After finishing my hike, I returned rather quickly to the mountains to work in a kitchen. Watch snow fall from inside a warm building. And try to put words to describe the border to border journey.
I’m still working on the words, perhaps the description will be in the dance.
I am still in the mountains.
This time as a Resident Artist at Holden Village. This is a six week residency in which I get to work on as many dance projects as I can think up while living in a tiny mountain village.
Holden is a village of intentional community. A place where we work, live, and dine together. It is a place where it is common to wear ridiculous costumes. Where all are welcome. Where Sasquatch lives. Where hilarity is a cornerstone of the community.
During my residency, I will primarily be editing and composing my dance-u-mentory of my hike. I will also be training on my silks which are rigged up in the Village Center, and dancing outside in the snow whenever inspired.
At the end of the Residency, I will have a showing of my film project, and once I return to the world of fast internet, I will be able to post it for everyone to enjoy.
Returning to the world of cars, and coffee cups, and massive amounts of people.
Culture shock? Not at first. I get to my aunt’s house and don’t leave for 3 and a half days. I’m just inside lurking. Sleeping in. Figuring out what a kitchen is again.
It’s a marvel that I can use more than one pot. Cooking does not have to involve boiling water. There are so many utensils!!!
My aunt asked me what I wanted to do first.
‘Watch Brave!!!’ I say with great enthusiasm. I tried to watch the movie four different times during the journey. Since I saw an ad at the Subway in Independence, California. Four times! Foiled at each. The last time I managed to be at the theater, but the movie time was misprinted in the paper.
‘Ok universe! I get it. I have to finish hiking first.’
So I did.
Laughing, my aunt rents the movie for me.
And I get to watch my movie with a redheaded heroine.
Day four, my cousins and I are dragged outside to go for a walk around a lake.
I am happy to report that I survived.
Time keeps rolling.
I roll with it. In a kind of daze.
Where do I fit in this fast moving world?
I visit Seattle. First thing I do: caffeinate.
It’s good to be back.
Traveling in a rideshare, I ask to use a phone and three cell phones are instantly pulled out of pockets and offered to me.
It’s a fancy world we live in.
I wander down to the Seattle Center and am just another person in the mass. I’ve accomplished something great. And in all these people. No one knows. I am anonymous.
Everyone is the protagonist in their own story.
It’s a little overwhelming to think about how many stories are going on right now.
I went on a great journey. A life changing journey.
Yet, I have no more answers.
I didn’t figure out my life on this trek.
I just figured out how to be.
Present. Open to opportunities. Unrelenting to peer pressure. Assertive to my needs.
When you live life at the basic level. Transforming from hiker to hobo every time you step off the trail. Perspective is changed. Perspective is opened up.
I can’t describe it. You have to stick out your thumb on the side of the highway to understand.
Open yourself to accepting kindness from strangers.
In the process, stories are shared, connections are made, lives are touched- both by those who help and those who receive.
I went on a journey. Point A to Point B. Mexico to Canada.
I hiked 2660 miles. Too stubborn to quit. Never had a good enough reason to quit.
Pushed myself to every extreme.
Met amazing people along the way.
In the end. It wasn’t about the miles, but what happened between the miles.
One journey ends, another will begin.
In the transition, I try to figure out how to keep what I gained.
88 miles to go. We leave Stehekin with our pockets loaded with cinnamon rolls and sticky buns from the bakery that’s been closed since mid October. (it’s good to have connections in high places.) It’s hard to leave a warm house one more time. We each have about ten days worth of food. 6 days of good stuff. 4 days of boring stuff. Lots of layers. Lots of attitude (Positive Mental Attitude, with a little bit of the other kind). A whole village is now sending good thoughts our way, as well as the whole PCT community. We aren’t just two people out for a walk to see what we can do anymore. We’re being watched. Bets are being made. People are being inspired.
Never thought we’d actually be the last two striving for the goal. Running joke this whole season. The last to Canada wins.
‘Ready to go for a walk, Dances?’
‘Ready as I’ll ever be.’
We’re walking into a snowstorm, and we know it. It’s going to be cold, but we want to try to get as far as we can while the hiking is easy. Of course, with loaded down packs, I only make it a quarter mile before I break down and eat a sticky bun.
As promised, it starts to snow by late afternoon. We make it partway up and out of the valley, cross creeks that are starting to freeze over, and make camp at a place called Hideaway.
