Today's miles: 22
Total miles: 2522
It rained again all night without pause, but when I woke up this morning at 6:00, I heard the unmistakeable sound of silence. My heart was hammering.
Could it be true? Had it really stopped raining?
Everyone had the same mission today: get out of camp as quickly as possible, before the weather turned sour again. It would be 18 miles before the trail dropped again below 5,000 feet, and we needed to cover this distance in case another blizzard blew through. Katie appeared to be in better spirits today and had abandoned her quest to return to the Dinsmore's. For now, at least, she wanted to keep hiking north with us. We needed to do big mileage for the next few days, to ensure we could get to Stehekin without running out of food.
It was cold and dark, but as I packed up my wet gear, I looked up to the sky and saw tiny patches of blue hovering behind the clouds.
Blue sky, blue sky, blue sky.
Sunshine, Katie, Toots, Tears and I left camp at 7:30 together. The trail was sodden with rain and the vast amounts of wet brush along the trail kept our clothes and shoes from drying properly. As we climbed steadily up the mountain, the rain began to turn to ice crystals, and then the ice to snow, until soon the whole landscape was covered in glittering, dewy grass. As we crested the peak of the mountain, we were met by a startlingly blue sky, a thick, icy fog rising above the mountains, and a landscape covered in a dusting of snow. It was so beautiful that we all paused to catch our breath. Suddenly the rain of yesterday seemed worth it. We were all close to tears, we were so happy to see sun and a gorgeous landscape in front of us.
It was still very cold, so we couldn't pause long before we needed to keep moving to stay warm. We all pulled on an extra layer and kept hiking. It wasn't long before we ran into Razor, who had left camp before us and was now hiking south. He informed us that he feared his footwear and gear wouldn't sustain him through the slick ice and bad weather, and he was considering turning back. Now that the sun was out, the rest of us were even more determined in our quest for the border, so we stopped to cojole and reassure Razor that we would be with him, and it was much safer to hike in a group. We eventually succeeded in keeping him from quitting the trail, and he turned back around to hike in a line with us.
The scenery grew more and more stunning as we walked through the crunchy ice and gazed out on the snow-tipped mountain peaks. All around us, the bright colors of autumn were shining below the layer of snow, making the red berries and leaves look like Christmas decorations. I fell behind the rest of the group to stare out at the mountains, feeling overcome with happiness that I was able to see such a view, rather than a solid sheet of rain and snow. I wondered whether Treekiller, Vince, Wocka and Giddyup had been so lucky.
We were all so euphoric about today's good turn of events that the first nine miles went by very quickly. We stopped for a standing-snack-break and then contemplated how we were going to get our gear to dry. At every turn we looked for a dry rock, a sunny patch, or a leafless tree bough. But the more we looked, the grayer the weather became, and pretty soon it was softly sleeting on us. The sleet changed from time to time into snow, which I liked more because I could stay relatively dry in it.
Front to back: Bramble, Honey Bunny, Razor, Toots Magoots (photo by Sunshine)
Front to back: Tears for Beers, Razor, Honey Bunny, Bramble, Sunshine (photo by Toots)
I stopped for a bathroom and water break, and then hurried to catch up with the others. I came around a bend to find them all with exploded packs: their gear was strung out over trekking poles, tree branches, and flat meadows. This would have been an optimal spot to dry gear, except...
"Guys, it's sleeting," I laughed. They were all furiously trying to pack up their gear in the imminent weather. "You couldn't have picked a worse time to unpack!"
"It was sunny a second ago," Toots insisted. "I swear!"
I laughed and watched as everyone repacked their bags and we trundled forward, past the wooden sign that read: Entering Glacier Peak Wilderness.
