Trail Tales: Stevens Pass to Stehekin

Part 4 in a series of stories from Mountaineers Adventure Club teen students hiking the Washington section of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Michael Telstad Michael Telstad
Education Intern & Mountaineers Adventure Club Alumni
January 18, 2017
Trail Tales: Stevens Pass to Stehekin

Editors note: During the summer of 2016, six current and former Mountaineers Adventure Club (MAC) members hiked the Washington section of the Pacific Crest Trail. This blog is Part 4 of a 4 part recap series. To find out what already read Part 3 by Miriel McFarland. And learn what had in his pack to keep his base weight under 12 lbs through his detailed gear guide.

The six of us had already been hiking for 16 days, covering over 317 miles by the time we reached Stevens Pass. In the days leading up to that point I had noticed that a few of us were looking pretty beat down. However It was still a surprise when the news broke that I would be continuing alone.

July 29 - Cinnamon muffins and navigating blowdowns

I woke to the lovely sound of Highway 2 after a mostly sleepless night in a gravel parking lot. The night prior had been spent fighting off the stomach bug that sent both Logan and Steph off trail, but there was no backing down now. Unable to take everyone the prior afternoon, Logan's father Picked up Lynnea, Steph, and Miriel, coming back the next morning to take Logan and Alex home. We packed up and dispersed some gear. In order to make the rest of my trip easier I exchanged my mid for Logan’s flat tarp, and my rain jacket for Alex’s. The night before, I made the hard decision to ditch my DSLR that had made the entire trek up to that point with me, cutting roughly four pounds off my pack weight.

Along with Alex and Logan I  spent the night at the trailhead with Bella “Bulldog” Crane, the first NOBO (north bound) thru hiker we met on the trail. With everything packed up, the four of us walked back across the highway to meet up with Logan’s father.

To our surprise, we were greeted with a box full of delicious cinnamon roll muffins courtesy of the Sultan bakery. As we ate in silence my nerves began to kick in, I’d never backpacked solo before, the only solo hike I’d ever done was a traverse of granite and west granite. I had no idea how I was going to like being alone for so long.  I finished my muffin and we all said our farewells. Bulldog walked back to Stevens to wait for a friend and I made my way back across the highway to start what was to be the most satisfyingly lonely, perception-changing hike of my life so far. 

I prioritized moving fast because I wanted to gauge my solo hiking speed. Every hiker I encountered that day warned me of blowdowns and the difficult terrain ahead. I also received a particularly stern warning about not risking the old PCT shortcut over the Suiattle River. 

I hit the first of these blowdown sections four miles from my campsite. The first hundred feet had been cleared recently but the following two miles were anything but clear. Some hikers may have been annoyed but I found the stepping, hopping, and thrutching my way over and under the tress to be a nice break from the normal monotonous day of a thru hiker. I shuffled into camp at Lake Sally Ann at six, feeling pleased that despite starting later in the day I had still managed to log 29 miles. The lake had a couple other campers whom I didn't get a chance to speak to but their presence nearby was reassuring on my first night alone. Lying in bed, I felt like I could have probably kept going but was still satisfied with the mileage and looking forward to tomorrow. 

July 30 - Explosives and wet feet

The next day I revisited an area where I had met up with Logan, Alex, and Steph while they were on a two week long WTA trip last summer. It must have been some mix of loneliness, nostalgia and the sheer beauty of the location but I actually began to get choked up. I sat down and watched the low clouds swirl around me. The feeling passed  and I continued up and out of the wet fog, emerging onto a vast ridge line, looking out into the glacier peak wilderness. No more than an hour later I passed a group of southbound thru hikers near White Pass, who warned me about the legendary Methow pass blowdowns, saying it reminded them of pick-up sticks.

As I neared the pass a massive explosion echoed throughout the valley shaking the ground and making my heart stop. “That can’t be a hunter, it was way too big” I think to myself as I cautiously near the pass. Out of the corner of my eye I notice a cloth sign being held down by a few rocks that read

Blasting next three miles, if you hear either fire in the hole or, fire fire fire, take cover and continue with caution!

Wait where was the blasting happening? Talk about vague signage. After reassuring myself that I wasn’t about to be blown up I proceeded down the trail until I met a crew member that obviously had pulled the short straw and was put on patrol/tread work rather than getting to blow stuff up. He informed me that I was free to pass but to keep an ear out, so I continued on my way. About a quarter mile later I came upon the blasting crew. They let me walk along the partially built new trail and I watched as one of the members stuffed bags of explosives in a crack above me.

Several hours later and once again back below tree line I trotted along, jogging every once in awhile, making the most of the flat miles. Turning a bend I stumble upon the trail and surrounding ground completely flooded by a nearby creek. Turning this nice section of trail into a swamp. In an attempt to avoid completely soaking my shoes I stepped up onto the side of the trail, sinking above my ankles within the first few steps. That night I got to camp up in the alpine once again, and went for an extremely cold swim in Mica Lake at sunset, It was well worth it but the others camped there definitely thought I was crazy.