74 miles to go.
Middle of the night. Wake up to a tent that’s too warm. Realize we’re in a snowcave. Nothing is venting anymore, and it’s all dripping on Brr’s poor down sleeping bag. He eventually musters to go outside and uses a snowshoe to clear off the tent. There’s at least 8 inches on the ground. So much for the promised 3-5 inches.
While all this excitement is happening, I see a cinnamon roll sticking out of my jacket pocket. We’ve recently had problems with mice, and the only thought in my sleepy head is: I don’t want the mouse to eat my cinnamon roll! Brr jumps back into the tent to find me mawing down on the sticky treat without a care for snow or anything else.
64.5 miles to go. It’s a slow day to get up to Rainy Pass and beyond. We make burritos and a hiker mocha at the pass, and consider how easy it would be just to hitch out to Bellingham and be warm and watch the movie Brave. Instead, we march on. Past civilization. On to camp above 6,000 ft and tuck in for another snowy night.
Surprised in the morning to hear voices as we’re packing up camp. Flatlander and Bouncer arrive on scene. Snowshoes on, GPS in hand. Making one more attempt at the goal.
I have to admit there was some trepidation on our part at meeting them. We had heard that Flatlander was going to try to meet up with us, we were glad he arrived with a hiking partner.
At this point in the game, joining up to hike with someone is no casual contract. That’s for summer business. Silent D and I have been practicing in this kind of weather for the last month. We’ve got a system down that works for us. We know each other’s skills well. As Silent D puts it “She doesn’t freak out. Ever.” On an expedition like this, the last week out is not the time to meet someone new and try to fit them into your system. We were happy to say hello. Short conversation. Have to move to keep warm.
They continued. We finished packing and followed their tracks up to the top of Cutthroat Pass (scary name, easy pass), where we sat down to have second breakfast and watched as two figures traversed the ridge and rounded the corner. Then we watched in surprise as one figure, and then another, were coming speedily back across the ridge.
Huh? We wondered with mild curiosity as we slowly packed up and continued on our way. We chatted again as they passed us. The ridge got steep and the snow was a bit icy around the corner. Too much for them. The fun stopped.
I have the utmost respect for Bouncer and Flatlander that they recognized when something was too much. They knew when to call it. That is an important skill. One most people ignore. I also respect that they didn’t try to turn us around. In our heads we were wondering if they would be saying ‘these kids can’t make it, it’s dangerous… etc…’ But they didn’t. They simply said it was too much for them, and wished us well. Thank you.
We continued on.
Traversed the ridge and made the steep descent in a couple feet of snow to Granite Pass. Then across the next ridge. The going was slow. We didn’t have snowshoes on yet. The snow was at the point where it really wouldn’t be any easier in snowshoes. We’d posthole one way or another. The trail following the contour on the ridge had perhaps six inches of snow. In most places. Passable enough.
55 miles to go. Setting up the tent. Exhausted. Bummed that we couldn’t make it any further. At this rate, we might not make our rendevous.
There’s a crack. We pause. Stock still. Assess the damage. One of the tent poles broke. Shattered on one end due to cold. Nothing to do but wrap it with Tenacious tape, and hope it holds.
48 miles to go. Get to the top of Glacier Pass. Another steep ascent just ahead of us. Time for another hiker mocha as the sun sets. Bodies are complaining. Nothing to do but tape what hurts, hope it holds, and don’t look again. Pep talk to the body. Come on, just need you to get me thru a few more days.
We begin the next ascent. Switchbacks across a meadow. Why couldn’t they put them in the trees?! Wading across snow drifts at each turn. Silent D gets fed up. We’re about four switchbacks from the top. Pull out the GPS to double check our location. We can just go straight up. The trail stays on top of the mountain for a while. We’ll hit it.
Switch to the microspikes. Glorious microspikes. Time for some mountain climbing. Silent D pulls out his ice axe, I put my trekking poles in my pack and use his very sturdy hiking sticks. Up we go.
I climbed up a mountain on a starry night with microspikes and broomsticks.
I didn’t exactly like where I was. It was icy, extremely steep, the alternative was no easier. At that point, the only way to get out of a sketchy spot is to move. One way or another, you have to move. I chose to move up.
Up the mountain.
It was worth it.
Hit the top. Absolutely stunning.
Make another hot drink.
