|The view from under my tarp in the morning.|
I woke up this day to ugly-looking clouds. My tarp was absolutely drenched from condensation, and I wrung it out like a towel as best I could. It would need to be dried out if I got the opportunity.
Just Dave had already left before I even woke up in the morning--definitely an early bird riser! I was up near sunrise. Just Dave must have left when it was still dark. Even by thru-hiker standards, that's pretty darned early. The family from Vancouver wasn't stirring yet as I made breakfast and got ready for another day of hiking, but they did get up shortly before I was ready to leave and chatted a few minutes about the weather and the trail before I waved goodbye and headed into the weather.
The clouds I saw creeping closer during the night had finally arrived. Most of them were below me, settled in the valleys, but so pockets of blue sky would occasionally poke through the thin layer of fog around me. The trail followed a more-or-less level path along the ridge, and when the trail reach the end of the ridge and switched around to the other side, it exposed me to the full furry of the wind. Almost deathly quiet on one side, and an absolute tempest on the other. Night and day.
|A cute little waterfall.|
(This cascade is actually quite long!)
The clouds toyed with me, led me on, giving me hope, then dashing them at the next turn of the trail. Patches of snow crossed the trail. Nothing serious, but it covered perhaps a 100 feet of trail at times, and I had to carefully walk across so I didn't slip and hurt myself. "Friggin' September," I thought, "and I'm still worrying about snow." Sheesh!
At one point, Mt. Rainier popped into view, closer and larger than ever. It appeared to float in the sky, above the clouds, but that was just an illusion. The view lasted for all of about five seconds before another wave of clouds swept in obscuring the view. "Glad you could visit," I told the hidden mountain, "but I wished you could have stayed longer." I didn't even have time to take a photo.
|The sun is fighting to get out!|
I marched on. I saw evidence of Just Dave, writ in sand on the side of the trail. He liked to carve his trail name into the trail with his trekking pole occasionally so his buddies behind him knew where he was. I added a happy face next to his name. It seemed like the right thing to do. =)
An unexpected sign marked a trail junction. Right was the hiker PCT, left was the horse PCT. I could see a little to the left, the trail crossing a steep, snow-covered slope, and I wondered how a horse could possibly cross that. It didn't look safe for people much less for horses. I followed the hiker PCT, which led up to the tippy-top of a ridgeline where the wind gusts nearly picked me up and hurled me into the abyss. The sun continued it's fight against the clouds, and views started opening up. I could see Mount Rainier again, then lost it just as quickly before appearing again. In the distance, I saw an amazing little cascade of water coming down from an alpine lake. If there was ever a Garden of Eden, that was it.
|This marmot couldn't seem to decide if|
he wanted to come out or not.
Nothing can be done about that now. I powered on. It was too cold to stop anyhow.
The trail climbed another ridge and followed along the crest: the Knife Edge. It's called the Knife Edge because the trail is very narrow with long, steep cliffs on both sides--like walking on the edge of a sharp knife. On a normal day, it would be exhilarating. In gale force winds, it was nerve-wracking. The clouds started to lose their hold, however, and the views got better. Much better. I could finally see all of Mount Rainier, completely unobstructed, at the end of a long, beautiful valley. "YES!!!" I shouted into the wind. "THIS is what I'm talking about!!!"
The lingering clouds twisted and danced in the wind. They swirled and sparkled and put on a show like I'd never seen before. The clouds gave life to an otherwise static view, and in the end, improved the experience. Fantastic.
|I added the happy face to Just Dave's signature. =)|
The rest of the day's hiking was largely uneventful. By afternoon, the trail returned down below tree level and views became scarce. I passed a multitude of people, too many to count, out backpacking here on Labor Day weekend, including a dozen or so with horses. I caught up with Just Dave in a small meadow where he had laid out his tent and was drying it where we talked for a few minutes and compared notes of our adventure over the Knife Edge.
He did get some views at the last minute, but probably not as many as I got. I asked how far he planned to hike for the day and his goal was White Pass--the same as mine. I asked him if he knew about the lodging situation there, and he knew about as much as I did, which wasn't much. The only thing I knew about the lodging situation was that there was "lodging" according to Erik the Black. Nothing about what kind of lodging or how expensive it would be.
|This alpine lake just captivated me, along with that|
long cascading waterfall down the slope from it.
In my mind, that's a lot of money for a room, but hardly "out of reach" by my standards. And frankly, if it's the difference between spending $75 for a room or spending a night out in the rain, I'd pay for the room. I sometimes forgot that I'm probably a lot better off financially than most people hiking the trail. I'm certainly not rich, but I still had an income from Atlas Quest. It might not be much, but most people hiking the trail had no income at all. Given how few expenses are on the trail, I actually expected to finish the trail with more money than I started!
But I certainly understand Elk's point of view. When I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, I too had no income at all and was living purely on my savings. I'd stay in the cheapest options available, or skip a town completely just to save a few bucks. It was a nice change, I thought, not to be so concerned with penny-pinching like I had to before. If I wanted to splurge on a $75/night room, I could do so. On the PCT, I would often get my own room at a hotel rather than buying a place in a hostel that might be cheaper just for the extra privacy and to have a television all to myself and not have to share it with anyone. Times have certainly changed since my skinflint way on the AT!
|Stock route, or hiker route? I would later wish I|
stuck to the stock route, but I didn't.
