So Long Summer (day 123/mile 2402)

We have dubbed Washington “The ‘Shroom State.” Not because of a hallucinogenic experience, but because oodles of toadstools have lined the trail since we crossed the border. They come in every shape, size, form and color that one could imagine. It helps the miles pass by more quickly to play ‘Count the Amanita mushrooms’ or other fungus games. One day I even found mushrooms falling from the sky, only to turn around and find Gus spearing mushrooms with his hiking poles and propelling them over my head to rain down on the trail in front of me. Yeah. Fun Gus.

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Walking across the Bridge of the Gods into Washington was a supernal experience. Despite the fact that there was no pedestrian walkway or shoulder over the two-lane bridge. Despite the fact that the bridge had a grated floor, where we could see 100 feet down to the river flowing below, seriously challenging my fear of heights. Despite the grumpy man at the toll booth, who had, maybe, seen one too many PCT hikers, telling us to ” walk on the left side, so you’ll see the car that hits you.” Despite these things, the feeling was sublime. Since our dad had kicked us out of the car at the Mexican border nearly four months before, we had traveled 2155 miles by good old step-by-step walking, and we were finally back in our home state. The home-land.

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Having slept at nearly sea-level, down in the Columbia River gorge, the night before, we had to climb and climb, and climb and climb and climb to get back up into the mountains. We continued up switchbacks for what seemed like days, but what really was about 11 miles. However, the first five miles of Washington, before the ascent started, were absolutely euphoric. The air seemed fresher, the forest more interesting, the water was cleaner…We were buoyed by the knowledge that it wouldn’t be long before we would be hiking by the triumvirate of our home mountains (Adams, Rainier and St. Helens). And that the trail would soon take us over the three ski resorts that we were raised on: White Pass, Crystal and Snoqualmie. And most exciting of all, the Trail Angels throughout Washington would be the familiar faces of friends and family. So, exuberated by these thoughts, the seemingly interminable switchbacks were much more bearable than they would have been otherwise.

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(Mile 2200 and new shoes)

The next day we meandered through the Indian Heaven Wilderness, unable to resist stopping at many of the beautiful blue alpine lakes for a rest or a swim. We ran into a group of middle-aged men out for a ‘boys weekend,’ who paid us homage and literally kow-towed to us right there at our feet on the trail. They praised us for being such ‘mountain people,’ but we told them that they were gravely mistaken and that your average boy-scout has a more extensive knowledge of survival skills than we do. After four months on the trail we are very proficient at making mac ‘n cheese and following a (very well-marked) trail. Half the time our maps don’t even download or our phones are dead. But that is all. We thanked them for their reverence nonetheless. That night we hiked late (like 11 PM) and found a nice flat place on the trail to sleep.

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Day 116 brought with it views of Mt. Adams galore. We approached the barren south side and skirted around her west face, crossing many a river in the process. At one point we were only three miles from the 12, 281 ft. summit. Had we the time, energy, or will, It would have been a glorious day to climb. The north face of Mt. Adams was almost completely covered in snow and looked much more like the mountain I was used to seeing from the Tacoma area. The day was splendid, as we soaked up the Washington beauty.

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Saturday, however, took a turn for the hungry. As we left Mt. Adams Wilderness and entered back into the no-mans-land of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, we realized that we were cutting it close with what we had in our food bags. Somehow, trying to ration and knowing that you only have x amount of calories left to eat gives you the urge to eat that much more. I resorted to the infamous tuna poptart sandwich (sweet & salty, protein & carbs) and Gus to the ‘mix-everything-left-in-your-food-bag-and-cook-it’ tactic. That night we broke down and did that which we had never done before – that is, ask weekend backpackers if they had any food to spare. Luckily it was a Saturday, and furthermore, we had made it into one of the most beautiful places in the world-the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Thus, there were weekend adventurers galore. One group was generous enough to gift us with a bag of salted nuts, jerky and even a fresh cucumber from a hiker’s garden. We thanked them profusely and made it about five minutes down the trail before stopping to devour our plunder. Hungry is as hungry does, I guess.

The next chapter of Washington brought us the highlight of our trip so far: the Goat Rocks. We walked from Snowgrass Flats over the Knife’s Edge just as the sun was rising and were treated to a pink and purple alpenglow on both Rainier and Adams.

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We were treated to a wonderful night and delicious dinner at Tatoosh Meadows in Packwood. So many thanks to Melisa, Jill, Tricia, our Mom and Dad, and the dog pack, for coming out and being such wonderful hosts. It felt like a night in heaven.

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After being dropped off at White Pass Kracker Barrel Store around 11 am the next morning, we found it difficult to get back out onto the trail. In part, because a pretty consistent drizzle had commenced with no signs of stopping anytime soon, but also because a pretty constant stream of fellow PCT hikers had found their way into the store/cafĂ© and we had pretty much taken over. We reconnected with a few different people we hadn’t seen in a couple weeks, but we were most excited about seeing some people who we hadn’t seen since the desert. We even saw one guy that we hadn’t seen since the first day of the trail, down at Lake Morena.

