Sunday, January 16, 2011

Give Me White Pass, or Give Me Death!

The view from under my tarp in the morning.
September 4: In case you haven't noticed, I've long since run out of ideas for good, gripping titles on my post. Just in case you were wondering. =)

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 views were non-existent, and I worried about that. I was going through the Goat Rocks, and I wanted to see it. I was out of the trees, there were views all around, and none to be seen. Argh! Erik the Black's book even said that the Knife's Edge, coming up in a few more miles, was allegedly THE most spectacular location of the entire trail according to some people. I couldn't miss that. I hoped and prayed the strong wind would blow the clouds away in time for when I passed through. I could see the sun struggling to get through. It was fighting this time. It had to win. It just had to....

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!
And for the next couple of hours, the clouds continued to taunt me. They were alive, teeming and moving, swirling around in the wind and various mountain peaks. I passed several campsites with tents set up, but the occupants were wisely still nestled inside and protected from the elements. The only people I saw were to men dressed in camo and face paint carrying bows and arrows. I wasn't sure what they were hunting, but it made me a little nervous. I don't like hiking in areas where hunters are.

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.
The wind was the biggest struggle. The windchill took its toll as well, keeping my fingers numb. The trail went up and over the very crest of the ridge, coming back down and reconnecting with the horse route practically right next to where I left it. I couldn't believe it! I took the official "hiker trail," and it was probably five times longer, much more wretched, with hardly any views at the top due to the clouds, and I could have probably saved myself a half hour of hiking just by following the stock trail?! Grrrrr....

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 trail dropped down from the Knife Edge, and I passed a group of backpackers carrying ice axes heading up. I shouted over the wind to go back while they still could, but they laughed and took pictures of each other. I asked if one of them would get a photo of me, which he did, and we continued on in our respective directions. The trail zagged around to the east side of the ridge, finally saving me from the wind. The west side was brutal, but the east side was deathly still. Almost eerie.

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.
The day before, while talking to Elk, I asked him if he knew anything about it and he said yeah, it was super expensive so nobody was doing it. I was a little disappointed at this, and asked him what super expensive meant, guessing it was probably hundreds of dollars per night. "It's like $75/night," he told me.

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.
So I told Just Dave about what Elk had told me about the lodging at White Pass, and we agreed to share a room if one was available for the night. We were a bit concerned about the availability, though. Trying to score a room on Labor Day weekend without any reservations seemed iffy. And maybe the cost for the room was jacked up because of it being Labor Day weekend? We had no way to know until we got there.

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.
I almost laughed in his face. I didn't want to, I knew he was asking a serious question, but it was really hard for me to keep a straight face. Did he not know that he was hiking the famed Pacific Crest Trail?

"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.
They told me that they had found the trailhead at the road and on a whim just decided to follow it and see where it led. They had no idea what trail they were hiking on or how far it went until they ran into me.

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.
"Well," he said, "we do have this other room, but it's in front of the construction we're doing out there. (There was a lot of construction equipment happening outside.) You'd have a view into scaffolding and stuff, but if you don't care about that, it has three beds and is only seventy-odd bucks.

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 dropped my backpack then headed back to the mini-mart to pick up my mail drop and dinner. I got the mail drop fine and looked through the food selections for dinner. I had a stove! I had a microwave! I could cook anything! I decided to buy some frozen lasagna. Lasagna sounded excellent. It came in a huge container labeled with Kirkland Signature--obviously from a Costco somewhere. It was also about ten pounds more than I could eat by myself. I hoped Just Dave liked lasagna, because I needed his help to eat it all. And I'd probably still have leftovers for breakfast.

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.

Just Dave had returned by the time I finished my shower, and I started the lasagna cooking in the oven. He told me that he had bumped into Neon at the store who was thinking about getting a room here too.

"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.

This photo was immensely disappointing to me. The rainbow in the clouds below me
seemed much more obvious when I was hiking than shows up in this photo,
and in this photo, you can't see my shadow in the middle of the rainbow at all.
It's very cool seeing a rainbow circling your shadow in the clouds below you! This is
only the third time I've ever seen this phenomena! So I was a little disappointed
with how the photos turned out. =( There was even a second even fainter rainbow
around this smaller, brighter one, but the fainter rainbow also didn't show up at all in my photos.

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.

Shoe Lake

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.


greg said...

You look like a pirate (wearing sunglasses)! GOL (gasping out loud) to your pictures!

Funhog said...

Very cool! The light phenomenon you saw is called the Brocken Spectre:
I learned about it several years ago from a letterbox clue!

I tried to pull out your shadow but only managed to get the second rainbow:

Ryan said...

Wow! You saved the second rainbow! I put up the two photos side-by-side and not only did the second rainbow come out, but the rocks in the foreground look hugely improved as well. More three-dimensional and "alive" as it were. I had no idea how overexposed that photo was until just now! =)

I had trouble getting the photo in the first place because the clouds were so thin and whispy. When I moved across the ridge, pieces of the rainbow and my shadow would appear and disappear, but it was quite obvious what I was seeing. I had trouble finding a location where I could capture the entire rainbow in just one static shot. I suspect my shadow was probably "lost" due to a particularly thin spot in the fog right where it would have shown up. It's hard to tell, though, because the white snow behind it makes it hard to see how much cloud is there to form a shadow on.

I've seen this on two other occasions when there was a *solid* layer of clouds below me and the rainbow and shadows showed up much better, but alas, I didn't have my camera at all on those occasions. *sigh*

Thanks for sharing!

-- Ryan

veganf said...

That is some incredible scenery! So many amazing pics.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

All your adventures, views and motel partnership happened on my birthday. Very awesome!
Rainbows are notorious for never photographing the same way that they actually appear. Maybe that's the true magic about them?
It's so weird to me how PNW folks adore their volcanoes. To me they just look scary and as for Mt Ranier....very intimidating.

Oh and it's funny but we just enjoyed that same Kirkland brand of lasagne last week!

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers

word verif: fienti

Sounds like something one might say after they ate an entire brick of lasagne.

ps and what did you mean by *real milk*? :D