Monday, August 26, 2013

PCT 2013: Snoqualmie Pass to Chinook Pass

This trip was actually supposed to be Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass.  But on the way home from California I found out the Rainy Pass was closed because of mudslides from a storm.  That made getting to Rainy Pass problematic, so my hiking partner for this section and I decided to shift south and hike from Snoqualmie Pass to White Pass.

The trail south from Snoqualmie starts with a climb under the ski lifts and then runs parallel to and above I-90 heading west to Seattle.  After following the course of I-90 for a while the trail flips to the other side of the ridge and you find yourself following I-90 as it heads east, although quite a bit more distant.  That was a bit unexpected; but interesting.

The initial 40 or so miles of this trail passes in and out of areas that have been clear cut in the past.  But the clear cuts are generally old enough that they are not objectionable at all.  Depending on when the area was logged, the new trees are 10 to 30 feet tall, and the huckleberries and other shrubs are thick.  It is quite an interesting contrast to pass between the cool dark old growth with sparse undergrowth, and into the new growth with lots of sun and thick growth on the ground.

Having spent the previous month hiking northern California, one of the things that stood out most to me was how lush and moist the forest was here.  The California trails were mostly dry and dusty with fairly sparse undergrowth.  In contrast, this part of the trail had little dust, quite a bit of water on the trail, and thick, sometime wet, undergrowth.  I spent most of the morning of the second day with wet legs from plowing through the brush.  The trail also stays fairly low during this stretch so the views are generally just of the more local mountains, seldom are you able to see very far.

After a quick 8 mile day, we spent the first night at Mirror Lake.  This was a beautiful, moderate sized lake with at least a dozen established camp sites.  It was also fairly warm and would have normally called for a swim if we had been out more than just a few hours.

The second day continued through the rolling low lands with alternating clear cuts and old growth.  We started to see Rainier on occasion during this stretch, as well as an occasional opportunity to see some other distant vistas.  We also were able to see a fire that was burning to the east of us; a fire that was up high on the backside of a mountain and made it look like a volcano.

Huckleberries!  Sometimes it was hard to make progress down the trail.  Probably the best crop of berries I have ever tried to hike through.  It would have been easy to just eat all day and never make any significant progress down the trail.

What do you do when you are walking down the trail and you hear a cry of distress?  We stopped and listened for a while, trying to figure out what the sound was.  My initial thought was that it was a person crying out in anguish, but there were no discernible words that I could make out, and we had not seen any other hikers recently, so I finally decided that what we were hearing was a bear cub.  And if that was the case, then further investigation would not be the wisest of moves.  So off down the trail we scurried before momma found us.

We had planned on spending the second night at what the data book identified as a seasonal creek with a campsite.  The creek was there, actually a pair of creeks, one of them barely flowing and the other pretty stagnant.  But the campsite was not overly inviting, and it was still a bit early, so we loaded up with water and ended up at Tacoma Pass for the night.  Tacoma Pass was dry, but it was a much better site for spending the night than the spot a couple of miles back.

The climb out of Tacoma was the longest of the trip, but still fairly gentle.  The trail was a bit higher on the third day, but we still encountered a number of old clear cuts.  We also passed through an old burn area.  The  sign at the north end of the burn described it as occurring back in 1988.  Unlike the clear cuts that are regenerating nicely, this burn had few, if any, trees growing on it.  Instead the slope was covered with white poles and huckleberries.

I crossed the 500 mile threshold on the PCT for the year during this day and was feeling good about not having fallen down yet, something that I generally end up doing once or twice a year.  And sure enough, it happened.  Walking down the trail across a decent slope; and suddenly found myself face down alongside the trail.  It all happened so fast that I have no memory of the event.  Just glad the slope wasn't a bit steeper or I may have ended up at the bottom.  As it was I was cut up around my left eye and nose as well as my left shin.  Fortunately there was no serious damage and after a few minutes I was up and on the trail again.

Night 3 was spent at Government Meadows, although it was a strange evening.  When we came to the Urich Shelter, we found it occupied by 4 hippies and a junk yard dog.  The hippies were friendly enough, although they left us with an uncomfortable feeling.  So we moved on over the creek and hung from some trees just inside the treeline from a large and beautiful meadow.  We had quite a few thru's come through that evening, including one pair that had flipped and were heading south.  This ended up being the second of three consecutive nights that we spent camped close together.

Day 4 finally got us up over 6000 feet and the opportunity to see some pretty country.  Easily the most impressive was coming through Scout Pass and seeing Mt Rainier dominate the sky behind Crystal Mountain.  We spent quite a bit of time gawking at the mountain and trying to figure out the layout of the ski resort.  We also ran into Linda, a crew chief surveying for an upcoming work party.  Enjoyed talking to her about what she was looking for and what the plans were for repairing the trail.  The trail seemed mostly pretty good to me, but there were some big issues she was wanting to get under control before they deteriorated further and became harder to deal with.

The day was mostly overcast and we passed through a rain shower before going up and over Sourdough Gap and down to Sheep Lake for the night, another beautiful location.   While we had originally planned on going on to White Pass, a less than favorable weather report, and a couple of showers early in the morning made us rethink and decide to call it a trip at Chinook Pass. So daybreak found us texting our wives to come and get us a day early.  We hung around Sheep Lake until around 11, at which time we turned our site over to a dozen cub scouts, and dropped on down to Chinook Pass and a ride home.  And, after over 530 miles on the PCT in the last month and a half, my 60 year old legs are ready for a break.

Tigger and Eeyore ready to hit the trail.

View of Mirror lake from our camp at the north end.

These crags to our north were in frequent view for the first couple of days.

Another peak to the north that was in periodic view the first couple of days.

This fire off to the east had an eerie resemblance to a volcano.

Tigger and his mountain.  This was a good spot for breakfast on the second day.

The Falls Creek Burn from 1988.  Still looking desolate even after 25 years.

Looking out across Government Meadows from our night 3 camp. This is one of the biggest lowland meadows I can remember ever seeing

The trail also passed through a number of higher meadows like this one around Big Crow Basin.

I have grown to really like these flowers.  In norther California and Oregon they were yellow, orange and a burnt red.  Along this section were pink and white.  I think they would do very good in a dried flower arrangement.

Mt Rainier raising up above Crystal Mountain.

I love my Canon SX260 HS and its ability to zoom way in.  The facility on top of Crystal Mountain was barely discernible to the naked eye.

Linda's PCT tattoo.  My chances of ever getting a tattoo are pretty slim, but if I was to get one, this would be it.  Linda said it is a replica of a sign near Timothy Lake in Oregon.

This trail on the knife edge is, I believe, is near Blue Bell Pass.  If I got it right, water falling to the right flows into Puget Sound, while water falling to the left flows into the Columbia River.

The seed head for a western pasque flower.  These things look like something out of Dr Seuss.

Looking down the trail from camp to Sheep Lake.  Sourdough Gap is the low spot to the top right.  Some ambitious trail angel had lugged an ice chest with fruit and muffins up in that pass, some 3.5 miles from the nearest road.

The low lying clouds in the morning descended nearly to the lake.

Got the hammock rigged with a front porch.  Had a nice view of the lake, and occasionally of the bowl the lake sites in, while sitting in the hammock waiting for a ride.

One of the Gray "Camp Robber" Jays that paid us a periodic visit at Sheep Lake.

Lots of ground squirrels are busy around Sheep Lake as well.

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