July 9 (~08:10 – ~17:50)
Before Saddle Gap – after Red Pass (18.8 mi / Total: 2506.0 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1406.0
Weather: Perfect temperature, not too cold or hot, overcast but sunny. In the afternoon the clouds arrive and it begins to rain.
My day begins with mosquitoes, a Cliff bar and a white peach. There’s also sun, and that landscape that I hear reminds some people of Scotland. I start out walking in the open, close to forests but not surrounded by them. It feels so much more pleasant. I’ll be moving around Glacier Peak today, and I don’t know what it’ll look like, but I hope it’ll be different, and that it’ll entice me.
After only a few miles I’m back in the green tunnel, climbing up. It’s a constant rotation of the landscapes I’ve passed through these last few weeks. Forests and ascends, over and over again. When I’ve ascended high enough, the jungle of tree disappears – it’s not Scotland but it’s spacious and there’s heather and grass, which I haven’t seen much before. It’s different, but somehow it doesn’t speak to me. Perhaps it’s just the gloom. I see the green land, the tree-covered mountains in the distance, but to me something is missing.
I move along with the ups and downs. The ups seem prevalent, but of course they do, they always take longer. I keep running into more southbounders as well, chatting to a few, a little jealous they’ve already passed the most difficult Washington sections. One group asks me if I’ve had any difficulty with the snow, if I needed an ice axe or microspikes, and I feel such a disconnect. The hikers southbounding or starting late in the season are having an entirely different experience on the PCT compared to me.
I have lunch on a grassy field until the mosquitoes find me, and then I officially enter Glacier Peak Wilderness. The mountains stretch out, reminding me of a more northern approach, and then I get to descend. My knee starts hurting in the downhill, just when I thought the pain had gone. I guess whatever happened to it will take a little longer to heal.
Then I trip. One of the many exposed roots, sticking out from the side of the path causes a quick fall into the sideways bushes populating the steep slope next to the trail. I can barely pull myself back up, and when I do I see the netting on both my shoes is trashed. Im furious, and also happy I haven’t replaced these shoes yet, as I was planning on doing before hitting Washington. I’m frustrated with the trail, the roots, the stones, the overgrowth. There’s always an obstacle here. Immediately exhaustion sets in. Just like yesterday when I crashed after lunch. What is happening to me?
What I really want is to hike faster. Faster, like when I hiked almost 40 miles into Snoqualmie Pass, and when I sped through the trail the day after. A nice, solid pace uphill, a jog down. But I can’t do it – my knee hurts too much, and my mind is tired, everything is slowing down. I go up until I reach a spacious ridge where I sit down to make a snack bag with dried fruit and nuts. My spirits are lifted a little when I meet another southbounder and enjoy a friendly chat. With the lack of northbounders it’s nice to have someone to talk to now and again.
By the time I’m on the go again the wind has picked up, and the skies have gone grey in the distance, moving in fast. There’s a steep uphill over Red Pass, an exposed sidle I can view from where I am now, and after that there’s a long descend. Just when I get going I run into three southbounders, who stop me and question whether I should try for the pass at all. A lot of weather is coming in, they say, and they are rushing to set up camp in the trees just below the ridge, where I came from. The oldest adds there are a lot of snow fields on the other side, and he makes sure to emphasise ‘a lot’, telling me I’ll have deal with the rain and the snow. But I have a feeling their definition of snow to worry about is much different from mine, plus these skies don’t look like storm clouds. It’s just rain.
So I continue. I’m apprehensive nevertheless, so I rush, push across this sidle as fast as I can, almost jogging the uphills. It takes longer than I thought it would, and I watch the skies around me: they are grey, with white rain hazing the mountains in the distance, and then it begins to rain where I am.
The other side of the pass moves through some lingering snow before changing mountainsides again – and that’s where everything is different. The valley ahead of me is covered in snow, and it’s a gorgeous sight, if it hadn’t been raining increasingly harder. I have to put my camera away and I wish it was better weather, so I could take advantage and take all the pictures. It’s like being back in Iceland.
Despite the downpour I’m happy I didn’t stay behind with the others. The snow fields are abundant but they’re not the problem, and neither is the rain, it’s the trail itself that becomes the challenge – the muddy ground becomes horribly slippery and difficult to walk on. I almost fall several times, and as the rain continues I have to slow down to be able to get through. The snow however is easy to walk on, it’s flat, and many people have been through already, creating deep steps. I’m happy I kept on going. Despite the rain, there was really no need to stay on the other side of the pass, and get so far behind.
I see a few more people heading south and pushing over the pass, clearly I’m not the only one not afraid of the rain. One of them tells me he lost his phone in a creek and asks for the mileage to a certain junction, another tells me there’s camping options ahead. I’m nowhere near where I’d wanted to finish today – my intended mileage in Washington is becoming a bit of a joke. I don’t know if it’s me or the terrain, but I just can’t get much more than 20 miles done in a day. Right now I am freezing cold and soaking wet and I should set up my tent soon. I keep on going until I spot some tent sites lower down, and set up in the rain. Oh, it does feel good to be inside where it’s dry.