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Ryan’s Great Adventures
Volume 78: Friday August 10, 2007
Where our grand hero hikes into the backcountry to battle with bears, floods, and mosquitoes.
It was 2:15 in the morning when I arrived at the trailhead. I left Seattle late the night before, deciding it was easier to stay up late driving and sleeping in my car than waking up and at an un-Godly hour of the morning trying to reach the trailhead in time. Not to mention the fact that I could not be sure how long the drive would take. By leaving late at night, I had plenty of time to arrive. If I left early in the morning and underestimated the driving time, I could show up so very late.
So it was at 2:15 in the morning when I finally arrived at the Divide Camp trailhead, at the west side of Mount Adams. I was rather relieved I reached the trailhead. A sign was posted at the start of Forest Road 23 saying the road was washed out 30 miles ahead, and the trailhead was about 33 miles away. I hoped that 30 miles was an estimate—it seemed like an awfully round number for a washout to occur. The road was mostly good the whole way, until the last ten miles or so when Forest Road 23 turned into gravel. At Takhlakh Lake, the road became paved again, with a small sign warning that simple cars such as my own were not recommended ahead. I thought it strange that they would wait until after you drove through the unpaved road section to warn against such vehicles.
Fortunately, though, the washout was past my turnoff, and the road turned to gravel again past Takhlakh Lake. A paradise of paved roads there, accessible only by driving through gravel. Very odd.
My directions said the trailhead was about one mile past the lake, and I kept my eyes open until the odometer said I drove 1.3 miles beyond the lake and I spotted several cars parked off on the side of the road. That must be it!
I pulled over and turned off the car. I saw a man briefly in the bushes, perhaps collecting firewood? It seemed an odd time of night be running around in the woods. I wasn't entirely sure this was the correct trailhead, but I figured I could sleep now and figure out if I reached the correct location in the morning after the sun rose.
I pulled out my sleeping bag, cleared off the front seat of my car, and went to sleep.
Not long after sunrise, I heard movement outside but generally ignored it. I was up late the night before—well, technically speaking, early that morning—and wanted to sleep a bit more.
By 8:30 another car drove up, and a man got out. Another man, already at the trailhead, asked if he was with the WTA, and I listened closely after this. It was folks with the WTA I planned to meet, so this seemed to confirm that I reached the correct destination. Excellent.
The WTA, also known as the Washington Trail Association, brings in volunteers to work on trails throughout the state of Washington. I signed up for a volunteer vacation, where I'd spend a week out in the woods, building and maintaining trails. There are lots of work parties to choose from, but I wanted something along the Pacific Crest Trail since I have dreams of thru-hiking it one of these years. It's good karma. I also selected a section near Mount Adams since, despite my years residing in the Pacific Northwest and the countless times I've spied this mountain from afar, I'd never actually been to it before. This week, I had decided, I'd spend time with Mount Adams and on the Pacific Crest Trail.
The cobwebs in my mind cleared, and I finally got up. Or at least sat up, then ate a Pop Tart as a quick breakfast. More elaborate meals could come later.
I finally got out of the car and introduced myself to the other WTA members already at the trailhead. The guy I saw when I first drove in was Jim, who said he arrived about fifteen minutes before I did, and he was with Loretta. The other man who arrived this morning was Mark, an early riser to be sure. And just before I got out of my car, another person arrived: Steve, our crew leader.
Steve, as it turned out, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2001. We'd have lots of war stories to share with each other later. =)
Also in the mix were a number of horses and their riders whose job it was to carry up all of our food and equipment to our campsite about two miles up the Divide Camp trail. They started off almost immediately, while the rest of us waited around for others to arrive.
Eventually the rest of us hiked up, except for Steve who continued to wait for the stragglers to arrive. Heaven forbid if they were coming up from the south and thought they could use Forest Road 23. They would have a very long detour around that washout.
I hiked faster than the rest and arrived at camp just as the horse folks were leaving down the trail. They left numerous bear canisters and ice chests in camp, and that was just the first load. They planned to come up a second time with more.