We are the only people out in this wilderness. Two small people on top of a snow covered mountain gazing at the stars. One of those nights where I felt like the stars were watching us.
I get this feeling that Mother Nature has finally decided we are worthy to pass. That all the gods have us in their favor. And they are watching. It won’t be easy. She will never let us off the hook, but she will let us pass.
All the stars gazing down at us. Watching our progress as we finally donned our snowshoes and crossed the ridge to Grasshopper Pass and continued to traverse the next ridge. Our slogan becomes ‘When in doubt, follow kitty.’ We know the right direction to go, can’t see the trail, but there are lynx or bobcat prints that seem to know where the trail goes. We follow.
No matter what else happens, I have this moment. This moment in time. This moment on top of a starry snow covered mountaintop. Everything that has happened before, is worth it. Anything that happens after, doesn’t matter.
I have this.
This one’s for the memory books.
44 miles to go.
Wake up to fog. White on white. Takes us most of the day to go four miles. Pulling out the GPS often. Having to trust technology. Trust that it really does know where we are. Crossing meadows or open areas with no sign of a trail. The usual dip is covered by a drift. When it gets too slick and steep, we know we’re above it. We don’t like to descend because gaining any elevation is such hard work. Maps, compass, check the GPS, look for blazes, look for the line through the mist.
We get to a low point where the trail hits a jeep road. 2 miles to Hart’s Pass. The next section of trail looks just as, if not more, steep and sketchy as what we just came through. We take the road. One of the only times I actually opt for road rather than trail. Even though it’s easier, walking a road has never been fun, and is still not fun.
38 miles out. Hart’s Pass. Our last exit point. My biggest mental struggle. Getting this far today was brutal. If there had been a warm car, with warm people in it, I don’t think I would’ve had the fortitude to continue. As luck would have it, there is just a bleak campsite. Ranger cabin boarded up for the winter. An outhouse and a couple picnic tables all covered in snow.
Not much discussion. Make a hot drink. Cook some food. All Silent D has to say is: ‘If we don’t continue, I’ll regret it.”
Final push. This is our moment.
34 miles out. On top of another snow covered mountain. I open up the tent in the morning (for the difficult process of putting trash bags on my feet so I can struggle outside into the cold to pee) and the first words out of my mouth are ‘Oh my God.’
‘What is it?’
‘Look outside!’ The world is stunning. Bright sun. Blue sky. In a small tent on the mountaintops. Surrounded by stoic snow covered ridges and peaks. This is why we’re still out here.
We’ve got this.
22 miles out. We actually made 12 miles today! There’s a celebration. I have to do a mental shift from we’ll get as far as we can to We’re going to make it! I can finally let myself believe that I’ll get there.
Canada is now our nearest out.
We are going to make it.
16 miles out.
6 miles today.
I worked for every inch of these six miles. All day and most of the night. For six miles.
Up to Rock Pass, down the other side, up to Woody Pass. We keep switching who breaks trail throughout the day.
We took a break at what we thought was the last switchback up. False summit. Got dark. Fog rolled in again. Took a turn down a wrong trail that was unsigned. We knew we were on a trail. We could see the line. The going was easy, but the ridge was on the wrong side. Kept waiting for a switchback to turn us the right way. GPS again. Turn around.
Wind whipping up. Can’t tell if it’s snowing more or just blowing everything around. Finally at the top of the real pass. Round the corner. Ridge is on the right side. Snow drifts are deep. Postholing up to knees or hips with snowshoes on. Brr’s foot has a bruise from the snowshoes. He switches to spikes and we keep rolling.
Work for every step.
Send a prayer to Mother Nature. Please give us a break.
The wind dies.
No more ice blowing in my eyes. I can see the line of the trail. We slowly follow it across huge drifts. Exhausted. Getting frustrated with everything. Stop for a break, but don’t want to deal with the wind chill, so we don’t cook, and just keep moving.
Finally to the top of Lakeview Ridge. Above 7,000 ft. Everything is downhill from here. But I can’t go on. We cook and try to see if we can get some more energy. But we’re done for the night. We’re supposed to get out tomorrow. We’ve already pushed the rendezvous back one day. But 16 miles might be impossible.
Must sleep. Hope that tomorrow is a better day.
14 miles out. We hit the valley. Took all morning to traverse the ridge, descend the Devil’s Staircase and get down to Hopkin’s Pass.
