The morning I got into White Pass I woke up to the sound of heavy rain pelting my tent. I made my coffee in my vestibule and delayed leaving my tent as long as possible, cozy in my sleeping bag. I could hear Bullet chatting with our neighbor for the night, a British guy named Darren, laughing and joking around. I couldn’t believe he was in such a good mood with how dreary it seemed to be outside. Finally I couldn’t delay any more and emerged from my tent like a zombie, only to find that it was only raining on my tent. I had pitched it under a tree and the thick fog was condensing on the tree and dropping off on my tent – everywhere else was perfectly dry, though visibility limited.
I hiked 9 miles downhill into town. There isn’t really a “town” so much at White Pass, just a gas station, a Kracker Barrel, and a small ski resort. It was still disorienting coming out of the woods and walking the half mile down the highway to the Kracker Barrel, semi trucks roaring by and bright sunlight. I talked to my family on the phone, my dad was coming up to join me on the next section and I had to let him know I was out of the woods. He had a lot of questions I didn’t have answers for, I was just trying to get the gears in my head turning fast enough to hold a conversation. I had a couple hours to get my barings before he would arrive at the pass. I hung out at the Kracker Barrel for a while, my first priority was to get a coffee, I got my wet gear spread out to dry in the sun that had brokem loose, worked on my blog for a while, ate a whole bag of sour gummies, charged my battery bank. O’Well! and Bullet were both hanging around along with a bunch of NOBO hikers. O’Well! showed me the twin scars on either side of his head and how you could feel the screws and metal plates holding his skull together. He rolled his four wheeler over his head a few years back and spent some time in a coma. Sitting in the bright sun in front of the Kracker Barrel and cracking jokes with him I thought about the fragility of life, and the choices you might make if you were confronted with the reality that life might not be a guarantee.
We were still sitting there when my dad arrived. I took a quick, ice cold shower (the water heater had gone out) and shortly after we were on our way back to trail. Bullet and O’Well! both agreed to meet us at the top of the ridge, about 6 miles in for the day.
The climb up was steep, and we were swarmed by mosquitos. They weren’t enough to dampen Dad’s enthusiasm though. He had been anticipating this hike for quite some time and he was thrilled to hike up past the ski lift, to get our first peak at a view, to see some goats scampering down below our tent site (we were now in Goat Rocks Wilderness after all.) His excitement was refreshing. I realized how quickly the trail had become my normal, but not everyone gets to enjoy the freshness of nature every day.
Day 27 – The Knifes Edge
The plan was to hike a 21 mile day. Goat Rocks Wilderness is considered a high point on the PCT and I had been hearing excited rumors about it for some time. The true pinnacle is The Knifes Edge, a high traverse up over 7,000 feet with sheer drop offs on either side and spectacular 360 degree views. Having just been in town we knew the weather for that day was not supposed to be excellent. Bullet told us the night before his plan to do a short, 8 mile day and camp just before the Knifes Edge so as to go over in better weather the following morning. If I had been by myself I may have followed suit, but Dad had time constraints for getting back to work and I knew we had to do the section that day, even if we missed out on the views. I could always come back and do the section again some day.
We started from the top of a ridgeline that morning and we made good time going downhill. We started our first ascent and made it to a good viewpoint, I suggested to Dad we stop for a break there but he wanted to press on. On the other side of the ridge we just ascended we dropped down into a valley and the weather changed very quickly. We began ascending again, and quickly, up the steep, shaley slope. I could tell the climb was tough on Dad and I had him hike in front so I didn’t outdistance him. It was an odd feeling, to be a stronger hiker than him for the first time in my life, although it may have had something to do with his pack being a good 40 pounds heavier than mine.
The weather just got worse the higher we climbed. We passed Bullet and an English man named Darren who were going to hunker down for the rest of the day. It was already windy and cold, sleeting a bit, but we planned to press on and we did. O’Well! had started out from camp earlier than us and we could only assume he had gone up already.
The more we climbed the more intense the weather got. 40-50 mile an hour winds, sideways sleet, and freezing temperatures. Hypothermia was not an unreasonable concern. Our rain gear wetted out completely before we reached the top and the thought occurred to me that I didn’t really want to get to the top, going downhill would be worse, being soaked to the bone. We were tired, not having taken any breaks in the morning, but there was no stopping. Freddie Mercury sang, “Nothing really matters to me,” in my head on loop the whole way. I found a balance in my head, despite the fact I could barely hear my own thoughts over the wind and every square inch of me was soaked, hands numb.
We crossed a few snow fields on the descent, nothing too treacherous. “This is bullshit,” I heard my dad yell over the wind at one point, “We just gotta get off this mountain,” I yelled back. We kept hiking.
We were about 6 miles out from where we wanted to camp, down off the most treacherous part of the pass but freezing and soaked to the bone. I smelled smoke. There were a couple tents visible through the trees and I stopped in the trail, waiting for Dad to catch up before I beelined for the campfire.
“Hi there!” I called out much more cheerily than I felt and the first person I saw was O’Well! He didn’t recognize me at first, I had tied my bandana over my face to protect from the wind. He was surprised to see us, he had also been near hypothermic when he got down off the pass.
As I peeled off my shoes and socks to try to dry them out we got acquainted with our trail angels. They were a group of 4 lawyers from Portland out for a 4 day wilderness camping trip. They had hiked about 2 miles that morning before the bad weather started up and they set up camp, pitching tents and rigging a shelter out of a tarp and a poncho by the fire pit. The fire was quite large when we arrived, like some sort of beacon, and our primary host – we’ll call him Bob – became the “Fire Bitch,” a role he seemed to thoroughly enjoy as he bustled around all afternoon gathering bigger and bigger logs to feed into what was becoming the biggest Backcountry bonfire I had ever witnessed. Dad and I decided to forego the 6 more miles and enjoy this moment of trail magic for what it was, exactly what we needed. Dad wanted to hike on, but by the end of the evening I think he realized what I was also learning on trail. Sometimes the miles are not as important as the experiences, and you will miss out on those if you are too hard on yourself and you don’t take the time and stop to smell the campfire smoke.