I staked out my claim, set up my tent, then waited around as others arrived. Mostly, I waited in my tent. The bugs were fierce, and it's not often I backpack with a tent. Since I didn't have to carry any food, though, I had plenty of extra room in my pack. And I would only have to carry it two miles to camp, then two miles out a week later. For that, I'd definitely take a tent instead of my usual tarp.
In all, eight of us eventually arrived: Steve, Mark, Jim, Loretta, Dan, Carol, Marisa, and Betsy. Well, nine if you include myself. =)
Everyone helped to set up camp. Once the horses came with the second load of food and supplies, all the food was poured out onto a tarp for sorting and organizing. They weren't packed in the most convenient manner since the coolers and bear boxes had to be the same weight on each side of the horse. Nothing was dehydrated or freeze dried—a nice change from my usual backcountry food options. =)
Marisa, Betsy, and I went off with shovels to dig a latrine. "It'll be nice," Marisa told Steve, and I wondered what that meant. Latrines, in my experience, have never been what I would call "nice." Marisa and Betsy were a daughter-mother pair, Betsy wanting to spend time with her daughter before she went off to Sierra Leon in Africa for a month. I've been to some pretty wild places before, but if there was ever such a thing as a fourth world country, Sierra Leon would be it. The capitol city, with its teeming millions of people, Marisa explained, had no working electricity. You just know that can't be good. Apparently slaves (slaves?!) had been ordered to make a new mattress for her so she wouldn't have to suffer from bed bugs. And wealthy folks can have multiple wives.
We dug a latrine, a pit about ten feet long, with a somewhat obscured view of Mount Adams behind it. Red ribbons were tied from the camp to the latrine to mark the way, and a bag of toilet paper and hand sanitizer left just out of view of the latrine. If the bag is not there, it meant the latrine was in use and to stay away.
It was.... well, nice. =)
While we were digging the latrine, others dug a hole for the dishwater and set up the rest of the camp.
The rest of the afternoon was spent chatting and getting to know each other. Near sunset, some of us walked out to a nearby meadow to take pictures of Mount Adams and the sunset. Loretta cooked a delicious dinner—she became our designated chef which everyone else who'd done these trips before said was very unusual. Usually, everyone had to participate in cooking the meals, but I was more than happy to let Loretta do all the work. Cooking isn't much fun for me.
I'm not sure how late it was when I went to sleep. Watches did not seem necessary out here, but we crowded around the campfire telling stories and riddles. Steve, Marisa, and I were the last to head off to sleep. The stars twinkled brightly, and Jupiter positively blazed overhead.
Our first work day started early. Breakfast was ready by around 7:00 in the morning, and most everyone else was already up and eating while I lounged around in my warm sleeping bag. I didn't sleep especially well—it got pretty darned cold during the night, and my 40° bag was not sufficient in the 30°F weather.
Before leaving camp, Steve went through a safety lesson. He explained what each of the tools were, how they worked, and how to use them properly. Don't carry them over your shoulders (the exception being the rock bar, which can be carried on the shoulders). Stay at least ten feet away from anyone using a tool. Don't lop off any of your toes. The usual stuff.
The most important thing, above all else, was safety. The second most important thing was to have fun. Work, we were told, was a distant third. You know you're going to have a good time when you're told that fun should come before work. =)
Steve gave me a hardhat—required equipment for these work parties—and we picked up our tools and hiked up to the Pacific Crest Trail and a bad washout along the Adams River. This would be our project for the week. Creating a new trail along this river, perhaps a quarter-mile section of trail, to replace the trail that was wiped out from flooding. The first step, of course, was to figure out where the trail started up again on the other side of the washed out area.
Once each end of the trail was found across the washout, we separated out along a rough line from one end to the other of the washout, then piled up cairns to mark where we were. Our new trail would be created along that route.
We put on our gloves and hard hats and went to work. Well, everyone else went to work. I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures of everyone else working because, well, that's what I do. =)
With pictures done, I put the camera back in my pocket, picked up a shovel, then started moving and digging up rocks that were in the trail. Or rather, where there wasn't a trail to make a new trail.
I worked near Jim, a retired fellow who used to work at Boeing. He worked at a pace that would cripple most younger men. If he was part of the Fantastic 4, he'd be the guy made of rock. I had no doubt he could take out a grizzly with his bare hands.
