Stehekin to Manning Park, miles 2575 to 2660

High Bridge to Rainy Pass

September 11, 2017

Day 86, Stehekin to Rainy Pass, miles; 2572-2591

Miles ridden; 20.6, trail time; 6:46, average speed; 3.0, minimum elevation; 1519, maximum elevation; 4864, total ascent; 5195, total descent; 1852

Stehekin Road, on our way back to High Bridge
High Bridge Ranger Station & Garage

We camped on the edge of a large clearing last night.  I was able to hobble the horses and let them graze for a few hours before bed and again this morning.  I almost had camp ready to go when the horses having eaten their fill started to wander further between bites.  I hurried to get the last of the packing done, but when I looked up again the horses had disappeared.  Heading for where I had last seen them I started looking for tracks only to discover this was not trackless wilderness.  A local outfitter ran their horses here too.  I looked in the direction I thought they might travel, then I looked in the other direction, I looked alongside the road for fresh tracks, then I looked along the other.  Eventually I did catch up to them, a lot further away than I thought they should be, given the time they had.  Damn horses, I don’t even like horses

Corral and barn

Another smoky day in paradise.  I stopped at the Ranger Station to take a few pictures, use the toilet and poke around a little.  I saw a thousand gallon water tank and pump set up on the ledge behind the cabin, tank was full.  Have to pack water from the river – humph.

Cabin at the Bridge Creek Pack Station

Bridge Creek campground, five miles from High Bridge, was an interesting spot.  An official campsite, with limited permits available.  It must have been at least five acres with several buildings and a semi permanent packer station, running water and several vault toilets.  It is on the Stehekin Valley Rd, and looks to me to be able to hold a hundred hikers without anyone getting crowded.  It is hard to say how many hikers per day come through here; I doubt it is more than 25 today though.  Maybe there are more hikers at times other than the first Monday after Labor Day.

Some of the Bridge Creek Pack Station Corrals, they showed sign of recent use, still had water in the troughs.

The rest of the ride was pretty much through the smoke, not much to see. Rainey Pass is about 3,500 feet higher than the High Bridge Ranger Station on the Stehekin Rd.  It is 20 miles of moderate elevation gain, by and large in the trees all day.

Coon Lake
The bridge crew.

 I did come across a broken bridge where three Forest Service employees were just getting started building a replacement, all with hand tools.  I would have like to stay and help.  Moving the support logs into place with hand lines and rigging would be something to see.

Busted Bridge
High Bridge trough was dry
The bus from Stehekin loads at High Bridge
Maple Creek
Rainy Pass to Harts Pass

September 12

Day 87, Rainy Pass to Harts Pass, Miles; 2591-2622

Miles ridden; 31, trail time; 10:10, average speed; 3.0, minimum elevation; 4277, maximum elevation; 6977, total ascent; 6369, total descent; 4828

Morning trail

The road to Harts Pass is closed to vehicles with trailers.  I won’t meet the truck and trailer again until the end of the trip at Manning Park in British Columbia in three days.  Janis met me tonight at Harts Pass without the trailer.  She brought the pack boxes and supplies needed to make it to Manning Park.  Because today was such a long day I packed a good ration of hay on Mercedes so the horses could have a good feeding at lunch time.  With just that little bit of hay on Mercedes we were able to make good time on a tough day.


In the thirty plus miles ridden today the trail climbed from 4,800 feet at Rainey Pass to nearly 7,000 after Cutthroat Pass.  The PCT then drops to 4,300 feet at the Methow River only to climb back to 7,000 feet on Tatie Peak.  The last four miles are downhill to Harts Pass at 6,000 feet.  I know from past experience that this area rivals the Sierras in raw splendor.  Alpine landscape alternates with old growth forests and wild rushing rivers.

going up Porcupine Creek

I am a little disappointed that this part of the trail, which is so magnificent, was obscured by smoke.  On the other hand I am thankful that the trail has not been closed and I was able to continue on my course.  Everything east of the PCT is closed, I couldn’t see any flames but I know with that much smoke there are firefighters somewhere at risk.

Cutthroat Pass
Granite Pass ahead

Big milestone this day, we passed the 2600 mile marker.  Summer is coming to a quick ending.  Berries that were plumb and juicy yesterday are dry and leathery today.  Suddenly, with no warning, the vine maples and tamaracks have turned gold. The end of this journey is close, I will soon be checking off “lasts”, last pack, last camp, last morning trail.  Tonight is also a first, the first time Janis and I have cowboy camped the entire trip.

Eponymous Marker, a bitter sweet moment, I passed this one and won’t pass another of these whimsical monuments.
Today’s low point Methow River Bridge
Good solid lunch.
Poor beat-up BG
Glacier Pass
Winter’s coming
The side of Tatie Peak
Harts Pass to Manning Park

September 13 & 14, 2017

Day 88 and 89, Harts Pass to Manning Park, miles; 2622-2660

Miles ridden; 38.1, trail time; 9:41, moving average; 3.9, minimum elevation; 3850, maximum elevation; 7076, total ascent; 5918, total descent; 8320

BG always starts a hair faster than Mercedes feels necessary. They get in sync with each other in a step or two.
Putting on the packs

Getting ready to leave Harts Pass I was feeling a little excitement as the Washington part of the trip was coming to a close. 

Leaving the truck for the last time.

Morning broke to a foggy day with no smell of smoke in the air.  I was of mixed feelings as the fog restricted visibility but might help with retarding the wild fires spread.  As I rode along the trail I wondered when the fog lifted whether the smoke would return.  Riding in the fog the miles seem so long, you just go along without any sense of going anywhere, my world extended no further than the few hundred feet I could see. As it turned out the smoke did seem less thick as the fog cleared, especially at the higher elevations and some of the grandeur of the area was exposed to my view.

Morning trail

I began to pass hikers returning from Border Monument 78.  These people had chosen not to enter Canada and were returning to Harts Pass in hopes of catching a ride back to civilization.  Congratulations were offered to and from those who had completed their goal and those who were within a few miles of completing theirs as well.  Several of the hikers were those who I had met earlier in the trip, some from as far back as Southern California two thousand miles before.  Among the hikers I passed still going north the excitement and joviality was palpable, “Meet you at the border” was the cry of the day.

Buffalo Pass
17.8 miles to go

Initially I planned to camp at Hopkins Lake, 25 miles from Harts Pass, ending my ride the next day with a 15 mile ride to the road in Manning Park.  When I got to the lake there were several tents already pitched, as it was only 4:00 in the afternoon more people were sure to stop as well.  The no-seeums were thick by the lake so I decided to ride the six miles to the monument where there was reportedly a nice camp with a stock corral and good creek water.  The horses were feeling good, making good time down the hill towards the border; we made the six miles in just a bit over an hour.

At the border, PCT terminus to the left, Monument 78 on the right

At the monument I met some day hikers, the Moroccos, who took pictures of Mercedes, BG and me at the memorial.  They questioned me about the Klickitat Trek sweatshirt I was wearing as they have been to that endurance ride as well.  John rides a Tennessee Walker in endurance and was pleased to see how well Mercedes and BG had held up on our trip.

First class accomadations

Another quarter mile and we were at camp, the first ones in for the evening.  Mercedes and BG appreciated the corral and not having to be tied all night.  There was a little grass for them to eat as well as the feed I had packed for them.  As dark approached another ten or so people set up camp nearby.  Despite their high spirits by 9:00 all were turned in for the evening.  About 3:00 the horses put up quite a fuss, squealing and snorting.  I got up to see what was going on, but couldn’t see what had set them off.  I went ahead and gave them their morning hay and went back to bed.  The next morning I couldn’t find one of the nose bags for their grain.  There is a bear box at this camp for people to store their food in; I put the horse’s grain ration in it as well.  As I was walking to the box I happened across the missing nose bag a good 25 yard from where I had left it.  It was soaking wet, as if it had been dunked in the creek.  Later as I walked around the back side of the corral I saw fresh bear scat which had not been there the night before, oh that’s what got the horses stirred up.

Jim Peak

At Harts Pass the trail starts out at 6,200 feet and for the next 28 miles does not drop below 5,000.  Much of this trail is one spectacular view after another from narrow rocky trails that go up and down from one ridge to another. Many of the landmarks had fine back country names, Devil’s Backbone, Foggy Pass, Three Fools, Rock and Woody Pass to name but a few.  There is an eight mile descent from Devil’s Stairway, 7,100’, to the Canadian Border, 4,200’, from which the views of Canadian forests and peaks are near constant.  On the Canadian side of the border you go up and over one ridge, 5,100’, before ending the trip in Manning Park, 3,800’.

Jim Pass
Last log to cut.

The first four miles of the trail into Canada gave me a whole new appreciation for the job people have done on the US side on trail maintenance.  The horses punched through rotten board walks, scrambled over sloughed off trail, jumped over washed out spots and sank in boggy places.  I had to cut a couple logs out that must have fallen after someone, fairly recently – there was still chainsaw sawdust, had cut other windfalls out.  I was really worried that after all this way that one of the horses was going to get hurt.  But at the halfway point the trail conditions improved dramatically, really nice going the rest of the way.  Now all that remains is back to California and the Sierras.

Tamarack Peak
Rock Pass, Holman Peak
On the way to Woody Pass, yeah, I don’t get it either
Lakeview Ridge
Looking down from the Devils Stairway
Hopkins Lake
Looking at Canada
I believe I’ll use the ford, the horses are thirsty anyway. Castle Creek
Top of the Canadian ridge
Good trail, We will make some time now.
Signs and everything!
Last bridge, 1/2 mile to the trailhead!
Whoo Hoo!, I don’t know if Mercedes and BG have any idea of what they have accomplished.

