Day 85 Miners Creek to Stehekin

 

smoke in the morning trail

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.

I could see Gamma Ridge but not the peak

special rocks I would have taken home had they only fit in my saddle bags #1
#2
#3
#4
Frisco Mountain

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.

High Bridge and the park boundary
Stehekin River

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

Day 84 Suiattle River to Miners Creek

There was another stock rig at the trailhead when we got there.  There were reports from hikers coming out that there had been a pack llamas meet pack mules incident somewhere up the trail and there had been a horse or mule fatality, with some animals stuck on the side of a cliff, the story wasn’t clear.  We had passed Search and Rescue rigs on the way in, and during the night the remaining rig left the trailhead so we never actually talked to anyone who knew what was going on.  Last we heard someone had gone to town to try and locate slings to get the trapped horses out.  I wondered where the llamas had gone, no one seemed to know.  Mercedes has seen llamas before, she was curious and alert but not overly nervous, but not knowing how BG would react I wasn’t anxious to meet them on a narrow trail.

After trailering around the bad section of trail I was more than ready to continue to Canada.  Some days though are fated to be a trial.  The plan called for me to ride Mercedes, my favorite riding horse, and pack BG, the shorter, easier to load horse.  We had practiced, not much, but way more than any other pack/riding horse combo I’ve used.  Our first practice was a bit of a fiasco but subsequent trials went well enough.  Steven’s Pass was a wreck, but I’m blaming that on a rolling rock.

BG seems fine with the load
practicing in the parking lot
Hikers Eric and Cameron enjoy the show

The Suiattle River trailhead debacle I am totally blaming on BG being stupid.  She was good for the loading and tying, she was good for the leading from the hitching rails, but when I got on Mercedes and tried to start down the trail she got all excited, wanting to do circles around us.  So I got off and practiced walking around the parking lot, keeping her back, she seemed to get the idea, got back on Mercedes, all seemed good, took off down the trail and for the first two miles where the trail was wide she was perfect.  As soon as the trail narrowed on a rocky ledge she became the witch from hell, trying to pass, knocking the boxes against the rock and trees, nearly knocking Mercedes and I off the trail into the abyss.  I had to completely repack her three times, readjust the load several times, up and down the trail we went, crashing and banging, cussing and sweating, working herself into a frazzle.  Three times we stopped until pulse rates returned to normal, starting out slow and easy and then, BOOM, BAM, CRASH, she would start up again, squealing and trying to buck the packs off, worst pack horse ever.  In four hours we had made less than three miles, knowing there was dangerous trail ahead I once again turned around.  By now Mercedes was all freaked out and worked into a lather too, I couldn’t safely lead BG from Mercedes so I ended up leading her by foot with Mercedes bringing up the rear, even that was a challenge.

morning, noon and afternoon trail. I don’t know how many times we went past this spot.
or how many times BG ran the packs into these rocks
but eventually we did successfully make some miles
This suspension bridge at Canyon Creek really rock and rolls with two horses crossing, neither of them even blinked an eye at the motion.
a nice watering spot for the horses
Afternoon trail not far from the llama/horse/mule altercation

I finally got back to the trailhead and was exchanging texts with Janis about our next step.  As it would take some hours before Janis could possibly return I thought I had nothing to lose by switching roles, pack Mercedes, ride BG.  A simple, yet elegant solution, in their new roles each horse performed perfectly.  We let Janis know there was no need to return and back on the trail we went.  Due to the lateness of the hour we didn’t make many miles, but we did make at least some, enough we would easily make Rainy Pass in the next two days.

