Day One Hundred Eighteen

Today's miles: 15
Total miles: 2417

It was still overcast when we woke up today, though the rain had let up a bit since the storm. Still, we were in no mood to go hiking after such a pleasant day off. We packed up slowly and returned the rest of Susan's goodies to bins so she could pick them up again from the hotel. Wocka and Giddyup, not to be distracted, took off hiking from the hotel early in the morning and said they would keep an eye out for us.

Rotisserie, Sansei, Katie, Treekiller, Sunshine, Vince, Alphabet Soup, Kudu and I dumped our ready-to-go packs in the hall and wandered next door for a pancake breakfast. We were still stalling, though no one would admit it. Eventually, with breakfast eaten and our packs ready, we had no choice but to strike out. It was already 12:30 by then.

The weather was still gross outside, foggy and misty and damp without being rainy. The trail climbed through some trees, which kept the drizzle out of our eyes. Every so often a large raindrop would plop on my head, so I rigged up my umbrella on my pack straps and had a pleasant hike after that - the umbrella was proving very useful.
This particular section of trail ran up to the Kendall Katwalk, which was a popular dayhike from Seattle. We saw a lot of hikers with small packs trooping past us in the opposite direction. One older woman, upon passing me, laughed,
"I've seen a lot of umbrellas on the trail today! That must be a new fashion, hm?"
Everyone she passed was most likely in my group, for we had all added umbrellas to our gear just recently.
I smiled at her in response. "They're very useful!"
There was something to be said for having your own mini-shelter on trail, especially with no way to dry yourself out if the weather turned foul.

As we climbed to higher elevations, we found ourselves enveloped by a white cloud of fog and rain. The trail left the forest and scaled some rock outcroppings, and soon we were on a narrow ledge of rock skirting its way through the sky. I imagined this was the famous "Kendall Katwalk" everyone talked so much about, but with the weather so thick, I couldn't see two feet in front of my face. Gloomily I wondered what the views were like, and I was annoyed the rain was keeping me from seeing them. I imagined beautiful mountains soaring into the sky just a short distance from where I was standing, but I could see nothing but rock and fog and rain. I picked my way over rocky terrain, shivering uneasily every time I stepped over a large boulder lying in the trail.
How long had that been there? Did it just fall? The whole, steep mountainside was made of rock and how easy would it be to fall onto the trail?

I stopped briefly on the catwalk with Sunshine to dig a few snacks out of my pack before it began raining harder. I wanted to keep my pack as dry as possible in case the weather didn't let up. After the experience before Trout Lake, I was prepared for what two straight days of weather would be like. Fortunately, this go around I had a pack cover, an umbrella, and waterproof pants, which were already proving to make me feel more dry and comfortable. They were also much warmer, which today was a plus because the wind was biting and cold.

We walked silently through the rain, finally finding a spot later in the day that was somewhat shielded by rocks. We huddled below it, sitting beneath our umbrellas as we looked out over the cliff and into the white.
"What do you think we're supposed to be looking at, here?" Sunshine mused, as we stared into the abyss.
Silently I wondered how long this ridgewalking would continue. On a nice day it would be wonderful, but on a day like today, I wanted to be safely back in the trees as soon as possible.

As the afternoon wore on, it grew wetter and colder and rockier. The ledge of trail skirted its way around the mountain cliffs, at time growing so narrow and steep that it dropped away on both sides of me. Though I couldn't see how far the fall was, the blanket of white that the sky disappeared into was scary enough. I clutched my umbrella and hurried as quickly as I could through the rocky trail. I didn't like the terrain at all. It matched the terrifying heights of Goat Rocks, but without the stunning reward. As the sky grew darker as evening approached, my heart hammered faster and faster. I began falling behind everyone else, slowly picking my way along the trail so I wouldn't trip. Pretty soon I was the last one in line, trailing behind Sunshine.
Nerves kept my movements sharp and brittle, and to calm myself I started singing aloud.

A series of shots Sunshine took of our views today

The trail eventually began to switchback a little lower in elevation, and I took the turns carefully. The wind and rain was raging by this point, and I had to keep adjusting my body so that my umbrella didn't catch the wind the wrong way and flip inside out. It was a frustrating struggle, being battered by the weather as the sky grew darker. I grumbled and swore to myself as I stumbled along trail.
What if we can't find a campsite? What if this ridgeline never ends?
We were forced to keep walking because we had no other choice.
Then, I heard a noise that wasn't rain or wind. It sounded almost like a waterfall crashing on rocks, but the sound was too sharp. Intuition froze me in place, and I quickly pulled back my rain jacket hood so that I could better hear the noise. It was louder, now. Cracking, like icebergs calving.
I suddenly knew exactly what the noise was.
"Oh, shit! Oh, shit! Rockslide!"
I couldn't see it, yet, but I knew by the sound that it was directly above me.
A lot of things happened in my mind at once. I remember quickly surveying the trail I was on, trying to find a safe space, and realizing that since I had been taking switchbacks, there was no safe space.
 The trail went directly up the mountain and directly down it, in the path of the impending rock slide. The second thing I remembered thinking was, I should yell for someone, but I knew Sunshine would never hear me with the wind howling like it was. And the third thing I thought: why don't hikers wear helmets?

