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.
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.
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.