Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Day 52: Back to the trail!

July 31: Six days after leaving the trail due to my foot injuries, it was time to return. I spent the week allowing my feet to heel and figuring out how to best protect them when I returned to the trail. I bought some extra large bandages that could completely cover the raw areas of my foot, on top of which I applied KT tape which I liked because it stuck to my skin like glue. It didn't come loose if it got wet--a distinct possibility on the trail if it rained, I had to ford creeks or even just because my feet sweat on a hot day. The fact that it would stay in place for days was also convenient since it meant I didn't have to replace the bandages as often. That perhaps wasn't as good from a sanitary perspective, but it meant I was much less likely to run out of bandages in the middle of nowhere.

Back at the trailhead where I had quit the trail six days earlier.

And on top of that, I bought an ankle brace for my foot just for the extra padding it provided. I used that for one foot, and a wrap for the other foot. Then I walked around in my old shoes to test how it felt. It hurt, of course--it was still a very raw wound--but it seemed tolerable walking around in Seattle and I limited my walks around Seattle to about 5 miles each day so I didn't inflame the wounds further. They seemed to be healing rapidly. 

When I wasn't tending to my feet, I spent my days working on Atlas Quest. I had completed a major update of the website shortly before hitting the trail and plenty of bugs had been detected, so it was a good chance for me to fix all those problems. It was convenient that I had so much time to work on them. A zero day in a trail town wouldn't have been enough time to fix all the bugs.

My last full day in Seattle, I tried wearing the shoes that initially caused my injuries and even after several miles of walking around Seattle, my wounds didn't get any worse.

Now, six days after leaving the trail, I felt ready to go back. AQ bugs were fixed and my feet, while not 100% healed, were much improved and I had a system to protect them that seemed to work well.

Amanda returned from a trip the day before and had the next few days available to drive me back to the trail. I called the ranger station to get a permit, but nobody answered and I left a message to call me back. In the meantime, I headed to the grocery store for a bit of shopping. I didn't have to buy much. Last time, I left Harts Pass with 10 days of food, but only spent 3 nights on the trail so I still had most of that food left. Despite knocking 3 nights off my hike, I planned to restart the trail doing closer to 10 miles per day so as not to push my feet too hard, and the slower pace meant that I now expected to cover the distance to Concrete in 9 days. I needed to resupply those extra two days of food!

A ranger returned my call just as I was walking into the grocery store and she helped me with a permit that I downloaded to my phone. I was set!

I finished my shopping, packed up my pack, then Amanda and I headed out back to the trail.

We stopped at a Carls Jr. for a quick lunch, a lunch that we had to eat in the car due to the coronavirus. Their dining room was not open for dining.

My permit for backcountry camps didn't start until tomorrow night. Amanda wanted to camp tonight--she was driving all the way out here again, she may as well enjoy a night of camping! So we checked out a few campsites near Ross Lake, but they were already full. We had no idea where we'd spend the night.

We reached the East Bank and Happy Panther Trailheads--the location where I left the trail six days earlier--and we decided that I would slackpack about 5 miles to the Ross Dam Trailhead where she would pick me up in a couple of hours and she would continue driving down Highway 20 looking for a campsite for us somewhere between here and Mazama. The worst-case scenario, we figured, if all the official campsites were full, was to camp on the side of the road in the national forest near Mazama.

The PNT followed the Happy Panther Trail near the south shore of Ross Lake, although views of the lake were rare because trees usually blocked the view. Mostly, it was a forest walk with the occasional hint of a lake behind the trees.

But the trail was largely in good condition. A few blowdowns that barely slowed me at all, and the trail was almost entirely flat. I walked quickly and efficiently as if I had no injury at all.

About an hour into the hike, I was passing some bushes on the side of the trail when I heard something large move in the bush. My first, automatic reaction was it must be a deer, and I looked into the bushes when I saw a small piece of black fur through the tangle of branches and ferns and realized that that was no deer--it was a bear! And I was probably standing all of about three feet away from it! Yikes!

