By our third morning in the mountains, I was even more excited about the hike. I mentioned a while ago that I injured the ball of my left foot while testing my bravery in the Tree To Tree obstacle course. I had two major concerns prior to this trip which had been planned far in advance of the injury. First, that it would hurt too much for us to complete the itinerary, and I would have to hobble back early. Second, that it would re-injure or amplify the injury and that would incapacitate me for my BIG RACE coming up the end of August. Yes, the Belle Brigade is still on track and finally, finally, the pandemic has allowed us to compete in our relay race. Stay tuned. Anyway…. by the third morning I realized my foot was feeling great. In fact, the previous day I had not felt a single twinge of pain. Instead of making it worse, it seemed like the hike was making it better. I was hugely grateful and relieved.
Each day I had worriedly scoured the skies for smoke, and each day found some, but thin and at a distance. Thursday morning no such luck. During the night I had awakened to the smell of smoke twice, and panicked that our tiny campfire for the brie had somehow come back to life (even though we dumped water on it), then managed to logic myself back to sleep. When I looked out across the valley in the morning, I saw what had happened. The entire sky was blanketed in orangey-brown smoke, smudging our mountain vistas.
Pedro’s night was a little different, and he suffered with inadequate sleep again. Overnight a wind picked up and rattled the tent and slapped at the rain cover that we had been using each night to keep the heat in. The thumping, tapping, swooshing, and rattling was all very familiar to me because I have been using this tent for about 8 years. Like I said on the first day, Pedro had to learn all the gear, including the tent. When all the noise began, he tried to imagine what was causing it. Earlier, I had told him about mice and chipmunks getting into food, so he thought there were desperate varmints trying to chew their way into the tent. He was on high alert. When the thudding and scratching occurred at ground level, he suspected there were moles trying to clear holes underneath the tent. After one loud bang that woke me up, he said to me, “I think a squirrel just landed on top of our tent.” I mumbled, “It’s the wind,” and went back to sleep. Pedro wasn’t so sure, and he was awake most of the night, ready to protect us from chipmunks and moles. By morning, he had finally agreed with me: it was only the wind. But he was tired.
We were visited in the morning by Whiskey Jacks, a predictable jay that visits camps looking for crumbs. We had eaten everything and had no crumbs to share. We were not harangued by deer flies, because of the breeze. For that we were incredibly grateful. I brewed our morning Peets coffee in peace, and made it extra rich to help wake up my man.
Today would be a treat. We would leave all our heavy gear in camp, load up my tiny day pack and our water bladders, and some snacks, and climb a mountain. This, too, I had done once before, in 2013. Eight years later and I was on the trail again, and the one main thing I was looking forward to was this particular spot with an outstanding view north to Mt. Rainier. The view is incredible and it’s the whole reason I wanted to add this day hike to our week.
On our first day, when we stood atop Nannie Peak and looked out across a series of ridgelines and peaks, Pedro remarked that all the Mexican Catholics he knew would look out there and see the profile of a reclining Madonna or a reclining Jesus. We chuckled at those people whose worldview makes them see things that aren’t there. Thursday morning we stopped our chuckling when we spotted this.
We walked again along the Pacific Crest Trail, abbreviated affectionately as the PCT. It’s the West Coast’s equivalent to the AT, or the Appalachian Trail, which is probably more famous. Since our camp was already at 6300 feet (1920m), we were quickly above treeline and spent much of the day crossing bare rocks and piles of slate (yet another volcanic rock).
There is a snowfield very close to the Packwood Glacier and in my trip in 2013 as well as this trip, people referred to it as the glacier. Looking at the maps (above) shows that it is completely separate from the Packwood Glacier. It is however a large, steadfast snow field that seems to be here every year. Perhaps in olden days it was connected to the Packwood Glacier, or perhaps convention has it that disconnected bits are still considered part of the glacier. So honestly I’m not sure if we walked on a glacier or not. You can’t tell from the image, but it begins somewhat horizontal, and gradually tips at the other end, becoming rather steeply slanted. The snow is frozen and hard to get a foothold in. At first it was fun to walk on snow in August. By the time we reached the other side we had let go of the views and the experience, and become laser-focused on not losing our footing. It would have been a long, uninterrupted slide directly into an icy lake below, that we guessed would freeze us to death.
