Start: Lutz Lake (2291)
Camp: Potato Hill/ FS 5603 intersection (2262)
I sat in the muddy trail laughing hysterically at my steaming feet. My new friends looked at me skeptically. “I’ve been hiking so fast my feet are smoldering!” I told them as I cracked up. Then Dormouse told me they were “cooking” in what appeared to be a CD-R spindle and I cracked up about that too. Finally they laughed too. We’d hiked 21 miles together after meeting up on the knife edge and had just stopped for lunch. I’d decided to peel off my dirty wet socks and put on cleaner wet socks and I’d never seen feet steam like that.
We stopped for seven minutes. I know because my macaroni noodles were just tender. Then we raced on to escape the cloud of mosquitoes that had been attracted by the carbon dioxide from our breath and my stove (according to Dirt Stew.) I ate my boiling hot Annie’s macaroni and cheese as we hiked. Dormouse and Dirt Stew did not have this inconvenience because “cooking” for them really means mixing instant potatoes with cold water in the CD-R spindle and dividing it in two. This saves the weight of carrying a stove.
I’m not out here to see the sights, the universe made that perfectly clear today. I’d wasted 36 hours of perfectly good hiking time waiting for the weather to clear so that I could get a view from the trail’s Washington highpoint, which I crossed this afternoon. As I approached it the people I met told me of the gnarly storm clouds they’d seen moving through the valleys below from up there. Below, where I was, it rained and hailed, even snowed just a little. My clothes have been wet, and packed away, for three days while I’ve lived in my rain suit.
As I hiked the perilous ‘knife edge’ I could have slipped off either side and been fine; giant white pillow puffs of fog thick enough to lean against lined the trail. I couldn’t see a damned thing all day.
I caught up to Dormouse and Dirt Stew somewhere near the top. They’d left White Pass a day earlier but backtracked and waited out the weather near mile 2990.
I zipped across the icy snow of the Packwood Glacier in nothing more than zero drop running shoes and paper thin $20 rain gear. Crampons and ice ax? I don’t even have gloves and a hat.
I heard rocks sliding in the distance. It had the regularity of footsteps. Not fifteen feet away someone yelled:
“These rocks suck!!!”
Someone replied: “What??!?”
It was Dormouse and Dirt Stew descending the slick slabs of crushed rock. They hiked in goretex and carried their crampons in one hand, their extra tall ice axes in the other. Dirt Stew had a GPS around his neck. “Prepared? That’s just extra weight” I thought. Being a pro I zipped around them, keeping to the snow, and being cold I shot ahead. Being in a hurry, I walked a mile down the wrong ridge following what must be a path left by mountain goats. My map had gotten too wet to be very useful. I was lucky enough to get a sliver of cell service, which reset the clock on my glitchy phone too the correct date, which is required for Guthook’s finicky app to work, and I was able to pickup enough GPS signal to locate myself. I ate a big slice of humble pie and then climbed back up the ridge. I’d been lost for 40 minutes.
I eventually caught up to Dormouse and Stew, and as I got within sight I saw Dormouse wave, but not to me – she seemed to wave a nothing in particular off in the distance. It wasn’t until I walked right up to them around the next moraine that I saw him. Tofu Todd was going or direction, albeit very slowly, in a gossamer cuben fiber poncho tarp. His pack was so small on his back that under the poncho it looked like he wasn’t carrying one at all. It was Todd the waved. He needed help.
Todd had come from Mexico. Not only had he almost completed this section, he had almost completed an entire trail. But, like me, Todd had gotten turned around in the fog. He’d spent hours looking for the trail, as evidenced by his erratic footprints we’d all seen and wondered about. We calmed him down. I fed him Cheese Its. He was carrying no compass, no GPS, and no map besides what was in the Wilderness Press guidebook, which, strangely, he was carrying. We chastised him with disapproving stares. But we rod him he could do it. He was, after all, just 20 miles from White Pass, the end of Section H. I gave Todd a couple pounds of food. That would give him a while extra day should he need to wait out the weather. I was carrying extra anyway. Actually, I’d been so anxious to lose the weight that I’d been stuffing myself and even resorted to dumping food out as I hiked. So we spent some time with Todd going over maps and what we’d seen and, mostly, just telling him “You can do it” and I spent the rest of the day on top of the world knowing I had helped somebody. I got Todd’s email so that I can find out if he made it. As we hiked on I resigned myself to following Dormouse and Stew , or at least staying within sight if I was ahead, through the rest of the snow.
I set up my tent in the middle of a forest service road in waning twilight. Sure, I’d have preferred a campsite, but at least I’m not right in the trail. Actually I am, but there’s room to walk around. I just hope no one tries to drive this road in the middle of the night tonight.
I mixed up a protein shake and drank it in one gulp, then put my phone in the pot with AWOLNation, Metallica and Supertramp playing while I dug in my tent. If I pitch it on flat ground the edges lay against the ground and seal out mosquitoes. If I pitch it over a rutted dirt road, I just use a tent stake to dig up the ground around the edges, level it, and bury the leading edge of the tent. It takes about 15 minutes and it’s well worth the mosquito free peacefulness you earn with the extra work.
When I was done I washed my hands in the muddy puddle down the road and moved everything inside. I brushed my teeth, then stretched, and most importantly worked out to get nice and warm before climbing into my damp domicile; I haven’t dried anything since the 36 hour downpour, and my tent, being silnylon, constantly admits a fine mist onto everything as long as it’s raining hard. So everything is damp.
Remembering something Dirt Stew and Dormouse were talking about I slid one weighty food bag beneath my pad at my feet and the other beneath my pad at my head. Finally dry and warm, I lay down to write. I unzipped the bottom of my sleeping bag and slipped my feet out. They’ve been wet all day and will take a while to really dry out. I imagined them smoldering, though I couldn’t see well enough to know. I lay back and was immediately enamored with my new reclining position. Now this is sublime, I thought. There is no wind. There are no mosquitoes. It is dead quiet. I’m dry camped but I ate so much and drank so much today, and Lava Spring is exactly 2.5 miles ahead on the trail, so I’m not worried about it. Being away from water means less mosquitoes anyway. I slept all night in the same beautiful reclined position and decided I’d probably sleep like that every night that I had two full food bags.