From Snoqualmie Pass to the ridge above Spectacle Lake
Bacon and eggs, our packs stuffed with candy bars, our clothes clean, a pair of new shoes – and a forecast of rain. The fog is low here in Issaquah when Barry gives us a ride back to Snoqualmie Pass. We make small talk while I try and steel myself for rain. It’s ok, it’s ok, rain is ok…
Barry drops us off at the Chevron and wishes us luck. We’re back on our own.
We go into the gas station just to buy one last snack, and I end up buying a pair of thick polyester leggings as well. (I don’t know if you ever stop packing your fears.) I opted not to carry a pair of pants besides my rain pants for this stretch, and I’m wondering if I’m going to regret it. J and I pop out our umbrellas and sally forth into the dim, grey mist.
The steep climb out of the pass suddenly pop us out above the clouds. It was an inversion! The sky is blue above us, the clouds are white below us, and we’re on the top of the mountains. The ridge we’re on plunges us north into the wild, while the clouds behind us trickle over the mountains, creeping behind us.
There are some day-hikers who know 3D, but no other PCT hikers out here yet today. “So where is the turn-off to the alternate trail with the hot-springs?” I ask J as we sit down for a quick snack. He pulls out the maps.
“Weeelll, looks like we messed up.”
“Looks like we passed it about 5 miles ago.”
“Five miles?! What, was it right at the trail-head?”
“Yeah, actually it was. Before the climb.”
“Well, no hot springs for us.” Thru-hikers never go backwards. Ever.
Not that it’s terrible, being up here on the ridge. This is a portion of the trail known as the Kendall Katwalk, a ridge-walk blasted from stone, winding through talus, flanked by forest and lakes. I had assumed that the popular alternate would still include this section (which is why we weren’t even looking for the turnoff when we passed it). Too bad it doesn’t have a hot spring too. The talus is hard on our feet, which makes me a little worried. This may not be a great stretch of trail to be breaking in a brand new pair of shoes, and a brand new make and model on top of that. “You know, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about these shoes. All this talus and hard rock, and things are feeling pretty good so far. Every other pair of shoes has hurt on the first day out. I think this might be the pair to magically fix all my aches and woes.”
“Cautiously optimistic, huh?” J laughs at me. “You’ve said that about every single pair of shoes you’ve put on this trip. How many of them were magical?”
“Well, ok, none. But that doesn’t mean I should stop hoping!”
“Hope all you want, I just don’t know if hiking thousands of miles through mountains is really the key to having feet that feel awesome, no matter what shoes you’re wearing.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Maybe this pair is the pair though,” I follow up. J rolls his eyes back at me.
“Good morning,” a group of day-hikers greets us. We get into a conversation with them, and they turn out to be a group of Russians who are visiting the states, along with their Russian friend from the area who is showing them around. We talk about the PCT a bit, then ask them what brings them out here. They’re all strong-looking dudes, and they tell us about youthful exploits bicycling around Tajikistan and climbing mountains in the Soviet Union. “We come here to see, you know? We are here to see Beauty,” concludes one of the Russians, nodding matter-of-factly, looking out at the sweeping range. We nod along with him.
We say goodbye to the Russians, wishing them a wonderful trip. “To see Beauty!” J exclaims after they leave. “Of course!”
“Some Beauty,” I comment back, looking around at the panorama of beauty encircling me, thinking about the store of beauty I’ve seen during this trip, the beauty that’s always out here, waiting for us past the highways and the suburbs an the small confines of our day to day life. Beauty and beauty and beauty.
We’re drunk on beauty all day long. My happiness has an edge to it though, an edge sharpened by the low, heavy clouds, flowing over one mountain pass to the next, following just behind us the other day. For a brief moment we drop down and walk through the creeping edge of it, instantly losing everything to a thick, gray fog. We come out the other side gasping from the closeness of it. We’ve escaped for now, but it’s coming for us.
Put all that behind me though, the rain is coming but it isn’t here yet. We get lost in a vortex of mountain blueberries for over an hour, and then it’s starting to get dark. Sixteen miles – not exactly killing it – but realistically, it’s not bad for a day straight out of town. First day hiking after a zero is always a drag. Besides, if we camp now, we will have the most beautiful home in the world, for a night. There’s water here too, despite what Halfmile’s maps say, and a little patch of grass the right size for our tarp. It’ll do.