Monday—July 19, 2010
Location—Goat Haunt Shelter
I’d forgotten just how far it is to Glacier National Park, Montana—a long, hard, three-day drive. We left mid-morning Friday, not arriving till late Sunday evening. The trip began great and ended great. Joyce had insisted I stop by her shop to say good-bye—I’d avoided that sad, unhappy moment before departing for Arizona earlier this year. This time I stopped. And, rather than a sad time, it turned out to be joyful. So happened, Little Martha, the good Lord’s wonderful evangelist was there getting her hair done at the time, and she prayed for a safe journey and return for both Gordon and me. Just a great, great send-off. Then on the way up we stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska to see Gordon’s dear friend, Evelyn, then in Lewistown, Montana to see my dear friends (from my Lewis and Clark adventures), Jim and Selma. Gordon hadn’t seen the magnificent East Glacier Lodge, so late afternoon Sunday we stopped by there before calling it a day at one of the private East Glacier campgrounds.
First thing this morning—a stop by the welcome center for my two-day permit. The kind ranger lady frowned when I told her where I’d like to camp for the night, “We don’t recommend hiking that far in one day,” she said—but she did issue the overnight permit for Waterton River Campsite as I’d requested. Oh, and Fred, with who’m I’d corresponded earlier, who’ll also be hiking sections of the PNT, was also in line.
It’s 9:20 before Gordon gets me on the trail at the Chief Mountain Trailhead/Canadian Customs. The makings are for a glorious first day, cool, clear, and calm. The hard rain on the mountain here last evening—and the mule train that went out just ahead of me have combined to turn the trail to a total mud-bog. Ha, no 41 days of dry feet here. With the ankle-deep mud, my feet are soaked first thing, a fine initiation for my new New Balance 813’s.
As I descend toward the Belly River suspension bridge, and as the views open, I’m able to see Chief Mountain—just a magnificent sight, the giant monolith framed against the blue sky.
The climb today is up and over Stony Indian Pass. As I turn to cross the Belly River bridge I meet my first hikers, a family from Texas. I’ve been over Stony Indian before, but I’d forgotten just how long and how strenuous a climb it was. It’s late afternoon before I’m finally descending toward Waterton River. Oh, be sure and check back to see the photos and watch the videos taken today.
Late evening now, and less than an hour from my destination for the day, the sky opens and the storm that had been threatening the past two hours finally arrives—hard, cold rain mixed with hail big enough to really sting.
Reaching Goat Haunt, the ranger spots me from his dwelling and comes out to greet me—and to ask where I’m bound. “You’ve another mile to the Waterton River campsite; there’s room in the shelter here and there’s a warming fire going; you can stay if you’d like.”
Though long and difficult, this first day on the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail comes to a pleasant, memorable end, and I’m even more excited about this journey—a small part of a much larger dream.
“Of the gladdest moments in human life,
methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands.
The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood.”
[Sir Richard Burton]
Tuesday—July 20, 2010
What a blessing to have gotten out of the cold rain last evening. The fire at the shelter—I cannot remember a fire feeling so warm and comforting. The folks who’d built the fire, the dear lady from West Glacier, her two sons and her grandson—they all welcomed me, provided me room to sit in the warming glow. And the shelter—certainly another blessing to have been offered shelter by the ranger at Goat Haunt. Yes, the angels remain ever with me, one resting each shoulder, protecting me, guarding my every move.
I’ve another very long day, up and over Brown Pass then down to Bowman Lake—then finally out of the park on the west side by Polebridge.
From Goat Haunt the climb begins right away. In a short while along comes a family from Alaska. They’re excited to hear about my journey—I tell them about the PNT. They tell me about their beautiful state, Alaska.
Hiking again, I come upon a very big black bear, right in the trail. We spot each other at the same time. The bear immediately stands erect, then huffs loudly. I immediately stop, cower, and yell loudly. Finally, after a very long time (sure seemed to me), the bear dives off, into the underbrush. That’s when I see her cub up a tree. In a blink, she recovers the little one, then crashing on down the mountain they go. Somehow, in all the excitement, I mange a picture, don’t remember getting my camera out—sure a scary ordeal.
The climb to the pass is not nearly as difficult as yesterday’s scramble up Stony Indian. Once in the pass I see Bowman Lake way below, in the far distance.
Lots of folks on the trail today. A group from Michigan stops to chat. The lady knows Joan, my friend, who I’ve hiked with and who’s written guide books about the NCT. We share an enjoyable few moments. She promises to give Joan my regards upon returning to Michigan.
More great photos and videos from a vantage a short distance below the pass—just heart-stopping spectacular scenery! Don’t miss taking a look at these.
Late afternoon I reach the lower campground at Bowman. Gordon is waiting patiently. Six more miles, all roadwalk, and I’m out of Glacier—totally spent of energy—completely wore out. The kind ranger lady at the info center in East Glacier was right about the distance—fifty two miles in two days—just way too far to trek in these rugged mountains. But it’s so good to be free, to be climbing toward the sky, ever searching the horizon—and beyond.
We camp by the bridge, North Fork, Flathead River.
“Glorious is when wandering time has come.”
Wednesday—July 21, 2010
Location—Near Red Meadow Lake
A very cold night last. Sure enough a blessing—sleeping in the van, not on the wet ground.
From Bowman Lake, I ended the (road)walk yesterday with dry feet. At the campground I’d changed to road shoes, the great new 571s provided by my long and steadfast sponsor, New Balance—and road socks, the “light and airy,” provided by another of my great sponsors, Bridgedale. And they’re right back on this morning, for the long roadwalk up Hay Creek Road.
The first little village this trail passes through, Polebridge, is one of two western entrances to Glacier National Park. It’s a quaint little place for sure, what with dirt streets and no power. A hand-painted sign, nailed to a tree at the edge of town, says “SLOW – People Breathing.” Polebridge Mercantile runs off a generator behind the place—and of course there’s no cell phone reception. A sign posted on the wall in the outhouse, out behind the store, states the usual about how difficult it is to dig trash out of the toilet, then adds this little twist: “Feel free to throw your cell phones in…they don’t work here.”
The store opens at seven, and Gordon and I are right there—for our coffee fix and their breakfast special, a pastry kind of concoction filled with the usual omelet ingredients—umm, umm. Polished that off with a freshly baked walnut-topped cinnamon roll—umm, UMM! Oh yes, Polebridge is a great first stop for the PNT thru-hiker. Seeing and greeting us is a new experience for the kind young folks at the store. They see scores of day hikers, but are not familiar at all with the PNT. They like the idea of having a thru-hiker register, and Gordon gives them a map of the trail and information about the PNTA.
On the way out of the little village, locals stop to greet me. A fair amount of traffic on the road, some of it is literally flying. One fellow swerves and just misses a big black bear in the road.
Hay Creek Road is a very pleasant roadwalk—no traffic, gentle climb. The road dead ends at a trailhead, the beginning of Trail #3. Gordon is here, waiting to send me off on the first section of the PNT—that’s solely PNT. But soon I find, and it appears, the trail is really more for ORV and horseyback use than for hiking. However, the trail is in excellent shape, making the hike on up to Whitefish Divide Pass most pleasant, with many great postcard-like views back to Glacier.
In the evening the Youth Conservation Corps group stops by. They’ve been working on the steep downhill sideslab area from where I descended earlier. We share at least an hour of great fun, together, and with the mosquitoes. Had the kids all introduce themselves—while I took video—I thought. Something went wrong—no video.
Managed a very smoky (mosquito repellant) fire, first one this hike. Ah, and good old Dinty Moore for supper!
Oh, and the locals who’d stopped to greet me earlier, down by Polebridge, came by again and we shared more enjoyable moments.
What a revelation (when it finally hit me a number of years ago), that joy and happiness are not only free, but are right there, for all of us, to have and enjoy.
“It is strange what a contempt men have for the joys that are offered them freely.”
Thursday—July 22, 2010
What a beautiful ending for a great day—when the Youth Conservation Corps group stopped by last evening. Much fun!
A fair climb first thing this morning, to the ridge above the gap where we camped for the night. Lots more climbing, from one peak to another along the ridge. Spectacular vantages back toward Glacier, the sky-bound spires standing in snow-bound brightness and glory, commanding the far-distant horizon.
The day begins okay, but soon come the rain-laden clouds, rolling in from the northwest. I’m climbing around at 7,000 feet, so up here, at this altitude, I’m in the storm—a strange (and until I kinda got used to it years ago—frightening) experience. The rain (and hail) falls pretty much the same as at lower elevations, but the thunder and lightning, wow! That’s what I’ve never, ever been able to get used to. With the storm above you, there, too, reside the percussion and strobe sections. But when you’re IN the storm, there are drummers either side of you, and you’re blinded by the walls of flashing light. Yes, being IN the drum, being IN the source of light—never been able to get used to it.
There’s little wind, but wave upon wave of rain and hale continue to pass. My poncho’s on and off at least a dozen times.
As my legs tire—and as I tire from the continual climbing, the most amazing thing happens, taking my thoughts from the aching fatigue of the day—the most- brilliant RGBIV rainbow appears. “Big deal.” you say. Yes, this is a big deal. You see, this rainbow is below me. I’m even above the uppermost arch of it. And from this vantage I’m able to see, for the first time in my life, what all our mothers told us about. You do remember being told, don’t you, about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. “Let’s go get it, momma; please, let’s go get it!” remember? Well, none of us ever saw that pot of gold. We probably went searching for it one time or another, but we never as much as saw it. Ah, but today, looking down from above, from this vantage, as if by magic—I see that pot of gold. It’s there, just like our mothers told us—it’s there! Well, for just a moment I seriously considered going for it—strange, no leprechauns guarding it. But then reality set in. It would have been a hellish bushwhack thousands of feet down. And, well you know how heavy gold is. There’s no way I could have lugged it back up here, then down the mountain, the other side, to the van. Come help me sometime—we’ll give it a try! Oh, and be sure and check out the rainbow photo. It’ll be up soon—but don’t be disappointed when you don’t see the pot of gold—it eluded the camera.
Late afternoon now, and descending Blue Sky Trail, another wave comes through, bringing stinging hail and rain. The trail turns to a gullywash—and I turn very cold. Tired, wet, and cold, I’m ready for this day’s hike to come to an end. None too soon I reach FSR-114 and the comfort of the dry, warm van. An exciting day for sure, an exciting day.
“And still I wander,
seeking compensation in unforeseen encounters and unexpected sights,
in sunsets, storms and passing fancies.”
Friday—July 23, 2010
Location—Jct. FSRs #319 & #7103
I don’t ever remember feeling so relieved as when I reached the van yesterday evening. It had been an incredibly tiring and trying day with much climbing up and down between five and seven-thousand feet—and on top of that, the bad weather. Cold, cold rain, mixed with pelting hail in waves, was pretty much the order of the day. Joy-on-joy, Gordon was waiting patiently, with a warm spot for me to get in and out of it.
Today will not be as demanding. There’s a 2,000-foot climb first thing, but I can manage the pulls fine now, cruising right to the top of whatever’s in front of me. I’m moving by seven-thirty. Compared to my starting time in Arizona, that’s late. But being right on the western extreme of mountain daylight time, sunrise comes much later and sunset isn’t until nine-thirty.
By noon I’ve got the climb behind me and I’m on the ridge. The morning clutter has lifted and the day has turned quite fair. Plenty of photo ops and I stop often to take pictures—or just stop and gaze.
There are no maps available for this section, so I’ve made my own, fixing waypoints with my DeLorme 8.0 software. The maps work great, the waypoints spot on, so the hike goes smoothly. By two I’m in and this day’s trek is done.
Spaghetti and hot dogs for supper. Oh yum!
“It’s not down on any map; true places never are.”
Saturday—July 24, 2010
Location—Sinclair Creek Road
Therriault and Little Therriault Lakes, the campgrounds, are very popular with locals. We’d set up for the night just next FSR-7086, which leads to the lakes, thinking it’d be a nice, quiet spot. But the campers kept rumbling by all evening.
The hike today will take me around the southern end of Ten Lakes Basin, a semi-circular hike that will keep me on or near the ridge, and above 7,000 feet the longest for any of my days on this PNT hike.
First up comes the climb to Trail #89, from 4,500 feet to 6,000 feet, a long, steady pull. At the trailhead I meet Jim. He comes from his pickup camper to greet me—with a cup of coffee. Oh yes, this day is beginning just great! Much fine conversation as I sign the trail register and review maps and data with him—and finish my coffee. Thanks Jim, for your kindness.
Trail #89 has me continuing the climb on a long switchback sideslab, on up to the gap above Rainbow Lake. Here, I’m at 7,112 feet, a total continual climb in excess of 2,500 feet—not unusual for any given day here on the PNT.
At Poorman Mountain the trail connects with Canadian Highline Trail #339, which leads (should I choose) a very short distance north to British Columbia.
Along this high ridge I’m in and out of snow-pack, some of them remarkably long and deep. But the trudging is certainly worth it—for the cool, refreshing alpine air, and the views.
All the early local clutter has cleared out, the sky now perfectly clear. The views down to Wolverine Lakes and across to the east are jaw-dropping spectacular. Glacier National Park (now 60 miles distant according to my GPS), Chief Mountain can be seen clearly.
This being Saturday, I meet other folks on the trail. Jerry and his two sons (big J and little Js) have climbed up from the cabin at Wolverine Lakes and are also enjoying the great view.
Completing the semi-circle below Paradise Lake, I turn onto Trail #88 to begin the long descent to Sinclair Creek and Eureka.
Not far back, I departed the Flathead National Forest and have entered the Kootenai. And here today, I’ve completed my hike through the Rocky Mountains.
By a little after three I’ve dropped off the mountain, and I know I’ve returned to civilization when I end up in a fellow’s back yard. My misfortune—due to incorrect coordinates. I had been concerned about getting through this section, and sure enough, the hike for this day has come unraveled. Oh yes, the fellow’s got a dog. And the dog spots me first thing, making a beeline straight for me, barking like mad. The couple come running, trying to call their dog off. I’ve got my sticks out to ward him off. The dog is frantic. They both holler, to no avail. Finally, I’m able to beat a retreat as the lady gets hold of her dog. The crisis over, and as I head down their driveway, the lady comes to greet me—with kindness, would you believe? Come to find I’m not the first hiker to wander onto their place—or the third, for that matter!
Problem is with the trail, where it comes out of the forest. It’s not marked or maintained—and there are wayward waypoints.
Ha, at a little after three I was two miles from finishing for the day. At six-thirty, I was two miles from finishing for the day. Patient, reliable Gordon, he’s waiting right where we agreed to meet.
Hey, some days turn on you, gotta go with them—keep a light heart, no matter the outcome, the final destination.
Lucky I didn’t get arrested!
“One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”
Sunday—July 25, 2010
Location—West End Koocanusa Bridge/FSR #228
Eureka is a really delightful town. Kind folks, all. The little park by the river, that they’d allow perfect strangers to come into town and camp there, plus provide them a toilet and a HOT shower—for five bucks a night, well, yes—kind folks, all! Right next the park is a 24/7 jiffy, and just up the main drag—Jax, the place for good food for hungry hikers.
The trail out of town follows an old railbed down the Tobacco River a few miles to Lake Koocanusa, where it enters Rexford Bench Campground. There, the trail along the lakeshore is an easy stroll through tall pine with ever-changing views across the lake.
At Mariner’s Haven, a private campground, the PNT heads southwest to the Koocanusa Bridge, along wide-shouldered SR #17, the end of my hike, another delightful, dry-feet (two in a row) day—not a memory maker nor trial of courage or faith—but suffice, for the joy of continual seeking.
“…followers of trails and of seasons,
breakers of camp in the little dawn wind, seekers…
over the wrinkled rind of the world, oh seekers,
oh finders of reason to be up and gone…”
Monday—July 26, 2010
Location—Jct. FSRs #7183 & #7229
At the end of the day yesterday we returned to Eureka to get supplies for the next five days, and to spend our second evening in the city park there.
Turned to be another grand evening camped by the Tobacco River. Ah, and don’t you know there wasn’t the least difficulty hitting the 24/7 jiffy for coffee at five or being at Jax’s front door at seven for breakfast!
Final stop, a trip to the post office to get my camera memory card (a four gig, and it’s full) off to Webmaster, CyWiz. There’ll be some really fine photos and videos to look at, so make sure and stop back to check those albums in a week or so.
Today will be a shot hiking day. Good thing, as we’re not back to the Koocanusa Bridge until after nine.
The wide, expansive valley between the Rockies and the next range of mountains to the west here in northwestern Montana is known as the Tobacco Plains. I hiked across them yesterday, from just east of Eureka, to here at the Koocanusa Bridge. So, today I get my introduction to the next range of mountains, the Purcells. And that intro? A hike up the Webb Mountain Trail—to the fire tower atop Webb Mountain, a steady climb of nearly four thousand feet in less than four miles. The climb takes two hours—slow, deliberate going, with the mountain keeping a constant, steady pull against me. At the fire tower I meet John and Judy, who’ve rented the place for a couple of days. After I call up, and wake them up, I’m invited up. Great conversation, spectacular views, all the way back to Glacier.
The trek along today proves most enjoyable, well designed/maintained trail, blowdowns cleared, foliage brushed back. Waypoints provided in the trail data, or additional ones I’ve set using my DeLorme 8.0 software are spot on—that is until I reach Thirsty Mountain. At Thirsty Mountain my hike for the day begins coming apart. I’m told there’s new trail, but whacky waypoints, which causes a bushwhack, puts the skids on. But I revel in the well-maintained (blowdowns cleared, brushed-back) trail. Lots of Grouse with chicks. Dry feet again!
“When you feel how depressingly slow you climb
it’s well to remember – Things Take Time.”
Tuesday—July 27, 2010
Location—Jct. FSRs #6037 & #746/Vinal Lake Road
The hike is going quite well. I remain strong and healthy. And despite all the climbing, my feet, back, and legs are doing okay.
Gordon reviews the maps, data, and hiker comments for today’s section and I’m out and moving by five-thirty, to a pleasant, cool morning.
The Purcells have not the stature of the Rockies, but they’re very rugged, making for much climbing, and today the climbing will be near constant.
The first up is to Boulder Lakes, followed by a down to Gypsy Meadows. Then comes the climb up to Trail #51—followed by a series of minor bops, then the leg- and back-buster to Mt. Henry. Forgive me for not making the side-jaunt on up to the lookout tower—been there/done that (Webb Mountain Tower) yesterday. Following Henry comes the skidder down to Turner Creek, the creek crossing, then the long, hard (90-minute) pull up and around Bunker Hill.