I quickly moved away until there was about 15 feet separating us when I felt safe enough to stop and look back toward the bear. I couldn't see it at first, hidden in all the brush, but I could hear it moving. I pulled out my camera and started filming.

I stepped off the trail a few feet for a glance around the bushes and I finally saw a recognizable bear. My glance earlier was literally nothing more than a small patch of black fur. It was enough for me to know it was a bear, but that's like seeing a shoulder blade on a person and saying you saw a person. True, but it's not very interesting. Now I could see the entire bear!

The bear moved further away from the trail then started walking parallel to it and away from me, in the direction I had come. It went behind some more bushes and I lost sight of it, but then I heard it crashing through the brush and I realized it was coming up onto the trail.

And then he stepped out onto the trail. What a beautiful animal! He turned his head, looking directly at me, and I shouted out, "Hi!" Mostly just to let him know that I knew he was there and I wasn't intimidated at his presence. Not that I had any reason to think he would attack me, but I didn't want him to think I might be an easy target either.

He turned away and started walking down the trail away from me. A second later, he paused and looked back at me again, and I told him, "Hi!" again, then again he turned away and moseyed down the trail away from me, finally curving around a bend in the trail and out of view for good.

How exciting! I saw a bear! I wished I had my fancy camera to have filmed it. Deep in the trees here, the lighting was dark and my cheap camera couldn't do a good job filming it. But even a bad job of filming the encounter was still better than no video at all! =)

My thrilling bear encounter!

The rest of the day's hike was uneventful. The trail came out at a gravel road that supports Ross Dam and the power plants, then I followed it to a trail leading about a quarter-mile off trail up a steep trail to the Ross Dam trailhead where Amanda was already waiting for me. My feet were in great shape and not hurting even a little.

"I saw a bear!" I reported to her. 

"Are you just pulling my leg?" she replied, not sure if I was to be trusted. She seemed suspicious that I made up the encounter just to make her jealous or something.

"Yes! I even got video!" I replied as I proceeded to pull out my camera and show it. She seemed properly jealous. =)

She reported driving pretty much the entire distance to Mazama but found no campgrounds with an available campsite, but she did find a trailhead about 10 miles down the road in the national forest that might be a good place to camp. So we drove there and she was right, it was a great place to camp. Even better than a real campground since this location was both free and uncrowded. =)

We walked about 5 minutes down the trail and set up camp next to a nice river. I cooked up some mashed potatoes for dinner, and Amanda added Little Smokies that she had brought. It was pretty nice and filling.

And that was that. I was another 5 miles closer to the end of the Pacific Northwest Trail. But would I actually reach the end this year? That was still to be determined....

What is that? It kind of looks like a wasp nest, but what's it doing on the ground here?

The buildings on the far side of the lake make up the Ross Lake Resort, a floating resort on the lake. The PNT runs through the trees on the mountain behind it, but I planned to check it out during tomorrow's hike.

Ross Dam, and the PNT crosses directly over the top of it! But that's for tomorrow... I'll have a lot more to say about Ross Dam during tomorrow's hike. =)

Monday, September 28, 2020

Day 51: Achilles heel takes down another hero!

July 25: Not surprisingly, when I woke up, my feet problems hadn't improved. I had to get off the trail. There was no way around it. Even if I wanted to push on, my permit through the North Cascades meant I needed to hike about 20 miles to reach my next campsite. There was absolutely no way I could make it. On top of that, there was my issue with the dwindling supplies of moleskin and band-aids. Nope, I had to abandon the Pacific Northwest Trail. Again. But it was a little embarrassing to think I'd be getting off the trail just four days after returning to it. I knew there was a possibility I wouldn't finish the trail: wildfires, COVID closures or whatever, but I had been certain that I could make it more than four days!

I only had about 2.5 miles to the trailhead, so today barely even counted. In fact, I could easily hear traffic from Highway 20 zooming by on the other side of Ruby Arm. The highway was probably 1/10th of a mile away as the crow flies. Maybe closer! But I had to walk around Ruby Arm to cross Ruby Creek on a bridge so walking distance, I had to cover 2.5 miles.