North Fork of the Sauk River to Stehekin, miles 2502 to 2570

Portal & Skullcap Peaks, Black Mountain

September 6 & 7, 2017

Day 82 and 83, N Fork Sauk River to Sitkum Creek to N Fork Sauk River, miles; 2500-2510

Miles ridden; 36, minimum elevation; 2028, maximum elevation; 6475, total ascent; 9379, total descent; 9290

Foot bridge over Red Creel
Morning trail

The goal for these two days was to get to the Suiattle River trailhead 53 miles away.  I had been told repeatedly for the past couple of years and the past couple of weeks in particular that a horse could not get through this section due to all the windfalls.  On the other hand we have been told the same about several sections of trail, all of which we were able to get past, except the Chimney Creek trees.  Gillian Larsen had reported getting through in 2016, but not without tremendous difficulty.  After 2000 miles I was going to go have a look at the very least.  Knowing that a pack horse in thorny demanding territory just makes things worse, I loaded Mercedes up with the bare minimum it would take to camp out overnight and up the trail we went.

Shortly after regaining the PCT the trail gets a bit daunting before it crosses Red Pass. When one does gain the pass, they are rewarded with another “oh wow” moment.  Looking to the west, over the Sauk River, the colors are all blues and dark greens, to the east, across the Whitechuck River Basin, all brown, reds and light greens.  After the trail crosses the basin it drops back down into the forest where after 10 miles I began to encounter the wind falls. 

Looking west from Red Pass, towards Sloan Peak on the left.
Looking east from Red Pass across the White Chuck basin.

For the first mile I was able to navigate around all the obstacles until I came to what I believed was the log that had been described to me that had no go around.  I tried to find a way around; the ground was so steep I needed to hang on to bushes and small trees to stay on my feet.  It got to the point Mercedes couldn’t stay on her feet either, she slid 75 feet down the steep mountain side, fortunately stopping when she hit the trail.  Rather than risk her further, I decided to cut my way past.  I cut my way through two smaller cedar logs and made three more cuts on the root wad over a couple hours to make a path wide enough to get Mercedes through. 

We went around the corner to find an even larger tree and root ball followed by half a dozen or more huge, three to six feet in diameter, windfalls over the next half mile.  Additional huge windfalls off trail blocked passage uphill to the rim rock and downhill to a sheer cliff.  There was even a bog high on the side hill, Mercedes nearly to her belly then almost took another fall extricating herself, guarding one possible bypass route.  Either it was drier when Gillian went through or there were more windfalls since she did, probably both.  At any rate without more equipment I didn’t see any way to get Mercedes through.  At that point I threw in the towel sending Janis a message to meet us back at the Sauk River in the morning.

Fine little camp.

Mercedes and I spent an uneventful night, she getting some grazing done, both in the evening and morning.  Then we got to ride up through the Whitechuck basin in the early morning light.  The Whitechuck River is on the opposite side of the basin from the PCT and is visible only in a couple places though it can be clearly heard, like a jetliner going overhead.  Some awful pretty riding.

We are trailering around the windfalls to the Suiattle River Trailhead, where I will return to the trail in the morning.

I call this one Mt BG
Bees are working.
while the flowers bloom
Glacier Peak from Red Pass
Give a hiker a rock and he’ll build a cairn.
White Chuck Bridge
What the ford was like before the bridge.
The acoustics must be perfect, I could clearly here these falls for a half hour or more before they came into view.
Retracing our steps
White Chuck Basin in the morning.
From Red Pass looking east
Too much cutting for one day
The view from the top of the pile in previous picture. After this on there is another, then another , then…
Suiattle River Trailhead to Miners Creek

September 9, 2017

Day 84, Suiattle River to Miners Creek, miles 2141-2145

Miles ridden; 19.5, Trail time; 8:13, speed; 2.4, maximum elevation; 2905 minimum elevation; 1611, total ascent; 3324, total descent; 2125

There was another stock rig at the Suiattle River Trailhead when we got there.  There were reports from hikers coming out that there had been a pack llamas meet pack mules incident somewhere up the trail and there had been a horse or mule fatality, with some animals stuck on the side of a cliff, the story wasn’t clear.  We had passed Search and Rescue rigs on the way in, and during the night the remaining rig left the trailhead so we never actually talked to anyone who knew what was going on.  Last we heard someone had gone to town to try and locate slings to get the trapped horses out.  I wondered where the llamas had gone, no one seemed to know.  Mercedes has seen llamas before, she was curious and alert but not overly nervous, but not knowing how BG would react I wasn’t anxious to meet them on a narrow trail.

Pack looks good.
BG seems good, following nicely on a loose lead rope.

After trailering around the bad section of trail I was more than ready to continue to Canada.  Some days though are fated to be a trial.  The plan called for me to ride Mercedes, my favorite riding horse, and pack BG, the shorter, easier to load horse.  We had practiced, not much, but way more than any other pack/riding horse combo I’ve used.  Our first practice, at home, was a bit of a fiasco but subsequent trials went well enough.  Steven’s Pass was a wreck, but I’m blaming that on a rolling rock. 

I guess we are cheap entertainment for the hikers.
Just couldn’t seem to get past this point.
Seeking inner peace rock.

The Suiattle River trailhead debacle I am totally blaming on BG being stupid.  She was good for the loading and tying, she was good for the leading from the hitching rails, but when I got on Mercedes and tried to start down the trail she got all excited, wanting to do circles around us.  So I got off and practiced walking around the parking lot, keeping her back, she seemed to get the idea, got back on Mercedes, practiced some more in the parking lot, to the amusement of a couple of hikers, all seemed good, took off down the trail and for the first two miles where the trail was wide she was perfect.  As soon as the trail narrowed on a rocky ledge she became the witch from hell, trying to pass, knocking the boxes against the rock and trees, nearly knocking Mercedes and I off the trail into the abyss.  I had to completely repack her three times, readjust the load several times, up and down the trail we went, crashing and banging, cussing and sweating, working herself into a frazzle.  Three times we stopped until pulse rates returned to normal, starting out slow and easy and then, BOOM, BAM, CRASH, she would start up again, squealing and trying to buck the packs off, worst pack horse ever.  In four hours we had made less than three miles, knowing there was dangerous trail ahead I once again turned around.  By now Mercedes was all freaked out and worked into a lather too, I couldn’t safely lead BG from Mercedes so I ended up leading her, on foot, with Mercedes bringing up the rear, even that was a challenge.

Morning trail

I finally got back to the trailhead and was exchanging texts with Janis about our next step.  As it would take some hours before Janis could possibly return I thought I had nothing to lose by switching roles, pack Mercedes, ride BG.  A simple, yet elegant solution, in their new roles each horse performed perfectly.  We let Janis know there was no need to return and back on the trail we went.  Due to the lateness of the hour we didn’t make many miles, but we did make at least some, enough so that we would easily make Rainy Pass in the next two days.

Not much for a horse to eat.

I passed some Forest Service personnel who had hiked in to evaluate the mule/llama wreck.  They wouldn’t share much information other than the llamas had left the trail on the high side to let the mules pass.  The mules then panicked and fell off the trail taking the riding horses with them.  Only a couple horses survived, some mules died outright and some had injuries so severe they were put down.  A horrendous accident, I can only express my sympathy to the unknown packers.  It could so easily happen to any of us.  No seems to know where the llamas went. 

The area of the mule/llama wreck, though I was not able to distinguish exactly where.

The trail to the PCT followed the Suiattle River upstream.  A steady, gradual grad for six mile, one hardly notices that you have gained 1000 feet.  Once on the PCT there it is only a slightly steeper, gaining 1000 feet in three miles to the mouth of Miner’s Creek where we made camp.  The hillsides are covered in big timber; since the windfalls had recently been cleared I had more appreciation of the trees than I did a couple days ago.  The horses were happy to get some feed after the long day.  The deep forest precludes any grazing; hopefully we can find something better tomorrow.

Canyon Creek Bridge, Siuattle River Trail. I though because it was a suspension bridge the horses might get nervous. Indeed it did flex and sway under foot but the horses did not react.
Afternoon trail
The smoke is getting worse from all the fires, from California to Canada.
Gamma Peak, a little more than three miles distant should be looming of this ridge a half mile away.
Miners Creek to Highbridge

September 10, 2017

Day 85, Miners Creek to Stehekin, miles; 2545-2572

Miles ridden; 25.8, trail time; 9:46, average speed; 2.6, minimum elevation; 1522, maximum elevation; 5941, total ascent; 4123, total descent; 5404

A closer point of interest.

As the trail dropped down to river level the evening before I could see a haze in the distance, by morning the smell made the cause of the haze obvious even before I could see how much thicker the smoke was.  The trail was mostly dirt as it wandered in and out of the forest.  I know from past experience the mountain-scapes were spectacular too.  Today, though I could sometimes see their outlines, the peaks and ridges remained mostly hidden.  What joys we could find would have to be found much closer to our position on the trail.

Yesterday’s easy traveling trail gave way to a more precipitous climb up Miners Creed and on to Suiattle Pass, almost 3,200 feet in seven and one half miles.  From the top of the pass it is, almost, all downhill to Stehekin, 4,500 feet in 20 miles.  While the upper elevations of Suiattle Pass and Sitting Bull Mountain may offer some remarkable vistas on a clear day, it was the South Fork of Agnes Creek and Agnes Creek that were the highlights of today’s ride.  The horses appreciate all the grazing and the many creek crossings were value added to the scenery.  The ford of the South Fork near Glacier Creek is an especially pretty spot, a wide shallow creek with a gravel bed and a large meadow, it was easy to imagine staying for a few days. 

Really a grand rock.

Swamp Creek has a bridge that is large enough for stock, but must be structurally compromised as it is posted closed to stock with a sign indicating a stock crossing downstream.  There may have been a trail down to the water at one time, it must have been washed out.  Now there is a ten feet or more vertical drop to fast moving water of unknown depth.  Upstream from the bridge there was a better place to enter the stream, only a three foot drop to shallow water, but no place to exit on the far side, although I thought I could ride under the bridge and get out at the original ford. 

A good plan other than as we got closer to the bridge the stream got shallower, the clearance between my saddle and the supporting logs got closer.  Hunkering down as much as possible over BG’s neck we started under only for me to get stuck, jammed between the pommel and bridge.  Mercedes seeing daylight under the bridge crowded BG until the pack boxes shoved BG’s rump forward jamming me even tighter.  Unable to breathe, suffocation becoming a real risk, I managed to slap the end of the lead rope at Mercedes’ nose enough that she took a step sideways, more to get a bite of the creek side willows than as a response to my feeble efforts and I was able to steer BG out from under the bridge.  The ten foot bank didn’t look so intimidating after all.

Bull Mountain view.

As the hour neared four, the horse were stopped in a small meadow taking a grass break, when a hiker hustled by followed closely by another who stopped and exchanged pleasantries for a minute before explaining that he was trying to get to the High Bridge Ranger Station in time to catch the last bus into Stehekin for the evening, and felt pressured to keep moving.  Soon we were passed by a third hiker who also had that little bit panicky I’m going to miss the bus look on his face.  Shortly after the girls and I were on our way too, as we caught up to the hikers they would turn and see us then take off running to stay in front so they wouldn’t lose any time waiting for me to pass.  Not too long after that I passed another solo hiker, “what time is it?” she asked.  “About a quarter to five.” “That is an hour and a half to do 2 miles, what are they all worried about?” “I dunno” I replied, but thinking to myself the thought of fresh food can do funny things to a man after 2500 miles.

Chicken of the Woods, edible mushroom

There were a bus full of people waiting there when I rode up to the High Bridge Ranger Station, actually a little residence cottage, small barn and packer’s corral.  Eyeing the corral I asked the Ranger if there was any stock water available.  “No” he says “and there is no camping here, you know about the camping restrictions in the Park?”  Taking a wild guess I replied “only in designated campgrounds.”  “That’s right, and you have to have a permit for the campsite you want to use, the next one is five miles north.” He stated rather officiously.  Looking at the house I asked “No water here at all?”  Pointing to a water cooler type jug he said “You can use that, but you will have to refill it from the river.”  A tough pack up a steep, rocky trail from the river fifty feet below that I declined.

Water available below.

Not wanting to make waves at this point in the day, and knowing the park boundary was only a quarter mile south on the trail, though water access there was poor, I took a shot at riding down the road towards Stehekin where I found a nice large flat meadow with plenty of grazing for hungry horses and a not too bad though rocky trail to the water.  It was obvious that others with horses had camped here before, why the Ranger couldn’t just have told me that instead of getting so puffed up about the rules, I don’t know.

Stehekin River from High Bridge near the Guard Station

Stevens Pass to the North Fork of the Sauk, miles 2164 to 2502

September 3, 2017

Day 79, Repeat Stevens Pass to Smithbrook TH, miles; 2164-2171

Miles ridden; 8.6, trail time; 2:23, average speed; 3.6, minimum elevation; 3806, maximum elevation; 5080, total ascent; 1500, total descent; 1548

Janis drove me back to Stevens Pass this afternoon so we could resume our journey after a week of R&R at home.  Janis thought that if I rode a short 8½ miles to the Smithbrook trailhead today make it to the North Fork of the Saulk tomorrow.  This plan avoided the need for a pack horse, an excellent plan.

The trail is relatively level the first few mile, until the BG crash site.  From there it climbs until it reaches the high point for the day on the ridge above Lake Valhalla. In the next two miles to Union Gap, the Junction of the Smithbrook trail, the trail drops a gradual 500 feet. 

Lake Valhalla and Lichtenberg Mountain

The side trail down to Smithbrook reinforced my theory that feeder trails that do not lead to equestrian facilities of some sort are likely to be somewhat less than delightful.  Steep, rocky, rooted and rutted this trail was blessedly short.  The trail head parking was packed.  Janis barely had enough room to get the truck turned around.  We are parked in the road, there is barely enough room for the horses to stand on the passenger side and barely enough room for vehicles to get by on the driver’s side.  This spot wins the award for least desirable camp.  We will get up early and get on our way to minimize being a roadblock any longer than necessary.

 I am looking forward to getting some miles behind me tomorrow.

Smithbrook trail
Smithbrook to Cady Creek

September 4, 2017

Day 80, Smithbrook TH to Cady Creek TH, miles; 2469-2487

Miles ridden; 24.7, trail time; 9:10, average speed; 2.7, minimum elevation; 2989, maximum elevation; 5578, total ascent; 5205, total descent; 6012

morning trail

Janis’s idea of breaking up the Stevens Pass to Cady Creek ride was a really good one, this is tough country, a 25 mile day is ever so much more pleasant than a 30 plus.  We are starting to climb up towards the north Cascades with new views around every corner.

This part of the trail goes through the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness which like wildernesses everywhere is getting more and more use.  One thing the Wenatchee National Forest has done in an effort to minimize human impact is build miniature vault toilets near the more popular camp spots.  I’m all for it, something to sit on, no shovel required.

The PCT stays within, approximately, a 1500 foot elevation range.  On the lower end of the scale, 4,000 feet, one rides through deep forests.  At the upper end, around 5,500 feet, one is approaching the alpine zone this far north.  It is a striking country, resplendent with crystal clear creeks and lakes framed by rugged rock pinnacles.  I took the Cady Pass trail down to the Little Wenatchee trailhead, at 3,000 feet, for tonight’s camp.

Janus Lake
Wilderness upgrade.
Finest accommodations.
I actually got off Mercedes with the intention of putting this feather in my hat, but it was firmly rooted , so much so I thought I would leave it for others to enjoy.
Grizzly Peak
Hoary Marmot
Pear Lake
Glacier Peak
Rock,rocky trail
Afternoon trail
Cady Creek to N Fork Sauk River

September 5, 2017

Day 81, Cady Creek to N Fork Sauk River, miles; 2490-2502

Miles ridden; 22, trail time; 7:56, average speed; 2.8, minimum elevation; 2131, maximum elevation; 5969, total ascent; 4426, total descent; 5333

Bridge over the Little Wenatchee

Yesterday afternoon coming down the Cady Creek trail we rode through some pretty thick vegetation, ferns and thimble berries thick against the Mercedes sides.  The trail along the Little Wenatchee River to the PCT was choked too, some places so thick BG disappeared.  At length we did rise above the lowland flora to the high meadows and long views I so enjoy.

Darrell’s Donkeys, photo by Mental Snakes

As we came to White Pass two large donkeys emerged from the shadows of trailside evergreens, trotting toward BG and me.  Having never seen a donkey before and now with two charging at her BG was on the nervous side, but she did stand for me to dismount.  A man emerged from the shadows as well getting to us about the same time the donkeys finished sniffing BG, pronouncing her uninteresting, before wandering off a few feet, perhaps looking for some greens to eat.

The owner, who I found out was named Darrell, and to whom I refer to now as “Darrell Two Donkeys”, wanders the trails around the state clearing logs and other trail maintenance chores as he sees fit, seeking no praise, recognition or profit.  At the time we spoke I believe he said he had been out for three weeks, was running out of supplies and was getting ready to exit the wilderness.  Anyway – he asked me what I was doing and I went into my stock spiel, meeting my wife, blah blah, thru riding the PCT, blah blah.  At which point Darrell interrupted me saying “who do you think you are, Gary Pegg?”  To which I replied, a bit flustered, “Well, yes I am.”  Apparently the PCTA guy that walks the trail documenting what and where attention is needed had told Darrell about me the day before.  So much for my 15 minutes of fame.  I was two miles down the trail before I realized I had no photographic evidence.

Can’t see them yet, but the donkeys are lying in wait in the trees just behind the dead one in the center. They will wait until we are within 25 yards before they blow their cover. White Mountain in the background.
Sun is coming up on the Little Wenatchee River trail

We rode up the Little Wenatchee River trail to the PCT this morning.  Once there, we stayed between five and six thousand feet the rest of the day, staying in the land of the big views, until we started down the N. Fork Sauk River trail to tonight’s camp at the trailhead. The trail down was steep and rocky with tight switchbacks for the first three miles before it flattens out, somewhat, following the river down through an old growth cedar forest and across the occasional avalanche swath.  After the bright and windy ridge tops the valley, covered in moss and ferns, seems eerily dark and quiet, Bigfoot country.

Today I rode 15 side trail miles to make 12 PCT miles.  It is becoming obvious that I am going to have to start packing as the side trails get longer, then nonexistent the further north we go.  Time to get tough or die!

Trail typical of the side hills since the Goat Rocks. There have been miles like this almost every day since Mexico.
Little Wenatchee River Valley
Kodak Peak
Glacier Peak, ever closer
Indian Head Peak
Afternoon trail
Heading down to the N. Fork of the Sauk, Sloan Peak.
Mackinaw Shelter
Bigfoot Country

Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass, miles 2393 to 2464

Snoqualmie to Pete Lake

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

Kendall Katwalk
morning trail
Equestrian, Most Difficult sign. The only one I’ve seen. If you ever see one I hope you have a horse you can trust!

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.

Mercedes, Me, Red Mountain

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.

foot near verticle hops.
A pair of five
The approach to the Katwalk.
Kendall Katwalk
more Katwalk
but if you can work up the nerve to quit staring at the trail, this is what you could see.
Alaska Lake
Narrower, scarier,
note how the trail has fallen away just where you pass the trail encroaching rock
not so bad the trail is in steep country, it is narrow too.
did I mention the views?
Hiker coming
Spectacle Lake
Delate Creek
Lemah Creek, what the picture doesn’t show very well is the cable that has been strung from crib to crib so the hikers have something to hang on to in the fast moving water. I didn’t see it either as the shadows kind of hid it. It hit me right at throat high
One of the bridges that had been whacked by windfalls. This one didn’t suffer hazardous damages.
Spectacle Lake

August 23, 2017,

Day 78, Cayuse Horse Camp to Waptus Lake and back, mileposts 2412-2429

Miles ridden; 21.4,

morning trail

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.

Waptus Creek

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.

Trail washout

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.

Morning Trail

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.

Hwy 12, White Pass to I-90, Snoqualmie Pass, miles 2295 to 2393

White Pass to Chinook Pass

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

Morning trail

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.

