Thursday, February 3, 2011

These are a few of my favorite things....

Janus Lake, at sunrise.
September 13: The weather had greatly improved my morning. A few wispy clouds blew around, but nothing that looked remotely like rain. Still quite a bit of tree snot falling, but that would diminish as the trees wrung themselves out. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day!

The trail climbed out from Janus Lake to some absolutely fantastic views that reminded me of the Swiss Alps in The Sound of Music. I stopped early at the first of the incredible views to throw some of my gear in the sun to dry out. Amazing! For the first time since the Goat Rocks, I could see Mount Rainier--but now it was far to the south of me rather than the north. Went right by that enormous mountain and never even saw it close up.

I also got my first views of Glacier Peak, another snow-covered glaciated peak dominating the horizon to the north. And I was amazed--the scenery was absolutely incredible, and even though I lived all of about a two hour drive away, I never knew all this existed! *shaking head* Shame on me. Oh, I knew that there was a Glacier Peak Wilderness, and I knew the PCT went through the terrain out here, but nobody ever told me how incredibly awesome the area was! I hummed a little of My Favorite Things, not really being able to remember the words. =)

Glacier Peak, I'm coming for you!
The hike was largely uneventful. I didn't see a single person until late in the afternoon when I caught a guy wearing a bright orange hat ducking into some trees along a ridge just before I arrived. It seemed a little strange, almost like he was trying to hide from me, and I didn't bother to stop and ask why. A hunter, perhaps? I didn't know, and it didn't seem like a good idea to stop and ask. I was sure he had to have seen me, and if he didn't want to talk to me, I certainly didn't intend to seek him out and force him to do so.

At one point, I had a decision to make. The PCT through most of the Glacier Peak Wilderness was officially closed. Flooding in 2003 wiped out several bridges and large sections of trail, and a detour has been in place for the past seven years! Criminal that a section of National Scenic Trail could be closed for that long, but rumor had it that it wasn't actually that hard to get through the closed section. I had asked hikers going southbound what they did, and those that took the reroute complained bitterly about how horrible the reroute was and that they regretted they ever took it, and those that didn't follow the reroute gushed about how wonderful the trail was. There was one bridge that had yet to be replaced, but crossing that river was no harder than anything we faced in the High Sierras. So I didn't think twice--I did not follow the official detour and stuck with the original PCT tread instead. A sign at Stevens Pass warned that there was "blasting" going on near Milk Creek, part of the process of fixing the trail, but even that sign seemed to suggest that the official closure might be recommended, but wasn't actually required. So no, I gladly skipped the detour. In many sections, it looked like the trail hadn't been maintained since the washout, heavily overgrown and in need of brushing, but if that was the worst of my trouble, I wasn't going to complain. =)

Closer to sunset, I caught up with Colter, who turned out to be the only person I actually talked to the entire day. I didn't recognize him at first, but when he introduced himself as Colter, the gears in my head started clicking. Didn't I meet a Colter hiking southbound near Lake Tahoe? He had skipped up from Kennedy Meadows to Ashland and started hiking southbound hoping to avoid the worst of the High Sierra snowpack? Yes, that was him! That little two minute chat passing each other on the trail near Lake Tahoe was the only time I'd met this fellow before, and he didn't seem to remember the chance encounter.

We hiked together for a couple of miles before reaching White Pass. A sign at the pass said that camping was prohibited there, which disappointed Colter since that's where he had planned to camp. There were pulaskis and shovels lined up at the pass, though, tools left by trail workers who were probably camped by the lake just down from the pass. Colter didn't like the idea of hiking off of the trail to camp, but I encouraged him saying that those trail crews were friendly folks, and by golly, if they had extra food or snacks, they might share some good eatin'. I told him about the huge hunk of apple pie I scored when I camped with the WTA work party. I hoped that lifted his spirits. =)

I didn't much want to hike off trail to camp either, and decided to push on. I wanted to use as much of the good weather while I could because I knew more rain was in the forecast in the near future.

And that was when I saw it. A black dot, on a side of a steep meadow slope, moving. A BEAR! It had to be a bear! Damn! I finally saw a bear!!!! Had to hike 2,500 miles, but by golly, I finally got to see a bear with all of about a week left in my hike! YES! I scanned the slopes some more, and saw another tiny black dot moving around above the first one. Two bears! And a third dot, below the trail. Three bears!

