PCT WA Section J Day 2: Trekking on Talus

Mile 2400.3 to 2411.2 — Today’s miles: 10.9

The night is cold, but once I put on my hat and gloves I’m cozy in my soft puffy quilt. In the morning there’s some condensation on the inside and outside of my tent; I wipe down the inside with my bandana, pack up, and eat breakfast (still feels like a miracle that I can do this) before hiking up away from the lakes. As I carefully cross the talus, I see a pika run across the rocks below with a giant mouthful of green vegetation. Stockpiling for its winter nest. So these are pika! “Eeep!” it cries, adorably. A few steps later I spot a little crew of marmots already sunning themselves on the rocks.

The mountains in the far distance look a bit hazy, which worries me, but I can still breathe and have not heard of any fires near this section. For so many reasons, I hope it is clouds and not smoke. Everything is magnificently beautiful again today: greens and blues of every shade and mountain ranges as far as I can see. I follow the trail mostly along the edge of the mountains, up for a mile or so, down for a mile or so. At the tops there is usually a steady breeze to cool me off and keep the bugs from getting too annoying. I pass a few southbound hikers, including one friendly fellow named Neil who gives me an extensive water report for my next many miles (this information is always welcome) and talks up Spectacle Lake as a great place to camp. Before he leaves he wants to ensure I have a headnet for the bugs. I do, but I’m not thrilled that he sounds so urgent about it.

The trail tread shifts from a soft forest floor covered in pine needles to deep fields of talus, which must be crossed with some care. (Well, if you are me, at least. On one of these stretches a trail runner passes me, just lightly bounding over the unstable stones as if his feet magically know where to go.) In the middle of a long uphill, I take a break on a large flat boulder for second breakfast. An orange butterfly rests on my shoe for a minute and I remember when I was a child and my Nana told me it’s good luck if a butterfly lands on you. Later, I stop trailside to scarf down a tuna packet, putting ramen in my soaking jar and stashing it in the back pocket of my pack so it’ll be ready to eat on my next break. A pika sits on the edge of a rock just below me, calling out into the wind. “Eeep! Eeep!” All day I hear this sound when I cross any large boulder field. It feels like happening upon friends, each time.

There’s not a good place for that ramen break for another hour or so — the sun is hot, the trail is rocky and narrow. Finally I find a flat sitting rock in the shade. The flies and mosquitos are relentless, so I pull my windpants over my calves and don my headnet so I can eat in relative peace. A southbound section hiker warns me about a deep ford coming up, saying with regret that he got his phone wet and now it won’t turn on. Yikes. I know about this ford already. I pick my way through more talus; the hiking has been slow today.

Soon I arrive at the first good water source all day and drink my fill from this bubbling stream. Just past this point the trail finally turns to dirt again, and my feet are grateful. I finish one last uphill for the day and at the top am treated to a sweeping view of Spectacle Lake below. It really lives up to its name. I sit and make an electrolyte drink here, gazing down at the lake until I finally have to make myself hike on.

Then it’s a long, steep, rocky downhill forever. The trail is often crowded by bushes on both sides, which leaves me feeling a bit claustrophobic. My right knee is still not entirely happy on the descents, but I’ve figured out some ways to baby it so it complains less. Down we go until the junction for Spectacle Lake appears. I’m tempted, but it’s a half-mile down that I’d have to come back up tomorrow morning. More pressing, though, is my desire to get a little further down the PCT today so I can hit that deep ford in the early morning, when the water will be lower. I pass up the lake, promising myself that I’ll hike this section again (ideally, with Cyn). I have another camping spot in mind, which appears after another mile or so of claustrophobic downhill: a little flat spot near the giant Delate waterfall.

I set up my tent, lock my bear can, and trek down to the waterfall for a look. It’s thundering, and I stand on the bridge in awe for a bit before gathering water to filter. In camp, I do my chores, eat protein and fats and carbs like a good hiker, and climb in my tent. The waterfall is all I can hear, a beautiful sound to guide me to sleep. Tomorrow I’ve got a few more miles down to the ford, and then just one huge ascent for the rest of the day.

Early morning mountainside.
Through forest, rock, and meadow.
Impossible to take in the scope of this beauty.
Contentment at the top of a climb. (It took me so long to set up this shot properly.)
View from my second breakfast break.
Posing in the center, a marmot living its best life now.
Pretty valley before a climb.
This is the face of a happy hiker, just wowed by the view overlooking Spectacle Lake.
Delate waterfall in the late afternoon. I regret I couldn’t figure out a good way to depict the scale.

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