PNT Day 6: Well-rounded

Today’s miles: 11.6

Total miles: 53

The night is cool enough for me to wear my hat and thin fleece shirt, but not enough to strap my quilt down. I wake up under a glacier — Buckner Glacier, to the west — and marvel at it while I put on my still-wet hiking clothes. I’m off just before 7am, with three miles of climbing ahead of me. My clothes had largely dried from my body heat as I packed up camp, but once on trail I’m back in the car wash, ah well.

Buckner Glacier

The morning is cool and overcast, and I get through the first mile with ease, then slow my pace as the climb intensifies. I’m heading up and over Park Creek Pass. The trail is occasionally thick with trees and brush, but eventually opens out into rocky alpine landscape, snowfields above me leading to thrumming creeks that I cross on rocks. I hear a marmot whistle several times. I know it’s probably a lookout, alerting the others to my approach, but I enjoy imagining that this marmot is my own personal cheerleader. I climb higher into an idyllic area with intertwining small creeks bubbling through. The marmot sits on a wide flat rock, surveying all below. I think I see the pass ahead of me. “Cyn would love it here,” I think.

Climbing to Park Creek Pass

The last half mile or so is very rocky, talus clinking under my feet while a pika eeeps from somewhere in the boulder field below. At the top, I feel a rush of accomplishment. I put my rain jacket on to block the cold wind and eat a celebratory Snickers. Then it’s down the other side, with my knees mildly complaining on the steep rocky path until my legs remember how to go downhill again.

Cresting Park Creek Pass — snow pink from algae

This part is not so bad for a bit. I stop and gulp down cold water that must be melting off from just above me. Mountains and waterfalls surround me here. But as I descend further, it’s clear the trail crews haven’t been here in a long while. The brush thickens just as I move into the sunlight, and bugs of all sorts fly up with every step I take, whirring around my face and in my ears and on my glasses. Soon the plants lining the trail are taller than I am, and I must continuously push through them. I get banged up by rocks a lot through here — scraping my shins, knocking my ankle, twisting my feet — because the brush is so thick I literally can’t see the ground beneath me. Sometimes I wonder if this is even still trail, but just when I start to despair, it moves into a patch of forest with the path all laid out by pine needles. Then it’s right back to endless plant-choked trail. I’ve always thought “bushwhacking” referred specifically to off-trail travel through thick plant growth, but this definitely feels like bushwhacking, even if I am technically on trail. It’s exhausting work physically and mentally. “This will end, eventually,” I mumble.

Tons of waterfalls on the north side of the pass
I am on trail here.

In the patches of forest, there are blowdowns. Not my last of this trip, I expect. Some are so giant that I boost myself up and sit on them, then swing my legs around and hop off the other side. Gradually, the forested parts lengthen and the trail is less unruly until I’m moving down a series of wide switchbacks that are so well graded and maintained that I can hike on autopilot for a bit. I stop just at the edge of Skagit Queen camp for lunch, eaten hastily under my bug net.

First blowdowns of the trip
Near Skagit Queen camp was this pile of old wheels and pipes and tools, which I think must be remnants of the Skagit Queen mines from the early 1900s.

The mid-day sun has gained strength, and in my last few miles I am drenched in sweat, my clothes sagging and sticking to me. The final stretch is a steep uphill in and out of shade, and it requires some grit but I feel okay. I dunk my hat in two different streams as I pass by. The trail levels, everything covered in moss like a fairytale setting, and I see a sign for Junction camp. But it’s the stock camp, and I wander around, confused. I explore the adjoining Fisher Creek Trail to no avail. Finally, I hike a little further north and find the Junction camp for hikers. Oh. There’s access to the fast-running Fisher Creek here; I throw its cold water over my head and then drink almost a liter before refilling my water bladder and hiking uphill to the tent sites.

Where faeries live, and fairies hike.

It’s hot up here and all the sites are unshaded just yet, so I find a log in the shade and eat dinner. A group of about six young dudes heads into camp. I let them choose their spot and then I set up well away from them, but later find they’re trying to hang their food bags just uphill from my site. They have a terrible time of it (my permit specifies that you have to go down to the river for suitable trees, so I’m not surprised…) and make a lot of noise on their many, many failed attempts. But they settle down after that. I finally dry all my clothes in the evening sun, and feel delighted that I’ve got a front-door view of a waterfall coming down the distant mountain. A little bit of everything today.

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