He also broke one of the shovels after about a half hour of work. There was joking before about Jim going through shovels like most people go through toothpicks, so I found it especially amusing he broke a shovel so quickly. The rumors, it seemed, were true! He was moving a particularly large and heavy rock and it fell onto the handle of the shovel which splittered under the weight. For the rest of the trip, that was the 'short shovel,' with the top foot or so of the handle missing.
We stopped for a couple of small breaks, and a lunch break when we ate sandwiches that we made during breakfast, working hard (and having fun!) until two or three in the afternoon. The trail was warm since we were not in the shade at the washout, but we had incredible views of Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier while we worked. What an incredible area.
At the end of the first day of work, I walked the entire trail we were fleshing out to see how it looked. I felt we'd done a really good job with the first section of trail—where I spent most of my time working so I could be biased. The middle section of trail seemed like it had a good start to it, but still needed a lot more work. The last section of trail I had a hard time seeing since it had hardly any work done at all. Just the barest clearing of rocks to mark the location more than anything.
We headed back to camp where we ate dinner and gathered around the campfire telling stories and mental puzzles. Good times. =)
I can't say today was a particularly exciting day. We woke up, ate breakfast, made lunch, then hiked out to the washout where we started to build a trail the day before. We worked, we took a break, then we worked some more, then took a lunch, then we worked some more, before taking the rest of the day off and hiking back to camp for dinner and campfire stories.
Betsy left early in the morning—she has a day job (terrible thing, I know), and needed to get back to civilization, so that left eight of us for the rest of the week.
Steve grabbed a couple of people and worked on a ford across the Adams River while the rest of us continued to create a trail out of nothing. We spotted our first PCT thru-hiker that morning, a bit earlier in the season than we expected for them. He said he knew of only three other thru-hikers that were ahead of them. Most of them, he estimated, were still three weeks behind.
Several hikers and backpackers passed through while we were working, who invariably thanked us for our work. One backpacker who found us had even worked on a WTA week-long work party himself, and I offered my shovel and said he could help. (He didn't take me up on the offer, though, using the excuse that he didn't have a hardhat.)
By the end of the second day, we had a pretty good trail across the washout. It was a good trail, clearly delineated, and was so well done that anyone who hiked through likely would not even notice our work. That's actually a good thing—hikers will notice when a trail is BAD, but rarely will they walk down a stretch of trail and think, "Wow! They did an amazing job building this trail!" They're too busy admiring the beautiful views than admiring the trail. =)
I was rather surprised how quickly we knocked out such a good trail in just two days. Looking at the masses of rocks across the washout, it seemed like a week wouldn't have been enough time to get a decent trail across it, and we did it in two days!
You'll probably see a pattern here. We woke up, ate breakfast, make lunch, and hiked up to the washout where we continued to work. We work, took a snack break, worked some more, took a lunch break, then worked some more before calling it a night.
Half our group continued working on the ford across the Adams River, fed from the Adams Glacier that loomed above us on the mountain. In the morning, the creek was relatively easy to hop across. By late afternoon, it was a roaring torrent of water and not easy to cross. I saw some brave hikers try to jump across on rocks, with success, but it seemed like a dangerous and foolhardy thing to attempt. I would have walked directly through the water myself. So the one half of our group busied themselves trying to make the river a bit easier to cross in the afternoon.
The rest of us continued working on the trail across the washout. Like I said before, it was a good trail. A solid trail. A trail to be proud of. Today, we turned a good trail into an awesome trail. We busied ourselves widening some skinny areas in the trail, straightening out some sections, and digging up rocks to make the trail smoother. I called those rocks iceburgs, since they tended to be very large, very heavy rocks where more than 90% of it was actually buried underground, but we had to dig out the whole darned thing just to get rid of the small portion on the top that stuck out above the trail.
I also replaced small rocks that lined the trail with large, heavy ones that would be less likely to wash away during the next rainstorm. And the last task for the day, I used an axe to lop off the end of a tree that had fallen across the trail. Me, man. Let the wood chips fly!
A guy named Tim with the WTA hiked out near the end of our work day to carry in a radio. Now if there was a problem or an injury, help was just a radio call away.
