Friday, August 24, 2012

Day 124, Welcome to Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Daily mileage: 14
Mile 2402-2416

What a treat waking up in a real bed, pillows and blankets are pretty amazing. But I'm not off the trail yet, and I'm not quite ready to be either. Although I'd be lying if I didn't say that pretty much all my conversations with other hikers seem to be about how few miles are left and how close the end is. It's amazing to be out here but you have to miss the creature comforts a bit after 4 months. Lots of conflicting thoughts right now.
Eventually I faced reality and did the necessary chores like figuring out if I needed new shoes before the end and what the heck was I going to eat the next section. Ran into the cousins eating breakfast, they got in this morning. Fun to catch up. Then it was just a few more errands, some eating and by 2 I was back to hiking. And can I just say, oh my gosh I love this part of Washington.
Looks like there are lots of big climbs and big descents coming up, but they match these mountains. Pretty ridiculous how great it is. No big mileage goals for today, just hike as far as I get which was good because it felt like I had to stop every few minutes just to admire the views. Feels kind of like the sierras, even has the rocky ankle killing trail to go with it.

Somehow I missed the water at mile 2412, I think it was a little off trail and I wasn't paying attention. This stressed me out because it was where I had planned on eating dinner and was basically out of water. So I sped through the next 3 miles to make it to the next water before dark. Thank goodness that one was a no brainier flowing right across the trail. But thankfully that's when the best part of the day got going.

The trail has huge sweeping views right now and it made sunset superb, perfect mood changer. It was a mix between stoping and gaping and rushing to get a slightly better view.

I love it so much out here right now. Walked just a bit farther so I wasn't sleeping totally exposed in a boulder field and made camp. Cooking dinner and enjoying the afterglow of the sunset, can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

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Day 123, Snoqualmie

Daily mileage: 23
Mile 2379-2402

Well today is a town day, but I have to get there first. 23 miles to go isn't the shortest walk to town but it's totally doable. I woke up around 4 to see that the clouds had rolled back in and I was in the fog. It seemed a little drizzly but the real drama was the thunder and lightning. Watching lightning light up the fog in the distance was pretty trippy. I fell back asleep for a bit but when I woke up again I decided to waterproof all my stuff (ie stuff into ziplocks) and head out. Into the predawn mist I walked. This is the Washington I expected, misty cold and wet.

Nothing like fog to set the tone of the day. I heard a creepy buzzing noise and entered a clear cut after miles of forest and I felt like I was in a horror film. It took me a few minutes to realize it was just high voltage power lines buzzing away, what an unsettling noise. As I continued to climb I turned a corner and suddenly saw the sun. What views the trees were hiding!

But even as I watched the fog rolled over the hills and I was back in the mist. Another very cool sight, that was some quick moving fog.

Up and down I went in the mist. A quick break at Twilight Lake and then back to climbing. A button switched on and suddenly I was back in the sun, up to Mirror Lake and the land of the day hikers. A few gorgeous miles and lots of chit chat, even some huckleberries.

Then as I turned a corner I was sucked back into the mist. The trail got rockier and I got crankier as town seemed to still be much too far away. Plus it can be very disconcerting to hear what sounds like helicopters for a few miles but not be able to see anything at all.

Down through meadows and then the top of my last climb and past a trail register, I knew I was close with only a mile and a half to go! As I was standing at the top I got to talking to some very excited day hikers and they reenergized me and fed me. Win win situation. Grinning and skipping I headed down the last few miles.

Even as the trail headed down a ski slope and away from town my grin remained. Less than a mile down the road and I was knocking on a motel room and happily surprising Wrong Way and Caveman who weren't sure when I would actually appear. They had done insane miles (a 50 and then 42) and gotten there the day before. But hey 23 by 2 pm was pretty darn good by my standards. Then it was a lovely afternoon of showering and catching up and finally not feeling clammy as can be. Food and other hikers, what more could I want?