A meadow in the William Douglas

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.

Buesch Lake
Over used trail near White Pass

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.

Mid day trail
Climbing the hill after Fish Lake
Craig Mtn and One Lake
Fish Lake Boardwalk
Fish Lake
Because a several hundred would be the result of a misstep here, this is what I refer to as a sh***ty little spot.
easy travelin’
wild fire smoke is getting thicker
Almost there
Rose says “too many people, too much commotion”
BG knows we are coming, Janis hurries to get things under control.
Looking ahead to tomorrow’s ride.
Chinook Pass to Government Meadows Horse Camp

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. 

Sheep Lake, damn, I forgot the camera this morning so we only have a few pictures taken with the GPS.

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.

Hitchin’ rail at Sourdough Gap

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.

Not far from where the horse was.

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.

Watching the fire get closer.

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.

Afternoon trail

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.

Mt Rainier
Government Meadows to Stampede Pass

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.

Zen at Ulrich Cabin

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 Eclipse is happening

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.

afternoon, all day trail
Stampede Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

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

Morning trail

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.

A view!

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.

Another Mirror Lake
BG found a drinking buddy.
clear, cool, water
I found a trail buddy. This little fellow stayed just ahead of us for a quarter mile or so.
Silver Peak in a smokey haze.
Shadow guy on the trail.
afternoon trail
Alpine Lakes from the ski slope.

Williams Mine TH to White Pass Hwy, miles 2230-2295

Blue skies over Mt Rainier and the Goat Rocks
Williams Mine to Midway Guard Station

August 16, 2017

Day 70, Williams Mine TH to Midway Guard Shack, miles; 2230-2253

Miles ridden; 23.6, trail time; 6:45, average speed; 3.5, minimum elevation; 4031, maximum elevation; 6121, total ascent; 3632, total descent; 3215

morning trail

Today was a beautiful day in the Mt Adams Wilderness.  While we were in the trees most of the day they were burnt, short or dead and there were lots of alpine meadows so we were in the sun and had lots of views.  It seems funny that after the last two months of high heat when any little shade was welcome that now a short week later I spend most of the day in multiple sweatshirts and an insulated vest looking forward to riding in the sun.

Decisions, decisions, go over this one small log bridge or risk the log and rock jumble below?

This section of trail is in remarkably good condition.  High on the side of Mt Adams, where the trail is often washed out at the Mutton Creek and the Lewis River making for dicey fords, it was all smooth sailing.  From north of Killen Creek almost to Potato Hill a lot work has been done on the tread to eliminate the deep ruts.  The windfall had been all cleared as well, sweet.

After the initial climb from the 23 road to the Round the Mountain trail the trail stayed up high on the mountain flank.  The trail is about three miles from the peak as it skirts the mountain’s top crossing numerous creeks and rivers that have their beginning in Adam’s glaciers.  I had my share of vistas today.  I got my first good look at Mt Rainier and the Goat Rocks today as well as Mt Hood and Jefferson on my back trail.  I am enjoying being in totally familiar country which will continue into the next few days.  No need to check a map to verify I am on the right trail or how far I have to go.  Tonight’s camp is at the Midway Guard Station.  All that remains of this historic site is the garage and the lovely little clearing it sets in, making it one of my favorite stops.

Almost to the sunlight.
First close up of Mt Adams
Riley Creek
Goat Rock waiting
alway there are wildflowers
Even through the lava the trail is good.
Working our way around the mountain
midday trail
Sub-alpine meadows
Killen Creek
Afternoon trail
Close to heaven
Midway Guard Station
Lucky me to have such traveling companions.
Midway Guard to Berry Patch

August 17, 2017

Day, 71 Midway Guard Station to Chambers Lake, miles; 2253-2274

Miles ridden; 26.7, trail time; 8:04, average speed; 3.3, minimum elevation; 4492, maximum elevation; 6446, total ascent; 4069, total descent; 3928

morning trail

Leaving Midway the trail steadily, gradually climbs all the way to the day’s high point, 6400’+, at Cispus Pass.  From there it was a steady decline to tonights camp at Chambers Lake TH.

It was cold and misty this morning, the calendar says the middle of August, the weather says fall.  I was so bundled up that I’m not sure I could have gotten back up if I’d fallen down.  The mist bothered me a little bit, I was afraid it wouldn’t burn off before I reached the Klickitat Bowl.  If you have been through the Goat Rocks you know what I mean, if you haven’t I am certain that my poor words will fail to convey the pure majesty of the place.  I don’t know how many times I have approached the Klickitat Bowl, either after riding through the Cispus Bowl or from over Horseshoe Ridge saddle, more than a dozen less than fifty, still that first view forces me to say “wow”.

Bear & Cat tracks.

I need not have worried as the sun burned through while the morning was still young.  On the stretch of trail between Midway and Coleman Weedpatch that lies outside the wilderness boundary dozens of logs had been freshly cut making for very pleasant riding.  Once we got past the Walupt Creek trail the PCT started to climb up out of the trees opening up panoramas in all directions.  Passing Nannie Ridge the trail starts exposing the traveler to the views for which the Goat Rocks are famous.  Lakeview and Horse Mountains, Klickton Divide, Petross Sidehill, Gilbert Peak, Goat Rock, Ives Peak are not ten miles away or even three, you are right on their shoulders looking them in the face.

Cispus Bowl follows Klickitat Bowl and is just as spectacular in it’s own way.  Half a dozen streams add their water to the beginnings of the Cispus River and rush off down the valley in search of more contributions.  There were more wildflowers this year than I have seen in some time.  Even the grass couldn’t be contained at ankle depth, in places it reached Mercedes knees.  A side trail down to the Chamber’s Lake trailhead drops sharply at first through meadows and across more creeks before leveling out down through the forest.

Horseshoe Ridge ahead.

Arriving at the trailhead I found not only Janis but several Back Country Horsemen (and woman) who had volunteered to pack a large PCTA trail maintenance crew in to the Cispus Bowl to make some much needed repairs to the trail.  Included on their list of stuff to do was fill in a huge washout, one large enough to easily swallow Janis’s truck and trailer with room to spare.  This repair will use some trail engineering and hardware to form a crib which will then be backfilled to the original tread level.  This repair should keep the washout from propagating in future years.  Back home this would be a couple day project with the use of a backhoe and dump truck, it is nearly inconceivable to me that seven or eight volunteers will provide all the labor to get this project done in less than a week.  My hat is off to these people who donate their time to provide a trail that I, or you, can wander down at will, they have certainly earned my continued financial support and I hope yours as well.  You can contribute at

Mt Gilbert at the head of the Klickitat Bowl
Ives Peak, head of Cispus bowl.
Cispus Falls
Goat Rocks, Cispus Bowl
Back Country Horsemen and PCTA crew/

August 18, 2017

Day 72, Chambers Lake to White Pass or The Knife’s Edge, miles; 2274-2295

Miles ridden; 26.2, trail time; 6:47, average speed; 3.9, minimum elevation; 4440, maximum elevation; 7221, total ascent; 5976, total descent; 6197

Goat Lake and Mt Rainier

Big picture day, as in quantity if not quality.  I tried to cull them down to a manageable number, more than a hundred didn’t make the cut, however there are still a lot of them.  I thought about making the Knife’s Edge a separate post, but many of the pictures there really belong here so, like this sentence, you are getting one long post.

Morning trail

From the Chambers Lake trailhead one must climb about 2,000 feet in five miles to regain the PCT. As the Snowgrass Flats trail approaches the PCT it emerges from the trees into alpine meadows thick with wildflowers.  As the PCT continues the climb the additional 1,000 feet, to the Knife’s Edge, the meadows dry out and the flowers grow closer to the ground before disappearing all together.  I have come to the conclusion that getting up to the Knife’s Edge is harder than the crossing; it is a long, steep, rocky, snowy climb.  The reward is in the spectacular views to which one is exposed.  Nearly every step brings another Kodak moment.

Snowgrass Flats and Old Snowy
Intersection of Snowgrass Flats and Pacific Crest Trails

Whistlin’ Jack
All that remains of the Dana May Yelverton shelter. Dana was caught in a sudden storm and died on the trail in 1962. Friends and Family constructed this shelter so that another life might be saved. When I first saw the shelter, in the late ’60s, it was a solidly built hut with a wood door and tin roof. The Forest Service tore down the shelter in the early 70s as it conflicted with the wilderness statutes, as they were interpreted at that time. Today it probably would have escaped that fate, falling under “historic or culturally significant” clause.
looking back at Mt Adams
Climbing to the 7,000 foot level, almost to where the trail dives off the ridge and across the slope of Old Baldy.
Looking back on Packwood Glacier. the trail traverses across the upper portion of the ice sheet to the rimrock looking ridge on the far side.
All we got to do is scale this block of ice. First I got up on the trail so I could hold BG’s head uphill on a long lead rope. She waited patiently for me, never her strong suit, then after a couple false starts managed to scramble up to the trail.

Packwood Glacier is the last obstacle before one reaches the Knife’s Edge.  Like all of the glaciers in the Cascades, it has receded these past years, exposing rock for most of the traverse except for two short sections of icy snow.  This rock is made up from the thin layers that make up the face of Old Snowy and are now gradually falling down the slope towards the Packwood Valley.  Some of the rocks are coffee table size, though with the passing of so many feet the rocks in the trail are rarely larger than a dinner plate.  If your horse is steel shod, as mine are, their feet make the rocks ring, treating the rider to a sound not unlike wind chimes.  

The trail across the exposed rock is in poor condition.  Slides from above covered parts of it, other parts have slid away.  At the end of the second snow section there was a eight foot near vertical climb up the ice to get back on trail.  I looked at those first slides and decided to lead BG across that section.  When I got across I decided to lead her down the first steep section of the Knife’s Edge, then I led her across the next section.  At some point I decided I didn’t need the extra stress so I just kept on leading her until we got off the solid rock portion.  BG wasn’t having any problems, not once did she slip, stumble or have the trail give beneath her.  I was the one with the problem, it is a long ways down should one fall, with no chance of arresting oneself should a misstep be taken.  The biggest advantage to walking is also the biggest disadvantage; pictures demand to be taken, lots of them.

