PCT DAY 45: Wednesday August 9, 2017
Mile 2499.5 – Mile 2526.8
27.3 miles (43.7 km)
An hour after I left my campspot I went over White Pass to drop into the most georgeous valley just as the sun was rising. Large areas of snow still remained on the bare rock walls. Dropping down through its bowl like shape I kept thinking how different it would look if it was still completely under snow. I was happy that the trail was uncovered. Wildflowers were in bloom, it looked so spectacular. My morning cup of happiness was overflowing. Even if the rest of the day is spent in endless forest switchbacks this was worth it. I should have really checked the map for the day before saying that, as the trail delivered that and plenty more but not before passing through another jawdropping amazing section that simply took my breath away.
Leaving White Pass I followed a forested river valley crossing numerous creeks. The forest was was lush and green with moss covering almost everything at ground level. The sort of forest that looks to be wet and cold most of the time. Today it was warm and dry.
Approaching Kennedy Creek after coming out of the forest filled me with some anxiety. I could hear the roar of water long before coming out into the clearing. And it sure is a fearsome looking creek. Glacial muddy water of inderteminate depth. Luckily the bridge over the creek which was damaged was still usable and made for a very safe crossing. I’m always so grateful for bridge builders.
From Kennedy Creek it was a very long uphill climb along open green mountainside covered in wildflowers. The flower covered slopes were a distraction from the heat and the effort of hiking uphill. It was so beautiful to find a small creek about 2 miles up the climb to get cold water and to wash the sweat off my face and arms. Another mile of grunt and sweat and I was over the ridge and dropping down towards the most beautiful Pumice Creek. The distant snow covered peaks were covered in smoky haze but still visible enough to get a sense of the grandeur of this location. I had plans to stop at Pumice for lunch but there were few shady spots so I went on to Fire Creek, another 2 miles north, for lunch. At Pumice Creek I met Donkey and Pam and her son. Donkey is a reader of the blog and is hiking Washington Section K. I stopped for a chat. It is always such a surprise to meet people who read the blog. They all looked so clean and fresh I was sure they were out for a day hike. I probably had dead bugs squashed on my face. It is such a wonderful experience for Pams son to be in this landscape so young. And as is always the case on trail you end up having half conversations. As I walked on I thought of all the things I wanted to ask but didn’t.
I feel like I’m suffering a bit of white line fever, eagerness to keep moving and get it finished now that the end is in sight. But on trail nothing is a given. I need to slow down and make the most of the last few days on trail.
I got to Fire Creek just after 1.30pm after getting off trail somehow just after detouring around a couple of fallen trees. I followed a path through trampled grasses, knowing that the trail is never that overgrown. But I pushed on finding I was about 150 yards downslope of the trail. Unbelievable that I managed to lose the trail and there wasn’t even any snow cover. Looks like plenty of others did the same thing. From Fire Creek the trail went up for a couple of sweaty hot miles through forest and rolling green slopes.
Coming over the ridge I was simply blown away by the sudden change in landscape. Gone from green hills to a remnant glacial valley with a small cirque lake at the base. Totally unexpected all I could think was was WOW – it really was a world of wonder – totally unbelievable. The trail wound its way down through the side wall of glacial valley, eventually dropping below. It was incredible and so unexpected.
Even more unexpected was Mica Lake. This was even more breathtaking than what preceded it. It was absolutely perfect. The lake was an amazing clear blue colour. Very much like the colour of Crater Lake. Awe inspiring…I couldn’t bring myself to leave. And it was so nice that the trail went right by the lake.
It was still too early to stop for the day so I moved on and for the next 5 hours I hiked a ‘million’ switchbacks down and then back up after crossing the very white Milk River. The late afternoon sun was brutal on the way up from the river. It was a special kind of suffering. My thoughts as I descended and later climbed the never ending switchbacks were not that the days incredible landscape was worth the suffering – that came much later. My immediate thoughts were – will this ever end. And then an appreciation of the difficulty of this landscape and the ingenuity of the trail makers who managed to create a way through this incredible landscape. And always grateful for those who maintain the trail. I passed a group of young US Forestry volunteers who were clearing sections of the trail north and south of Milk Creek. They were hiking these switchbacks everyday and working in the heat of the day to make it easier for me and other hikers to pass through once. That is a special kind of dedication.
I passed a women going up the switchbacks. She was resting before starting on the series of switchbacks that were in full sun. So glad to see I was not the only masochist hiking this brutal climb in full sun. The switchbacks did eventually end. I was completely saturated, my clothes were dripping wet. I got to the first campsite after reaching the pass and decided to leave it for the women who was behind me. I hiked another half a mile to arrive at a perfect site just as the sun was disappearing behind the peaks. Through the smoky haze I could see I was surrounded by incredible snow covered peaks. I got changed out of my wet shirt and got the tent up before it got dark. It was a long, hard day with amazing awe inspiring landscape. I went to sleep feeling a very special kind of happy. There is a hardship to this landscape combined with sections of exquisite beauty that just draw you in. I can’t recall feeling this sense of not wanting to leave in any other part of the PCT. Maybe it’s just knowing that it is coming close to an end.