PNT Day 5: Renewal

Today’s miles: 13.5

Total miles: 41.4

It takes me a long time to fall asleep, lying there sweating in the hot still air, but then two important things happen during the night at Stehekin Valley Ranch. First, I wake up at midnight needing to pee. I have barely had to pee at all since my first day on trail, despite drinking tons of water, so I know I was very dehydrated. Now I feel assured that my body is back in its usual working order. Second, it rains. I wake to the sound of it on the roof, and think fervently, “I hope it’s raining to the east, on those fires.” It rains all night and is still raining when I get up to shower and pack. It rains all through breakfast (veggie egg casserole, sausage links, home fries, blueberry muffin, apple juice — A+ food, SVR!!). I’m almost the only one on the morning shuttle to the trailhead, but a family of three hops on at the last minute, aiming to climb McGregor Mountain.

At High Bridge trailhead I am immediately back on the PCT, just for five miles or so. The rain tapers off as I start. It’s a steady uphill to Howard Lake but the trail is wide and clear (good ol’ PCT sidewalk), and though I’m sweating, I don’t feel ill or tired this time. I finish the climb and enjoy the gentle roll of trail through lush forest. Everything is deep green, wet from the rain, clean and fresh. The trail tread is a spongy layer of pine needles and forest duff, occasionally studded with rocks. I feel very content.

PCT marker at High Bridge trailhead
Climbing on the PCT
Howard Lake

Soon, I hop off the PCT and hike west, crossing Bridge Creek on a, um, bridge. (Note to self: look up the difference between creeks and rivers — it can’t be size because this creek is huge. Maybe it has to do with where they start or what they empty out into?) After this the trail is practically a road walk, it’s so wide and flat. The Stehekin River rushes loudly below on my left, giant mountains rise up above on my right. I feel quite small, walking here.

Bridge Creek

I make my first (bridged) crossing of Park Creek, and take advantage of the nice campsite there to eat lunch. These NPS sites are really swanky, most of them have big tree stumps set up as tables and chairs. My appetite is good, and I find that I’m eager to keep hiking, so I don’t hang out too long. I’ve done a little more than eight miles in about three hours, and have five-ish left to go.

I turn north onto the Park Creek Trail for my hardest miles of the day. The first 1.5 are ridiculously steep. The ranger at Stehekin assured me that trail crews had just brushed out this trail, and I can see how recent the work was. I’m grateful, because dealing with blowdowns and thick brush while battling this incline would be agonizing. There’s a lot of horse poop, so apparently this is graded for stock, so it can’t be quite as steep as it feels — nevertheless, I’m working for it. Breathing hard, calves burning, sweating…but not suffering. Just hiking hard. The recognition that I’m working so hard without feeling like I want to die (or lie down right there in the trail to sleep) is thrilling. It makes me relish the climb.

Second crossing of Park Creek, near Two Mile camp

After the initial ascent, things settle into a more gradual uphill, with some occasional downs to let me use different leg muscles. For the next three miles or so, I hike through millions of berry bushes (huckleberries, I think?). I’m amazed that I don’t see any bears through here, the berries are so plentiful. I begin to be very in love with hiking, and very in love with the Pacific Northwest. The whole day has been overcast and foggy, the plants along the trail keeping me cool as I move through their car wash. My clothes are soaked through but I don’t care: I feel strong and alive and fully in my body.

I stop at a flowing creek to filter water. No water is as delicious as mountain water. I want to stay longer, but there are like twenty flies here that insist on tickling my leg hair and buzzing my ears. Later I cross another creek and immediately enter a burn area. It’s not terribly recent, I can tell by the new growth, but I find it a little eerie and unsettling after feeling enveloped by lush forest most of the day. I can almost see the line dividing green healthy forest from what is burned and dry and gone.

As I move back into the green, I notice the different atmospheres of forest hiking. Like how if you swim in lakes or oceans, there are little pockets of warm currents occasionally? It’s kind of the same with forests: every now and then the air changes temperature for a moment, or gets thicker and more humid, or smells different.

I cross water again to find Five Mile camp, a stock camp for larger groups (mostly, it seems, trail crews). There are a few giant tents set up and food bags hanging on the bear wire. It’s only a few tenths further to Buckner camp, where I eat my cold-soaked beef stroganoff (reader, I know it sounds gross but I love it) in the food prep area and then hike up to find a tent site. I put on my warm dry things, do some foot care, and read in my tent until bed. The rushing sound of Park Creek lulls me to sleep, wholly returned to my hiking body, my hiking self.

View at the turnoff to Buckner camp

One thought on “PNT Day 5: Renewal

  1. FYI: Creek and River: ” the most general difference between them is that rivers are of large size as compared to the creeks. A river is a natural stream, usually a repository of fresh water that flows in a channel to the sea, lake or any other river, whereas a creek is a smaller and shallower stream.. It is often called a minor tributary of river. A creek can be a narrow waterway in between islands.” So, you were close. Maybe the creek is a tributary of Stehekin River, then? Great photos! Glad you are feeling better!

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