After three days, we declared the new trail done and finished. I walked the distance from one to the other, counting the steps to see how much new trail we created. About 400 steps. The ford was much improved, although the late afternoon river crossings were still a challenge to do without getting ones feet wet. I didn't much care about the ford crossing, though. The effort put into that will likely be washed away completely during the spring snow melt next year. Heck, the whole trail I helped build could be washed out as well, but I suspect at least portions of it will survive for years to come. The ford, though. That will have a very limited lifetime, and I half thought it wasn't even worth the effort.
Back in camp, we learned that Tim left us a little gift. He left us bottles of ice-cold beer and root beer. Mark, mere minutes early, told me he'd be willing to pay $20 for a root beer, and now I had one! Unfortunately, Tim brought enough for everyone, so Mark's willingness to pay went down substantially. =) Most of the others were interested in the beer, so I got two root beers all to myself. Trail magic... it's a wonderful thing.
Wednesday. It was our day off to tromp around and do pretty much anything we wanted. I could even hike down to the trailhead, drive into town, order and eat a pizza, drive back to the trailhead, and hike back into camp—just in time for dinner. I did not want to do that, however. No, I wanted to see the world, or at least this small portion of it. I decided on a bold plan. A daring plan.
I would hike south on the PCT for a few miles, turn off on a feeder trail down to Forest Road 23, then road walk back to the trailhead and check out the washout on Forest Road 23 that I hoped I could cross on foot. I've never seen a washout that could not be traversed on foot, surely I would be able to find a route around it.
Looking at maps, I figured it was about a 15 mile walk. If I still felt roaring to go by the time I reached the trailhead for the Divide Camp trail, I could lengthen the road walking to the Killen Creek Trail—named for the thru-hiker massacre of 1998 (that's a joke, folks!), walk up the Killen Creek Trail to the PCT, and hike south back to Divide Camp. That looked closer to 20 miles of hiking, so it probably wouldn't happen. But it was an option, and I was keeping my options open.
I ate a hearty breakfast but didn't bother to make a lunch, deciding to take Pop Tarts, gorp, and string cheese from my own personal snack pile. I waved goodbye to everyone—nobody was dumb enough to go with me on my little trek—and dashed up to the Pacific Crest Trail and started hiking south. Steve asked me to check out the trail since another work party was going up there the next week, and he wanted to know about any washouts south on the PCT that might need work.
The views were nothing short of amazing out there. Not a cloud as far as the eye could see. Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier towered high above the horizon. A small, gray darkness rose from Mount St. Helens, carried across the horizon by wind. That volcano is bubbling, and I could see the evidence from here. Wildflowers crowded every bit of meadow, with scenic streams flowing down from the snow melt.
The trail was in good shape, though. Until.... I reached a particular lava flow and I lost it. Perhaps two miles out on the Pacific Crest Trail, I lost it at a river crossing. Not to worry, though, I'm an experience outdoorsman. Nobody can find a trail better than myself....
Looking at the topo map I had borrowed from Jim, I saw the trail crossed a small creek—at least it looked small on the map!—then followed along the far bank a short ways before the creek turned down a steep hill while the Pacific Crest Trail followed the contour lines around Mount Adams. I crossed a small creek, then zig-zagged back and forth along the far bank looking for traces of a trail. Perhaps some footprints of other lost hikers as well, of which I found many.
After a few minutes, I still had not found a trail, so I hiked up a mountain of lava rocks for a view where I hoped to spot the trail from. Still, no luck.
I returned down to the river, then hiked perpendicular to the creek knowing it would have to cross the trail at some point, and it did. I found a small rock cairn and a clearly defined trail through a small patch of grass, but it didn't go one hundred feet before I lost the trail again in the lava.
The problem with routing a trail through lava is that it is hard. There's no evidence when someone walks through. No footprints, no trail of bare dirt through a grassy meadow or trees. A trail built over rock looks just like any other rock, and cairns are usually used to mark the way. If the cairns get washed out or knocked over, the trail essentially vanishes, and that's what happened. On eastern trails, they mark the trail with blazes—large patches of paint slapped on the rocks. The blazes don't wash away. They don't blend in with other rocks. They pop out and say, "This is the trail! Right here, dummy!" I like blazes, and cursed the fact that were not being used through this tricky section. The trail can be rebuilt, but it can just as easily be washed out again year after year. The blazes would stay for a long, long time.