I took my time packing up camp. I figured it wouldn't take more than about two hours to reach the trailhead. Despite being just 2.5 miles away--a distance I normally would have covered in an hour--I allotted myself two hours since walking was slow with my injuries. I could hear the traffic from Highway 20 and, at 6:00am, there was none. Absolutely none! So I didn't worry about getting an early start. If I were at the trailhead now, I'd just be standing there waiting for vehicles.

So I slept in late and took my time eating breakfast and packing up camp. 

After walking to the water source yesterday evening in Crocs, I decided to finish the last 2.5 miles in my Crocs. Without that strap around the back of my foot, walking was actually fairly easy. It helped that this section of trail was well-traveled, well-maintained and relatively flat. I still didn't walk very fast, but it was much less painful than walking in my hiking shoes.

The day's hike was relatively uneventful, passing through forests with almost no views of Ruby Arm except where the trail goes around the lake and over Ruby Creek on a bridge. Near the bridge, I started seeing a multitude of hikers coming out and I could hear that traffic on Highway 20 had picked up.

And finally, I reached the East Bank Trailhead. Civilization! Well, kind of.... The busy Highway 20 passed by, and there was a beautiful wooden structure for 'trailhead relief', but that was about the extent of the civilization. I pulled out my phone but, unsurprisingly, it did not get a signal at this remote location. I couldn't call anyone with updates.

This appeared to be an old water pipe to me, and I wondered what it was doing out here.

But I did have my SPOT device, and the partly used batteries I filled it with still had enough power to send a signal so I hit the "leaving the trail" button that I had programmed earlier.

Somewhere in the world, I knew, Amanda's phone was getting a text and email that I was leaving the trail. I didn't know where she was--probably in the United States since international trips had been cut back so much due to COVID--but she could still have been anywhere in the United States. I hadn't kept track of her schedule because I didn't think I needed to know it.

But somewhere, unless she was actually in the air and flying at the moment, she was just finding out that I was getting off the trail. She wouldn't know why I was getting off the trail, and she might be a little concerned about my well-being--worried about what went so wrong that I needed to get off the trail. But I knew she could check my location and see that I was already at the trailhead on Highway 20, and I wasn't using the SOS button which would have meant I needed immediate rescue. She'd know something bad had happened, but it wasn't life-threatening.

I took a few minutes to prepare myself for hitchhiking. I collapsed my trekking pole and added it to my pack. I applied some sunscreen to my face and hands. Hiking through the forest, I was always in shade, but now I'd be standing in the hot, brutal sun trying to hitch a ride. I needed the sun protection. I also pulled out my mask, ready to put it on as soon as someone stopped for me. I didn't feel like wearing it on the road while hitching--it's not like anyone else was around and it wasn't comfortable to wear for who knows how long, but I made sure to let it hang visibly in case it was the difference between whether or not someone would pick me up or not.

And, since there was no telling how long I'd be standing out there, so I pulled out some earbuds and started playing music on my phone to listen to.

A car approached. I stuck out my thumb. The car went by.

Come on, ride! Where are you?!

This pattern repeated itself over and over again. For over an  hour, I kept trying to hitch a ride with no success. Hikers arrived throughout the morning but none were leaving.

Even a park ranger arrived, but it was just to do some maintenance on the toilet. Then she got back in her truck and pulled away never offering me a ride. I had chatted with her a bit and told her about my injury and getting off the trail and she assured me that it probably wouldn't take long for me to get a ride, but I was hoping she might help out. I didn't expect a ride all the way to Seattle, after all. My main concern first and foremost was just to get to a location where I got actual cell phone service which I could do at Newhalem maybe 15 miles down the road. Just get me to Newhalem, please!

A hiker who arrived shortly after I started hitching returned to the trailhead and appeared to be leaving, so I walked over to him asking if he could provide a lift. He said he normally would and often does pick up hitchhikers, but he was leery about doing so now because of COVID.

"I have a mask," I said, holding it up, "if that makes any difference?"

He shook his head sadly and I returned to the road to keep hitching. This might take awhile.

