Late-late, the bright white lights of a couple of hikers descending to Mica Lake start flashing in over around my tent, waking me up. I only got to sleep at hiker midnight1, and now it’s… 10pm. Well. It’s still too late for that white headlamp crap.
Then they start talking, griping about thruhikers. They talk as they’re setting up, they talk as they eat, they talk until 11pm. Seriously? Really. You roll up into a camp full of people well after hiker midnight, and then you talk for an hour? Ugh. I fight the urge to give them a piece of my mind, end up rolling over and putting earplugs in only because it takes less physical effort and because I’m tired, so tired, mentally and physically. I don’t need any more drama; I’ve been giving myself hell with that of late.
In the morning, sho nuff, there are two tents perched just above where the rest of us are camped – which would explain why they were so loud last night. Our sounds are probably muted to them up on their hill, but I make zero effort to be quiet, particularly since everyone else is up and moving. Turnabout, and all that. I decide not to eat before I take off – partially because I’m ready to walk and partially because I have no interest in seeing who the offending hikers were – and instead stuff my pockets full of snackses. When I finally emerge from my tent, it’s into an incredible sunrise.
I stand around for a few minutes, just watching the clouds dance and the colors change, and when I finally tear myself away to tear my tent down, it begins to rain. I’m not worried about the sprinkles at first – though I do stop partway through the tear-down process to throw on my rain jacket, because I hate being wet – but it’s in that short amount of time that it becomes a proper rainstorm and I’m cursing over a wet tent, a wet pack, debating what to do. The stuff inside my pack is safe and dry in my trash compactor bag and various still-intact ziplocs, but I either put my sopping wet tent back up – and risk all the dry stuff getting wet in an attempt to stay warm – or I keep packing up and start walking.
Welp. Guess it’s time to walk.
I curse my poor timing all the way down the hill. What am I doing, why am I walking, I should’ve eaten, I should’ve stayed in bed. Doesn’t help that all the trail today is overgrown, wet plants slapping against my shoes calves knees thighs, soaking my leggings through. The constant movement and the minimal R-value of synthetic fabric are the only things that keep my legs warm. The rain itself lets up, and my legs get warmer too, but just as they start to dry there’s another plant-fueled splotch of wet somewhere. Will the sun ever come out? Will I ever get the chance to dry out my stuff? Who knows! I decide to be delighted if those things happen, but resign myself to wet legs for the rest of today’s walk, just in case.
Then it’s up the first climb, the biggest climb of the day – 3000 feet in 4.2 miles. Here we go.
It actually feels pretty good, despite the length of the climb and the continued presence of leaves and such overhanging the trail – I’m making better time than I thought I would be. It’s fun mentally, too, full of ups and downs – hooray, I’m starting to get views because I’m higher up! Boo, I can’t see much because of the clouds! Hooray, I’m headed for some tree cover – fewer drips from the sky! Boo, that tree cover is at the end of the switchback, and I’m headed out into the open again! The frustrations are small enough to stay amusing, and they keep my mind occupied, at least.
The top is gorgeous – it’s not raining anymore, and I manage to snap some more pictures of the peekaboo views.
Down and around into a little valley, where the clouds have backed off a bit:
And then a looong drop – 3500 feet down to the Suiattle River.
It’s a nice walk, a walk where I attempt not to contemplate the heavy shit of yesterday. I stay away from the heavier stuff – the life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness stuff – but I do give myself a few moments to think about it, in a detached way. It does suck that I’m not going to make the post office in Stehekin by tomorrow morning. It does suck that I’m gonna pull in early Sunday, have to stay Sunday night instead of pressing on immediately. Had I gotten into Skykomish just a little earlier. Had I walked this leg just a little faster. Woulda, coulda, shoulda2.
Midway through the day, Cap and Spike, the Pack It Out team, catch me. It’s nice to chat with them for a quick minute, super cool that they’re still picking up trash – though now, after going to Trail Days and Outdoor Retailer and and and, it’s more about finishing for them. Still though. Rad. I leapfrog with them for the next few hours, wonder if they’re going to make it to the post office on Saturday, wonder if I could ask them to grab my packages for me – but no, that’s super selfish. Maybe if I was only expecting one box, not three. Maybe if I was planning to arrive Saturday night, not Sunday. What would they do with them? How would they manage? That’s a lot of nonsense to place on another person. I decide not to worry about it. Whatever happens, happens.
Finally, the bottom, and a cool bridge over the Suiattle. The rain’s been on and off again all day, and has switched to the “on” position for now, so I don’t take many pictures – of the river, of the rad citizen scientist dayhiker I pass, or of the absurd amount of tents crammed into one particular spot. Huh. Must be section hikers; it’s early for that, still.
I catch Cap and Spike taking a break, actually have a longer talk with them. They are indeed hauling for Stehekin on Saturday morning, and did a 38 yesterday to make up some time. They did 38 miles, and I didn’t even do 23! The hell am I doing with my life. Although, to be fair, that does sound kind of miserable, and they’re basically looking to repeat that mileage today. Woof. Guess I’m just not that hiker. Or maybe that’s just me rationalizing.
I’m aiming for Miners Creek today, 23.6 miles from Mica Lake. It’s at the base of this crazy-ass hill that the PCT only goes over because a second bridge over the Suiattle is out. I want to go a couple more miles – I’m feeling good, think I could make 25, maybe 26 miles today – but the river’s swollen from the rain on the old PCT, and neither the topo nor the maps show any hint of probable camping within that extra mileage. That’s the problem with Washington – wherever there’s not a site marked, it seems there’s either a dropoff, you’d be camping on moss or some other fragile plant, or you’d have to clear a site of woodland debris yourself. It’s been a lot of waypoint hopping, but there are no waypoints that I want to hop to tonight. So Miners Creek it is.
I’m early, so I get to be super choosy with my site; I’m joined later by the pair of not-noisy hikers I camped near yesterday evening. They seem to want to keep to themselves, which is fine. The sprinkles start up as the sun starts to go down, so I retreat into my tent, cook dinner, look at maps for tomorrow. My plan is to camp just outside the national park boundary, 27.2 miles from here. I’d camp in Stehekin proper, but the town is 11 miles by shuttle from where the trail crosses the road, and I’m not about to do a 38. I’m not that guy. So tomorrow, it’ll just be one huge up and one huge down, with a lot of little bumps in between.
Someone else rolls into camp as I settle in, take voice notes curled up like a caterpillar in my sleeping bag. This is a way better system than typing out notes, and I’m feeling pretty good about that and my mileage and tomorrow as I slip into sleep.
Date: September 23 • Start: 2518.3 • End: 2541.9 • Day: 23.6
Notable Accomplishments: Came to terms with my mileage • Walked a lot, despite the elevation and the rain •
 9pm, if you’ve forgotten
 They say Washington has some of the hardest trail on the PCT. I 100% believe them, whoever they are.