Monthly Archives: September 2013

Soggy Update

I don’t really know what day number it is or what mile we are at. But I can tell you that the section between Skykomish and Stehekin was one of the most challenging of the trail. It’s been raining and it’s been cold, and the forecast is for more rain and lots of snow at higher elevations. We hiked through in misery, including a 25-mile day climbing 8000 ft. in elevation, dropping 8500 ft. and finally missing our campsite in the dark by half a mile.

We are something like 80 miles from the border. We intend to hike on but are unsure of what exactly the plan is going to be. We might hitch into a larger town for winter gear, we might push through the snow, we might take a lower route. Hopefully the next post will include pictures of us at the Northern Terminus. Stay tuned and wish us luck.

Day 152, Mile 2476.0 – The Stormy Northwest

On our first zero in Snoqualmie, we headed to Tacoma to attend a wedding of two of our college friends (congratulations, Jess and Ryan!). It was great to see old friends all in the same place again, but it was hard to keep up with them – we were pretty exhausted, and our metabolisms are so out of wack these days that it’s difficult for us to drink more than one or two cocktails. The next two zeros were spent attempting to relax, and doing our regular town chores: laundry, blogging, resupply, etc. We also helped Jonathan, Ashleigh’s brother, gear up to hike with us on the next section from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass.

On Tuesday, we were dropped off by Jonathan’s wife Lindsey and hit the trail. The weather forecast indicated the possibility of rain over the next few days, but we were anxious to get going. It soon began to sprinkle on us lightly, but we paid it little mind and kept on hiking. But the sprinkle soon turned to a drizzle, and then to rain. We stopped about 8 miles in and decided to pitch our tents and hunker down, as the wind was blowing and it was getting very cold. We spent that cold, soggy afternoon side by side in our tents, tucked into our sleeping bags. We cooked dinner under the vestibules of our tents and tried to sleep as the rain pattered on our tent and the temperature dropped into the 30s.

The next morning, there was a break in the rain, and over breakfast, we decided on a plan. It had rained all night, and we were feeling pretty miserable and cold. Unfortunately, Jonathan was forced to turn back and hike home – the sleeping bag he’d brought wasn’t warm enough, and he’d had a a horrible sleepless night. We were extremely tempted to go with him, but it is harder to hike south than it is to face the rain. So we said goodbye and hiked into the drizzle of the Great Northwest.

It was a miserable hike for the first half of the day. My gloves were soaking wet from the day before, so my hands were freezing. It rained on as we hiked through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, a section that is supposedly one of the most scenic on the trail. We couldn’t see anything; the low clouds obscured everything except the occasional silhouettes of trees in the distance. But after a cold soggy lunch, we started noticing small holes of blue sky, and soon the patches of blue expanded, and then… SUNSHINE! It wasn’t exactly warm, but at least it wasn’t raining.

The rest of the section was mostly sunny, but the nights were freezing, and we shivered as we set up and broke down camp each day. The sun is setting earlier and earlier these days, and rising later and later. In the evening, it’s getting increasingly difficult to cram in the miles before it gets dark, and getting out of our sleeping bag while it’s dark out in the morning is extremely hard as well.

On Friday, we made it to Stevens Pass and hitched a ride into the nearby town of Skykomish. The forecast was calling for rain again that night, so we booked a room at the local motel with Shedder and ate a big, satisfying meal at the cafe. The restaurant was filled with anxious hikers, all talking about the weather. We stared at the forecast on my cell phone and quickly got discouraged. It was calling for rain for the next five days. Further north, the forecast was even more ominous, with snow levels dropping to 5,500 feet (an elevation that the PCT is frequently above). It’s the first storm of the fall, bringing wind, rain, snow, and temperatures in the 20s and 30s. It feels much too soon for this type of weather. We were planning to finish by October 1st or 2nd in order to beat the weather, but it looks like we are going to face it now. Our greatest fear is being snowed out a few dozen miles from the border, and unable to finish the hike. We have just under 200 miles to go – mileage we could typically cover in less than 10 days – but suddenly it seems like an incredible distance.

Our plan is to wait out the storm for a couple of days, and then hike into it, in hopes that it will break partway through the next section (i.e., we’re hoping to be miserable for only two or three days, instead of five). Luckily, Jonathan was able to come fetch us at Stevens Pass and bring us back to Snoqualmie, where we can rest and make a run to REI to pick up some winter gear. Only one resupply point lies between us and Canada (the small town of Stehekin), but it looks like the 104 miles between here and there may be our most difficult yet.

