Long Day

Camping in the trail with Slate Peak Fire Lookout in the background

Camping in the trail with Slate Peak Fire Lookout in the background

Start: Holman Pass

Camp: Slate Peak

Distance: 11.5 miles

“No astrological dusk given, no astrological dawn given,” reports my sunrise sunset calculator. Yes, the sun still sets, but I am far enough north and it is near the solstice, so the sky never goes fully dark. I was wondering why it seems so confusingly light in the middle of the night, after I realized last night that it is very near the new moon.

It’s sometime around 6:00 p.m. and its still too bright up here to take my sunglasses off. I’m sunburned. Finally, it is warm, probably high 60’s, even at 7,000. I lay in my shorts and t shirt, smelly from 8 days of sweat, with my tent open to the west, anticipating, finally, a showy sunset. Sunset comes at exactly 8:10. My clock is still off and although there is no way to manually set it this will let me calibrate in my head exactly how much it is off by. My guess is 4 hours.


The snow is melting quickly and that makes me hopeful that it will get easier from here. Already, today was easier than yesterday. I don’t know if it was me or if the terrain changed. It’s just as high, certainly as snowy, but it felt better. I got the earliest start yet and covered the most miles: . I also climbed over… My food cache is just a mile south of here in a tree so I’m celebrating with an extra meal.

Reading this from home you might say, What about bears? What about avalanches? If only I had the luxury to worry about those things too. I go to sleep with my food in a sleeping bag sack beneath my head or just laying next to me, too tired to do or think anything else. During the day I spend my worries on, Will I starve to death out here? and Will I tear my shoulder next time I have to self arrest as I skitter over the undulating decay of a talas slope covered in snow?

Easy walking along the banks of Ross Lake gave way to bushwhacking, and that lead to days of mountaineering that have shown me the most beautiful and striking mountain scenes I have ever seen, waterfalls and couliers, massive glacial valleys and deep river-cut gorges, cirques as big as 2 or 3 football fields, teetering towers and endless ridges of rock, some blocky and jagged, with decidedly volcanic origin, or shale in small knifepoint shards with colors that range from tan to matte black. Occasionally there is granite and I think immediately of Colorado. The same yellow, green, and grey lichen, a symbiotic combination of fungus and algae, grows on it here too. Oh and when it smells dry like the summers in Colorado – heaven. I’ve learned to smell dry, and smile, a long ways away now. Dry ground means that warm air will blow on your skin if its sunny. Dry means warm feet and easier waking. Not that walking on snow is bad, its like walking on couch cushions when it’s good, and not that my feet get that cold. Dry sun will dry out your socks and gloves and insoles while you easy lunch, though not your boots. My new boots are good, just enough really, I’d hate to be out here in less, let alone low top approach shoes as what Donald from New Zealand was wearing when I met him, showing me his crampons and ice ax, standing atop three feet of snow on Harts Pass. Those were the only shoes he had brought. I didn’t see his name when I signed the trail register at mile 0, I can only imagine starting to hike in those and how long you might go before realizing your feet weren’t going to get warm until you were done walking ten hours later. Frostbite. No, my waterproof, mid-top, extra wide, one-size-over Merrel’s with partial leather uppers that I bought just a few days before starting to hike here have been great. A godsend really, because my attitude would be totally different if I were nursing blistered or frostbitten feet too, and my pace would be slower, and I would be hungry. I’m not hungry yet, but I’m cutting it too close. It was that silly ascent of Mt. Desolation, that little extra I had to have to feel like I was really living to the fullest, that put me here. I’d still be making the same mileage if I had that extra day’s food, but I’d be looking around more, taking a couple slow steps in quiet revelry because I don’t absolutely have to have those miles. No, I don’t have time to be awed now. 14 miles to go so on I push, mountaineering somewhere between eight and ten hours every day for four days straight except for a jaunt to the border, really a zero day since I woke up the same place twice. What will I do when I get to Harts Pass? It will be ten days then, and around 100 miles. Will I decide this is silly? Dangerous? Just not a fun way to spend my time? And then what, jump down to a snow free section? God the snow free sections are a dream, miles that tick off so fast that any distance seems possible, a cruel juxtaposition to the mind numbing hour it takes to climb as far up a snowy cirque as you could through a snowball down it. You watch your slough ball up and grow as it rolls down and wonder if… No, I will press on at Harts Pass, what with my hearty foods, cold or not. At least to Rainy Pass just three more days, and then at least to Stehekin, just two more days, and then at least to… And maybe by then the snow will have melted.