After missing two turns, backtracking for one, bushwhacking for the other, it’s four-thirty; I’ve been on the trail now 11 hours—with over five more miles to go. Oh yes, now it’s down, down, and more down, to Vinal Lake Road.
With the long-mile day, with getting lost (due, at times, to total disconnect between map layout and actual trail placement), then hiking (dragging myself) through cold rain laced with hail the last three hours, plus vertical elevation change of nearly a mile—all have combined to put this day in the books as “sufferable.” Oh yes, there have been better and more memorable days on the trail.
Aw, enough whining, old man.
Gordon’s patiently waiting when I finally drop off the mountain at six-thirty.
“ We rejoice in our sufferings,
because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; character, hope.
And hope does not disappoint us.”
Wednesday—July 28, 2010\
Location—FSR #338 Bridge
Right after dinner last the rain came in again, and the soft patter on the van roof sent me directly off to slumberland. I was so tired, so completely exhausted.
No rain this morning, but it’s totally overcast—and threatening. I manage to get moving shortly after six, a roadwalk for most of the morning. The trail today is a short section over Garver Pass and down to Pete’s Creek Road, where Gordon’s waiting. Big grin from Gordon as he greets me. “Listen to this.” he exclaims, with an even broader grin—as he proceeds to tell me about another, supposed, thru-hiker just ahead. “Sheriff stopped to check on me, told me he’d seen a hiker with a backpack just up the road. But I drove all the way to our turnoff and didn’t see anyone—don’t know.” he said. There are other thru-hikers ahead of me, but I don’t know how many, or where they might be. Ha, in awhile come two Fresh Water Fish and Game fellow’s with the same story. This time, Gordon tracks the hiker down. It’s John, Mother Nature’s Son from Alabama. At the next road junction I get to see this old friend again—been a long time.
At day’s end, we set up camp together and spend the most enjoyable time.
I’ll have someone to hike with tomorrow, how about that!
“Once in awhile you’ll find a friend
Where the memories meet and the rainbows end…”
[Jim Walkin Jim Stoltz]
Thursday—July 30, 2010
Location—FSR #425, Canuck Pass
Another very tough climbing day ahead. John camped with us last night and he’s ready to hike out with me this morning.
First, the pull up and around Rock Candy Mountain. It’s a long, steady climb. John is fit, so we’re able to keep a good pace. Early afternoon we reach where the trail to Rock Candy Mountain should break off, but there is no trail to be found. At that point we proceed to waste two hours searching for the trail that should lead us to Canuck Peak—to no avail. Below, to the northwest, we can see the next saddle, the trail there. Finally, we decide to bushwhack the mile down and over. A mile doesn’t sound like much, but a mile in rugged terrain (measured by GPS, as the crow flies)—sideslabbing through blowdowns, struggling across steep ravines, climbing over unstable boulders and rocks, such a traverse can take awhile—like nearly two more hours.
By the time we reach Canuck Peak, another long, steep up, it’s after four, and it’s becoming apparent this hiking day is quickly closing. We’ve got five miles of rocky trail yet to hike to reach Gordon at Canuck Pass—we should have been there easily by two—and we’re both tired and weary from the physical (and mental) demands of this day.
Somewhere between Kunkel Pass and Canuck Pass we leave Montana behind to enter Idaho. The remainder of these rugged Purcells are still ahead, and on the far-distant horizon today we see for the first time the lofty, snow capped Selkirks.
Oh my, will this trek o’er the Pacific Northwest Trail be long remembered—oh yes, long remembered!
“The obstacle is the path.”
Friday—July 30, 2010
Location—Moyie River Road #34
Today will be a very short hiking day, less than ten miles on over to the Moyie River. That I am capable of dealing with the physical demands of such days as this, and especially of others much more demanding, springs up within me now a certain unshakable faith and confidence, an inner reassurance that though an old man in body, I am young in spirit and in heart, and as such, and at any time, am capable of mustering the strength to overcome whatever may befall. I’ve but to will it, to do it—an amazing presence of inner strength.
When we crossed the state line yesterday, from Montana to Idaho, we also crossed from Mountain Time to Pacific, so we’ve an hour more of daylight in the morning, and an hour less in the evening. To compensate, we’ve shifted our wakeup time to four rather than three-thirty, so we’re giving up a half-hour of daylight—who wants to get up at three-thirty!
We’re packs up and hiking by five, with plenty of daylight to spare.
Not the extent of climbing today, just a relatively short pull up to Ruby Ridge. Once on the ridge the going is easy enough, so too, the hike on down to Moyie River Road. From there, and with plenty of time remaining, we decide to hike the short distance on up to Bussard Mountain Trailhead.
“In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough,
and at what period soever in life, is always a child.”
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
Saturday—July 31, 2010
Location—Parker Peak Trailhead #221
John and I are hiking together at a pace that’s comfortable for both of us, and enjoying each others company. It’s a true blessing, having someone to hike with.
Another sky-bound climb first thing, to Bussard Mountain, an up of over 3,000 feet. It’s a two-hour pull. We make it in good order. Once on the ridge, it’s mostly a sideslab around to a planned bushwhack down to Brush Lake. Into it, the day starts slowing down. We’d expected the bushwhack to be through mostly open terrain, with Brush Lake within view on the way down—NOT! Brush Lake—aptly named. The bushwhack offers up the four “Bs” right from the get-go, making for a GPS-in-hand, slow, arduous time of it. We finally emerge at the north end of the lake, skinned up and soaking wet—from the bog-slog through the lake’s swampy outfall. Oh, and John had seen a brown (cinnamon-colored) bear before we entered the underbrush, and once in the brush, a yet-slumping/glistening heap of bear scat. John has Counter Assault (pepper spray), so I let him take the lead—a nervous bushwhack to say the least.
On the roadwalk down to US-2,we enjoy stopping and picking ripe thimbleberry and huckleberry.
In what is called the Purcell Trench (a wide, lush valley) through which runs the Kootenai River, we leave not only the Purcell Mountains behind, but also the Kootenai National Forest.
Camp for the night is at the Parker Peak Trailhead (a narrow pull-off) just across the beautiful valley.
A bit of slow going today. Ah, but such a journey as this need not be in haste.
“Life is too short to walk quickly.”
Sunday—August 1, 2010
Location—Upper Ball Lake
At the end of the day yesterday I mentioned leaving the Kootenai National Forest. So now I’d like to pause and leave a note about my hike through the Kootenai: It was most pleasant, the trails there well maintained. Trail crews had worked nearly every trail followed by the PNT, blowdowns and brush cleared. Thanks, forest supervisor, Kootenai, and thanks, PNT volunteers—thank you all for a memorable hike, for the great trails!
I started out this odyssey year dreading days like this, days with extreme climbs—but no more. I slept well last night, knowing the good Lord will guide my feet, up and over. And today will be one of the most extreme climbing days ever, with elevation change totaling well in excess of two vertical miles.
Up from the Kootenai, I get my introduction to the Kaniksu National Forest, with a uninterrupted climb of near 5,000 feet, up to Parker Ridge. John and I make the ascent fine, with a steady pace that gets us there in a little over three hours.
Time and again we’re offered spectacular views, not only of the valley below but of the glacier scarred mountains all around. I stop often to take pictures, to get video. These shots should be sensational, so don’t fail to check back to view them.
Much more climbing toward the end of the day, on up—and over to Ball Lakes, there a lovely campsite. We set camp and get a fine warming fire going. It’s been a long, tiring day for both of us.
“Most of our obstacles would melt away if,
instead of cowering before them,
we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.”
[Orison Swett Marden]
Monday—August 2, 2010
Location—Lion Creek Trail/Road Trailhead
Rain had been forecast for yesterday, but the day held quite fair—until evening. We’d both eaten supper and were in our tents when the rain came. Rain pattering my tent fly will always work. In no time, I was out like a light.
Ahead of us today is a bushwhack from here at Ball Lakes, up, over, and down to Lion Creek, the road there.
The bushwhack distance, a tad over four miles will take us in excess of ten hours to complete. It proves one of the longest short-mile days hiked—ever!
First comes the climb to the glacier-scoured ridge, a technical task through the maze of rocks and boulders. Before gaining the razorback we’re at near 7,000 feet again.
Once on the ridge it’s easy enough to see our next waypoint, the pass below—nearly a thousand feet below. We pitch off the ridge at elevation 6,799. There’s trail for the first hundred yards or so, then the bushwhack down begins, through the tangle of blowdowns and brush. There’s thunder in the distance and the sky turns pitch black northeast of us. Hopefully, the storm will pass to the east. Last thing needed now is for everything to be wet(ter). The descent is slow as we work our way down. Alder can grow in an amazing tangle, which is near impenetrable. Mix in blowdowns and other brush, and getting through can make for a very long day.
As luck would have it, my waypoints were spot on, so staying on course was not a problem—just getting to them was!
Late afternoon we finally break out at Lion Creek Trailhead, relieved to have the bushwhack behind us.
Tuesday—August 3, 2010
Location—Jct. Trail #302/Road #655
We’ve another grand climb right off, a 3,000 foot pull to Lookout Mountain. Ah, but once on the ridge, the view to Lower and Upper Priest Lakes makes the effort worthwhile.
Comes next the bail off of nearly 4,000 feet down to the lakes. The trail follows the lake shore a fair distance. Being a perfect summer day, folks are in their boats and on the shore enjoying the unusually warm weather.
Near day’s end, the trail enters a majestic stand of mature western red cedar.
At the road where Gordon is waiting there’s a delightful campsite, complete with log seats and a fire ring. We manage a warming fire by which to enjoy our evening meal.
Midnight now and sound asleep, bright headlights—and loud, obnoxious cussing and swearing—lifts me right up. The local drunks have moved in and have taken over our fire. I try talking to them, to no avail. The fire is now a five-foot-high blaze. The racket, swearing and hollering continue. The drunks win out—we move on down the road and set camp again. The remainder of the night is quiet and peaceful. It really was not a confrontational situation— but, well, we all know how some people can be perfect jerks. Once moved and secure again I was able to go back to sleep immediately. So, may have lost an hour.
“A man is about as big as the things that make him angry”
Wednesday—August 4, 2010
Location—Sullivan Lake Road #2220
The trail continues this morning through the mature stand of western red cedar, and the going is easy up to Cabinet Pass. Our decision is to take the Hughes Ridge reroute to avoid the uncleared burnover/blowdown area along the designated route. However, just the other side of Cabinet Pass, and now on trail #308 do we find it totally choked in an indescribable maze of alder, blowdowns, and brush. This overgrowth and tangle continue all the way through to the point of reconnect with the old route. And there is an alarming amount of fresh bear sign. Oh yes, John leads again.
On the old route we find good trail, #512 and #511. It’s hard to believe the old route, the burnover area through many switchbacks, could have possibly been any worse than the alternate we ended up taking. Ah, but right or wrong, we’re through it—onward!
We cross into Washington a little after two. Two states down, one to go.
“This is the way; walk in it.”
Thursday—August 5, 2010
We found one of the neatest off-the-beaten-path campsites ever last evening, and thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet only found in such remote places. I slept soundly.
First out this morning is a “roadwalk” along an old, abandoned logging road. The initial half-mile or so goes okay, but then comes the ever-present alder, blowdowns, and assorted brush. There’s well beaten tread—three feet or so high—just high enough for bear to get through. A bear trail for sure. Yes, and plenty of fresh, very fresh sign. I drop back and let John lead, with his pepper spray at the ready. This four mile “road” to Crowell Ridge Trailhead takes us four and one-half hours of constant struggle, over, under, around, and through the veritable jungle—with no bear to deal with; I think we just got lucky—we were sure in their territory.
From the trailhead at Crowell Ridge we have good trail from #515 on in. The tough hike up was well worth the time and effort, as the Salmo Priest Wilderness is a glorious hike, what with the great views all the way back to Lions Head. On our 4,000-foot scrub off to close the day we enjoy picking and eating both red and blue huckleberries.
Gordon is waiting for us at SR-31 to take us on in to Metaline Falls.
While enjoying supper at Cathy’s Cafe, we meet Teen, owner of the historic Washington Hotel. She takes us in for the night.
A blue-perfect, delightful day. We’re over a quarter of the way into this latest adventure. My mind and body are in perfect sync—and as I yield to the ever unfolding excitement of it, am I so carried along.
“We find after years of struggle
that we do not take a trip;
the trip takes us.”
Friday—August 6, 2010
Location—Jct. CRs #350/#2975
Been quite awhile since we’ve stayed in a room. Ah, and we’ll be right back here for another stay tonight, at the quaint old Washington Hotel, Metaline Falls, Teen, owner and innkeep.
The hike today is totally a roadwalk, from around six miles northeast of Metaline Falls to five or so miles northwest of the village. The designated route goes north to the border to cross the Pend Orille River at Border Dam. But the dam is off limits now, what with the threats of terrorism, and a guard must be summoned to escort you across—no thanks. I’ll head for town, no guard needed to hike there.
Early this morning, waking me from deep sleep, came in heavy thunderstorms, a deluge. The local cafe opens at 5:30, and I’m headed there for coffee at 25 after, dodging under the awnings along to avoid the rain.
By the time Gordon delivers us back to the trail it’s close to six. No traffic at all, to or from Canada (SR-31 goes to Canada). Border Patrol is out, though. Nate and Andy both stop to chat a moment while looking me over.
The storm has cleared out to the east and the morning is turning blue-sky perfect as we hike into Metaline Falls.
We’re back in town by nine. Oh yes, it’s time for breakfast—yup right back over to Cathy’s for a three-egg omelet, the works—and plenty more coffee. It’s close to noon before we’re back hiking again, across the river, then around and up to the forest service road where we’ll begin our 5,000 foot climb first thing in the morning.
Teen, inkeep, has had time to size us up, and she offers to move us to a bigger room with two beds. A very kind, generous lady—I sign, then hand her a copy of my latest book.
Evening now, we head for the local bar and grill for steak and taters while Arley, Teen’s son, does our laundry.
More thunderstorms in the evening. I work journal entries. Been a super day; I’m certainly a happy camper!
“The gift of happiness belongs to those who unwrap it.”
Saturday—August 7, 1010
Location—Jct. FSR #9445
What a restful stay in Metaline Falls, a most welcome break. Thanks, Teen, and all new friends there, you’re just delightful folks! And thanks, my dear family, for remembering the maildrop.
It seems to take forever, getting my things together to head back to the mountain and the trail. Gordon finally has us packs-up and trekking at seven.
Since entering Washington we’ve been hiking in the Colville National Forest, the western extent of the Selkirks. These are rugged mountains, oriented, generally, north-south. And what does north-south mean for the weary long-distance hiker? Climbing, that’s what it means— lots and lots of climbing—like today! Today we’ve got a stairway-to-heaven hike, up and over Abercrombie Mountain. From Metaline, at elevation 2,500 feet, to Abercrombie Summit Trail we climb to 7,123 feet. Then comes a switchback bail off (nobody’s been able to count how many there are) back down to Silver Creek Horse Camp, which stands at elevation 2,300 feet. So, for today, the 22-mile distance, we’ll be dealing with elevation change of nearly 10,000 vertical feet.
The climb up is long and steady, ten miles/five hours. We top out for the day (and pretty much for this trek) a little after twelve.
Lots of folks up here today, probably as many or more than any other time this odyssey. Three have ascended by horseback from Silver Creek, Barbie, Tim (a spitting image of T.R.), and Bonnie. They’ve stopped at a delightful vantage for lunch, and John and I join them. A most enjoyable pause; thanks, folks, for letting us share the time!
At the Flume Creek Trailhead, which we passed on the way up, was posted there a warning about cougar sightings in the vicinity. Ha, shortly after that, John flushed a ruff grouse; scared the socks off us both!
Late afternoon now, we finally make the final turn at the final switchback, to enter the horse camp. From here we’ve a short roadwalk on down to the road where Gordon will be waiting.
Another fine campsite, again complete with fire ring. A bit of rain tries dampening things, but we get supper done—and keep the warming fire going. Yes, a warming fire the ninth of August!
This is the way to live, friends—use every day to its fullest. Ah, and this was a great day; tiring, sure enough, but great. And great trail, not a single blowdown to contend with.
“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
Sunday—August 8, 2010
Location—Columbia River Bridge, Northport, then on to Big Sheep Creek Campground
Apparently it rained off and on most of the night, but I didn’t hear it. I was a whipped puppy after yesterday. What a great benefit, having a warm, dry, place to return to at the end of the day.
The hike today is pretty much a roadwalk, with the exception of a short section through the abandoned Lind Winter Pasture. The route I’ve chosen is longer, a roadwalk down Aladdin Road. I’ve chosen it rather than chancing getting lost through the old ranch property. The road takes me through a picturesque, pastoral valley that leads down to the Columbia River. Along the way it passes Deep Lake, just a beautiful setting. Here are many weekend and fishing retreats, small cabins and camper setups. There’s no power up here, so lights, heat, cooking, hot water, all the modern conveniences, they run off the propane bottle brought from home. Yes, just a delightful place. Why the trail wasn’t routed this way I don’t know. However, I can tell you that, besides perhaps the walk along the St. Lawrence in the Gaspe, this roadwalk here this morning is one of the most enjoyable of any I’ve taken—anywhere.
Before and after the lake are hay meadows, pastures where cattle, horses, mules (and flocks of wild turkey) graze. Time is slowly passing this place by, this lofty mountain valley. Many old dilapidated structures, barns, homesteads, all slowly moldering into the ground (be sure and check out the album with these shots—just heart-stopping beautiful).
I chance to meet an old rancher along. He’s trying to get his cows off the road—tells me that he and one other fellow, they’re all that’s left. “Everyone else has give up and quit.” he tells me, with that far away glint in his eye.
Descending on to Northport, the noon siren sounds. Time for lunch, so we head for the local bar and grill for burgers.
There’s a small local market. We need provisions for a few days, so it’s over there. Then to the laundromat for a few minutes in their coin shower.
By now it’s four, yet plenty of time to log a few more miles. The Columbia River passes here at Northport and we cross it on our way up to Big Sheep Creek Campground, where we call it a day.
Started out rainy but ended a perfect hiking day—along the PNT.
“There are three things: to walk, to see, and to see what you see.”