We are way too close to even consider quitting. So wish us luck. And maybe make a sacrifice to the sun gods.


At the Snoqualmie Pass trailhead with Jonathan


Ashe and Jonathan checking out Kendall Katwalk – a section of trail that was created by blowing out the side of a cliff with dynamite. Supposedly there are some great views here, but unfortunately we couldn’t see anything.


Jonathan at the Katwalk


Ashe checking out the scene

Looking over the edge of the Katwalk.

Looking over the edge of the Katwalk – a 1,200 foot drop


On day two, our rain mitts made their first appearance of the trip.


A rainy morning at camp – not quite the experience we’d hoped for Jonathan


An example of our amazing views over the first two days


Slowly, the clouds started to dissipate.


We started to get some nice views.


We’re still seeing tons of awesome looking mushrooms. These are our favorite.




Hiking in the sunshine


Alpine Lakes Wilderness


Looking down at beautiful Trap Lake

The Misery Movie

We recently ran into an old friend from down the trail named Manchurian who we hadn’t seen in more than 1000 miles. It was wonderful to catch up with him, and when we asked how the trail had been going, he said, “I can only describe it as an adventure.” Adventure. This is probably the single best way to describe the trail. Using the word “adventure” invokes not only the good, triumphant, and beautiful times, but the bad, uncertain, and miserable times as well. He described to us an idea he had for a short movie compilation about the trail, which I wish we could have thought up back in Southern California: the misery movie.

When you look at online trail journals or YouTube videos about the PCT, you mostly find accounts of the glorious times during someone’s hike… photos and videos of them standing on top of Mt. Whitney, wandering in hushed awe through beautiful lush woods, smiling faces as they cross sunny meadows, swimming in hot springs and clear blue alpine lakes, hiking at sunset with stunning white snowy peaks in the background, the elation of coming across trail magic, triumphantly drinking beers in town, peaceful encounters with bears, elk, birds, etc., etc… And don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of that. If the trail weren’t glorious, we wouldn’t be out here. But this portrayal of the PCT omits a pretty huge aspect of thru hiking: misery.

For every wonderful thing that happens on the trail, there is an equally demoralizing thing that happens, kind of like the trail’s version of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Manchurian’s idea was to make a compilation video of all the bad things that happen. The constant hobbling from wretchedly sore muscles that makes us all look like 90-year-olds (commonly called “the hiker hobble”), the most insane blisters you’ve ever seen, lying awake at night because your body aches too much to get comfortable, or your air mattress has partially deflated, or your tent is dripping condensation on your face, cuts, bruises, rashes, and frequently stubbed toes, stomach problems (due to funky water, a diet based on freeze dried and dehydrated foods, or perhaps just sheer exhaustion – who can tell?), and what it means to have stomach problems when you have to dig your toilet in the ground and ration your toilet paper, exhaustion, heat, cold, wind, rain, hunger, exhaustion, mental breakdowns, putting on cold wet clothes in the morning, trips and falls, bee stings, mosquito bites, biting ants, spiderwebs in the face, food-stealing rodents that chew holes through your pack to get at your trail mix, exhaustion, anxiety about bears, mountain lions, and snakes, deadlines, exhaustion, boredom, monotony, gear failures at inopportune moments, gear repair, resupply boxes that don’t arrive in time or get sent to the wrong place, a never-ending list of errands to do in town, constantly feeling sweaty, filthy, and disgusting, exhaustion, etc. If we could only capture our comrades at their lowest points and compile the videos, it would probably make for an entertaining movie, not to mention educational material for future hikers.

This may seem like a downer of a post, but it’s not meant to be that way. Without all these low points, the highs of the trail wouldn’t feel nearly as high (as cliché as that might sound). I am reminded of our hike around Hat Creek Rim. We hiked the 27-mile waterless stretch mostly in the middle of the day, in 100+ degree weather, drinking hot water, breathing in the dust on the trail, sweating, and feeling disgusting and horrible. By the time we hit the highway and attempted to hitch into the town of Burney, it was getting dark, an hour went by without a single car giving us a glance, and we had just about given up hope. We were going to have to camp next to the highway without water. It was one of our lowest moments on the trail. But just then, a wonderful women pulled over to pick us up. She gave us homemade cookies and a ride to a motel, where we immediately showered and ordered pizza and salad for delivery. We gleefully ate pizza in bed and watched whatever garbage was on TV. It was amazing, and there is no way that eating pizza and watching crummy television would have felt as wonderful in any other context.

