From Gilette Lake to Rock Creek.
Old routines, new again, old again. We filter our water, pack our packs. Uphill today – we’re starting the climb away from the Columbia River, heading towards high country. We’ve gotten up sort of late, as usual, and the day is warm. Last views of the Columbia, friends. We’re headed north.
The Columbia disappears behind us. My legs feel heavy and sluggish. Some of the other hikers who had been at PCT days have caught up with us, and we leapfrog with 3D and the Reverend Blisster. (We were a couple days behind the Reverend for all of Southern California, and read his name on countless trail registers. And here he is!) The forest here is still sort of dry, not too different from where we left off in northern California. Our views for the day have turned out to be brief, and we walk through the woods, warm sunlight filtering in onto our sweaty heads and backs.
My trekking poles swing in my hands, starting to feel more like an extension of my self again, and less like the limbs of a baby giraffe. J is ahead of me at the moment, and I come around the corner to find him with his face in a bush, eating berries. “Hey! What are you eating?” I exclaim, alarmed. “Do you know what those are??”
J calmly pops another bright red berry into his mouth. “They’re grouseberries. Biggest I’ve ever seen!”
The berries are glorious in the rays of sunlight coming down. Their pink/red skin is translucent, and glows incandescently against the otherwise solid carpet of green. “Go on,” J encourages. “Try one. They’re relatives of the blueberry and huckleberry.”
“If you say so,” I mutter dubiously. Eating mysterious red berries in the forest is usually a bad idea, but these are nice. It’s not as distinctive as a blueberry, but it’s sweet and tart. Delicious.
Late afternoon, we’re getting close to Rock Creek, our stop for the night. It’s only fifteen miles from where we started this morning, but we decided to not jump too far into the deep end for our first full day back on trail. Besides, this is the first water source in ten miles, and we’re thirsty. As we get closer, J observes that the forest is getting wetter. “This is more like the Cascades that I think of. Moss and nurse trees – trees growing out of trees growing out of trees,” he points out. The forest seems to be growing not of earth, but of a crazy maze of downed trees, every which way like spilled matches, all densely carpeted with moss, all with tiny baby trees sprouting upwards.
Holy smokes, it feels so good to take off my pack. Switch is here at Rock Creek already – we haven’t seen her since the Sierras – and so is 3D and the Reverend Blisster. I go down to the cold water and set up a gravity filter while I wash my feet and socks. Feet is about as far as I’m willing to go in this temperature of water, but J goes around the corner to bathe. 3D and I chat about feet, and trees, and trail while sitting back and admiring the distant form of J bathing in the river, a distant satyr, almost far enough away to not be seen…
As we start cooking and setting up camp, other hikers begin to come in, and it’s starting to look like camping spots may be an issue for the night. J and I set up in a spot just big enough for our two sleeping pads to fit. The tarp has a gigantic footprint, especially with the reach of the guylines, but actually fits more places than the tents of our companions, which need the entire footprint to be flat. We use the trees for a one-tree pitch and slide ourselves in for the night.