PCT Day 83 & 84 : Goat Rocks Thunders

June 26 (~09:55 – ~12:15) & June 27 (Zero day)
Walupt Creek – Cispus River (3.8 mi / Total: 2273.0 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1173.0
Weather: Overcast, rumbling clouds with a little sun. Soon the clouds turn grey and the rumbling turns to thunder. Lightening in the distance. It rains and hails when I set up my tent for shelter.

I wake up to sun and rumbling grey clouds. I’m not sure what to do. One moment the skies are mostly clear and I pack up, then they go grey again and the rumbling intensifies. I wait for safety, I don’t want to get caught out in a thunderstorm at higher elevation. Soon everything will be exposed and I might be navigating through snow on a ridge. I need good weather for that.

After a few hours the rumbling appears to stop, and I decide to head out into the half grey, half cloudy sky. Everything is beautiful when I leave. The trail moves consistently up, along a mountainside awarded with meadows and grand views over the valley and ridges around. There’s snow littering the trail, some easy, some take a while to climb over. I put on my microspikes and don’t take them off, I have a feeling I’ll be needing them the entire day.

Slowly the views open even more and I rise above tree line. I watch a herd of some fifty elk below me, and I can see the mountains, the imposing rock peak that I’ll be sidling behind, and try and distinguish the trail further on. There are patches of snow, but it looks like I’ll be able to get through. What I can’t see is what the trail looks like on the backside of the mountain, the side approaching Cispus Pass, and I anxiously draw near.

Soon I’m on a large snowfield, and when I cross it to the other side of the mountain, I understand why people love Goat Rocks so much. The view is astonishing. Multiple peaks rise majestically and the colours are different from everywhere else. There are dark and light greens and browns and the contrasting white of snow. But there’s also the sky, which has gone a darker grey behind me, and which is even more menacing in the distance, over the valley. It rumbles on both sides, but luckily I seem to be moving away from the worrying conditions, and I begin to walk across the many snow fields, benefiting from the faint footsteps of those two people I’ve been following ever since Trout Lake.

As I make my way across, the thunder in the sky above the valley gets louder. The skies are threatening, an uneasy inky grey, always in motion. The wind seems to blow everything away from me, I think I’m safe. But then I see the one thing I don’t want to see – lightning strikes in the distance. At the same time, the rumbling from the other side of the pass draws closer, and it begins to rain. The storm is closing in on me from all sides. Now I know I need to go. I hurry across the snow and the rocky trail as fast as I can, and climb over the huge snow drift that has formed on top of Cispus Pass. I descend down the other side, looking out for safe camp spots while I run, the skies above me turning every colour of grey and definitely not happy.

I run until I enter a little nook in the mountains, a lower spot close to Cispus River with a few small trees and a fire ring. I set up my tent while it starts to hail, and immediately crawl in and blow up my sleeping pad in case of a lightning strike. Then I wait, I listen to the thunder and the increasing rain. There’s no lightning, my biggest worry. After an hour, I can see bits of blue sky through the clouds, but I don’t know how trustworthy they are. I can still hear rumbling in the background. A few hours later it hails again, then dries up. Not long after grey clouds reappear, with hail and wind and a single flash of lightning right before a thunder. I’m not going anywhere.

The next morning I hope for blue skies but I wake to a whiteout. The conditions don’t improve much during the day. Thick grey clouds obscure the view onto the mountains right beside me, then they lift for just a moment, before thickening once again. Whenever I decide I should really leave it begins to rain, and I’m back to hiding in my tent. I’m not far from the Knife’s Edge, a section of exposed ridge walking at high elevation, which I want to do in good weather. I worry about the time I have left on my visa – these days of practically or no hiking are certainly putting a spanner in the works. But still – after yesterday’s thunderstorm I don’t dare ascend to higher elevation in these clouds, trudge through whatever snow there may be and risk getting stuck in another storm. I also don’t think it’s worth it if I may not be seeing any of the views. And after all, that’s why I am here. So I watch the hours pass, hoping for a clear window, without any luck. There goes the first of my few zeros left.

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