Day 145, Mile 2402.0 – The Wonderful Mt. Rainier

The morning after we arrived at White Pass, my mother picked us up at the inn and drove us to the nearby town of Packwood for breakfast, where my sister Kristin, her boyfriend Thomas, and Bob (a family friend) were waiting for us. It was great to see some friendly faces and eat a hot breakfast. But all too soon, we had to get back on the trail. Canada’s call is getting stronger and stronger.

We were planning to hike the 99-mile section to Snoqualmie in four days but only managed to do 16 miles on day one, after spending the morning with my family. We camped by a wonderful lake just off trail. Before setting up camp, I dropped my pack and ran up trail to check for any better campsites. I was jogging slowly when I was stopped by a large female elk in the middle of the trail. She glanced at me with an annoyed look, then jumped down into the bushes off trail. Shortly after that, I came across a meadow with four other elk milling around, including a beautiful male with a large rack of antlers. That night by the lake, we were continuously woken by the heavy steps of elk around our campsite and the sound of them splashing around in the nearby lake and creek. In the morning, as we packed up, we saw two more elk just next to our campsite. They didn’t seem to mind us too much, but unfortunately, they ran off before we could snap any photos.

The next day, we passed into Mt. Rainier National Park. There were stunning views of the mountain all day. The weather was much different from our last section. Almost every day passed without a cloud in the sky. And it got hot, sometimes too hot. Ashe even jumped in a couple of lakes, clothes and all, to cool off.

We’ve been really cruising since leaving the Oregon border, as we had a deadline to meet in Snoqualmie. Two good friends of ours are getting married on the 14th, so we had to arrive here on the 13th. For awhile, we thought about hiking in on the 14th and driving down to the wedding the same day. But we thought better of it, deciding that it might be a little too jarring, and instead pushed hard to arrive on the 13th. As a result, we ended up doing 250 miles in 10 days, and we’re pretty exhausted. We are planning to enjoy three much-needed zeros in Snoqualmie before Jonathan, Ashleigh’s brother, joins us on the trail from here to Steven’s Pass.

Ashe in front of Mt. Rainier

Ashe in front of Mt. Rainier


Mt. Rainier!!


Lush Washington




Mt. Rainier


Huckleberries were growing everywhere along the trail. They were delicious treats as we hiked.


Early morning hiking


Bonus picture: I forgot to post this one in our last entry. This is a view from on top of Old Snowy, with Mt. Adams on the left and Mt. Rainier on the right.

Day 141, Mile 2303.0 – The Two Sides of Washington

There are two things hikers discuss when talking about Washington: the weather and the beauty. We got to experience both in a very clear way during this past section. In six days, we hiked nearly 150 miles from Cascade Locks to White Pass, and we were very thankful that there was a bed and shower at the end of it all.

We spent two not so relaxing but still wonderful zeros in Vancouver, running around doing errands, fixing gear, and eating. Ashleigh’s dad offered to support a slack-pack for our first day out of Cascade Locks. We happily accepted, as Cascade Locks is the lowest point on the trail and there is a considerable climb coming out. So after three wonderful nights in a bed, we woke at 5:30am and left for the trail. We managed to do 30 miles that day, starting at the Bridge of the Gods and the Washington/Oregon border. Ashleigh’s dad was waiting for us at Trout Creek with his friend Tom, along with all our gear and beer and brats for dinner!

The next couple days were spent hiking up and down in the “green tunnel” (heavily forested area). Not many views, and where there were lookouts, all you could see was a grey fog. “It’s like hiking in a cloud,” as one hiker described it. These low hanging clouds made the air moist. We were waking up every morning with our tent and sleeping bag dripping with condensation. Finally, as we rolled into a campsite on Thursday evening, it began to rain – just a light drizzle at first. Thankfully, there was an extremely friendly couple trail angeling at the site. They immediately offered us hot food and had an amazing bonfire going. More than a dozen hikers crowded around to dry off. Then the heavy rain came in. We retreated to our tent and tried to sleep.

