Day 120 – August 1, 2022
Mile 2295.9 (White Pass) to 2321.6 (Dewey Lake)
25.7 trail miles | 26.8 tracked miles | 4,187 ft elevation gain | 77 F / 25 °C
I woke up this morning feeling bloated and somewhat nauseous. Obviously, my body did not appreciate the over-processed junk food that I ate at the gas station yesterday. I trust that a few solid climbs and my legendary metabolism will soon remediate the issue.
After a quick breakfast, I left my rental condo, bid White Pass farewell, and walked a few hundred yards along the highway back to the Pacific Crest Trail, ready to tackle Washington Section I to Snoqualmie Pass.
An hour later, the sight of Sand Lake brought on an onslaught of vivid memories. While backpacking Section I a year ago in July 2021, I inadvertently filled my clean bottle with lake water at Sand Lake. I felt stupid, wondered whether I’d get sick (I didn’t), and chalked it up as a learning experience.
I have learned so much in a year. Back in the day, I carried a double wall tent, a heavy JetBoil, and a 3 liter CNOC bladder in addition to a full set of water bottles. My tent was attached outside my pack, and the fragile nylon stuff sack ripped when I climbed over a blowdown, spilling parts all over the trail. My footwear wasn’t quite dialed yet, and I returned home with massive blisters and a strained tendon which took three weeks to heal.
Despite these minor misadventures, my fortune turned quickly last year. Shortly after leaving Sand Lake, I met and befriended a group of awesome NoBo thru-hikers who were cruising to Canada. Sommer (@sommerhikes), Andreas (@andreasurne), JT (@jay_tea__) and Zane (@zanekashner) immediately made me feel comfortable around them despite my relative inexperience, and were kind enough to let me join their tramily. I followed them until Snoqualmie Pass, pushing my limits like I had never before in an attempt to keep the pace.
I learned so much by watching them, and I am forever grateful for their insights and guidance. If, a year later, I hiked 2,300+ miles so far without injuries, that’s in no small part thanks to the valuable experience that I acquired over this impromptu four-day crash course.
While my mind was wandering, reminiscing about last year’s adventure, the mosquitoes promptly brought me back to reality. Once again, taking breaks wasn’t an option. The only way to avoid getting swarmed was to walk as fast as possible. In my haste, I made a wrong turn near Bumping River (a blowdown was obstructing the PCT and I didn’t see the trail ahead.) I hiked half a mile east until I felt that something was off.
The highlight of the morning was definitely passing a group of middle-aged hikers with llamas. These kind souls were hoping to slackpack while the llamas carried their gear. As it turns out, llamas aren’t really interested in dealing with blowdowns. When the trail became too bad, they refused to keep going. It was both hilarious and sad at the same time.
The healthy climb on the flanks of Craig Mountain rewarded me with a welcome breeze which finally chased mosquitoes away, and I was able to enjoy a well-deserved lunch break.
Shortly after lunch, I reached Mt. Rainier National Park, the penultimate National Park on my journey. (The trail roughly follows the park boundary, so technically I entered and left the park a few times in a row!)
It wasn’t long before Mt. Rainier revealed itself in all its glory. The trail offered gorgeous, close-up, intimate views of the majestic mountain. This remote, seldom-visited section of Mt. Rainier National Park is rugged and glorious, in sharp contrast with the routinely crowded Paradise and Sunrise areas where Seattleites flock on weekends.
As I got closer to the mountain, I experienced a kind of microclimate. Out of the blue, it started drizzling on an otherwise sunny day. Instead of grabbing my rain jacket, I decided to enjoy this much-needed cooling mist. I was rewarded for my good spirits with the extraordinary sight of Mt. Rainier wearing a triple crown.
Having hiked close to 27 miles, I stopped for the night at Dewey Lake, the last campsite before Chinook Pass. Once again, memories flooded back—Dewey Lake is where I had camped a year ago with my newfound tramily. I had observed the gang set up in no time while making the most efficient use of the available real estate in a fashion that only thru-hikers will ever understand.
This year, I am surprisingly alone—such is the benefit of being slightly ahead of the “bubble.” A light breeze is keeping the mosquitoes at bay, and I enjoyed a glorious swim.
In other news, I learned that the fire north of Chinook Pass had been contained. I didn’t even see any smoke. I am truly fortunate.