Day 135 mile 2521.8 – 2549.6
Elevation: ascent 5,579 ft, descent 6,381 ft
First things first, our brilliant idea of washing our hiking clothes out last night was a BAD idea!! The campsite we were at stayed pretty humid and was cooler as well. What this meant was our clothes were not even close to being dry when we emerged from the tent. I thankfully had a second long sleeve shirt to hike in, but I did get the pleasure of putting on very cold, wet shorts to start the morning off. I needed coffee more to warm up than to wake up this morning. Double Down didn’t wash her shirt so that was okay but her hiking pants were no where close to being dry. So I offered up my town shorts, which she quickly accepted. Not the ideal way to start off our day.
Today as we stood up out of the tent was like every day over the past month, we both looked like we were trying to walk for the first time. If you saw us, first trying to stand erect and then watch us hobble over to the bushes to water them, you would think we could maybe make it 100 feet. Somehow after getting the tent put away and packs loaded, our legs go into autopilot, carrying us our 20-25 miles each day.
With the cooler temps and damp air last night, much of the smoke had drifted down into the valley below. This gave us some better views of Glacier Peak, especially as the morning light hit its peaks.
As we left camp we were descending down into the valley. I told Double Down it looked like we were dropping into a witches cauldron. This was the wicked witch of the north, the Suiattle Valley Fire. Little did we know at the time how much difficulty it would bring us.
The descent down was steep and required a lot of bushwhacking and climbing over and under downed trees. What we have noticed is that the trail crews here seem to like to just cut foot notches in the trees versus cutting all the way through them to clear the trail. Near the bottom my shorts had dried as my body temp increased. This was short lived due to the amount of moisture on the plants. I was literally pushing through them and within two switch backs my shorts were soaked again. Then around one turn we find one single shoe hanging from a tree branch. Obviously someone had found it and put it there in case a hiker was looking for it. Not sure how anyone hikes without noticing they are missing a shoe…HAHAHA!!!
As typical we hit the valley floor then the trail took us straight back up the other side. Unfortunately the overgrowth didn’t let up as we ascended the 5 miles with 2,600 feet of gain. Phew, our legs are taking a beating!!
Once at the top we emerged from the witches cauldron and found a nice stream to use for breakfast shakes. We also had some nice views of the north side of Glacier Peak.
We didn’t stay high for long as we dropped over a ridge down into a new valley, right back into the cauldron. We stopped at a cute waterfall for lunch. Little did we know that the cool breeze coming off the waterfall would be the last fresh air we would have for a long time.
The plan was to descend into this valley and camp by a creek. This plan went out the window pretty quickly based on the smoke in this valley. It was so thick that Double Down and I could almost taste the smoke in the air and it was making it harder to breathe. So we quickly donned masks to try and filter out some of the smoke particles in the air. The masks made a big difference! It became very apparent that we would need to try and get to higher ground as soon as possible. We didn’t feel like we had many other options. Who knows how long this fire will continue to burn and it was going to take us longer to back track than forge ahead. Plus we didn’t have another 4 days of food in our packs.
The trail in this valley makes a big U-turn and when looking at the topo map it makes you consider trying to find a short cut across. This definitely crossed our minds as it would shave off 5 miles of hiking. At this juncture that would be huge. As I was trying to see if it was possible at all, I ran across notes from other hikers. Basically, they all said it was not worth risking your life to save an hour or two. So the shortcut idea was thrown out the window. We reached the Suiattle River and it was hard to distinguish the silty grey water from the thick grey air around us. This is when we also saw that all of the trails west of the PCT had been closed by the Forestry Service.
Right about here is when we had one alternative to us. We could exit the PCT and head up to Image Lake, this trail would eventually link back around to the PCT, or stay the course we were on. The trail up to Image Lake was extremely steep and we felt like breathing harder in this environment would be worse than a more gradual climb, even if it meant being in the smoke a little longer. Plus we didn’t even know if the air by Image Lake was better. So onward we pushed towards Minor Creek.
Once at Minor Creek and about 23 miles into our day it was clear that our choice to add mileage to today was the best call. We stopped to fill our water bottles for the added climb we were about to do. Wearing masks while hiking was helping us breathe better but it was making us both feel claustrophobic and very hot.
We left our planned campsite at 5:30 but now still had about another 5 miles and an additional 1,865 feet of elevation. The gain in elevation would help us get to clearer air but was going to tax our legs, that is for sure. On the way up I noticed the BIGGEST hornets or wasp nest I have ever see. Glad we didn’t have to get to close to that!!
As we gained elevation the smoke thinned and we were finally able to hike without masks. We arrived to the campsite at around 7:30, after sunset, meaning we got to set up camp and cook in the dark. We did meet a hiker there as well and chatted with him a bit. He was out for a short trip and told us he had gone up to Image Lake today. He said the air was much worse up there than where we were now camped. Phew, that was a good decision to avoid that trail!!
We sat in the dark with our headlamps while having dinner, feeling good about how our bodies stepped up when we needed them to battle the wicked witch of the north. It feels like another cool night so we won’t be doing any laundry either 😜. Before embarking on this adventure we had friends write notes to us that we then put in our resupply boxes, and we have been reading them along the way. Tonight we opened one that said “It’s about the journey not the destination “. Well, Heidi, after a tough day like today and being so close to the finish, it’s all about the destination 😂😂. We ultimately are loving this journey but Canada is calling.
Thanks for following us on this wild adventure!! Link