June 28 (~08:15 – ~18:10)
Cispus River – before Hidden Springs Junction (14 mi / Total: 2287.0 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1187.0
Weather: Cloudy, low hanging grey and white clouds. Some sun, cold at higher elevation.
The birds are singing. I’m a little scared to open my tent, but when I do, I see a blue sky. Phew. Low hanging white clouds drift in and out, temporarily hazing everything, but the blue sky remains a feature. I can continue hiking today.
Once I’m on the trail again, I’m relieved I didn’t continue walking yesterday. I probably would’ve missed out on all these views, and it would’ve been cold, and pretty miserable. The first few miles sidle along the green mountainside, exposing perfect campsites and small but gushing waterfalls. Then the trail begins to move up, towards Old Snowy and the Knife’s Edge. Here the views are panoramic, grand in every direction, showing mountains with snow, rolling lush, green forests and peaks painted in an array of understated colours. Everywhere I look is another view, and I can’t stop smiling.
The snow has come back again, but I can easily navigate across the fields, and there are a few clear footsteps to follow. They are pretty recent, and I wonder if anyone passed me while I was in my tent yesterday. Either way, I’m glad they are here. It makes me feel a little less alone, plus it makes hiking in the snow a lot faster with a clear path already.
Despite the footsteps, I still manage to loose the trail and suddenly hear a violent screech when I turn the wrong corner. It’s a marmot, on a giant rock. I startled it, and when I walk away I watch it return to its rock. My first marmot. Not long after I watch another one run away, and then again, one sits perfectly still on a rock in the snow. Three marmots in a day. I love my new furry friends.
As I get closer to Old Snowy, the clouds grow and turn grey. After yesterday, every grey cloud makes me think a thunderstorm is near, and I begin to feel a sense of urgency, the desire to quickly get out of here. Every rumble turns into the prospect of thunder, although all that passes are the numerous planes that fly over this area. Then white clouds begin to lower and float across the peaks, the valley, everywhere. I lose sight of the trail, and everything is shrouded in white.
Finally I climb up a snowy pass and I’m there: The approach to the Knife’s Edge, one of the PCT’s highlights. A narrow and entirely exposed ridge walk of a few miles. Everything here is loose rock and snow, and a green valley prospers far below. There are two ways to approach the ridge: a steep scramble up black rock, or the ‘easier’ stock route, a sidle along the mountainside.
I already know that the hiker scramble is actually easier than the stock route, and I head straight for it, until I see the footsteps all headed for the sidle. I hesitate. I want to go up, but a cloud suddenly obscures the views up there, and the footprints that I’ve cherished so much for the past few days are going elsewhere. And so I follow them. The snow fields don’t look too long, or steep, but of course I quickly realise how wrong I was. The snow just seems to grow steeper, and everything around me is now white, the mist intensifying. The footsteps lead me to fields of loose rock that I have to skirt around, and it seems like a huge avalanche danger – how is it even possible to have a trail along such steep slopes of loose rock?
Much to my surprise, I meet the first hiker since leaving Trout Lake along a short stretch of trail in the midst of the snow. It’s a local hiking a section, and he tells me about the snow ahead, some steep fields, but nothing worse than this. He tells me he’s met two other northbound hikers in the past 12 hours – so I was right. Some people did pass my tent. I wonder if they got any views when they hiked through this yesterday.
Once I think I’m done with the steep sidle, there’s another snowfield on the opposite side of the mountain. I follow the footsteps once again, but don’t realise they don’t line up with the trail at all, and I’m left having to scramble up a craggy section of loose rock and dirt, pulling myself up on stones, as they are tumbling down from underneath me. It’s steep and somewhat dangerous, but when I’ve pulled myself back up onto the trail, I’ve made it onto the Knife’s Edge.
This is what RonForNow was so worried about. I’m over 7000 ft, and the trail extends along a ridge of rock before me. It meanders, left and right, up and down, and right now it’s obliterated by a fast moving white cloud. Now and again I get views of the trail, and of the magnificent valleys on either side, and then everything is white again. But the good thing is that the trail is snow-free. RonForNow thought it’d be impassable, covered by a thick pack, but it’s not. It’s clear, and the hike along it is marvellous.
When I look back, the hiker route looks a lot clearer than the stock route. I should’ve taken it, of course. I already knew that. I would’ve saved myself that horrible snowy sidle. But it’s behind me now. As I get further, the clouds dissipate a little more and I stop worrying about thunder. I enjoy the hike, the views, and take all the pictures I want. I’m on top of the world.
It’s a shame when the trail gets off the ridge and moves down again. I have to move past a few steep snowy slopes again, one of them I avoid by manoeuvring over the rocks just above instead. Then I pass some picturesque scenes of green hills with trees and streams, and I realise that if the thunderstorm had never arrived, that’s probably where I’d ended up camping just a few nights ago.
But today I need to continue. It’s a little after 3 so I sit down for some food and then I cross more snow, until I descend into another forest, away from the views, away from the mountains and the marmots. I run into more people – three girls going southbound, and I tell them about the snow ahead. Then I pass two more girls and I wish I was going in the same direction. It would be nice to have some friends on the trail again.
I walk for another few hours. I need to make up for all those days off, but my feet hurt from walking in the wet and cold snow all day, and even though I want to keep on going, I stop at 6. I’m a little distraught when I realise how little mileage I did today. I have no idea how I’ll make up for that. But I’m also happy to set up my tent on the edge of a burnt forest, and call it a day after an impressive hike.