We can do this. It’s just 6 more miles to the border. Make spam burritos one last time (my favorite trail food: spam, Idaho potato mix, corn chowder, and cheez-its!), out of tortillas for this one. Ready to go. The snow is light on this stretch of trail, but I keep the snowshoes on to keep from slipping.
3.5 miles to the border. Castle Pass. The world is black and white today. Cloud covered sky, trees a dark green they look black. Snow covered world. A raven flies overhead. We take that as a good omen. We’re flying today. Nothing can stop us now. The only question is if we can get to the border with a little daylight left?
November 18. 5:30 pm. PCT mile 2660. We hit the border.
Suddenly there’s a switchback, and we know we’re almost there. The graylight thru the clouds is gone. Two turns down and we’re there.
This monument that I’ve been waiting to see for seven months is right before me.
Not a dream anymore.
I’ve had this image in my head of arriving at the monument. What I would do. What my end picture might be like.
How we imagine it, is never how it turns out.
It turns out the way it was going to happen all along.
It turns out better than I imagine.
Dark. Victory yells. Running and jumping around like crazy. Disbelief.
I pop open a bottle of champagne that I’ve carried for 80 miles. I can now admit to carrying it. (Otherwise that would have been a bottle quietly drunk in a corner). After all that long journey, I absolutely brought a bottle of champagne along for the last lap.
One more hiker mocha with the last of our coffee and instant breakfast mix. Sitting staring at the monument. This is really the end.
We got each other to the end.
Everything is going to happen fast after this.
8 miles to get out.
We have people waiting for us. And we don’t want to camp in the broken tent on cold snow another night.
It starts to snow giant flakes.
8 miles to let it settle in that we’re getting out. That we’ve actually accomplished the goal. That I have to go do something other than walk now.
8 miles to laugh about all the moments. Favorite, worst, most epic, hardest, weirdest, most random.
4 miles out. We just made it up one more pass. To the end it is not easy. Mother Nature never lets it be easy.
Just a little further to our waiting family.
11:30 pm. Manning Park.
Anticipation as we arrive at the road. Then the parking lot. Then the resort. Door is locked. A security guard pulls up right as we’re taking off our packs. ‘They were just looking for you. Weren’t sure if you were gonna make it out tonight.’
This is it.
In to warmth. In to waiting arms. In to a shower and a bed.
‘It’s the end of an era’ my grandma wrote in her last care package.
The journey of a lifetime, I’m told. And it’s true. A journey full of unexpected surprises.
It’s November, there’s another snowstorm coming. Why am I still out here?
Quite frankly. Why not?
There’s never been a reason not to be out here. This is what I thrive on.
I was asked once (or perhaps many times) why I was so slow if I didn’t have a problem with speed or injuries. My reply: ‘I’m not slow (or late), I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.’
Just exactly where I’m supposed to be.
So much of the joy of this journey happened because I was right where I was, when I was there. So many people were met, new friends made, sunsets watched, stars gazed at…
Life happens because of the choices we make.
I chose to hike this trail with my dad and sister, we picked what seemed to be a random day in April.
Team No Hurries was born after we hiked one mile and walked into the store at Campo to spend all the change in our pockets on V8 and use a flush toilet one last time.
Everything that happened after that, happened because of that first choice.
We had a blast. Took days off when we needed them. Enjoyed sitting on porches. Laughed at our devolement into hikertrash.
Then, one by one, I lost my hiking partners.
It was a bit lonely in Oregon. I discovered I really don’t enjoy hiking solo. I’m glad I did for a week. Gained some perspective. Talked to myself way too much.
Then I ran into Silent D again. (Actually, my dad and our friend Gnarly were looking for me at Willamette Pass and saw Silent D first, and sort of kidnapped him).
There’s a friend out here!
We hiked on.
We became the Lollygag Crew.
He jokes that I’m cursed with having slow hiking partners. Perhaps.
Probably would have been done with the trail a couple months ago, and on with life (whatever that might be).
But I don’t mind. I don’t think I would have had nearly as much fun. I’m rather glad to have been slowed down.
I was once told that at the Kickoff event, I looked way too relaxed, like I was just going for a walk in the park. Probably wouldn’t make it. (Yep, that comment almost set off the redhead fury).
But it was a walk in the park. A very big park.
