Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Day 136 : Woody Pass

29 miles today
11 miles to go

I awake at my usual time. It's still dark. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the rustling and shuffling in the tents around me as one or the other Thru-hikers adjusts their position on the cold hard ground. We’ve come to expect that the ground is what we sleep on. No one complains about it. It's normal, it just is. I think about the timing of my pre-purchased by ticket. One fifty AM, basically two o'clock in the morning on Friday. Which for me is easier to think of as late late Thursday night. Fifty eight more miles to go, forty to the border and another eight miles to Manning Park, British Columbia. If I walk twenty five miles today then I can walk twenty four miles on the day after and finish on Wednesday. Then I could stay at the Manning Park Lodge Wednesday night. That way I can take a shower and wash my clothes before taking public transportation home. I like this plan as it coincides with the other Thru-hikers who all exited the bus at High Bridge. I'd finish with a group of friends that I've been hiking around for thousands of miles. People I know by trail names. People that call me No Skip. I like this change to my plans, then realize that means I need to start hiking.

Pfffssssssssssss goes my mattress in the silent cold morning air. A startling sound in the quiet campsite filled with other thru-hikers. I think about the noise briefly, this group isn't bothered by noise. They had no problem with it till way passed hiker midnight last night. I'm sure the noise this morning won't elicit any harsh comments or ill will. They are a great bunch of easy-going thru-hikers and my friends. I go through my morning routine. Wow, it's cold! I keep the flaps on my tent down to hold some of the warmth in. Spronggggg goes the windscreen of my stove as I pop it from its container. I eat my crunchy granola and banana chips as I heat water for my coffee in the vestibule. The rustling of my food bags sounds like thunder in the quiet glen. It's probably not very loud outside my tent and it certainly isn't bothering any of my friends, they are used to the noise of each other. Unlike me they have banded together and camp with each other for thousands of miles. I on the other hand normally camp by myself. I paw through the mostly empty ziplock bags gleaning some snacks for today's hike. Twenty five miles is a normal day. I need a full complement of eight different snack items and a small lunch. I smear peanut butter on a tortilla and fold it before sliding it into a quart size ziplock. This goes in my lunch ziplock with my beef jerky and cheese. It's a lunch that slides into one of the lower pockets on my pack that I can reach while hiking. I rarely stop for lunch. Just walk all day. I save up all my ‘stop’ time for camp and really short water resupply breaks. Otherwise I walk from daybreak to around five thirtyish. Which is an earlier stop time than just about everyone else but I prefer as I have more daylight for cooking and camp stuff in the evening. I drink my coffee as I stuff my snacks into the thigh pockets on my hiking pants. I start each day with bulging pockets on my hiking pants. I like the convenience of being able to grab snacks on the go. Basically eating all day. 

Out of my tent and packing my pack. Have I mentioned, it's cold this morning. My hands hurt and my feet are so cold they don't hurt. How ironic is that? As I pack Red Riding Hood peeks out of her tent next door. “Good morning Red,” I say. “Good Morning,” she says in her Queens English accent. I love listening to her talk. We don't talk much this morning as I finish packing and say, “See you down the trail,” to Red and the silent tents around me. I think I hear a few muffled responses from some of the others. 

The day’s hike start on an up note. As in up switchbacks. Up and up and up. Back and forth across the face of the slope over camp. Higher and higher in the icy cold breeze. It's still early and this valley is still in the shade. The trail crunches icily beneath my feet. I meet Swag on the trail as we climb the switchbacks at our own paces. He's been hiking with a stress fracture in his right foot. I empathize with his pain as my feet have been hurting every day for months. They don't hurt at this moment because they're numb. At the top of the ridge I can see all around, another beautiful blue sky day! Craggy peaks surround me here on this ridge. I meet Terminator up here. He and a number of other thru-hikers blew past my camp last night and camped up high on this ridge. This is definitely one of the most scenic and beautiful parts of the trail. In fact I think the Washington section is the most scenic part of the entire PCT. It's the most remote, rugged, wild looking country. I love going through it. Today I enjoy the walking because of the surrounding beauty. Absolutely incredible, the ridge meanders about and I am on the top of it for miles and miles. I look down steep valley walls to tree carpeted valley floors. Mountains upon mountains stack the horizon no matter which way I look. The glorious sunshine is warm but not hot. Perfect hiking weather. I feel so grateful for the weather, or lack of weather. Just warm blue sunshine. It feels like fall up here in the north. The trees and bushes are turning into flaming fall colors. Wow, hiking for going on five months, when I started in the desert it was spring with flowers blooming at every turn. Now the color is in the leaves and berries. No blueberries though. They seem to have stayed behind at Glacier Peak. 

