Okay, are you tired of me saying that each day was harder than the last yet? Because we were getting tired of each day being harder than the last, I can assure you of that. Once again, a day of massive climbs, some of them over two thousand feet. We started our day off by both having surprise poops on extremely steep sections of trail, which is never a pleasant way to begin hiking, but after the first climb of the day we went through a small pass and into a large open valley that looked out onto Glaicer Peak. It was stunning. Most of the valley was above tree line, just a crumble of granite and ice, and down in the bottom of the scooped slopes was a fragile high alpine meadow, cut through by the snaking forms of trail and creek. It struck me at that point how similar the shape of the winding trail was to the snaking s-curves of the little brook that babbled amongst the heather and blueberry bushes. The water had cut such a playful, yet sensuous path, sometimes almost completely doubling back on itself, flirting with its own curves, sending water seemingly uphill. I marveled at it as we walked to the tune of Pika chirps and Marmot whistles.
We passed amazing campsite after amazing campsite and called out to every one, promising to return and bask in its beauty. Eventually we dipped back below tree line and continued down, still following the creek, which had now taken on more water and was rushing along. The trail began to switchback, unable to keep up with the cascade of after as it fell steeply from ledge to ledge. White water and water falls greeted us on one end of the switchbacks, thundering their hello, on the other end the noise faded away and the forest was quiet. We descended so low that we were back amongst huge trees, growing out of a mossy forest floor, crossing over glacial fed creeks, white with silt. I grew incredibly introspective.
I was in a state of reverie, a state of exhultation, exuberant, blessed, feeling the power of the mountain high above me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how a mountain is a creator. It inspires its own weather, building up little lenticular cloud caps that then turn into wild rising darkening monsters of storms, raining down snow and ice, covering the mountain’s slopes in blankets of soft snow. Hidden from view are the mountains precious glaciers, it’s sercret reserves and powerful children, who are either shrinking or growing depending on which mountain mother you ask. The snow smooths the mountains rough and rugged nature, making her look pillowy and inviting. Until spring comes, until she embraces the changes of a warming season and throws off her coat of flakes, sending it down the mountain in the form of water. Water, one of the greatest shaping factors there is, allowing the mountain to reinvent herself every year, changing a ravine here and carving out new curves there. Pushing back trees that have crept too close. Providing sustenance for plants and animals and humans who inhabit her slopes. In summer she becomes lazy and vain, content to bask in the sun and let her children melt away, becoming dirty and rock strewn. She channels her water into beautiful jewels, turquoise lakes, topaz resivoirs, stunning and clear and pretty to wear. She uses the cold nights to create new shapes in her rock faces, allowing water to wind its way into her crevasses and then turning it to ice in the deep of morning, sending huge chunks of granite crashing down the mountains.
And if she is the firey type every once in a while she really gets creative. Spewing lava and ash and fire and brimstone from her core she builds herself new arms and legs, ridges flow away from her, harnessed only by the power of ice. As humans we see this as destructive, but only because we have such short and insignificant lives. We cannot see everything that a mountain creates and will create. We perceive changes as bad, but the mountain knows that change is the way of life. To us the way the mountain looks now is the way it will always be, and so we are shocked when suddenly everything changes, when the mountain creates a new look for itself, when she takes matters into her own hands. She can seem cruel, but really she is just living. As we walked that day, way down on the forest floor I could feel the mountain high above me and it was one of those moments when I didn’t need an endless night sky to remind me of how small I am.
A day that started out easy became challenging quickly. The section of trail that we hiked that day, from the North Sauk Trail to the Dolly Vista Camp is an extremely remote section of trail. No roads cross it and no trails intersect it. The White Chuck river took out a road a couple of years ago and now access to that part of the trail and mountain is impossible. The only other trail was the one we found ourselves having dinner by, the Milk Creek Trail which is unmaintained and I don’t believe leads to anything. As such, the trail must be notoriously hard for trail crews to access and it showed. The trail needed brushing badly, especially in the many open slopes where Salmon Berry and Thimble Berry were attempting to bridge the gap and grow together, impeded only by the constant trickle of hikers pushing their way through the branches. Blowdown riddled the PCT’s curves, some of it so massive it seemed impossible to get around. There was no going over, or under, or around thanks to the steep grade above and below the trail. I managed to fall face first down hill trying to navigate a decimated switchback, luckily landing on my knees on the springy pine needles below. It was the second time I had fallen down that day, having already embarrassed myself infront of a bunch of hunters by tipping over trying to take my rain pants off.
All the while we followed horse prints down the trail, tellingly fresh piles of horse apples making it apparent that we weren’t very far behind. We were incredulous, how in the world was a horse accomplishing this part of the hike? We would get to huge logs, where the trail tried was maybe four inches across and there was no way to walk around and the horse tracks would appear on our side of the log and then reappear on the other, proving its continued existence. Every time we would see the hoof prints continue we would shout out in surprise and excitement, the horse was still going!?! We desired more than anything (except being treated to a big hot meal and a shower) to catch the horse and rider and grill them. After climbing up along a very narrow ridge to a creek and then back down and then back up and then back down and then back up we made it to a high exposed spot with incredibly views looking north, showing us new mountain we hadn’t seen yet, Glacier now to our southwest. They were getting seriously gnarly, causing us to get more and more giddy.
Again we descended, heading towards our predestined break spot at Mica Lake. Mica Lake, smack dab in the middle of a hugely hard to reach area was the most breathtaking lake we had seen on trail yet. Steep cliffs rimmed its southern and western sides, and a couple of flat spots for tenting sat near its outlet. On the east side were rolling alpine meadows which we walked through to access the lake. But what really made this lake special was its water. It was the clearest, aquamairne Mediterranean blue I have ever seen outside of a tourist brochure of some far off tropical place. But this water was ice cold. Standing on a rock that jutted out in to the lake I could see where the rock became wet but I couldn’t actually see where the water started. As I lowered my hand towards it I was surprised when I made contact, it was like touching air of a different temperature. It was like liquid diamonds and ice and spring water and still. Kyle and I wanted desperately to stay, but we still had another ten miles to do, so we settled for a break on the shores instead. We agreed that maybe it was better we didn’t stay because we weren’t even sure we could bring ourselves to mar the lakes incredibly clarity with our dirty sweaty bodies. We moved on finally down to Milk Creek for dinner.
Dinner was delicious, more curry, and after dinner we had a infuriating little part of trail which dropped in elevation to the west just to then climb back above itself to the east. Sometimes I would really love an explanation from the original trail builders on what the heck they were thinking. Our last part of the day was a four mile climb, a perfect way to end the day. We had actually been planning on stopping right at the top but we managed to miss the campsite and rather than go back .2 miles and look for it we decided to do another two miles instead. I am sure this logic will mystify most people but to a hiker I think it seems pretty natural. You do not repeat miles.
We arrived at the Dolly Vista Camp in the dark but it was a nice covered spot and we had the whole place to ourselves so we could pick out the flattest site. We ate Nutella and stretched, looking at the skies a little nervously, the next day was the first day that had had potential rain in the forecast (last we checked at Stevens Pass) but the sky looked clear and sparkly. Still no cell phone service. Sleep took hold quickly after such a long day.