In the morning, it’s sprinkling, but not raining, and by the time I pack out and poke my head out, I’m alone in the campsite. I swear there were three hikers here a second ago… WELP. Time to go.
I waffle back and forth on whether to don my rain jacket to hike out, since Galactic, consulting his DeLorme when we were leaving Mica Lake yesterday, said there was only supposed to be a 10% chance of rain for today; who knows what the forecast looks like for today, though. This crazy Washington weather isn’t necessarily predictable, and better safe than cold and miserable.
I get immediately into the podcasts for this first and longest up for the day, and find that despite the length of the climb – 7.7 miles, woof – the grade actually isn’t that bad. I feel pretty chill about my pace, and I seem to be making good time.
What I’m not doing well is drinking water – I have to constantly remind myself to drink before I’m thirsty – or maybe the plethora of water sources today, documented and bonus, is just making me think about water.
Between the podcasts and the nice up, I lose track of time, and before I know it, I’m on the quick drop before the last real up of the day.
I’m rolling through – I haven’t taken a break, and I’m not looking to, trying to manage my pace and my exhaustion to potentially hit my stretch goal of a 6:15 arrival at High Bridge. That’s when the last shuttle for Stehekin leaves the trail, drives the 11 miles back to the Landing, where there will likely be many much hikers and much much carousing to celebrate the 2570-odd miles we’ve walked so far and the only 80 we’ve left to walk. I want to make it, to be a part of it, but we’ll see how it goes.
The second climb of the day shows off a partly-hidden view of North Star Mountain:
Then opens up to show it off a little better:
Then it’s the beginning of the long descent into Stehekin.
In the middle of a tiny set of switchbacks, I come along what I presume is my second-to-last trail sign:
The landscape changes, opens up, and the trail prepares to make its way through Central Pika City.
I get to dance to the stilted music of pikasong, meeps on top of meeps on top of meeps, fluffy bodies darting in and out and everywhere. I’m in pika heaven.
Then soon, too soon, it’s back into the woods and down, (up, where’d that come from) down to the South Fork of the Agnes River.
The waterway kind of splits the difference between a creek and a river – it’s wide, but doesn’t seem super deep, and would probably be less deep than it is right now if it weren’t swollen by the rain of the last few days. There seems to be a game/hiker trail leading off to the north – maybe there’s some way to cross and stay dry down there – but it looks like it would be difficult to make my way back to the trail while still saying dry. So it’s YOLO and into the ice-cold water – good lord there are already pins and needles in my feet ankles calves – with a belated “probably should’ve taken my socks off and insoles out”. Oh well. I have enough to think about just to keep my footing for the 30-foot trek.
Then it’s a beautiful trip down through the valley, up and down and up and down, occasionally near enough to the Agnes to glimpse waterfalls. I can’t decide which I like more – the straight ups and downs of earlier, or this kind of rolling terrain. I hope that means I’ve grown as a hiker.
I’m listening to the last episode of The Eleventh Hour storyline of The Adventure Zone, a (nerd alert) D&D campaign that’s been going on some years now and releasing an episode every week. It’s so good it forces tears from my eyes – I’ve been so wound up in my own story that I’ve missed reading, being told stories. That’s one thing to look forward to when I get home, I guess.
I run across Shane taking a break, and we chat for a short moment. He’s been here for a while, says he’s not gonna make it for the bus. I don’t know that I am, either – there are four miles to go and an hour forty-five left to deadline, and by the time I get there, I will have done 5,372 feet of gain and 6,562 feet of loss. This on top of the “extra” miles – at 27.5 miles, it’d be the farthest I’d gone in over a week. I’m gonna try to make it still, just for funsies.
After nearly a full day of not having stopped, not having put my pack down, my body gives up the ghost, forces me to sit, to break. Not stopping is an interesting way to hike, I’ll give it that. I tell myself I’ll only be here for ten minutes, but it takes another five before I can persuade myself to put my pack back on, keep walking. Well. That’s that then. I’m gonna camp three-tenths away from the road, on the south/west side of Agnes Creek – which is the border of North Cascades National Park. I’d go ahead and go inside the park, but there are like a million notices all over Guthook saying you need permits for camping inside the park – I’m guessing they mean business. There’s not a site actually listed at the spot I want to go to, but I bet there is one. I just bet.
Sure enough, there is a campsite there, and I make it by 6:45 – I’m only a half hour late. Granted, that means I was doing less than 2 miles an hour at the end, but all in all, I feel like today’s been solid. I don’t investigate the feeling too much, but introduce myself to the other hiker in the site, Ping Pong, who I’ve heard of insofar as much as he supposedly really likes ping pong. The name makes me uncomfortable – he’s Japanese, and his English, while fine, is accented – but that’s how he introduces himself, so that’s how it is. Shane rolls in a little after I’ve set up, grabbed water, sets up nearby, and then there are three tiny hiker tents all in a row. There’s a nursery rhyme in there somewhere.
While cooking, I ponder the ridiculousness of the three-tenths left to High Bridge. After a hike full of 16-22 mile “neros” into town, I’ll have an actual nero tomorrow, and one that’ll take me less than 10 minutes, at that. Then it’s the bus to the Bakery, and Stehekin Landing, where my packages await me behind locked doors that won’t open until the following day, until Monday. Maybe it’ll give me some time to think, to reflect on all of this, to actually enjoy a day with nowhere to go, nothing to do. Maybe, I think, as I drift off, tomorrow will be exactly what I need.