INTO STEHEKIN

PCT Day 21. Wednesday August 3, 2022
Mile 2556.5 + 16.5 miles today
Total Distance Hiked: 377 miles /603 kilometres

Cradled by the forest under a canopy of stars I lay awake in the early hours of this morning. Tears welled up in my eyes as looked up at the sky.  The grandeur and beauty of this  landscape filled me with an incredible sense of peace.  This is what I have been craving. In this vast wilderness and its complete silence and stillness I realise that the pain and losses of the past few years has been soothed by our time here. Journalist Nick Kristoff describes time spent in nature as a ‘catharsis  in the Cathedral of Wilderness’. 

I saw the Space Station orbiting a few times

It was a magical last night on trail. I felt so happy with how my knee performed,  how much fitness we were regaining and just happy to have the  time away from all the social anxieties the last few years have created.

Since I was up early stargazing I started to pack  and waited for Hammer to wake. We had agreed to start early today to give us plenty of time to make the shuttle bus to Stehekin which left at 2pm at the trail junction. We had 16.5 miles of mostly downhill with a few creek crossings to reach Stehekin Highbridge where the trail crosses the road into town. 

A faint pink glow of sunrise was forming on the horizon. We were gone before we could see it illuminate Sitting Bull Mountain. The air was cold, not so cold that you need gloves, but cold enough for another layer ontop. Hard to believe that only two days ago we were putting snow inside our hats to cool our boiling heads.

The cool morning air was nice to hike in for a change.  Although I’m ready to leave the trail I’m also sad to be leaving.  The rhythm of trail life is really quite nice and suits us:  hike, eat, sleep and repeat.

We passed through two large rock tallus fields before we left the northside of Suiattle Pass and started to follow Agnes Creek down to Highbridge.  I could see the sun was hitting the mountain on the other side of the creek and it would be no  time before we were in full sun. It was heating up.

We made great time while in the shade and slowed somewhat in the sun. Our projected arrival time varied from 1.30 to may later. We really didn’t want to miss the shuttle and have to wait till 5pm for the next one.

Spurred on by the thoughts of what awaited at the Bakery we put the foot down and surprisingly found a bit of speed in our legs. With 4 miles to go we made our projected arrival to be at 12.30. While so focussed on the clock I really tried to take in more of the surroundings. The trail crossed the river a few times and somehow rose quite high above it as we got further downstream. The colour of the creek was an intense emerald green and so clear. All I could think about was how nice a cold water swim would feel. 

About about 4 miles to go Hammer found a hiking pole resting against a tree. We  knew that its owner was unlikely to retrace their steps to recover it in this heat and this terrain. Hammer picked it up and was going to leave it in the hiker box at Stehekin. 

We made the first Highbridge crossing into the North Cascades National Park  at 12.15pm. We were elated.  I took a finish line photo and we  walked another 5 minutes to the second bridge to wait for the bus. This finish meant so much to me, an ambitious gamble that paid off.

Within 15 minutes, the Stehekin Ranch bus turned up to pick up their guests and offered us and 4 other hikers a ride to town, stopping at the Ranch first and then the Bakery, all for a donation. Terrific we could be in town before our shuttle bus even arrived at Highbridge.  To call Stehekin a town is really not accurate. It is a General Store, a Rangers Office/Visitors Centre,  Lodge accomodation with a restaurant,  a Post Office and a campground  all clustered around the ferry landing. Houses are tightly held in this community with little new development permitted. The Bakery is about 2 miles out from the ferry landing.

Finally the long awaited bakery visit. Another couple we’ve hiked with over the past few days said they were dreaming of the bakery from Mile 3. When we arrived the shelves looked a little empty. I got an Asian Rainbow Salad, Hammer got slices of pizza and we bought a Kuchen and a Mountain Slice to share after lunch. Hammer will have to wait till tomorrow for their famous cinnamon scrolls.

Dropped off in town we visited the  Parks office who gave us campsite #9 to take if it was unoccupied. We got to the campsite to find a Park Ranger  packing up. I noticed that his hiking pole matched the one we found. I asked him,  and by some fluke of universal karma it was his. So we met and chatted to Russ for about an hour while he packed and we ate our sensational lunch. He is retired from the service and volunteers his time to maintain park structures in the backcountry. He has had such an interesting life and career spanning many decades. We also learnt from Russ that Glacier Peak is an active volcano which is part of the chain of volcanic mountains spanning through Oregon and Washington. I guess it’s next in line north of Mt Rainier.  Such fascinating geology.

I’m so pleased we had this opportunity to revisit and get a better understanding of how the trail threads itself through this landscape. Hammer was just pleased to see the landscape as he hiked through cloud, fog and rain for much of his time here in 2016.

Russ finished packing and left to hike to his pick up location, we put up our tent and had a taste of the sweet treats. Sensational doesn’t come close to describing how delicious they both were: the kuchen was a short crust pastry, topped by a thin layer of cream cheese and finished with fresh berries and crumble. The mountain slice was a short  crust  pastry, topped by chocolate and coconut and slivered almonds. My eyes were rolling back in  my head, so delicious.  With bellies full we were indeed were happy little vegemites.

We decided to stay here another day to enjoy this beautiful hidden treasure of a place.

Big Agnes Hilton – our home away from home

It was so hot and the lake was calling for a swim. But first we had to book our boat trip out to Chelan on Friday. At the booking office, Chris the manager corrected our pronunciation of Chelan – it’s pronounced ‘Shilan’ and he introduced himself as an Aussie from Narrabeen, our neighbouring suburb. He met an American girl while on holidays in Hawaii and she just happened to be from Stehekin. The world really is a small place   He found us a spot on Friday mornings ferry. So with our trip out of here booked, our bellies filled with delicious food,  it was time to swim in the cold azure waters of Lake Chelan. The air temperature was in the 40’s and the water was a  deliciously cold 18°C. Not as cold as Sally Anne Lake a few days ago but just perfect. After the swim Hammer went to do laundry and I worked on the blog. And not having seen any big animals on our hike, while I was at camp a deer happily munched on grass a few feet away from me.

As the sun disappears over the surrounding mountains, the air is cooling and it really feels like a pretty perfect finish to our PCT revisit.