August 19, 2017
Day 73, White Pass to Chinook Pass, miles; 2295-2324
Distance 28.7, trail time; 9:34, average speed; 3, minimum elevation; 4138, maximum elevation; 5854, total ascent; 5166, total descent; 4238
Today’s trail took Mercedes and me through the William O Douglas Wilderness and across the corner of Mt Rainier National Park. The William O Douglas has long been special to me as it was the site of my first horseback trip to the mountains. On that occasion we rode the Cowlitz Trail from Soda Springs Campground to Penoyer Lake. It was a warm, early summer day and we waded the horses across the lake to a site where we had lunch. In total we rode about eight miles and I was hooked. Looking back that ride is responsible for the trip I’m on now.
Skip ahead 50 some years and I still find magic in the area. The whole Cowlitz Pass area is dotted with dozens of lakes and meadows and my favorite hill, Tumac Mtn. I didn’t have time today to wander around to old favorite spots and indeed the rerouting of the PCT, to make it more sustainable, has hidden some of the beauty from the thru hiker. While Mercedes and I stayed on the PCT, traveling the wooded trail, my heart and dreams still journeyed through the meadows, past the lakes and over the hills.
From White Pass the trail climbs a little over a thousand feet to the junction of the Cortright Trail in the first five miles. Then for the next 10 miles, to Fish Lake, it gradually loses the elevation gained. In the next three miles we gained about 1700 feet back, and then we stayed at the higher elevations until reaching Chinook Pass some eleven miles further on. Except for the first couple of miles out of White Pass, because traffic is extremely heavy, where the trail follows the fall line and roots and rocks reach out to grab at feet and a second very short spot, like 20 feet short, just north of Two Lake the trail is very good traveling. I passed a group of young teens volunteering with Washington Trails Association who had been building board walk through the boggy sections near Fish Lake. What a fantastic job they have done, the platforms the built on the downhill sections where a horse length and a half long which spaced the steps out enough that they didn’t jar the spine or batter BG’s knees.
August 20, 2017
Day 74, Chinook Pass to Government Meadows, miles; 2324-2346
Distance; 23.9, trail time; 7:50, average speed; 3, minimum elevation; 4809, maximum elevation; 6518, total ascent; 3537, total descent; 4093
There are forest fires burning within a couple miles of this portion of the trail, the Forest Service said as long as the wind stayed steady blowing to the east the PCT would stay open, but that could change if wind direction changed. BG and I needed to get about ten miles under our belts to be past where the closure would likely be, so we stepped right out intent on getting the miles behind us.
Last night Mercedes woke Janis up snorting, blowing and stomping her feet. We assumed at the time that a bear she had seen earlier up on the hill above camp had come back, but within a few minutes Mercedes settled down and we went back to sleep. This morning, as soon as I got on trail maybe 50 feet from the trailer, I noticed fresh elk and deer tracks over the tracks of last night’s hikers. The more I looked at the tracks the less they looked like elk or deer, the large tracks were small for an elk and the deer tracks were too wide, now I think it was a nanny goat and her kids, I know for a fact Mercedes doesn’t think much of goats.
Sheep Lake, two miles north of Chinook Pass, is a popular destination for families with small children to hike to and camp at. When I rode by there were people everywhere you looked, despite signs, imploring people not to camp within 100 feet of the lake, tents were set up right to the water’s edge. It reminded me of being in a busy city park, I was riding within a few feet of people who never looked up, and people who were watching me pass didn’t return a wave or greeting. All in all give me the thru hikers, they may have gone a while without a bath, but they are friendly and are willing to help each other out.
I’ve come full circle, I lost a horse in California and now I’ve found one in Washington. I came around a corner on one of the skinny little cliff hanger trails, one that looks straight down at Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, to find a hiker standing on the uphill side of a horse leaning over its neck, apparently trying to tie a length of paracord to the horse. All I could think of to say was “I bet that’s not your horse.” I had passed and talked to this guy before, he readily admitted it wasn’t his horse and was more than willing to pass responsibility for it on to me. I thought it had probably run off from the horse camp down by the lodge, about 1500 feet below us, and though I didn’t relish leading it down then having to climb back up to the trail I agreed it would be easier for me with BG than him. So we put BG’s halter on the horse and I started to lead it down to the horse camp. We made it about 20 feet before the horse stopped and refused to go. The hiker got behind it and poked it in the haunches while I pulled from BG, no good. So the hiker led BG off around the corner while I tried to lead the horse on foot, no good. I tried a couple of my best horse whisperer tricks to get it to move, no good.
Concerned because the wind was shifting, I decided to call the authorities to give them a location thinking the owners would show up or call to report a missing horse. Contacting the authorities was no easy task, after 30 minutes of being transferred, given different numbers to call and mostly being on hold, I was on the line with a live person, this one I’d been transferred to twice and she was trying to pass me off again, so I said “Ma’am, I’m on the side of a cliff watching a forest fire getting closer all the time, can I just give you the grid coordinates of where this horse is and be on my way?” Then she wanted to know all about the fire, have I reported it to the authorities? “No I haven’t reported the fire, it’s been burning for two weeks and Chinook Pass Hwy is closed because of it.” She did finally take the info, I think.
