Days 113-116–stevens pass to stehekin
August 11-14 | NOBO Miles 2464.7-2572.4
At Stevens Pass, by a twist of fate, I ran into the long-lost Store Brand and Trashcan on the lawn of the lodge as they came down the foggy slopes (which tells you how much I have been dawdling in towns since they started Washington a whole week after me) and then hung at the Mountaineer’s Lodge with a buddy named Joey Joe who we’d met a while back at a trail magic outpost near Sierra City. The Mountaineers hooked me up with two meals (including beer and cake–it was the host’s birthday and I was stoked to share my title for the night), a bed, shower, and bucket laundry for $45–a very fair price for a dusty traveler.
I snagged some hiker box goodies for the beards, of course, and we set out on a misty morning, hiking through fog and rain for an entire day.
Unbeknownst to me, this would sadly be my last few hours with my favorite hat… its whereabouts are at this point unknown but I venture it probably fell out of the back pouch of my pack as I swung under and jumped over some gargantuan fallen trees. RIP.
That night we were joined at camp by the guys’ friend Biz, a cool Danish dude, as well as some very bold mice. I wondered whether I would wake up in the wee hours to one crawling across my head and into my food bag, which I was laying directly on top of.
Alas, we all made it through unscathed. The next morning was a climb up into the Glacier Peak Wilderness, where I passed a couple planning to summit the peak that night (where it would get down to 10° at their bivy site, yikes) and then crossed paths with a fun trail crew doing some blasting into fallen rocks. They had put up a sign warning that if you heard “fire in the hole” you should take cover.
Marmots and glacial streams were all over the place.
The temps were perfect and the sunset was beautiful that night, so I decided to hike late into the evening. I caught a very moody Golden Hour show.
I’m not sure whether or not I imagined the sound of mice outside my tent that night… I could only fall asleep after finishing a PBS documentary called “The Day the Dinosaurs Died,” which had me considering a paleontology career.
The following morning began with no warm-up as I climbed over 4000 feet (with a 3000 foot descent somewhere in the middle) within the first 10 miles. “Layla,” a Clapton classic, was my uphill jam that day. I was also fueled by petting the many dogs I saw on the way up, all very good boys, 12 out of 10 stars, super hiking buddies, would pet again. I had to step over one or two who had lounged across the trail to rest in the shady dirt. I also ran into a fun Swiss couple I’d hung out with at the Mike Urich cabin near Snoqualmie, named Swiss Roll and Chocolate Cherry. When I passed them they laughed in disbelief: “we thought you were in Canada already!”
The reward at the top of the mountain was a sweeping view of the bowl surrounding Glacier Peak. Tons of hikers gathered around the water sources at the top to get their sweet fill of the good stuff after the long haul. I chilled on a rock amongst the marmots. 20 minutes later I heard a telltale woop and looked up to find Store Brand strolling down the trail. Trashcan joined us for lunch 10 minutes later and we got some good people watching in. Even though I’d camped 3 miles ahead of the dudes the night before, they had easily caught up to my lazy butt by noon since I was in vacation mode with my 8AM wakeup time…
That afternoon took us downhill for miles. On the way I encountered scores of backpackers with 40+ pound packs moving at the pace of turtles, promptly passing them and feeling like an ultralight jerk. I must have passed at least 20 people, navigating an obstacle course of blowdowns and tree hops on the way.
I waited for the guys on a cool bridge over the beautiful, cloudy Suiattle River, where both of them, separately, tried to sneak up on me and scare me. It almost worked. Both times.
They set up camp, but again the night was way too nice for me to want to stop at 5PM, so I carried on a few more miles to a site that earned a place as one of my favorite camp spots on the trail.
On a sandy private beach along the bank of the Suiattle, I pitched my tent and enjoyed a wide-open view of the sky as I fell asleep to the white noise of the rushing river.
It was so calming I slept in, yet again, until 8.
Another long climb awaited me that morning (surprise!) and I could see the faint tracks of Altra Timps on the trail. When I had nearly crested the pass and a couple of funny gals named Broccoli and Jamie asked me if it was my birthday, I knew I’d gotten got. Despite my 3 mile head start, the beards were ahead of me.
When I caught them on their lunch break I had to answer for my new lackadaisical ways. It was also right around then that I decided I would make it to Stehekin that night. All told, it would be a 28 mile day that began at 8:45, and I would have to make the 6:15 shuttle at High Bridge–the last of the day–to avoid the 11 mile roadwalk into town. I was pushing it with the timing. The 5 minutes I stopped to talk to them were 1/3 of the 15 spare minutes of break time I could take if I wanted to make the bell. I was off shortly thereafter, eating my oatmeal as I sped downhill.
The afternoon grew hot and tedious as I meandered through a burn area with no breaks. But I made good enough time that I earned myself a 20 minute rest at the creek where the dudes planned to camp. I splashed my face with some ice cold water to pull myself out of the fog, and also left them a note in the sand. I had a box coming to Stehekin containing, among the rest of my get-to-Canada resupply, a ton of Justin’s nut butters I could no longer stomach, which I had promised I would hand over.
Galloping up and down the remaining rolling hills (conservation of momentum here–after all I did pretty well in college physics), I made it to the North Cascades National Park boundary and the High Bridge ranger station by 5:30 on the dot.
Emboldened, and not wanting to sit down for fear my legs would finally seize up after the day’s abuse (this is also probably the best time I’ve made on trail–28 miles in a little over 9 hours. I would like to thank Emergen-C and Snickers), I decided I would try my hand at hitching to town. Sure enough, I had walked just .1 mile down the (one and only) dirt road into Stehekin when a family of 3 pulled over in their ATV and offered me a ride. They were on their way back from a fishing trip, and headed to the Stehekin Valley Ranch 2 miles down the road. I took them up on it and we chatted about trout and trail runners as we bumped down the gravel thoroughfare.
Not one to resist a hot meal, I couldn’t help but notice upon arriving at the ranch that they offered a mouthwatering dinner deal for the reasonable price of $20. Abandoning the idea of going to town, I got myself a plate full of salmon, beets, carrots, mashed potatoes & gravy, salad, and fresh fruit and chased it down with 3 glasses of lemonade and a big-daddy piece of blackberry pie a la mode. The shiny tourists who had come in from town on the dinner bus stared at me in disbelief and probably disgust.
Comatose, I took advantage of the running water in their bathroom to do a little rinsing and then waddled over to the hiker box to pick out some more treats for myself and the gang (Starbucks caramel macchiato Via packets!!! The Holy Grail of instant coffee) before heading out to find a spot to sleep alongside the Stehekin River. I passed out cold after thanking God for fresh vegetables, which I don’t think I do enough. I like to think that day I’d really earned them.