And the Knife’s Edge begins.
and continues about 3 miles.
A wide horse with big pack might struggle to get past this rock.
hiker on the horizon

Eventually we made it to Elk Pass and rode down through the McCall basin and back into the trees and pretty good trail until we got to Hogback Ridge, where there were more good views and rocky trails.  From there it was all downhill to the White Pass Horse Camp.

The view across Packwood Canyon
Sometimes the road seem short
and other times it seems to stretch out for a long ways.
sometimes I get a little nervous
and in others the majesty all but overwhelms me.
but eventually you can look back and say “Oh My”
A place to rest.
The trail crews had just gone through when another tree came down, it’s ok I got this one.
another mile, another view
nope, these rocks didn’t ring
Hogback Mountain
Afternoon trail

Columbia River to FS 23, Williams Mine TH, miles 2147-2230

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Bonneville Trailhead to Whistle Punk Trailhead

August 14, 2017

Day 68, Whistle Punk Trailhead to Bonneville Trailhead, miles; 2147-2177

Miles ridden 30.1, trail time; 10:29, average speed; 2.9, minimum elevation; 136, maximum elevation; 3473, total ascent; 6273, total descent; 7183

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Bonneville Equestrian Trailhead truck parking
Bonneville Equestrian Trailhead horse parking

A Whistle Punk was, in the day of steam donkey logging, the young man, often times not much more than a boy, whose job it was to blow the whistle signaling to the other loggers what the steam donkey was going to do, when it was clear to work, when a log was being pulled to the landing, etc.  It was important work as all the loggers depended upon the Whistle Punk for their safety.  The kiosk at the trailhead promised views of “huge and priceless artifacts” for those who ventured out on the interpretive walk.  Janis and I ventured, but were sorely disappointed as the only artifacts to be found were the two at the trailhead, neither of which was huge or priceless.  It was a nice walk never the less. 

were cool none the less.
The “huge and priceless” artifacts
Bridge to Bonneville TH

This is a long ride, 30 miles, with a lot of elevation change that came in big bites.  The elevation graph looks like twin peaks with a big drop, 3500 feet down to the Columbia, at the end.  The footing on that big drop was rocky making slow going, unlike the rest of the day that was really nice.  The trail remained mostly in the trees though we would occasionally pop out for a quick view of the surrounding landscape.  The biggest clearing was a clear cut through some active logging.  Fortunately I was late enough in the day I missed the loggers and avoided a three mile logging road detour.  I did hear the equipment and log trucks running earlier, sometimes they seemed very close but I never did see any.

Scenic Columbia River Gorge

I rode from Whistle Punk south to the Columbia River because of the misunderstanding of where to park Eric and Tammy’s shuttle truck yesterday.  You wouldn’t think it would make much difference but it just feels wrong to be going south.  Going south has one big advantage; you pass a lot more people when you are going against the flow.  Familiar faces were the Ramblers, last seen at Windigo Pass in Central Oregon, Oliver, last seen at Seiad Valley in Northern California and Veggie from Castella.

and the cables that held it all together.
All that remains of an old logging camp
Mt Hood in the rear view mirror
Big view clear cut trail.
Mt Hood floating on a sea of smoke.
Morning Trail
Rock Creek
afternoon trail
Trout Creek Bridge
BG was absolutely convinced this stump was a bear, I wasn’t too sure myself at first!
Whistle Punk to Crest Horse Camp
and Mt Adams coming.

August 13, 2017

Day 67, Whistle Punk to Crest Horse Camp or the Day of Torrential Rains, miles; 2177-2198

Miles ridden; 20, trail time; 5:17, average speed 3.8, minimum elevation; 932, maximum elevation; 4085, total ascent; 4463, total descent; 2129

Morning trail, Bunker Hill
Saddled up at Whistle Punk TH

 Today I rode with Eric again and more importantly this time we were joined by his lovely bride, Tammy.  It was our intention to ride from the Columbia River to Whistle Punk, but due to a small snafu in the placement of shuttle vehicles we modified our plan and rode form Whistle Punk to Crest Horse Camp.  I’ll do the river to Whistle Punk leg tomorrow.

On the trail
Crossing Wind River

The weather forecast I saw before leaving home gave us an 80% chance of rain, Eric’s forecast was for 10%.  During the night I was awoken by the sound of heavy rain on the camper roof, and when we got up this morning the mist was still hanging in the tree tops but I thought to myself perhaps that was Eric’s 10% last night and now we can expect some sunshine.  Out on the trail it was cool, especially after the heat of recent weeks.  The leaves on trailside brush and over hanging limbs were very wet and showered us at every opportunity.  It was so warm when we left the trailhead that I dressed lightly, just a tee shirt and light hoody.  At one point the mist was thick enough and the temperature continued to drop so I opted to put on my rain gear, more heat retention than a moisture prevention measure. 

It might not be raining, but it is awful close to it.

Eric thought that the forecast called for clear, sunny skies by 1:00 to go along with the 10% chance of rain, though he did confess the prediction was for Hood River which is well on the dry side of the Pacific Crest not the borderline wet side area we were at.  Suddenly, in my mind, it seemed we were in a serious rain squall; Tammy, who like me isn’t all about riding in the rain, kept her own counsel.  At any rate we rode the twenty miles under mostly overcast skies, through the trees, on perfect footing dirt trails, mostly gradually climbing, over the hills that gave the impression of being in soft focus, a typical Pacific Northwest Day.

Panther Creek Trail marker
Watering at Panther Creek
Wind River
Waiting on Gary again.
Afternoon trail
Crest Horse Camp to Williams Mine Trailhead

August 15, 2017

Day 69 Crest Horse Camp to the 23 Road, miles: mileposts 2198 – 2230

Miles ridden; 32.2, trail time 9:39, average speed; 3.2, minimum elevation; 3400, maximum elevation; 5178, total ascent; 4970, total descent; 4484

Passing Mt St Helens
I don’t know what tihis fellow’s name is. We’ve passed three or four times since Mexico. I know it is the same guy by the mandolin on his pack and his Shady Brady hat, identical to mine. Each time we have met we say the same thing “nice hat”. Then with a smile and a nod go on our way.

I don’t know why they call it Crest Horse Camp.  It isn’t on the crest, there are absolutely no horse related facilities, there is a dirt road – but it isn’t big enough to turn a truck and trailer around, there are a couple of picnic tables near parking spots barely large enough for a compact car.  Years ago it was just a wide spot alongside the Carson-Guler road, now it is a wide spot along the Carson-Guler road with a vault toilet.  There was a flat spot large enough for our truck, trailer and horses just outside the camp and that suited us just fine.

There was nice trail today through Indian Heaven.  I did not make the one mile round trip to see the Indian Race Track, the meadow of 30 years ago was grown in with small trees ten years ago and I suppose pretty much gone today, another piece of history lost, I’d rather remember it as it was than know for sure it is gone.

Morning trail
Entering Adams Country

 I’ve been through Indian Heaven a few times in the past, however today was the first time it wasn’t cold, wet, foggy or raining.  In fact it was a beautiful day just right for riding.  Like the trail in Oregon and since the Columbia mostly we were in the trees.  Occasionally there will be a place, a rock slide, old clear cut or some other reason that there is at least a partial view, enough to let you get your bearings and give you a taste of things to come.  There are always hills to go up and down, but they aren’t steep and haven’t been long.

Junction Lake
Blue Lake

The trail crews have already been over the past 75 miles of trail this year.  I didn’t count but in the last three days I have passed hundreds of freshly cut logs, a condition I greatly appreciate.  I was surprised by the number of hikers passed today that I have passed previously, some more than once.  Even more surprising is how many I remember.  They don’t always remember my name, but they do remember Mercedes, Janis and Rose.  Quite a few NOBOs skipped ahead enough that are now Southbound timing their arrival at Cascade Locks for this weekend and the PCT Days festival.  I think between that crowd and the Eclipse crowd Oregon would be a good place to avoid for the next week.

afternoon trail
Hidden Spring
Tonights Camp

Ollalie Lake to the Bridge of the Gods, miles 2049-2147

Triangle Lake to Joe Graham

August 2, 2017

Day 63, Triangle Lake HC to Joe Graham HC, miles; 2049-2073

Miles ridden; 25.6, trail time; 7:18, average speed; 3.4, minimum elevation; 3429, maximum elevation; 5089, total ascent; 2722, total descent; 3993

When I left Triangle Lake this morning I knew from previous experience that the day would be spent in the trees, I was not disappointed.  Except for road crossings, power line crossings and one small burned area Mercedes and I were in the trees, cool shady trees the whole hot day.  On the nice dirt trail we were able to make good time.

There is a woman in camp today offering the most elaborate trail magic I’ve seen to date.  Accompanied by her horse and mastiff, possibly the largest dog I’ve seen, she dispenses assorted liquids and full meals from a dozen coolers all set up on tables within a large bug net equipped canapy.  An additional canapy  shades additional seating.  She uses the full two weeks allowed for camping in Joe Graham each year to bring some joy to hikers and equestrians alike.

morning trail
more morning trail
afternoon trail
mid day trail
A rare and remarkably fine example.
Timothy Lake to Barlow Pass

August 3, 2017

Day 64, Timothy Lake to Barlow Pass, miles; 2073-2092

Miles ridden; 18.1, trail time; 4:39, average speed; 3.8, minimum elevation; 3262, maximum elevation; 4558, total ascent; 2444, total descent; 1589

Morning trail

BG drew the short day which was a winner all around for her, good trail, not too many climbs and no steep down hills.  It was however another day in dense forest, pleasant given the heat but not much for the generation of Kodak moments.  Smoke from forest fires is restricting visibility, Mt Hood, ten miles distant is barely visible.