Monday—August 9, 2010
Location—US-395 near Kettle River
A typical morning, the alarm set for four. We’re up way before first light. Gordon always offers me coffee. I always accept. The quiet morning time is needed to collect myself and get organized for the day. First order, every day, is to take my o.t.c. meds, Osteo Bi-flex and enteric coated aspirin (every other day for my sports meds). The Osteo, if you’re not familiar with it, is a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin. Been taking the Osteo for years (one of my dear sponsors), for joint/connective tissue integrity (knees, hips), plus the aspirin for its anti-inflammatory effect. Gordon tries to stay at least a day ahead on logistics, the trail route—maps, data, etc.; and ample time is allowed/given for comprehensive review. Knowing what’s ahead beats guessing—and getting lost. Old folks do so much better without a bunch of surprises! Finally (in addition to my daily duty), healthy feet and happy hiker go together, so proper attention to the feet is essential and time well spent. A good dusting with powder (which includes zinc), clean, dry socks and shoes (usually NOT), a few minutes of attention here pays good dividends. So, again, as is common with old folks, an hour can go by quickly. Anyway, if Gordon can have me pack-up and ready to hike by six—pretty good!
We had a most enjoyable overnight at Big Sheep Creek Campground, a free, state-managed campground. Thank you, kind folks of Washington!
I’ve another maildrop in Northport, and yesterday being Sunday, the post office closed, this morning we must go back down to Northport for my mail. Plan is to get an hour of hiking in first—that works, then John and I load up and Gordon heads for the Mustang Grill—oh yes, breakfast, first order of business in Northport!
A stop by the post office. Good news, my second pair of New Balance shoes, which I’m desperately in need of have arrived. Also a return camera memory card from my webmaster, plus best wishes and goodies from family—yup, hit the jackpot!
Here in Washington I’m having better luck with cell phone reception, so I take a minute to call Bernard who lives near the trail here. He’d signed my guestbook this past spring and had mentioned he’d like to meet me. We make plans to get together.
Back to the trail to continue the roadwalk on forest service roads for the remainder of the day. At a little over 400 miles, we’re a quarter of the way through this trek.
What a happy day—lots of little things together made it so.
“Real happiness is cheap enough, yet how dearly we pay for its counterfeit.”
Tuesday—August 10, 2010
Location—Deer Creek Summit
We no more than had supper cooked last evening than the rain came. Ended up climbing in the van to eat. Everything on the table got soaked.
Three this morning the rain came again, plenty of thunder and lightning—woke me from a sound sleep.
Our hike today involves more climbing. The rain follows us the entire morning, cold rain. Hard to believe my hands are turning numb first week in August, but it’s true. I end up stumbling along behind John with my hands in my pockets.
The last few miles of trail follow closed forest service roads, a roller coaster ride through tank trap after tank trap. The rain stays with us, following us up the mountain, over the mountain, then back down. We see a yearling elk, and the letters PNT painted on a rock. Otherwise, it’s a pretty uneventful day—more a stumble along one for me.
Being a day of drear, we stay steady on the trail, finishing at Deer Creek Summit a little after twelve. That leaves us the entire afternoon to spend to our liking. And what we decided we’d like is to drive the short distance down to Curlew, there, hopefully, to find a room for the night. And we’re in luck!
After a fine dinner at the downtown saloon, we settle in. In the evening, Bernard stops by. He lives in Danville, a short distance north. He’s read Ten Million Steps and has been following journal entries for this trek. We spend an enjoyable time.
“And as I stumble o’er the path
I need to keep in mind,
That He has cleared a way for me
That faith will help me find.”
Wednesday—August 11, 2010
Location—Sherman Pass, SR-20
We had a very restful stay in Curlew. Good thing as this will definitely be a long hiking day, in excess of 13 hours.
By the time Gordon drives us back up the mountain and gets us on trail, it’s nearly six-thirty.
Another day of climbing, but spectacular views from the ridge, as we’re now hiking the Kettle Crest National Recreation Trail. A joy hiking well-groomed, maintained trail. All the blowdowns have been cleared.
On the crest most of the day, there’s been few opportunities for water, and where we’ve found springs, they’ve been totally fouled by cattle.
Late evening now, we can hear the traffic on SR-20 down in Sherman Pass. By the time we descend to the van it’s nearly eight.
Good old Dinty saves the day!
“Trails are not dust and pebbles on a hill,
Nor even grass and wild buds by a lake;
Trails are adventure and a hand to still
The restless pulse of life when man would break…”
Thursday—August 12, 2010
Location—Bear Pot Trail, Shelberg Cabin
After the 28-mile hike yesterday, and after recalculating today’s mileage and finding it close to 30, we decide to do an overnight in the woods and break the mileage into two days rather than attempting a 30.
And as the day unfolds, we’re glad we made that decision, as the climbing is very difficult again, and in excess of a vertical mile.
Late afternoon, with less than twenty miles for the day, yet totally exhausted, we hike the short distance to the old Shelberg Cabin ruins, pitch and call it a day.
“If a man does his best, what else is there?”
Friday—August 13, 2010
The old Shelberg Cabin had to be a really fine place in its day, but that day had to be many decades ago. John and I marvel at the old place, that it hasn’t burned, that one of the huge ponderosa hasn’t fallen on it.
We pitched right next the cabin, set a fire in the fire ring, and enjoyed our evening meal in the shadow of the old place. Took a couple pictures; you’ll want to see them.
The constant push, no stopping, so seems the way of the long-distance hiker, but today we take to the road, an easy go of it—a welcome and needed letup.
“Everything to excess! To enjoy life take big bites. Moderation is for monks.”
Saturday—August 14, 2010
Location—Sweat Creek, SR #27
You must be tired of hearing me talk about the extent of daily climbing. You’d sure appreciate what’s involved, though, if you had to daily suffer the effort and struggle constantly needed—just incredibly rugged, remote mountains. Aw, quit complaining old man—be thankful you can still climb, still keep going—just be thankful. Why much of the region hiked through recently hasn’t been designated wilderness is a puzzlement to me.
Anyway, more climbing today, as we continue working our way around the city of Republic. For the last three days we’ve been hiking almost due south. Yesterday we turned west again, and today we’ll be heading back up toward the Canadian border. The way of this trail makes one wonder at times if it will ever actually end up at the Pacific Ocean, it winds incessantly. For such patience, to maintain the resolve, to stay focused—thank You, Lord!
Due to the difficult trail, especially with the long-mile days that we’d planned, to have taken an extra day to hike the remainder of the Kettles was a wise decision. And we’re certainly happy with this roadwalk day, less than twenty miles.
We manage to get out by six, hoping to reach our destination for today (Sweat Creek) by early afternoon, from there to beat it into Republic for a shower, laundry, and resupply—and perhaps a room.
Gordon leads out on the road ahead of us, “Have a good one, enjoy.” his always joyful send off. John and I hike shoulder to shoulder, enjoying each other’s company. In a very short while we put the Colville National Forest behind us, to enter the Okanogan. The roadwalk proves gentle, and the time passes swiftly. By one we’re in, loaded, and on our way down to Republic.
First order, to the drive-in for lunch, then off to look for a room. No luck, for as is customary, there always seems there’s some sort of event shaping up for the weekend. We settle for a shower (thanks Kathy). Late afternoon we head back up the mountain, to Sweat Creek, for the night.
An easy enough day, just gotta keep stacking them!
“Beginning is easy—continuing is hard.”
Sunday—August 15, 2010
Location—Bonaparte Lake Campground
Yesterday I was glad to get the Colville National Forest behind me, to finally be in the Okanogan. Changing forests changes ranger districts. For some districts, trails are a priority, for others, much less so. This morning I become immediately concerned about the Okanogan. For this entire trek we’ve been permitted to stay overnight at trailheads. At Sweat Creek Trailhead the sign read “No Overnight Camping.” We had to search for a pull-off in the forest, which was over a mile away. This morning first thing we have much difficulty finding the trail that leads to Clackamas Mountain. Cattle have fouled the creek, and their trails run helter skelter—everywhere. What signage there is, is of little help. A note from a recent hiker (we follow their journals) reads, “Take the most prominent cow path straight up the mountain.” This we do, and manage Clackamas, a climb of nearly 2,000 feet. From there we have much difficulty staying on trail. Even with frequent waypoints set we get lost four times. Blowdowns have been cleared here and there, but it appears sections of the trail have never been maintained, reliance being on the cattle to keep them open. There are a number of springs along, but just as with Sweat Creek, they’ve all been fouled by cattle—beyond use.
Coming down from Clackamas, John is scared out of his wits by two calves that lurch from the brush and onto the trail directly in front of him. The racket, plus the black forms—he thought a bear had him for sure. I was close enough behind to see the whole thing. Isn’t it always hilarious when the unexpected happen to someone else! Laughed till tears were running down my face.
End of the day we’ve a roadwalk along Road 100, which is reached by hiking down a private drive posted with “Keep Out” signs.
Not the greatest section of trail nor the most memorable day.
We end it at Bonaparte Lake Campground, a fine forest service facility.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”
Monday—August 16, 2010
Location—Mount Wilcox Rd. #3524-100
A quiet, enjoyable stay at USFS Bonaparte Lake Campground. The evenings have been cool; just perfect for sleeping—ha, like I’ve had a problem sleeping. I always try doing my journal entries after supper but soon fall asleep, so that chore is always left for in the morning. On this trail, for sure every day, there’s more than enough climbing to wear a fellow out.
And today will be no different, as before us is Bonaparte Mountain, which stands at just above 7,000 feet. From the lake here, up, over, and down the other side will entail elevation change of 8,000 feet. Oh yes, no doubt I’ll be falling asleep trying to do my journal entry this evening.
The climb up Bonaparte is long and steady. Occasionally looking up, I see more up. Splendid views though, back down to Bonaparte Lake. And for fear of taking it for granted, we’ve another day of just blue-perfect weather, not a cloud in the sky, save a white tuft of cirrus here and there—and jackets on to start, with the climb soon taking care of the need for that!
Well into the climb it’s decision-making time. The trail is being re-routed around the south side of the mountain due to a short section of what is called “multi-use” trail—the USFS uses an ORV to reach the actively manned fire tower atop Bonaparte, and the PNT follows a bit of that trail for a mile or so.
From reading other’s descriptions, their comments about climbing to the tower, we decide to follow the old route up, then take the short side trail to the top (trail builders never, ever, take the trail all the way to where it’s headed).
At the tower now, and being invited up by Lewis, the young chap who’s manning the fire tower for the summer, we’re afforded not only spectacular views, 360, but also treated to a solo, a grand performance by Lewis—who has somehow managed to haul his stringed bass up the mountain. Also, the USFS has caringly preserved the old square-beamed shelter used years and years ago. Placed by the old cabin is a weather-worn sign describing a signal mirror (called a heliograph), which was used before the era of modern communications.
Antoine Trail, the trail descending Bonaparte, is in great shape, a pleasant hike down. Reaching Mill Creek we’ve a roadwalk along little-used Mill Creek Road, up Eden Valley. At Dry Gulch, and again entering the Okanagon National Forest, we find a flat pull-off and call it a day. Hot dogs roasted over the fire, good old Dinty, and smores for dessert—oh happy day!
“It’s pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness.
Poverty and wealth have both failed.”
Tuesday—August 17, 2010
Location—US #97, Oroville
Another pleasant, cool night on the mountain. The days are getting noticeably shorter. Sunrise doesn’t arrive now until nearly six.
We head straight out from camp, up and around, following a two-track that narrows and becomes a fine single-track trail. Soon, we arrive a new trailhead, complete with gravel parking and shiny new privy.
From here, a pleasant roadwalk leads down to Whistler Canyon Road. Again, the two-track narrows and becomes the most pleasant trail. Down and down, to one of the most remarkable overlooks—providing us vantage across the Okanogan Valley. Below can be seen the most lush of valleys, the meandering Okanogan River glistening and showing its life-giving path. John and I stop, drop our packs and just take it all in. Ah, and is it not another perfect day to enjoy such fine trail—a true blessing.
From the overlook, and into Whistler Canyon, the trail first runs the bluff, then enters the upper reaches. Then down, a gentle descent all the way to the river. Gordon is here, his trusty GPS, the waypoint set for the one road—of many along—from where the trail emerges.
Hot Tarmac, busy road into Oroville. First, a stop at the drive-in for lunch, then to the post office for my mail-drop, then on, to the rail-trail that will get us headed toward the Cascades.
Back to Oroville, we’re in luck for a room at the (one and only) motel. A fine dinner across at the pizza place, and this perfect day comes to an end.
“There are no limits to either time or distance,
except as man himself may make them.
I have but to touch the wind to know these things.”
Wednesday—August 18, 2010
A so-so motel here in Orovill, my sort of place—a bit on the seedy side. Price-wise, I guess there just aren’t any cheap places anymore. We’re in here for two nights, be coming back from Nighthawk later this morning after completing our short hike today.
A slow breakfast at a slow place puts us on the abandoned Great Northern railgrade late, a little before eight. Two gates to climb over first thing, but no concern for us as we’ve been told by a fellow who knows the adjacent landowner that to pass would not create a problem.
Much work has been done here at the old trestle site; it is quite impressive. Below the railroad bridge there’s a large salmon spawning pool. Certainly this will be a very heavily visited spot during spawning season.
The eleven-mile trek up the old grade proves remarkable. The Similkameen River Canyon is really more a gorge than a canyon or valley with the old rail grade snaking its way through. Many photo ops along, the river, the sheer rock faces that form the canyon walls—and the majestic mountains of the Pasayten rising to the heavens above.
No lack of excitement today. First comes Enloe Dam, which holds the water that turns the lower valley into so many lush, productive farms—alfalfa fields, grape vineyards, apple groves. It’s a brilliant tapestry, green on green, valley wall to valley wall, stark contrast to the arid, burnished, browns of the surrounding hills.
Second comes Shankers Bend Tunnel, such an historic landmark, yet does it pale in comparison to the gold rush, an era beginning with the discovery of gold at Shankers Bend. Gold was in such abundance that in the beginning it was simply a matter of reaching down and picking up the nuggets!
And finally, the event of the day, meeting Ray, one of the local land owners—and being told “You’re trespassing on private land, have been since Enloe Dam.” Oh yes, we knew we were where we shouldn’t have been upon reaching a seven-foot-high gate, chained and padlocked—across the trail. The initial moment was not confrontational. Rather, matter-of-fact were we told. Never felt the least bit ill at ease; Ray couldn’t help but show his friendly, easy-going way. Learned some local (and his family) history. Also learned that I’m nine months older than his father. He let us hike on through.
Folks still live in Nighthawk. But it’s got its share of old buildings, dwellings—that have sat vacant for years. So there’s a certain ghost town feel to the place. Gordon’s parked right at the end of Main Street.
Back in town, and in the evening, Ted stops by. He’s with the Okanogan Office of Planning and Development, the fellow responsible for the good work at the trestle site. Ted’s enthused about the good that’s bound to come from developing the trail. We’re just happy we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy some of it—and to know we’ve not upset anyone too bad…
“A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own,
and no obstacles should be placed in their path…”
Thursday—August 19, 2010
Location—Cold Springs Campground
When hiking, when trekking the trail, two overnights in one place is more than enough. Time to move on from Oroville. Gordon hauls us back to Nighthawk where he has us on the road by six-thirty.
Today’s trek is a roadwalk, from 1,100 ft. elevation here at Nighthawk, to over 6,000 ft. at Cold Springs Campground. Another glorious day weather-wise. So easy to take these days for granted, but I shall not.
The climb is long and steady, and we have little problem finding excuses to stop and rest often. One such break comes when a fellow stops to greet us. It’s Chris, a young chap with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. His title—Land Manager, Northeast Region. He’s heart is obviously in trail as he’s generously applied the resources at his disposal to the trail through the state lands leading into the Pasayten Wilderness. Chris is both surprised and excited to find that we’re thru-hiking the PNT. He has maps for us and takes time to point out the trails we should follow, trails he’s been working in cooperation with the PNTA.
At the trailhead, Cold Springs, we’re near the entrance to the Pasayten Wilderness, which we’ll begin hiking tomorrow. The Pasayten is the longest stretch of roadless trail this trek. We’ve six days of hiking, 120 miles, before we see Gordon again.
The long climb, and our hiking day, ends a little after four. I suppose most hikers would have found little reason (or joy for that matter) in doing today’s roadwalk, and would rather have settled for a ride. Our bullheadedness (and ignorance) drove us on. We camp right at the trailhead Chris and his crew have been working. Spaghetti for the energy—for tomorrow.
“Adventure is putting one’s ignorance into motion.”
[William Least Heat Moon]
Friday—August 20, 2010
Location—Sheelite Pass, then on to Tungsten Mines Bunkhouse
Our camp at the trailhead, upper Cold Springs Campground was ideal, a fine evening, though we tarried little before ending the day. John and I were both very tired after the strenuous climb from the road above Nighthawk—5,000 feet, straight up, it seemed.
Today, after a short distance hiking across state land, we enter the Pasayten Wilderness, one of the most extensive roadless areas in the lower forty-eight. We’ll be in the Pasayten for six days, five nights—at least that’s the plan. Thankfully, the long-range weather forecast is for good weather the entire time—no rain.
As mentioned, Chris has worked the trail through the state lands leading into the wilderness. Three bridges, much tread improvement, just great work. However, we’ve some trouble finding our way up Goodenough Mountain—cow paths running everywhere. After bushwhacking up we finally find the trail near the top.
The Boundary Trail, the trail we’ll be taking all the way to the Pacific Crest Trail, is in fine shape and we make good time. These mountains, the Cascades, at least here in the eastern region are generally oriented east-west, which tends to make for easier going, longer staying up—when the climb is finally up!
Horseshoe Meadows, standing above 7,000 feet, is, indeed, a special place. We’ve heard much and have been told about its beauty by folks along the way. We remain above 7,000 feet much of the afternoon.
John and I are surprised to see two other backpackers camped across one of the lakes, and at the old cabin, Tungsten Mines, we meet Jerry, who packed in by horse and has been staying/living in the cabin the past two weeks. His horses are hobbled and tethered in the meadow below.
We hole up in the old drafty, heavily-pitching-to-the-southeast bunkhouse, built in 1914—and get a welcome warming fire going in the rusty cast-iron stove.
Today we’ve managed a 24 getting here, a good distance. Much to see during such a long, tiring day, diminishing the time, but not the patience needed to endure. Ah, but it has been a good hiking day, even though my shoulders, back, hips, and legs are very tired from carrying six days of food, my heaviest pack since crossing the Upper Peninsula in Michigan last year.
“Patience often gets the credit that belongs to fatigue.”
[Franklin P. Jones]
John Mother Natures Son, has the most appropriate trail name. Turns out he’s a self-taught botanist. It’s quite remarkable, the number and variety of plants he’s able to identify as we trek along. “This is the thimbleberry; try one, they’re delicious.” he might say. So I stop and pick one. Hey, they’re shaped just like a (red) thimble—and they are delicious.
It’s all quite exciting, and so I’ve decided, after the quote for the day, I thought you might enjoy sharing in my new-found knowledge. For the next number of days I’ll list a few of the plants we’ve seen…
Thimbleberry / Raspberry / Bunchberry / Serviceberry
Saturday—August 21, 2010
Location—Martina Creek, then on to Quartz Lake Spring
I’ve never stayed in such a rustic place as the old bunkhouse at Tungsten Mines. Jerry came over from the cabin last evening to visit awhile and to bring a few hard-to-find sticks of wood. There was enough to keep the fire going all night. And oh yes, the fire was needed. And although the old place was plenty drafty, we slept snug and warm. I laid my pad and sleeping bag right out on (what was left of) the old mess-hall table.
We’ve a climb first thing this morning (surprise) up to Apex Pass, and from there, another over to Cathedral Pass. Both are above 7,000 feet, Cathedral stands at 7,580.
The approach to Cathedral Pass offers countless photo ops. The spire that is Cathedral literally touches the heavens. Timing is perfect as the sun is just lifting above the eastern horizon. I snap picture after picture as the trail moves me closer and closer.
The Cathedrals are a spiritual place. If you’ve read my ramblings, any amount of time, then you’re familiar with my reaction, with the depth of emotion experienced when in the very presence of the Almighty. Man, indeed, has built high domes and spires in his feeble attempt to express reverence. None compare to the real thing, to the unmistakable work of Nature’s God. A certain meekness serves one well in experiencing the true and complete saturation of the senses, descending as such immense power does, from heaven above—overwhelming.
The high alpine setting just the other side of the pass is one of the most picturesque places along any trail in my memory. Just a remarkable time in the Cathedrals!
Along the way today, riding horseback, we chance to meet Amber, and her father, Mark. Amber is a trained, experienced back country ranger. Mark is a personal friend of Jon Knechtel, PNTA Exec. He’s worked to get grants and funding for this new scenic trail. We have a most enjoyable conversation.
Later in the day we have a very long bail off to Ashnola River, which is crossed on a fine log bridge. Follows then another long, hard pull up to Peevee Pass. Just the other side we’re in luck to find a splendid campsite, complete with fire ring and plenty of wood. I manage a warming fire first thing.
We did quite well today, though John wasn’t feeling too good in the afternoon.
“I will lift mine eyes unto the hills,
from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord.”
Baneberry (poison) / Milkweed / Rosehip / Elderberry
Sunday—August 22, 2010
Location—Pasayten Air Strip, then on to Chuchuwanteen Creek
A cold night, but I managed to sleep warm. It’s also a very cold morning. I hike with my gloves on, hands in my pockets—for the longest time.
We’ve a climb first thing (what’s new). From Park Pass we get our first really good view of the Cascade Crest. Easy to spot—the ice and snow covered high peaks filling the entire horizon.
Coming off Bunker Hill we miss a turn and lose a half-hour backtracking. Sometimes GPS waypoints help, sometimes not.
We have long been concerned about the Pasayten River, the crossing/ford we’ll need to make there. Also of great concern has been the fear of losing the trail through the surrounding burnover, which we understand runs for some five miles. Turns out, about half a mile from the old bridge site we find flagging. We turn to follow. It leads us to the stock crossing at the river. Flagging marks both sides of the river. Our crossing is straightforward and uneventful. Once across we find flagging and good track leading to Trail #461, which becomes the Boundary Trail. The old trail coming from the bridge site must have been abandoned, as we were unable to find it.
Not so fortunate with the weather today. The rain came in around nine and remained off and on all day. Also, jacket and poncho on, plus gloves, all day. Late evening we manage Chuchuwanteen River and set camp, then call it a day.
All the worry and consternation for what! We should have just remained happy and content being in the wilderness, thankful for the privilege of hiking here, and have released all else to the good Lord above.
“Fears vanish as soon as one is fairly free in the wilderness.”
Monday—August 23, 2010
Location—Rock Pass, then on to Holeman Pass
A very cold night last, probably down in the high 40s. Dried my shoes and socks by the fire. We were able to rock-hop the river, then immediately became totally soaked in the wet brush. No more across the Chuchuwanteen do we come across a tent right in the middle of the trail. Head pops out—we meet Lee. He’s section hiking the PNT. We exchange much useful trail information. Good luck as you continue on, Lee!
By one we’re on the PCT. At this point I’ve another leg, farther north, to use in connecting around for the Great Western Loop, from Goat Haunt, to here at Castle Pass.
We’re no sooner on the PCT than we meet Tom and Steve from Canada. They’re on their way to Manning Park. And not a quarter-mile farther along I manage to fall off the trail, badly twisting my left ankle in the process. Then, just a short distance on come northbound thru-hikers Smile Train and Wander. I get a video. They’ll finish their hike in Manning Park, Canada, this afternoon. Congratulations, fellows!
We’ve a cloud-free, glorious day—views to the horizon, clear to Mt. Baker and North Cascade National Park. Late afternoon I manage to hobble in to Holman Pass, where we turn from the PCT. Here we meet Boots. He gives me meds to ease the ankle pain and get me on to Ross Lake. Thirty-one miles to go. Hope I can make it down to the van. A very difficult afternoon.
“Unwilling priestess in the cruel fane,
Long hast thou held me, pitiless god of pain.”
Strawberry / Blueberry / Huckleberry / Hawthorne Apple
Tuesday—August 24, 2010
Location—Trail #738, Devils Dome Loop, below McMillan Park
Five minutes one way or the other and Boots would have been gone on up the trail; we would never have met. Just coincidence the way it worked out, eh? Sure, just coincidence! After wrapping my ankle with the Ace bandage given me, taking an 800mg ibuprofen, plus a vicadin tab, all kindly provided by Boots, I was immediately and mercifully relieved of the pain.
Most of us have come to believe that miracles, should they actually occur, are indeed rare, and always happen to someone else. Me, I’ve come to believe miracles are commonplace, and that I am more than not, the fortunate benefactor. In any regard, thanks, Boots, for your kindness, for your generosity to this old man—thanks for caring! Oh, and did he not also offer to turn back from his own trek an haul my pack out for me. Yup, just a coincidence that Boots “happened” along.
We’re out to a beautifully clear, cloud-free day, cool, just the least breeze—a perfect day for hiking these remaining few miles in the western Pasayten Wilderness.
At Holman Pass, our camp last, we left the Pacific Crest Trail to head ever west on Trail #752. First off, a hard, steady climb to Sky Pilot Pass, which takes us to 6,300 feet, followed by a descent to Deception Pass (quite deceiving, as a small seep is crossed on a plank walkway right in the pass). Then comes another strong, steady pull to Devils Pass. We’ve hiked eight miles now and my ankle has caused me little grief. Some dull, persistent pain, considerable weakness, otherwise I’ve suffered little—a blessing for sure.
At Devils Pass, even though I’ve a waypoint set, we manage to go the wrong way. The maps we’re generally relying on (from the PNT Guide Book) are very old. Since they were created, new trails have been built, old trails abandoned, route changes made. At Devils Pass a trail not shown on our map comes into the pass. Guessing our way along (not at all unusual) we make the wrong decision and end up on Trail #738, the eastern leg of Ross Lake Loop Trail. After fifteen minutes or so, and after climbing a couple-hundred feet, it finally dawns on us that we shouldn’t be hiking southeast. Oh no—one more time! Trail #738 eventually ends up at SR-20, so instead of backtracking, the decision is to hike it on down.
Actually “down” is the wrong word, as the trail first leads us up and over, to Devils Park. Along the way we meet Sean and Genevieve, who show us their (up to date) map, and assure us we’re headed the right direction. Hiking this route, we miss Devils Peak, but we’re offered spectacular, high vantage views (after a half-mile of near straight up climbing) back across and toward Devils Peak and Mt. Baker.
Another bail off, followed by the most amazing (and scary) climb switchbacking an enormous scree slope, we’re finally headed down to the highway. And along the way we meet a family of five from Philadelphia. This is obviously a popular trail, as also along we meet Vickie and her cousin. All these folks are hiking the Devils Dome/Ross Lake Loop.
We’d hoped to make it down to SR-20 and the van, but late evening now, and with over five miles remaining, the majority of it involving a 4,000-foot bail off, we decide to call it a day and pull in at the last primitive campsite on the ridge.
There’s water a short distance down the trail, and the campsite has a fine fire ring—and two resident elk, a buck (antlers in velvet) and a little doe.
I’ve managed the day remarkably well—much ankle weakness, some intermittent pain. A true blessing to be able to continue this remarkable trek; thank You, Lord.
“When pain rears up its ugly head,
You have to walk your way right through.
Adventures always lie ahead,
Each day is altogether new.”
Fireweed / Solomon’s Seal / Currant / Sumac
Wednesday—August 25, 2010
Location—State Highway 20/Happy Panther Tr.
The elk hung around all night but were not the least nuisance. And this morning they remain right in camp. John entertains them as he downs his morning cereal.
Another fine day dawning as we cruise on down to the highway—and the van.
We load and Gordon drives us down the mountain to Marblemount, to burgers and fries. Then it’s over to the Buffalo Run Inn on the corner.
We’ll be spending two nights. Hopefully, keeping my left foot up a couple of days will hasten the healing. I’ve obviously sprained the ankle. It’s turning a lovely shade of blue.
“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
Cattail / Horsetail / Sky Pilot / Columbine
Thursday—August 26, 2010
A much needed day of rest. Rained off and on. In the evening Remy stopped by. Met him at the ALDHA West Gathering, the Triple Crown Awards presentation, 2008. We share much enjoyable conversation. A very relaxing day.
My left foot remains troublesome—noticeable swelling.
To buy some time and to allow my ankle to better heal, we’ve added an extra day to get to Hennegan Pass, Mt. Baker Highway. I am certain I will be strong, that I will endure.
“Faith in something greater than ourselves enables us to…
keep going when the challenge seems overwhelming
and the course is entirely uncertain.”
Mullein / Aspen / Cottonwood / Fir
Friday—August 27, 2010
Location—39-Mile Horse Camp
The day of rest may have been of benefit—hard to tell for sure as my ankle is badly swollen and has totally turned the most delightful shade of blue.
We’re up at five to steady rain. I wrap the ankle, get dressed for the trail, hasten to the little convenience right next for coffee, plus an apple Danish, plus a blueberry muffin.
Takes me a half-hour to get the room cleared out and my bin and all my stuff loaded in the van.
It’s an hour’s drive up to the trailhead at Happy Panther. The Happy Panther Trail follows along the near side of the Ruby Arm, Lake Ross, just below the road, all the way down to the dam—we take to the road. There’s little traffic, a very easy start for this day. By the time we complete the roadwalk the skies have pretty much cleared and it’s warmed enough to remove my rain jacket and gloves.
Crossing Ross Dam is quite an experience. There’s lake one side, down, way down, the other. From the dam we can see Ross Lake Resort, a cluster of small cabins floating on old western red cedar logs, the whole setup converted from a logging camp/operation from back last century. The flotation logs, they’re the original ones! The trail passes the resort, with a side trail leading down. We go down to take the place in. It is unique, floating as it does, all the cabins cabled and chain-ganged together. The flotation logs rest completely below the water surface. I know cedar takes forever to rot, but what keeps the logs from becoming waterlogged—literally, is anybody’s guess.
At the office now, a busy place, the lodge-keep offers us a cup of coffee. I roam the common walkways around for some pictures while a fresh pot brews. You’ll enjoy seeing this old place. Don’t forget to check the Odyssey 2010 PNT album in a few days.
Above the resort, somewhere along, we enter North Cascades National Park. Permits are required for overnight stays in the park. We’ll be in here three days and two nights, so while in Marblemount Gordon and John took time to pay a visit to the forest service office. Good thing, as just a ways in comes this ranger. Such a joy-filled, petite little lady, Christie, her gargantuan pack near her size. She’s happy as can be with her strenuous job in the back country. We talk for the longest time. Before going our separate way, and sensing our connection at the heart for the love of the wild, for being one with Nature, I take a moment to recite my ditty, Land of the Free.
Up from the resort the trail climbs gently, leading us through old growth western red cedar and Douglas fir. A most memorable time, as the trail winds between the high sentinels, the ground blanketed with a soft, pleasant-to-the-feet carpet of needles.
By five we’ve reached 39-Mile Horse Camp, our destination. We manage a fine cooking/warming fire to prepare the evening meal, then after, to just sit and reflect on the rewards of this delightful hiking day.
“North Cascades National Park contains some of America’s most beautiful
mountain scenery—high jagged peaks, ridges, slopes,
and countless cascading waterfalls.”
[National Park Service North Cascades Brochure]
Ponderosa Pine / Jeffery Pine / Lodgepole Pine / Aspen
Saturday—August 28, 2010
While it rained on us, our day off, it was snowing at the higher elevations here in the Cascades. The peaks and ridges around are pure white. And so, as the weather warms, snowmelt comes down, swelling the streams that we must cross. Nothing scary but we’ve certainly gained respect for their presence—and take much more time in their crossing.
We’ve had a fine night at 39-Mile Camp. Manage to break camp and hit the trail by six-thirty. The days are squeezing down on us—fewer hours of daylight as each day passes. Plans are to finish this trek around the middle of next month, certainly none too soon.
Today will be another climbing day (surprise), Beaver and Whatcom Passes—Beaver being a 2,000-foot up, and Whatcom, nearly 2,600. With the bail-offs, total elevation change for the day will exceed 5,800 vertical feet.
The trail passes more old growth forest today, huge, stately western red cedar, tall stands of eight- to ten-foot diameter Douglas fir. As we ascend toward Whatcom, we leave the majestic forest below, to enter an open cathedral full around, with sweeping views across and above, to cascading waterfalls, ridges and slopes of pure ice and snow—and blue-green glaciers. Also, to divert my attention from the long, steep climb, I see a black bear. It’s foraging along the trail, and though he’s seen me and knows I’ll be coming through, he continues chomping the trailside plants along, pausing only long enough to keep an eye on me. Of a sudden—I’m not in the least hurry. I stop, get my camera out, zoom and get the bruin perfectly framed. Wow, this is going to be one fantastic bear shot. I steady the camera, then click the shutter—nothing, no click, no nothing. What’s going on? I try again, same thing. Aw, now I see—just can’t be this, but it’s true. Displayed on the screen, “Memory Card Full.” Great timing, eh! Of course, by the time I change out the card, the bear’s long gone.
It’s nearly dark when we reach Graybeal. I try getting a fire started—three times. After I give up, John manages a fine, warming blaze in no time. Really cooling down fast. Wow, does this fire feel good. Supper is instant rice and beef ramen, with a can of Kippered Herring thrown in.
Been a totally tiring day, for sure, but a great one, as the trail, ever faithful to its task, has led us to once more experience the wonders of the forest primeval, and the cold and mysterious high places.
“We celebrate not the trail, but the wild places it passes through.”
Devil’s Club / Kinnikinnick / Yarrow / Angelica
Sunday—August 29, 2010
Location—Hannegan Pass Trailhead
Our camp at Graybeal was a fine site, but cold. Camps situated by rivers filled with snow and glacial ice-melt tend to be cold, even in August. I slept reasonably warm. John had a less comfortable night.
Tough getting going this morning. There were lingering coals from last night’s fire and with a few small sticks I’m able to get it burning again. We linger—and huddle. It’s six forty-five before we’re packs up and moving.
In moments we’re both totally soaked. Blowdowns have been cleared, however, hardly any of the trail has been brushed back. Weeds and brush laden with dew inundate the trail along, so it’s wade through, literally, taking most of the wet with us. Cold, wet mornings tend to cause one to pause—and ponder, why! Ah, but never does there seem a satisfactory answer to the question. So, onward (patiently) to warmer, dryer days.
To begin the day we’ve a gentle descent (most unusual) to the Chilliwack River. There’s no bridge over the Chilliwack, so it must be forded—or crossed by cable car. A hiker drowned trying to ford the river a few years ago, so the park service has installed a cable car by which hikers may cross. Yup, we choose the car!
Folks, let me tell you—riding the self-propelled (hand-over-hand pull rope) swaying basket, high above the gorge, is an absolute hoot, way too exciting a time to be scared. John goes first. I get his picture. I go last. John gets mine. What a time. No problem deciding what will be the highlight of this day!
Okay, now comes the climb, a 2,500-foot pull up to Hannegan Pass. This gets the old jitney up to normal operating temperature—in no time. Off come the down vest, jacket, and gloves, for the long, hard up. On the way I catch and pass the fellow (say park nuisance) who’d ignored the universal National Park rule of no dogs in the park. I’d gone in to U.S, Cabin, one of the park’s designated campgrounds, to see if there really was a cabin (not), when the unleashed bulldog thought he’d have a piece of me for breakfast. Came at me full tilt, snarling, teeth gnashing. Just feet from me, and skidding to a halt, he wisely decided he didn’t want to try digesting both my trekking poles first. Of course the fellow (park nuisance) was hollering at the mongrel the whole time. Had a few choice words for the fellow (park nuisance), which cannot be repeated here on this website. So, now I run into them again. The mutt, now leashed, hides behind his master (park nuisance). Again, I have a few choice words. Sorry folks, I lost it (twice now), should be totally ashamed of myself!
Being Sunday, there are lots of folks up here enjoying the day, which has turned warm, blue-perfect. During the afternoon, and on the far, high, snow-covered mountain we could see climbers ascending the steep slope. Just small dots, they were. I watched them for the longest time, totally fascinated. Ah, and here at the trailhead this evening we get to meet these great adventurers. They’re locals, Tyler, Joe, and Cory. We share the most delightful time together. Also, Josh and Ingrid stop by the van to talk trail. During their hike on the mountain, Josh managed to black both his big toenails—a very painful injury. And don’t I know/remember that painful time. I show him my toes, sans toenails!
There’s a shelter here, complete with fire ring. We set up kitchen and prepare supper—glory-be, just as the rain begins. The warming fire is of great benefit.
“In wilderness people can sense being a part of the whole community of life on earth.”