I looked for the trail for about 15 minutes, following along the near side of the creek, climbing up old lava flows for views from the high ground, expanding my search pattern hoping to cross the trail or find evidence of people walking around. All I found were deer prints, though. Apparently, even other hikers hadn't gotten as lost as badly as I did. Or maybe they did get lost, even more badly than I was, and I just had not stumbled onto their tracks yet. I considered waiting around at a high point for another hiker to pass by, but that could take hours. Based on the number of hikers hiking past while we were working on the trail, I could count on my hands the number of people who'd likely pass through that day. I kept near the creek, though. The creek was my compass. I could follow it upstream to where I lost the trail, or downstream to Forest Road 23. As long as the creek was within hearing, I could not get lost. Granted, I did lose the trail, but I could still find myself on the topo map which is far more important than being on a trail. =)
I looked at the topo map again for help. I could follow the creek downhill all the way to Forest Road 23. Every stream between the feeder trail I was looking for and Adams Creek intersected Forest Road 23 at some point. I just had to follow the water downhill to eventually find the road and complete my loop. Yes, that would work, but I immediately through out the idea. If I broke a leg or hurt myself, there would be absolutely nobody walking by who would help me, and when I didn't return to camp that night and a search and rescue attempt was started, they wouldn't even think to look for me so far off the trail. No, it wasn't worth the risk. I need to stay on trails, and I needed to stay where people could find me if the worst were to happen.
The only other idea I could think of was to go back. I could hike back toward the Divide Camp trail, pass it on my way to Killen Creek Meadows, hike down the Killen Creek Trail, road walk to the Divide Camp trailhead, and back to camp. A smaller loop, to be sure, but I didn't see any better options.
I started backtracking, walking upstream. I conceded defeat. After about three minutes, though, would you believe it? I found the trail again! Now I faced a dilemma. Should I continue my retreat, or see if I could follow the trail south again and complete my original loop?
I decided I'd probably just lose the trail again, and retreat was still the better option. I followed the PCT north for a couple of minutes, surprised I didn't lose it in all that distance. Maybe I had already passed the worst of the washout? I decided to test the gods of fate and complete my original loop after all.
I turned around and headed south again. The trail continued on for several minutes, and at one point I almost lost the trail again. The trail entered into a conflux of lava that pooled loose sand. It looked like water ran through in times of rain, and when I followed the trail out of the conflux, it disappeared. Poof! Dead ends at a pile of lava, which I followed about ten feet before deciding that was NOT the correct direction. The trail had to be around here somewhere, I thought, and that dead end was not it even though I felt myself being pushed in that direction.
Time to scout the area. I walked out in another direction, a 90° turn from where the trail entered instead of the straight line through the conflux I followed the first time, and found the trail. Whew! There was nothing to mark the sharp turn in the trail, but I caught it quick enough.
I continued walking south on the PCT and ran into no further trouble. In all, it took me nearly a half hour to work my way through the lava flow which appeared to be less than a mile on my topo map.
A small part of my brain worried I might have overshot the feeder trail I was looking to follow down to Forest Road 23. It was unlikely I overshot the trail, but what if I already passed the spur trail? I couldn't be sure until I reached the next trail intersection. If I overshot the trail, I'd find out eventually. At that point, my best option might be to hike back to camp rather than complete the loop.
I reached an intersection after another half hour or so of hiking, which was about the location I expected the intersection to be. Unfortunately, the sign at the intersection was exceedingly unhelpful saying only that a campground could be found a half mile down the trail. My topomap showed no camp at that location, and I wondered if it was the same trail on my map. Maybe there's a small trail to the camp that wasn't listed on my map at all, and the real intersection I needed was still up ahead?
The topo map didn't show a campground down the trail, but it did show a river crossing about a half mile down the trail with a significant flat around around it. From the look of the topo map, it would be a great place for a camp. If that was indeed where the camp was, then this was the trail I needed to take.
