September 4, 2015
Tentsite before Walupt Lake Trail Junction (2269.1) to Tentsite before Hidden Spring (2293.1)
24.0 PCT miles today
2327.7 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + 5,036 ft, – 5,297 ft
You’ll want to begin with a beautiful and epic wilderness area. Sprinkle in some unique wildlife, like mountain goats, llamas, and marmots. Add in 2 passes, one of which must follow a steep and narrow ridge with cliffs on either side. And finally, stir it all together with freezing temperatures and an afternoon snowstorm. It may end in disaster, but if it doesn’t, you will have something with just the right balance of fun, beauty, challenge, and discomfort that it will become the adventure you talk about for years to come.
We could not have ever imagined a day like today. It ranks right up there with some of our craziest adventures, including bushwhacking through the forests of South America and camping in a foot of fresh snow outside of Idyllwild, California. We knew to expect some nice scenery, and we knew from the maps that we had 2 passes to go over, but we didn’t know that a massive storm and cold front was blowing in or that “Knife’s Edge”, our second pass, was so incredibly extreme.
Our morning started out happy and peaceful. We woke up to blue skies, which we thanked Washington for at least a dozen times, and we walked north with a bounce in our step as we anticipated the long-awaited Goat Rocks. About 12 miles in we finally met up with the portion of trail that I had hiked years before and a couple miles later we were standing at Cispus Pass marveling at the peaks and final remaining glacier across the valley from us. The skies above us were still blue, but some clouds seemed to be appearing from nowhere, and we took note that our next pass was still about 6 miles away. Even though it would be lunchtime soon, we agreed that we’d stave off our hunger with some Pop Tarts, get over the pass before the weather turned, and then eat lunch on the other side. We hadn’t seen any other hikers all day, but as we wove our way down and around a beautiful bowl filled with creeks and waterfalls, we came upon a family whose blog I had seen a few weeks back. I forgot to catch their names, but this family has hiked continuous steps all the way from Campo with their 15 year old son and 10 year old daughter. It was great to run into these inspiring people, but unfortunately the 15 year old was having some knee pain and they were getting concerned about how they’d make it to White Pass, let alone Canada. We wished we could have helped more, but we did have some tape for them to use, and we certainly hope that things will improve and that they can continue to the end.
As we neared our next pass, coined “Knife’s Edge”, the clouds filled in the sky and a small sprinkling rain quickly turned into hail. We stopped near Snowgrass Flats to put on our rain gear and eat our snack, and then we began our ascent, happy to finally be back in the mountains and not even minding the weather much since it was making for mesmerizing skies and a whole ambiance of mystery and suspense.
The hail turned to blowing snow right as we reached the beginning of Knife’s Edge (more commonly known as Old Snowy Mountain) and ran into our friend Speakerboxx. Spox, as we call him, was hesitant to continue into the snow-covered rock field since the trail was hard to follow and visibility was lessening by the minute, but we convinced him to follow us and we all began what would become a harrowing and death-defying 3 miles of mountaineering. Snow covered the ground within minutes and what would have been tricky scrambling over loose rocks, with an especially high-risk, high consequence fall off either side, became an even more perilous climb across an icy ridge without even a clear trail to follow. We took our time carefully choosing our steps, each of us lost in concentration and the sound of blowing wind filling our heads. Pickles and I were elated to be back in snow and stood flabbergasted at some of the views that would appear when one cloud or another would lift or temporarily move aside. For much of the hike along the stormy ridge we stayed dry and warm, so we found little to complain about and actually felt invigorated by the extra challenge. It wasn’t until we began to drop in elevation that our bodies finally succumbed to the cold and we put on our rain pants, an hour too late.
At around 3pm, after over 3 hours of intense hiking, we decided to stop in a patch of trees for lunch. It was by far the coldest and wettest lunch of our trip, and we got back on the trail 30 minutes later more miserable than we had been before we stopped. We did make Top Ramen, our first hot lunch of the PCT, which proved to be a great idea as it warmed us from the inside out and gave us just enough energy to make it to camp.
As we dropped in elevation the snow turned to slush and we found ourselves getting increasingly cold and damp. Even our umbrellas became heavy with the wet snow and had to be shaken off every few minutes. The trail became horrendous, covered everywhere in either mud or icy cold puddles, forcing us to walk with our feet on either side of the trail or face the especially uncomfortable sensation of completely filling a shoe with dirty ice water and then having to wait for it to warm back up as we walked.
We finally got to camp at around 6pm, a couple miles short of our original destination, but still plenty satisfied with our 24 miles. We quickly set up the tent, thankful beyond measure that the rain finally chose to let up for the evening, and then began the painful process of defrosting our bodies. My feet and hands ached with the cold for a good 15 minutes before finally feeling normal again, and even then we were still subject to damp clothes and partially soaked sleeping bags. Our trash bag system obviously isn’t a match for Washington’s weather so we’ll be double bagging just as soon as we get to town. The discovery that Pickles and my sleeping bags zip together has saved this night. I’m not sure I’d stay warm enough alone, but between the two of us, and the exhaustion that we feel after such a challenging and adventurous day, I think we just might get a good night of sleep and wake up in the morning more than ready to hike ourselves into the warmth and comfort of a hotel room in White Pass, Washington.