PCT Day 87 : When Washington Is Wonderful But The Skies Rumble

June 30 (~07:25 – ~18:00)
Creek before Bumping River – Bear Gap Trail Junction (21.7 mi / Total: 2329.5 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1229.5
Weather: Sunny with clouds in the morning. Later the clouds darken and it begins to thunder. More hail, rain, thunder and lightening at the end of the day.

I’m not sure what to expect of this coming stretch. After Goat Rocks I’m back in the forest, and I have no idea how long the trail will keep me here. Luckily it doesn’t take long for everything to change. The forest quickly runs into a lush, deep green meadow, and a steep uphill takes me along a rocky path, higher and higher towards majestic mountains of rock with views over blue lakes. If it wasn’t for the mosquitoes I would’ve stayed in this landscape forever.

I remain over 5000 ft, small ups and downs winding around the crest and giving me grand view after grand view. I’m walking towards Chinook Pass, and enjoy the sights onto Mt Rainier, which I decide is my favourite snowy mountain out of all of them. There are quite a few around here, Mt Adams, Mt Helen, but once I set eyes on Rainier I was impressed by its size and its seemingly hand painted qualities.

It’s snowy though – I was warned about this, and there’s more snow than I’d expected, but it’s also a lot easier to navigate than I’d expected. By now, there have been enough people walking this path before me to leave safe, deep footsteps, and I don’t even need to use my microspikes to get through – merely balancing myself with my poles.

I’m excited Washington is showing me more of its utter beauty, but it’s also tiring, as the mosquitoes are keeping me from having a proper break. I sit down for fifteen minutes to eat a sandwich, and then I’m on the move again. Even though the mosquitoes aren’t as bad as they were in Oregon, there’s no stopping today.

It’s early in the afternoon when my worries return: the sky is growing dark again. I’ve been watching the skies go grey throughout the morning, and I’ve anxiously listened to its rumble – hoping the noises were just passing planes. But it’s changing now. The rumbling is growing, the clouds thicken, threaten, and I can feel the spatter of impending rain. I don’t know what to do – I’m right before a big climb up and down again to Chinook Pass, which is a major road. I’ll have to get over 6000 ft before I can drop down again, and I’m not sure if the skies will allow me to.

If I stop walking now, I’ll have walked only half a day, which I really can’t afford to do, so I keep on going, my eyes peeled on the skies, but also acknowledging any possible campsites I pass. At the same time I know I really need to keep going. I tell myself the thunder isn’t here yet, it hasn’t reached me yet. Then, just as I begin the ascend it begins to hail – I go off trail, there’s a spot where I could sent up my tent, but I change my mind and continue up anyways. The hail and rain is still light enough, and I push through, finding myself at the top much faster than I’d expected.

Oddly enough, this is where I run into a man without any gear at all. We have a quick chat, and as I keep on walking I see more people – day trippers. I hadn’t a clue this was a major viewpoint for people to hike up and see. I almost laugh at myself – here are all these people carrying absolutely nothing and walking the mile and a half to the top of this mountain from Chinook Pass, and I almost set up my tent in the forest below.

After a few minutes in the trees, waiting for the rain to subside, I follow the busy trail down. It’s filled with people, and covered in a pack of snow, which has gone slippery with all the usage. I don’t understand how all these people get through it, but I guess everything is a lot easier without a heavy pack. A few people talk to me about the trail when they realise I’m a thruhiker, and then I’m at the Chinook Pass trailhead, sitting on a footbridge over the road, taking a break in the sun, feeling blissfully relaxed for just a moment.

On the opposite side of the road, the PCT continues to be popular. It leads to Sheep Lake, which is filled with locals camping. I consider staying, but again, I haven’t walked enough for the day, so I face another steep climb up, keeping my ears focused on the thunder in the skies behind me, and climb over 6300 ft, over the rocky Sourdough Gap, where another landscape of mountains awaits me.

I’m stunned. I’m looking at another beautiful valley and wish I could descend into it to camp. But my route is an exposed sidle below the rocky ridge, all along the extended mountain range. I know where I want to go for the night – the trail will lead slightly down for a few miles, putting me at a somewhat lower elevation, a little under 6000 ft. This is about as good as it gets, and I walk as fast as I can to reach it, realising the thunder is slowly catching up with me.

I pass another campsite on the way but it’s still too high up for my liking so I continue, and then it begins to hail. The size of the frozen hailstones is bigger than I’ve ever seen, almost the size of marbles, and they’re painful as they crash down on me harder and harder, until I’m soaked. I’m running now, and when I suddenly see a flash of lightning and hear the thunder right after, I run so fast I feel as though I’m flying, hardly touching the ground below. It’s just a few minutes now, and I run, into that little Bear Gap junction, where the trail dips a little lower and I find a small spot right in between the trees. I set up immediately, the hail flying inside my tent while I set up, thunder near, but no more lightning, luckily. I get into my dry camp clothes and listen to the thunder outside, slowly dying out over the next few hours.

2 thoughts on “PCT Day 87 : When Washington Is Wonderful But The Skies Rumble

  1. I’m having such a great time reading this! I go to Chinook Pass at least once a year to hike and camp along the PCT. I’ve seen it in all kinds of weather, but giant hailstones are a first for me. Those ridges are so exposed and it’s terrifying to hear and see the thunderstorm blow in so quickly. Once again I’m glad you’re safe!


  2. Hi. Your photos are amazing and the dialogue is so great I can almost travel with you. Your amazing, inspiring. Keep up the good work.


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