July 31 - Dealing with bearanoia

Waking up to my alarm at 5:30 after a cold and windy night I set out to tackle the infamous section of 43 switchbacks in the two miles up from milk creek. Fog had settled in the valley below, making for a fantastic view as I descended into the valley.

Unfortunately once I was in the clouds it wasn't so great, down near Milk Creek the brush got incredibly thick and tall. So out of my "bearanoia", I pulled out my phone and began playing (and singing) “Let’s Groove” by Earth Wind and Fire on loop as loud as I could, acting as a pseudo bear bell. Certainly not my proudest moment, but I did make sure there were no campsites nearby and it was too early to be passing any other hikers.

Later that day as I descended to the Suiattle River I passed a group of climbers who had just bailed on Glacier Peak, we talked for about ten minutes as they gawked over how small my pack was, then gave me a butterfingers and a handful of jelly beans before sending me on my way. That day turned out being my hardest day of the entire hike, covering 33 miles and over 20,000 feet of elevation change. It was nowhere near my longest day but certainly the most tiring, making the pull of the Stehekin bakery that much stronger.

August 1 - Stehekin 

With only 18 miles between me and cinnamon rolls I woke up to the usual 6am alarm, stuffed my dew soaked sleeping bag into the bottom of my backpack, threw everything else on top of that and slid two sore feet into my shoes. It usually took a few miles to warm my body up to the idea of walking, and that day was no exception. Luckily most of that day was downhill,  making for an easy final few miles into town. Once
I got down to the fairly low grade river valley I picked up my pace, I went quite a while without seeing anyone else until I finally came across two weekend hikers and my second NOBO of the trip, Ti-Toe.

As I walked up the weekenders mentioned that they were aiming to catch the noon bus into town, looking at my watch I had less than an hour and a half to make it the five miles to High Bridge, so I started running. I really really did not want to have to wait for the next bus. I shuffled into High bridge at 11:50, relieved and a little jelly legged.

The shuttle arrived soon thereafter and I boarded with a plethora of tourists and not a single other hiker in sight, I didn’t fit in what so ever. The shuttle stopped at the bakery and naturally I bought two cinnamon rolls. Stepping off the shuttle at the Stehekin landing I was completely overwhelmed, it was the end of a weekend and every tourist seemed to be on the deck getting ready to leave, I didn’t know a single person there and felt lost and lonely despite all the chaos around me. Once the boat left things calmed down and I was able to relax a bit, I still couldn’t find any hikers to hang out with so I reserved a campsite and went to go set up my tarp.Still no other hikers so I took a nap. 

I woke up about two hours later, wandered around, and still no hikers. I was getting extremely lonely at this point, starting to second guess my decision of taking a full zero the next day, or even continuing at all. Were those moments of elation up in the alpine really worth all the long lonely miles down in the trees? With still several hours before sunset I wandered over to the general store to ask about the pay phone, only to discover that it was out of order. With no one I could talk to and no contact to the outside world I wandered out to the end of the dock and soaked my feet while listening to music in a slump. I sat there for about twenty minutes, contemplating life and what the hell I was doing with it when out of the corner of my eye I saw the shuttle pull in and start unloading. I first saw a younger guy about my age get off. “Sweet!” I think to myself, “I have someone to talk to now” then right behind him emerged Bulldog. I was no longer completely alone.

Hopping up in relief, I walked over to them and caught her attention. The guy turned out to be "Hobo" (I can’t remember his real name for the life of me), a section hiker who was two days into his southbound hike of Washington. I invited them to share my campsite, glad to finally have someone to hang out with.

August 2

We tried to sleep in the next morning to no avail. A wind storm had blown in overnight, hammering my not so durable little tarp to the point of concern. Staking it out the best I could we headed over to the landing for breakfast and then to the bike rental shop.

Renting a few bikes we made our way up to the bakery, Hobo making us nervous as he rode hands free, taking selfies on the bumpy road. One very large warm cinnamon roll later we rode back to the rental place and wandered over to the picnic area for a while as Bulldog resupplied, then over to the public showers and phone where we met up with two other hikers. The five of us all finished trading food and organizing our resupplies, accumulating enough extra food to feed two hikers all the way to the border, adding that to the already stuffed hiker box.

To our surprise the payphone that had been out of order the day prio was letting free calls through all day adding to my list of those little things that make a thru hike that much more amazing. The rest of that day was fairly uneventful as we just sat around and talked about the trials and tribulations that one faces on the trail. Bulldog left that afternoon in order to make sure she could make it to the border on time to meet her parents. That night Hobo and I wen’t to bed early, resting as much as we could before heading out on the next leg of our adventure.

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