I wondered if my chances of getting picked up would be better if I actually wore the mask while I was hitching. There was no way to know for certain. Times were different! I had hitchhiked on Highway 20 two times before. The first time I got a lift within 5 minutes. The second time--when I left the PNT last year--took closer to an hour, but two other people had stopped to offer me a ride during that time. It was just for a few miles, though, and I wanted a longer distance hitch and had turned them down. So far, I'd been out here for over an hour and I didn't get a single nibble.

At least I still had all day to get out. And frankly, I still had a week of food in my pack. If I couldn't get a ride today, I could camp out here in the parking lot for the next week until I got a ride. Not that that's what I wanted to do, but I certainly had plenty of time to get myself out from here before things became dire.

The outhouse at the trailhead was really quite fancy.
I'd give this one two thumbs up!

 About 10 minutes later, the hiker who had turned me down for a ride approached and said that he had a change of heart. He would take me as far as Newhalem as long as I wore a mask in the vehicle.

"Not a problem!" I said excitedly. Yes! It took about 1.5 hours, but I finally got a ride! Only about 15 miles down the road, but that was far enough to get me into range of cell phone towers. Perfect!

So we both wore masks, riding down the highway and chatted a bit about the crazy times we were in. About a half hour later, we arrived in Newhalem and the end of my ride.

There's a large parking area just off the highway with picnic tables and trees and I found a nice spot at a picnic table in the shade to settle down and make some phone calls.

The first call I made was to Amanda--she was probably the only person who knew that something had gone terribly wrong and might be concerned. She answered the phone immediately and said she was just pulling off I-5 in Arlington on her way to pick me up. I was actually quite surprised--and delighted! She had already driven halfway out to pick me up herself! When I set up the "I'm quitting the trail" button on my SPOT device, I had told her not to just immediately drive out and pick me up but to use it as a warning that something had gone wrong and that I might need to be picked up... but go ahead and wait until I could actually call and tell her what was actually happening. More of a "be on alert" kind of response until I had a chance to call and tell her what I actually needed.

So I was surprised to find that she was already halfway to my location! I told her about my injury and why I was getting off the trail. For a little while, at least. I hoped to return again in another week or two.

Amanda was still over an hour away, however, so at first I figured I may as well keep trying to hitch a ride. I could get further down the road and she wouldn't have to drive out as far to pick me up, but she pointed out that cell phone service was spotty as soon as she left the I-5 corridor. If I did get a ride, I might not be able to call her and let her know where I was located. And my SPOT device wouldn't help because she couldn't check my location without an Internet connection. She could wind up driving right past me on the road and not even know it.

So we decided that I should just stay where I'm at and let her pick me up. Which was fine--I was in a comfortable place, at a picnic table and in the shade. I could read my Kindle or watch Netflix on my phone--both of which was far more fun than standing on the side of the road trying to hitch a ride.

We hung up, and I now had about 1.5 hours to twiddle my thumbs and kill some time. I called the ranger station in Marblemount to let them know what I was getting off the trail and to cancel the rest of my permit. Let others use the campsites that I could no longer use. I surfed the web on my phone for a bit, checking up on AQ and W4F, reading emails and finally settled into watching Netflix shows.

I didn't think to write in my journal what I watched on Netflix and I've long since forgotten what I had watched, but I must have really been into it because I didn't notice Amanda pull up. She honked her horn lightly to get my attention. Awesome! I waddled over with all my gear and boarded the vehicle.

She had picked up some drinks for me when she filled up with gas. At the time, I hadn't called her yet so she didn't know what the issue was, but remembering how weak I was when I got sick last year, she thought I might need some liquid calories if it was a repeat this year. And even if it wasn't, she figured I'd probably like a cold drink anyhow. Which was true--I quickly downed one of the Cokes.

Then we had the long drive back to Seattle. Actually, it wasn't really that long. It was about 1.5 hours shorter than when she dropped me off at Harts Pass four days earlier--about 30% closer to Seattle in terms of driving time. And when I returned to the PNT, the drive would be equally shorter.

