PCT WA Section J Day 8: Weather

Mile 2453.2 to 2459.8 — Today’s miles: 6.6

By the time I finish the last pages of An Untamed State — 9pm! so late! — the wind is almost completely gone, and the night air is quite cold. I wake just after 5am to its gusts again, though, and hear a very light precipitation on my tent’s walls. As the wind periodically blows my tent doors open an inch or two, I can see thick white fog over everything outside. I wipe down the condensation inside my tent and resolve to sleep in.

This lasts only until 7:30, when I just can’t be still any longer. Light rain continues, and I carefully stow my most important dry things (my down quilt and jacket, my sleep clothes, my warm socks and hat) in the trash compactor bag lining my backpack. Rolling the plastic bag down tightly, I put everything else that ought to stay dry inside my pack, leaving just my water filtering and toilet kits in the outside pocket. I put on my rain jacket and open the tent doors. Yep, completely socked in, windy, raining. I wonder briefly if this will be a repeat of our Terrible Day on the Wonderland Trail a few years ago.

The wind is very cold, and I rush around putting protein bars in my pockets and taking the tent down, just ready to hike so I can warm up. After a few minutes I can eat a bar as I walk, warm from the inside out even though the rain-soaked plants growing into the trail from both sides drench my legs as I walk through them. The trail is mostly gentle this morning, and now that I’m moving I can appreciate the beauty of the fog and the misting rain. All the greens are extra vibrant, and there’s a new kind of hush in the forest. My footsteps are soft on the pine needle floor, and the deep silence around me is broken only by the occasional pika eeeping, or by water dropping over the rocks in a small gurgling stream. If I am very still I can hear the collected mist falling off the big trees onto the forest duff: tap, tap, tap. It is kind of magical in here this morning.

I hike downhill to Hope Lake, then up again. I open the armpit zippers on my rain jacket to avoid getting sweaty in this cold wet weather, and then take the jacket off altogether as the rain relents. I arrive at Mig Lake and stand on its silent shore for a moment to watch the mist glide over the surface of the water. There is a southbounder here, who wants to know if I think the fishing will be good at Deception Lakes. When he learns I’m visiting from Illinois, he cheerfully says on behalf of Seattle, “Well, welcome! This is our backyard!” “Lucky you!” I reply as I hike on, more and more envious every day.

There’s an uphill now that feels longer and steeper than I anticipated, but the air is cool, the bugs are blissfully absent, and I just take it one switchback at a time. It’s my penultimate climb of the whole trip, so I want to enjoy it and be present for it. After a good chunk of climbing, I see a southbound group of three. The guy in front asks how it’s going, and I say as I pass him, “Oh, y’know, almost finished with this climb.” He replies, “Oh, okay,” in a way that makes me pause, turn around, and say with a slight tone of dread, “Wait, am I not?!” But he laughs and agrees that I’m nearly there. The steepest parts are indeed nearly over, and then there’s some gentler rolling trail along the top.

I pass above Josephine Lake, which is truly beautiful, and at the Icicle Creek trail junction just beyond this view I consider turning off to camp lakeside there for the night. I even take that trail for a bit, but once I realize how far down it is to the lake, and how cold the wind is getting, I decide otherwise. Onward to my original destination: Lake Susan Jane, where my friends the pikas are hiding in the rocks as always. It is very windy and cold again now, so I immediately do my camp chores, worried it will start raining in earnest. Though the outside of my tent is a muddy mess from this morning’s rainy pack-up, the inside is remarkably dry and clean(ish). I filter water from the lake to fill all of my bottles, eat some high-calorie food, hydrate, and loft up my quilt. Just say no to hypothermia, kids.

Just as I’ve put on my dry sleep clothes and snugged into my quilt, some blue sky appears. Patches of afternoon sunlight, even! I pull on my windpants and stand in the bits of sun where there is extremely weak cell service, texting Cyn and confirming my exit time with Jeannette. The sky darkens again, and it rains off and on through the early evening — in the brief off periods I get out of the tent and stand over my bear canister spooning trail mix into my mouth until the next rain — and then as dusk arrives the rain falls steadily. It is quite cold, and I have all my dry layers on. I lie in my little down cocoon, finish listening to Alan Cumming’s memoir and begin reading Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, and wonder if it will rain all night. I could have easily finished this hike today, could be eating hot soup and lying in a clean warm bed at Jeannette’s house tonight, but something in me wants this do-over of Terrible Day, wants to prove to myself that I can do it better this time. I have done it better this time. And so there is something pleasurable to be found here: all curled up in my soft puffy things, listening to the rain drop through the tall trees onto my tent, listening to the wind gusting far above, nothing to do except breathe this clean wet air and read and let my brain think its thoughts as they come.

Brief stop to unwrap a bar for breakfast on the move.
Quiet morning trail.
Mist rolling across Mig Lake.
I saw so many cool fungi in Washington, but this was my favorite because it looked just like an heirloom tomato.
Appreciation for how the thick fog insists that I focus on the immediate, on the close-at-hand.
Josephine Lake. I would love to camp here if I hike this section again.
Lake Susan Jane from afar, low clouds rolling in as the temperature drops.
Wrapped in wool, fleece, and down for my last night on the PCT this season. Bittersweet.

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