I decided to follow it down, watching for landmarks along the way that would help confirm the trail was the same one on the topo map. It all seemed to match up well enough, and then I reached the stream crossing a half mile down the trail at which point.... yes, I lost the trail. Again.
Honestly, I wasn't surprised. I found a fire ring alongside the river, so people had camped there before. The topo map showed the trail crossing the stream, then following along the far side of it for quite a ways, so I crossed the stream to search for traces of the trail on the other side. I found the trail in mere seconds and continued my decent down Mount Adams. The trail, I has happy to see, did not end at the camp, but seemed to follow through which is what I expected.
A bit further down the trail, I passed a couple of tents with a handful of llamas resting outside of it. I didn't see anyone around, so I waved to the llamas and hiked through.
The hike continued another hour or so without any more problems. The trail was well defined, and rapidly went downhill. I passed one hiker going up, the first hiker I'd seen all day, and we stopped a bit to chat. I asked about the road wash out on Forest Road 23 since I planned to cross it on foot, but he had not seen it and didn't know how bad the crossing would be. Good for nothing....
At the end of the wilderness area, I was surprised to see the trail split at T-intersection. This surprised me since the topo map only showed a single trail going down the mountain with no splits at all. Which direction should I turn? The grand loop I was trying to do would require hiking towards the right, so I was leaning in that direction. Additionally, an old board was nailed up on the trail to the left. The kind of thing where people would post notices or informational signs. There was nothing on it then, but it looked suspiciously like something you'd find at the entrance of a campground, and I wondered if it wasn't a real trail so much as it was another campsite not displayed on the topo map. I turned right.
Almost immediately, I regretted it. Not because there was anything wrong with the trail. In fact, the trail was great, it was going vaguely in the direction I expected it to go. But I had a tingling feeling in the back of my head, not being 100% certain that going right was the correct direction. If left just led to a small campsite, I wished I'd gone that direction first so I could be certain it was the incorrect direction. It wouldn't have taken me five minutes to confirm that left was the wrong direction, and I didn't make that confirmation. By hiking in this direction, I couldn't confirm I went the correct direction until I hiked a couple of more miles and intersected with Forest Road 23. Damn my stupidity!
Fortunately, I did choose well, and the trail did intersect Forest Road 23. An empty trailer was parked on the side of the road, with large lettering saying it was for Llamas from Kelso. Excellent, this is where the llamas came from, and this was the confirmation I needed that I was still on the right track.
I stopped to rest and eat a bit at the trailhead, then started the road walking portion of my hike, north on Forest Road 23. I was surprised to see that the road was paved here, with two lanes and a yellow center divider. This was a real road here! I was expecting gravel.
I had another plan I set into motion at this point. You see, I don't much like road walking. It's asphalt. It's boring. If someone drove by in the direction I was headed, though, I'd happily stick out my thumb and get a ride as close as I could to the wash out. It was a good plan. It was also a waste of time because no cars drove past. Mile after mile I hiked, and no cars drove by in either direction.
At one point, a small stream crossed under the road after cascading down a series of falls. I don't know if they had an official name or not—the topo map didn't show this particular feature—it was a remarkably scenic little waterfall, and I had it all to myself. I decided to stop for lunch. I walked down, took off my pack, and wouldn't you know it—a car pulls up.
Right when I want to stop, right when I want to break to enjoy this cute little waterfall all to myself, people drive up. I wanted to cuss at them, an older couple as it turned out, but I kept silent and ate my Pop Tarts instead.
They took a few pictures then drove off, leaving me in peace. I finished my lunch, drank lots of water, then continued my road walk. Naturally, no more cars drove by in either direction. That's okay, though, since I had perhaps 50 yards of road walk left before I reached a barricade across the road where it turned to gravel. Road closed ahead. Washout.
Walking on gravel I found more pleasant than the asphalt. It was softer to walk on, and it didn't seem to absorb the heat of the sun like the asphalt did. My trekking pole didn't sound like fingernails on a chalkboard like it did on the asphalt. Of course, seeing as this section of the road was closed, the chances of hitching a ride from someone driving down it went from slim to zero.
