August 29, 2022
Campsite at mile 2277.3 to White Pass
I wake up to Jumbo’s hand on my arm. Confused, I look at him as he comes into focus, and by way of explanation he tilts his head towards Mt. Adams, which is slowly lighting up with the sunrise. I sit up and take it in. It’s cotton candy and glistening snow. The three of us lie there in silence staring at the beautiful world growing increasingly lighter. I eat my breakfast and make a cup of tea. It’s chilly this morning but not too cold. Still, I don’t want to get out of my quilt. Despite knowing that today is going to be epic, it takes an enormous effort of will (and Jumbo’s insistence) before I finally deflate my sleeping pad, stuff my quilt into its dry bag, and get packed up.
But once we do get going? Wow. I don’t even know how I’m going to describe today. I don’t even know if the photos will describe it. This section, the Knife’s Edge, has been built up so much for us by hikers ahead of us. We’ve seen posts and stories on Instagram about how magical Goat Rocks is. So we know it’s going to be wild, but just how wild, I was not prepared for.
The trail completes the climb we started last night with a steep uphill towards the view of Mount Rainier and the ridge with the glacial lake. This morning, it’s positively glowing. We follow the slope as it gets rockier and more exposed. There’s an alternate route, the old PCT, that’s supposed to be better than the newer one, which was created to be more suitable for pack animals. We take this route. It’s steeper than the actual PCT, but it is one of the most amazing sections of trail I’ve ever set foot on.
Working its way across the flank of Old Snowy Mountain, the rocky trail goes up a small snow chute, which Jumbo loses his mind over in a good way, and then winds towards a point with a view that encompasses the entire world of green, rock, and mountain. Adams, Saint Helens, and Rainier are clearly visible, and the landscape between them is a green coniferous carpet dotted with icy lakes and snow patches. Looking north, we can see the entire ridge that makes up the Knife’s Edge winding its way over the spine of the range.
Jumbo, Feather, Tribute, and I walk it together, first heading steeply down, then back up, repeat. Feather looks around and says, “This kind of reminds me of Franconia Ridge.”
“I was just thinking that!” I reply.
“I thought you weren’t allowed to have views on the AT?” Jumbo adds snarkily.
I roll my eyes. “You are in New Hampshire.”
It’s nice to have another AT thru-hiker with us. That way, when I make a comparison or a comment about a memory from the AT, someone else knows what I’m talking about. And it really does have Franconia vibes, with the rocky spine extending as far as the eye can see and steep drops on either side.
We make our way slowly along the ridge. We haven’t really come that far yet, but it seems like time for a break. I sit on a ledge and face Rainier while eating a Luna bar, blocking everything else out but this mountain and the sunshine.
The trail starts to head downwards, the steepest and most scenic parts of the section coming to a close. Some folks ahead of us told us that this section isn’t all that long and that we should enjoy it, and I’m glad we took their advice. It’s amazing to watch the perspective shift, seeing the ridges and mountains and snow patches from different angles as we continue downwards.
And then we’re at a water source. We camel up, knowing that there’s not great water for the next bit, and I realize how dehydrated I am. Feather and Tribute go ahead again, and Jumbo and I carry on after them, talking about trails we’d like to do in the future. After a few miles it’s lunch time and there’s a campsite by a little lake where we sit and eat the quickest lunch we’e had in ages. There are a lot of flies, but the industrial size DEET we picked up in Bend helps a bit.
It’s forest again now, the same lovely moss-covered forest we’ve been walking in for ages. There’s a shitty water source where we gather water for the next climb. Then Jumbo and I end up walking together up and over the hill and all the way down to White Pass. It feels like the day before Big Bear, one of the first times we hiked together and when we talked the entire time. It makes the hill go by so fast. I know if I were hiking alone I’d be suffering and toiling in this wretched heat with some album I’ve listened to a million times, but it goes fast with Jumbo.
At the top of the climb there’s a view towards some lovely blue-tinted lakes. We take a quick break at the crest because there’s slightly passable internet, which has been nonexistent for the past few days. Then we descend along a series of switchbacks, talking about King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s tease about big news. Well, mostly Jumbo talks while I listen. He’s seriously in deep with that band. He was beside himself back on San Jacinto when I told him I liked them, and I think he thinks I’m a mega-fan like him rather than just the casual, occasional listener I was before this trail. I mean, to be fair, he is definitely making me a mega-fan. But I’m not sure I’ll ever be on his level.
We’re trying to make it down to White Pass before the Kracker Barrel (not to be confused with Cracker Barrel; the former is just a convenience store with showers and laundry rather than a delicious restaurant) closes, so we don’t take breaks like we normally would. We hit the end of our energy reserves at the same time, and the conversation just drops off out of nowhere. Finally, we hit the highway and turn left, making a beeline for the store.
It’s 5:45 when we arrive, fifteen minutes before they close. But they let us pick up our packages anyway, and I quickly go through the store and grab whatever I can: a Space Dust IPA, a frozen beef and cheddar sandwich, a Coke, and a Kit Kat. Kit Kats are not my go-to, but for some reason I’ve really been craving one today. I mentioned this at lunch to Jumbo and Tribute, which they could’t help me with because both of them had already eaten their chocolate supply. So had I.
We take our stuff and go to sit at the tables on the side of the store. There are tons of hikers there, some that I know and some that I’ve never met. The four of us share a table with Postal and Purple Rain, the latter of whom is the owner of the company Purple Rain Skirts. Shaggy and crew are here, too, and it feels like a party as we eat our terrible delicious gas station food.
Jumbo spots my Kit Kat on the table and lets out an exasperated sound. “No!”
I look at him confusedly. He plonks a king size Kit Kat down in front of me.
“Is that for me?”
“Yes. You said you were craving a Kit Kat.”
“You got me a Kit Kat just because I said I wanted one earlier?”
He blinks. “Yeah?”
“Aw, Jimmy!” I squeeze his arm. “You’re the best.”
I have SO many Kit Kats now. My craving is more than satisfied.
We still need to do laundry and shower, but we can’t do that until tomorrow morning. So we set up in a row for Cowboy Sardines behind the store. Another hiker’s dog, named Sandy, comes up and visits with Jumbo and me, but mostly Jumbo. He’s a dog whisperer. I work on reorganizing my resupply into my food bag , then write for a while, then crawl into my sleeping bag. It’s not an ideal spot. The hotel next to us has its lights on all night, and I have to pull my beanie down over my face. But tomorrow I’ll get a breakfast sandwich and real coffee and a shower, and that makes it worth the less-than-great night.