The next morning we packed up our stuff early and with extreme care to be quiet because there were six or seven other people sleeping in the cabin with us. We got everything outside without making too much noise and made breakfast on the front porch. The meadow beyond the cabin was still lost in fog but it seemed a lighter drier fog than the day before and we kept our fingers crossed that it would lift soon. We headed out by six. Because we had stopped early due to rain the day before we had a thirty one mile day to hike that day, or else we would have a very long day into White Pass, where we were hoping to get a nero and a little bit of rest. We had never hiked a thirty mile day, so we were nervous but excited, the terrain didn’t look terrible, we just hoped the weather would cooperate.
It didn’t take long for the sun to break through the low clouds, and just as everything was clearing up we came around a bend and WAHBAM: Mount Rainier. Right there in front of us, smaller peaks surrounding it, ridges flowing away from its summit, covered in snow, glinting in the sun, the jewel of our eye. The day was gorgeous. All day we hiked ridges on the other side of Crystal Mountain, always keeping the mountain to our right, growing larger all the time. The ridges we walked along were covered in wild flowers: Indian Paint Brush, Lupin, Heather, Queen Anne’s Lace. Reds, purples, pinks, and whites. We dipped down to alpine lakes and climbed up to rocky volcanic peaks. By the end of the day we were hiking through Chinook Pass and we ended up cooking dinner just beyond the road, next to a babbling creek. We then continued on to camp, and got in at dusk. We had done it, thirty one miles in Washington. We were filled with adrenaline, and the camp we had headed to only had two other tents in it. The best flat spot was on the other side of a tree from a guy who had a roaring fire going. We walked by him and politely asked if he minded if we joined him (and by joined him we meant set up a tent a good thirty feet away from him and slept there and then left before he was awake). He paused awkwardly, “Uh yeah, I guess that is fine.” We stared at eachother, confused as we took off our packs. Just then his tent mate walked up and said, “Oh, other people. Coming in tight!” Now we were really uncomfortable, were these guys really not okay with us setting up our tent within sight of theirs? We walked down to the lake to grab water and then walked around trying to find another flat impacted spot where we could put our tent. There was nothing.
I was feeling pissed. These guys clearly weren’t thru hikers, just weekenders out for a night and their expectations for that night must have been a completely solitary wilderness experience. And here we were, used to camping with tons of other thru hikers, guy lines overlapping, tents only feet apart, exhausted after a long day on trail. I knew that there was no reason to be mad, we were just two different groups of users, with different wants and needs, but still I was miffed. We weren’t going to ruin their experience, just set up a tent and fall asleep before they knew we were there. Beaten we headed up to the spot to grab our packs and move on, hoping to find something up ahead. Luckily the two guys had picked up on our passive aggressive wandering and decided to apologize, telling us that of course we could stay there, as if they owned all the dirt within eye site. We thanked them and set up our tent, ate our Nutella and passed out.
I know that as a thru hiker, we do not own the PCT, but I think it warrants a reminder to other people planning on camping along the PCT, thru hikers hike differently than you and the PCT is one of three places where you are definitely going to find them. They hike very hard, get in late, and are used to squeezing their tent into any space big enough for it, which might be right next to yours. The reason for this is because instead of being out only for the night they are out for months. Where they camp isn’t a destination, it is just part of the journey, a place to lay their heads for the night. The bottom line is if you don’t want to have someone stinky sleeping right next to you at night there are a lot of other trails out there sans thru hikers. Obviously, thru hikers, we should remember that weekenders we encounter only get a couple of nights out on trail, so we should respect their space and their experience, don’t keep them up if they want to sleep, don’t light fires right next to their tents, make their experience special, and be quiet in the morning when you’re up early and they are sleeping in. We all have to coexist together and respect eachother needs. Which I did, begrudgingly. Plus we are never going to see them again, all we are leaving them with is another experience with a thru hiker.