The washout itself was several miles up the gravel road, and there's definitely no way anyone would get a car across the chasm. The stream at this location was just a trickle, barely even visible in the enormous culvert going under the road. And everything above the culvert, a huge swath of dirt, was gone. That must have been some rain storm to turn this trickle of a stream into a raging mass of waters that could wipe out the road.
Fortunately, it was easy to cross on foot. I scampered down the upstream section of the river, then back up to the road bed on the other side, taking pictures of the damage. I continued the walk on the gravel road, hoping the location where the road was closed to the public wasn't far ahead. Once I reached that point, I hoped to hitch a ride to Takhlakh Lake or even the Divide Camp trailhead.
The road stayed closed for several more miles, much to my disappointment, but finally reached the section that was still open to the public. Within minutes, a car drove passed, roaring along and raising dust. I waved at the occupants but did not stick out my thumb. They were driving in the wrong direction.
A few minutes later, another car drove by. And another. And another. Mile after mile I walked, and in total, NINE cars drove past me, and every single one of the damn things was going in the wrong direction! And every time they drove past, I choked on the dust they raised. I was not having fun. The hike, I also realized, was a few miles longer than I had thought. By now, I estimated the entire loop I had planned was about 18 miles, and my feet were starting to get sore.
But on I walked, and on and on. I finally reached the turnoff for Takhlakh Lake where the gravel road became paved once again, thankful for the hard surface since it meant cars driving by in the wrong direction no longer raised dust as they did so. The gods must hate me, though, because just as I reached the paved section, a car finally drove past, north on Forest Road 23. Finally, a car going in my direction, except that I was no longer on Forest Road 23. Isn't anybody going to Takhlakh Lake?
A few more cars drove past during my walk to Takhlakh Lake, all in the wrong direction. I started doing the math. Assuming there is a 50-50 chance that any one car could come from either direction, to get nine cars IN A ROW driving in the opposite direction I walked would mean 1 chance in 512. With luck like that, it's a good thing I don't play the lottery.
I decided to stop at the lake, hoping to find some WTA members down there swimming. And hoping that not only were they swimming there, but maybe they drove down to the lake from the trailhead and could give me a ride back. My feet were really starting to hurt now, and I stopped long enough to take off my right shoe. Two blisters were forming, and I slapped mole skin on them.
I didn't find any WTA members swimming, though. They must have already come and gone. I'd have to get to the trailhead on my own two feet.
Past the lake, the road became gravel again. And at long last, a truck drove by, and it was GOING IN MY DIRECTION! I was disheartened to see four people piled into the cab of the truck, squished to the gills. Obviously a 'family' road trip, and the two kids did not look like they were having fun. And the back of the truck was completely filled including a full-sized grill. I knew without even trying they weren't going to stop for me.
At the trailhead, I jumped in my car and rested. I was exhausted, and my feet burned with pain. I ate a few Red Vines (always hidden in my car!), and enjoyed the mosquito-free environment. If it wasn't for the fact that the others were expecting me back in camp that evening, I'd have happily spent the night in my car. It had a sleeping bag, food, and I was already there. It felt so comfortable. But alas, I knew they had that damn radio, and if I didn't show up that night, they'd probably call for a search and rescue and not be at all amused when they found me sleeping in my car at the trailhead.
I rested for 40 minutes then decided I needed to push on. If I had to hike into camp, I still wanted to arrive before dinner!
The two miles into camp seemed like the longest two miles of my life. I limped, and I'm not ashamed to admit, there could have been a little crying. Well, okay, maybe no crying, but there could have been. My spirit and my feet were broken.
I reached camp at about 5:30. I was happy to see that they hadn't even started dinner yet. Dan and Loretta were chatting, and Dan asked how my hike was. I told him that I was hurting real bad, so that means it was a good hike. I hiked and saw as much as I could in one day, and by golly, that's all I wanted. But I needed to rest, so I said goodbye and crashed in my tent.
