PCT and Cispus Pass

Morning at Sheep Lake
Nature’s bounty

We woke up feeling great except for the fact that we hadn’t slept well. (heh heh) It’s hard to be middle-aged and sleeping in a tent. Previously, at the campground we had discovered that one of the air mattresses had a leak, so we left it in the Jeep and brought one inch-thick air mattress and one inch-thick foam pad. We took turns with them. My hips were complaining, since I sleep mostly on my side. Despite that, we were eager to get going again. We ate homemade cookies (with oatmeal, chocolate chips, dried cranberries, and walnuts) and hard-boiled eggs for breakfast. I went for a walk and found huckleberries, and after stuffing my face, brought a handful back to the tent for Pedro.

We got on the trail an hour earlier than the morning before, but were still almost the last people to leave the lake. Just up the hill we intersected with the famous Pacific Crest Trail. This trail connects the Canada border with the Mexico border. It is 2,653 miles (4,270 km) long and passes through three states: California, Oregon, and Washington. Some stalwart folks will begin at one national border and hike the crests of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges all the way to the other national border in a single season. You can spot these hikers on the trail because they look more worn, their packs are small, they travel fast, and they get right to business when they pass you. “Hi! What’s the trail like ahead?” Or “Are there campsites?” Or “How far to the next water source?”

Emblem of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT)
This is the map at the Walupt Lake Campground, and is what the “you are here” refers to. Sheep Lake is the orange dot labeled “1” and the orange dot labeled “2” is where we spent the next two nights.

We hiked along the PCT then, and climbed higher into the mountains. Pedro had pointed out volcanic pumice rock at Walupt Lake two nights earlier, and I recalled that basalt columns we saw are also volcanic. I looked it up later and discovered that the Goat Rocks Wilderness is the site of an old volcano about 12,000 feet (3657m) in elevation that went dormant about two million years ago and we were hiking through it’s crumbling remains.

These rectangular bricks caught my attention and I stopped to photograph them beside the trail. Then we let our gaze travel up the hill to see where they came from.
It was a whole mountain of basalt columns. I wonder if the determined PCT trekkers look up to notice this.
Pedro and I stared in wonder at this otherworldly geometric feature.

Soon we were headed over the top of a pass in the blazing sun. We crossed into the Yakama Indian Reservation. The Reservation is closed to the public along most of its border, but the Natives graciously allow trekkers to walk within their sovereign borders along the PCT without restrictions.

Pedro and I as we crossed the first pass. All of the land in this photo belongs to the Yakama Nation.
Though lovely, it was hot and exposed as we headed toward Cispus Pass.
Beauty up there remains inevitable, despite the harsh conditions.
An oasis of sturdy trees, carving a life for themselves in a difficult environment. This is a view of the Yakama Reservation, down the valley containing the headwaters of the Klickitat River, which empties into the Columbia River right at Lyle Point, where I’ve been spending so much time with my salmon fishing Yakama friends. I’ve sat on the rocks at the Klickitat, and watched them handle nets in the deep and treacherous river canyon there.

At the top of Cispus Pass, named for the headwaters of the Cispus River we would soon be crossing, we left the Reservation and entered U.S. National Forest again.

Looking across the valley from Cispus Pass, we saw the trail we would soon be walking. Can you see it there, cutting through the middle of the photo?

In the photo above, note the waterfall. I had visited that waterfall once before, back in 2016. All the trails we had walked so far were new to me, but once we came to the waterfall, I would be walking on trails I had seen before.

Walking into the Cispus watershed. We passed a PCT trekker early in the day. “You’re about to enter some of the most beautiful parts of Washington I have seen,” he said. I agree with him.
Once we dropped off the high, dry, exposed ridgelines, the land became lush again.
Pedro at the headwaters of the Cispus River.
We finally arrived at the waterfall!

We rested in some shade and ate some hand-mixed trail mix. Pedro shouldn’t eat peanuts, so I made our own mix to ensure there weren’t any. We carried freeze-dried meals for easy lunches, but in the heat, neither of us wanted to eat a meal and were satisfied with snacking and gulping water. We were fortunate on this trip with lots of fresh water and never having to worry about conserving. We rested until our tolerance for slapping deer flies was spent, then we loaded up and moved on through the verdant heart of the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

Our trail turned north again, and we had views of Mt. St. Helens again, with her recognizable silhouette.
Though we still had blue skies and clear air to breathe, we could see that there was smoke in the Columbia River Valley.
Now there’s a cairn!! Possibly this trail marker beside the PCT has been built up for years.
Most of the creeks were adorned with a profusion of flowers in many colours and shapes.

