PCT and ended up crossing two sketchy snowfields. The route I took was a bit sketchy, too, but I’m glad I didn’t have to cross that snow. 

Wang and I aren’t sure where the official Knife Edge begins or ends. The path I took definitely qualifies, but so does the trail ahead. It looks impossibly steep and narrow. But it can’t be as bad as it looks, because horses can take this route. 

We hike on. The trail is every bit as bad as it looks. It’s steep. It’s narrow. It’s eroded and slippery with loose rocks. We move slowly up and onto the next ridge and find more Knife Edging ahead. 

Old Snowy, Knife Edge, and Wang.

Suddenly I notice a white blur in the sky, barely visible through the smoke. “Hey, is that Rainier?” At first Wang can’t even see it, it’s so faint, but then she sees what I see and yeah, she agrees that’s probably Rainier. The huge mountain is right in front of us, but it’s invisible. The smoke is that dense. 

We hike slowly over steep trail for the next few miles. We do only 11 miles by 1pm and finally reach a stream and find a campsite with some shade, where we eat lunch. Then there’s more descending, and finally normal tread resumes and I can move at something resembling my normal speed. I’m exhausted. 

Wang and I make camp at Hidden Spring, not as far as I intended to go today, but as far as I’m capable of going. Before this trip, I heard so much about the gorgeous Goat Rocks, but I don’t remember hearing how hard it is. The trail through Goat Rocks is tough. The footing is steep and precarious. Today, the smoke made everything more exhausting. 

I receive a text from Greg on my GPS unit, altering me that the trail is now closed north of White Pass due to wildfires near Mount Rainier. Of course it is. I’ll arrive at White Pass tomorrow. As usual, the fires flare right before I’m due to arrive. Another closure. As of now, there’s no alternate. Looks like I’ll be skipping ahead yet again. 

Day 113: The other Eowyn

26.9 miles (2239.3 to 2266.2)

Around 2am, sprinkles hit my tent. I soon fall back asleep. In the morning, I’m the second to last person to leave camp. I bid goodbye to Mojo and hike north through lava rock to a crossing of Adams Creek. The creek is running fast. The moms I met yesterday told me to head upstream to a log crossing. I hate log crossings, of course, but I check it out anyway. This one is a bunch of small logs crammed together. I crawl across without getting my feet wet. 

Log crossing.

The trail takes me though pretty meadows with views back to Mount Adams. I pass through what I assume should be outstanding views of the surrounding mountains, but today I see only smoke. Smoke is even thicker today than yesterday. I can smell it, and that’s never good.

Mount Adams

I stop for a snack break at Lava Spring, literally a spring pouring out of lava rock. The water is frigid. I’m soon joined by a hiker called Radio, so named because of his voice, which sounds like a radio announcer. We leapfrog for the rest of the day. At our third meeting, he asks how I got the name Eowyn. I give my most succinct response to date: “In Lord of the Rings, Eowyn is the one who slays the Witch King, the one no man can kill; I beat chronic Lyme disease, which is also extremely difficult to do.”

“Cool. I like that story,” he says. 

My trail name narrative has evolved, just as the character herself evolved. Initially, I was Eowyn because I identified with her fear of being caged – in my case by chronic illness. As my PCT journey progressed, I became the other Eowyn, the hero who accomplished great deeds that others could not. Lately I’ve been introducing myself as heroic Eowyn, and that feels right. 

Looking back at Mount Adams through the haze.

I find Wang at a pond-side campsite where I’d planned to stop for lunch. We hang out for a bit before she hikes on ahead. Later, I pass her, but she catches me in the evening as I’m setting up my tent on a knoll above a mostly-dry stream. The air is still smokey, but we’re optimistic about visiting Goat Rocks tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll be able to see more than smoke. 

Day 112: Mount Adams

23.1 miles (2216.2 to 2239.3)

I’m the third hiker (of four) to leave camp in the morning. It’s an easy walk to Trout Lake Creek, where I stop for a snack break. The two ladies who shared last night’s campsite with me are here snacking, too. I sit across from them. Suddenly, something large moves on the side of a tree just behind them. A pine marten! 

“There’s a marten on the tree behind you,” I say. 

They look at me like I don’t know what I’m talking about, but finally they turn around anyway. “Oh,” one says, with obvious surprise, “there is.” 

We’re treated to a great view of the marten as it climbs the tree, then disappears among the upper branches. 

After the creek, I immediately climb 1200 feet, the second half without the benefit of switchbacks. The stretch without switchbacks is steeeep. I’m in my lowest gear, crawling, finally reaching the top. At 10am, the sky is still white. I’m in dense forest; if I ever get an open view, it will probably be filled with smoke. 

At the road to Trout Lake, a green pickup is parked in the intersection. The driver, Gary, is generously providing trail magic in the form of cold drinks and rides to and from the town of Trout Lake. I take an iced tea and sit on the tailgate chatting with him about forest fire and other subjects. 

Shortly after leaving the paved road, I cross a dirt road and enter Mount Adams Wilderness. Now I face another climb, this one of over 2,000 feet. At first, the going is easy. Then there’s a crazy steep section, then I enter a burned area. I catch slivers of views of the surrounding mountains. It’s definitely smokey today. I eat lunch near a spring with two moms and their kids, all of who are returning from a weekend backpacking trip. The moms hiked the PCT together – with their husbands – back in 2000. We share stories. 

I collect water from the spring and continue my uphill slog through the burn. Now and again I glimpse Mount Adams. Around one corner, I see the tip of a huge snowy peak off to the north. Only the bright snowy top of the mountain is visible through the smoke, but it looks like a massive volcano. Mount Rainier? What else could it be?

The snowy tip of Mount Rainier on a smokey day.

I leapfrog with a hiker named Wang. We’re aiming for the same campsite tonight, one where there’s supposed to be a great view of Mount Adams. Finally we pass out of the burn and into live hemlock and fir. I reach the campsite first. As promised, there’s a great view. There’s also someone else already here, a hiker called Mojo. There’s room for more, though, so Wang and I pitch our tents and the three of us eat dinner together. A little later, the two ladies I camped with last night arrive and set up their tents. We all stand around and watch purple alpenglow move up the side of Mount Adams. Photos don’t capture the scene. It’s a special evening. 

My tent and Mount Adams at sunset.

To the west, a bright red sun sinks below the horizon. Our view of the magic is mostly blocked by trees. A trail runs west from our campsite through a meadow toward what looks like an unimpeded view. I run down the trail to where it ends in a steep drop off. Wow. The sky is on fire. Pika meep below as I photograph the sunset. 

Smoke-infused sunset.

What an incredible night at an incredible campsite. I almost hiked on because I prefer camping alone, but I’m so glad I stayed. These are nice people, and we’ve shared a wonderful evening.