I turn a corner and see Thirteen and Sweet Ums stopped on the trail taking pictures. We chat for a bit. Sweet Ums thru-hiked last year and is out for just a couple of days this year. She points out the general path of the PCT heading north. We walk together a bit until they stop to take more pictures. My feet have warmed up and they don't hurt unless I step wrong on a rock. I don't do that as much, the trail isn't as rocky and I am more disciplined about keeping my eyes on the trail.

I reach Harts Pass an hour or so later. I find Scabs is already here. She tells me about the trail angel in camp five. He's firing up the grill. We’ll have bratwurst and corn on the cob in an hour. “Do I have an hour?” I wonder. Scabs sees my pondering and asks about my transportation from the end. “I have a bus ticket at two AM on Friday morning,” I say. She says, “Oh, you have an hour then.” She’s right. I walk to camp five with her. I didn't get his name, but our gracious host is busily preparing lunch for us. He points us towards the sodas and beer. I choose a root beer and sit in one of the camp chairs. Terminator, Two Pack, Candyman, Texas are here. So is Thirteen and Sweet Ums. Cheese arrives, so do Sour Rip, Swag and others. I have a bratwurst and another soda. I choose to not have corn on the cob. The trail is calling to me, or maybe it's just my anxiety about getting to camp early enough to not be cooking in the dark. I thank our trail angel host and head off to the trail. It leads up and along a slope up and over Windy Pass. The views are so inspiring and amazing. I am overwhelmed with gratefulness about this perfect weather for these last few days. 

The trail winds around ridges and through meadows and across open slopes. I climb up some switchbacks to the top of Jim Pass and see a Thru-hiker who looks vaguely familiar. Then he says something to me about the weather as I'm about to pass. Wait a minute, I know that voice. My mind churns for a moment as I look closer at him. “Do I know you?” I ask already knowing the answer is yes. “No Skip?” He asks. “Poppy?” He nods. “You've let your beard grow out, you look different,” I say. He laughs. We talk a bit about the trail, the absolutely stunning beauty and the equally stunning and wonderful weather. He's eating and time is passing. “See you down the trail,” I say. Truly hoping I would. I like Poppy even though we have virtually nothing in common except our hikes and our love for the beauty around us.

Downhill. Lots and lots. Switchbacks, then across ridges, following the tops. I see Speedy Gonzales reveling in the warmth of the sunshine. I stop and chat with her a few minutes. Then I'm off again. The camp of my plans is after the last water source for a while. I want to make sure I don't miss the water source and that I get enough to camp. It's still hours away according to the map. I press on. More downhill. Down, down, down. “What is this? Why so much down?” I ponder. I'm just going to have to climb back up. Time passes and I'm deep in thought about finishing and being home and… I suddenly find I'm no longer going down. I am crossing Holman Pass. The water source is only a few miles from here and camp a mile beyond that. I should be there around four thirty. Yay! That's perfect plenty of time to cook and settle in. 

There's Bey! I reach a trail junction on the far side of the pass. Bey’s standing there conversing with a couple of section hikers. She looks like a cat ready to pounce. Like she's anxious to be moving yet pausing longer than she wants but not long enough to feel comfortable to leave. I stop. “Hi Bey!” I join the conversation. It's fun to share about Thru-hiking with those who have lots of questions, but when your in the middle of s hiking day it can also be exasperating. I sense Bey's exasperation. “So where you hiking too?” I ask her. “Woody Pass.” That's six more miles I say to myself. Do I want to hike six more miles? No, not really. Do I want to hike six more miles of it means I can spend some more time with Bey? Yes, absolutely! I hear Bey say to the section hikers, “I'm just looking for the motivation to start climbing.” “Let's go,” I say. We say our goodbyes and starting hiking. Bey's a strong hiker and she's leading us quickly up the steep switchbacks. I think I'm walking faster than I've walked all day. It seems effortless. Well, not quite effortless, but easy. We talk, time flies. In no time we reach the water source. Wildflower is here waiting for Bey. Bojangles is here too with a couple of her friends who have joined her for this last section. She's such a fast hiker otherwise I think she's really had to check her pace in order for her friends to keep up. 

