It was our last day in the mountains and to be honest I was having rather vivid fantasies that involved a shower and soap in my hair.
Since it was our last day, I didn’t need to be careful about supplies anymore, and we had extra rich cups of Peets coffee. I set everything up for coffee and left Pedro to finish it while I went foraging. Up the hill from camp, near the place we called the Golf Course, I had found a large area of huckleberry bushes loaded with berries. I took an empty container and filled the bottom with berries for our breakfast. On our final morning we ate oatmeal loaded with extras that I had packed: almond slivers, brown sugar, dried cranberries, and the topper: fresh heaps of huckleberries. It was so good I think I should have doubled the amount of oatmeal, and we would have eaten every molecule of it.
We must have both been eager to head home, because we got a very early start that morning. We went to our beautiful ice-stream and filled both water bladders full (his 2L, mine 3L) so we wouldn’t have to get water again that day. Then we turned uphill toward our first trail junction.
Uphill only a short bit, we reached the first trail junction where we would leave the Pacific Crest Trail and take a short bypass trail to the Lilly Basin Trail. We stopped on the bluff to take a look around and say goodbye to everything that had been our neighborhood (and our neighbors – there were SO many people up there!) for three days. A hopeful Whiskey Jack sat in a tree, lit up by an orange sunrise, and waited to see if we would drop any crumbs.
We set off due West, in the direction of the Lilly Basin Trail, which parallels the PCT in that area. After the junction, our next big landmark would be Goat Lake. I told Pedro that after four days of up up up, after Goat Lake we would be going downhill all day long. Because of this, we were eager to check the lake off our list of future destinations.
Though we were in our fifth day in the mountains, the fields and bunches of wildflowers never failed to capture our attention. On this day I finally tried getting photos of butterflies, which manage to evade me with great skill. I did capture a few good ones though, with help from Pedro who would spot them for me.
We finally arrived at the lake. It was mostly melted and I was concerned because not only had the snowfield we walked on yesterday been smaller than I recalled from an earlier hike, but also I recalled the lake being entirely frozen over in a previous August hike. Granted, it’s only two data points, and I know how to properly use climate data more than many people, but the data support what the UN Climate Change Report says. No matter what we tell ourselves, no matter how many excuses we come up with, the data all support rapid climate change. It’s distressing.
Pedro and I decided not to stop at the lake. First of all, it was practically crowded with people. I’ve done a pretty good job implying with my photos that we were alone in the wilderness, but this is the second most popular wilderness area in Washington, AND it’s still a pandemic, and the pandemic has packed trails all over the world from what I understand. Anyway, the second reason we did not stop is because it was a hot day and there was absolutely no sun beside the lake. We vowed to keep going till we found shade. As we climbed higher, the lake changed. It was rather fascinating how different it looked as we climbed past it.
Pedro and I generally chatted with everyone we met. It’s sort of the culture up there: you make eye contact, greet, and exchange a word or two with everyone. If you are interested, you stop and talk some more before moving on. We saw a couple of women at Goat Lake when we arrived, they moved up the hill faster than us, and when they stopped for a break at Goat Ridge, we caught up with them and got to talking with them. We all agreed that we were too old for the mattresses we had brought. “I’m sleeping on something that’s meant for a 20-year-old,” one woman said. I agreed and explained that the foam pad I carried was purchased when I was in my twenties. Later, as we were hiking on our own again, Pedro commented. “When I bought my sleeping bag, it was rated to temperature. Some sleeping bags are rated to 50 degrees, some are rated to 20 degrees, etc. When they sell camping mattresses, they should be rated to age. Buy this one if you’re in your twenties, this one is for your forties, etc.” Brilliant.
I stopped taking photos in the final miles. It was a long day and my feet were killing me. We had climbed 500 feet to Goat Lake, then dropped 2000 feet to get to the trailhead, all in about 7 miles. It wasn’t so much any specific kind of foot problems as my feet were tired of cooperating. As he had been all week, Pedro was in much better shape than me, and patiently acquiesced each time I begged for a few minutes to sit down and take weight off my tired feet. We both noticed that when we lifted our feet, the soles throbbed. Swichbacks took us down, down, down the mountainside, mile after mile. Earlier in the week I would have insisted on a full lunch stop and a good rest, but I knew we were close and kept pushing despite sore feet. As we dropped in elevation, the ground below our feet turned from granite and slate crumbles to actual soil, and the forest closed in densely around us. The views were obscured and the temperature climbed. You see, that week in Portland there was another heat wave, with temps near 100 degrees (38 C), and we had missed most of it, but were now dropping back into it. I mentioned to Pedro that one of the most exciting things for me to see is the glint of sunlight off parked cars while I’m descending a trail. Moments later, that’s exactly what we saw.