Pitting yourself against what Mother Nature throws at you is where the adventure starts.
I want to find out just exactly what I’m made of. Discover my limits, my perceived limits and what I can push through.
This is why I spend about half of every year living in the wilderness. The beautiful days are great. But you learn the most about yourself when the going gets tough. Throw in the inclement weather and roll with it.
I’ve hiked through about a month of storms. I know I can survive them. Got the right gear, the right training and skills. The game becomes mental. I wonder sometimes why I’m doing this after three days of rain, or slogging through snow and slush. But then the sun comes out again! It always does eventually. It’s like a breath of fresh air when the clouds lift a bit and you can see an epic view, or there’s a ray of sun through the clouds.
Then I remember.
That touch of beauty in the world is more precious when it’s fleeting.
I was told I was crazy to think I would make it to Canada when I was hitting the Oregon/Washington border early October. (These comments actually started in the Sierras when I was told I was late, should give up the dream, set a lesser goal. As I kept hiking, I started to be called insane. Insane for trying? Isn’t crazier not to try?)
I am a dreamer. And I am a doer.
It’s a tough road to dream big. You have to fight for it. Work for it. Struggle with it. Give everything to that dream.
And it’s worth it.
In the end it’s always worth it.
I’m 88 miles from accomplishing this dream.
This close to the goal, and yet there’s still a question mark if I’ll make it or not.
Makes the end exciting.
It’s going to get colder. There’s going to be more snow coming. We know our last exit points. We’ve been studying the map for over a week now. Giving ourselves seven days to get there. Talking on the phone with my dad, he asks if we have enough food. Next to me, Silent D has just filled his food bag with 20+ pounds of food. ‘Oh yeah. We have food.’ In fact, after a few miles we’re going to start looking for people to give food to. We’re also packing snowshoes as our insurance policy. (And no, I haven’t weighed my pack since I left Oregon.)
Ready for some more high passes. Ready for more snow. Ready for colder nights.
I am a couple weeks behind on stories. But don’t have the time right now to write them.
I will say this much: I love the North Cascades. We’ve had some beautiful days up North. The Glacier Peak wilderness is aptly named. Took a 20 mile side trip to Holden Village to visit friends. Side trips are still so much fun. Finally made it back to my old, familiar hiking places.
To Everyone: Thanks for all your support of this trip and for ready the stories!!! I will be filling in the blanks soon. And hopefully, you will continue to enjoy reading.
Mother Nature is going to win. She always does. Yet we go back into the ring for another bout.
Not to win, but to see how many rounds we can take.
Find out what I’m made of.
This round starts off with two days of sunny weather. We luxuriate in it. We are dry, warm and well fed. Life is good again.
The snow drips off the trees, the fall colors pop back out. The world is gorgeous again.
We get up high and start to get vistas of mountains. Adams is now far behind. Helens is to one side, and then we enter Rainier National Park. Well that’s a surprise. Didn’t know we’d be in the park. We start to wonder when we’ll see the mountain.
There she is. In all sorts of glory.
Now that’s a mountain.
Just 80 feet shorter than Mt Whitney (and really much more impressive than Whitney. Even hiking up to the tip, I wasn’t sure which one was Whitney). She is a majestic mountain. I understand why native peoples thought the mountains were gods. I believe it. Clouds are forming around her top. The mountain brings in the weather. I wouldn’t want to anger the mountain gods.
We have grand plans to hike really far while it’s nice out, but the world is just too pretty. We take a long lunch break staring at the mountain, eventually muster on to other lakes and views. The hillsides are alive with oranges, yellows and reds.
There’s something special about knowing this weather won’t last. I want to take in the moments as long as possible. You can see so far, the colors just pop, the sun is just an amazing thing. I forgot that the world was not always gray.
We take in all the moments to remember them when the rain comes again.
And rain it does.
Soaked again very quickly. We hike thru some of the night to get to a shelter. A nice little cabin in a meadow. We are hoping we can dry our stuff out so we can have one more chance to start out dry before battling the rain again. There is no wood. Everything is used up from last winter. Nothing around that’s dry enough to burn, but at least we are inside. It is some kind of respite.
Mother Nature has another trick up her sleeve.
We’re expecting three days of rain.
We wake up to snow.
Well that’s different.
We’re up in the loft of the cabin eating third breakfast, getting up the courage to go out in the cold, when we hear voices.
A group has come up to the cabin from a nearby road to have lunch. To us, it’s like some magical people with halos have appeared. They share their lunch (which is so much better than my spam burrito, which I had just a few minutes ago been in love with). And they have donuts! Our magical friends load us up with all kinds of snacks for the trail. These snacks keep us going for the next day and a half. I keep pulling surprises out of my pockets. Their energy gives us such a boost in morale (and the food). We muster ourselves, pack up our gear and start hiking through the snow.
Three days of snow.
It’s a different game. It’s much easier to keep warm in snow than in rain. It’s colder but not so wet. Taking down camp is probably the worst part of the day. Fingers freeze. Both setting up and taking down camp takes longer as we’re trying to be careful with keeping things dry.
Breaking trail through snow is work.
We can’t walk as far every day. But we do what we can.
We push a 19 mile day to try to get out to town a day earlier and there’s a moment we realize that it’s no fun. I’m feeling the pull of Canada now that we’re so close, we want to minimize the time we’re out in the cold between stops, and we have this idea that we can get to a little mountain village for Halloween. It’s a hard moment to let go of that last idea. We can push ourselves to get there, not have fun doing it, and burn out. Or we can continue as we’ve been going. Wake up when we do, eventually get out of the tent, walk, warm up, enjoy the dazzling snow. Get as far as we can each day. When it comes down to it, this trip has been about enjoying the walk, not getting to a destination.
We get out of round 2 much happier and in better shape than round one. Friends are there to meet us at Snoqualmie Pass and thaw us out for a day. (More magical friends whom I met early on in the trip at Julian. Early Girl and Waterboy).
We thaw out, dry our gear, get our resupplies. Going North one resupply at a time. Only 250 miles left of the trail, and yet we are still so far from the goal. Step by step we go.
The rain comes. We’re into day 3 of it. Pretty wet, but my sleeping bag and sleeping clothes are still dry. That’s all that really matters. Made it around our last fire detour (a road walk/hitch that took us around the Mt. Adams Wilderness).
We enter the Goat Rocks Wilderness.
And we see goats! It’s a good day.
Until we get an unexpected adventure.
The story that follows has a lot of understanding that came later with that 20/20 hindsight. It’s the kind of thing that if you live through it, you will learn.
The best way to describe it would be to say: ‘it’s like going from Aslan’s Narnia into the White Witch’s Narnia. And she wants you dead.’
Wet through. We’ve walked about 10 miles today. Looking for a lunch spot. A mile before, Brr had said he was ready for a break, I wanted to go to the next trail junction in a mile so we would know exactly where we were for our midday break, so we continued. We continued uphill.
The hill made Brr angry so he charged up it, and then didn’t stop at the jct. I realized I was sweating too much and didn’t want that to make me cold when I stopped, so I slowed down. I keep thinking he’ll stop soon enough. Maybe he didn’t like all the little campsites we’ve passed. (We’ve been throwing up my tent for our lunch breaks so we can get out of the rain for a bit.)
Gotta keep going til I catch him. I’m really ready for a break now, but he’s not stopping. (And I really need to pee, but I don’t want to deal with taking my pack off until we’re at our break spot) So I drink some water and keep marching forward. The rain is getting colder. The wind is picking up. We’ve marched into a cloud. Storm is getting worse.
I catch Brr at a Hiker/Stock jct. He’s changing out his wet gloves for dry ski mittens. Says he accidentally went too fast up the hill and then couldn’t stop because he would freeze. The wind is getting pretty heavy, the rain is becoming ice. This is no place to stop. We’re above treeline. No shelter. Gotta move to keep warm.
We pause just long enough for him to get his pack on and book it for the Stock route. We figure if there’s a stock route, it has to be easier. Why else would they put in a stock route? It must drop to a more sheltered area.
We were wrong.
Not a quarter mile down the stock route, we’re confronted by a glacier. The Packwood Glacier.
Sheer ice. Can’t walk across it. No way we can dig steps into it.
Look around. Down the rocky slope a ways, it looks like the glacier gets pretty narrow. Maybe fifteen feet across. We head for that.
Picking our way down the boulders and rocks. Finally get to that easy looking spot. It is sheer ice. No way across. If we had crampons and an ice axe, it would maybe be doable. You could at least catch yourself when you inevitably slip.
We look lower. Our options are now to go back up to the trail and turn around, or maybe there’s a way to walk around all the ice. I think there’s a way to get around it. So we go. (it is always so difficult to go back. No one wants to go back).
We pick our way slowly down to that lower spot. What looked like just a few inches of ice between rocks, is four feet. There is still no way across.
It’s amazing how distance can change from 20 miles a day being relatively easy, to four feet being impossible.
I call it. It’s time to head back. We’re both freezing cold. We’re wearing base layers under our rain gear but everything is soaked through. If I stop for more than a couple of minutes, I’ll be too cold to move.
We look back up the hill and realize just how far off the trail we’ve gone. It’s a long trek up. It’s a scary trek. If one of us goes down, we’ve got a whole other mess of problems to deal with. One foot in front of the other. Hope the slope doesn’t slip too far when I take the next step. Ride the rocks as they shift and take the next step. We have to switchback a couple of times. Walking side by side. Don’t want someone below when the rocks shift. Send a couple of bigger slides down. It takes a long time to finally hit trail again. (a trail blasted through the rocks).
Take a breath. Step 1: get back to the trail. Check. Step 2: get back to the jct. Step 3: get warm and dry.
One step at a time.
We beeline it back for the jct. Check the map. The hiker route goes up on top of a ridge. No glaciers to cross, but no camping for miles. It’s too late in the day, and we’re too cold to deal with hiking on top of an exposed ridge.
Don’t know how long we spent dinking around the Packwood Glacier.
Hoof it to the trees. There is one patch of snow we crossed earlier. We become very familiar with this snow patch. It is icy, but there is a trench through the middle of it. Slipping is not a problem. You just stay in the trench.
Back across the snowfield, and we are relieved to discover that trees are closer than we remembered. Into shelter. My tent won’t go up on this kind of terrain and in this wind, so we set up Brr’s tent (luxuries of a self standing tent). Shaking hands. Trying to move as fast as we can. I’m sitting on the tent to keep it from blowing away as we put it up.
Pull off all the wet clothes, get the dry clothes and bags out. It’s a slow process when your fingers aren’t working quite right.
Start up the stove for a hot drink.
Safe for now.
Part 2 Enter the Mouse
It’s amazing how quickly you can go from freezing, near hypothermic, to warm and making jokes again.
Dry inside our little safe haven. Wind howling outside. We have a lot of hot drinks. Cook up dinner.
Wait for a slight break in the wind to dive out of the tent and pee. (In adventure stories, they never talk about the bladder problem, but it’s a serious problem. It takes a lot of bravery to get out of the tent back into your wet shoes and the freezing cold weather when nature calls.)
Snuggled into my sleeping bag. Hood all the way up. Sleep is almost there.
Hear a squeak.
‘Is that a bird?’ ‘Sounds like a mouse to me’ ‘I sure hope not.’
We ignore it and go to sleep.
The wind is howling. I’ve convinced myself that the tent is thwapping on my head. I even feel it thwap on my leg. But it must be the tent.
Then Brr feels something brush his hair, he figures it’s the wind (although the wind just stopped for a moment). He brushes his head.
‘There’s a mouse in the tent!’
Scrambling for our head lamps.
Oh God don’t let it get in my hair! Or in my sleeping bag!
Lights on. The mouse has run around the tent and up one of the walls.
‘How do we catch it?!’
“Use a pot!” and I hide in my sleeping bag. Hear a scuffle.
I peek out of my bag.
There’s a mouse in the pot.
What do we do with a mouse in the pot?
‘Make mouse stew?’
“No, I have to eat out of that again!”
“Not in my pot!”
We ponder the mouse in the pot for a while.
Can’t just leave it in there.
‘Maybe if we shake it up and huck it really far it won’t come back.’
Well, Brr manages this sidearm huck that sends the mouse into the tree next to our tent. It bounces off and the report is that it looked dazed.
We try to go back to sleep. A little creeped out that a mouse had been dancing on my head for a while. It must have given up on getting into my sleeping bag when it went over to nest in Brr’s hair.
Thirty seconds later we hear a mouse shuffling in the vestibule.
This episode continues for a while. We try to put bait in the pot and set it up as a trap. The mouse is too smart for that. It keeps coming back as soon as the lights go off. Eventually, we’re too tired to care anymore. It’s at least in the vestibule and not in my hair. We’ve already got all our food in the tent, and we’ve closed the zipper better so it can’t get back in. Nothing to do but wait to see what the damage is in the morning.