Trail data: mileposts; 2538 – 2542, miles ridden; 19.2, trail time; 8:26, average speed; 2.3, minimum elevation; 1611, maximum elevation; 2905, total ascent; 3015, total descent; 1834

Total miles: PCT; 2026, Ridden; 2117

Day 82 and 83 N Fork Sauk River to Sitkum Creek to N Fork Sauk River

morning trail

The goal for these two days was to get to the Suiattle River trailhead 53 miles away.  I had been told repeatedly for the past couple of years and the past couple of weeks in particular that a horse could not get through this section due to all the windfalls.  On the other hand we have been told the same about several sections of trail, all of which we were able to get past, except the Chimney Creek trees.  After 2000 miles I was going to go have a look at the very least.  Knowing that a pack horse in difficult territory just makes things worse, I loaded Mercedes up with the bare minimum it would take to camp out overnight and up the trail we went.

the trail to Red Pass
still climbing

Shortly after regaining the PCT the trail crosses Red Pass, another oh wow moment.  Looking to the west, over the Sauk River, the colors are all blues and dark greens, to the east, across the Whitechuck River Basin, all brown, reds and light greens.  After the trail crosses the basin it drops back down into the forest where after 10 miles I began to encounter the wind falls.  For the first mile I was able to navigate around all the obstacles until I came to what I believed was the log that had been described to me that had no go around.

The view west from Red Pass
more from Red Pass to the west
The view east from Red Pass, the next two pictures are too.
looking toward the Whitechuck Basin
Glacier Peak

the bridge across the Whitechuck
the view upstream

I tried to find a way around; the ground was so steep I needed to hang on to bushes and small trees to stay on my feet.  It got to the point Mercedes couldn’t stay on her feet either and rather than risk her I decided to cut my way past.  I cut my way through two smaller cedar logs and made three more cuts on the root wad over a couple hours to make a path wide enough to get Mercedes through.  Then we went around the corner to find an even larger tree and root ball followed by half a dozen or more huge windfalls over the next half mile.  Additional huge windfalls off trail blocked passage uphill to the rim rock and downhill to a sheer cliff.  There was even a bog on the side hill that Mercedes sank into nearly to her belly guarding one possible bypass route.  At that point I threw in the towel sending Janis a message to meet us back at the Sauk River in the morning.

I cut my way through these logs

 

Mercedes and I spent an uneventful night, she getting some grazing done, both in the evening and morning.  Then we got to ride up through the Whitechuck basin in the early morning light.  The Whitechuck River is on the opposite side of the basin from the PCT and is visible only in a couple places though it can be clearly heard, like a jetliner going overhead.  Some awful pretty riding.

morning trail
the noisy Whitechuck
Whitechuck Valley
Sunrise over the basin
Climbing to Red Pass,
ferns in the rocks
morning back trail
i just can’t get enough of this stuff

not much left growing now but the low lying shrubs
and the last of the wild flowers
the bees are still working though

Back down the N Fork of the Sauk

Trip data: mileposts; 2500-2510, miles ridden; 36, minimum elevation; 2028, maximum elevation; 6475, total ascent; 9379, total descent; 9290

Total miles: PCT; 1998, Ridden; 2098

Day 81 Cady Creek to N Fork Sauk River

Morning trail, Little Wenatchee River trail

Yesterday afternoon coming down the Cady Creek trail we rode through some pretty thick vegetation, ferns and thimble berries thick against the Mercedes sides.  The trail along the Little Wenatchee River to the PCT was choked too, some places so thick BG disappeared.  At length we did rise above the lowland flora to the high meadows and long views I so enjoy.

BG is perfectly willing to bury her nose into the greenery for a snack.
The forest and deep vegetation give way to shorter greens as we get higher.  The trail works it’s way up to the saddle in the center distance.
The view from from above Meander Meadows.
The trail around Kodak Peak.
Kodak Peak from the east. I met a father/son hiker team here, and I made a Kodak Peak for a Kodak moment comment to the 12 or 14 year old boy, who naturally didn’t understand. Perhaps it is time to rename the point to “Digital Media Peak”. as the views from the top are pretty spectacular.
The Little Wenatchee River Valley with Meander Meadows on the right.

 

Looking at my back trail, that is Kodak Peak viewed from the north on the left.
Just another unnamed ridge.
The berries on these low growing bushes were especially plump, juicy and sweet.