Fires, fires everywhere, fires behind us and fires ahead.  The Indian Creek fire between us and Cascade Locks seems to be growing.  So far the PCT is still open, but we will keep a close eye on the incident reports.

somebody doesn’t like horses
but Yedis are OK
Timothy Lake Boardwalk
afternoon trail
Barlow Pass to Lost Lake

August 3, 2017,

Day 65, Barlow Pass to Lost Lake, Miles; 2092-2119

Miles ridden; 31.3, trail time; 10:10, average speed; 3.1, minimum elevation; 2858, maximum elevation; 6058, total ascent; 5785, total descent; 6675

Morning trail and Mt Hood

Mercedes and I left camp and headed up the trail facing a two thousand foot climb up the sandy slopes of Mt. Hood to Timberline Lodge.  One of the problems with riding a trail that you have previously ridden, long ago, is you have preconceived notions, especially the bad spots.  Fortunately, those dreaded bad spots rarely live up to the billing, and occasionally are quite the opposite.  This morning was the latter as the dreaded sandy ridge was miles shorter than I remembered and not nearly as steep, we made Timberline in an hour and a half.

Ramona Falls

On the way to the lodge I was taking my usual complement of pictures.  About half a dozen shots in I noticed some text on the screen, digging out my glasses I could read “not saved, out of memory”.  I had forgotten to replace the memory card in the camera after downloading it onto the computer.  I erased the few higher quality pictures I had already taken so they could be replace with smaller pictures.

The bridge at the falls.

I was told somewhere along the line that the Ramona Falls trail had been repaired and was open for stock use again.  I have fond memories of that trail from 30 years ago or more so it was with some anticipation that I looked for the intersection with the PCT.  As there wasn’t a “no stock” sign I eagerly turned up the trail.  The first thing I noticed was how used the trail looked, and not in a good way.  The trail, at least 10 feet wide, extended several feet past the edges of water bars on each side.  Exposed roots and loose rocks littered the path; this is a trail that sees serious traffic.  As I neared the falls I encountered a fence designed to let people pass but prevent stock from entering, the end of the trail for Mercedes.  A hitching rail was provided so I left her there and continued on foot to the falls.

bridge again

What used to be a fern covered bench around the bottom of the falls is now hard packed dirt semicircle extending a couple hundred feet out from the falls, not a trace of vegetation survived.  Despite signs pleading “Please stay on trail” a couple dozen people lounged about the area.  In their defense, defining what was trail and what wasn’t would take a better detective than I.  Clearly this bit of nature is being loved to death.  The falls though were every bit as picturesque as I remembered, on this hot day the air was filled with cool mist bouncing off the rocks from the fall of the water.  Feeling a little bit guilty, for my part in corrupting the wilderness experience, I snapped a couple quick pictures, collected Mercedes and left.

same bridge

The rest of the morning we wandered half way around Mt. Hood, crossing the Zig Zag and Sandy Rivers early enough in the day they were, while still somewhat challenging, not nearly as hazardous as they would become later in the day.  Even so crossing rushing, boulder strewn streams to get to banks of loose sand with near vertical climbs in the 5 to 20 foot range to get to a narrow to non-existent trail tread that you pray will hold your horses weight; is not for the faint of heart.   Throughout the day there was a lot of up and down, and, as is to be expected on the side of a volcano, lots of rocks to slow us down.  Interspersed with the open scenic spots were long stretches of good forest trail.  Smoke from the local and Canadian fires limited visibility again today.

afternoon trail

At one point on the trail today I came upon several large trees that had fallen across and along the trail. Too big and too many to cut I was trying to scout and clear out a go around when who should appear?  None other than Randy and Bigfoot.  They went low and I went high and we got around the first of the windfalls about the same time.  The next set was passable to them by taking off their packs and passing them over and under logs to each other and they were able to head off down the trail while I was still searching for a route.  It wasn’t long before I heard them shouting to me from above, there was a switchback and if I went straight up the hill I could avoid the rest of the obstacles.  I have got to remember to look at the GPS to see where the trail goes.

Mt Hood

We hadn’t planned to stay at Lost Lake as our friends Tammy & Eric lived a short distance away.  We were spending the night at their place where they had made us dinner and provided the kind of long hot showers you only dream about in an RV.  It was a good thing as when I rode through the horse camp it was completely full of non-horse campers, many of whom stood open mouthed as I rode by.  I did note the corrals apparently mad good flat tent sites while the rails served as towel and wet clothes racks.  Leaving the horse camp loop I rode through the much larger people part of the campground to where Janis was waiting.  The GPS showed roads though camp spots and the roads went where the map showed none.  After a few fruitless attempts at staying on the designated roads I gave up and went cross country squeezing past picnic tables and campers until Mercedes and I burst out of the crowds and could gain a sighting of the truck and trailer.  Shewww, that was hard!

Lost Lake to The Bridge of the Gods
On the trail again.

August 4, 2017

Day 66, Lost Lake to Cascade Locks, miles; 2119 to 2147

Miles ridden; 30.1, trail time; 9:00, average speed; 3.3, minimum elevation; 313, maximum elevation; 4498, total ascent; 3946, total descent; 6849

Morning trail

After arriving at Lost Lake last night Janis and I drove to Odell to have dinner and spend the evening with Tammy & Eric Cederstam.  This morning Tammy and Janis dropped Eric and I off at Lost Lake where we rode to the Bridge of the Gods, the last ride in Oregon.  Wouldn’t you know it; I forgot to put the memory card in the camera again.  Eric said he would send me his pictures which I will add when I get them.  I’m not so sure using Eric’s pictures are such a good idea. I feature prominently in many of them – I don’t want to disillusion the reader.

Junction of Indian Mountain trail

I was asked by a hiker a while back if I got bored on the trail, she had a hard time accepting that I don’t listen to music or podcasts while riding.  I don’t get bored, mostly I try to pay attention to what is going on around me, I would feel distracted listening to a podcast and if the music wasn’t in time to the horses gait it would bug me no end.  I do at times get a song stuck in my head, oddly enough the other day it was “Silver Bells”, the Christmas carol that matched BG’s uphill march perfectly.  Other times I compose what I am going to write hear, but I’ve never managed to remember what it was I was going to say when it came time to put pencil to paper.  What I’m trying to get to here is it was nice to have Eric’s company on the trail.

Mt Hood, the smoke has increased since yesterday.
A heliocopter dropping a load of water on the Indian Creek fire

We were mostly in the trees today with a few break out in the open spots with some great views.  After we climbed up to the top of the ridge above Lost Lake we remained around 4,000 feet most of the day. When we got almost to the Columbia River we started losing elevation, dropping 4000 feet, most of it in the 3 mile stretch before Herman Creek. There was a pretty good wind overnight which blew most of the smoke away. 

At one point while we were on an open rock hillside we had the chance to watch a fire fighting helicopter dropping water on the Eagle Creek fire.  We also saw law enforcement officials at trailheads and junctions making sure people didn’t try to use the trails that are closed due to fire restrictions.  Now I’m double glad I didn’t try to run the Pamelia Creek blockade.  Our final views were of the Columbia River Gorge, a welcome sight indeed.

This ends phase II of our PCT adventure.  Initially I had planned to go back to the Sierras at this point, then come back and finish with Washington.  I really wanted to finish at the Canadian Border, however by riding Washington next and finishing in California it takes a lot of the time pressure off.  The North Cascades can be real iffy in September and almost certainly in October you will run into snow, while we have been told by those knowledgeable; that September and October is the best time to visit the Sierras.  To that end we will take a rest week now before finishing Washington and another before going back south.

Until next week…

Talking about fire route alternatives.
Eric, Blacky and the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area
I do too walk several miles a day!
Blacky scrambling back down to the trail from a windfall go-around.
Afternoon trail
BG getting a full load of water.

Willamette Pass to Santiam Pass, miles 1908-2000

Smoke from Wild Fires is starting to obscure the views.
Willamette Pass to Walupt Lake

July 29, 2017

Day 59, Willamette Pass to Harrelson Horse Camp, miles; 1906-1925

Distance; 21.6, trail time; 5:21, average speed; 4, minimum elevation; 5138, maximum elevation; 6600, total ascent; 3056, total descent; 2547

Morning trail

The separation of the wet west side of the Cascades and the dry east side has always seemed to me to be a very fine line, especially so here in Oregon.  Yesterday riding from Windigo Pass to Whitefish and up to Diamond View Lake was all east side, dry, dusty trail surrounded by jack pines.  Then suddenly within less than a mile you transition into the wet, cool west side.  Today from Hwy 58 to Waldo Lake was all west side.  It was cool enough this morning I wished I had worn my extra sweatshirt rather than tied it on the back of the saddle.

flash view, Lakeview Mountain

BG and I passed lots of lakes today, Lower, Middle and North Rosary Lakes, Bobby Lake, Charlton Lake, Hidden, Lost and Found Lakes, lakes to numerous and small to be bothered with names.  I passed a bunch of hills and peaks too, though most of them remained hidden in the trees.  The last few miles was through a burned area between Charlton Butte and the horse camp where I got my first peek at the mountains to the north as far as Mt. Jefferson.  Fortunately the fire did not reach Harrelson Horse camp, it remains surrounded by at least a half mile of forest.

Lower Rosary Lake
Early Morning fishermen
Middle Rosary Lake & Pulpit Rock
Still on the trail
Afternoon trail
Waldo Lake
Burned area Challenge

I have passed several huts/cabins built by cross country skiers as a place of refuge on winter expeditions.  Most are little more than a small room with a fireplace, a place to get out of the weather, warm up and dry out.  The one I passed today, Maiden Peak Ski Hut, is the most deluxe example I have seen on the trip.  An octagon shaped log structure with a flag stone floor around the wood stove, a raised deck in the rest of the room and a good sized sleeping loft.  This hut is equipped with all the necessary tools, saws, axes, shovels as well as pots, pans and kitchen utensils.  Most extraordinary were the solar powered lights and internet connection. 