I pushed on ahead of Just Dave. He hiked slow, but he made up for that with endurance. He started early, and he finished late, but he made the miles every day.
On the last stretch, down to the highway at White Pass, I encountered a family hiking up the trail. It was late in the day and they had no backpacking gear, so they were obviously out for a short hike. The younger kids seemed grumpy about the "long" hike and were complaining to their parents about how tired they were. How cute. =)
The dad asked me, "How far up does this trail go?"
|It should be illegal for there to be|
snow in September. It should be, but it's not.
"It goes all the way to Mexico," I told him. Completely straight-faced too. It was an amazing performance for me!
"HOLY COW?! Are you serious?!"
"Yes," I told him, nodding. This is the Pacific Crest Trail. It stretches from Mexico to Canada."
"HOLY COW!!!" They were astounded, and when they regained their senses, they asked if the trail went "anywhere cool."
I shook my head. "Not anywhere you could get to before sunset," I told them. "There ARE some really awesome places, but they're a good ten miles away from here. The only things you'll pretty much be able to see are trees like we're standing in already." I felt bad telling them this, but it was true. All the effort they spent climbing up the trail was wasted on trees.
|The trail follows quite literally|
the very crest of the ridge, with
sharp drops on both sides.
While they were deciding what to do next, I waved goodbye and continued down the trail to White Pass.
I reached the trailhead quick enough, then started walking up the road. The pass itself where the lodging and mini-mart were located was nearly a mile up the road to the west. I could have tried hitchhiking, but being less than a mile away, walking seemed like the quickest way.
I had a maildrop waiting for me at the mini-mart, but before I went there, I headed up the hill behind it to ask about lodging. The man behind the counter told me that there was a room available for $140 which could fit three people, or another one for $60 or something like that that could fit one person.
"No two-person options?" I asked. It would have been cheaper for me just to take the $60 for myself than to split a $140 room with Just Dave. And I bet Just Dave would be more than happy to share floor space with me if that was necessary. "I'll take the room for one," I told the guy.
|Mt. Rainier seems to float above the clouds.|
Now that sounds more like it! "I'll take it!" =) I still didn't need a third bed, but splitting a $70 room in half with Just Dave would be awesome. That would work out just fine....
I paid for the room, got the key, and described Just Dave ("a stinky thru-hiker, older than me and bald, but a really nice fellow, and so far as I know, the only other thru-hiker behind me that would likely be coming in"), and told the clerk to send him to our room when he gets in.
Our room was more like a condo than a traditional hotel room, having a full kitchen with a stove, microwave, plates, utensils, turkey basters (seriously!), cookie sheets, muffin sheets, rolling pins, and--shoot, this kitchen is better than our kitchen at home! The wall along the kitchen was lined with wine corks which looked absolutely wonderful, and I don't even like wine. Absolutely charming, the room, with three bunk beds on the side. No television or telephone, however.
|The sun is starting to win|
its battle with the clouds.
I also bought a liter of real milk, some ice cream, and snacks. I was gonna pig out!
I headed back to the room, meeting Just Dave as he was leaving the room and heading to the mini-mart himself. "Glad you could make it!" I told him. "Isn't our room AWESOME?!" =)
He was pretty pleased with it too. "You like lasagna?" I asked him. "Because I just bought this brick," as I pulled it out and showed it to him. He said that it looked good to him and we went on in our respective directions.
Back in the room, I took a shower and started to get cleaned up. It would have been nice to do laundry, but it was already so late in the day I didn't bother. I didn't even know if the premises had laundry available, and there was no bathtub do it in anyhow. Just Dave probably wouldn't have appreciated it had I tried either. =) But at least I could take a shower and clean up a little bit.
"We have another bed!" I said. "Why didn't you invite her to share our room?"
He said the idea had crossed his mind, but he wasn't sure if I'd be okay with that and didn't want to take the chance. Which is thoughtful, I suppose, but I was a little disappointed. I hadn't seen Neon since somewhere near Lake Tahoe and would have loved to catch up with her. I didn't even know she was in the area until Just Dave just told me about bumping into her.
"Well, if you see her walk past our window," I said, "let's try to grab her." Figuratively speaking, of course. =)
The lasagna was amazing--food always tastes so good after coming in from the trail. The weather forecast called for rain in the morning, and Just Dave and I were both happy to at least have a dry, warm room for the night. We never did see Neon, so it was a boy-only party in the room. I used Just Dave's cell phone to give Amanda a call and give her an update on my progress. (My cell phone didn't work here.) I took a blanket out of the closet and wrapped it around me. It felt nice. =) I hadn't wrapped a blanket around me like that in months! Just Dave decided to take the bottom bunk, and I climbed up to the top and we hit the sack.
|Hello, Mount Rainier!!!!|
|See the trail following that ridge line? I'm past the Knife Edge at this point,|
but the trail still follows directly along the top of the ridge.
|I'm leaning into the wind so I don't fall over!|
|Fantastic views. Simply fantastic!|
|One last view of Mount Rainier..... It never did come completely out from the clouds.|
|The road to White Pass|
|The mini-mart with my maildrop.|
|Our little kitchen area of our room.|
|I really liked the wine corks making up the wall here.|
|Just Dave prepares to fill his Platypus with water.|