The “Lawyers Club” as I thought of the group of guys provided excellent entertainment. While “Steve” passed around a small bottle of whiskey and smoked a bowl with one of his buddies, “Bob” gave us a vivid description of the forest fire he once started by shooting a flare gun into a big dead cedar. He had called 911 and waited for the authorities to show up, the cops gave him a lesson on flare gun safety and a $50 dollar fine while firefighters worked to control the blaze. I felt that story was reasonable context for his pyromania, he told the story while piling more logs on the already overflowing firepit.
I don’t know that I’ve ever spent so much time just listening to a bunch of guys talking shit. Our clothes were dried out in no time, and the Knife’s Edge might as well have happened in a different lifetime. They asked that I not use their real names in the blog but “Steve” requested (after a second bowl of weed) this joke to be included, so here’s a big thank you for the wonderful hospitality.
“A snail goes into a dealership and asks for a custom paint job – a white car with little black s’s on it. So all his buddies can say, “Look at that little s car go.””
The next few days were much more productive in terms of actual miles hiked. We hiked 25 miles one day, then 20 the next day into Trout Lake – our resupply point. Dad was a trooper – back around the campfire O’Well! had asked us how many miles we planned to do the next day.
“25,” I replied somewhat grimly.
“Holy Crap, are you trying to kill your dad?”
“He’s trying to kill himself.”
It was true. Dad was adamant that I wouldn’t be cutting my miles short on his account so miles we did. On our third night out from White Pass he crawled in his tent and fell asleep while O’Well! and I climbed up a huge lava flow to get a view of the sunset and Mount Adams.
The next day we hiked right beneath the peak. The sun was out for good, it was a gloriously warm day and our spirits were high, excited to get to town for a beer that night. Bullet caught up to us that day and the four of us made it to Trout Lake where we met up with several other friends we had been behind. It was an excellent town stay – we camped in someone’s front yard next to the town store and enjoyed the company and camaraderie, telling stories and catching up on trail news.
We spent most of the next day in town. All our friends hiked out in the morning except O’Well! He, Dad, and I hitchhikrd back to trail that afternoon, we only hiked about 5 miles. It was a good rest day before we tackled the rest of the section. We enjoyed a lazy evening, full up on good town food, and I built “Snek Town” in a moment of creative inspiration. I felt a little burned out despite not hiking. All the socializing in town had worn me out, but back on trail life was calm and simple, I knew I would recover quickly.
The next few days we hiked 26, 20, then 24. Miles were blurring together but we found ways to break it up. One day we went swimming in a lake around midday. I swam out to the middle of the lake, so cold it took your breath away. As I treaded water I looked up at the mountains and the beautiful blue sky and I felt that I was being reborn. That day hiking was hard, I hadn’t slept well and the mosquitos were a constant nuisance. The water felt like a hard reset though, it was so nice to do something different with my body than walking, and the last several miles of the day flew by. I reflected on how much stronger I’ve gotten. A 20 mile day in Glacier Peak just about killed me but by then I pulled a 26 and still found the energy to start an embroidery project on my hat at camp that night. It was much less elevation so there is that. I was feeling really good.
Another night we got more trail magic. We were camped right by a road and a local guy stopped his truck and gave us all beers, and coors light has never hit as hard.
“We’re all cheap dates on trail,” O’Well! joked.
Dad’s last full day on the trail was a good day. We swam in a creek at lunchtime and dried off on the bank, the sun filtered through maple and alder leaves, great big mossy trees, old and full of wisdom I thought as I reclined on the river rock, looking up through the gently waving foliage. The forest in this section felt prehistoric, the moss grew thick on nurse logs and the vegetation grew in layers.
O’Well! and I decided that day to stick together for the rest of the trail, still over 2,000 miles. It felt good to know I wasn’t going to be on my own the whole way. We celebrated by eating an enormous amount of mountain blueberries and huckleberries, I got a stomach ache from it which may be a thru hiker right of passage.
We camped 6 miles out from the Bridge of the Gods, and I was on a mission to get to Cascade Locks that morning. There were two milestones that morning, hitting the 500 mile marker and completing Washington. Crossing the Bridge of the Gods over the state line I felt like Bender in the last scene of The Breakfast Club. I hadn’t realized how excited I was till that moment. This journey was teaching me to be more present, to fully engage in each moment as it came, letting go of the past and not thinking too much about the future.
We stopped at the restaurant right across the bridge and I got chatty with the lady at the counter, she probably thought I was a little crazy, but I was so excited to tell anyone I could that I just hiked the whole of Washington state. I would be parting ways with Dad in Cascade Locks, but O’Well! and I would be continuing on to do Oregon together, and likely the rest of the trail to Mexico. He hiked all of Oregon in 2018, and he already knew where the good views were and had his own stories and memories. But to me everything would be new and I felt it would be important to maintain my own fresh perspective, to experience everything for the first time through my own lens. I was so excited to hike with him.
I had a BIG black bean burger with two parties, a side of hashbrowns, onion rings, and a big salad from the salad bar at the restaurant. After laundry and a shower we later went down to the brewery and met up with a bunch of other hikers. I had another veggie burger and we all drank good beer and played Cards Against Humanity while the sun set over the locks, content in our achievements.
I was only 500 miles in and everything had already changed for me. I was eager to see what would happen in the next 2,100 miles.