Maiden Peak Ski Hut
Air tight wood stove and fire extinguisher by the door.
The desk holds a PCT trail register, instructions for operating the solar unit and a usb charger for electronics. Outside there is a pole with solar panels and a large antennae.
The boxes contain enough hand powered wood working tools to build this cabin in the wilderness.
Harrelson Horse Camp to Quinn Meadows

July 30, 2017

Day 60, Harrelson Horse Camp to Quinn Meadows Horse Camp, miles; 1928-1954

Distance; 30.1, trail time; 9:21, average speed; 3.2, minimum elevation; 4982, maximum elevation; 6081, total ascent; 2949, total descent; 3475

Ducks on Horseshoe Lake
Leaving Waldo Lake and the Charlton Burn

BG and I left Waldo Lake looking forward to seeing Dave & Penny Strand who were riding to meet me from Quinn Meadows Horse Camp.  I was riding BG again, she had an easy day yesterday and I wanted to shuffle the line up so that BG would be the horse I would be riding through the Lava Beds north of Hwy 242.  That would have Mercedes doing the long day from Santiam Pass to Pamelia Creek.

Morning trail

The early morning trail was through the Charlton Burn which made for some grand vistas.  This burn is at the point where trees are falling with little provocation.  It would take a full time trail crew to keep this part of the PCT clear.  For the most part the trees blocking the trail weren’t too difficult to get around as the terrain is relatively flat.  There were a couple that got into the pick-up sticks scenario forcing me to go off trail quite a distance before I could work myself back to the trail, and as always there are always a couple that require cutting.

Dumbbell Lake

We left the burn area behind after a couple miles and were soon traveling down the kind of trail Oregon is famous for, good dirt tread, gentle terrain, good sized trees with a lake and a little grazing around every corner.  BG loves this kind of trail and cruises down it with a minimum of effort.

Dave and Chester, Penny and Royce

I met up with Dave and Penny about half way through the day; it was nice to have some company and good conversation on the trail.  Trail conversation turned into camp conversation turned into dinner conversation, so despite have an internet connection I didn’t get any blogging done, maybe tomorrow.

Old “Pacific Crest Trail System” sign dating from the late ’60s. Note how little the tree has grown since the sign was hung. Tough old sign, tough old tree.
South Sister and Broken Top
Quinn Meadows to Scott Pass Trailhead

July 31, 2017

Day 61, Quinn Meadows to Scotts Pass TH, miles; 1954-1980

Distance; 29.7, trail time; 9:34, average speed; 3.1, minimum elevation; 4960, maximum elevation; 6878, total ascent; 4365, total descent; 4504

Little Brother and North Sister
Unnamed lake

The previous evening’s conversation turned into morning conversation and it was nearly 9:00 before Dave got me going.  We rode north to the Mirror Lakes trail up to the PCT.  We were nearly to the trail junction, the horses plodding up the hill, I was paying more attention to the continuing conversation than to where I was going when a large black dog bounded around the corner ahead of us.  You’d think after 1500 miles Mercedes would be about bomb proof, not so, and at age 16 she would be slowing down, again not so, she spun out from under me so fast I swear I hung in the air, like Wiley Coyote, a good three seconds.  To make matters worse my feet didn’t immediately disengage from my stirrups.


Normally with Mercedes you can whisper “whoa” and she slams on the brakes hard enough I’m afraid I’m going through the windshield, but when my butt is on the ground and my feet are in the air she acts like she has never heard the word.  Rationally, I know my feet slipped out in an instant though in the moment it seemed like a couple of lifetimes, however she did stop, I did get up and we did continue on.  I wonder what kind of market there is for a half blind, opinionated, grouchy, hard keeping, old mare?  Stuff like this only happens when there is someone there to impress.

Morning trail

Dave and Penny separated from me on a trail that would lead them back to Quinn Meadows and I continued on into the Three Sisters Wilderness. 

The trail I rode is considered by many to be one of Oregon’s crown jewels.  In the next 20 miles I would ride by many dramatic views, all three of the Sisters, the Wife, the Husband, Broken Top, Obsidian Falls and, the ever so fun to say, Opie Dildock Pass.  As is so often the case, the prettier places tend to be the tougher places making for slow going. 

Wikiup Plains and South Sister

The trail itself is one of the attractions.  The cool, easy going, forested trail in the morning transitioned to rock and lava flows mid day and finishing off through Ponderosa Pine forest in the afternoon.  This variety is what makes this area so popular.  Everywhere the wild flowers color the landscape.

I’ve not seen as many people on the trail before as there were today.  Though I personally chaff at the thought of regulating the back country, I am starting to come around that something must be done.  There is a plan taking effect in a couple of years that will severely limit entry into the Three Sisters and other popular hiking locations.  However enforcing existing regulations, particularly no groups of more than 12 people, I saw multiple group in the 20 to 40 range, would certainly do as much to relieve over use as adding further restrictions that  are ignored.

Hikers one ridge ahead of me, Mt Washington and Three Finger Jack in the distance. To the north the smoke continues to get thicker.
butterflies on the ground, prepared for take-off.

One thing both Janis and I have noticed on this trip, starting in northern California is the amount of a certain type of butterfly, they could be moths, and I have always been a little foggy on the difference.  At any rate there are thousands of them.  They tend to pack up on the ground wherever there is the least bit of moisture.  There can be several hundred of them in just a few feet of trail.  These grounded packs will all take flight together with the minimal motivation. Dipping, diving flitting to and fro, everywhere you look butterflies in flight.  You would think with this many butterflies that a decent picture could be had, but I’m here to tell you they are fast little buggers, very difficult to frame up.  So I devised a plan, when I came upon a good sized group on the ground I would get the camera ready, then walk amongst them causing them to burst into flight and just start clicking picture, surely one of the would turn out.

Taking off
In flight
Middle Sister
The Husband (a little brow beaten if you ask me)
North Sister
Little Brother
Obsidian Falls
The source of Obsidian Creek
Linton Meadows
Opie Dildock Pass
Looking down Opie Dildock
Top of Opie Dildock Pass. The fire near Mt. Jefferson is getting thick in the Mt. Washington area
North Sister again
Lava beds at Yapoa Crater
navigating the lava flows
Afternoon trail, Scott’s Pass trail
Scott Pass Trailhead to Hwy 20, Santiam Pass

August 1, 2017

Day 62, Scotts Pass to Santiam Pass to Triangle Lake HC, miles; 1980-2001-2049

Miles ridden; 26, trail time; 9:33, average speed; 2.7, minimum elevation; 4706, maximum elevation; 6111, total ascent; 3679, total descent; 3577

Mt Washington and the Dee Wright Observatory
South Matthieu Lake

This was the day we did the horse shuffle for a few days back.  I wanted to use BG because she is not as sensitive to rocks as Mercedes and there would be plenty of rock today.  Ever since Obsidian Falls the trail has been skirting or crossing lava flows.  From Lava Lake on, the trail was in the lava beds for the next seven miles, slow going, Gary walking is slow going.  

Dee Wright Observatory

I had been through this portion of the PCT some years back and remembered the Lava beds as being a couple of miles of atrocious rocky trail, I didn’t remember the lava in the trees, that are now burnt.  The part I remember wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered while the part I didn’t remember was worse.  We did get through the lava and got back on good dirt trail. This section of trail, from Lava Lake to Santiam Pass is also very dry.  It is about 19 miles through the lava without water, when we finally reached Santiam Pass Lake I thought BG was going to drink it dry.

Will it end?

Besides being rocky footing the lava absorbs the heat from the sun and radiates the heat back out, like a furnace, to smother man and beast.  The hot rocks underfoot burn the feet, while the heat in the air bakes the soul.  I can only imagine how difficult it was herd cattle or to transport goods through here with horse drawn wagons.  The early settlers were made of sterner cloth than I.

I thought this was the end of the lava bed
but I was wrong

Most of the trail around Mt. Washington has been burnt, finding the elusive unmarked trail to George Lake as the way is pretty clear without all the trees obscuring the route.  One part of the mountainside that escaped unscathed is on the west side and has the meadow with the clear view of the mountain. 

In due time I met up with Janis at Santiam Pass, where we intended to spend the evening before riding on to the Pamelia Creek Trailhead.  We were informed he PCT has been closed at Mt. Jefferson due to forest fire.  We saw a forest ranger pull up in his pickup to update the forest fire information board at Santiam Pass.  The next trailhead north of us that is accessible with the truck and trailer is near Ollalie Lake, Triangle Horse Camp.  Janis and I are pulling up stakes and moving tonight.  I was looking forward to riding through the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness as in my opinion it is as good as riding gets in Oregon.  There is talk among some of the hikers about going through despite the closure; however I don’t want to be the one that might cause the expenditure of emergency services that should be used to fight the fire.  Best to skip this section and ride another day.

The road into Ollalie Lake is pretty rough.  Pulling the trailer 5 mph is about top speed, even then one is thrown about the cab of the pickup as you navigate the potholes.  We did get to camp in due time and had just gotten set up when a car pulled in a couple with back packs got out and the car drove off.  The couple was part of the German Group we had met at Ash Camp way back in June.  They had been taking some zero days in Bend and had taken an Uber from there around the fires.  I bet there is one Uber driver that won’t be so quick to bring his new car to Ollalie Lake.

Mt Washington, Three Finger Jack and if you look hard Mt Jefferson in the haze.
Lava Lake
North and Middle Sister in the rear view mirror
Morning trail
Shadow Guy abides
Mt Washington
Mt Washington
Happiness is a dirt trail!
First water in many miles, Hayrick Butte
Afternoon trail.
Santiam Pass to Triangle Lake

Sevenmile to Willamette Pass, mile 1804-1908

Big Bunchgrass
Seven Mile to Hwy 62, Crater Lake

July 25, 2019

Day 55, Sevenmile TH to Hwy 62, miles; 1802-1818

Distance; 23.6, trail time; 6:43, average speed 3.5, minimum elevation; 4911, maximum elevation; 6759, total ascent; 3746, total descent; 2456

Morning trail

We had one heck of a thunderstorm while camped at the Sevenmile Equestrian Trailhead.  Lightning flashes followed immediately by crashing thunder, Rose headed for the bed.  The initial lightning and thunder was closely followed by a hail downpour that bounced three feet in the air, was incredibly loud on the roof of the trailer and lasted a half hour then a deluge of rain that lasted a couple more, thundering and lightening all the while.  We were joined in camp by a couple of women from Texas; they had barely gotten their tents up when the hail started.  As it turns out these Texas ladies are friends with the couple from Fort Worth that we shared camp with on Hat Creek Rim.  We all by chance met up together at the Mazama Village outside Crater Lake.  They declared the fat pea almost marble sized hail that Janis and I thought was pretty big, really wasn’t compared to Texas hail, plenty big enough for me.

