Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jack, Packs, and Buckles

I didn't get this kind of body from chocolate milkshakes
all day. Sometimes I have a vanilla instead! HA!
September 9: I woke up early, at 7:00, still on hiker time, but was in no rush to hit the trail early. The forecast called for rain. I played on the computer, checking e-mail, and eventually packed up my worldly possessions. I replaced almost all of the Ziplocks I had--they were old and worn, and the weather forecast called for rain every day for the next week. They needed to keep my food and gear dry. What is WRONG with the weather?! Washington was turning into an absolutely miserable part of the hike. Cold and wet. But I was too close to quit now.

Amanda and I stopped at Safeway for a few food items, but my mail drop had the bulk of what I'd need for the next section of trail. We also stopped at Jack in the Box because by golly, I was in civilization and I wanted fast food, and as many calories as I could consume. I ordered the Deli Trio sandwich, a large fries, and a large drink.

Amanda doesn't much care for Jack In the Box, but while driving up to Snoqualmie Pass, she was badmouthing the company. "I don't know why you like that crap. It's terrible!"

I nodded agreeably. "Yes, it's crap, but damn it's good!"

Amanda looked at my sandwich, asking what it was. "Deli trio. Good." And took another bite.

"That doesn't actually look too bad," she continued.

"Did you want to try a bite?" I offered.

Amanda accepted the offer and took a big bite. "That's pretty good, actually."

"Yeah, I know!" =)

Amanda drops me off at the trailhead.
The weather in Seattle wasn't too bad at all--partly cloudy, no rain. It was in the mountains where the forecast was bad. I checked the forecast for Snoqualmie Pass, Skykomoish, and Stehekin. I tried to get the forecast for Stevens Pass but couldn't get that search to work, and ended up using Skykomish instead. I didn't give that forecast much credibility, though. That town was far below the mountain pass where the trail was. It could be completely sunny in Skykomish and still be pouring rain at Stevens Pass. The ten-day forecast for Snoqualmie Pass included rain every single friggin' day, but Stehekin actually showed a couple of days of partly cloudy. Still, the forecast was rain for most days, but a couple of days of partly cloudy gave me hope.

When Amanda dumped me out at Snoqualmie Pass, it wasn't raining, but the clouds and fog certainly looked menacing, and it did look like it had been raining earlier in the morning. I left my Jack trash with Amanda to dispose of properly, shouldered my pack, and started hiking hard. I wanted to get as many miles in as possible before it started raining again. If I was really lucky, maybe I could even set up camp and stay warm and dry under my tarp before it started. Gotta move, though!

The climb up from Snoqualmie Pass was steep, climbing thousands of feet within a few miles. The higher I climbed, the more the clouds turned into fog, and fat drops of fog attacked. It wasn't rain, but I was getting wet. I finally seemed to reach the crest again where the trail would level out (more or less), and I was zooming along quickly near Ridge Lake when I heard a SNAP and my pack shifted.

CRAP! I stopped to assess the situation. The buckle on my shoulder strap broke. I thought the strap itself had broke, my sewing had failed, but it was just the buckle. My sewing was solid as ever. Somehow, this comforted me. I felt better knowing that the pack didn't break because of my sewing. It wasn't MY fault. Stupid buckle. I could blame Seattle Fabrics, where I bought the buckle. =) (If you're ever looking for outdoor fabrics, BTW, that's where I bought packcloth, silicone impregnated nylon, and other specialized fabrics you won't find in most stores.)

The trail crosses under I-90 as Amanda drives away...

As luck would have it, I actually had a spare buckle in my pack! The buckle on my strap had broke coming down Forester Pass, and I tied a knot in the straps to hobble together something that worked long enough to get me into town to replace it. I managed to score a replacement buckle from hikers coming in the other direction, trading my sunscreen for it. Knotting the straps ended up working so well, though, I never even bothered to replace the buckle. But I was still carrying the replacement buckle all this time, too lazy to actually replace it.