As we came to White Pass two large donkeys emerged from the shadows of trailside evergreens, trotting toward BG and me.  Having never seen a donkey before and now with two charging at her BG was on the nervous side, but she did stand for me to dismount.  A man emerged from the shadows as well getting to us about the same time the donkeys finished sniffing BG, pronouncing her uninteresting, before wandering off a few feet, perhaps looking for some greens to eat.

White Pass is just ahead, those are the trees the donkeys were sheltering in alongside the trail

The owner, who I was to find out named Darrell, and to whom I refer to now as “Darrell Two Donkeys”, wanders the trails around the state clearing logs and other trail maintenance chores as he sees fit, seeking no praise, recognition or profit.  At the time we spoke I believe he said he had been out for three weeks, was running out of supplies and was getting ready to exit the wilderness.  Anyway – he asked me what I was doing and I went into my stock spiel, meeting my wife, blah blah, thru riding the PCT, blah blah.  At which point Darrell interrupted me saying “who do you think you are, Gary Pegg?”  To which I replied, a bit flustered, “Well, yes I am.”  Apparently the PCTA guy that walks the trail documenting what and where attention is needed had told Darrell about me the day before.  So much for my 15 minutes of fame.  I was two miles down the trail before I realized I had no photographic evidence of either Darrell or his donkeys.

The trail down to the North Fork of the Sauk River is steep and rocky with tight switchbacks for the first three miles before it flattens out, somewhat, following the river down through an old growth cedar forest and across the occasional avalanche swath.  After the bright and windy ridge tops the valley, covered in moss and ferns, seems eerily quiet, Bigfoot country.

Johnson Mountain from the N. Fork Sauk River trail
Mackinaw Shelter has seen better days.
N. Fork Sauk River trail in the afternoon.

Trip data: mileposts; 2487-2500, miles ridden; 22, trail time; 7:56, average speed; 2.8, minimum elevation; 2131, maximum elevation; 5969, total ascent; 4426, total descent; 5333

Total Miles: PCT; 2008, Ridden; 2062

Day 80 Smithbrook TH to Cady Creek TH

Janis’s idea of breaking up the Stevens Pass to Cady Creek ride was a really good one, this is tough country, a 25 mile day is ever so much more pleasant than a 30 plus.  We are starting to climb up towards the north Cascades with new views around every corner.

Morning trail
This rooty trail is the stairway to more picturesque locales
Reflection Pond

This part of the trail goes through the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness which like wildernesses everywhere is getting more and more use.  One thing the Wenatchee National Forest has done in an effort to minimize human impact is build miniature vault toilets near the more popular camp spots.  I’m all for it, something to sit on, no shovel required.

this way to a better world
A kings throne.

Feather in the trail. These seem to have taken the place of the rock stacks we saw earlier in the trip.

Our first peek at Glacier Peak.
Pear Lake
A new kind of marmot for me. I’ve been seeing these in more wooded areas as well as in the rocks. Different paint job, almost white around the middle with a very black tail, same whistle though.
more rocky trail
“pay attention” I tell the horses.

Afternoon trail
the bridge over Cady Creek

 

Trail data: mileposts 2469-2487, miles ridden; 24.7, trail time; 9:10, average speed; 2.7, minimum elevation; 2989, maximum elevation; 5578, total ascent; 5205, total descent; 6012

Total miles: PCT; 1975, Ridden; 2039

Day 79 Repeat Stevens Pass to Smithbrook TH

Janis drove me back to Stevens Pass this afternoon so we could resume our journey.  Because of the lateness of the day I only rode BG 8½ miles to a forest service road.  I am looking forward to getting some miles behind me tomorrow.

