August 22, 2017
Day 77, Snoqualmie Pass to Cayuse Horse Camp, mileposts; 2393-2415
Miles ridden; 28.8, trail time; 11:21, average speed; 2.5, minimum elevation; 2796, maximum elevation; 5952, total ascent; 6109, total descent; 6246
Scenery wise today was one of the best days of the whole trip. Trail wise it wasn’t. The trail was not as steep as the previous day; the grade was much easier, as one hiker commented “there are switchbacks and everything”. But, my word, the rocks. Big rocks, little rocks, round rocks, sharp rocks, big solid slab no traction for steel shoes rocks, tall rocks forcing you to scramble up or drop down three and four feet at a whack. Where there weren’t rocks there were roots, and where there weren’t roots there were washed out bridges, and where there weren’t washed out bridges there were windfalls, and where there weren’t just windfalls there were windfalls across smashed bridges. Just eleven and a half hours of slow going. By the time I got to camp I was one tired boy. But did I mention how beautiful it was? It is little wonder the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is such a popular place.
The much anticipated Kendall Catwalk turned out to be a non-issue. I wasn’t even aware that I was on it until I was halfway past, and only then because I recognized it from pictures. It is on a cliff, the drop-off is vertical, but so are many other spots that are much longer and narrower with nastier tread, to include several today alone. What does make the catwalk unusual is that it is very photogenic you can capture its entire length and dramatic silhouette with a single photo from such an angle it appears much worse than it is.
It is a steep pull out of the north trail head at Snoqualmie, 2500 feet in five miles, I think that is the steepest continuous hill so far this trip. The extraordinary panoramas came to view as Mercedes scaled the heights and continued one after another for the next 15 miles, until we started down towards Pete Lake and our evening camp at Cayuse Horse Camp.
August 23, 2017,
Day 78, Cayuse Horse Camp to Waptus Lake and back, mileposts 2412-2429
Miles ridden; 21.4,
Today started out well enough with a nice ride on BG up the Waptus River to the PCT. Checking my inReach when I got there I saw that Janis had sent me “turn around” and “fire closure” messages earlier in the morning. BG needed no encouragement to head back down the trail. I think we covered the eleven miles back in half the time it took us to get there in the first place.
We knew we were pushing out luck with the fire north of us. Our next camp was to be at the Cathedral Pass Trailhead and the fire was burning to the east of the access road. When Janis started up that way this morning she was stopped by the Forest Service who was closing the road. The PCT was still open however so my plan was to ride back to Cayuse load the packs on BG and spend the night out, meeting Janis at Stevens Pass.
As I was exiting the trail at the Waptus Lake trailhead, I was met by several Forest Service employees who were preparing to close the trail. I explained my plan, they agreed that the PCT was still open at this time but they were closing the Waptus Lake trail. The only people they were letting in were BCH riders who were going in to warn the hikers to exit the wilderness. I showed them my BCH membership card but they weren’t buying it and they weren’t going to let me back in. Fair enough, my only option was to trailer around to Steven’s Pass and pick up the trail there.
Pete Lake trail to Cathedral Pass, miles 2415-2438
Distance; 22.9, minimum elevation; 3003, maximum elevation; 5613, total ascent; 6813, total descent; 4531
Cathedral Pass to Stevens Pass
Distance; 25.7, minimum elevation; 3795, maximum elevation; 5903, total ascent; 7358, total descent; 8832
August 26, 2017
Day 79, Stevens Pass to Stevens Pass, miles; 2464-2466½
Miles ridden; 9.4, trail time; 5:06, average speed; 1.8, minimum elevation; 3762, maximum elevation; 4148, total ascent; 1032, total descent; 793
It seems I have used up my share of good luck on this trip, or at least I am running a little low. After having to turn around at Cayuse Janis and I decided to spend the night at a horse motel near Leavenworth then drive up to Stevens Pass the next day which would give us a much needed day of rest and put us back on schedule.
When we got to the Forever Young ranch we saw that BG had managed to cut her upper eyelid. Between the amount of blood and BG not cooperating it was hard to tell if it was just the eyebrow or if the eyelid or eye were affected also. Erring on the side of caution we loaded her back up and hauled her into Wenatchee to Countryside Vet Clinic. Dr. Kerr got BG anesthetized and discovered the damage to be minimal, three stitches closed the wound and for a very reasonable $125 we were headed back to camp.
As planned we moved to Stevens Pass yesterday where we were able to meet my daughter, Sky. Sky had brought the paper work we needed to get into and out of Canada. She was able to spend the night so we had a good visit before we saw her off this morning.
I haven’t packed in nearly 40 years, and I have never packed alone so I was a little nervous about going into what I’ve been repeatedly told is the toughest 125 miles of the PCT. The warnings squared with my memories of those pack trips long ago, when we made three attempts in three years to ride the PCT past Glacier Peak. We got loaded and on the trail, only had to turn around for forgotten items twice. The short in and outs showed BG’s load to be balanced and riding true. The first five miles was a gentle down grade on an old road, the horses posed no problems and I started thinking that part of the equation was going to go well.
Then the trail turned into another rocky, narrow side hill, the kind we have come to know so well. I was having to remind BG to stay back frequently as she was coming up on Mercedes hip with her head. I am not sure whether she stepped into a hole, or the trail gave out from under her, doesn’t really matter, the bottom line is she fell over the side of the hill tumbling and stumbling a hundred feet down the hill before coming to rest upside down against a log that kept her from rolling further. Naturally, I could only get to the off side of the rigging, but though it was a struggle we managed to get her unbuckled, unlashed and unsaddled.
While I was undoing BG, Joel, a Swedish thru hiker, chopped a trail down to where we were and hauled some of the pack back up to the trail. I was able to roll BG onto her side and then with a lot of encouragement she was able to regain her feet landing on top of me before we scrambled back to the trail. The hill side was really steep, Joel and I slipped and fell several times and were only able to arrest our falls by grasping brush, mostly devil’s club, ouch. I had a hundred foot length of rope that I tied to a tree and used to lower myself back down to the two remaining pack boxes. The rope didn’t quite reach but by working the boxes ten feet up the hill I was able to tie to the hanger straps and with me lifting and Joel holding the slack we were able to get all the gear back on the trail. I guess all the trail magic Janis has been dispensing paid off in a big way. Without Joel (pronounce YOU-EL) I would still be dragging equipment up the hill.
BG didn’t seem to be hurt in anyway, except for a large L shaped cut on her cheek. This cut was not going to close with three stitches. So off we went again, this time to Pilchuck Equine Veterinary Clinic in Snohomish where Dr Bryant and his staff very professionally treated BG. Four stitches, a dozen or more surgical staples, a bottle of antibiotic pills to be administered for the next two weeks and a $925 bill later we are on our way home to regroup and refresh before we make another attempt at those pesky North Cascades.
The moral of this story is if you have to take your horse to the vet, try to do it in a farming/ranching clinic not a suburban/metropolis clinic.
Stay tuned for further adventures.