Time seemed to slow down. I rushed backward on the trail a few feet, attempting to move further away from the noise. I kept my eyes trained upward toward the top of the rocky mountain, which suddenly seemed to be towering above me. The rocks were still coming. I could hear them, gathering speed in the distance. Another sudden thought filled my head: I'll have to dodge them.
But what if I couldn't?
An asinine thought struck me, remembering all the times Treekiller and Sunshine had thrown rocks off a cliff, laughing as they gathered speed down the mountain.
I could see them, now, jumping over the cliff like toy balls, directly above me. There were a lot of them, most about the size of my head, I guessed. The rocks were coming with enough distance that I could see their path, and I hoped to use that to my advantage.
Another stupid thought: this will be like Frogger. Avoid the rocks. Don't lose a life.

I dashed back and forth along my narrow stretch of trail, avoiding the first flying bits. As the bigger ones crashed down, they hit the mountainside, split apart, and went whizzing in opposite directions. This made tracking them very difficult. A couple times I dodged to one side only to have the rock break apart and fly in that direction, too. A couple of them shot so closely past my face that I could feel the impact of air against my cheek. They were moving fast.
They had been gathering speed the whole way down. I knew getting hit by one would easily knock me out, or throw me off the cliff.

I barely had time to be frightened. I was running back and forth, jumping and dodging and ducking under each flying rock as it tumbled down the mountainside. It seemed to last hours, though I knew in retrospect that I had been very lucky, that it had been a relatively small rockslide, and that it hadn't lasted very long.

I can still hear the sound in my head, that hollow cracking noise of rocks striking rocks and the echo being swallowed up by the abyss. When the last of them went whizzing past me and the silence flooded in, I quickly patted myself down.
Am I okay? Am I okay?
When it was apparent I had sustained no injuries, the tense adrenaline rushed out of my body, and I began shaking violently from head to toe. I was breaking apart, like rocks, and I didn't want to be alone.
I began running down the trail, headless of my footing or the slick rocks. I began shouting through the fog and rain like a child: "Sunshine! Sunshine!"
At first, I heard nothing. I didn't know how far he was ahead of me, but I knew I had to catch him. There was no way I could finish this hike alone.
"Sunshine! Sunshine!"
And then, faintly, "Brambles?"
"Wait!" I choked out, "wait for me!"
I turned a corner and saw his silhouette along the ridge, looking back at me with a curious expression.

"Did you hear it?" I gasped when I reached him. "The rockslide?"
"Rockslide?" his eyes grew round. "No, there was a rockslide below you?"
"No - no - above me - it came down from the top of the mountain - I was on those switchbacks - I didn't have anywhere to go - I had to dodge them -"
Sunshine pieced together my cobbled story and stared at me, shaking with cold and rain and fear in front of him.
"Oh wow, that really freaked you out, didn't it?" he asked sympathetically.
Suddenly I felt silly, like I should be braver. "Yeah - yeah, sort of."
"Here, you need a hug." Sunshine gave me a strong embrace and said, "come on, let's make it quick to camp."

We hurried again down the trail, and this time I kept closely on Sunshine's heels. We talked as we walked, which helped calm my nerves. As we turned another corner, we saw Katie ahead in the distance, paused for a moment. When we caught her, she lit up and said,
"Hey guys, you missed it! I just saw the cutest rock pika! He was sitting on trail, and right when I came up -"
"Brambles almost died in a rockslide!" Sunshine interrupted suddenly.
"Wha.. wait, what?"
Sunshine quickly ran through the story, and Katie looked just as surprised.
"I didn't even hear it," she said. "I thought I heard a whistle, though. Did you blow your whistle?"
I shook my head. That would have been a good idea. But the problem with whistles in rocky areas was that they sounded a lot like marmots. We heard marmots whistling so often that if someone truly was in trouble, it would have been difficult to discern.

The three of us kept hiking, the trail descending lower and lower, the sky growing darker and darker. Katie got ahead of us and disappeared, though I worked hard to keep Sunshine in sight. We finally had to pull out headlamps to see our way along the trail. Finally we descended off the rocky catwalk - fifteen miles since leaving Snoqualmie. I thought my muscles would collapse under me from exhaustion. We saw headlamps ahead, and stumbled into a large campground where a lot of hikers had already set up their tents and were hiding inside from the rain - Rotisserie, Sansei, Vince, Treekiller, Katie, Lighthouse, TwoBadDogs, Toots and Tears. We couldn't see anyone, but we heard their voices floating out from inside their tents.
"Are Wocka and Giddyup here?" I asked, quickly scanning the tents in the dark.
"No," said Sansei. "We think they went a few miles further."
(Actually, they were camped not 1/4 mile past us, but we didn't know it yet.)
Sunshine and I quickly dumped our stuff on the ground so we could set up camp before our tents got too wet. I picked a flat spot beside Treekiller, and called to him,
"Treekiller, I almost died."
"Brambles got caught in a rockslide!" Sunshine said.
As I related the story, I could hear the other hikers calling out from tents, trying to hear the whole of it over the rain.
"Bramble, you got caught in a rockslide?" I heard TwoBadDogs - Art and Lynn - call.
"Are you okay?" Lighthouse asked.
"Oh my goodness, how horrible," Tears said.
There were gasps of horror and relief as I finished my tale, and it was almost comical to hear these reactions without being able to see their faces.

It was a relief to crawl into my sleeping bag that night, letting the warmth surround me. For such a short mileage day, it had felt like a million years since we left Snoqualmie. I listened to the rain pounding on my tent roof and hoped, more than anything, the sun would come out tomorrow.
"My highlight tonight is that Brambles didn't die!" I heard Sunshine call out from his tent, and I laughed in response,
"Funny, that's mine, too!"