From Highway 20 to Glacier Peak
I don’t know what it was about our funny, little, tucked-away campsite, but something was magical. Here, in earshot of the highway, I slept like an angel. I’m ready to do this hiking business today.
J cuts the sticky bun in half and we share it – the last of our baked goods from the Stehekin Bakery. When we’re ready to go I call out, “Switch?”
“Yeah?” answers Switch from her nylon cocoon.
“How are you feeling this morning?”
“Uh, not good…”
Oh no! I sure I hope I didn’t infect her. We leave her with admonitions to stay hydrated, then get moving down the trail ourselves. It’s sort of gray this morning, with low clouds that could go either way – clearing up or settling in. I’m here through the end, either way.
We’ve barely gotten started to walk when we finally hit the highway crossing, leading to a trailhead parking area with plenty of places to camp. None of them are as nice as the tucked-away glen we slept in last night though, something confirmed by Biscuit, who we have caught up to. We probably could have measured the distance between us last night in yards. Biscuit stops for a snack and we continue on, up into a new valley where the mountains have been keeping a surprise ready for us – the larches have turned. The ragged border of trees at timberline is in bright-yellow flame; the scraggly conifers decked out in full gold regalia. The tops of the mountains are lost in the low clouds, and I feel like I’m wandering through a strange gold and gray wonderland.
Across one pass, and another. Biscuit has caught back up with us and she rambles off her life story, her feelings, walking mentally through this journey as we walk physically through the last miles. J doesn’t like to talk and hike, and it’s sort of nice to chat. It’s almost too chilly to stop, but it’s perfect weather to just hike, hike, hike. I’m still sort of tired, but today I feel like I could go on like this forever. I’m pulling deep, but my well is much deeper.
We’re just cruising down the trail when we see a note, in a plastic bag, held down with a ziploc. It’s dated three days earlier –
I lost tent peg (8 pegs + orange sack). If you have my peg please bring to Manning Park. I lost them from High Bridge to here. Celery (Japanese PCT hiker)
“The tent pegs!” I shout. J found them on the side of the trail yesterday, and has them in his pack.
“No way we’ll catch him in Manning Park though,” J points out.
“Darn. Now we have to pack out this note too.” I stuff the note into a pocket. LNT baby.
We haven’t gone much farther when we run into a group of weekend backpackers all bunched up across the trail, looking scared and unhappy. We bumped into them earlier today, but they hadn’t seemed much interested in us then. Something is up. One of the backwoods boys, square-jawed and freckled, bursts out – “There’s a grizzly!”
“A grizzly?” I query, a little incredulous. He points down the trail. Up ahead, where the slope widens out, is a little area that’s been used to camp at, and there in the middle of the tent sites is a big, fat bear, licking up salt. It is definitely a bear, but it is also not a grizzly. Good. I have no interest in a personal meeting with a grizzly.
“Oh, that’s a black bear,” I reply to flannel-clad campers.
“But it’s not black,” protests another one of the country boys.
“Yeah, not all black bears are black. Look, it doesn’t have the shoulder hump or the heavy brow of a grizzly,” I point out. (Good thing too, if we are close enough to tell…) Relieved, they ask what we should do. We make a plan to walk around. They have a small husky puppy, so they are in charge of keeping it under tight control. We will walk off trail and around the bear, making noise to avoid surprising it. I lead the way with the three guys, another woman, and a husky puppy in tow, Dirtnap bringing up the rear. The guys all have either very large knives or hatchets and they all have them out, along with their tin cups which they are banging. For myself, I yell, calmly, at the bear: “HELLO MR. BEAR. WE ARE WALKING AROUND YOU NOW. JUST MINDING OUR BUSINESS MR. BEAR. WE’LL BE ON OUR WAY NOW MR. BEAR.” I take us off the trail to give the bear a wider berth, and it turns and looks at us, with its sweet, wild, inscrutable face. We have nearly finished going around it when it suddenly takes off in the other direction down the mountain, it’s pre-winter blubber bouncing crazily.
The utter hilarity of it all nearly kills me.
Once we are around it the weekenders are relieved but sort of embarrassed, led past the danger by skinny girl hiker with ripped shorts and a small pack and an umbrella and no knife at all. They take off down the trail at a pretty good clip, but we catch up with them again in less than a mile, where they are huddled around their map trying to figure out how they got lost. We get out our maps and show them where they missed their turnoff and send them back on their way again. It’s too bad we got ahead of Biscuit, she would have appreciated this.
Past rocky spires with long tongues of ice, then down into the trees where we follow a valley east for a long time, and then head up another valley to the north, towards Azurite Peak. We water up at the creek at the base of the switchbacks, trying for that magical balance between extra weight and thirst. We only have to do half the switchbacks tonight, we will finish them in the morning. Azurite Peak itself is shrouded in cloud like rainbow sherbet. The golden hour is upon us, the blueberry bushes glowing red and deep in the last light, the tail of the Azurite Peak Glacier brilliant and orange. I’m exhausted.
We cook and set up camp in the near dark. J has foraged a new mushroom for us to try tonight, a crazy-looking specimen called bears-head (bears are apparently the theme of the day). We saute up a little and eat a mouthful apiece, even though it is DELICIOUS, just in case it makes us sick. Biscuit has showed up, and is totally in for eating strange-looking fungi, and totally trusts us. (She even has garlic salt!) I wonder if it will rain tomorrow.