July 4 (~13:30 – ~22:00)
Snoqualmie Pass – before Pete Lake Junction (19.4 mi / Total: 2413.0 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1313.0
Weather: Overall sunny but there are low hanging clouds at higher elevation, making it quite chilly.
It feels fantastic to wake up in a hotel, with all my gear hanging everywhere, now clean and dry. I use the morning to pack up, eat highly mediocre pancakes at the restaurant and browse the shops for my resupply. It’s difficult to get things together, and I’ll be stuck with eating Idahoan instant mashed potatoes again, and crackers for snacks. I pick up a breakfast burrito from Aardvark and manage to find a small snack box with vegetables at the café, where I grab an apple as well. At least I have something fresh, even if it’s not much.
Before I get moving, I notice something is wrong with my hands. My thumbnails have been hurting recently. It’s an odd sensation as though my thumbs are getting sunburnt underneath the nails, and there’s nothing I’ve been able to do about it. It began around Mt Jefferson, and I would feel the burning pain for days, then it eased, but it came back some time ago. But today something’s changed. The nails are going white, and this makes me realise something is quite wrong. I know what to Google now, and the result is just about the last thing I wanted to read: the antibiotics I received for the tick bite in combination with UV from the sun can cause a process called photo-onycholysis, where essentially, the toxins cause the nails to separate from the nail bed. When the doctor told me the antibiotics would make me sensitive to the sun I’d imagined sunburns, and sun rashes. I wasn’t expecting to loose my finger nails.
I’m not sure what to do about it. All I can think of is to get some plasters and wrap them around my thumbs, which feels a little more protected, and keeps them from anymore direct sun. I wonder if my other nails are about to face the same, am I going to loose them all? Either way, there’s nothing I can do now, it’s too late, so I continue to the trailhead to start my day, pretty much in tears.
The trail proves to be a popular one. It’s early afternoon and legions of day hikers are going up or coming down from the steep mountain trail. I keep a steady pace and pass all the day trippers that don’t even carry any packs. I feel energetic. I’d expected to be a mess after yesterday, but I feel great, even though the trail isn’t always the easiest. The path gets rocky and overgrown with streams running down it, although some sections higher up are spacious and level.
Once I gain some elevation I understand why this trail is so well-travelled. The mountains are enormous, the low hanging clouds from the recent rain causing even more visual drama. Within a few hours I’ve made it to the top, and from there the trail stays up high, moving around mountainsides and always changing orientation and views. The path is easy now, like a huge viewing platform that slowly winds down to two lakes, after which the clouds thicken and the tourists disappear. This is PCT hiker territory.
I continue, pass another lake, more grand views, and hit a mountain of rock in a thick cloud. I’ve climbed higher now, and the fog has lowered, and all I see is the trail of sharp rock for a while, a cumbersome route forward. I pass a few small snow chutes, the last one a little precarious and I wish I’d put on my microspikes. Then I run into a girl having her dinner on a rock next to the trail and we celebrate a few moments of lifting fog. The weather is better on the other side of the mountain, the girl says, and when I get there, she’s right.
The clouds separate from the mountain tops, evening light shines bright, and a lake mirrors in the midst of it all. I can’t believe how the landscape just keeps changing today. The trail leads me down now, through clusters of trees and meadows and it’s all so wonderful.
A little further on I make one more turn, and face the most spectacular view so far: Spectacle Lake with its blue mountains of rock hunching over like body guards, a single red tent camped in the perfect spot down below. It’s breathtaking in the evening light, and I wish I had more time. Time to rest, camp, take pictures. But I’m in a hurry, I’ve lost too many days to weather so I move down the many switchbacks, back towards the enigmatic and rocky forest.
I have a camp spot in mind at Delate Creek, but when I finally reach it, it’s taken. The next site is another 3 miles away, but it’s getting late, and it’s getting dark. Perhaps I can find a spot next to the trail somewhere, so I hurry down. There are more switchbacks, endless back and forths in the quickly diminishing light, the trail passing through a steep burn area, the soil sandy and dry and then I fall, get back up and hurry down, failing to find anywhere for my tent in the faint light of my headlamp.
When I reach the end of the switchbacks I am loathe to enter the forest – it’s too dark, too creepy. The next campsite is still a while away, so when the trail itself widens for just a moment, I set up right in the middle of it, leaving just enough space for anyone to walk past, if necessary. When I check my mileage for the day I’m surprised I still managed to hike 20 miles in just the afternoon. I crawl inside my tent and eat my breakfast burrito and my vegetables. This night feels like a treat.