On my way again I ride 100 feet around a corner and there lies a pack saddle, rigging and pad, nice ones. So now I think there was a pack horse wreck, which would explain the rope burn and why the horse won’t move, and the owners have gone to get help, a theory that was more or less confirmed at camp that night by some Back Country Horsemen that are packing trail crews in.
Leaving Chinook Pass the trail climbs to the cusp of alpine elevation in two and a half miles. For the next 15 miles the trail wanders from one steep side hill and narrow ridge to the next through the Norse Peak Wilderness. This high country, more often than not, traverses clear zones with panoramic views. The last five miles, as you enter lower altitude, the landscape is heavily forested. It was on the lower part that I passed a pack train of Back Country Horsemen. At first Mercedes and I went up the hill off trail to let them pass, but the mules weren’t too sure about us over them so we skedaddled up the trail until we could find a spot on the low side we could get to. They made quite a sight as the carried the loads of tools and supplies in for a PCTA trail crew.
In camp, at Government Meadows Horse Camp, we had a chance to visit with PCTA volunteers as well as the packers upon their return. We had a thru hiker, Zen – late of the Ramblers, join us as well. Zen had gotten days ahead of the rest of the Ramblers who had been sending a group resupply package ahead of them. When she got to White Pass they wouldn’t let her access the package because her name wasn’t on the label. So she dug through the freebie box of items hikers had sent ahead, then decided they didn’t need and came up with enough oatmeal and granola bars to keep on hiking. Janis made her a thick, deli style ham & cheese sandwich with tomato, lettuce and all the other fixings along with chips and beer which she obviously relished after her days of restricted diet. When one of the packers dug a Dove Bar ice cream bar out of his camper freezer her eyes nearly closed in contentment.
August 21, 2017
Day 75, Government Meadows to Stampede Pass, miles; 2346-2375
Distance ridden; 29.2, trail time; 9:30, average speed; 3, minimum elevation; 3478, maximum elevation; 5638, total ascent; 5138, total descent; 6324
The PCT passes through Government Meadows just south of where it crosses the historic Naches Trail. The Naches Trail was originally a trade route used by native peoples. It became a main immigration route for settlers to the Puget Sound area. Now it is a jeep trail, there were vehicles parked at the intersection today. I would guess the meadows were used by travelers as a rest stop along the route. There was a small cabin, still being used for temporary shelter, on the edge of the meadow that was ancient when I was young. There is now a much newer, more substantial cabin, the Ulrich Cabin, complete with multiple detached vault toilets designed with for use in the snow season with doors well above ground level in the summer.
I left camp this morning hoping to be somewhere with a view of the sky during the eclipse. The problem was I couldn’t remember if the hour was 9 or 10 and whether it was 20 or 40 after. To be safe we stopped early and often. Mercedes had more grazing before 11:00 than she gets in a normal day. Between a slight overcast and all the smoke in the air it was difficult to determine exactly when the eclipse happened. In hind sight, from where we were, the effect was about the same as when a cloud passes in front of the sun on a clear day.
The PCT in this section passes between public and private lands. We didn’t go through any fresh clear cuts but we were rarely out of sight of one. I wonder if restrictions on where the trail can go through the private sections are the reason the trail goes straight up and down the hills. All I know for sure is the three percent grade rule was thrown out around here. All but a few miles today were spent below the 5,000 foot level, which would normally be vista obscuring forest which a fair share of the day was. The logged areas were just enough to keep things interesting.
August 22, 2017
Day 76, Stampede Pass to Snoqualmie Pass, miles; 2375-2393
Miles ridden; 17.7, trail time; 5:23, average speed; 3.3, minimum elevation; 3046, maximum elevation; 4477, total ascent; 3236, total descent; 3743
For as few of miles as we covered today, BG really had to work. The steep ascents and descents of yesterday continued today. The last 10 miles were especially tough requiring BG to repeatedly jump up and down over rocks often three feet or more high on hills that are already steep and tough going. All the riding today was at lower elevation, without even the clear cuts from yesterday vistas were few and far between. Things did open up in the afternoon, on the ski run dropping onto Snoqualmie Pass. Both BG and I were glad to see the truck and trailer this afternoon.
Camped at the sno-park Mercedes started to exhibit colic signs, baring her teeth stretching her neck low, slightly elevated pulse and temperature, guts sounds were minimal in the lower quadrants to non in the upper. I gave her a dose of Banamine and lunged her at a walk for 20 minutes, then tied her back to the trailer. The symptoms began again almost immediately to she got another dose of Banamine and lunging. Her gut sounds improved but she still acted like she was hurting so she got the last half dose of Banamine and more walking while Janis tried reaching Veterinary help on her phone. We finally did reach a vet but since they were a couple hour drive away the recommendation was to continue with what we were doing unless she started acting worse. It wasn’t too much after that when Mercedes behavior returned to normal, thank goodness. Tomorrow we are going to have to get more Banamine.