I’d say about a third of the other thru-hikers we’ve met are like us — newbies to the whole long-distance thru-hiking thing. The remaining two thirds have hiked some other 700+ mile long distance trail, the most common being the Appalachian Trail (the AT). It was fun to see some of the other newbies we ‘d last seen 1700 miles before. They seemed older and wiser in the ways of the trail; we only hope we gave them somewhat the same impression. Not only are we rookies in the thru-hiking game, but we are young-uns as well. Just last week we met our first other hikers who recently graduated from high-school. They were the only other two male hikers with conspicuously clean-shaven faces. We’ve met a few other hikers recently graduated from college but I’d say the average age of fellow PCT-ers ranges from 26-45 (ish). There are a few inspiring white-haired souls roaming the trail as well. I hope that I am half as fit as they are when I reach that age.

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We’d heard mixed reviews about the White Pass to Snoqualmie section; beautiful views of Rainier, but lots of hiking through logged forests. Unfortunately, we had an experience similar to the one we had in Jeff Park. Rainier was nowhere to be seen. For 100 miles we hiked in and out of the clouds and rain. We even made it into the boundaries of Mt. Rainier National Park without once seeing our glorious mountain. However, we barely noticed the lack of view due the bounty of huckleberries that lined the trail almost the whole way through this section. It was a constant struggle of will power to keep on going and not stop for hours to pick. There was always a bush with more berries, bigger berries, bluer, sweeter berries. We also discovered at least three different species of huckleberries along the trail, and became quite the connoisseurs of the subtle huckleberry flavor.

While the lack of views did not bother us, knowing quite well that we would have limitless views of Rainier when we got home, autumn’s dramatic entrance into our trail experience was a different story. The seasons are a-changing in Washington. The two most consequential developments to our life on the trail are 1: shorter days and 2: more moisture. In the desert in the summer we could walk from 5 am to 10 pm without turning on our flashlights; almost 17 hours of pure, uninterrupted, blissful walking. These days we get about 13 hours of light. This translates into less walking, and thus, lower mileage. The number of hours of walking you do a day translates directly to how fast you get to Canada. As far as walking goes, even the ‘fast’ walkers only go about three miles an hour. There is not much variety in speed, like there is in running. For example, the two speed record holders this year did the trail in 59/60 days not by walking significantly faster than all us other thru-hikers, but by walking from 4 am to midnight every day.

Constant moisture is another adjustment that we are trying to get used to. From White Pass to Snoqualmie, there was almost constant drizzle, rain or mist. Since our sleeping bags and warmest layers are down, and down becomes worthless when wet, it has become our biggest challenge to protect those feathery essentials from the Washington’s autumn dampness. Other harbingers of fall have been the slow transition of green to red in the trees and bushes lining the trail, and the crisp, cold smell that is distinct to this time of year.

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(Our best view of Rainier in Mt. Rainier National Park)

After four days of soggy hiking, we walked across the slopes of Snoqualmie Pass, the same slope on which I painfully learned to snowboard. We were greeted by our mom and Kava and were driven down I-90, to highway 18, onto I-5 and back into the beautiful city of Tacoma for a day off.
Today (Saturday), we relaxed by attending Etta Projects 10th Birthday celebration where we drank the Etta brew, listened to some great live music and celebrated surpassing our fundraising goal of raising $1 per mile that each of us walk ($5,326). Thank you to ALL of you lovely people who donated. We raised over $6800 to go towards the many wonderful projects Etta Projects has going, including building water filtration systems and ecological latrines in rural villages in Bolivia. For more information on this fantastic organization visit ettaprojects.org.

20130921-210318.jpg (Executive Director of Etta Projects Pennye Nixon)

We head back out to the trail tomorrow for our last and final stretch. 270 miles to go. We’re hoping hard that the snow in the Northern Cascades will hold off for just two weeks longer and that the colors and crispness, rather than the damp and coldness, will define our final fall days on the trail.

Until next time,
Elena

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5 thoughts on “So Long Summer (day 123/mile 2402)

  1. LOVE the view of Ranier! lol.
    Did you stop at the ice cream shop on the Columbia River? According to the book ‘Wild’ ice cream there was like a trophy.
    Loving your adventures.

  2. I have been thinking of you lots as the days have gotten cooler and the rains have come. I too am hoping that the snows hold off. Our trip into Seven Lakes Basin was a mushroom sighting orgy too. Lots of them. Boletes which are edible but we didn’t stop to gather though they were tempting. Seems to be a good mushroom year. Lots of chanterelles. (pizza, pasta sauce, quiche) Am also reading Wild which I am enjoying. Talk about a newbie! But she did it.Or at least a part of it. Today is cool and damp. More so for you, I am sure. Stay warm and dry. My thoughts run with you all love susie

    On 9/21/13, From Mexico to Canada with a hint of America

  3. Sending you guys good energy. This weather is nothing to mess with. Wait it out, find your opening and go for it. Your blog is superb, excellent balance of great photos and clear writing. Keep your wits about you on this last little bit and come back to tell your tale.

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