Lone Wolf; hill, mountain, bump?
Ethyl and Maude Mtns

The trail was pretty much free sailing, if you discount the downed trees.  The trail was far more dirt than rock, no big climbs or descents so we were for the first time in many days able to make decent time.  BG and I went through large swaths of burned forests and even larger areas of bug kill.  Thirty years ago it was all healthy trees, that is one of the reasons I found Oregon so boring at that time, days and days of trees, zero views.  Today the silhouette of Mount Mazama was visible most of the day as well as Union Peak and Mt Thielsen.  As I rode through the Trinity Alps and Siskiyous there were huge, rocky, nameless crags all along the way.  In these southern Cascades every little knob has a name, today I rode by Bunker Hill, Big Bunchgrass, Maude, Ethel and Ruth Mountains, Lone Wolf, Goose Egg, Goose Nest and Jerry Mountain to name but a few.

I still can’t get used to how much snow there it despite how hot it is.

Once I crossed the park boundary the trail improved dramatically. No more down trees to work around, the trail got wider and clearer.  Truly a ride in the park.  As I started to drop down off today’s heights towards Hwy 62, I started crossing snow patches, nothing untoward, even if I did feel it strange that the snow got heavier the lower I traveled.  Tomorrow is going to be a little longer day; I would like it if it were snow and tree free.

I readily admit that I am terrible about keeping track of my phone.  I’ve been a little better on this trip as the phone has taken its place alongside the camera, inReach and GPS as required tools.  I have developed a routine for night and morning that ensures each piece of electronics is in its proper place, charged and ready to go when I ride out in the morning.  That is until my phone went so dead it shut itself off.  Out here where there is no reception is keeps roaming which wears the battery down fairly quickly if I don’t keep it turned off until needed.  Anyway – I couldn’t get the phone to charge, the truck has usb ports, 12V power outlets, 120v inverter, I tried them all, I wiggled the cords twice, I let them sit over night on the charger – nothing.  After a few days I decided to swap batteries with Janis to see if mine had gone bad.  When I took the battery cover off my phone I discovered, no battery, I looked again, still no battery, I turned the phone over and shook it, still no battery.

I’m stumped, no battery, where could it have gone? It is held in the phone by a cover that is held in place with a latch that requires a tool to open.  It couldn’t have just fallen out.  Was the phone left places where some nefarious character could have poached it?  Obviously, but why just take the battery, why not the whole phone or the wallet with cash and credit cards in the next pocket over, I dunno, it’s a mystery.  Note to self; add phone batteries to the list of stuff to order and sent to the house in preparation for the next phase.

Hwy 62 to Hwy 138 across Crater Lake Park

July 26,2017

Day 56, Hwy 62 to Hwy 138 North Crater Trailhead, miles; 1818-1846

Distance; 28.4, trail time; 7:32, average speed; 3.8, minimum elevation; 5465, maximum elevation; 6501, total ascent; 2377, total descent; 2744

Munson Point through the mist

Today was the kind of day that ruins reputations.  Last night we had thunderstorms and rain showers that lasted throughout the night.  I have long maintained, and voiced my opinion to anyone who would listen that I am a fair weather rider.

If there is a cloud in the sky

Gary don’t rii————————————-de

Morning trail

Getting caught out in a rain storm is one thing, but to purposely saddle up and get ready for a ride while it is raining is just wrong.  Your saddle is wet before you even get on; it goes against all the laws of nature.  So when I found myself suiting up in my raingear even before I saddled Mercedes I thought perhaps I have been a bit of a hypocrite in the past.  It was a good thing that I had the raingear on as it continued to thunder and storm until nearly eleven.

Bybee Creek

One of the items, that I may have failed to mention, I have been carrying in my SnugPax the past few weeks is a mosquito net.  The rains today brought the ferocious little bugs out in force.  As long as we were moving down the trail it was ok, but slow down for just a moment and you were swarmed.  I like to let the horses graze a little while I’m walking, but today I just couldn’t do it until I remembered the net.  It only protects the head area, but with the rain gear the only other skin I had exposed was my hands.  What a marvelous invention. Mosquitoes, hah! I scoff at thee.  I’m thinking now someone needs to design and make mosquito net pants and shirts, better yet a jump suit, so you can wear shorts and a tee shirt.

Afternoon trail

After crossing Hwy 138 this afternoon I overshot our camping spot for the evening.  I went to where I thought we would be camping and no one was there.  I knew immediately where I had gone wrong and rode back the half mile to where Janis was waiting in record time.  I passed a group of hikers that were traveling in a pack twice on my way.  The first time by they were resting by the highway, I stopped and chatted for a minute, the second time they gave me good natured jeers as I retraced my steps.  “Get lost much?”

Hwy 38 to Windigo Pass
Mt Theilsen

July 27, 2017

Day 57, North Crater TH to Windigo Pass, miles 1846-1876,

Distance; 32.4, trail time; 8:15, average speed; 3.9, minimum elevation; 5845, maximum elevation; 7578, total ascent; 4168, total descent; 4264

Morning Trail

Easier trail today, the ups and downs weren’t too steep, the footing was good.  There wasn’t much along the trail for BG to eat or drink.  We were in the trees all day, none of the burned or bug kill areas where the grass has taken root providing a little grazing for a hungry horse.  The water sources were covered in snow so the only water she got today came 17 miles into the day and was nearly a mile off trail.

It would have been a five foot jump with a dicey landing spot.
I could hear the creek rushing under the snow.

There was a bit of snow on the trail, all the patches but one small drift were good snow, snow easily crossed.  The one drift that could have stopped my journey was by passed without too much difficulty.  I was able to cut cross country over a small ridge that separated two legs of the trail, regaining the trail after the offending snow wall.  When crossing the snow covering Thielsen Creek you have to ride down the creek a hundred yards or so.  As I approached the creek I could see where the creek had melted through the snow for about eight feet upstream from where I was, downstream three large boulders pierced the snow; I could hear the creek rushing by them.  I arbitrarily picked a spot to cross where I thought the creek was, riding straight across then riding parallel to the creek on the high edge of the snow, where I knew the creek wasn’t.  I sure didn’t want to break through the snow to land in the freezing water.

The shady tree cover and good trail makes for an easy ride, but one needs to keep a sharp look out if they want to see any view of the peaks and mountains we passed.  The highlight of the day was passing the highest point on the PCT in Washington and Oregon.

The pack of hikers that teased me yesterday, as I searched for Janis, caught up with and joined us for refreshments in camp this evening.  We were able to provide soft drinks and beer to their genuine appreciation.  They in turn provided us with good humored entertainment.

Diamond Lake & Mt. Bailey
Really, where are the bears?
A butterfly to guide the way.
Trail Snow
Howlock Mountain
Tipsoo Peak
Afternoon Trail
Windigo to Willamette Pass

July 28, 2017

Day 58, Windigo Pass to Willamette Pass, miles; 1876-1906

Distance; 24, trail time; 6:22, average speed; 3.8, minimum elevation; 4875, maximum elevation; 5985, total ascent; 2328, total descent; 3117

Diamond View Lake and Diamond Peak
Familiar sign
Familiar Morning trail

Last night we had some familiar and some new faces in camp.  Felix from Georgetown neighborhood in Seattle and Heidi, whom we refer to as the last Swiss Standing, we last saw on that awfully hot afternoon at Ash Camp.  Back then Felix was traveling with a friend from Seattle and Heidi was part of the Swiss Five.  We were also joined by a new group of six, who shall be known from now on as the Ramblers.  This group is as informal as they come, they don’t really hike or camp together, but they do pass each other throughout the day, have become supportive of each other, has only come together in the past few weeks and are home based across the US and Canada.

Summit Creek

Today we rode trail that I am pretty familiar with.  Mercedes and I took an alternate route today because we had heard the trail over and past Diamond Peak was littered with trees and still ice covered in critical spots.  The fact that the trail we chose, the Metolious Windigo trail to Whitefish Horse Camp and the Diamond View Lake trail back to the PCT near Willamette is seven miles shorter had absolutely no bearing on my decision.  The route we took had very few downed trees and no snow.

Breakfast at Whitefish Horse camp

As I was riding through Whitefish I came across a large family camp.  I didn’t stop to count but I think 40 men, women and children would be a conservative number.  Several of them greeted me as I rode past their dining area where they had half a dozen sun shades set up over a collection of picnic tables where they cooked and ate.  The smell of frying bacon was heavy in the air, when I was invited to join them I gladly accepted.  Most of them came from the Eugene Oregon area, all appeared to be having a great time.  The breakfast was excellent.

Trapper Creek bridge

This afternoon after my ride Janis and I went down to the Shelter Cove Resort on Odell Lake.  We ordered burgers from their fine dining establishment the Hook and Line, gourmet dining at its best, burgers so thick plus nice slabs of tomato, onion and lettuce, I had a hard time getting my mouth around it.  Janis and I shared a table with Randy and Bigfoot, whom we had last seen on Bartles Gap Rd, back in Northern California.  It turns out one of the Texas women that Janis rescued at Sevenmile is Randy’s sister.  They are both on the trail but have no idea where the other is.  While at the resort we also enjoyed their clean, modern, full size shower facilities, camping at its best.

Mercedes and I opted to ford Trapper Creek rather than walk the bridge
One of the older signs, before the N ational and S cenic was dropped from common usage.
Odell Lake