Plus, I didn't have a long 13-mile off-trail hike to get back to the PNT. The PNT actually went through the parking lot. The second I stepped out of the car, I'd be back on the PNT.

The East Bank trailhead was actually the point last year where I wanted to quit the trail because it was so much more convenient than Harts Pass, but I got off at Harts Pass since my health and safety was more important than convenience. At least this time, I could quit the trail at a relatively convenient location.

The drive back to Seattle was uneventful, and I was officially off the trail. Again....

The PNT is a rough trail!

Ruby Creek

Friday, September 25, 2020

Day 50: Ross Lake Arrival

July 24: I slept well and hit the trail running at 7:00am. Well, maybe not running--my feet were still in agony and hadn't improved during the night. They also didn't get worse, but each step was painful.

Fortunately, the first several miles of the day, I'd be heading downhill toward Ross Lake, then the rest of the day I'd largely travel along flat ground following along the shoreline of the lake. There was very little uphill for the entire day--a fact I was enormously thankful for since the uphills rubbed the back of my ankles most and therefore hurt the most.

Jack Mountain

So I headed downhill toward Ross Lake. There weren't many views, mostly tucked in among the trees, but numerous blowdowns slowed my progress. The scrambling up and over the blowdowns or up and around the banks of the trail caused my feet lots of grief.

Much of the time I spent wondering if there was actually a word that describes the back of a person's foot where my injury was located. I couldn't think of a name for it except the "back of my foot" or "back of my ankle," and I found both phrases needlessly wordy and imprecise. Heel didn't seem correct either, since I thought of the ball of the foot as the heel. I should invent a word for this part of the body, but what?

I settled on "kark." That's actually a Polish word for the back of the neck. My feet, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with my neck, but in English, kark had no meaning so I felt it was available to use for anything of my choosing, and I needed a word to describe the back of my ankle more than I needed a word to describe the back of my neck. And anyhow, in English, there was already had a word to describe the back of the neck--the "nape." So I figured I could re-purpose the Polish word to describe the location of my current injury. =) (If there was a Polish word to describe this part of the foot, I didn't know it, so that wasn't an option!)

With that pressing problem solved, continued down toward Ross Lake, eventually coming out to the shoreline with beautiful, wide and expansive views. It's a large, man-made lake that's 23 miles long and up to 1.5 miles wide and stretches across the Washington border into Canada. If the lake didn't exist, the PNT could just go straight across and cut dozens of miles of hiking around the lake into a few miles. But no, the lake is in the way, so now the trail follows the long shoreline the long way around the lake.

After covering about 7 miles for the day, roughly my half-way point, I was absolutely exhausted and crashed on a small nob overlooking the lake. The location was gorgeous! And I decided that I needed a long rest--at least for an hour or two which justified the pain and effort of taking off my shoes. Which is what I did.


I took a two-hour break on this nob overlooking
Ross Lake. It was a wonderful place for a break!

I enjoyed the break, eating snacks, reading my Kindle and admiring the views. But after nearly two hours, it was time to put my shoes back on and hike out to my campsite at Ruby Pasture. When I reached Ross Lake, I had entered the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and all camping was by permit only. I had a permit, and it required that I camp at Ruby Pasture.

The trail, much to my annoyance, climbed nearly a thousand feet up and away from the shoreline, somewhat of a "shortcut" to the Ruby Arm section of the lake. The path was shorter than one that would have stayed along the shoreline, but it was less scenic being in the trees and infinitely more painful for me to walk. My progress slowed dramatically.

Eventually I reached the top of the shortcut and the trail headed back downhill again.

On my map, the Ruby Pasture campsite appeared to lie right on the trail, or at least right next to it at the junction with the Hidden Hand campsite located a half-mile off trail. It was the reason I choose the Ruby Pasture campsite rather than the Hidden Hand campsite--it was closer to the PNT.

Except when I arrived at the junction, I didn't see the campsite. There was a sign pointing uphill to Jack Mountain, and there was another sign pointing in the opposite direction to Hidden Hand Camp, and toward Highway 20, and toward Ross Lake. All of the directions were labeled, but none pointed to Ruby Pasture. Where the heck was Ruby Pasture?

Unsure, I walked further up the trail for a few minutes, but it didn't take long before I guessed this was the wrong direction and retraced my steps back to the junction. So then I tried following the trail to Hidden Hand Camp--ironically not so hidden since it was labeled at the junction. My Ruby Pasture camp was pretty well hidden, though!

I decided to follow the trail toward Hidden Hand Camp, however, because if I didn't find Ruby Pasture, I'd just set up camp illegally at Hidden Hand instead. If the park service wants me to camp at Ruby Pasture, they should have labeled their signs pointing to its location!

A quarter-mile down the trail, I found the Ruby Pasture Camp. But I was further dispirited when a post marked that the water source for camp was I another 1/4-mile further down the trail. "That's Hidden Hand Camp!" I exclaimed with anger. I thought this campsite was supposed to have its own supply of water. If I have to hike a 1/4-mile to another campsite, then it doesn't have a water source! 

I was very angry when I discovered that I had to walk
another 1/4-mile (one way!) to get water.

I was so pissed. Every step was agony and I was doing too much off-trail walking already. Round-trip, I'd need to walk another half-mile just to get water! Which meant I had to do a full mile of off-trail hiking from the PNT to the water source. Not to mention the extra mileage I covered when I walked in the wrong direction looking for the campsite. I'd have been better off if I had just reserved the Hidden Hand Camp to begin with. Yes, I'd still have to walk a half-mile off trail, but at least I wouldn't have gotten 'lost' looking for my campsite and I'd actually be camped directly near a water source.

If I knew beforehand that there was no water at Ruby Pasture, I'd have filled up with water at the last creek I passed before arriving and save that half-mile of walking from the camp to the water and back.

Basically, I was very upset. Why did my maps show my camp on the trail instead of a 1/4-mile off trail? Why was there no hint that the camp didn't have its own water source? Argh!

I partially set up camp, dropping my heavy pack and tying my Ur-Sack to a tree (I don't normally like to leave my food unattended, but I sure as heck wasn't going to carry it to the water source and back!)

I took off my shoes--I couldn't wait to get them off again--then walked to the water source in my Crocs. The Crocs were wonderful to walk in. I flipped up the strap so it didn't get used and walking was easy as soon as there was nothing rubbing the injured area. I was still annoyed at the extra, unexpected walking, however.

I skipped making a proper dinner once again. It was too late (7:30pm) and I was too tired and felt too lazy to cook a meal. I ate snacks instead and pretty much decided that I needed to get off the trail tomorrow. Highway 20 was just 2.5 miles further down the trail. I could hike out in the morning--even with my injuries, it wouldn't take more than a couple of hours--and have all day available to hitchhike back to Seattle. Unless some miracle happened overnight and my karks started feeling a heck of a lot better, I was getting off the trail tomorrow.

Blowdowns were the most difficult part of my morning since I had trouble navigating them due to my injured karks.

The trail alongside the lake was well-maintained, mostly flat, and had no blowdowns at all! Beautiful trail!

That looked like fun right now. Maybe I could get off the trail without having to walk?! =)

The trail along the shoreline of Ross Lake was definitely the highlight of the day!

Plenty of fresh air while doing your business! =)

Today I named this area of my foot the "kark."
Turns out, hiking 14.4 miles today didn't help it heal.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Day 49: A Devil of a Day

July 23: I slept well, but when I woke, my biggest concern was my feet. I hoped that maybe they scabbed over or something during the night and perhaps walking wouldn't be so painful. I put fleece socks on my feet during the night so the backs of my ankles wouldn't rub around in my sleeping bag in my sleep, but realized that might have been a bad idea when I found the socks "glued" to my injuries. I wouldn't say it 'scabbed' over per se, but the injury seemed to 'dry out' and was stuck to my socks like a sticker.

Gorgeous views today!

Argh! I slowly peeled off the socks, trying not to damage my feet anymore than they already were. I definitely needed to treat them and get some moleskin over it before I started hiking. Somehow, my feet seemed to look even worse than they did when I went to sleep. This was going to be a major issue for me. After just one day on the trail, I felt nearly crippled!