Wildflower, Bey and I push on. Wildflower leading the way. It's so refreshing and fun to be hiking in a group. I feel energized and tireless even though my decison to hike with Bey will result in a twenty nine mile day today. So much for the short days at the end of the hike. We climb up through an open bowl that looks like something out of National Geographic. I expect to see mountain goats or sheep, or a grizzly bear. It looks so wildly rugged and remote. I guess that's because it is. Higher and higher we go. I don't care, I'm having so much fun talking and bantering with Bey and Wildflower. Up to the top of the pass and suddenly we are going back down. We can see Woody Pass on the other side of the bowl. As soon as we are over the pass the sun sets for us. It's on the other side of a crazily tipped rocky peak. It's cold and breezy as we descend switchbacks down to a low enough point for the trail to survive the rock fall and winter avalanches from the rugged peak above. I feel like we are in one of the most wild and remote places I've ever been. It's much later than I usually hike. I think hiking this late is normal for Wildflower and Bey. We cross below the rocky scree and begin climbing the last uphill switchbacks of the entire trail. Our plan is to camp at the top so the tomorrow's hike is all down hill. We climb up and up and up. It seems longer and longer. The way that the miles grow when I approach the end of my hiking day. On we climb. Closer and closer to the top and the small campsite the awaits. We reach the site and find it already occupied by a German couple who are also through hiking. The site is small and we don't know the couple. We continue up to the pass longer for a place to camp. We settle for a rocky semi-flat spot just below the pass. We find three tent spots somewhat close. It's so rocky that I use my rock guy lines instead of stakes. I can't remember when it was that last time I used them even though they've been attached to my tent for over twenty five hundred miles. So I feel good that I'm finally using something that I've carried so far. Last night on the trail! It takes me extra long to set up my tent. I have to keep adjusting and readjusting the rocks. I finally get my tent pitched and pull out my cooking stuff. So many components and bags and stuff. I hail it all out to our common cooking area about the time that Bey and Wildflower are finishing up. They sit and watch my go through the motions of my cooking routine. I narrate the steps as I go through them. They look on with jaw dropping amazement and amusement and the absurdly long and complicated process I go through to make my dinner. I find it funny that I have this process that works, that I've done for over one hundred nights that only now do I realize that I could have done something different for dinner. Perhaps relieving the stress I feel about cooking at night. Oh well, better late than never, I learn something new. Both Bey and Wildflower are warm and cozy in their tents as I finally finish my dinner. Mowgli stops in on his way back to Harts Pass and eats dinner with us. I give him the extra day of food that I have since I now will be finishing a day early. Thirteen and Cheese come powering by as we eat. “We're going to Canada right now!” They say as they pass by. Wow! Ten more miles in the dark. I'm glad I'm staying here.

It's dark as I find my way across the rocky slope back to my tent. I sort through my gear putting everything where it normally goes almost without thought. I get everything situated and sit in the door of my tent looking at the moon rising above the rocky crag across the valley in darkness below. I can see the switchbacks and trail from the pass across and wonder if I'll see any headlamps. “Probably not, they've surely all camped by now.” I say to myself as I crawl into my sleeping clothes and bag. It's dark except the light of the moon. Which is to say it's a bright night. A few minutes after settling in I here footsteps on the trail crunching by. “Amazing,” I think. Thru-hikers seem to never tire. I try to guess who’s passing by their footsteps. I have no idea. Everyone walks at a fast clip. I take a couple of Advil PM with the thought of it reducing some of the swelling I feel in my feet every night. Also it'll help put me to slee...

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