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Day 122, Clear Cuts and Dirt Roads

Daily mileage: 33
Mile 2346-2379

My first 10 miles were pretty uneventful. Some climbing and meandering through the forest. I even managed to scare two more herds of elk. At least this time none of them ran towards me. I did somehow miss my first water at Arch Rock Spring. Not sure if I walked past the sign or what but the seasonal stream 0.1 miles down the trail was flowing so no harm no foul.
I took a break at the Ulrich Shelter because I wanted to take a quick peek. It's a shelter right off the trail that anyone can camp at, the PCT doesn't have a lot of shelters like the AT does and I tend to be curious enough to want to check them out since they are so scarce. Met some dirt bikers and a grandfather and his grandson out riding from White Pass to Snoqualmie with 4 mules. Nice morning chat, I heard who was ahead and that I had missed a hot breakfast by 20 minutes. Oh well, hopefully I'll be in town tomorrow. The shelter itself wasn't too bad, but it was 9 in the morning, 78 degrees out and there were only a few wispy clouds. Basically no good reason to hang out at a building with only a wood stove and some mice.

After that the trail shortly became the land of clear cuts and old fires. Lots of open areas with young trees and a million dirt roads, and that was pretty much it the whole day. The only plus to the clear cuts, the trail is high enough and winds around enough mountains that you get some pretty cool views.

Still had some more forested sections with a few good climbs and descents throughout the day.

Clouds were rolling in all day but only a few raindrops at dusk, I'm hoping to stay dry.

Nice almost 1000 foot climb towards sunset that really gave me some good views. But it was hard to get anywhere because of the ridiculous number of ripe huckleberries. So delicious.

It's hard to tell but that's Rainier in the background.

Only 23 miles to Snoqualmie, I should be there tomorrow. Today I officially have less than 300 miles to go. Half the time I don't know whether to jump for joy or cry because it's almost over. There are so many things I will miss when this is over, oh well still plenty of time to mull all this over. Solo hiking is definitely good for over thinking things.

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Day 121, Hey Mt Rainier

Daily mileage: 33
Mile 2313-2345

Ever seen a herd of elk? How about have you ever scared a herd of elk, because that's what I did at 5 something this morning. Wandering down the trail in semidarkness to turn a corner and think hmmm those are really big deer, oh wait nope way too big. And then they saw me and started running all over the place. Those things are big, loud, and fast. At least standing next to a tree and muttering please don't run into me seems to have worked out pretty well. So with my heart hammering I set off to get off of the valley floor and away from all of its mosquitoes.
Nothing to eventful at first. Soft dirt trail pretty beat up by hooves, I'm thinking elk. At least it's not muddy right now. Got to a pretty big creek which thankfully had a big old log across it (used to be a 2 log bridge, very much no longer a bridge, gaping holes sort of undermine the integrity of those things). But good enough for me. The trail followed the creek for a bit and wow was it rushing down the canyon next to me. Pretty soon I veered away and was staring at the Bumping River. No nice logs this time. I paced the banks a bit and then just gave up on dry feet. The beauty of hiking in sneakers is that they dry super fast, my socks take longer to dry than the shoes. So with nice cold feet I started climbing.

As the trail continued to climb I was taken out of the forest and started to head towards some pretty imposing cliffs. Nice change of scenery,unfortunately pretty poorly captured on camera.

As the climb finally switchbacked to an end I officially entered Mt Rainier National Park and got my first mountain view of the day.

So glorious. Weaving in and out of mountains with intermittent views of Rainier, not exactly a bad morning. Started to see more and more day hikers as I continued to dodge mosquitoes and enjoy the sights.

Down past Dewey Lake and then it was time to start climbing again.

The number of day hikers became overwhelming as I got closer to the park entrance and Highway 410. Lots of fun talking to folks but it was hot out and as much fun as chit chatting was I don't particularly like the blazing sun so I moved on. Quick stop at the bathroom and parking lot to dump all my trash (seriously any weight you don't have to carry is great). Then on towards Sheep Lake which was a nice refreshing break after the heat. I met two section hikers, Ron and Fairytale there and headed up the last big climb with them after chatting and taking a dip in the lake. I said goodbye at the top and headed off to contour mountaintops for miles. Honestly it was some 7 odd miles of contouring the sides of mountains and then heading around to contour a whole new side awhile later.

You can see the faint line of trail as it heads across the mountains.

Hours later I was getting tired and thirsty and was pretty close to stumbling not walking. Thankfully I made it to the beautiful piped spring at mile 2343 and made my much desired dinner. 9 miles hadn't been too long of a dry stretch but after the heat of the evening I was mighty grateful for that water. After dinner I headed off for just a few more miles. Down I went and then back to climbing yet again. Stopped in a little bit of a saddle and set up camp. Normally I don't care about sleeping on the trail but lately it's looked like an elk thoroughfare with all the tracks and scat so I voted to sleep off trail tonight. Not that this will actually stop me from being stepped on but I sure can hope.

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