PCT WA Section J Day 1: Breathing

Mile 2393.4 to 2400.3 — Today’s miles: 6.9

Jeannette and James feed me a delicious breakfast and then drive me out to Snoqualmie Pass. Everything is colored in deep greens and blues. The sky is cloudy but sun is beginning to break through, and the forested mountains of Washington rise up all around us like an invitation. Jeannette points out the peaks she’s climbed. As we approach the trailhead my heart beats a bit faster and I feel a little quiver of excitement (and the usual pre-hike nerves) in my pulse. I’m so ready to be back out there, but also scared to trust my body: what if I can’t breathe or eat again? But I have to find out.

We take trailhead photos and exchange hugs and then they’re off, see you in eight days, and there’s nothing left for me to do except clip on my pack and start walking. I have planned about seven miles today: 3,000 feet of elevation gain up to Ridge Lake. I take the first hour very slow and steady, letting the many trail runners and day hikers pass me. Let’s just see how my legs and lungs feel. The morning is cool, and I hike under the giant trees for a few miles, enjoying the lush undergrowth, still wet from morning dew. The ground is nice and loamy underfoot, but nicest of all is the air. Clean and crisp and full of oxygen. My breath is steady and strong. So far so good.

Occasionally the trail pops me out of the woods and into the sunlight, where I traverse narrow rocky trail with a backdrop of big mountains. One of these stretches is something called the Kendall Katwalk, created by blasting the trail into the side of the mountain. I’m not sure which section of edge-of-mountain hiking is the actual Katwalk, but all of it is beautiful. Huge boulder fields to my right and a steepish drop-off of scree to my left as I navigate the chunks of stone that serve as trail. In the rocks I sometimes see a fat little grey rodent scurrying about. “Eeeep! Eeeep!” I hear in the boulders. Is this a pika, then? It looks different from the ones I remember in the Sierra Nevada, but that sure sounds like the pika sound.

After three miles I feel hungry, and joyfully eat a bar as I walk. I’m hungry! Food tastes good! A mile later I stop briefly for a lunch of string cheese and crushed Fritos. Everything tastes amazing. My confidence grows, and I hike a little faster. The steady uphill doesn’t even feel that challenging today, and I keep a strong pace, not even needing to consider a sit-down break. Every time the trail turns a corner, a new magnificent mountain scene appears before me. Okay, Washington, you’re pretty special. Soon I have only a couple miles left, and even the noon sun can’t slow me down. Tons of dayhikers are having lunch at the top of the climb, where the trail winds along a gorgeous view for a while. I hike past them and carefully cross some boulder fields, descending for a few tenths until Ridge Lake is just ahead, shimmering in the sunlight. It’s not yet 2pm, so I finished an almost entirely uphill seven miles in about four hours. I can hardly contain my glee: I feel like the hiker me again.

There are some tents set up near the lake already and I scout around a long time before deciding on a spot that’s set back from everything, off on its own with a view of Gravel Lake below. Part of this is a desire for quiet, part thinking ahead about bathroom privacy. (Hiking helps me engage my body differently, sometimes, but also sometimes reminds me of my bodily differences, and how it feels no safer to be trans out here than in any other public place I might be.) I don’t want to pitch my tent yet, but the bugs are swarming: flies, gnats, mosquitos, and something that looks like a bee but might be an impostor. I put up the tent and get in, protected from the swarms but now sweltering in this little steamer basket. I put my hat over my face and fall asleep for 45 minutes while the bugs buzz all around. My shorts developed two holes in the seams today, so I get out my tiny sewing kit and do the best I can. I have only black thread, which looks ridiculous. Hiker life.

I brave the bugs to gather water from the lake, filter, and then eat. A lot! I’m overjoyed by my appetite. Day hikers shriek and shout as they jump in the cold lake, but by 5pm they’ve all cleared out and it’s just a few other backpackers, the mosquitos, and me. I pull out my quilt and look around at the blue skies, breathing deeply. The air is cool and clean. It feels very precious to me.

At the Snoqualmie Pass trailhead with Jeannette: old friend, fellow hiker, and world’s greatest trail angel.
Soft forest trail.
Possibly part of the Kendall Katwalk, definitely beautiful.
Incredible hiking through here.
Views like this all day long. All day!
Along the top of the climb. I love you, Washington.
Overlooking Ridge Lake.
Home for the night, Gravel Lake in the background.

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