At noon we were all growing very hungry, so we found a campsite beside a small pond and took advantage in the break in weather. Before we started cooking it was gear-explosion again: tents, rainflys, sleeping bags, and ground tarps were spread out over every available surface. I rigged up my ground tarp to hang from my two trekking poles, draped my rainfly over a tree, and pitched my tent sideways with its poles so that the breeze would dry it out faster. The weather fluctuated between a light snow and patches of sun, so while we gobbled down our hot meals, we cheered every time the sun poked out from behind the clouds.
Alphabet Soup and Kudu caught up to us at lunchtime, and we met three more northbound hikers named Sharky, Bivo, and Double Sprainbow who had turned around and were now hiking south. They had set out into the blizzard yesterday, had set up camp in the snow and decided that they didn't have the right gear or enough food to make it through the weather, and so they were hiking back to the Dinsmore's today. I didn't blame them, but I was surprised: they had gone almost 43 miles already since leaving Steven's Pass and would have to backtrack that whole distance. Still, it made us apprehensive to see people quitting the trail. We wondered if we were making the right decision to keep hiking. But no one wanted to stop when we had the strength and the willpower to keep going, so we decided that until things grew dire, we would stay in a group and hike together for safety.
The weather stayed away long enough for us to finish eating and let our gear partially dry. When it began snowing again, we packed up and headed on. Katie picked up a note on trail that had been left by Wocka and Giddyup for us. It read that they had gotten caught in the snow, had turned around, and then had turned back because they weren't ready to quit. Instead, they set up camp early and took a zero on trail yesterday, as we had. Treekiller and Vince had caught up to them in that time and explained our situation. Wocka and Giddyup were hiking again today with the two boys and hoped to see us on trail soon, as they weren't too far ahead.
This was good news, and I was relieved to hear that they had taken a zero on trail, too. Apparently it had been wise of us to camp at lower elevations yesterday; the reports we heard from other hikers made the snow storm sound pretty awful.
As we hiked, we began climbing even higher in elevation. As we reached 6,500 feet, the light snow changed to heavy snow and soon we were walking up to Red's Pass in a blur of white. But rather than fear the weather, I was enjoying myself. The snow was beautiful, and soft, and feeling its cold touch on my cheek was invigorating. I loved hiking through snow. And it was much, much better than rain. Sunshine was enjoying it, too. The two of us laughed and crunched along the trail, kicking up snowballs and catching snowflakes on our tongues.
"SNOW DAY! School's cancelled!" he crowed happily.
The trail became quite steep and a little slick with ice, so we picked our way carefully along it until we reached Red's Pass. I stood for a moment to see the view, but all I could see was a whirl of white snow and clouds. I turned to the side and saw that Treekiller had etched, TK WAS HERE in a patch of snow. I smiled, knowing he must not be too far ahead. We descended the other side of the pass in a series of slick switchbacks. Going downhill was more frustrating than climbing. My trail runners kept slipping in the snow patches, and as we lost elevation, the snow turned to mud. We moved very slowly to keep our footing.
Soon, the landscape dramatically changed. The icy, snowy trail we had been hiking along all morning turned greener and greener the lower we dropped. We returned into forested landscape, and all around us the trees were draped in soft, lush moss and green ferns. There was no sign of snow, of winter, of cold, icy passes. I gaped as I walked: it was as though we had passed straight back into summer, a fairy wonderland. Blue sky returned above us, warm breezes curled around us, and I was in awe that only 2,000 feet of elevation could elicit such a change.
We found camp near Sitcum Creek, nestled deep in the trees. It was a huge campsite, which was lucky, because our group doubled in size tonight. After Sunshine, Katie, Alphabet Soup, Kudu, Toots, Tears, Razor and I set up our tents, we were joined by Rotisserie, Sansei, Games, Reason, Lighthouse, Pony, St. Alfonzo, Kazu, Cuddles, Fun Size, and Delightful. Nineteen people packed into the space, and Sansei worked his magic again to create a raging bonfire at the center. We laughed and talked over dinner and stuck our damp socks near the fire to dry. Our tents dried in the breeze and it was wonderful to be without rain tonight.