I carefully treated my wounds. They weren't bleeding, but the skin was so thin and tender. I applied some Neosporin and first attached a band-aid. The band-aids weren't really big enough to completely cover the wounds--the wounds were astonishingly massive in size! This worried me since I didn't want the band-aid to stick to the wound. I wanted it to stick to the good skin around the wound, but I just didn't have anything big enough to completely cover the wounds. I put the band-aid on anyhow for lack of better options. Then covered the band-aids with large pieces of moleskin for extra protection and to help keep the band-aids in place.

I also carried one wrap which I bought years ago when I had an issue with my knee, so I wrapped that around my right foot to protected the band-aid and moleskin from moving around during the day. It seemed like the right foot was in worse shape, and I only had one wrap available. The left foot would have to suffer without the extra help.

My feet, somehow, seemed to look worse in the morning
than when I went to sleep the night before!

The bugs, fortunately, weren't so bad this morning which kind of surprised me. Yesterday, when I wasn't camped anywhere near water, they were terrible. Today, next to a creek, not problem. But it did feel colder this morning, and it was overcast and ugly out. Perhaps that contributed to the lack of bugs. I'd take it! No rain was expected, though, and the weather would probably clear later in the afternoon.

Something, most likely a mouse, had nibbled a hole into my bag of Wheat Thins during the night. I got a little lazy about protecting my food during the night, but I didn't think it would be an issue here since almost nobody ever hiked through here and even fewer people ever camped. Critters like mice tend to be a problem on busier trails where the wildlife has grown accustomed to hikers and campers. So I had left a bag of Wheat Thins out during the night, too tired to put them away properly. Oh, well.

I ate breakfast, packed up, and started hiking. The most difficult part of packing up was getting on my shoes. It was agony trying to slip my shoes on over the wounds. I tried loosening the laces to make it easier, but it was still difficult and painful to get them on.

The trail was actually in better condition than I had expected. At no point during the day did I lose the trail and while there were blowdowns, they weren't especially bad. Getting around or over the blowdowns, however, proved a lot more challenging with my injuries. Those often required scrambling up and down steep banks to get around the blowdowns and my feet had trouble handling that off-trail terrain.

Walking downhill wasn't too bad since it pushed my foot deeper into my shoe and didn't rub the back of my ankles so much. Flat ground wasn't too bad as long as I didn't try to walk too quickly. It was the uphills where I struggled the most, however, since it pushed my feet back in my shoes--directly against my wounds. While walking up hills, I'd try to walk with my feet angled outward so the pressure would fall away from the middle of the wounds, but it didn't really work well. Steps on the trail proved to be a godsend. I usually don't like steps, but even while walking up them, my feet would stay level so it didn't stress the backs of my ankles as much as walking up a sloped trail.

By the afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds and temperatures warmed to a comfortable level.

I took breaks along the way and I often wanted to take my shoes off to let them breathe a bit, but getting my shoes on and off hurt too much. I would take them off at the end of the day, and put them on at the beginning of the day, but I wasn't going to take them on and off for a half-hour rest break. It was too much effort and involved too much pain.

The PNT eventually merged onto the Devils Ridge Trail and headed up to Devils Dome where spectacular views abounded. It was difficult to watch the trail when all I wanted to do was admire the views around me!

During the climb up Devils Dome, each step was agony. It was all uphill. I had finished a page of my trail maps and got the idea to use it as a "shoehorn" on my left foot. I folded the page in half, then in half again, and in half again so the page was 8 layers thick, then shoved into the back of my shoe like a shoehorn that had never been taken out. I hoped the extra layers would help protect my foot from the evil shoe. It wouldn't last long, I knew--it was made of regular paper, after all--but even a little help was welcome at this point.

I hadn't seen a single person until I reached the summit of Devils Dome late in the day where I found an older man hiking with his adult son. They were standing in a large patch of snow and weren't sure where the trail down led from there, so I confirmed that they were looking for the route I just emerged from, and they pointed me down the ridge in the direction I needed to go.