Afternoon trail
High meadow
Lichtenberg Mountain over Lake Valhalla

Trip data: mileposts; 2164-2169, miles ridden; 8.6, trail time; 2:23, average speed; 3.6, minimum elevation; 3806, maximum elevation; 5080, total ascent; 1500, total descent; 1548

Total miles: PCT; 1957, Ridden; 2014

Day 79 Stevens Pass to Stevens Pass

It seems I have used up my share of good luck on this trip, or at least I am running a little low.  After having to turn around at Cayuse Janis and I decided to spend the night at a horse motel near Leavenworth then drive up to Stevens Pass the next day which would give us a much needed day of rest and put us back on schedule.

When we got to the Forever Young ranch we saw that BG had managed to cut her upper eyelid.  Between the amount of blood and BG not cooperating it was hard to tell if it was just the eyebrow or if the eyelid or eye were affected also.  Erring on the side of caution we loaded her back up and hauled her into Wenatchee to Countryside Vet Clinic.  Dr. Kerr got BG anesthetized and discovered the damage to be minimal, three stitches closed the wound and for a very reasonable $125 we were headed back to camp.

As planned we moved to Stevens Pass yesterday where we were able to meet my daughter, Sky.  Sky had brought the paper work we needed to get into and out of Canada.  She was able to spend the night so we had a good visit before we saw her off this morning.

I haven’t packed in nearly 40 years, and I have never packed alone so I was a little nervous about going into what I’ve been repeatedly told is the toughest 125 miles of the PCT.  We got loaded and on the trail, only had to turn around for forgotten items twice.  The short in and outs showed BG’s load to be balanced and riding true.  The first five miles was a gentle down grade on an old road, the horses posed no problems and I started thinking that part of the equation was going to go well.

Then the trail turned into another rocky, narrow side hill, the kind we have come to know so well.  I was having to remind BG to stay back frequently as she was coming up on Mercedes hip with her head.  I am not sure whether she stepped into a hole, or the trail gave out from under her, doesn’t really matter, the bottom line is she fell over the side of the hill tumbling and stumbling a hundred feet down the hill before coming to rest upside down against a log that kept her from rolling further.  Naturally, I could only get to the off side of the rigging, but though it was a struggle we managed to get her unbuckled, unlashed and unsaddled.

While I was undoing BG, Joel, a Swedish thru hiker, chopped a trail down to where we were and hauled some of the pack back up to the trail.  I was able to roll BG onto her side and then with a lot of encouragement she was able to regain her feet landing on top of me before we scrambled back to the trail.  The hill side was really steep, Joel and I slipped and fell several times and were only able to arrest our falls by grasping brush, mostly devil’s club, ouch.  I had a hundred foot length of rope that I tied to a tree and used to lower myself back down to the two remaining pack boxes.  The rope didn’t quite reach but by working the boxes ten feet up the hill I was able to tie to the hanger straps and with me lifting and Joel holding the slack we were able to get all the gear back on the trail.  I guess all the trail magic Janis has been dispensing paid off in a big way.  Without Joel (pronounce YOU-EL) I would still be dragging equipment up the hill.

BG didn’t seem to be hurt in anyway, except for a large L shaped cut on her cheek.  This cut was not going to close with three stitches.  So off we went again, this time to Pilchuck Equine Veterinary Clinic in Snohomish where Dr Bryant and his staff very professionally treated BG.  Four stitches, a dozen or more surgical staples, a bottle of antibiotic pills to be administered for the next two weeks and a $925 bill later we are on our way home to regroup and refresh before we make another attempt at those pesky North Cascades.

The moral of this story is if you have to take your horse to the vet, try to do it in a farming/ranching clinic not a suburban/metropolis clinic.

Stay tuned for further adventures.

Day 78 Cayuse Horse Camp to Waptus Lake and back.

Morning trail

Today started out well enough with a nice ride on BG up the Waptus River to the PCT.  Checking my inReach when I got there I saw that Janis had sent me  “turn around” and “fire closure” messages earlier in the morning.  BG needed no encouragement to head back down the trail, I think we covered the eleven miles back in half the time it took us to get there in the first place.