To head home, we would need to take one of the two bypass trails to access the Lilly Basin Trail. Anticipating a long hike on our final day, I recommended that we go to the second bypass, cutting a mile from our final day. Pedro agreed. We found a place just short of the junction, but with a water source we couldn’t pass up. This water bubbled right out of the ground and formed an instant creek, and only 30 feet off the PCT. There was a whole field of luxurious grasses and flowers and moss around the water, which sounds lovely but would be impossible to camp on. So everyone, like us, set up camp on the rocky hills nearby, and carried loads of water back to camp. The reason we liked this water source so much is not only because it gushed heartily from the underbelly of the mountain, but also – we reasoned – there was zero chance of something defecating in the water upstream. So no giardia. We did not pump filter the water here, but simply scooped it up and drank it.

It is hard to tell because of the lush growth, but a rushing stream bursts forth from underground right here.

Our meal this evening was mushroom polenta. It was tricky to find dried mushrooms and I complained to Pedro prior to the trip. He quipped that I should try a dispensary. It’s funny because Oregon recently voted to approve legalized studies of psilocybin mushrooms, and we already have a network of dispensaries for our legal marijuana. Anyway, he saved me by finding dried mushrooms at a Whole Foods. I added powdered milk again and parmesan and spices to add flavour to the polenta, and hoped the mushrooms would suck out much of the moisture while reconstituting. They did not, and we ate rather liquidy polenta for supper, but it was tasty. I also cooked broccoli and added grated cheddar. The polenta was not photo-worthy, but the broccoli was.

Mt. Adams in the hazy orange evening.

We had stopped early for the night and were able to spend hours exploring the mountainside we had found, and playing games to fill the time. Up the slope behind our campsite was a place we called the Golf Course, because it was a very large, flat, grassy area with a sand trap. Likely it is a shallow pond each spring. We played tic tac toe in the sand trap. We marveled at mole apartment blocks, and wished I could transport all my moles from home to this place where they could dig and dig and no one would mind it. We sat in the setting sun and played car games (you know, the kind to keep kids entertained in the car). After seven games of hangman, we were hungry again and I made my signature baked brie in wine and brown sugar. The whisperlite stove was too fiercely hot to provide the gentle heat needed for melting cheese, so we started a little fire and once there was a bed of coals, we dropped in a flat rock and heated the round of brie and also half a small round of sourdough bread. We dipped the bread into the dripping, sweetened cheese.

While the brie softened inside the pan (we used a blue metal plate for a lid), Pedro sliced the sourdough and placed it around the coals to warm it up.
This was not our campsite, but a great fire pit we found up the hill near the Golf Course. The Golf Course is up and to the left here, but you can’t see it. I can’t believe I never took a photo of it.

By the end of the evening we were stuffed and ready to move into the tent and escape the flies. The one consolation of inadequate backpacking mattresses is how exhausted I am each time I crawl into the tent. Despite the lack of padding for my hips, I tend to fall unconscious without much effort.

7 thoughts on “PCT and Cispus Pass

  1. Omg, this is everything. I recently visited Sheep Lake up to Sourdough Gap, and while my views at thr Gap were non-existent, it was a gorgeous area. And your food ! Fabulous ! You know, someday I’ll backpack. My “mentor” for overnight adventures died in March of 2020 and I’ve been less than inspired since. Thanks for sharing this gorgeous hike and some history of the area too.

    1. Glad you liked it, Bonnie. Since I had not heard of Sourdough Gap, I had to look it up. This is a different Sheep Lake, but close. We were south of Packwood. Hey, there’s a Crystal Lake beneath Sourdough Gap. 🙂 Yeah, we had the same view problems as I describe in my next post about Old Snowy. The wildfire smoke moved in on the day we were especially hoping for views. Ah well. So sorry that you’ve had such a recent loss of a mentor. A bit of sadness must always walk with you on the trails now. My mentor is the reason for my meals on the trails. She insists that camping should have nothing to do with the lack of food quality. So from my very first backpacking trip, I have always carried fresh food and wine. It’s heavy, but since I know nothing else, I’m fine.

  2. You come prepared! But I’m aching just from your description of climbing into the tent and sleeping on your hip. These views are amazing. I come to think that the Julian Alps will be rather familiar to you.

    1. I had bruises on my hips for two days after I got back home, ha ha! My brother Tanner is an avid outdoorsman, and has recommended a type of sleeping pad that will be softer and will still pack down small for backpacking. Pedro and I will definitely look into this for our next trip. Yes, the images of the Triglav Lakes that you have sent are already familiar to me: the white granite rock is common here too. I am pretty excited about that hike, and especially so, since our packs will not be heavy. 🙂

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