As if the elevation profile could possibly get worse our day after going through Stevens promised even more torturous climbs than anything we had done yet. These weren’t just small and steep, we had upwards of three or four 1,000+ steep climbs and a twenty eight mile day. We were up early to give ourselves time to do it, but there were many climbs were going was slow. Snack rationing began immediately, we had four days to Stehekin, four big days, and I didn’t want us running out of food.
Many people have expressed concern and confusion over why we are always complaining about having enough food. Why don’t we just bring more? The relationship between calories needed and weight of calories that one can carry is a strange inverse relationship. The less calories you carry the lighter you pack is, and the less calories you burn, but the hungrier you will be and the less energy you will have. The more you carry the heavier your pack will be, making you burn more calories, and thus you are still hungry and tired. Somewhere in there is a manageable ratio of pack weight to calories carried, and I say manageable because it isn’t perfect, that balance ultimately results in you being a little hungry. At this point I basically carry the same amount of snacks, whether we are doing two days out, three days out, or four days out. If we are doing less days I suck up the extra weight and we feast, but because it is the max amount of snack weight I am willing to carry on those longer stints we have to ration more carefully and tighten our proverbial belts. Rationing is often where we screw up. On the first day we rejoice in how much food we have and eat a little too much, so then by the second or third day we realized we have dunnit again, and have to cut way back. After an entire trail of practice we had finally figured out that we needed to ration snacks from the very first snack break, and it really did make a difference. We were still hungry after every break but more of an even slight hunger instead of the gnawing pain that we usually have at the end of a section.
We took this first snack break in the shade of a big boulder and shivered despite the sun streaming around us. Fall had come to Washignton since we had last been there and although our weather had been good so far the air had a definite chill to it. When we were climbing or standing in the direct sunlight we were toasty and hot, but step into the shadows for a second and goosebumps would immediately break out. Regardless of the coolness in the shade we still sought it out for our snack breaks, preferring a cool down to a warm up. After our fist break we ran into a ranger, who reminded us that hunting season opened the next day. We had forgotten to grab something orange when we were in Olympia, but I was wearing bring pink shorts and niether of us was sporting a hat with antlers on it, so we felt pretty safe. The day continued, climbing and descending, rarely walking flat, and gaping at the beauty all around us. The trail only seemed to get better, because we were now getting occasional glimpses of Glaicer Peak, huge and cloaked in the white ice that gives it its name.
Near the end of the day we finally introduced ourselves to two thruhikers we had been leapfrogging for hours, Oil Can and Cave Man, and watched them pass us by when we stopped to cook dinner (Man and Cheese!) by a small stream. We waved to them when we walked by their camp at Reflection Pond because we were continuing up to a ridge near where the North Sauk Trail meets the PCT. As we put in our last climb of the day the sun set, causing the sky to soften and sweeten and behind us a huge moon rose over the peaks. As we rounded the corner to the ridge where we would camp we were surprised to see someone signaling us with a headlamp. When we drew closer we saw that it was a man decked out in camo, and when he realized we weren’t his hunting partner he apologized. The ridge and the camp down below were packed with hunters, with more streaming in every second. We quickly grabbed a small wind protected spot and hunkered down. Apparently, not only was the North Fork Sauk Trail the approach trail for climbing Glacier Peak (Kyle remembers this spot when he passed it last summer during their attempt to summit Glaicer) but it is also a popular access point for hunters. Who knew?
I tossed and turned all night, the wind keeping me awake, playfully dying down and then just when I would begin to doze it would spring up and flap the whole tent around violently. Somehow Kyle slept through the entire game and I laid awake, waiting for the next gust.