Day 8: Into the Mist
Milk Creek to camp, mile 147
Foggity fog. Hiking along through the fog, alone through the fog, and occasionally together through the fog, where we talk about the coming months and our families and the way things used to be in college, when we both wanted to change the world.
Here the fog, there the fog, up and away into the thick, texturally consistent, endlessly monochromatic fog. It watercolor-painted every rock and tree in the foreground, and forgot to add a landscape for context.
Want fog pics? I know you do. You may not love the fog, but the fog sure loves you.
We laughed sarcastically about the upcoming views at Mica Lake, which was supposedly beautiful. But when we arrived, the joke was on us.
Sometimes the fog delivers.
The way beyond Mica Lake was a cloud and we could only guess where it led. Did we cross Fire Creek Pass? The maps said so. The snow was steep as we kicked our way up the slush, then steep in the opposite direction as we slid down again. All signs pointed to yes, we crossed the pass.
Still, no way to know.
I had worn shorts and a t-shirt comfortably for a moment that morning, but the cold and Damp caught up. My knees began to shake on the descent. Uneasily, I told NoDay that I was reminded of Glacier National Park on the CDT. Between the freezing rain and my depleted body fat, it was so easy to get hypothermic there.
Lower down, we caught up to John Mayo and a few other hikers. We crossed a bridge that had collapsed in two, creating a V across the creek. Once again, the earth in Washington was trying to swallow every trace of us. We took a break on pillowy moss and smoked weed; NoDay tossed my lighter to me and it fell into a deep, narrow hole. “I wouldn’t stick my hand down there,” I said. “Who knows what could be waiting.”
There was one more big climb before camp, and my legs began to ache. I was fading, I thought. The excessive energy of the first section was evaporating. We should have taken a zero.
According to Guthook, our campsite offered astounding views of Glacier Peak, eponymous iconic mountain of the large wilderness area we inhabited. We grumbled good-naturedly. There was no faithful friend like The Fog.
I spent an hour before bed making a crown for NoDay. I cut up duct tape and paper from my journal. Tomorrow, twelve miles from here, after six years and three thwarted attempts, NoDay would finally finish the PCT.
Day 9: NoDay But Today
Camp to Pear Lake, mile 170
I had a funny feeling when I woke up. The light that softly decorated my tent walls had a different quality than yesterday’s. I unzipped my vestibule. “NoDay!”
It was Glacier Peak, sitting in the distance like an oil painting someone hung overnight.
The clouds were in their regular spot — high in the sky — and they had shapes again, plus a funny gray hue that didn’t imply rain or sunshine. What does it mean? I implored. Washington, why don’t you make sense? We assured each other that even if the fog rolled in, it was all worth it for this single view. It had to be; we had no other choice.
As I hiked up towards the pass, patches of blue sky emerged on the high horizon. God, I never know how much I love the blue sky until I lose it. It’s the truest, most magical blue, found daily in the atmosphere but never on earth. Out of all the Regina Spektor songs I adore, my favorite might be: blue is the warmest color.
Lips, veins, the color of the planet from far far away.
I wasn’t sure what I expected at Red Pass. I stammered to NoDay that she was about to see something special.
The inversion created a sea of clouds over the deep expanse on the other side. Peaks rose in every direction like a thousand Mt. Olympuses.
And then the most miraculous thing of all: the sun came out. We stopped for a break until all our gear was crisp and dry.
As we finally left the Glacier Peak Wilderness, sharp peaks rose in the distance like so many rows of shark teeth. There are some mountains that you just shouldn’t take pictures of; photos trick you into thinking they’re small because they’re so far away. In fact, it’s the opposite.
I started counting down the miles to Lake Sally Ann. NoDay commented that maybe I was more excited than her. John Mayo and I half-joked that she should jump in the freezing glacial lake naked to celebrate.
And in typical NoDay fashion, she did.
And in typical hikertrash fashion, we followed (birthday) suit. As John Mayo and I were shrieking at the cold, another hiker named Sam arrived. Without context, he gamely stripped down and plunged in too.
“This was a wonderful day,” NoDay said. “A perfect day.”
“An amazing day,” I echoed. “Now we just have to hike ten miles.”
Then guess what returned?
At 23 miles, it was our biggest day yet. We set up camp at Pear Lake alongside a family with a dog and a few section hikers. I sank into my air mattress, prompting John Mayo to giggle. “Did I make a noise?” I asked.
“Oh yes.” He imitated it and it sounded like porn.
Outside my tent, I heard the others talk about Town and speculate about services and activities. All I could do was lie curled on my sleeping pad and moan, “I AM GOING TO EAT A CHEESEBURGER.”
We had been in the Glacier Peaks Wilderness for four and a half days. I could barely remember our life before.
“My last night on the PCT,” NoDay said sadly. I wondered how much everything would change without her.
Day 10: Another Highway, Another Town
Pear Lake to Stevens Pass, mile 188
For a moment I could see the sun, hanging like a molten gumball behind a thick sheen of fog. I felt like I was starting to get the hang of sun in Washington.
- If there is to be sun, it will show itself before the clock strikes eight, and the gym teacher bird cries out its shrill whistle from the trees.
- If the hazy light looks like it might break through the clouds, it won’t. Kill your hope and turn your gaze to the soil.
- If you stop to dry your tent, the sun will disappear. You will be cursed with precipitation. Presumptuous mortal, do not toy with the sun again.
Maybe in 300 miles, I’ll understand the rain. That shit it b a n a n a s — sometimes it rains only under the trees, and sometimes the trees keep us dry.
My body was tired. But beyond that, I was finally hitting the elusive mental challenge that hikers talk about. Hiking miles and miles through the fog, again, felt like all the nights that I lie painfully awake, willing the minutes and hours to pass.
NoDay told me the story of 2013. She remembered it all, she said. The trees and the lake and the winding path, but covered in snow.
They were hiking after dark. Why? I asked and she said We had to, because everything was wet and they were shaking. They walked south towards Stevens Pass like us, but to escape. They hiked in the rain and snow, plastic bags wrapped around their hands and feet.
Bird Dog got ahead. And then they ran into him hiking in the opposite direction — back up the trail. He was so worn out and hypothermic that he had gotten confused.
For some reason, I felt a little lighter and my pace picked up.
We made it to Stevens Pass by 3:00pm for a not-too-shabby 18 miles. Ice cream, WiFi, a couple hitches later, and we were in the mythical dive bar we had learned of so long ago, it felt like another lifetime. Noises buzzed a little senselessly, and faces blended into the wood paneling.
This is what I looked forward to? I gazed down at the fish, up at the jukebox. Oh god… this?
D O U B L E Z E R O
The hitching has been stupendous. There was a tub of freshly-picked blueberries, an avalanche dog, chance encounters with people we had met before, and two milkshakes mysteriously paid for at the gas station where we were dropped off. I always feel the need to keep people constantly engaged in conversation, as though I can pay them back through interest in their lives.
We stayed at the Dinsmores’. It’s plural even though Andrea died in 2017 after almost two decades of hosting PCT hikers in their beautiful garage. It’s decked out with bunk beds and flags from around the world. Jerry holds down the fort now even though he has his own slew of health issues, bouncing between the patio and the fire pit in his electric wheelchair and telling stories of the people he’s met over the years. We were a group of about a dozen, but he’s had over 50 hikers in the yard before.
Everyone had stories about fog and blowdowns, wet and cold, and encounters with day hikers who did not appreciate our scent. There was a general consensus: Washington is hard. Beautiful, but hard. We’re excited for Oregon. We hear there might be sun there.