This time, the buckle broke in such a way that tying the straps together with a knot wasn't going to cut it. Nope, this time, the buckle needed to be replaced completely.

I pulled out my miniature sewing kit (a lesson learned from my test run of the first home-made backpack on the West Coast Trail) and proceeded to cut out my original stitches to free the broken buckle. And, boy, let me tell you, I did an excellent job of sewing that buckle on. I had a devil of a time freeing it! The stitching had held up incredibly well and was as solid as the day I sewed it. Very difficult to free the buckle, especially when it's cold and wet.

I put on another layer of clothes--this would take awhile to fix, and now that I wasn't hiking, the chill started to set in.

Stupid broken buckle.....
But the broken buckle finally came free and I sewed the new one in by hand. My hand stitching wasn't as sturdy as the original machine stitched job, but it should hold. And in twelve days, I should be done with the trail completely. The patch job only needs to work for twelve days.

All told, I spent a half hour repairing my pack. I hurried as best I could, and thank goodness it wasn't pouring rain at the time. In my haste, I did stick myself with a needle a couple of times, and cursed the lack of a thimble. Maybe I should add that to my miniature sewing kit for next time.

But I got it back together and continued hiking. I was thick in the fog now, and at one point, the trail traversed the side of a steep cliff that freaked me out a little. Because of the fog, I couldn't see the bottom of the cliff, and that made me a little nervous. It looked like a bottomless pit. If I jumped, I'd continue falling forever. Of course, that was ridiculous, but I couldn't get that feeling out of my head and it bothered me greatly. At least if I fell off a cliff with a bottom, there was an END to it. This cliff seemed to have no end....
The new buckle is sewed on, and I took a photo of it next to the old one for comparison. =)
Just a matter of slipping off the old one and threading the strap through the new buckle.
I stopped for the day at about 6:15. I wanted to go further, but my topo map showed a lot of steep, rocky terrain ahead and I had doubts if I could find a suitable campsite before dark in that. So I decided that an early stop was better than setting up camp in the dark when it was pouring rain while on the side of an exposed cliff face!

So I set up camp near a viewpoint of Joe Lake. The rain didn't start coming down with enthusiasm until just after 8:00 as darkness descended.

This toggle had broken quite some time ago. It cinches the top of my pack closed.
But I never bothered to fix this one. =) How much longer will this home-made pack go on?!

This cliff made me a little nervous. Not being able to see the
bottom of it really bothered me!

I'm sure the views would have been spectacular if it wasn't for all the fog. =(

Joe Lake, if I remember correctly. You can see a switchback of the PCT down there too!
(The trail doesn't actually go all the way down to the lake, though.)

Camped out next to the trail, under my tarp. Rain was
definitely in the forecast!


ArtGekko said...

"A little nervous"?! Schnikeys! I would have been hugging the upper cliff face, inching sideways, all the while chanting "find a happy place! find a happy place!"

Unknown said...

Ryan, I *think* you may be feeding the strap through that buckle the wrong way. This puts a bending stress on it and causes it to break.

Anonymous said...

Just looking at that cliff in the fog photo gives me the willies.


Anonymous said...

AG: Happy Place? Heck No, I would have hyperventalated and passed out!


David Baril Jr. said...

And there was no mention of the guy sitting at the table behind you a Jack-in-the-Box! I'm sure he sees a thru-hiker make a pity stop at the Box to grab a picture next to that poster! HA!

Anonymous said...

As ArtGekko said:"A little nervous"?! Schnikeys! I would have been hugging the upper cliff face, inching sideways, all the while chanting "find a happy place! find a happy place!"

I would be crawling along the area. I'm scared of heights, but not being able to see the bottom would scare the skeeliewots out of me. I'm glad for you there wasn't any wind blowing at that time. It gives me the willies just looking at the photo's.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Sounds like you could have used some heavier duty buckles, toggles and hardware...built for serious hiking and camping. Good thing you can sew and also jimmy things when out on the trails.

That fog is beautiful in it's own way and that cliff reminds me of something one might see in Lord of the Rings. Very spooky!

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers