As the trail dropped down to river level the evening before I could see a haze in the distance, by morning the smell made the cause of the haze obvious even before I could see how much thicker the smoke was. The trail was mostly dirt as it wandered in and out of the forest. I know from past experience the mountainscapes were spectacular too, but today though I could sometimes see their outlines the peaks and ridges remained mostly hidden. What joys we could find would have to be found much closer to our position on the trail.
As the hour neared four, the horse were stopped in a small meadow taking a grass break, when a hiker hustled by followed closely by another who stopped and exchanged pleasantries for a minute before explaining that he was trying to get to the High Bridge Ranger Station in time to catch the last bus into Stehekin for the evening, and felt pressured to keep moving. Soon we were passed by a third hiker who also had that little bit panicky I’m going to miss the bus look on his face. Shortly after the girls and I were on our way too, as we caught up to the hikers they would turn and see us then take off running to stay in front so they wouldn’t lose any time waiting for me to pass. Not too long after that I passed another solo hiker, “what time is it?” she asked. “About a quarter to five.” “That is an hour and a half to do 2 miles, what are they all worried about?” “I dunno” I replied, but thinking to myself the thought of fresh food can do funny things to a man after 2500 miles.
There were a bus full of people there when I rode up to the Ranger Station, actually a little residence cottage, small barn and packer’s corral. Eyeing the corral I asked the Ranger if there was any stock water available. “No” he says “and there is no camping here, you know about the camping restrictions in the Park?” Taking a wild guess I replied “only in designated campgrounds.” “That’s right, and you have to have a permit for the campsite you want to use, the next one is five miles north.” He stated rather officiously. Looking at the house I asked “No water here at all?” Pointing to a water cooler type jug he said “You can use that, but you will have to refill it from the river.” A pack up a steep trail from the river fifty feet below that I declined.
Not wanting to make waves at this point in the day, and knowing the park boundary was only a quarter mile south on the trail, though water access there was poor, I took a shot at riding down the road towards Stehekin where I found a nice large flat meadow with plenty of grazing for hungry horses and a not too bad though rocky trail to the water. It was obvious that others with horses had camped here before, why the Ranger couldn’t just have told me that instead of getting so puffed up about the rules, I don’t know.
Trail Data: mileposts; 2542-2569, miles ridden; 25.8, trail time; 9:46, average speed; 2.6, minimum elevation; 1522, maximum elevation; 5941, total ascent; 4123, total descent; 5404
Total miles: PCT; 2057, Ridden; 2143