[National Park Service North Cascades Brochure]
Black Cherry / Hemlock / Western Red Cedar / Birch
Monday—August 30, 2010
Location—Austin Pass, then on to FSR #1130
This has been the first night in the van in a long time. Time to pause and reflect, to reflect on the good that’s come to me. Yes, I try to hike at least some nearly every day, seldom taking a full day off. And yes, as I’ve been told, I’m stringing together a whole bunch of day hikes in order to accomplish these two thru-hikes this year. Without van support it would not be possible. It may not seem so, but my age is definitely a limiting factor. No way could I ever carry the weight of gear, plus food for the otherwise extended periods I’d have to deal with between resupply. These Pacific northwest mountains comprise some of the most extensive uninterrupted remote terrain in the lower forty-eight, with resupply points few and far between. So yes, I’m day hiking and thankful for it. Thank you, Gordon, thank you, Lord.
We’ve a roadwalk up to Austin Pass, a climb (oh yes) of two-thousand, an easy go of it. We’re in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest now, a short distance northeast of Mt. Baker, which commands the heavens around, standing as it does at near 11,000 feet. At the Heather Meadows (Mt. Baker) Visitors Center we meet King and Eppie Happy Hoofer [GAME ‘88]. They volunteer their time at the center. Both are genuinely pleased and excited to meet us. Either Remy (a friend living nearby) or Silver (a PNT thru-hiker ahead of us) had told them to look for us. The problem—we’d become concerned about a section of trail just ahead. Our data and maps show Swift Creek Trail as being “unmaintained.” In addition, apparently, there will be two difficult river crossings. Both Eppie and King fill us in on what to expect. We are told that not only Silver, but others have made it through; good news. Not so good news, the weather. 90% chance of rain tomorrow. Some improvement forecast for day after, but little. Sure enough, we should be the last to complain about the weather. Also sure, we should take advantage of the good weather we’ve got today.
It’s two-thirty now. Decision is to go. So long, Eppie and King. Thanks for your generosity and kindness. A disappointment for sure, that time with you proved so short.
We head down Lake Ann Trail the two miles to Swift Creek Trail. At a little before three-thirty we turn onto it. To our delight, we find the trail in fine condition, much better than a lot of trail now behind us. Blowdowns are few; not a problem. And as we proceed, we find the trail almost completely brushed back. The first crossing, at around five miles down—Swift Creek—was also crossed at one time by cable car. The whole setup, save the high-up cables, has long since been washed away. So now, fording the creek is the only way. Swift Creek isn’t particularly wide, nor does it appear to be all that deep. But as we quickly find, it’s indeed deceiving. Much ice and snowmelt is passing—very swiftly. Silver had told King and Eppie in an email that where he forded successfully, which also appears the best spot to us, is a hundred or so feet down river from the old cable crossing. Here, John and I are able to ford easily.
Further along, and some two miles from the downstream trailhead, Swift Creek Trail crosses Rainbow Creek. Here, two huge, uprooted western red cedars have become jammed against the river bank either side, and in the center at an angle, they’re lodged together. Strung along the jumble, and quite taut, are there cables running, to which hikers may hold while crossing. Flagging near both banks, and by the trail both sides, guide the hiker to the log-jam “bridge.”
With little daylight to spare, we arrive the trailhead, where Gordon has also just arrived—after driving the shortest distance around, some 125 miles!
I prepare a hasty but most enjoyable spaghetti supper. John does dishes in the dark.
And now, might I take a moment for a short word of thanks to PNTA, and to the crew who’ve worked so diligently to reopen this critical link in the PNT. Our hike down Swift Creek Trail was a memorable experience—thanks!
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”
Alder / Ash / Maple / Larch
Tuesday—August 31, 2010
Location—Junction FSR #11
As forecast, the rain finally arrived at one-thirty, sporadic to begin with, then no-nonsense hard and steady. It woke me, but quickly lulled me back to sleep.
Daylight now and the rain persists. How John has managed to break camp is a mystery. He’s packed and ready to go by six. I’m warm and dry, not in the least rush to head out into it. Finally, around eight, John gets me moving. This rain is the no nonsense kind of rain. It’s come in, settled for the day, and remains steady.
Our hike today takes us down a woods road a short distance, then onto a better graded road. The graded road leads us to a paved road, which we follow (in the cold, relentless rain), all the way down to near Concrete, an old but well kept company town. Gordon is waiting. He gets us loaded, and we’re on our way to Concrete. We’re in luck for a room, and a fine meal. At the bar and grill we meet Verlie, the owner. He’s interested in hearing about the new trail. Back in the room I hand launder my dirty, smelly clothes. I’ve a phone signal, first in a long while, so, time to get on the Internet, check my mail, and the forecast. Hey, appears this clutter will be clearing out tonight, bringing sunshine and warmer days later in the week; very good news. Ah, keeping the faith, especially through gloomy days such as this—not easy. Yet am I content in knowing the day of salvation, the greatest day of all, is yet to come.
I work journal entries and correspondence until my eyes no longer stay open.
“I know dark clouds will gather o’er me,
I know my pathway’s rough and steep.
But golden fields lie out before me,
Where weary eyes no more shall weep.”
Cow Parsnip / Bear Grass / Mules Ear / Pussy Paws
Wednesday—September 1, 2010
Location—Sierra Pacific Road #100, then on to Lyman Hill
Concrete is a fine trail town. The motel is a ways out, but not a problem for us. All other hiker needs/wants are right downtown.
We linger long at the bar and grill this morning. Got there a little after six, the three of us in no hurry. Rather, we relax, have a great breakfast—and drain their coffee pot, twice.
Forecast calls for clouds off and on today, but no rain. Looks of it, the weatherman is on. The rain quit late yesterday evening, and the sky is trying to clear this morning. We finally load. Gordon drives us back up to the trail, then gets us out and hiking a little before eight.
We’ve a 2,500-foot climb first thing, up a well maintained logging road. The climb goes slow. A problem for the brain to figure out—send blood to the stomach to digest breakfast, or to the legs to get the old jitney climbing. Yes, a sluggish go at it. Finally, around ten we’ve topped out. Comes now a “connector” trail. Recent data info suggests that “It may be rough.” We make it up to the top of Mt. Josephine, but not till we’ve both had the wits scared completely out of us. I’ve hiked some straight up, gnarly tread in my time, but this climb, up slippery, moss-covered boulders blocked by brush and blowdowns, with a 500-foot cliff to slide off right next—well, not so good for an old man’s heart! Aw, whining again, aren’t you, old man!
We’ve a jigsaw jumble of logging roads to weave our way through, and how fortunate to have gotten on a wrong road only once, and then for less than five minutes, as once past the “connector” we’re again back on logging roads for the bail-off from 3,800 feet, down to Sierra Pacific Road #100, which stands at 500.
With dusk rapidly descending, we cross and start the climb up Lyman Mountain. After collecting water from a mountain stream, we get off the main logging road, pitch, and call it a day.
“Give me a mind that is not bound, that does not whimper, whine or sigh.”
[Thomas H. B. Webb]
Pasqueflower / Glacier Lilly / Pipsissewa / Pine Drops
Thursday–September 2, 2010
Location–Lyman Hill, then on to WA-9, Wickersham
Our camp last was on the side of Lyman Hill, by a lesser-used (likely leading to a dead-end landing) logging road. We could hear hunters passing below, off and on, so we were glad to be off the main road. Yesterday, we learned, was the first day of deer hunting season. A fellow had stopped to talk to us as we descended toward Crown Pacific Road #100. Found out hunting season had opened when I inquired about the compound bow laying the passenger seat next to him. Also found out the strangest thing: This side of Road 100, it’s bow season for “cowboys.” Other side, modern gun for the Indians. Go figure; cowboys hunting with bows, Indians hunting with guns! Yup–strange!
Even though we’d begun the climb up Lyman yesterday evening, still ahead we’ve near 4,000 feet to pull to reach the top this morning. As we climb, the once, well-traveled logging road becomes narrower and narrower at each side landing spur, until, near the top, it deadends at an old hunt camp/quarry. Beyond, there’s the least trace of a grade where the road may have continued on at one time. However, it’s now completely grown over with the four “Bs” (briars, brambles, blowdowns, and brush). Our map shows another way, a couple-hundred yards below–and back, which connects up with the logging road on the other side of Lyman. We go back to hike it, only to find that near a half-mile along and some three to four-hundred feet below where we started, it deadends in an old landing. Back up and around to the abandoned hunt camp one more time, we look for the landmark described in the guide, an old boiler tank. Not surprising, no boiler tank anywhere to be seen. We plunge in anyway, alder and briars clear over our heads. In no time we’re totally soaked, from bottom (submerged trail) to top (waterlogged foliage). We’ve come to learn, pathways such as this are called “connectors.” This one is named the Gurdjeff Connector. And as for yesterday, that harrowing climb up the “connector” over Josephine, this trail has been little (if ever) used, and seldom (if ever) maintained. Hey, Gurdjeff, where are you? Come look at your trail; it could use some work!
Using GPS-fixed waypoints we manage the crossing of Lyman (finally passing the old boiler tank around a half-mile in), to the logging road, which tops out–near the top–on the other side. Oh, what we intrepid will daily do–when compelled and driven–to see what’s on the other side, beyond the horizon! Anyway, Lyman Hill, the Gurdjeff Connector, not a pleasant time, certainly not a fun experience–sure enough not a trail where you’d want to bring your Scout Troop for a weekend hike!
Once past Lyman, and on the logging road descending, we make good time, down Innis Road, to Wickersham. At the logging road gate below, where Gordon awaits, a motley-looking, tailless, black dominecker rooster keeps chasing him around, pecking at him from behind. Gordon, frustrated, fed up, and mad, tries chasing the bird (with no luck), whacking at it with a stick. Not funny for Gordon, but, oh yes, funny for us!
From the logging road gate, we trek the short distance on to the highway, WA-9, where we load and head for Sedro-Woolley. There to indulge ourselves–a room, a good hot meal, and finally, the task of washing some of the stink off our smelly bodies and our trail-soiled clothes.
“I want to see what’s on the other side of the hill—then what’s beyond that.”
[Emma Grandma Gatewood, GAME ‘55,’60,’63]
Heather / Blue Gentian / Harebell / Aster
Friday—September 3, 2010
Location—Cain Lake Road, then on to Nulle/Lake Samish Road
The trail today leads up and over Anderson Mountain, supposedly. I say “supposedly” as notes concerning Anderson are anything but encouraging. Best we can figure there’s been recent timbering on the east side of the mountain, obliterating the trail there. “…there is no evidence of a trail going down the east side of the mountain…we are experienced hikers/climbers and could not find any vestige of a trail…and any road we took, and we took several, just end[ed] at a logging landing.” In my comment above I use the word “recent” very loosely, as it could well apply to a time span of ten years or more, with not the least trail maintenance since. The “connector(s)” over Josephine and Lyman, last two days, were anything but, and there’s not even mention of a connector over Anderson. Time to apply the old “fool me once” idiom; we take to the roads around Anderson Mountain!
From Wickersham, rather than hiking south on busy WA-9 for three miles (from there to head up and get lost on Anderson), we go north half-a-mile to lesser-used Park Road, to hike it the two and one-half miles down to South Bay Drive, Lake Whatcom. Turns to be a delightful hike. Even with this the start of Labor Day weekend, traffic by Lake Whatcom is no problem as folks begin arriving their weekend retreats. And happy folks they are; we’re greeted by many. Skirting beautiful Lake Whatcom, lakeside are lovely well-kept cabins and homes, mountainside, groomed and cared-for orchards of apple and pear. Ah, and what a welcome change of pace from our recent wanderings through the maze and jumble of logging roads, the tortuous climbing and cobble of up and over. No tedious trail (or road) today; sure the right choice!
At the very south of South Bay, Lake Whatcom, we turn onto Cain Lake Road, there to pass lovely Cain Lake on our way to Trillium Gate and the trail to Little Baldy. Entering Whatcom County Park, Little Baldy, we’re treated to delightful trail, down past Squires Lake, to Old Hwy. 99. We close the day with another roadwalk (this one designated) along Nulle Road, to Samish Lake. From Samish Lake Road, Gordon drives us down busy I-5 to Alger—there to the Skagit Casino—and dinner.
“Let us go singing as far as we go; the road will be less tedious.”
Sword Fern / Orange Honeysuckle / Twinflower / Tufted Hairgrass
Saturday—September 4, 2010
Location—WA-11, then on to Padilla Bay Trail (North End)
Last evening we drove all over the place trying to find a spot where we could park the van and John could also pitch his tent–no luck. So we ended up where we’d started, back at the Skagit Casino parking lot. Pulled in (and the van blended in) among the vehicles, all the late night gamblers. Gordon and I slept comfortably in our usual sleeping quarters in the van. John didn’t fare as well. He ended up, bunched up, in the passenger seat up front.
Early morning now, sixish, we’re up and moving down the road. From the intersection, Nulle/Lake Samish Road, we’ve a short roadwalk over to Bloedel Gate and the trail (old road grade) leading up Chuckanut Mountain. Reaching the trail, no question this is our junction, as there’s not only a white blaze on a nearby tree, but a PNT trail marker to boot. Quite a novelty, seeing both, as there’s been scant few of either for over 900 miles.
Turns to be another delightful day, warm and clear, hiking well-marked, manicured trail. The climb up Chuckanut is easy, along the British Army Trail (Folks, I don’t make this stuff up!). Once at North Butte/Blanchard Hill, we’ve a gradual descent to Lizard and Lily Lake(s). Then comes more well-maintained trail, the Larry Reed and Max’s Shortcut, followed by a bail off down to South Samish Overlook. We’re in rainforest supreme now, what with giant ferns fringing the trail along, the ground covered, totally encased (including blowdowns and live trees) in a blanket of moss. At the overlook we’ve an unobstructed view across Samish and Bellingham Bay(s), the San Juan Islands, and farther west to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, clear into Canada–and that vast horizon beyond.
Departing South Samish Overlook we leave the remaining mainland mountains behind as we descend to Samish Bay and WA-11/Chuckanut Drive. A break for lunch at the van then comes a roadwalk along the bay on down to Bayview State Park and the north end of the Padilla Bay Trail, where we call it a day.
But the day isn’t over as we’ve been invited to the home of John’s long-time hiking friend, Gerard, who lives just south of Coupeville. Along the way we stop while John hits the grocery for steaks to grill. Once at Gerard’s we enjoy the evening talking trail–and partaking a fine meal.
“There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy freely a vast horizon.”
Forest Moss/ Toothed Wood Fern / Lady Fern / Licorice Fern
Sunday—September 5, 2010
Location—North End Marsch Point Road, then on to Lake Erie Store
We spent the night at Gerard’s, Gordon and I in the van, John in Gerard’s spare bedroom.
A pot of coffee down, we head out to a cool morning. A forty-minute drive and we’re back to the north end, Padilla Bay Trail, a perfectly flat, hard-surface walkway along a tidewater dike around Padilla Bay. Hiking along, tide out, it’s definitely a strange sight here, the brown-bottomed bay. To be seen are mud flats veined with tide-washed channels. That’s it, not a sign of life for countless square miles–pretty much all the way across.
The dike-hike proves short, a two-mile meander around. We’re quickly back to the roadwalk, down Bayview/Edison Road to WA-20. John had hiked portions of this section back in 2005. So, today, not so enthused about the roadwalk, and nearing Sharpes Corner, thumb out, John hitches a ride back to Gerard’s.
I turn to continue north along the east shore of Fidalgo Bay, to an old railroad trestle that’s been converted to a urban railtrail. Lots of folks here. A fun walk across Fidalgo. Crossing the bay now, and near the center, I’ve a fair vantage north, clear to Anacortes and the San Juan Islands beyond.
The railtrail continues, past Fidalgo Bay RV Park, along the bay, all the way to downtown Anacortes. At 22nd Street I leave the railtrail to head west, along commercial, then residential streets, to Anacortes Community Forest Lands, their parks. Here are urban trails. First comes Cranberry Lake Park. I head in at the trailhead off 23rd Street. The path is wide and well marked as it meanders gently up and down to the outfall between Little Cranberry Lake and Big Beaver Pond. Crossing the bridge, I follow the trail south, along the west shore of Big Beaver, to Mitten Pond and the trailhead at Havekost Road.
Back at WA-20, where John hitched out for the day, Gordon had also left to head for the bus station, there to pick up Cruisin’, a dear friend with whom I’d hiked the PCT back in 2008. Cruisin’ has returned to the states for another round of hiking our premier trails. He’s just completed a thru-hike o’er the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail–with time to spare (Congratulations, Cruisin’!). So, before catching his flight back to Berlin–in a few days–he’s decided to spend some of that time hiking with the old Nimblewill! Ah, and here at Havekost Road, in the van do I find Gordon and Cruisin’–waiting. What a joy seeing this dear friend once more!
Across Havekost the urban pathway enters Heart Lake Park. Cruisin’ and I head in, bubbling with excitement in being on the trail together again. Talking, laughing, jumping around, tripping backwards while reliving great memories (yes, we are excited), we miss a turn and take the wrong trail. No matter; who cares! Hiking the long way around we finally emerge at Heart Lake Road. Here we head south (in the rain) to Lake Erie Store, and the end of the trail–for today.
The evening, again, is spent at Gerard’s. Arriving, we find John and Gerard returning from dinner. Upon introducing Cruisin’, and as he and Gerard shake hands, do broad grins come to both their faces. Seems they’ve met before, back at Stevens Pass, the PCT, two years ago. Gerard had given Cruisin’ a ride to town! Gordon, I, and John, we look on, standing dumbfounded, shaking our heads in astonishment. Who could have dreamed of any such happy happening? Just another coincidence, eh folks? What a delightful evening. Old friends–and cherished memories!
“The best things in life come in threes, like friends, dreams, and memories.”
Monday—September 6, 2010
Location—South End Deception Pass Bridge, then on to Ault Field Road
A sad, sorta bumpy beginning this morning, especially for John. It’s good-bye time to Gerard. As we load to leave, John blurts out something to the effect, “You’re welcome at our home in ‘Bama, anytime!” Thanks, Gerard, dear new friend, for your kindness and hospitality. It’s been great!
Seems the cold rain has come to stay. A very dreary morning as we drop John off at Ault Field Road. He’ll continue his hike from here to the Keystone Ferry Landing below Fort Casey, where we hope to meet up again this evening.
From Lake Erie Store, Cruisin’ and I resume our roadwalk, along Sharpe Road, around Devils Elbow, then down Rosario Road to Rosario Beach. The rain has been off and on, but as we near Deception Pass, it’s here, no nonsense, steady and cold. Traffic is crushing on WA-20 as we work our way along the narrow roadway and around blind curves, the pavement jammed against shear rock.