A bit of a trail washout.
Waptus River

 

Trip data: mileposts 2412-2429, miles ridden; 21.4,

Total miles: PCT; 1917, Ridden; 1996

Day 77 Snoqualmie Pass to Cayuse Horse Camp

morning trail

The much anticipated Kendall Catwalk turned out to be a non-issue.  I wasn’t even aware that I was on it until I was halfway past, and only then because I recognized it from pictures.  It is on a cliff, the drop-off is vertical, but so are many other spots that are much longer and narrower with nastier tread, to include several today alone.  What does make the catwalk unusual is that it is very photogenic you can capture its entire length and dramatic silhouette  with a single photo.

If you see signs like these at the beginning of a trail you may want to rethink your day.

Scenery wise today was one of the best days of the whole trip.  Trail wise it wasn’t.  The trail was not as steep as the previous day, the grade was much easier, as one hiker commented “there are switchbacks and everything”.  But, my word, the rocks.  Big rocks, little rocks, round rocks, sharp rocks, big solid slab no traction for steel shoes rocks, tall rocks forcing you to scramble up or drop down three and four feet at a whack.  Where there weren’t rocks there were roots, just eleven and a half hours of slow going.  By the time I got to camp I was one tired boy.

after five miles of this
we got a little of this,
and then back to this, a scenario that was to repeat itself with some variation through out the day.
I believe this is the beginning of the Kendall Catwalk.
Though it may start as you cross this saddle.
The scenery is great
looking toward the end of the walk.
this part of the trail is a mile or so past the Kendall Catwalk, which goes around Kendall Peak in the background, and in my opinion is narrower and scarier.
as is this
the scenery is awfully hard to beat.
it seems around every corner is another calendar worthy vista.
more rocky trail
nice looking horse.

Traversing Huckleberry Mountain

skinny trail, steep drops
I like to go slow when the trail looks like this, Mercedes does too.
One of the many lakes we would see, Alaska Lake, but not get near this day.

What this picture doesn’t give a fair representation of is how much the leaning rock looms over the trail, a rider has to lean his torso to the outside to keep from bumping it, the large flat rock in the trail has fallen from the leaner, and I am hoping another doesn’t come down while I am going by.
yes, that is the trail going diagonally across the lower right of the picture.

Chikamin Lake with Chimney Peak and Summit Chief Mountain in the background.
Maybe the most picturesque bridge so far, the water fall comes within just a few feet. The approach on the far side has washed out at some point loosening the anchors for the cable hand rails, which is okay as the tops of the uprights on the waterfall side have all rotted away and the cable is just lying there anyway.
Spectacle Lake
The water below this missing bridge is pretty deep and swift, I got my feet wet in the crossing. What you don’t see is the paracord stretched from the old bridge supports to some bushes on the near side, to give hikers something to hang on to as they cross. It catches a rider about waist high as his horse walks under it to use the obvious crossing route, whoa Mercedes.
The poor bridges on Leman Creek, if they didn’t wash out trees fell on them.

Trip data: mileposts; 2390-2412, miles ridden; 28.8, trail time; 11:21, average speed; 2.5, minimum elevation; 2796, maximum elevation; 5952, total ascent; 6109, total descent; 6246

Total miles: PCT; 1900, Ridden; 1970

Day 76 Stampede Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

how did shadow man find the Morning Trail

For as few of miles as we covered today BG really had to work.  The steep ascents and descents of yesterday continued today.  The last 10 miles were especially tough requiring BG to repeatedly jump up and down over rocks often three feet or more high on hills that are already steep and tough going.  We were both glad to see the truck and trailer this afternoon.

 

on the outside looking in

 

inside looking out
a trail friend

Yet another Mirror Lake.
Mirror Lake resident.
A welcome break with cool water.

Kendall Catwalk and the Alpine Lakes tomorrow. 

Trip data: mileposts; 2372-2390, miles ridden; 17.7, trail time; 5:23, average speed; 3.3, minimum elevation; 3046, maximum elevation; 4477, total ascent; 3236, total descent; 3743

Total miles: PCT; 1878, Ridden; 1941