In the morning, we woke to the sound of rain still falling on our tent. We laid in our bag and pretended that if we slept a little more, the rain was bound to stop. It didn’t. We reluctantly packed up in the rain, everything soggy and water logged. Other hikers who stayed at the site were equally wet and were hitching rides with the trail angels, hitching some other way, or road walking to Trout Lake, a small nearby town, for relief from the rain. We decided to hike on down the trail through the rain. Forecasts said it should clear up by that afternoon anyway. But as we slogged northward, the rain kept falling. The trail was covered in puddles, some unavoidable, and in some places the trail just turned into an ankle-deep stream of water. We were planning on doing a high 30-mile day that day but only managed 21 before camping. Wet and miserable, we slept, hoping the next day would be dry.

When I poked my head out of the tent the next morning, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Thankful, we hiked for a few hours before finding a sunny meadow, where we laid out all our year to dry. It felt great to finally have everything dry. Eagerly, we hiked on toward the Goat Rocks Wilderness, an area known to be as beautiful as the High Sierra.

Goat Rocks lived up to its reputation. It was stunningly beautiful. After we passed over Cispus Pass, the terrain opened up to a huge valley with amazing waterfalls and a gorgeous sunset. We camped on the side of the valley and took in the views. The next morning we hiked up Old Snowy and caught stunning views of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier. It was bright and sunny as we hiked, and it felt wonderful.

We ended up going slower than expected, due to the difficult terrain and frequent photo ops, and had to hurry down to White Pass to pick up our resupply box before the local store closed. We tried to take a “shortcut” down a ski slope, as recommended by our guide book, but it ended up being a nightmare… we had to scramble down steep rocky slopes and bushwack through thigh-high huckleberry bushes before finally emerging at the highway. It took just as long as the standard route would have. Eventually we made it to the store, picked up our resupply box (along with a couple pizzas) and checked into the local inn.


On the Bridge of the Gods


Hello Washington!!


This is an example of our views the first few days in Washington.


Hiking in the cloud


Our muddy trail


The morning after the rain – sunlight!!!


Drying our gear out in “Dry Meadow.” Seriously, that was the actual name of the meadow.


Fording Mt. Adams Creek was a bit tricky.


Mt. Adams


There have been mushrooms of all shapes and sizes along the trail.


Mt. Rainier


Goat Rocks Wilderness


Goat Rocks


Mt. Rainier


Rainier again


The top of Old Snowy


Hiking along the Knife’s Edge, a ridge with steep dropoffs to glaciers on either side, with Old Snowy in the background


Stunning views in Goat Rocks


Hiking friend Stumblin’ Beef atop a peak on the Knife’s Edge


Looking back on the trail

Day 133, Mile 2155.0 – Good Bye Oregon… HELLOOOO Washington!

Oregon has a reputation on the trail as being flat (relative to the rest of the PCT). With terrain that allows you to put in big miles every day, you can fly in Oregon. And it’s true. You can. But no one ever mentions how amazingly beautiful Oregon is, or how nice Oregonians are. We have basically fallen in love with Oregon, even with the record rain fall this past month. It has been epically gorgeous and filled with amazing people.

We left Elk Lake Resort after a rainy night sleeping on their porch, and headed north. We wanted to put in a few days of hiking in the Sisters Wilderness before hitching out to Bend, Oregon for an unscheduled break. The Sisters Wilderness was gorgeous, with the Three Sisters (three volcanic peaks in a row) looming over us as we hiked. We had it all planned out. On our second day out from Elk Lake, we would push for a 35-mile day to Santiam Pass, where we would hitch to Bend. We were only 15 miles into the long day and had stopped for a short lunch when suddenly, our old friend Cuddles stumbled out of the woods to join us. We hadn’t seen him for more than 1000 miles!!! He told us he intended to hitch into Bend from McKenzie Pass, which was only 2 miles away (as opposed to 20). We were easily persuaded to go along with him…

Bend is mainly known for one thing among hikers: beer. Lots of beer. There are some 20 breweries in Bend. We managed to hit a few in the two days we were there but not nearly as many as we would have liked. Town days for hikers can be extremely stressful. There are so many errands to run: laundry, blog, resupply, email, bank, fix gear, clean gear, let gear dry, call family, call gear companies, organize mailings of other resupplies or new shoes, and a lot of other random things that need to be done while you have cell service and access to civilization. But all hikers really want to do is eat and relax. I can’t describe how exhausted we are all the time, mentally and physically. It’s hard to get everything done, and sometimes you don’t even feel like you’ve had a break at all. That said, we had a pretty great time in Bend that involved lots of beer, the most insane nachos I’ve ever had, and an amazing night of karaoke.