We spend little time on Deception Pass Bridge, what with the traffic hosing us down. Across the bridge, we arrive Whidbey Island. Here, there’s supposed trail around (or up and over) Goose Rock. On the bridge, we encountered heavy fog as the cold rain continued. It was there we decided to hike the North Beach Trail out to West Point, rather than trying the trail over Goose Rock. So, now along the beach trail, we’ve a little (slippery) climbing, a few vantages out and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then to pass (another) Cranberry Lake, through Deception Pass State Park, and back over to WA-20.
This being Labor Day Weekend, the nearly bumper-to-bumper traffic continues unabated as we trek on down the highway. At Ault Field Road we give it up for the day. The rain, steady and cold, the continual nerve-wrack of traffic, a wearisome combination. I am tired, but not tired out. I am wore down, but not worn out. And Cruisin’? Rainy weather can’t dampen this young man’s spirit; he hasn’t quit smiling all day! A call to John, we find that he’d given it up too and had hitched a ride on over to the landing. He’s already taken the Keystone Ferry across Puget Sound and is warm and dry, in a motel room in Port Townsend. We decide to try Gerard’s hospitality one more time. We’re in luck. He’s home. We’re invited back!
Late evening now, I prepare a huge pot of spaghetti, right in Gerard’s kitchen. Turns to be another fine evening with this dear new friend.
“Walking [in the rain] brings out the true character of a man.”
Tuesday—September 7, 2010
Location—Keystone Ferry/Port Townsend
Another cold, rainy morning as we depart Gerard’s for the final time. It’s sure been a blessing, Gerard’s kindness and hospitality.
Roadwalking is what one makes of it. However, roadwalking in the cold rain; that’s hard to make into much of anything, especially a time of joy. Cruisin’ doesn’t seem to mind. I just wish we’d been able to hike some of the memorable sections of this trail together–rather than daily trudging the roads.
Part of the excitement today will come on reaching the Keystone Ferry, followed by the crossing of Puget Sound, a forty-five minute ferry ride, over to Port Townsend on the Quimper Peninsula. More excitement, then, as plans are to meet the family of my dear friends, Myra and Wayne. You may recall, they’re the trail angels who befriended me during my two Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail treks, ‘04 and ‘06, while crossing North Dakota. Kristin, their daughter, her husband, Anthony, and their son, Porter, live near Port Townsend, and Myra had urged me to contact them. That I did a few days ago. Ah, and we were immediately invited to be their guests while passing through Port Townsend.
Part of our hike today should have been a beach walk along Sunset Beach, by Joseph Whidbey State Park, but the beach can be accessed/hiked only at low tide. Not having tide charts (and since it’s raining, foggy, windy, and cold–again) we stay the roads. Ha, and what should have been a pretty much uneventful day sure ended otherwise. The wheels started coming off right away when we made a wrong turn. Actually, we turned where we should have gone straight. That goof-up sent us miles around and consumed precious time. We didn’t arrive Keystone Ferry Landing until late evening, about the time we should have been at Kristin and Anthony’s. Upon reaching the landing, we managed to just miss the next ferry. That put us back another forty-five minutes. Finally, at sunset (an absolutely breathtaking sunset, as viewed from the upper ferry deck) we arrive Port Townsend. By the time we reach Kristin and Anthony’s it’s very, very late. They had held supper for us and would hear nothing of our apology for the delay. It was a memorable evening spent with these dear new friends. More about them tomorrow. Thanks, Myra and Wayne!
“I keep my friends as misers do their treasure,
because, of all the things granted us by wisdom,
none is greater or better than friendship.”
Wednesday—September 8, 2010
Location—West Uncas Road
The evening (very late evening) spent with Kristin, Anthony, and Porter was such a special time. They had held supper, waiting our late arrival. Just a delightful time sharing the most enjoyable conversation–and touring their beautiful home.
These young, energetic (and daring) folks built their own home. “Big deal!” you say. Yes, it is a big deal. How many people, save the brave pioneers of centuries ago, felled trees from their land, then shaped and dresses those trees into logs used to build their homes? Well, Kristin and Anthony did! Ah, so now you understand what I meant when I said we’d spent “…such a special time.” Thanks, Kristin, Anthony, Porter; your kindness, your hospitality, such a special time!
A pretty bumpy ride today–starts at McDonald’s where someone picks up my iPhone and walks off with it. I had five or six journal entries ready to send. I’ve since had to reconstruct all of them. So, for the long delay in completing these final entries. Thanks, dear readers, for your patience!
Second bump: Within the hour, that sad, most difficult time comes again, bidding dear friend, Cruisin’, farewell. He’ll be heading back to Berlin soon. Such a great distance; I may never see him again. What a memorable time hiking together once more. Thanks, Cruisin’, for thinking of this old man; thanks for taking time to come and keep me company–it’s been great!
A bright spot in the day, though. I do hit it big at the post office, cards, letters, goodies from home, and a new pair of shoes from New Balance. Thanks, dear family and friends; it’s always such a wonderful time opening my mail!
We hike out of Port Townsend to a warm, clear (a very pleasant) hiking day–picked John up earlier at his motel room. At the wharf, where there’s much bustle and activity, the Larry Scott Railtrail begins. We follow it down to near Adelma Beach. Along, we’ve some open sections with views out and across Puget Sound to the east, then comes a “green tunnel” section, which opens to views to the west, across Discovery Bay. At Four Corners, we’re back to the roadwalk, mostly along busy W-20 and US-101, on down to West Uncas Road, where we leave the Quimper Peninsula behind. Near Fat Smitty’s, a one-of-a-kind little mom-n-pop eatery on US-101, we call it a day.
“Don’t be dismayed at good-byes.
A farewell is necessary before you can meet again.
And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes,
is certain for those who are friends.”
Thursday—September 9, 2010
Location—Jimmycomelately Road, then on to Gray Wolf Trailhead
We had planned to spend last night at Leland Lake Campground, but we arrived to find the place gated and padlocked. Been closed for a very long time, so it appeared. Just across was a boat ramp next a small day use area. It was late, so we decided to take our chances. Worked fine–no hassle from the sheriff.
Today we start climbing again, up and into the Olympic Mountains. West Uncas Road stands at 12 feet above sea level. From West Uncas we’ve a steady pull to just shy of 1,000 feet near Jimmycomelately Road. The long, near-constant roadwalks these past few days have offered a welcome diversion, but I’m more than ready for the mountains again. The Olympics will be our final climb before reaching the Pacific Ocean.
It rained off and on most of the night, and as Gordon drives us back to West Uncas, the wipers are clacking. The hike today gets off in a very strange way. Where the trail leaves West Uncas, we find a narrow drive, which passes between a house and its associated out buildings. As we ponder the situation, a fellow pulls onto the roadway from the drive. “Looking for the trail? This is it.” He says. Supposedly, his drive is a service road (Salmon Creek Road 2986), but from all appearances, we’re hiking on private property. Above the fellow’s house, and at a power line crossing, we must pass a posted sign blocking the trail, an old woodsroad. Appears there’s been no one through here for a long time, as the old road is grown over with briars, nettle, and alder. The nettle are particularly bothersome, very potent stuff when wet (seems the trail is always wet), causing severe stinging and skin irritation.
The going improves once the overgrown woodsroad is behind us, that is until we hit a clearcut. Heads up here! After much slow going through the slash and trash we’re able to stay the old road and get through. By the time we reach Snow Creek Road #2850, then Jimmycomelately, we finally get moving again.
We’re back to the roadwalk now, hard road, where Gordon is waiting near Valhalla Homestead. Time for lunch, complete with freshly brewed coffee. Ah, yes, works just fine for two hungry hikers! Early afternoon is spent continuing the climb along both gravel and paved roads. By three, we’ve reached Gray Wolf Trailhead, where this day is done.
Most the rest of the afternoon is spent trying to get a decent warming fire kindled–everything is totally soaked and saturated.
“You feel there’s something calling you,
You’re wanting to return,
To where the misty mountains rise and friendly fires burn.”
Friday—September 10, 2010
Location—Gray Wolf Trailhead
Skies are totally overcast this morning, rain threatening. We’re out and climbing a little before seven. Looks of it, we’ll have great trail today. Blowdowns have been cleared, the tread brushed back, the trail heavily hiked.
A couple hours into the hike, though, and just past Cliff Camp, the trail dwindles, then ends at Gray Wolf River. Many years ago the trail crossed Gray Wolf River on a fine footbridge here, but that bridge was taken out by a flood some ten years ago. Remnants of the bridge can still be seen on the far side, pinned by a huge bolder to the shear wall of rock there. Perhaps the trail continues somewhere on the other side, but with all the recent rain, Gray Wolf is in a rage. To attempt fording the river would be a very dangerous proposition. After a half-hour of exploring alternate routes (including following red flagging, a crazy hand-over-hand ascent straight up that dead-ends), we reluctantly decide to give it up and return to the trailhead. It’s now ten. At the trailhead again, John leaves a note (for the unwary hiker, not anglers who take the trail to Cliff Camp–to fly fish). It’s going on noon as we start backtracking toward Palo Alto Road.
As luck would have it, and just past Dungeness River Bridge, we hear a pickup coming from behind. The fellow had passed us going the opposite direction a short while earlier. I flag him down. Justin, a mountain biker who had planned riding some of the trail we just hiked, decided he wasn’t too excited about slipping and sliding around in the mud and rain. Oh yes, it’s raining again, but this time it has actually worked in our favor, as Justin loads us and in no time we’re headed for US-101 and Sequim.
On the way down, Justin agrees to take us all the way around (and up) to Deer Park, in the Olympic National Park, where Gordon is waiting–and will soon be worrying. It’s a long, bumpy (and scary) ride. Comes a funny look on Gordon’s face when he sees us bailing out of the truck. Justin tarries, intrigued by what we’re about, this trek o’er the PNT, and across the Olympic Mountain Range. In appreciation, and for his kindness, I give him a signed copy of my first book, Ten Million Steps, the paperback. As Gordon and I begin pondering our next move, how to turn today’s bad luck, how to connect up with Gray Wolf Trailhead, John isn’t interested. He’s apparently talked Justin into hauling him and all his gear (from the van)–back down the mountain. He loads, nods us a casual “bye” and just like that, he’s gone.
A post-trek note: I didn’t realize at the time, but this would be the last I’d see of (or hear from) Mother Natures Son. Justin drove John to Port Angeles, where he found a motel room. The following day, reading now from his journal entry, he hitched back into the park farther west, some seventy-miles distant by trail, to where he’d interrupted his hike in 2005. From Sol Duc Hot Springs, northwest of Bogachiel Peak, he continued west through the remainder of the Olympic Range, then on to Cape Alava, the end of the PNT.
Gordon and I pour over our maps as we try working some kind of strategy to turn this bad luck–and salvage what we can of this day. Ah, and looks of it, if John and I had just taken the road in the opposite direction (while retreating from Gray Wolf Trailhead), if we’d hiked some six miles generally northwest, we could have connected to another forest service road leading back south to Slab Camp. Slab Camp was our destination this morning, just past where we gave it up and turned around.
So, decision is to backtrack to Gray Wolf Trailhead, and along the way, explore the possibility of hiking the roads around to Slab Camp; that would close the gap. This plan works. If fact, upon reaching FSR-2875, the road leading to Slab Camp, from that intersection I hike the six miles along FSR-2870, back over to Gray Wolf Trailhead. Hey, so the bad luck of the day doesn’t make it a total wash! Seems strange to be camped at the same site again tonight. I don’t even try getting a campfire going.
“All of us have bad luck and good luck.
The man who persists through the bad luck
— who keeps right on going —
is the man who is there when the good luck comes…”
Saturday—September 11, 2010
Location—Deer Park, then Hurricane Ridge, then on to Hurricane Hill Trailhead, Olympic National Park
We’ve kept the alarm set for five, even though it’s not light enough to hike much before seven. I really want to get going this morning, hopefully, to hike it all the way up and over to Hurricane Hill. We’re out and moving in the dark, as Gordon shuttles me the six miles back to FSR-2875. Here at the intersection, from where I back-hiked yesterday, I begin the climb up to Slab Camp/Deer Ridge Trailhead. No surprise–what appeared to be a wide, safe, all-weather road soon degenerates into a nearly straight-up climb, 3,000 feet in four miles. I’ve sent Gordon on ahead, as I don’t want to risk having the problem of yesterday repeated again today.
Gordon has managed the climb–and he’s waiting for me at the trailhead. We’ve good news. A young couple, locals, tell us Trail #846, Deer Ridge Trail, which leads on up to Deer Park, is well marked and in good shape. Okay, the day’s shaping up fine. It’s early, so I’ve got a good shot at clearing Deer Park, Green Mountain, Maiden Peak, Roaring Winds, Elk Mountain–to finally arrive (hopefully before dark) at Obstruction Peak Trailhead. We’ve decided to meet there this evening.
My hike today will entail an incredible amount of climbing, over 8,000 feet of vertical elevation change in all. I simply do not want Gordon on Deer Park Road again. It’s a narrow, winding, treacherous road. Bouncing around on his way to Dungeness and Gray Wolf River(s) two days ago, Gordon came close to going over the side. As we hiked over to the trailhead that day, Gordon ahead in the van, I could see where his tracks went right to the edge. Had he gone over, it would have been straight down, for hundreds of feet. And so, the reason for having him drive around to Obstruction Peak Trailhead today, rather than back up to Deer Park. The road/climb to Obstruction is a much better-maintained road.
Bidding Gordon farewell, I begin the climb up Deer Ridge Trail, entering Olympic National Park a little after nine. So far, there’s not been a cloud in the sky, but within the hour comes total overcast. The sun tries burning it off, but no luck. The climb to Deer Park is long and near straight up. No one is manning the ranger station today, so I self register for the permit needed to hike in the national park.
As I continue along the ridge to Green Mountain, the skies clear enough to offer heart-stopping vistas all around–snow-capped Mt. Olympus to the southwest, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca (and Canada) to the north. Covering ground up here is a challenge for sure. Keeping to the task is not easy, what with the climbing, and the desire to stop often, to simply take it all in. A blessing for sure, having this nearly cloud-free day. Isn’t trekking this alpine-like setting today such a great reward for having endued the less-than-happy trails behind!
Gordon has made it up to Obstruction Point and he’s hiked in a ways to meet me coming off the ridge. I can see him for a great distance, and I call. He waves his arms in child-like excitement. An incredibly grand plan, this day, but it’s all worked out so remarkably well. Thank you, dear Lord, thank you!
There’s a fine gravel road that follows along Hurricane Ridge. We hopscotch, Gordon a short distance ahead, there to stop as I continue along the road/trail. The road stays the ridge some seven miles to the Olympic National Park Visitor Center. Late evening now, I hike it on to Hurricane Hill Trailhead, where we call it a day. Overnight camping is not permitted in the park, save at designated campgrounds, but we chance it at the trailhead. It’s dark-thirty now, and the fog, the gloom, the overcast–and the steady rain, all have returned. I shuffle things around in my little space, back of the van, set up the Coleman stove, and prepare supper. Ah yes, a hot meal, and we’re warm and dry. Rangers pass during the night, but none stop to hassle us. Another blessing. It’s been such a remarkable day!
Oh, be sure and check out the photos (and videos). Photos have the date and time stamped on them. Look for 9/11/2010. Just spectacular–the Olympic Mountains of Washington; top of the world!
I’ve lived this day with a prayer from a joy-filled and thankful heart, in remembrance of those who perished, and for their dear families.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Judge not, and you will not be judged;
condemn not, and you will not be condemned;
forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Sunday—September 12, 2010
Trail Mile—14.9/1055.6 (arbitrary–staying the itinerary)
Location—US-101, Storm King Trailhead (way off the PNT)
The rain began anew as I approached Hurricane Trail Trailhead last evening. I’d never cooked in the van before, but with the cold rain, there was just no way to set up outside. A bit crowded, but it actually worked fine. A hot meal, in the warm, dry van!
The rain continued all night. And this morning, the cold, swirling gloom remains. It’s a short climb on a paved pathway to the lookout at Hurricane Point. Being over a mile above sea level, the vantage from Hurricane is said to provide one of the most spectacular vistas anywhere along the Pacific coast. But with the incessant rain, and up here in the clouds as I am, there’ll be no view for this old intrepid today. So, just below the summit, I break off on the Elwha Trail. In the next two hours or so I’ll descend some 5,000 feet, the longest continuous bail-off during this entire journey–and for any trek I can remember, for that matter.
“Nomad’s Neutral” kicks in right away; the glide is amazing. Once past the treeless meadows below Hurricane, I encounter switchback after switchback. No way to accurately count them. It’s one, exhilarating, absolutely indescribable descent. The brakes go on at Olympic Hot Springs Road/Elwha Ranger Station. It’s now a little before ten. Here, I should turn left for a short roadwalk, less than six miles, along little-used, dead-end, Hot Springs Road. From there, at Appleton Pass Trailhead, my hike today should take me past Olympic Hot Springs, Olympic Hot Springs Campground, then on, in just a little over five miles, to Appleton Pass.
However, we’ve been told I can’t go this way. We were given three different excuses, from three different people. One told us there was a bridge out. Another, that extensive work was being done at the dam. The third simply said that the pavement was being ripped up on the upper end. The last ranger Gordon spoke with became annoyed, showed no patience. Apparently, the word’s gotten around that I’m coming through. Gordon was told I’d have to take a ride around, or hike the highway. “The trail is closed; he’ll be arrested, fined, and escorted out of the park if he tries.” Gordon was dumbfounded when he heard this!
Well folks, you know Nimblewill’s not going to “take a ride.” So, to the highway it is–right turn! Down Olympic Hot Springs Road I go, northwest, all the way to US-101 (near sea level again), next Port Angeles. From here, and for what seems an eternity, I experience (and survive; thank You, Lord) one of the most dangerous roadwalks ever. Hey, and y’all know, this old intrepid has done some roadwalking in his time.
Being Sunday, traffic is crazy, bumper-to-bumper, flying, through the fog and rain. The highway around Lake Sutherland, then along the shore of Lake Crescent is a snake-of-a-road, narrow, winding, blind curve upon blind curve. Seeing folks panic as they come upon me is harrowing; they’ve no warning, no time to react. Scared out of their wits, they go flying by, as I hug the sheer rock wall or the crash rail no more than two feet from them. They’ve got nowhere to go as they pass, their rear view mirror jammed in my face, the highway spray, fire-hosing me down. I see them grip their steering wheels, white-knuckled, in shear panic. I endure over twelve miles of this treachery, some four hours of threading the gauntlet through this death trap. Seems the U. S. Park Service couldn’t care less about the plight of us thru-hikers. Thanks, Mr./Ms. (I’m in charge here!) Ranger, thanks a lot!