Sweet dreams of mice.
Part 3 Get Out
The storm seems to be a little calmer this morning. The mouse seems to have just pooped on everything and given us nightmares. It’s time to get out of the woods. We’re 19 miles from White Pass, walls and safety.
Time to try the hiker route. We have a contingency plan to take the Nannie Ridge trail out to a big lake that has a road on one end. Don’t know where that road leads or if anyone will be camping there, our maps don’t go that far. But it’s at least a bailout point.
Hands freeze again packing up the tent. Once we’re moving life is ok again. Cross our familiar snowfield, get to the stock/hiker jct. Head right this time.
Wind is picking up, on the exposed mountaintop again, walking in a cloud.
We get to a sign that says “PCT” That’s it. No arrows. Doesn’t look like much of a junction. Brr climbs up to the left and it looks like it’s just a viewpoint that drops off. We continue on the trail. So we think. (Should’ve pulled out the compass here).
Our trail soon becomes a scramble. This doesn’t seem right. Maybe we just missed the route. It’s hard to tell what’s just rock and what’s trail up here. Brr scouts ahead. Finds a cairn and a windbreak, but there’s a class four scramble between us and it.
We’re definitely not on the real trail, but the sign of humans makes us think we just have to get to that point and the trail will be evident.
Windbreak. Breathe for a second. We’re both getting pretty cold again. Scout ahead. Find a route. Scramble on. This continues for a couple more stretches.
We get to a point where there’s big glaciers to either side of the ridge and it looks like a really technical scramble. My map says we follow a ridgeline. But this is not right. Fingers are too cold at this point to pull out my compass. I’m too cold to stop to figure out which pocket it’s in and dig it out.
I call it.
Turn around time. If we can’t find an easy route through here, we need to go back. Take the side trail out. Old Snowy Mountain has beaten us.
We’re already getting to the freezing cold point we were at yesterday. Doesn’t take much in this wind. We’re also wearing all our sleeping clothes. Figured we could gamble wearing our dry clothes to stay warmer because we’re going to make it out today. It’s only 19 miles. (Right. Only 19 miles when 4 feet was too much yesterday).
Part 4: No Really, Get the F*** Out
Make a hot drink at the wind break and brace ourselves for our next attempt to get out.
Into the wind again. Visibility is maybe 20 feet.
Back to the PCT sign. Brr climbs up to the overlook again.
‘Dances! Get up here!’
I climb up. Around some rocks, relief from the wind and there before us is the trail.
Plain as day.
It’s too far to get out by the trail today. We’ve wasted most of the daylight climbing up Old Snowy Mountain in a whiteout.
Assess the map again. Compass out this time.
Being back on the trail gives us some more energy. We can still hike out on the PCT. No need to head back to our bailout trail. We eat a candy bar and start going.
Wind is maybe 40-60 miles an hour (assessed by Brr who has felt wind like this from a dirtbike). We later learn that what we’re walking on is referred too as the Knife’s edge.
But life is good again.
Occassionally the clouds give a little and we can see an incredible view. This is one of those moments that feels like we’re Sam and Frodo on our way to Mordor. Epic.
Five miles walking the ridgeline. Then we drop out of the wind and icestorm into a valley. Into rain. We see a herd of elk in a meadow and watch them climb up a scree slope to the top of a ridge like it’s nothing.
Onward we walk. Set up camp 11.5 miles out from White Pass. Sleep in all our wet clothes. Even our sleeping bags are getting wet. I’m glad I have a synthetic sleeping bag now. (Poor Brr’s down bag is not doing much good now).
It rains hard all night.
Daylight is a long time coming.
And it reveals snow.
We have a breakfast of champions. Spoonfuls of peanut butter and honey. Our food supplies are really low. I have rice left. Brr has potatoes left. We mix up some hiker crack (one of those caffeine energy packets that has no calories but tons of caffeine) and book it out of there.
11.5 miles out without food, in snow, damp clothes, wet boots, knowing that we’ll be fine just as soon as we hit the road.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been so happy to get out of the woods.
Utter relief as we’re surrounded by walls again.
A little wiser (we hope) as we look at the next stretch of trail we’re walking in to. But that can wait for tomorrow. Tonight we get beds, a heater and a room to yard sale our stuff in as it dries out.