Sunday, 11 September 2022

40 years ago on the Pacific Crest Trail: Summer ends

Snow on the trail above Snoqualmie Pass, September 11

On the 11th September 1982 I woke to soft wet snow covering my tent. It was day 161 of my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. I'd walked around 2250 miles (3620km) since leaving Mexico early in the spring and had just 250 miles (400km) to go, if the arrival of winter didn't stop me. 

Greg Poirier descending to Snoqualmie Pass, September 8

Two days previously I'd reached Snoqualmie Pass in the company of another PCT hiker, Greg Poirier. The next day brought heavy rain and thick mist and a forecast for snow higher up. With steep ascents and narrow trails ahead I decided a rest day was wise, the first time on the whole walk I took one due to the weather. The rain continued all day and into the next morning. Hikers coming down from the mountains to the north confirmed there was snow and the going was tricky. On heading up the following day I was soon in the mist and on snowy trails. With clouds clinging to the mountainsides it felt very dramatic.

On the 11th the snow soon turned to rain that kept up all day. There was six inches of slippery snow on the trail and I was glad I still had my ice axe, which I hadn't used for the last two months. Lower down the trail had become a stream. I finished the day soaked to the skin. My lightweight waterproof clothing no longer kept out the rain. I stayed warm though and that evening wrote "quite cosy if damp and steamy in the tent". My single-skin "breathable" tent was damp inside and I was glad I had a bivi bag to keep my down sleeping bag fairly dry. This was the third day of constant rain and snow. Summer was over. The walk was becoming serious again, for the first time since the crossing of the snowbound High Sierra back in the spring.

Larry Lake crossing one of the last snow patches on the trail in Northern California with Mount Shasta in the distance.

Once out of the snow I'd parted company with Larry Lake and had mostly been walking solo. The trail in Oregon was quite easy with few big ascents or difficulties. Standouts were the string of volcanic mountains the trail passes and, especially, beautiful Crater Lake.

Crater Lake, August 10

In Northern California I'd hiked in running shoes and carried my boots. Both were wearing out so at a town stop I bought a pair of trail shoes, which were a new idea back then. The shop staff were horrified that I intended hiking the rest of the PCT in them and advised strongly against it. They still sold them to me though. And they just lasted the rest of the walk. Other gear was wearing out too. Most serious was my pack, whose internal frame had snapped, which meant it was lop-sided and hurt one shoulder as well as being unstable. I swapped it for an external frame pack at my first town stop in Oregon.

Below Mount Jefferson, Oregon, August 20

The most exciting section of the PCT in Oregon was at the very end, where it followed the Eagle Creek Trail down a narrow canyon to the Columbia River. The standout was Tunnel Falls where the trail, high on the canyon wall, is cut behind the waterfall. For the only time on the trip I arranged a photographic meeting with another PCT hiker, Wayne Fuiten, who I'd met a few weeks earlier for the first time since before the High Sierra. As Tunnel Falls is only in sunshine in the late afternoon we'd agreed to meet there then to take photographs.

Wayne Fuiten at Tunnel Falls, August 26

In Washington State the PCT returned to the mountains, crossing high passes and traversing steep slopes. I loved it! The easy walking in Oregon had been welcome after thr rigours of the snow further south but it was wonderful to be back in the mountains rather than beside them. I especially liked the Goat Rocks Wilderness where the trail follows the crest of the hills - real mountain walking on rugged terrain. 

Ives Peak, Goat Rocks Wilderness, September 2

Now the North Cascades lay ahead, a last rugged section of trail.

The full story of my PCT hike is told in my book.


 





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