We rested at the supposed-to-be-overlook point and expressed disappointment with other hikers with cameras like mine, dangling at the end of arms hung at our sides. We turned in circles to be sure, checking the 360 degrees, and indeed, the smoke was just as thick no matter where we looked. Spirits remained high among backpackers up there though. The PCT trekkers paid it little mind and put their heads down and crossed the pass. The rest of us said happily to each other, “Even with no view, we are here, and it’s amazing.”
We stayed there for some time to rest, because after the snow field the incline had risen sharply, and we were tired out. We tried to imagine how much harder it would have been if we had carried our full packs all that way. Bluh.
We rested a lot. Mostly for me. I am not in my best shape and I was constantly gasping for breath. I wonder if Pedro thought I was having an asthma attack at any point. Like when I was on Fuji, I could only go a few feet, and I had to stop to rest. We had only hiked two miles, but we had climbed 1500 feet, and I was having a rough go.
We almost made it. The peak was right there in my sights. We ditched all our gear, camera included, because I wanted to have hands free. I clambered confidently up over one pile of rocks (the rocks on the left edge of the photo below), and stepped forward until I came to a Scary Spot. A narrow path, about 20 feet long, with sharp drop-offs on both sides. I’d be walking the balance beam down the middle, before gaining the next pile of rocks, and a safer, easier climb over to the actual peak. But my stomach and heart traded places and my heartbeat throbbed in my veins while I began hyperventilating just a little. And decided I could not do it. So we did not actually make it to the peak of Old Snowy. The peak is at 7880 feet (2402m), and we probably got to about 7870.
We weren’t too disappointed. The day had been fun and we had talked with some interesting people and saw some cool views in the smoke.
We made our way cautiously and carefully back down to the main trail and then back across the snow field. The snow field was easier later in the day, as the sun had warmed the ice and it was a little slushy, and easier to dig a foothold in. When we dropped out of the chilled mountaintop air, we noticed that hikers passing us often had beat red faces and were dripping with sweat. One woman carried a snowball that she was pressing to her cheeks and neck as she walked. We looked at each other and noticed for the very first time that we were burning up too! All that intense climbing and the cool mountaintop breeze had completely distracted us. I already had a burn from the day before (as you saw in the photo at the top), and now my shoulders were getting pink like my bright pink top. Even Pedro’s face was red.
When we arrived once more at the bubbling springs near our camp, we made our way directly there. I haven’t yet mentioned how icy cold the water is. Apparently, water that emerges directly from the bowels of the earth is incomprehensibly cold. It was painfully cold. Though I wanted to sit with my feet in the water till my whole body cooled down, it was impossible, as only a few seconds caused sharp pains and cramping. Pedro timed his own tolerance for feet in the water, and said his max was 5 seconds. In five seconds, the water was unbearable. It’s hard to imagine water that cold, especially with sunburns on an 80-degree day. We sat on rocks and splashed ourselves and gasped, and splashed again. We wetted our hair and took pleasure in the frigid rivulets that dripped down the back of our necks.
We dumped out our warm water from the bladders, and refilled with the ice water. Then put our hot, dusty boots back on and climbed up the hill to our tent.
Tonight’s dinner was burritos. We happily pulled out the two, perfectly ripe avocados that had been rock hard three days earlier. I was concerned about having enough fuel for the rest of our trip, and tried to reconstitute our freeze-dried beans and rice by using the ice water…which was not the best of ideas but it was too late to get our sun-warmed water back. I laid the pack of beans in the sun, which helped, but it was evening and the sun was not as powerful. We were hungry, and waited as long as we could, then gave in and put the slightly crunchy beans and rice into our burritos with the last of the grated cheddar, generous heaps of avocado, and salsa (that had not leaked inside our packs!).
Due to the breeze that lasted till midday, we had not suffered with biting flies for hours and hours. It was blissful. But in the evening the breeze died off and the flies came back, swarming us twice as much, trying to make up for missing their morning feasts. We climbed inside the tent to eat dinner in peace. And take off our jackets, which were hot, but we had to wear them for protection. While in the tent I spotted two deer.
In the night, the breeze picked up again. This time, Pedro knew it was not marauding rodents, and finally slept. It was my turn to use the foam pad, and I tossed and turned.