Mile 2390.6 2397.7.
When I woke up, I couldn’t tell if it was smokey or cloudy. The sky was a dead lifeless gray devoid of feeling. Where have the passionately colorful sunrises of the desert gone?
I packed up quickly and left Sand Lake behind. Bedazzled was in tow, but she soon faded into the forest behind me. It looked like it would be another day of walking alone.
Today we were set to enter our sixth national park of the hike, Mt. Rainier. As I put my legs on cruise control and let my mind wander, my fingers ran through the huckleberry and blueberry bushes snagging berries as I walked. After a couple of hours my finger tips were purple. It has been a treat to sample the berries of Washington as we walk through it. My pallet has been continuously entertained as each berry’s taste varies from bush to bush with sweetness and tartness coming together in different ratios.
As the hour for lunch rolled around, I completed a climb up to the border of Mt. Rainier National Park and found a flat spot to wait. When Bedazzled didn’t show up after a few minutes, I started to each lunch. When she arrived about 30 minutes later, I joked that we may be the only people to walk through Mt. Rainier National Park without ever seeing the mountain itself.
Well call me Nostradamus. Bedazzled and I spent the rest of the day walking together and we could tell there were great views all around us, but we simply couldn’t see them. I joked that I could have stayed home and stared at a sheet of paper for 6 hours and seen the same thing. We were walking right toward the Norse Peak Fire, after all.
As time passed, the smoke became even thicker and my eyes became irritated. I kept spitting because of the taste of ash I had in my mouth.
We were trying to get to Tipsoo Lake. From there we could take an alternate trail down to State Highway 123 and then try to hitch to Forest Road 70. All this was necessary because the PCT had been closed from Chinook Pass on Highway 410 for about 23 miles until Government Meadow.
When I arrived at Tipsoo Lake, it looked like a post-apocalyptic world. Smoke obscured the far end of the lake and the 410 that went along its edge was deserted and closed to traffic. I half expected a zombie to come shambling down the highway toward me, but when I turned around it was just Bedazzled.
We made our way down a side trail to the 123 and started walking. Traffic was so infrequent that we could freely walk down the middle of the lane. When we heard a truck after about 5 minutes, we stopped and put our thumbs out. It stopped. What luck!
The truck already had one hiker sitting shotgun so we threw our stuff in the bed and jumped in the back. We were trying to get to Forest Road 70, which is off of 410. All I knew was that it was about 24 miles up the road from where we got picked up. I knew this from a quick Google Maps investigation back in Trout Lake. I hadn’t had service since then and the PCTA only provided maps of the immediate areas where the trail closed and opened along with somewhat vague directions.
As we continued to go down the road, I chatted with the driver. This seems to be my role since Bedazzled never says anything and the other hiker had very limited English. As we kept driving and not finding the road, I got the feeling that we were going further than the driver had anticipated, but this was our best shot at getting around the closure so I kept saying that I thought it was just up a little further. Finally, we saw a sign for the road. When we pulled up, there was a large barricade stating the road was closed and an official looking guy in a red truck.
“Can we still walk up the road?” “No.” “What are the work arounds for hikers?” “I don’t know.” “How far is the closure?” “Not sure, but the fire is getting bigger.” “How do we get around the closure?” “Not sure.” “When and where are you going after this? Can you take us with you?” “I won’t be leaving until a lot later.”
Ok, great. This guy wasn’t going to be of much help. Our hitch was already gone and we were basically stranded.
All of a sudden, I noticed a truck come back up the road that had passed by a minute before. “You guys need some help?” called the driver. “In the worst possible way,” I thought as I replied, “yes.”
It turns out Jim and Vick had just finished a section hike of the PCT from Cascade Locks to Mt. Rainer National Park and were on their way home when they saw us. Talk about luck! We explained our predicament and Jim offered to take us back to his house north of Seattle and let us stay the night. In the morning, he would take us wherever we needed to go to get back on trail. We couldn’t have asked for more. What generosity and kindness.
We rode back what must have been more than an hour to Jim and Vicki’s house. The two of them are a hoot and we shared stories and experiences from the PCT. To our great surprise, they had camped with Cat Lady the previous night. If you are a long time read, you may remember her from Hiker Heaven where we met her. She had “adopted” a four week old kitten and was carrying it in her dredlocks while she hiked. She was planning to take it into the Sierra. Well, we were glad to hear that she ended up deciding it was too dangerous (thank god) and skipped the Sierra. Jim told us the cat ran around camp attacking tents and killing at least two mice. It seems like it is doing ok, which is good to hear.
When we arrived, we ate pizza, showered, did laundry, and researched the expanded fire closure. It appears that the morning after we left White Pass the closure was expanded to include 70 miles of the PCT from Chinook Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. We had no way of knowing since service was nonexistent.
The next morning, Jim kindly drove us to Snoqualmie Pass where we said goodbye.
The mood in Snoqualmie wasn’t good. People were complaining about all the closures and talking about skipping ahead to Stevens Pass since the smoke was so bad in Snoqualmie. There were also rumors that the trail north of Snoqualmie was soon to be closed too. It reminded me of Kennedy Meadows before we went into the Sierra. The funny thing was, that many of the people complaining and spreading rumors were those that were doing so in Kennedy Meadows. Those people had ended up skipping the Sierra and flipping up trail only to come back to the Sierra once most of the snow had melted. Now they had flopped back to Washington, which was still under snow when they flipped, to finish it off. Somethings never change it seems.
Bedazzled and I have always been of the “go and see” mentality not the “wait and see” or “flip and see” so we decided to get out of Snoqualmie as soon as possible and start on trail.
Back on trail, we walked about seven miles and setup camp happy to be out in nature again.