A DAY OF SWITCHBACKS
PCT DAY 41: Saturay August 5, 2017
Mile 2412.0- Mile 2435.3
23.3 miles ( 37.3 km)
My day started climbing switchbacks and I finished the day the same way. The smoky haze blocked out any clear distant views of the surrundings.
Sound of rushing water accompanied me out of the Lemah Creek valley this morning. The smoke, from wildfires in Canada, clung to the valley obscuring any distant views as I started to climb out of the valley. It looks like there is little prospect of the smoke clearing anytime soon. From what I could see through the smoky haze, the surrounding peaks still held a bit of snow low down and small remains of glaciers further up the slope. I could see by the faint pink glow on the glaciers that the sun was up somewhere high above me.
Rumble of water falls from the melting glaciers and rushing creeks was the only sound I could hear as I made my way up the swithbacks. Like the famous Tour de France mountain climb Alpe D’Huez, this morning I had 23 switchbacks rising 2,300 feet in elevation over 6 miles.
The air temperature was quite pleasant, the trail was soft underfoot, largely through forest, which made the climb feel easy. The pines in the forest seem quite different to any others I’ve seen. Very tall straight trunks with small canopy at the top.
Three hours after leaving camp I was at the top of the ridge and finally saw the sun through a light smoky haze. The whistling of marmots as I left the valley sounded like a train conductor blowing a whistle. I was expecting the whistle to be followed by “All aboard”.
Once on top of the ridge, I left the Lemah valley and hanging glaciers behind passing a a series of alpine lakes through a fragile rocky area. This was quite beautiful. The lakes were small and in the still air their surface looked glassy disturbed only by the jumping of frogs around the edges.
From the fragile rocky area, I started a long descent to Wahupt River. This side of the mountain ridge seem to have a lot more trapped smoke with hardly any air movement. It felt like hiking in a tropical steam room. The trail was rocky underfoot and the berry bushes surrounding much of the trail threatened to close in completely. The smoky haze was thick it was impossible to know what the surounding landscape may look like. I kept my eyes on the ground to prevent tripping.
By lunchtime I made it to the gorgeous cold and clear Wahupt River. I took a long break by the icy blue water of the river before exiting this valley through a long series of switchbacks.
Coming down to the river was hard work, the climb out was even harder, with little to distract me from the constant uphill grind. It was sweltering – the couple of streams I crossed early provided a refreshing stop to splash water on my face and arms.
It was one of those afternoons where I seriously questioned why – why was I doing this? The afternoon wore on slowly. By 4pm I reached Dove Lake and I had my answer. A huge alpine lake surrounded by towering peaks with a cool breeze blowing – it was heavenly. Unfortunately it was too early to stop for the day, so I filled up with water and continued to climb. I reached my campsite just below Cathedral. Rock. It’s a little breezy, something I could have done with all afternoon. Despite the breeze, there were quite a few mosquitos about. By the time I got inside the tent and zipped up there was a small army of them inside with me. The next 10 minutes were spent killing the little blood suckeres. The last mosquito was so full of my blood its abdomen was glowing bright red. It was so full it could barely fly. By the time they were all dealt with I was like Lady Macbeth with blood soaked hands. Except I went to sleep with no guilt or remorse.