During this ordeal, Gordon goes ahead, stopping at the occasional pull-off to check on me as I pass. He’s greatly relieved to see me rounding the last bend by the turnoff to Storm King Ranger Station. Late evening now, still raining off and on, we pull over to prepare supper at one of the park picnic tables. Soon comes a ranger, and, no surprise, he stops to tell us we must move on. “You can’t stay here overnight. Try the campground down the road.” his less-than-enthusiastic greeting.
Here at Storm King, and across busy US-101 (via a tunnel under) the Mt. Storm King/Barnes Creek Trail leads back up and into the Olympics. This is the first of four alternate trails I must take to reconnect with the PNT just above Olympic Hot Springs. We’d planned to van it here tonight, so I could get an early start in the morning. Oh well! After supper, we pack it up and move on down the highway to the campground.
An astonishing–then terrifying–day, an absolute adrenalin pump!
“Being scared can keep a man from getting killed…”
Monday—September 13, 2010
Trail Mile—00.0/1055.6 (arbitrary–staying the itinerary)
Location—Appleton Pass, then on to Soleduck River Trail
Getting my pack ready consumes much time and I become frustrated. It will be the heaviest since traversing the Pasayten Wilderness over 400 miles back. I’ll be out for three days, two nights, before seeing Gordon (van support) again. This roadless traverse before me, through the remainder of the Olympics, extends some 60 miles from where I start climbing again this morning–and feel of it, I’ll be toting close to 15 pounds.
Sure, you’re right, 15 pounds is a very light pack, especially with three days food loaded, but I’m accustomed to carrying much less, day-to-day. Having support is such a luxury. Been accused more than once of not really thru-hiking this trail. Rather, that I’ve just been stringing together a bunch of day hikes. I’ll not dispute that. However, I’ve been true to this trail. You can count the number of days I’ve not covered some ground along (hint: fingers, one hand will do), and I’ve trekked every foot of ground, from Chief Mountain at Canadian Customs, Glacier National Park, to where I stand here this morning, 57 days later.
Gordon has assured me that I’ll have better weather today. And this morning, as dawn approaches, the sky appears perfectly clear. So perhaps, just perhaps. After much time reviewing maps and data, it’s nearly eight. Finally, I bid Gordon farewell, then pass through the tunnel under (yes, even this morning it’s) busy US-101, to once again enter the Olympics.
These reconnect/alternate trails I’m having to take will first lead me back south, then east, some 16 miles, to where I’ll finally reconnect with the PNT at Appleton Pass Trail. And while meandering this round-e-round today, I’ll be dealt vertical elevation change, ups and downs, in excess of 11,000 feet.
When I finally reconnect with the PNT later today, I’ll have trekked three sides of a square, over 32 miles around, the fourth side being the closed section, from Olympic Hot Springs Road to the junction of Boulder Lake/Appleton Pass Trail(s). Had I been able to continue along the PNT (left turn yesterday at Olympic Hot Springs Road), I’d have stayed out of harms way, would have had a gentle, steady climb of only 2,000 feet–over a distance of eight miles.
Hard to imagine, whatever trail obstacles/obstructions I’d have encountered along the closed section–hard to imagine that it’d have been more dangerous (not to mention 24 miles shorter) than what’s been dealt me these past two days. Oh, but certainly, the US Park Service knows best. Aw, old man, just shut up and hike; dang, quit griping!
After a paved section to Mt. Storm King/Marymere Trail(s), the path narrows, as the ascent begins in earnest. It’s a hard, steady pull, especially with my loaded pack. It’s really a delightful hike though, first through a climax forest of Douglas fir, red cedar, and hemlock. Then, before the switchbacks, come dense thickets of devil’s club and salmonberry. Everything is covered with moss–moss everywhere. Here, the Olympic rainforest reigns (no pun intended) supreme. Not long, I must ford Barnes Creek, so my feet are wet right away. I’m already soaked from the wet understory.
4,000 feet of up later, I arrive Aurora Divide. After a bit of bopping along the Aurora, then Happy Lake Ridge, comes a 2,000-foot bail off down to Rock Creek. Here, I finally reconnect with the PNT. To the left, it’s less than a mile back down to Olympic Hot Springs. To the right, I’ve another climb, 3,000 feet (more switchbacks) up to Appleton Pass. It’s slow going. For sure, I’m used to the climbing, but not to lugging such a heavy pack. Late afternoon now, I reach Appleton Pass. Once over, more switchbacks down, and down, another 2,000-foot bail off, to Soleduck River.
With little daylight remaining, I pitch by a muddy, off-camber campsite near the intersection of Appleton Pass and Soleduck River Trail(s). It’s been an on-off, iffy day. The trail never did dry out. What with the brush and overgrowth along, the fords, I started out soaked, and remained soaked the entire day. I’m very tired. Seems to take forever to set camp. Leaning out my tent now, under the fly, I get my little Esbit Wing stove fired up (outings of over two days, I carry the stove) and prepare a gruel of rice and kippered herring in my little K-Mart (grease) pot.
Wow, has this day been a doozie; I’ve kept my head on straight, but as for my back, legs, and arms–not sure! For sure, the day will soon come when I’ll no longer be able to climb these beautiful mountains, to revel in their gladness, to partake of their good tidings. Till then, I’ll not fear for it. Rather, (and, also, for sure) I’ll give constant thanks for each and every day so granted this old intrepid…
“Now I am old and infirm.
I fear I shall no more be able to roam among the beautiful mountains.
Clarifying my mind, I meditate on the mountain trails and wander about only in dreams.”
[Tsung Ping, 375 – 443]
Tuesday—September 14, 2010
Location—Past Deer Lake, then on to Hyak Shelter, Olympic National Park
Daylight is arriving later and later with each passing day. And each day it becomes more and more a hassle, trying to get up and moving, I finally break camp and hit the trail at seven, with just enough light to avoid the larger of rocks and roots.
As I climb toward the High Divide today, then on to Bogachiel Peak, I’ll be hiking trail above 5,000 feet for the final time this odyssey. From Slide Pass, just the other side of Deer Lake, it’ll be virtually all downhill, to the Pacific Ocean, and the end of this amazing trek.
Gordon came down off the mountain, from Hurricane Ridge (his final descent), two days ago, to escort me along the highway to Storm King. From there, yesterday, he followed US-101 down Soleduck River Valley to Forks. From Forks, he’ll take US-101 on around and up Bogachiel River Valley, to Bogachiel State Park/Bogachiel River Road, to where he’ll await my arrival, hopefully, sometime tomorrow afternoon.
I’ve a 2000-foot climb first thing, to High Divide. I’d hoped and prayed for a clear day. Ah, and I’ve got it, not a cloud in the sky, no local clutter, just open views for miles, far and across the high peaks to the horizon beyond. And my vantage from the ridge here? Just jaw-dropping spectacular.
The Hoh River Valley separates the High Divide from Mount Olympus. From my sky-view the meandering Hoh can be seen and heard four-thousand feet below. Looking down the valley, I’ve an unobstructed vantage west, all the way to the Pacific, some 30 miles distant. To the east stand Mt Carrie (and Carrie Glacier), Mt. Fairchild (and Fairchild Glacier). To the north, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Canada. And to the south, front and center before me (yet over six miles distant), the snow-shrouded Olympic Wilderness; Mt. Tom (and White Glacier), Snow Dome, Mount Olympus, East Peak (and Blue Glacier), and just east of East Peak, Mt. Matthews (and Ice River Glacier).
Ah yes, here today, glistening in the sun, do these grand sentinels present, the entire Olympics, in all Nature’s gladness. In pure, pristine majesty, in silence do they rise, as if with open arms lifting to the Heavens. Yes, the entire scene, 360, just jaw-dropping spectacular!
Along the (busy) High Divide, I met Cecily, a backcountry ranger. She’s pleased to see I’ve a permit. But soon comes the frown as she discovers I’ve not listed my campsites, nor am I carrying a “bear-proof” food canister. During our conversation, I get her picture, then casually mention that my granddaddy died in the woods, my daddy died in the woods (both of natural causes), and that I’m currently working on it. I also explain that these were woodsmen of the highest order, and that neither ever carried (nor heard of) a bear canister. At that point I should have kept my mouth shut, but sometimes… Anyway, I then comment about the bear canister controversy, which surely does exist. That, according to Ryan Jordan, Backpacking Light Publisher, in an article entitled “Do bear canisters reflect poor management policy and only serve to increase bear tolerance of humans?” he makes a pretty convincing case!
By now, Cecily was no doubt considering giving me a citation, but out of kindness, decided otherwise. Thanks, Cecily, and please forgive me for being obnoxious. I constantly fail to heed the advice mother gave me so many, many years ago. You know what she told me…”If you can’t say something kind, just be quiet!” Sorry, mother; I promise to do better from now on; I really do!
I linger long, pondering the majesty, the total mystery of these high places, before moving on past Bogachiel Peak, Deer Lake, and Little (Low) Divide. With a few minor pops, the trail trends generally down, as I descend from 5,000 feet my final time. At Slide Pass, between Misery and Slide Peak(s) I bail off, down Bogachiel River Trail, 4,000 feet, 3,000 feet, 2,000 feet. At (dry) Hyak Shelter, with steady rain once again my constant companion, with the tread degenerating to a rocky mud-wash, and with it being late evening now, I end this day.
The Olympic Mountains are behind me. I’m once again in beautiful, old-growth rainforest. Magnificent sentinels stand in grand colonnade, enormous spires; Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, silver fir, western red cedar. This upper valley, North Bogachiel, has never been timbered, so the giants not only stand, saluting the Heavens, but also, do centuries-old ancestors rest the forest floor. One must view this, in person, to least understand. Then and only then can the enormity of what has presented before me this day be appreciated. No Ansel Adams, no John Muir, certainly no pictures, no poetic narrative, nothing will do, short of your being here. You must come to this place, you must linger long. And as have I this day, you will gaze in awe, mouth agape–while attempting to comprehend.
The gentle rain is settling–as I settle in at Hyak “emergency use only” Shelter.
“Let us leave a splendid legacy for our children…let us turn to them and say,
‘This you inherit; guard it well, for it is far more precious than money, and once destroyed,
nature’s beauty cannot be repurchased at any price.’”
“The Big Tree is Nature’s forest masterpiece, and so far as I know, the greatest of living things.”
Wednesday—September 15, 2010
Location—Undie/Bogachiel River Road, then on to Bogachiel State Park
No, I’m not traipsing 30 miles today, but I will cover a fair distance. Certainly, by now you’ve come to realize that I’m just too lazy to keep an accurate account of how far I hike day-to-day, relying instead on my “pie-in-the-sky” preestablished itinerary. Sure, it’s not exact, but dang if it doesn’t usually turn out to be pretty close. On the PNT main page here, you can take a look at that itinerary, the number of days/miles-per-day, estimated way back, before I ever set foot on this trail. You’ll find I’m a few days behind, but not so terribly far–for having guessed at the whole thing early on. Anyway, what difference does it make? According to the PNTA, this trail is 1,200 miles long. By the time I reach the ocean I’ll have hiked every one of them. And, well, y’all know that!
Upon entering the shelter last, I couldn’t help but notice the fancy routered sign bolted to the main upper beam. Someone in the park service has expended much time (and the government much expense) having the sign made, then hauling it out here and bolting it up. The purpose, seems apparent to me, is to let us wet, weary, cold, and bone-tired intrepid know we’re not welcome in “their” shelter. For one reason or another, likely an “I’m in charge here,” arbitrary one, the place has been renamed: “Hyak Emergency Shelter,” whatever that means. Ha, what it likely means is I’ve violated another park regulation.
Arriving here last, there was no emergency on my part. However, settling in, under roof, on a dry platform for the night, was a whole lot better deal than pitching in the rain on the cold, wet ground. That I chose to stay in the shelter (my momma didn’t raise no dummy) made for a much more pleasant night. Anyway, as I depart this morning, the shelter is still standing, not the least worse for wear. Over recent years it’s evident the old structure has received little care, the least upkeep, unless you consider all the work, effort, and expense the park service put into getting their fancy routered sign posted.
Yesterday I saw more folks on the trail than any other time this entire journey. All were day-hiking the loop around Sol Duc and the High Divide. It was most enjoyable, having the opportunity to meet and talk with hikers along.
My trek today continues down, not as abrupt, but down, with some interesting bail offs thrown in. Past Slide Pass and ever since Deer Lake yesterday, I’ve had the trail totally to myself again. Though cleared of blowdowns and brushed back, the tread has been quite gnarly, rocks, roots, and off-camber mud, plenty of mud, which continues all the way down North Bogachiel to its confluence with the Bogachiel. The going is agonizingly slow, yet do I take pleasure in trekking the magnificent rainforest here–a veritable wonderland. The entire place is encased in moss, from trail edge to near the upper canopy, and the upper canopy is sky-high. Gracing the trail along are ferns, the largest, most lush-green I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to imagine any landscape more beautiful, certainly any manmade copy. These paths that lead me into Nature’s bosom, this path I’ve chosen to follow along life’s way; blessings, true blessings to this old intrepid.
The skies have been overcast since first light, and at one the rain begins again. A mile before the park boundary I do a header straight down a mud slide equipped with a rope assist that’s dangling from a tree trunk. No way of holding on, the rope and mud so much grease. Ricocheting off rocks and roots I finally skid head first into a tree. During this out-of-control acrobatic I manage to ruin my glasses, skin up my forehead, bloody my nose–and put a nice dent in my left knee. Damage control is confusing and tentative, but I finally manage to collect myself and my pack and move on down the trail.
Gordon’s waiting patiently at Bogachiel Trail Trailhead. It’s five-plus miles along Bogachiel River Road to US-101. I hike it on down, once again reaching this ocean highway–and sea level. Here I end the day, load in the van, and we head for Forks. Hopes have been to find a room, get a bath, do laundry, and prepare for the final leg of this odyssey up the Pacific coast to journey’s end, Cape Flattery. It quickly becomes evident that we can’t afford a room here in Forks, even the most modest. What’s with the cost of motel rooms (everything, for that matter) here in Washington?
We find a laundromat, manage three-buck showers, then indulge ourselves–great steaks (but pricey) at the mom-n-pop downtown. Overnight is in the van, in the supermarket parking lot.
“The tree which moves some to tears of joy
is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.
Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all.
But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.”
Thursday—September 16, 2010
Location—Oil City Trailhead, Olympic National Park
Gordon tells me that Mother Natures Son has reached Cape Alava. Congratulations, John!
Forks is a busy little berg. Tourists and more tourists even this late in the season. Guess that’s why everything’s so darned expensive. Coffee and a short stack tear up a ten-dollar bill, not counting the tip. How’s that for a rip!
No rain last night (for a change) and the pavement’s dry this morning. But all appearances, that won’t last long. Chance of rain, 90%. Not such good odds. Gordon no sooner has me hiking than a fine mist begins, followed by a gentle drizzle, then comes the no-nonsense rain, hard and steady.
Today’s hike is a long roadwalk, taking me from the mountains to the sea. The designated “trail” follows active logging roads. Not fun, sure enough dangerous. I stay US-101, trudging through the downpour, on down to Oil City Road, a bit shorter, certainly a more pleasant and safer way. I clicked off a few of today’s miles yesterday, but it’ll still be way over 25.
Nearing the ocean, and before dark, I’ve the roads hiked out–to once again enter the Olympic National Park. There’s supposed to be primitive camping here at the dirt trailhead, but we’re greeted by a “No Camping” sign. Great; thanks U.S. Park Service! Now it’s all the way back to Forks.
The going’s been a bit slow today. Some trouble breathing from yesterday’s nose slam. The head cut was superficial, and although I’ve limped along, the knee’s going to be okay. Oh, and I’ve managed to patch up my glasses, though they’re still pretty cockeyed. Sure relieved to know that I’ll be able to finish this trek; thank You, Lord!
“I hope someday to have so much of what the world calls success,
that people will ask me, ‘What’s your secret?’ and I will tell them,
‘I just get up again when I fall down.’”
Friday—September 17, 2010
Location—Oil City Trailhead, Olympic National Park
We had a long drive back to Forks last evening, as yesterday’s jaunt took us even further from town. But it was well worth the time and gas. Though touristy and expensive, Forks is a quite friendly little village, kind folks all. We were permitted to park (camp for the night) once again in the supermarket parking lot. And to our liking, there are two fine mom-n-pops downtown. We’ve taken to the one that has a sign that simply reads: “Restaurant.” My kind of place.
Heading out of town, late morning now, (low tide hits around two) Gordon suggests we stop by park headquarters. “Might pick up some more useful information.” he says. Smart move! Entering, we’re greeted by Ranger Shawn, big fellow, big smile. First question–the tides. “Already missed the one you needed today. Have to wait till tomorrow now.” Big smile continues. “Got a good headlamp? Your low tide window, to get around the point near Diamond Rock, will come between one and seven in the morning. You won’t be able to get through there any other time.” Even bigger smile. Apparently, low tides come in varying degrees, and the one this afternoon just won’t cut it. Questioning Shawn further, and as my ignorance becomes evident, the big smile drops to a frown, followed slowly by a look more resembling pity.
Shawn explains that the first beach walk section runs some seventeen miles. For the second, a distance of twenty-plus, he tells me I’ll be faced with the same situation–an early morning headlamp hike. That’ll have to come on Monday, since I’ve a roadwalk between the two beach sections of some eight miles, a distance I’ll not likely care to do on top of the first beach hike, and certainly not just before the second. So, looks of it, Sunday will have to get plugged in as a short day. Sure a good thing we stopped at park headquarters, eh!
After Shawn gets me up to speed concerning the tides, come to find he’s also a long-distance backpacker (Shawn’s thru-hike the PCT). Being a slow morning (it’s raining steady), we talk trail. After awhile, though, comes this fellow. Shawn greets him. I nod, moving away from the counter. With his gaze continually fixed on me, and with an inquisitive look, the fellow hesitantly ask: “You Nimblewill Nomad?” Well now, Bocephus, mind loaning me your shades again!
Oh my, it’s been such a long, long time–Hey, Shelter Monkey! We met many years ago on the Appalachian Trail, and danged if he doesn’t remember. You can read about our chance meeting. In the Site Menu here, click on Odyssey 1998, then Journals, then AT Journals–then scroll down to Trail Day 130, also, Trail Day 171. There you can read a bit about Shelter Monkey.
