GO TO THE MOUNTAIN
PCT DAY 33: Friday July 28, 2017
Mile 2272.1 – Mile 2292.4
20.3 miles (33 km)
“Don’t climb mountains so that people can see you. Climb mountains so that you can see the world.” David McCullough Jr. And the mountain does not have to be very big to get a sense of how small and unimportant we are in this world.
Hiking away from my campsite this morning I thought my heart would burst with wonder and joy. I was so happy that I camped 2 miles short of the Old Man Snowy mountain and the famed Goat Rocks Knife Edge traverse. Because, this morning as I started up the climb I had the most sensational view of the sunrise behind me toward the north face of Mt Adams, Mt St Helens and a huge fog filled valley in between. As the sun rose, the light changed illuminating more of the landscape spread before me. I knew this was going to a special morning because I still had higher to climb.
My adrenaline was already on a slow drip. Nerves about what the Knife Edge would be like this morning were held at bay by the distraction of the scenery behind me and in front of me. At 7,000 feet, the Goat Rocks Knife Edge traverse is the highest point of the PCT in Washington. And due to its exposure, it is described as the most dangerous section of the PCT in Oregon and Washington. I kept stopping to take pictures really wishing for time and this fabulous light to stand still. Just before the Old Snowy alternative to the PCT route there were two very long patches of snow. As the sun had not hit them yet they were icy but easy to walk on as they had very well worn tracks through. Two marmots, still in the winter furry coats, were out guarding their patch of rocks over which I had to walk. They looked so cute.
I was well above the tree line, the sky was clear and there was hardly any wind. Perfect conditions to do the Knife Edge traverse.
Hammer described the traverse along slate shingles which made a tinkling sound when you walk on them. My imagination worked overtime, thinking the length of it would be on this loose slippery stone barely a foot wide, with sheer drops to either side. As I approached Old Man Snowy, over a series of switchbacks it was difficult to see how there could be a trail here. It is possible to go to the summit of Old Man Snowy over a rock scramble above me. But it was not for me, I was high enough already. From here the trail does follow a narrow path along the spine of the Goat Rocks to the north, with a view of Mt Rainier in line with it.
My nerves were calmed by the breathaking landscape on such a lovely day. Before descending through the shingled section, I could see all three volcanos with deep river valleys below me.
It was so spectacular I really did not want to move. But eventually I descended to a saddle and found a spot to sit and have breakfast. I spent a pleasant half hour absorbing the scenery that I was walking through. My contemplation in the silence of the mountain was interrupted by voices. It was Scale and Snail (Lindsey and her Dad Jeff) who were southbound section hiking. Wonderful to have someone to talk to about the splendour of this location. We talked about many things while they caught their breath. And then it was time to move on.
From the saddle the trail ascends another knoll before starting a really tricky descent to a georgeous, wildflower filled valley below. Again it is difficult to get a sense of the vastness. I took a photo of southbound hikers on top of the knoll I was approaching. They are simply dwarfed by the surrounds.
From the top of the knoll the trail starts a deep descent. I found a few early sections of this descent tricky as parts were very steep, the edges were eroded and it was like stepping on marbles all on a steep downhill slope. Slow and steady I made it, consciously trying to walk in a relaxed manner, rather then be rigid with fear of sliding.
As I descended to the glacial valley below I could feel the adrenaline charge leaving my body, to be replaced by a terrific sense of euphoria. The beauty of the wildflower covered slopes, disected by numerous snowmelt streams was breathaking in a very gentle kind of way. My heart was bursting with joy. My cup of happiness was overflowing…..such a glorious morning. Impossible not be happy, overjoyed by simply being alive!
This is a section of trail to be hiked slowly, if conditions permit. I covered 6 miles in 6 hours and took hundreds of pictures. Eventually the trail left this volcanic, glacial and wildflower splendour behind to enter a closed forest. It was 8 miles of hiking downhill and then uphill through dappled shade with a cool breeze blowing. It was great hiking conditions, during which I could reflect on the morning. Before commencing the final 6 mile descent to White Pass there was another view towards Mt Rainier which is now getting so much closer.
Just after the chairlift, which I coud see through the trees, the trail becomes quite degraded. This slowed my downhill run a bit. I made it to Highway 12 and White Pass just after 6pm, through another mosquito run. I was happy, I didn’t care how much blood they took. About half a mile of highway walking and I was at the Kracker Barrel gas station to pick up my resupply. I got a room at the lodgings above the gas station, for a rest day tomorrow. Shower and laundry are done and I have crispy, clean bed linen. Life is good, it has been a pretty perfect day.