I really wanted to camp on Devils Dome, or at least somewhere along the ridge leading down from it since the views were so absolutely spectacular. Not to mention that I was tired and exhausted, but I pushed on. Permits were required for the North Cascades and Ross Lake--and I'd arrive within that region tomorrow. After tonight, I'd be required to stay at established and pre-selected campsites. So I knew where I had to camp tomorrow night: Ruby Pasture Camp. Every mile I didn't do today I would need to make up tomorrow.

And tomorrow was already going to be a much longer day than today. So I pushed a couple of miles further.

After Devil's Dome, I passed all sorts of people. In all, I'd pass eight people in the next hour or so, as well as passing by several tents that probably had other people that I didn't actually see.

I kind of wanted to hike out to the Bear Skull Shelter even if for no other reason than to take a photo of it (isn't that a great name for a shelter?!), but it was a quarter-mile off trail and I certainly wasn't going to voluntarily walk a quarter-mile off trail (in one direction!) if I didn't have to! My feet couldn't take it!

So I wound up camping near the junction with the shelter, shortly before the trail would drop steeply down toward Ross Lake. It didn't look like there would be any places to camp on that steep section of trail, and when I inquired with other hikers, they confirmed that suspicion. So I camped as close as I could to tomorrow night's campsite, which turned out to be near the junction with Bear Skull Shelter.

I had covered a mere 11.8 miles for the day. If my feet weren't in such bad shape, it would have been a lovely day of hiking. But they weren't in great shape and I arrived completely exhausted. 

I thought this looked like moose poop--but I didn't think there were
moose in this region. What kind of animal left these droppings? Hmmm.?

I took off my shoes and socks and examined the damage. The loose skin that had been covering the wound seemed to have vanished. I don't have any idea where it disappeared to! But they still looked raw and painful--because they were. It had been a rough day.

For a second night, I was too tired to cook dinner and decided to eat snacks instead.

And by this point, I realized that I might need to get off the trail. Two days in and I was thinking about quitting the trail. Again!

But at this point, the nearest place for me to get off the trail was at Ross Lake. Harts Pass was behind me and would stay behind me! 

Tomorrow, I'd hike to my assigned campsite at Ruby Pasture 14 miles away--or at least try to. I wasn't too worried about not making it, though. If I couldn't make it because of my injuries, I'd have to get off the trail and adjust my permit at the very least, and if a ranger caught me sleeping where I wasn't supposed to, I'm sure they'd understand given how badly my feet were mangled.

Regardless, I'd have at least one more night on the trail. I didn't have to make any final decisions about whether or not to quit the trail until then.

But at this point, I was leaning toward quitting the trail. It seemed like a certainty at this point. I was running through band-aids and moleskin at a voracious rate and would likely run out within a couple of days at this pace. I certainly didn't have enough to get me through 8 more days until my next resupply point at Concrete! And the next several days required me to follow what my permit allowed--which was much more than I could likely cover with my injuries.

There were other perks to consider in quitting the trail as well. I could pick up fresh batteries for my SPOT device and allow the snow further up the trail more time to melt. When I called the ranger station about my permit, they warned that one campsite I wanted would likely be covered in snow and an ice axe was advised. I didn't carry an ice axe and--so far--I hadn't needed one, but I wasn't looking forward to that section. Getting off the trail for a week or two would give the snow more time to melt.

And Ross Lake wasn't a bad place to get off the trail. It's directly on Highway 20, a busy road. None of that hiking 13 miles off trail to reach a trailhead crap I had to deal with at Harts Pass. And it was relatively close to Seattle--about a 2.5-hour drive if traffic wasn't bad. A full 1.5 hours closer than Harts Pass was.

If there was a place to quit the trail, this was it. But that was still two days away.... 

Blowdowns that normally wouldn't have given me too much trouble were often very difficult for me to get around because of my foot injuries.

Somebody ahead of me had a lot more energy and time than I did! =)

Just wonderful views from on and around Devils Dome!

My feet definitely weren't getting better after another day of hiking!