Lingering (plenty of time now), we chat. Just great memories. Recollection is: At one of the many shelters along the AT, one night by chance we happened to camp together. That evening, still full of spunk and vinegar, Shelter Monkey jumped up, grabbed a shelter beam and climbed into the rafters where he began swinging around. Ah, yes–right then and there did Shelter Monkey get his most fascinating trail name, which has stuck all these years. Hey, sure, I’ll admit to being accessory (perhaps even instigator). Ha-ha; oh yeah!
Lingering still, Gordon and I spend more time with Shawn. Come to find, the reason he’s so sharp on the tides–he gets to the trail, to the beach walk, often. Hey, why not, he’s a backcountry ranger, gets paid to hike! And so, as one might suspect, he knows the perils of poor planning. As we share stories, Shawn tells about one of his “Official Backcountry Ranger” treks. On the coast, the trails along, there are no switchbacks, just ropes placed to help the hapless hiker up or down (you’ve already read about my encounter with one). Well, while bailing off a steep drop with his 40-pound pack, and hanging on for dear life, the rope broke (Shawn’s a big fellow–think I may have mentioned that) he went crashing and ricocheting down through the mud, rocks, and boulders.
We listen to his sad story, first with concern, then smiles, then laughter. As Shawn goes through the contortions, jumping up and down, arms flailing–animating as to how the boulders finally got him stopped, Gordon and I are holding our sides, tears rolling. Ah, Shawn, it’s been such a fun, uplifting time–an absolute hoot; thanks, dear new friend, thanks!
So, we’ve a day to burn. No problem. It’s raining hard and steady. Time for the library. Time to just rest. Time, too–to hit the “Restaurant” another lick or two. Oh yes, no problem!
“There isn’t much that I can do,
but I can share an hour with you,
and I can share a joke with you…
as on our way we go.”
[Maude V. Preston]
Saturday—September 18, 2010
Location—Third Beach Trailhead, La Push Road
Yesterday, at the Olympic National Forest Headquarters/Park Information Center in Forks, I learned about tides, high and low, plus and minus, how windows of time (for getting past cliffs, other tight spots, etc.) are determined, the essentials. Shawn was most patient, marking the tide charts, explaining it all to me. Example: Tides are seldom the same. The first low of the day may differ significantly from the second. That’s where the plus and minus numbers come into play (and why the low, yesterday afternoon, didn’t cut it). Gets pretty technical, real fast.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve hiked in the dark using a headlamp. But this morning, in order to catch the low tide, which will allow me to pass the cliffs and boulders south of Jefferson Cove, below Hoh Head (I’ll be hiking the beach along the Washington coast now) I’ve got to be out well before first light. At five, I shoulder my pack, adjust my headlamp, and bid Gordon farewell. It’s pitch black and misting as I head into it.
Shawn had told me about the rocks and boulders I’d have to scramble over and through first thing as I hike north along the beach. What he didn’t tell me was how scary it was going to be in the dark of night. In the ghostly shroud of predawn, what should appear as open horizon looks more like an eerie dungeon, the walls closing around me. To add to the scary predicament, the rain is obscuring my vision (yes, it’s now raining hard), making the scene more macabre as I flash my light from one ominous form to the next. I try not thinking about the total desperation I’d surely suffer should my headlamp quit, as I’ve been unable to keep it dry. It’s soaked, I’m soaked, my glasses are totally fogged.
Even with low tide, there’s no beach between me and the menacing heap of rock. Dumpster-size boulders are fully around and under foot, covered with the slime of seaweed, the deep crevices between filled with roiling foam. I’m grappling along through a foot of surf, often plunging to my waist, while the crashing waves ratchet up my fright to near panic. It’s treacherous. As wave after wave slam the boulders I’m inundated repeatedly by the hammering back-spray.
Not since agonizing my way, inch by inch, up the dome of sheer ice by Mt. Albert, the Chic Chocs, Parc de la Gaspesie, have I felt so helpless, so totally consumed by fright. Struggling this gauntlet now, does that sinking feeling of gripping fear and helplessness return. Seems the pile of boulders I’m struggling and stumbling through will never end. Projecting my tiny, unsteady spot of light, before me appear an endless line of boulders, colliding surf.
But just as sure as time, at times, can seemingly stand still, just as sure as the darkest of darkness precedes the dawn, I’m relieved to finally get through. Checking the time, I find I’ve made it in less than half an hour, here to stand the wide, sandy beach that extends all the way to Jefferson Cove. What an ordeal; thank You, Lord, thank You!
First light arrives and in a short time I’m able to turn off my headlamp. Appear now ghost-like forms in the fog and rain just off the beach. They’re called sea stacks, huge, jagged, pinnacles of rock that have withstood time and the tides. Here in the shroud, the low, black clouds pushing back the dawn, presents an alien scene, different than any place I’ve ever hiked.
In a short while the sandy crescent of beach ends at Jefferson Cove, my way blocked by impassable Hoh Head, a point of sheer rock that cannot be negotiated no matter how low the tide. In places like this, paths have been built straight up, over, and back down. Problem for me now, though: I can’t find the trail, even after retracing my steps. So, in order to get by Hoh Head, to proceed on north, I decide to bushwhack. A bad decision, a very bad decision. Six hours later, emerging scraped and bruised from the brush and blowdowns that comprise the understory, this temperate rain forest, and after covering less than three miles, I finally stumble onto the trail.
Now, it’s tuck tail and haul, which is certainly no problem, what with the constant, drenching rain. Gordon will be awaiting my arrival at Third Beach Trailhead, yet some 12 miles north, and I’ve precious little time before dark descends once more.
This is no day for picture taking, though I do manage a few shots of the sea stacks, which comprise the Quillayute Needles National Wildlife Refuge. Though I make good time along the sandy sections, my progress is slowed as I cautiously ford Mosquito, Goodman, then Falls Creek(s). All are in a rage due to the heavy, persistent rain.
Rounding Toleak Point and with the rain slacking some, I’m able to see past Strawberry and Taylor Point(s), north along the shore, all the way to Teahwhit Head, my destination for today. As I trek on north, sea stacks constantly stand the surf. Those I’m passing now are known as Giants Graveyard. I’ve much more climbing, too, Scotts Bluff and Taylor Point. Dusk is quickly approaching as I descend to Strawberry Bay and Third Beach–then Third Beach Trail to La Push Road.
The forest is turning dark as I reach the van at Third Beach Trailhead, relieved to have this day behind me. Believe it or not, we’re closer to Forks this evening than we’ve been in days (had been hiking south, away from Forks; now I’m trekking north again). Oh yes, time to load up; we beat it back to Forks!
“If the only prayer you ever say in life is ‘Thank you’…that is enough.”
Sunday—September 19, 2010
Trail Mile—00.0/1158.0 (arbitrary—staying the itinerary)
Location—Rialto Beach Trailhead
After the long, difficult day yesterday, the scary morning, then the unbelievable bushwack—not to mention the continuous rain, today will be an easy go, a short roadwalk to get around Bogachiel/Quillayute River, from La Push Road to Mora Road, which will lead to Rialto Beach.
To follow the “official route” today, I’d begin by taking a left at La Push Road, to hike it a short distance, a little over two miles through the La Push Indian Reservation, to La Push. There, I’d be hard by the Quillayute River, where it’d be necessary to find someone, perhaps a fisherman, to ferry me across to the spit of land below Rialto Beach. The PNT Guidebook simply states: “…don’t be shy about asking boatmen for a ride across the wide mouth of the Quillayute River.” Not considering that a really good idea, I opt to hang a right at La Push Road instead, to trek the eight-mile roadwalk around to Rialto. Tomorrow, at Rialto, will begin my second and final day hiking the beach along the Washington Coast.
We’re greeted by more rain today, steady and hard; no surprise. Time to do laundry, get cleaned up. Hopes are—by waiting, the weather might improve the least to allow for a pleasant roadwalk. NOT! So, it’s gonna be hammer the miles in the rain—head down and hammer to reach Rialto Beach.
Along, as I trouble my way in the steady rain, paying little attention to traffic, does a vehicle slow behind me. I take a break from my daydreaming about this amazing odyssey to turn and look. Hey, it’s that smiling face; oh yes, it’s Ranger Shawn! He’s come to check on me, to make sure I’ve made it through to La Push, and to spend a little time. Well now, the rain sure isn’t letting up, but this is turning to be a much brighter day. For, with this kind ranger, it’s always a pleasure spending time. Shawn continues on to Rialto Beach, there to await my arrival with Gordon.
There’s a cafe at the corner of La Push and Mora, and it’s open on Sunday, so we beat it right over there. Ah, and does the evening turn to be a joyful time spent with Shawn—he treats us to supper!
Back at Rialto Beach now, and with the least persuasion, I talk Shawn into hiking some with me tomorrow. “Be here at six!” I tell him. Ha, a dose of the old “Nomad’s Poison.” Oh yes, he’ll be here, I know he’ll be here; he’s hooked!
“We who dance to Nature’s song…
are thought insane by those who cannot hear the music.”
Monday—September 20, 2010
Location—Sandy Point/Ozette Ranger Station, Olympic National Park
Rain, rain, and yet more rain, hammering the van roof. The loud drumming lifts me from sound sleep at three, and keeps me awake until close to four.
A short, additional hour of sleep and I’m up for the day. The old saying, no rest for the wicked, eh! Can’t believe Shawn’s come out in this storm. He’s right here at six, though, just as planned. Yep, old Nomad’s poison has sure enough got him. Big grin on Shawn’s face—never too early for a big grin. Shawn passes it on to Gordon. Well, danged if it hasn’t got around to me too!
After a bit of logistics, now quarter-after, we’re out hiking the beach together—headlamps and raingear on. The rain relents as we proceed north, and first light looks remarkably promising. Appears there’ll be blue sky. Seen that before though, oh yeah!
The continuous pounding of the sea has created strange and remarkable formations over the eons, the more durable rock having withstood the relentless attack. Some, shaped like stacks, thus their name, stand well above the sea, hundreds of yards offshore. But for sure, as a few more centuries pass, the restless sea will prevail, even against these most enduring bastions. Then, the stacks we see here will be gone, turned to so much sand, and a bit further inland, new stalwarts will rise. Ah, for sure, Mother Nature, working hand and hand with Father Time, a combination of forces not to be reckoned with, or denied.
Shawn is a strong hiker, so we’re moving along at a good clip. He’s warned me about the ice-slick seaweed and slime-covered rocks, but it takes a near upending before I’m convinced. By the time we reach Hole-in-the-Wall, a most unusual stack formation, the tide has receded far enough to permit our passage through. It’s a remarkable place. Hiking the hole is exciting. Ah, and there’s enough light now for some good shots.
Shawn hikes on with me a while longer, then abruptly turns, his wide grin replaced by just as broad a frown. In a sad, hushed, apologetic tone, his head down now—”I must start back or I’ll be caught by the rising tide at Hole-in-the-Wall. I wish I could hike on north with you, but I’m still weak from the recent fall [the broken rope incident].” His big, assuring hand on my shoulder now, returns that wide grin I’ve become accustomed to. So, good-bye for now, Shawn. Thanks for pointing out all the little creatures in the many tide pools, the starfish, fiddler crab, the anemone. Hiking with you this morning has been such a pleasure, a truly joy-filled time. Watching, as he fades into the fog of early morning, his cape lifting to the wind, I take my parting shot of this dear new friend.
Continuing north alone, I find the shore treacherous in many places, slippery rocks, countless large boulders to clamber through. The going is arduous and fretfully slow. Each step, each foot placement must be made with total concentration and deliberation, lest I bust it this next-to-final day.
Tiring, and with interesting objects to explore under foot, I stop to rest—and turn, looking back down the coast. Taking in the mystery, the beauty of it now, my eye catches movement, small, indistinct forms coming up the beach toward me. In a short while I make out two backpackers. Approaching, am I greeted by their happy faces, their glad hello. What a joy finally meeting Pepper and Nacho. They’re also thru-hiking this PNT. Gordon and I had heard about them from time to time, so we knew they were somewhere not too far behind. We hike together a short distance, then wait together at a rocky point for the second low tide of the day. It’s a memorable time, exchanging stories about our respective treks, the interesting and challenging places we’ve passed along the way. Another unbelievable coincidence, eh folks? Sure, just another coincidence!
At Sandy Point Pepper and Nacho will continue on north along the coast to Cape Alava. I’ll leave the beach there to hike the boardwalk over to Ozette Ranger Station, not trekking the final three miles to the cape. Rather, I’ve chosen to end my journey at Cape Flattery (upper left-hand corner, lower 48), another 28 miles north by road.
Before reaching Sandy Point, just ahead of me I spot someone sitting a large driftwood log. Oh my, it’s Ranger Shawn. He’s driven all the way around, some 80 miles, to congratulate me and to share in the joy of my reaching Ozette. We’ve a hike of some four miles to the ranger station, but the time passes in a blur as we again share the excitement of hiking together. At, Ozette, soon arrive Pepper and Nacho, filled with jubilant euphoria. This day, just moments ago, they successfully concluded their PNT thru-hikes. We spend an absolute magic time together, in uplifting, energizing revelry. As the two are indoctrinated, then inducted into the “Hiker Trash Fratority,” Nacho’s girlfriend arrives to add to the excitement—then to snap our picture by the ranger station sign.
Evening now, and after a jolting 180 emotional slam—pure elation, quickly followed by sad farewells to Pepper and Nacho, I hike out of Ozette in a complete daze, toward the logging road I’ll follow tomorrow to connect with the highway leading to Cape Flattery. Shawn guides us to a boat launch area by Lake Ozette, where Gordon and I will spend this final night. I fix spaghetti. Follows, then, another sad farewell to Shawn, my dear, new (Hiker Trash) friend.
“The final stretch of the hike—through the Olympic Peninsula—was one of the absolute best. Aromatic alpine flower gardens, thousand year-old spruce and Douglas fir trees, massive alpine glaciers, eight-inch long banana slugs, 250 species of moss, starfish and anemones, long above-treeline ridgewalks, whale-sized driftwood, people-friendly mountain goats and deer, seastack-studded coastlines, glacial powder-choked creeks and rivers…The Olympics…offer a lifetime’s worth of backcountry adventure and surprises.” [Andy Skurka]
Tuesday—September 21, 2010
Trail Mile—1,200 +/-
Location—Strait of Juan de Fuca, Cape Flattery (upper lefthand corner, lower 48), Makah Indian Nation
More rain during the night, hard rain at times, but I’m believing the weatherman this morning. He’s forecasting a sunny day. Definitely a risk-taker, this weatherman. Hey, perhaps he’s hit it. Dawn comes with blue skies; what’s this!
Today, my final day on this PNT would have been a 28 from Ozette to Cape Flattery, but late yesterday evening I managed to knock down two of those miles. So, today, I’ve only a 26 to close it out.
The route we’ve planned follows a gated logging road called the Ozette Mainline. From three miles east of Ozette, near Trout Creek, maps show it running to just south of Neah Bay, there to connect with a paved road on the Makah Indian Reservation called the Makah Passage. There’s a problem though: Maps are not always correct or up to date, and though they may show a road as being a connector, as appears the Ozette Mainline to be, quite often that’s not the case. So, a little before seven now (I’ve hiked to where we think the logging road leaves the paved road), I’m standing here waiting for someone to pass by that knows the area. Not long, and as luck would have it, comes this fellow driving a semi/lowboy. I flag him down. Kind old local, works timber. He gets me squared away about the Ozette Mainline Logging Road. “That’s it right there. Take the beat-down road past all the junctions and you’ll get through just fine.” his reassuring reply.
Ah, and is this final morning turning just great! Hiking north, the road soon crosses Umbrella Creek, then Pilchuck Creek, there to follow this little valley past Washburn Hill to the Sooes River. In this wider valley now the road passes the Washburn Ranch as I continue weaving my way through the incredible maze of stubouts that lead to deadend landings. The day has turned clear and there’s very little traffic, making these final logging road miles most enjoyable. A little before noon I reach the north Ozette/Makah gate where Gordon awaits.
The last ten miles follow paved roads along the beautiful Washington coast, into the Makah Indian Nation, then on to the end of this grand adventure—at western land’s end, Cape Flattery. I’ve one remaining pull to close out this trek (how absolutely fitting) as the road climbs 600 feet up and around the high ground, the point of land that forms Cape Flattery. Now comes the final mile, the Cape Flattery Trail, which leads me to the overlook.
I’m at land’s end a little past four to a delightfully calm afternoon. I’ve the overlook to myself. Sitting a bench, I tarry for the longest time, staring teary-eyed past Juan de Fuca Strait, to the cusp of sea beyond. Folks, there just could not be a finer or more fitting place to end such a memorable journey, save, perhaps, next the lighthouse, Cliffs of Forillon, Cap Gaspe. From the bluff here, there’s simply nowhere else to go! Looking across Tatoosh Island, Cape Flattery Light, Vancouver Island—just heart-stopping spectacular.
Memories (and a jumble of feelings) whirling now, dawns on me: This is the third (of three long treks west), that ends up ending at the shores of the Pacific Ocean. This lighthouse before me, the Tatoosh/Cape Flattery Light, is the third lighthouse to mark another remarkable trail’s end. Ah, and here, too, ends another long and incredible trail known as the Sea to Sea (C2C). It runs from the Cliffs of Forillon, Cap Gaspe, some 7,000+ miles, to this place. I’ve also hiked the C2C now, as has my dear friend, Andy Skurka http://www.andrewskurka.com/C2C/index.php.
Time now to reflect, time to give thanks to family and friends, to my steadfast sponsors, to Gordon and all who’ve encouraged and supported me. And now, especially, it’s time once more to give thanks to God Almighty for the bountiful goodness bestowed me these countless miles, these many years. Indeed, the blessings, they’re but a miracle. Constantly, as folks listen patiently, do I shoot my mouth off about accomplishing such amazing goals, at the ripe old age of near 72. It truly is amazing.
However, at the same time, daily do I give thanks to God for having chosen this old man. Yes, God has chosen me—to heap on incomparable, unbelievable blessings. As I’ve slowly come to realize this, I’ve also come to understand—by putting to use such good fortune (I give it my best each and every day) that, in the process and as a result, others gain inspiration, find hope in their own lives. It’s humbling, truly humbling, beyond words.
So, thank you Lord. Thank You for being ever with me, for guiding and protecting me these many days, these countless miles. Thank you for Your Light, for Your Grace. Thanks for having blessed me so…
“God always seems to find a way,
To find a way for me.
His guidance comes through steadfast love,
’tis there for me to see.
And as I stumble o’er the path.
I need to keep in mind,
That He has set a way for me,
That faith will help me find.”
Dances with Wolves