September 5, 2022
Campsite at mile 2418.7 to campsite at mile 2438.8
“Are you getting up?”
“I mean, yeah. I have to pee.”
Jumbo makes his eyebrows do that thing that’s simultaneously sad and entreating and endearing.
I sigh. “Yes, I’ll get your food bag.”
“YAYE!” I’m pretty sure he’s learned this pronunciation, with an added “ee” sound at the end, from me.
Errands complete, I snuggle back into my quilt. It’s cold today, and it seems like we’re moving slowly. Tribute hasn’t even moved in his tent, and Jumbo is slow enough packing up that I think I can squeeze out a hot coffee before we get going. I do so, and then instantly regret it because I don’t have nearly enough fuel or coffee packets for the stretch ahead. Oh, well. It was joyous to drink coffee while still in bed, turning to my left to look at the morning clouds shifting over the mountains.
First on the menu today: climbing. But it’s not too bad, very gently switchbacked, ending up on a promontory overlooking the strand of rocky mountains covered in sneaky cat paw clouds. This weather, this cold, delicious, autumn-like weather, reminds me so much of Maine. Not much about the visuals do, apart from the omnipresent conifer forest, but the sense, the chill, the feeling of impending coziness, does.
We stop at a lake for water. Jokingly, I say, “Lake time break time!”
“Passport!” Jumbo admonishes. “You had coffee already, and we’ve only gone three miles, and you already want a break?”
We don’t end up taking a break there, but we do about two and a half miles down the trail. Now that the climb is done, it’s pretty chill, just meandering over this flat ridge before eventually heading downwards. I’m listening to the tail end of Dune today. I’ve really enjoyed this story, even if some of the finer political details are hard to follow. I’m thinking that I’ll probably read the next one eventually, but not now. I need a break from such intricate sci-fi.
The views are incredible as we go down the very long hill. These mountains are very obviously different from the Sierras, but I can’t get over how much they remind me of them. In the Sierras, everything was constant overwhelming beauty. This section has its moments, but it’s not that same level of hit-you-over-the-head wonder. Still, I marvel at the way the clouds move among the rocky peaks.
About halfway down the hill, my knees start hurting from bracing myself. It’s pretty rocky, too, so I’m having to watch every step carefully. I’m used to my feet hurting, but my knees? That’s not a sensation I’m familiar with. Add it to the list of challenges mounting on this unrelenting last stretch of the PCT.
Lunch is a shady spot just after a beautiful river crossing on a footbridge. I’m actually cold in the shade, though, since it’s windy, and I have to put my puffy on. I make another hot drink. I can’t stop with the hot drinks! I’d better get a massive fuel canister in Stevens Pass, or else develop some self control.
Tribute leaves, then Jumbo, and I’m left alone to finish up packing and face my least favorite part of the day. I feel a rough afternoon slump coming on: no energy, tired, feet hurting. I put my audiobook back on and start the slow, trudging step step step up the surprisingly hilly bit that looked flat on Guthook.
I pass a woman on the trail who has the exact same stuffed possum friend as me. She clocks mine, then exclaims, “You have a pack possum too!”
“Oh my gosh, yes! Does yours have a name?”
“Pam,” she answers immediately, grinning.
I return her grin and nod. “Petunia.”
We exchange excited noises for a few more moments, then wish each other well on our journeys. Later, I realize I should have gotten a photo with Pam and her hiker. How often do you see someone with a pack possum? Pam and Petunia could have been pen pals! Or soul mates! The ways of the trail are mysterious.
I run into the boys at a water source. Jumbo has his sun hoodie wet and drying on a branch, and this strikes me as an excellent idea since it has been well over a week since the last wash. I do this, put my pleasantly cool hoodie back on, and continue trudging in the sticky, overgrown afternoon.
The hill that comes after this bit does not look that intense on FarOut, but in reality, it destroys me. It’s no rockier than what we’ve been doing, but I absolutely hit a wall. I have no energy and no motivation, and my feet are screaming. Actually, all of my lower extremities are screaming. My feet, my ankles, my knees, my hips. My achilles pain has migrated all the way up my calf in the back. My butt hurts from all these steep uphills. I can’t take more than a handful of steps without stopping to suck in air and complain audibly into the empty forest. At this rate, I’m going to get to camp at midnight.
I finish Dune. It’s good. I’m really pleased that I finally read (er, listened to) the entire story. I feel like I have a lot more context for it now, and I’m excited for the next movie. Then, because I am the way that I am, I start a second listen of This is How You Lose the Time War. I’m telling you, I loved that book. I’m going to get a paper copy and keep it under my pillow, read it twice a year, copy down the paragraphs so I can feel what it feels like to write like that. It’s just as beautiful the second time. I drink it in like water.
At the next creek, I see Jumbo filtering water, but from his stance, I can see that he’s already rearing to go. Suddenly, I feel so sad, so pathetic. He tells me he’s been here for a little while, taking a decent break. I expected to roll up and see him and Tribute taking a relaxed lie-down like we’ve been doing, but here Jumbo is already fixing to go up the next climb while my feet are throbbing right off my body. He leaves, and I start crying as I filter water. What is wrong with me? Why am I so slow? And how can our good days never line up?
I get ahold of myself, take a few moments to stretch and drink water, and then continue. Turns out, Tribute was just up the trail taking a break where Jumbo couldn’t see him. Tribute says he plans to stay down in this valley rather than doing the last three miles to the camp where we planned to go. Feather is also already set up down here. But I think I have some energy left in me. And besides, if the Guthook elevation profile is any indication, tomorrow is going to be way worse. I don’t want to add more climbing to it if I don’t have to.
It takes a monumental force of will, two more ibuprofen, and a little over an hour of Bad Bunny, King Gizzard, and Sleigh Bells to propel me up the hill. I seem to stop at every switchback and let out an audible groan, sometimes a choice word or two to let the hill know exactly how I feel about it. But the good news is that this is the best time of day, hands down. The light coming through the gaps in the mountains reminds me of LeConte Canyon and Grouse Meadows and everything that made me want to do this trail in the first place. Do I want to stop hiking? Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Do I want to stop being in the mountains? No. Never. I just want to set up my hammock and take it all in forever. What is work? What is movement? No thanks. Put sour patch watermelons into an IV and feed it to me forever, please. Just don’t take me out of the mountains.
I reach the top of the climb after what feels like an interminable length of suffering, but I make it. Camp is a little rooty spot below Cathedral Rock. Jumbo is there in his bright purple jacket. I complain for the requisite amount of time, and he tells me that he didn’t get here all that long ago to make me feel better. I tell him, truthfully, that this is the worst I have felt physically on the entire trail. Despite seven ibuprofen today and several rounds of admittedly halfhearted stretching, I am absolutely wrecked.
We set up side by side for cowboy camping. It’s another chilly night, the kind that is perfect for snuggling down in your quilt. We make dinner at the ends of our sleeping pads, facing Cathedral Rock and breathing in the dying daylight. Then, the best part of the day: crawling into that sweet goose down paradise and drifting off to sleep.