WOW! Three bears! The last two bears I spotted were pretty far off from the trail, one upslope and the other downslope. That first bear I spotted was a bit upslope from me and well off the trail, but close enough that I might be able to see some details. The sun was already setting and the light was terrible. I might not be able to get a decent photo at all.

Not only did I dry out in the sun,
but so did the trees and rocks!
I stayed on the trail, slowing my pace, and the closest bear finally noticed me, watching for a bit before moseying higher up the slope and away from the trail. I took pictures, but they turned out awful. Just tiny black dots, and I have to point them out to people since they're completely unrecognizable as a living creature. I was thrilled, though. Finally, at long last, I could tell people I saw a bear--three of them!--while thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I had pretty much given up hope that that would happen.

The sun set during my traverse from White Pass to Red Pass, and a spectacular sunset it was. The clouds had drifted down the canyon below me, filling up the canyon with a ghostly calm. From high on the ridge where I was located, it seemed like I could see for a hundred miles in every direction. A half-moon rose above Mount Rainier, and Mount Rainier seemed to glow in the available moonlight.

When I reached Red Pass, it was started to darken rapidly, and I decided I finally needed to stop hiking. When I arrived, though, another sign posted at Red Pass asked for people to camp "elsewhere." Crap. It was late in the day, getting dark, and I had already hiked 29.2 miles today. Sorry, sign. No, I was going to camp here, and I felt horribly guilty doing it. I don't like to break the rules, and if it was still earlier in the day, I would have pushed on, but it wasn't, and I didn't.

Although the chance of rain overnight was next to zero, I set up my tarp anyhow because condensation had already been forming on my hat while I was still hiking. It might not rain overnight, but it was clearly going to be a very wet night.

On an unrelated note, I made myself giggle when I read in my journal: Colter stopped to camp @ White Pass. I pushed on for Red Pass. (And what about Blue, Purple, and Yellow Passes?!)

I crack myself up sometimes. =)

Technically, there was a PCT detour here. (Or a "detoure", as the sign suggests.)
But I decided not to follow it!

The shirt I'm wearing, you can see a hole at the bottom of it.
For those of you familiar with my AT adventures,
this was the shirt I was wearing when I accidentally lit my
crotch on fire, and that's what the hole is from!

This is the slope where I found the three bears foraging.

I cropped this photo so the "black dot" would show up better,
but this is the best photo I could get of the closest bear.
Yeah, I know, it sucks! If only I had a zoom lens....
Actually, that probably wouldn't have helped because the light
was so bad to begin with. It would have just been blurrier!

Red Pass.... actually seems well named, at the moment!


ArtGekko said...

So, so, SO very beautiful! You're right - it does look like the Swiss alps. Glad you saw bears, and glad it wasn't a close encounter!

Blue said...

Some spectacular pix in there Ryan. Thanks for sharing those with this flatlander.

Muddy Paws said...

I'm so glad the rain stopped and you where able to enjoy the amazing beauty of the area. Seeing bears must have been the icing on the cake!

Sarcasmo said...

Thanks so much for sharing this blog and the amazing photos you've taken! This particular entry made me feel like I was on the trail, maybe it was all the beautiful scenery. Glad you stayed on course.
-Vicariously hiking along

dsgmi said...

So I thought I had read your entire blog and somehow missed the part about lighting your crotch on fire. How is that possible??? :)

Fantastic photos!

Ryan said...

The whole lighting my crotch on fire happened on the AT.

Anonymous said...

Amazing photos. I love the photo of Red Pass and the cloud carpet between the mountains. It looks like you could just walk right on top. Thanks for sharing.

Glad you enjoyed your bear encounter and that it wasn't directly on your part of the trail.

Anonymous said...

Wow....spectacular day. "This is how we do it....."


Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Lighting is everything. That Red Pass photo is lovely!

Had to laugh about the bears. All that way hiking the PCT and you could have just stayed in your home state of Washington to see bears. :D

Very amusing that you saved the damaged shirt. Why not just throw it away, or better yet, repair it? You had a couple years between hikes to get 'er done. ;-)

Or maybe you're like those guys from the original Jaws movie, who like to show off their past scars.

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers