On day five, things began to cool down. A few clouds had rolled in overnight and we had a bit of rain. Still, the morning was sunny as we began the “iffy” part of the trip, where I had never been before and we were uncertain about trail conditions. We were told that a three-mile stretch of the trail hadn’t been cleared of dozens of trees that had fallen after a recent fire and windstorm. The ranger thought it would be okay for hikers but not horses. Since we hadn’t picked up any horses in the previous four days, we thought we’d be all right, but there was no way to know for sure. Sure enough, after a couple miles on the trail, we started to encounter trees. We decided to count how many we had to clamber over or around. At first the trees were infrequent, maybe every quarter-mile or so. But then they started coming in fours and fives, sometimes stacked on top of one another. It was easy to see how it would have been difficult for a packhorse to negotiate, but we didn’t have too much trouble. Here was a typical section, 70 or 80 trees in:
After a few miles of this (and 122 trees!) we ran into the trail crew working on clearing up the mess from the other side. It was a group of six college-age kids, perhaps on a summer work project. They were eager to talk to us, and interested to hear that we’d soon be heading up another trail they’d already cleared. I was surprised to see that they didn’t have chainsaws — just old-fashioned two-person handsaws and a couple axes. They told us there was good swimming ahead at Hidden Lakes.
As it turned out, the lakes were a little disappointing. The water was indeed warmer than it had been at Cathedral Lake, but there wasn’t a good place to access the water — we had to descend a steep gravel slope and negotiate some thick reeds to get to the lake. Just as we arrived, the sky clouded over, and swimming didn’t seem so appealing. But the idea of partially cleaning off some of the filth that encrusted our bodies superseded worries about being too cold, so we hopped in. It would be two days before the clothes we were swimming in dried off!
After our swim, we headed towards our next trail: the Tatoosh Buttes trail the crew had cleared the previous week. Although they had cleared it, they hadn’t taken care to mark the trail junction, where apparently the old sign had burned off in a forest fire. We walked right past it. Fortunately we soon figured out we had missed a turn, and slowly backtracked, looking for any sign of a trail. We found it, unmarked, and obscured by undergrowth in a marshy area. The only clue there was really a trail was that the crew had indeed cleared out a fallen log about 30 yards in. After we left the marsh, the trail became more distinct, and we became more certain that we were on the right trail. We had to climb about 1600 vertical feet to where we expected to find “gunbarrel camp,” which was clearly marked on the map. But as we climbed, the forest became progressively more charred. Would there be anything left of the camp? Would there be water? We stopped at a creek to collect enough water for dry camping, just in case. Eventually we did manage to find a flat spot to camp, with a small fire ring. Could this be the place? We decided to stop. It was a beautiful, if gloomy, meadow where dismal husks of trees overlooked optimistic flowers:
Flowers always seemed to be the first things to grow back after a fire. We’d been through a few burned areas, and in only the most recent burns were we not surrounded by flowers. Here’s a shot Nora took of me heading up the butte the next day, in an area that had been spared flames:
And here’s an amazing photo of some absolutely fantastic flowers, again taken by Nora, the flower mistress:
[per Greta’s request, click on the above photo for a larger version] It was cold and rainy, but the flowers cheered us at every step:
And more flowers:
The skies were quite dramatic. This shot catches a little of that sense:
As we climbed higher, there were even more flowers:
And more flowers:
Finally, we began our steep descent down the other side of the buttes. This trail was unbelievably steep, causing our toes to smash into the front of our boots with every step.
When we finally reached the bottom of the valley after 8 miles of hiking, we saw a sign indicating we were just 14 miles from the trailhead. Nora was getting tired of being in the woods, away from home, clean showers, and friends. She figured we could easily be out by the next day. Unfortunately, this was a different route from what I had planned. My route was about 23 miles, and I was expecting to take two more days. My route was much more scenic, going high above the Pasayten valley on the Pacific Crest, with broad views and more spectacular scenery. The shortcut stayed in the valley bottom and we wouldn’t be able to see much.
I made Nora a deal — if we took my route, we could put in a long day today and still finish by tomorrow. Nora rose to the challenge, and we increased our pace and decreased our breaks, pushing out a total of 17 miles of hiking on Day 6, arriving at Holman Pass around 8 p.m. as the cloudy skies began to dim and rain began to fall. By the time we had prepared dinner and set up camp, it was dark. We put on headlamps to hang our food in a tree away from the bears, and went to sleep. We were 14 miles from civilization.
The next day we arose at 5 a.m. and had a cold “breakfast” of Power Bars instead of our usual oatmeal and hot chocolate. We were on the trail by 5:45. By 10:30 we had cranked out almost seven miles, and saw our first genuine marmot:
That fellow was no pygmy!
We did get some of the sweeping views I had hoped for, even though the weather was a little cloudy:
By 11:00 Nora and I had finished our final significant climb of the trip. Here we are at 7,200 feet!
After that, the trail was basically flat, all the way to the end. There was still a little scenery to enjoy, though:
By 3:30, we had reached the car, civilization, and most importantly, an outhouse. As we walked up to the first outhouse we had seen in 5 days, a car pulled up quickly beside it in the parking lot. Nora continued her fast pace and popped inside before the car passengers knew what hit them. A frustrated woman had to stand outside crossing her legs while Nora did her business. This lady may have had to wait an extra 5 minutes to use the outhouse, but Nora had waited 5 days!
In the last two days of our hike, we had covered 32 miles, and we’d finished in plenty of time to drive into town, buy a couple of fancy coffee shop drinks, shower, shower again, and eat a huge dinner, before settling down to watch a few hours of TV Olympic coverage.
The shower I took the next morning felt extremely decadent. After all, I’d hardly gotten dirty at all in the previous 12 hours….