PNT Day 10: The Gauntlet

Today’s miles: 16.9

Total miles: 101.8

Miles should count for double when they are so hard-earned.

I sleep a bit restlessly — I think some of the tiny squirrels I saw just before bed are playing games with my tent fly and Tyvek ground sheet. But it could just be the wind. I’m up at 5am with my first alarm, prepared for the rainy day that was forecast and ready to get this big climb done early. I eat, brush my teeth, roll up the tent, and am off with a determined attitude at 6am. The dawn light is only barely filtering down through all the tree cover.

I have an annoying two miles that loop in a little hairpin turn to the east, doubling back to bring me basically to my starting point, except on the other side of the river. There are a few blowdowns to contend with, but the trail is flattish, and I just want to make quick work of these initial miles before my climb up Whatcom Pass.

Then there are more blowdowns. Some that I climb around, some that I must sit on and swing my legs over, one enormous one that can only be passed by taking off my pack, crawling under, and dragging my pack out after me. One tangle of blowdowns is so thick that I have to go way off trail, hacking at brush with my trekking poles and clambering over many giant branches until I can see my trail again. Exhausting.

Crawled under this one (trekking poles for scale)
The worst of the morning

Finally, I exit the forest for a while. Ah, but now here’s the thick wet brush crowding the trail again. I have to actively push through, calling for bears and keeping my eyes on the ground in an attempt to catch a glimpse of what my feet might hit. This is also exhausting. The river is thundering to my left, and the sky is all white-grey with clouds, lightly raining. I don’t put my rain jacket on because I’m at a good body temperature now, working hard, and it will only make me overheat. All of my clothes are soaked through.

The trail shifts from dirt to rock, then flowing water over larger rocks, and, oh, I am hiking up a stream. I double-check my GPS to be sure. Yep, I have to wade through this big pool of water, cloudy with glacial flour and lined with rocks ranging from the size of my fist to the size of my head. The water is up to my knees. It’s freezing. I can’t at all see what I’m stepping on. This is not my favorite. All of this before my hard climb.

Hiking upstream and directly into that freezing pool of water

At last the trail turns up and away from the river and waterfalls, which are beautiful but cold and loud. Around 9am I stop at a creek crossing to drink half a liter of water and eat a Snickers bar, fuel for the climb. Up we go, steeply. It rains intermittently as I push upward, taking things one switchback at a time. There’s a lot of wind pushing the clouds around, so sometimes everything is socked in and other times I have magnificent views of the mountains and glaciers with patches of blue sky. It is indeed a very tough climb. In the last half mile or so, I look up to see the wooden beams installed to support a series of tight, steep switchbacks, and can only think, “LOL.”

“LOL” (also “wtf”)

The actual top of Whatcom Pass isn’t clear to me, or maybe it would be if I wasn’t so cold and soaked to the skin, and if I wanted to explore up here a bit. There are multiple trails near the top, and no signs, and I have to get out my compass to figure my route down. It begins to rain in earnest, and now I’m quite cold. I put on my rain jacket and tighten the hood. Down, down, on steep rocky trail. The rain stops and I sit by a creek for a very quick lunch, too cold to sit for very long. Gotta keep moving.

Dramatic views near the top

As I descend through forest, more blowdowns block my way. I can scramble over most of them, but one stymies me for several minutes as I try multiple ways past. It’s a collection of trees and branches all tangled together and eventually I just have to scramble up the mountainside grabbing whatever I can, then hang on to pieces of the blowdowns themselves as I lower myself through them, back down to the trail. I wonder at what point this ceases to be “hiking” and becames something else. Like maybe “parkour.” Later, the trail crosses a steep waterfall with a deep crevice between one side of trail and the other. I study this problem for a long time before carefully going downhill on scree, crossing the water safely, then scrambling back up large boulders on the other side. Seriously, is this hiking? Or something else?

Had to make this thing my own personal jungle gym to get to the other side. It went on like this for several layers beyond this tree in front.

Shortly after this I meet a small trail crew and chat with them about the pass, the blowdowns, the fire that closed Copper Ridge. I say I have to stay at a camp I’m not permitted for, because of the closure; one guy says, “I think you’ll be fine, you are literally the only hiker I’ve seen out here in three days.” They’re working their way uphill, so I know I have clear trail the rest of the way down. I’m so grateful. You can’t fully appreciate good trail until you don’t have it. I make very good time to the junction with Hannegan Pass Trail, and turn west.

Afternoon views
More beauty in the afternoon

Soon I arrive at an exciting reward for today’s trials: crossing the Chilliwack River on a cable car! What an experience! It’s initially a test of faith, stepping into the little box, but then truly thrilling to pull myself across, over the river. On the other side I sit and have a snack. Only about three miles to camp.

On the cable car!

They’re long miles. Not difficult hiking, but I’m pasted from all the work I’ve done already. There are at least one million spiderwebs across the trail, which also makes these miles less pleasant. I tire of having to continually wipe them out of my face, and take to swinging my trekking poles out in front of me, like some giant beetle probing with my front legs. This works but is tiring in a different way. I ponder whether wee trail signs could be posted for the spiders: “Caution — do not spin here.”

One more pretty picture from this wild day.

At long last: camp. I’m beat. It’s all I can do to set up my tent and walk down to the creek for water. I mechanically eat dinner and then hurry into my warm dry things for bed. More climbing awaits in the morning.

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