From Indian Creek Trailhead
Even with the sun, even with a “ventilated” tarp, it is always a soggy morning here in the North Cascades. I hear Biscuit stirring next to us and know it’s time to get up. It’s cold enough this morning that for the first time I leave on my thick polyester leggings when we start to hike. I’m too thick through the thighs but with not enough meat on my backside, and they have tendency to slowly slide down. J makes fun of me and my saggy butt as I hitch them up again, the not-stretchy-enough fabric straining against my well-developed hiker thighs. As soon as I decide to stop being cranky about cold fingers, I am again blown away.
The trail keeps us above treeline, sliding along ridgelines through meadows patchworked in the green, red, and purple of blueberry fields greeting autumn, mountains stacking themselves outwards in all directions. The world is perfect, the world is mine. I am strong, powerful, the natural citizen of this place. All my life was for this. I stop at a tiny campsite above a pass to eat snacks and dry out the tarp. A beatific Biscuit comes up behind and joins J and I at our view of the wide expanse and huge horizons. We wander down the trail caught up in wonder. That is, very slowly. The blueberries don’t help. (How do bushes so small make blueberries so big?)
Past White Pass and Red Pass, when we run into Seahawk and Bumblebee drying their own gear out on a ridge overlooking the entire world, we’ve done only seven miles, leaving fifteen more to do and it’s already well past noon. It’s hard territory for the rest of the day too. “Look, you can see Mt Rainier,” Seahawk points out – we can just barely see it’s peak, behind row after row after row of mountains.
“Holy smokes!” I cry, “can you believe how many mountains there are between here and there?!”
“ha,” Seahawk laughs, “yeah, I can believe it. We just walked them.”
“I know we did, but it’s different to see it somehow. It just incredible, unbelievable, really. That looks completely unwalkable. I wouldn’t sign up for that!”
“Well, you did it anyway.”
“I know. Weird!”
I really can’t believe we’ve walked all that. Who knew? Walking is all it took.
We linger a bit, stuffing ourselves with a few last handfuls of blueberries, then J and I look at each other.
“Well? Are we going to do this?” J asks. I sigh deeply, knowing that if I say yes, the rest of the day is going to be a push, all the way to the end.
“Yeah,” I finally say. “Let’s do it.” We say goodbye to Seahawk and Bumblebee, and with one last deep breath I dig for the will to do a fifteen mile push and then go rocketing out across the mountaintops.
Rocky, alpine slopes. Muddy, slick trails and marmot mascots. I’m following a trail of Brooks Cascadia footprints – I wonder if 3D and Crackerjack are still just ahead of us. The trail plunges back down into the low country, down for a long, long ways. Back in forest, past lacy ferns and burly whitewater cascades, cruising downhill, walking hard. (One nice part about going back down below treeline is the mushrooms – we finally find some big King Boletes for our dinner.) We pause for a snack at the White Chuck River, a raging glacial outflow coming off of Glacier Peak, a long ways down from where we started the day. Three o’clock and eleven miles left. We can make it to Mica Lake before dark, but we won’t get to stop again. Thinkfast and Goosebumps catch up with us there, with the same goal. We hitch our wagon to their train and let Goosebumps bronze-cast calves pull us back up the miles of switchbacks. Damn, she’s fast. This is a pace I can keep up with, but I don’t know that it’s one I could set.
No time for real breaks, but we’re suddenly up against Glacier Peak, its ice covered sides looking so close! We stare at our maps and the mountain for a while, trying to figure out which of the glaciers snaking down its side that we are actually looking at.
Nearly up the mountain, even Goosebumps and Thinkfast have to acknowledge the elevation gain and pause for a bit. I’m feeling surprisingly good, so is J, and so we push on ahead. Up the rest of the ridge, down again, up again, down again, up again. Every ridge has a new view, new valleys, new mountains, beauty, beauty, beauty.
A couple miles before Mica Lake we run into an old man camped out by a small meltwater stream, wearing bright red down-filled pants. I’m instantly jealous. “So, where are you coming from?” J asks him.
“Campo, just like you,” he replies testily, picking up on J’s insinuation of weekender status.
“Oh, right, awesome,” J stammers back, abashed. Solar Sam introduces himself and we chat a bit, our thru-hiker high-horses put back away. At 74, Solar Sam is the oldest thru-hiker I’ve met on the trail so far. All those retirees who keep telling me that wish they had done something like this when they were young like me should meet this guy.
Solar Sam invites us to camp next to him, but we decide to push the last few miles.
Over the last ridge, switchback down to Mica Lake. Glacier Peak, hidden behind ridges, reappears, rising glowing above black rock faces in the last of the day. Mica Lake is a deep, beaten metal blue, a sapphire set in a mountain bowl. I am overwhelmed with the distance we’ve come today, with the beauty of the day, with the strength in my body these days. We bicker over tarp placement anyway, here in the best place in the world. I’m happy to pull on all my layers – polyester leggings, wool leggings, rain pants, wool socks, wool shirt, button up shirt, down jacket, buff, hat – and snuggle down into my sleeping bag. “Got enough clothes on?” J asks, eyebrows raised.
“Just enough,” I tell him happily. “oh, andI checked how far we came today.”
“Yeah. Twenty-two miles and over 13,000 feet of elevation – 6,800 down and 6,300 up.”
“I think this might have been one of the biggest days we’ve ever done, between the miles and the terrain.”
“I agree. Nice work Gizmo.”
“You too Dirtnap. Excited for some more switchbacks tomorrow?”