PCT WA Section J Day 5: Water Magic

Mile 2428.6 to 2439.8 — Today’s miles: 11.2

It’s a warmish night — I don’t even need my fleece beanie — but I sleep like a rock in my little campsite by Spade Creek. It’s almost hard to get up, I’m so content there. But by 6am my brain’s ready for the next adventure. The mosquitos arrive just as I’m beginning to take down the tent, and the first few must have sent out a call because as I’m clipping on my pack and adjusting my trekking poles, they descend en masse. Okay! Let’s hike!

Mindful of the bear warning I got yesterday, I am extra vigilant this morning. I “hey bear” frequently, especially as I approach each blind turn the trail makes. But nothing. Nothing here but mosquitos, chipmunks, and one million spiderwebs across the trail. I have to stop several times to wipe them off my hat and glasses, to get them out of my beard and eyebrows. After a long stretch alone, I finally cross paths with a southbounder. “Morning! I cleared the spiderwebs for you for the next three miles!” I say. She laughs and says she’s done the same for me. I am enjoying my time alone out here, but also really appreciate these ephemeral encounters.

The trail occasionally opens up to give me a glimpse of the mountains surrounding me on all sides, but mostly climbs through thick forest. I pass a guy who reminds me of Cyn’s brother (even his dog is kind of similar) and then a pair of folks, one of whom says, “You’re moving very well!” I guess I am speeding along this morning, without realizing. “It’s another beautiful day!” I reply, utterly sincere. It is. I’m so grateful to be here experiencing it.

Up a long set of switchbacks at a good clip, and then I’m drenched in sweat and wishing any breeze could penetrate the trees surrounding me. My shirt is soaked through and hangs heavy off my arms. I round a big rock overhang and see that I’ve mostly finished this climb — it’s rolling trail from here to the Deep Lake outlet. The bugs are relentless through this section, though, and I hike like the wind, trying to outpace them. I pass by a stagnant, murky pond, which explains the bugs’ ferocity, and then hop across a smaller stream before reaching the wide outlet, which must be crossed on a long series of rocks. There are three women on the other bank, and I ask them if they saw the side trail to Deep Lake. They don’t think there is one (but my trail notes say differently), and they kindly offer me bug spray several times. (I politely decline, because as long as I keep moving I’m mostly okay. I’m not really a purist about this stuff, and I do carry a small amount of bug repellent, but just find that when I’m out here I prefer not to use chemicals unless the mosquito pressure is really unbearable.)

I follow a little use trail toward where the lake must be and in a tenth or two am on the shore of Deep Lake. I am the only human here, but there are many varieties of bugs to keep me company. I zip on the legs of my pants, throw on my headnet, and, relatively bug-proof, eat lunch. With the giant waterfall across the lake as my soundtrack, I spend some time watching the fish jump. This proves a very satisfying activity. Finally I strip down to my underwear and get in the lake. I only go in up to my neck, and my feet never leave the bottom, but it’s pretty glorious nonetheless. Cyn would just love swimming here. I endure some bug bites as I exit the water, but as usual it’s worth it.

Now I have to climb about three miles to finish the day. I truck along, settling into a nice pace for the first two-thirds. Then I’m out of the trees and into the sun, and start to drag a bit. At least there are incredible views from up here. Up and over the top and then there’s a flat spot for my tent. I send my end-of-day “I am at camp” message to Cyn, but regret it soon after. There are all sorts of biting bugs here, and it’s very hot. I check my compass and confirm that it will be many hours before the sun’s position offers any shade at all. I decide to find camping further down.

It’s a whole two miles before I find anything flat and shaded. At the edge of a rocky riverbed, there’s a perfect space for one small hiker. The river is dry as a bone, though my trail notes say it was flowing just a week ago. But I have plenty of water, so I send Cyn a correction message, pitch the tent, and take a nap. I wake about 45 minutes later to the sound of…running water? Huh? I sit up. A small trickle of water is flowing down the riverbed. Within ten minutes, it is a rapidly running stream that fills the width of the riverbed, water pooling and spilling over the stones, plenty deep to soak your feet. I excitedly tell two passing hikers, “This was completely dry an hour ago!” and we surmise that the sun must have hit a snowfield far above. And that, dear reader, is why you should ford mountain creeks and rivers in the early morning, before the sun starts off the day’s snowmelt.

There are people camped across the stream from me and I have to go a long way into the trees before I feel safe to use the bathroom. I am fast, but still get five (!) mosquito bites in areas where mosquitos simply should not go. It’s just the time of night for them to be swarming. I dive back into my tent, slay the one that snuck in with me, and set up my bedding. I love hiking.

Nearing the top of my morning climb.
View on the unmarked side trail to Deep Lake.
Solitude at Deep Lake.
Looking back on Deep Lake near the end of my afternoon climb. Almost every day in this section entails at least one view like this, sparkling alpine lakes ringed by mountains, trees, and long waterfalls, and it never. Gets. Old.

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