I skipped dinner that night, too sick to eat. I'd had this experience before where I'd hiked so hard that I grew sick and lost my appetite. I've done it before and recognized the symptoms, and knew I'd feel much better (and hungrier) in the morning. I did come out later that evening to tell of my wild adventures around the mountain and hear what everyone else did for the day. (Many did go to the lake, but they walked down to it from the trailhead. Even if I had caught them at the lake, I would have still needed to walk to the trailhead.) I told Steve about the washed out section of trail I kept getting lost on. Then I went back to my tent and back to sleep.
Another work day. We finished rebuilding the trail across the washout, so today we focused on the Divide Camp trail that led to the Pacific Crest Trail. Many sections of it were badly eroded and needed our help.
In fact, it was so badly eroded, a forest ranger wanted the trail completely rerouted around one section. He came up to camp the day before, not realizing it was our day off. He marked a short section of trail that he wanted rerouted using small, red ribbons tied to trees along the new route.
We grabbed our tools and went to work, ripping up grass and flowers. Some sections came out as large pieces of sod, which we carried over to the old trail to cover it and discourage hikers from using it anymore. This new trail had one significant benefit over the washout we worked on earlier: It was in the shade. It also had a significant drawback: The mosquitoes were nothing short of awful. We dug out the iceburg rocks, same as when we worked on the washout, but cutting through all the roots and growth was exhausting work. I felt particularly weak, probably due to my hike the day before, and took a nap at lunch by the Adams River. It was in the sun out there, but at least the bugs weren't as bad. When I returned to the trail, everyone had decided to quit for the day, which was okay by me. I was tired and needed to nap some more. =) We went back to camp.
Our task for today, as Steve explained it, was to finish the reroute then we'd take the rest of the day off. We had done most of the work for the reroute the day before, so it didn't take us long to finish the reroute, walking along the trail and pounding the dirt in with our feet. Within a half hour, we declared ourselves done then split off to wherever we wanted to go.
I decided to hike out to High Camp near Killen Creek Meadows. I hadn't been that far north on the PCT as of yet, and I heard the views were amazing. Most of the others hiked south on the PCT where they had not been before.
The trail climbed over some sketchy areas towards High Camp, but the views were amazing, as promised. Additionally, I reached the snow, and took a nap near it. What a wonderful place for a nap, too. The breeze coming off the snow was crisp and cool which kept the bugs away. And for as far as the eye can see, I saw noone. Not a single, solitary person. It was like I had the whole mountain to myself.
I collected a bunch of snow in a Zip-Lock bag. Marisa said she had a goal to touch snow every single month of the year this year, which she'd succeeded doing so far. Being a new month, though, and knowing she'd be off to Sierra Leon before too long, I figured this was her only chance for touching snow. So I collected as much as would fit in a spare Zip-Lock bag in my pack, then hiked back down to camp. It was very likely she was hiking up to snow level herself and she didn't need my snow, and even if she wasn't, she'd probably consider it cheating if someone brought snow down to her. But it's not often I have a semi-good excuse for carrying snow around in my pack. =)
At camp, I was somewhat surprised to see nobody else had arrived yet. Somehow, I thought I'd been gone for a rather lengthy period of time given my nap near High Camp. I put the snow in the cooler—at the very least, it could be used to keep our food cold since the dry ice had run out. Then went in my tent and napped some more.
Marisa, as I suspected, had hiked up to the snow and touched it already, but the snow I brought down was not done in vain. When I went to chuck the snow after learning it wasn't needed anymore, Loretta practically tackled me wanting to keep in the cooler to keep the food cold. =) So I left it in the cooler.
We woke up early, and I ate a hearty cereal breakfast. I'd been out in the woods for a week and it was time to leave. I packed up camp and hiked back to my car. The cleaning up of the camp area wasn't a big concern since a new group of WTA workers was coming up to replace us, and they'd need the site. The hole we dug for the food scraps would still be needed by the new group. The table, tent, kitchen utensils, and so forth would still be needed and did not need to be taken down. The new group would likely have to dig a new latrine—our trench was full! But it saved us a lot of effort having to break down camp and would save our replacements lots of work putting up camp.
I got down to my car and took off my hiking boots for the comfort of my Wallies, and drove the 3 1/2 hours back to Seattle.
Not to worry, though. I'm only off for a week, then I'm heading back to the PCT for another WTA work party just east of Seattle.
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