Leaving Bend, we passed the 2000 mile mark (which felt pretty anti-climatic) and continued our trek across Oregon, passing peak after peak… seeing them grow in the distance, standing next to them, then watching them recede into the horizon. Oregon really has a way of making you feel the distance you’re covering. We passed by the South Sister, Middle Sister, and North Sister, moved on past Broken Top, Mt. Washington, and Three Fingered Jack, then past the amazing Mt. Jefferson, and finally to Mt. Hood.

The section following Mt. Jefferson offered particularly mild terrain, and we decided to try for a 40-mile day – partly to make up for our unscheduled stop in Bend, but mostly just to see if we could. We were on the trail by 5am, had hiked 20 miles by lunch at 11:30am, and sure enough, had banged out 40 miles by 7:30pm. Had there been more daylight remaining, we might have tried for 50! Six months ago, I would have considered it insane to hike 40 miles in one day, but now it doesn’t seem all that difficult. It’s remarkable what your body can adapt to.

Following our big day, we were left with an easy 15-mile hike to Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood, where we stopped to pick up a resupply box and to gorge ourselves on their famous lunch buffet. It was pretty surreal to reach Mt. Hood. It holds a special place in Ashleigh’s heart, as she spent a lot of time there as a child, skiing in the winter. Hiking north from Mt. Hood, we also caught our first sight of the mountains in Washington that we’ll soon pass: Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Rainier, the latter holding a special place in my heart as the peak that loomed over my hometown of Olympia. It feels like we are home.

On our final push through Oregon, we took the highly popular Eagle Creek Trail as an alternate to the PCT. Almost all thru hikers take this trail, as it passes a series of amazing waterfalls. This included Ramona Falls, Punch Bowl Falls, and the incredible Tunnel Falls, which the trail actually passes behind. From there, it was a short hike until we caught our first glimpse of the Columbia River, which separates Oregon from Washington. We hiked along it until we arrived in Cascade Locks below the Bridge of the Gods, where Ashleigh’s father met us with sandwich fixings and beer. We drove back to Vancouver, Washington (where Ashleigh grew up) for some much-needed down time. When we return to the trail, there will be only one more state to walk through, only 505 miles to go.


The morning we left Elk Lake, hikers crowded around a small fire to dry their wet gear and clothing.


Senor Verde hikes ahead of us toward the North Sister.


Left to Right: Bird-Dog, Leaky, Verde, Horny Toad, Moonshine, Shedder, Frosty, Goldilocks, and Weeds. The North Sister behind us.


Tent City! You can’t see it in this shot, but the Middle Sister framed our campsite.


Huge chunks of Obsidian were deposited all around a small section of the trail.


Obsidian in the rocks


Climbing the volcanic rocks toward McKenzie Pass


Our first look at Mt. Hood in the distance behind Mt. Jefferson


Shedder and his sign, hitching a ride to Bend


10 Barrel Brewery in Bend. Happiness.


Mile 2000!


Ashleigh sits and contemplates the gravity of our accomplishment.


Rhymenocerous at Three Fingered Jack


Camping under Mt. Jefferson


Hiking away from Mt. Jefferson and having lunch


Cuddles, Shedder, Goldilocks and Frosty!


The view of Mt. Jefferson from the wonderful Olallie Lake, where the staff were incredibly nice to us, and even made us cheeseburgers for dinner.


Ashe was pretty excited when we entered the Mt. Hood Forest.


Approaching Mt. Hood


Mt. Hood


Breakfast at Ramona Falls


Ramona Falls


Carefully crossing Muddy Creek


You can’t really see them, but behind me were Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and our first look at Mt. Rainier.


Ashe on the other side of the AMAZING Tunnel Falls


Tunnel Falls


Tunnel Falls…I need to shave.


Made it to Cascade Locks and the Washington border!! That’s the Bridge of the Gods behind us.