September 10, 2022
Reflection Pond at mile 2501.2 to mile 2519.7
Packing up this morning is not fun. The wind didn’t stop for a single second last night, and it’s still going now. I procrastinate as much as I can, but I eventually have to face reality and get out of my quilt. I don’t like it.
But the morning actually turns out to be pretty great, even though it’s powerful windy, maybe on par with the night before Tehachapi in the wind farm. There are views for days, except those days are very smoky. I’m grateful that we can see the rows of snow-capped mountains at all, given how awful the smoke was yesterday. I feel pretty alright—not great, but alright—as I start to make my way across the exposed ridges.
Apart from the dramatic snowy mountains, this morning has distinct Lake District vibes, an opinion which Jumbo agrees with excitedly. We follow the windy trail up, across an expansive shrubby plain, then up a steep ridge until we reach Red Pass, after which it’s down, down, down into a rocky, grassy Sierra-ish valley. Glacier Peak towers in the distance with its namesake snowy flanks gleaming. Many of the creeks we’re about to cross come from its glaciers, which strikes me as very cool.
We take our Five Mile Coffee Break soon after this. (It’s an official thing now. Since we’re aiming for daily twenties, we break up the day into quarters with 5-mile bits, and the first one is a coffee break.) It is a luxurious break, and I don’t want to move after it, as usual. But the trail from here is lovely, traveling through creek-dense woodland. Before long it’s time for lunch near a creek. I wait for Jumbo to roll up, then we get comfy in the massive tent site. We both opt for a cooked lunch, which feels very luxurious.
It’s after this point that the day goes to shit. There are terrible blow-downs and overgrown sections. There’s also Kennedy Creek. We’d been warned about a sketchy water crossing somewhere in this section, and my god, I hope this is it, because if there’s one worse than this, I’m going to have to press the SOS button and bail on this nonsense. There’s a precarious log going diagonal across one section of the chocolate milk-colored torrent. I watch several hikers take this route successfully, but logs, especially wet logs, are not my forte, and this is not how I want to die. So I follow Jumbo upstream to a section that looks marginally less angry than the other rapids.
Jumbo goes first. He’s tall, and the water still goes up to his thighs. I can see his trekking poles vibrating with the force of the water. But he makes it safely, and then tells me that it was a strong current. I debate going back down to the log, but ultimately, for this kind of crossing, I want to have both feet and both poles firmly planted instead of teetering on a blown-down tree.
It is very scary. I’ve never felt a current like this. I’m hyper-focused as I make my way through the slurry, testing each foot, keeping at least three points of contact. Jumbo stands in the water just across the way, ready to reach out if I need him. But I make it across safely. The tricky part is getting back down to the trail crossing on the loose talus. At one point, I think with horror that I’m about to see Jumbo go sliding down into the river, but he recovers. I almost panic when it’s my turn, but I end up being able to get across this silty rock hell safe and sound.
After this joyous experience, we get a vertical-feeling uphill complete with the added bonus of many blow-downs and overgrown bushes just to spice it up. It’s awful. Nothing helps. Not Infest the Rats’ Nest, not Texis, not Cornell ‘77. Not snacks, not water. Not even positive self-talk. I just cannot do any more than 30 steps without stopping to breathe hard. Eventually, I just give up on music.
This continues for the rest of the day. I met back up with Jumbo at a creek, and we suffer through another terrible round of uphill blowdowns. We take a break at a cowboy spot beneath some trees, then put our packs back on, packs that are somehow still heavy even though we’re only two and change days out from Stehekin.
Not long after this, there is a section of trail that is so awful that it makes me want to speak to the manager of whoever runs this section of the PCT. The blowdowns are comically huge. Or they would be, if I felt like laughing. At one point there are so many massive trees across the trail that a new trail has formed going just straight up the hill. Jumbo goes from quietly upset to angry as the trees just keep coming. It’s not a state I see him in often, and I completely understand it. I want to punch everyone who told me Washington was their favorite section. It’s hot, it’s smoky, it’s nowhere near the beauty of the Sierras, and you can’t hike normally because there are so many fucking blowdowns. Washington can suck it.
There. I’ve said it.
We’re so exhausted that we decide to call today early, but the problem with camping at Fire Creek is that we can’t because every other hiker already had this idea and there are no spaces left. Resigned, we gather water and trudge another mile to a tiny cowboy spot just off the trail. I’m falling asleep as I write this. I hope I pass out and stay asleep through the night, and I hope to everything holy that tomorrow is not as miserable as today.